How the 2020 World Series Champion Dodgers
Signaled the Changing Tide of a More Hopeful Future in America
Being a Dodger fan, we waited patiently in a Southern California championship drought for 32 years. In traditional So Cal style, we were hit with occasional downpours of hope and optimism once a year that led us to believe we’d seemingly be out of the never ending drought. When the weather hit annually in the form of the playoffs, like Southern California drivers in the rain, we didn’t know how to handle it. Well, we have weathered the storm and have been given something that, as sports fans, helps us put aside all our differences and come together. This momentous occasion that offers us a life we knew always existed but never felt, or hadn’t experienced in generations. A championship is forever etched in stone (literally) and will be remembered forever. Dodger fans, that weight/wait has finally been removed and here we are together, celebrating — The 2020 World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
2020 has felt like a drought in the Biblical sense. As Americans we have been on a search for “the fix” to get us away from the all consuming fear and anger that has taken over most of our daily lives. One that has left us searching for some form of livelihood that would make us feel whole again. In the past four years, regardless of political standing, we have all searched for the water, the breath of life that would lead us to the “promised land”. It feels like it has all been building to this climatic year, in which we have been asked some of the hardest questions of our lifetime. This year’s Dodger team has served as the perfect reflection of the culmination of hard earned wisdom and a vision into what a brighter future could potentially look like. With what the American people, and by proxy the Dodgers, have had to endure, I believe that this team has answered the call when we needed it most.
In 2017, the World Series was “won” by a group of cheaters, who still cannot own up to the fact that they lied, cheated, and stole their way to a championship. They wonder why they are so despised across the sport, by both fans and peers, yet refuse to admit their shortcomings. They bask in their arrogance. The one thing that could perhaps change the perception of them and help the nation to heal — ownership of wrongdoings and mistakes — they shy away from and instead, continue to double down on their skirting of accountability. Sure, the Houston Astros experienced highs in the 2020 season, almost all entirely fabricated in their aura of self-denial, but it became clear that no matter how much they tried to turn away from it, their bell would toll. Rightfully, it did.
The Dodgers, the losers of that 2017 World Series, meanwhile continued to build. Continued to get stronger, to develop younger voices that brought new looks and energy to an organization struggling to solidify its identity. They wanted to change the way things were done.
In 2018, there was desperation mixed with the exterior bravado of “we’re here to win a championship”/”we’ve moved on from last year. We’re here to win now”. The Dodgers wanted to prove that they were ready to win with the trade for Manny Machado, one of the best young stars of the game at the trade deadline. It was now the 30 year mark of not winning a Championship and of not matching the expectations that they’ve set for themselves. People start to get impatient at 30 years. (Take it from a seasoned 30 year old, patience is not a virtue.) It’s a search to find “the one thing” that will change your life. Because, by this point, all your friends have settled down and have started to foster their own minor league system. It was a big move in which the Dodgers picked up someone, who at the time, was shrouded in talent, venerated for his play, and carried with him a laissez faire attitude. This move was selling all the sizzle of a tough, frozen (now bankrupt) 2 dollar steak. And Dodger fans took a bite and tried so hard to convince themselves it was delicious, though in the end, we knew we chose poorly. The kind of arrogance disguised as strategy to distract ourselves from the difficult work that must be done day in and day out. 2018 was also the year President Trump buddied up with North Korean dictator, Kim Jung-Un. We as a population were being convinced so hard that this experiment was working. We tried to choke it down, but couldn’t digest it. All the flashiness, the earth shattering headlines, the quick “solution”. None of the process. The flashy move to appease an increasingly impatient fan base and convince themselves they were doing the work to win. Sounding familiar?
The Dodgers were dismantled in 5 games by the Boston Red Sox, and Manny Machado jogged to 1st base for the final out of the series. Earlier in the series, he attempted to spike the first baseman while running out a ground out and later, claiming he was “no Johnny hustle” on another play. A fitting end to a season of desperation set to pacify a base that compromised the values this team’s long illustrious history was built on.
