Dodgers May Not Win World Series, but They're Shoo-Ins for 'The Smiley'
GLENDALE Ariz. -- Every team in the National League West except the Dodgers owns a league pennant from the last 13 years, two claiming the World Series, most recently the Giants last fall. The Dodgers have gone nearly twice as long without a league flag. In that time, all four expansion teams from the 1990s cracked the World Series.
West Coast Bias doesn't want the Dodgers to feel lonely, so I'm creating a trophy -- The Smiley --- to honor them for putting smiles on the most faces.
Estimated cost of the trophy, something tinny and Dodger Blue, is $19.88 --- same year as the Dodgers' last World Series. The Smiley would be cheaper without engraving Bud Selig's name, but I'm guessing Aol will foot the bill, even after buying the Huffington Post for $315 million.
Here at Camelback Ranch, the Dodgers can hand out Smiley replicas to fans, including their own.
Once they get past the tired "I Hate L.A." chants, fans of other NL West clubs smile as they contemplate the Dodgers.
It's World Series or bust with big-market teams in Boston, Philadelphia and New York, but not our Smileys.
"The Dodgers should have a $140 million payroll and hit the international market hard every year," a Padres exec told me last season. "We're glad that they don't."
He smiled in relief, like the Diamondbacks veteran and the Rockies staffer who said years ago that strong, smart Dodgers ownership would mean trouble for rest of the West. It's an old theme. "I feel sorry for the Dodgers," Padres owner John Moores said in 1995.
The Dodgers nonetheless continue to pile up Smiley points at home, drawing more than three million fans in 14 of 15 years.
This year's season opener sold out in two hours and TV partner FOX, sunny about the years ahead, offered a $200 million advance to cash-strapped Dodgers owner Frank McCourt before Selig nixed the deal.
Seems baseball's commissioner is fed up with McCourt, whose ongoing divorce revealed that he and his wife Jamie were using Dodgers dollars to fund their own extravagances.
But as recently as two years ago, the commissioner's office was pleased that the McCourts had long cleaved to Selig's guidelines on slotted signing bonuses to amateur players. "They hold the line," one major league spokesman said, after I suggested the Dodgers were overly conservative.
The Red Sox and other clubs, meanwhile, paid well above slot for several years, while the McCourts were buying mansions and paying $600,000 in salary to their two sons for unspecified jobs.
Red Sox owner John Henry heeded his baseball people rather than Selig, compelling one NL West exec to liken the Sox to Al Capone for "not playing by the rules," but as an investment strategy, busting slot made sense. The cocktail napkin version: Superstars make about $30 million in their first six seasons, yet they're worth close to $100 million. So, the club nets tens of millions every time it drafts a star. That's enough money to pay for a handful of drafts. If a club is confident in its evaluations, why wouldn't it bust slot?
Must be the Smiley points.
Count NFL commissioner Roger Goodell among those grateful to the Dodgers, too. The NFL's absence from Los Angeles since 1995 teed the ball for baseball to grow its pie in Southern California, a region of 20 million people with Dodgers fans at all borders. Swinging and missing like his old Brewers teams, Selig stuck the West Coast's flagship franchise with FOX ownership, then the Boston-based, debt-ridden McCourts.
I'll gladly retire the Smiley if Selig can find local, smart ownership for the club. Otherwise, Hollywood and Oliver Stone should plot another conspiracy movie about shadowy figures back east. But please, no Donald Sutherland.
Will Dodgers fans be smiling when this year's NL pennant is decided? Well, former Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus has this: "Matt Kemp will have a big year," he says of the speedy slugger, who looked lost in 2010.
An ace of a person, Clayton Kershaw may become a true ace soon. And I saw a light bulb go off inside the collective thought bubble of Dodgers players as they watched Andre Ethier's boy hustle around imaginary basepaths, contrasting the team's lollygagging last year.
But in October, I suspect it'll be another NL team smiling the broadest.