In 2019, Dodger fans were again convinced that the team was ready to win. They did not re-sign Manny Machado (and didn’t put much effort into it), made an offer they knew Bryce Harper, a great young player also with beaming arrogance and no proven track record of winning, would decline. Management told Dodger fans that they believed in the team that they had. Though, I’m not sure many Dodger fans bought into the narrative. The team felt somewhat back to its workman like mentality. The talent still felt like the best team in the sport, though looking back, I think of how much we convinced ourselves again that nothing was missing. That we had done the work, and paid the toll for our suffering. We deserved to be great.
The Dodgers lost in 5 games in the first round, to the aptly named, Nationals, from Washington D.C. The Nationals showed nothing but insurmountable courage, determination, grit, and patience to go all the way and win the World Series, the year after Harper left D.C. for a mega contract in Philadelphia. The Nationals motto for the year, led by their Puerto Rican manager, Dave Martinez? “Stay in the Fight.” In a year that was “destined” to be the Dodgers’ year, they were taken down by a team of grinders who showed the grit that was the underlying foundation of that team. Icarus flew too close to the Sun and his wings melted.
The Dodgers were sent into the offseason searching for purpose. Clayton Kershaw, the greatest pitcher of his generation, who will one day cement himself onto the Dodgers’ Mount Rushmore and into Cooperstown, gave up one of the most heart-breaking home runs ever hit against the Dodgers, sending them to an early defeat. It was a new low for Dodger fans. Kershaw stated to the media after the game in a moment of emotional exhaustion and immense vulnerability, “Everything people say is true right now about [me and] the postseason. I understand that. It’s a terrible feeling.” The desperation for an answer wrought more than ever before. As Dodger fans, we asked ourselves, “Would we ever break through to the other side? Is it sane to still be here as a fan rooting for a team that has all the resources one can possibly dream of, knowing that we may never have a chance to cross the threshold? Why would we continue to follow a team that refuses to look in the mirror and accept their true shortcomings? When would our time come?”
2020. The world explodes. Life as we know it is uprooted forever. In our hero’s journey we find ourselves in the Dark Night of the Soul, The Wreckoning in the Garden. We’re asking the powers that be, “Why are we being put through this? Why must we suffer for a world that has forsaken us?” The fundamental fabric of everything we’ve known is thrown into the limelight and we’re faced with asking ourselves “Is this who we are?” America has had to look itself in the mirror and shine a light on the darkest sides of herself. She’s had to look herself dead in the eye to see all the scars, pain, and suffering hidden under a layer of editorialized perfection. It has been brutally painful for everyone, whether we like to admit it or not, and I do not suspect that the confusion may dissipate anytime soon. I was talking about the uncertainty of baseball, but hey, I suppose we can apply this to the United States as well.
The baseball world was put on hold until August due to the pandemic. While owners and the players union argued over hundreds of millions of dollars, as everyday Americans didn’t know if they could put food on the table, the Dodgers went away to atone for their lauded pride — to search for meaning and identity. This offseason Kershaw went up to the vaunted Driveline Academy to work on his mechanics and regained a few ticks of velocity on his fastball. The Dodgers traded for and immediately signed Mookie Betts. Instantaneously, he felt like a “Dodger”. One of the greatest players in the game who is constantly trying to get better. He doesn’t focus on flashy plays, but can make them with ease. No matter how successful he gets, he stays focused on the process, consistency, and helping to elevate his teammates. He wants to contribute to a win anyway that he can. He’s beloved by the fan base and he changes the dynamic and feel of the team. This year genuinely started to feel like our year. It had a different vibe. One of “we know we’re going to win” because we sat in the power of knowing that our Dodgers had put in the work to be the best organization from top to bottom. Our team did not have to puff their chest out, or call themselves the greatest, they just had to chip away every single day until this team was proven to be the best. Culture of an organization starts at the top, and Mookie along with other veterans who have steered the ship all these years Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner, & Kenley Jensen, and management, Andrew Freidman, and Dave Roberts have shown the steady hand and the discipline that goes with building a long term, year in and year out contender. Mookie, the catalyst that helped bring the Dodgers back to their core values of polish, grit, process, diversity, and most of all, community impact.
After the death of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake, America felt sadder than it had ever felt in my lifetime. Following the lead of the NBA/WNBA the Dodgers decided as a team not to play one day. Mookie, the lone African American (though not the lone black man on the Dodgers) said that if the team decided to play he supported them, but he needed a day of reflection and solidarity with all of those across the nation protesting social injustice. On August 26th, all the Dodgers decided not to play in support of their teammate, and instead, spent the day having difficult conversations, learning how they could be better teammates and people. A roster that is 71% white, stood alongside their one teammate who had a personal tie to the injustices African Americans face in the United States. Teams from every sport decided to do the same. The Dodgers once again helped to lead the way in doing the right thing and pushed for diverse perspectives. Look no further than their previous leadership in the Dominican Republic & Japan, Tommy Lasorda, the perfect ambassador, the hiring of the 1st openly gay sports executive, and of course, the promotion of Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues, forever changing the face of America.
The parallels and intersections are too strong to convince me otherwise that this year, 2020 was not meant for the Dodgers. The team most representative of all the best traits of America, living the foundational principles on which this country was built.
In this year’s playoffs, the Dodgers rolled through the first two rounds, never looking back. They understood the work they had put in. They respected their opponents, but knew that this process had taken years. They played their game. The Championship Series proved more taxing. The Atlanta Braves, a team built similarly to the Dodgers — mostly homegrown, slightly flashy, gritty team — took the Dodgers to the brink of elimination. The Dodgers beat them, not with showmanship, rather through trust in the work they had put in and focus on their core values. Just as the younger generations have been at the forefront of social change this year, so too did the Dodgers allow their young talent — Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger, Will Smith, Julio Urías and Corey Seager — to flourish. They will continue on the Dodger legacy for the foreseeable future. The steady guiding force of Mookie Betts, Kenley Jensen, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Turner, always there when they were needed. Providing consistency and stability every time they were out there and saving the young people’s butts every once in a while — Here’s to you, Mookie.
Then came the World Series. No one in LA had any idea what or who the Rays were, outside of being from Tampa Bay. A formidable challenger, if ever there was one. A team built on a laughably low payroll that had incredible pitching and a heart that could not be deterred. Every moment we thought the Rays no longer stood a chance, every time the Dodgers lowered their guard ever so slightly, they fought back, leaving us all uncertain as to whether we’d emerge from this bubble. The Rays mutated and evolved as needed to continue to be a thorn in the side of an organization that has promised victory. The Rays pushed, pressed, doing everything they could to break the Dodgers will. The Dodgers continued to be unapologetically who they were.
It took them to the promised land. 32 years of “we will be great again” alleviated over 6 days in October that were several tumultuous years in the making.
What makes baseball so remarkable is its unpredictability, the metaphors that lie within the game. I don’t think it odd that the Dodgers won in 2020 — the same year the world is seemingly on the brink/in the midst of catastrophe. Rather, I see it as destiny, the reflection of the team representing the most “American” of values that we once were and where I believe this country is headed. Yes, we may have suffered in the desert, looking for our manna from heaven, but nothing can replace the difficult work that it takes just to survive in the desert. They are the epitome of the American sensibility, our American values and what we have always believed that we are and have shown that we are capable of in the past. When America needed an example of the true nature of the country the most, they answered the call. As Americans have continued searching for answers of how to alleviate the pain of the present time, the Dodgers have proven that with their commitment to long term solutions, true self-reflection, diverse perspectives, and grit, that no matter what is thrown our way, we can still represent everything that is great about this nation we live in. They are proof that the tide is turning to a brighter future ahead, and that an Oasis is in our horizon, so long as we are willing to bear the desert to find it.
America, it’s our turn to find our championship form once again.