The Los Angeles Dodgers are less a baseball team than they are a mystique, a special state of mind. The Yankees are identified with dominance. The Cubs are identified with losing. The Reds are identified with being the oldest professional sports team in the United States. But it's the Dodgers who ring synonymously as more of a symbol of all that's good and pure about the great American Pastime.
Part of this could be because they were created and reared in Brooklyn, the most famous borough in New York City. One in every seven Americans can trace their lineage directly through Brooklyn. Early-20th Brooklyn was the place to be if you were an immigrant in America, and so it's a beacon to everything that makes America unique, good and bad: The American Dream, but also the relentless herding and poverty which marked the lives of so many immigrants straight off the boat; the multicultural diversity, but the unenforced segregation and racism that makes people suspicious of others who are different; the scrappiness tough individualism of the country, but also the special brand of elitism which keeps socialist and communist parties alive in the United States.
In the middle of all this, there were the Brooklyn Dodgers, a microcosm of it all which the entire borough rallied around. The Dodgers existed within many of the unofficial set barriers of baseball, and they always challenged and destroyed them. The Dodgers are a team of firsts: The first black player of the 20th century, the first Japanese player ever (Hideo Nomo), the first night game, the first paid admission to a ballpark, first TV broadcast, and first use of batting helmets. They were so symbolic of Brooklyn that the borough - even though the first cross country move, which involved the Dodgers moving to Los Angeles, took place over 50 years ago - still hasn't completely let them go. Mets owner Fred Wilpon, in fact, is accused of being obsessed with the Dodgers to the extent of trying to buy them and return them to Brooklyn. The outer facade of Citi Field lends credibility to this idea. But the Dodgers are an established institution of Los Angeles now. Dodgers fans who lived during the move now have grandkids, and the team has an established and loyal fanbase on the west coast which rivals the old Brooklyn fanbase. In short, they're not going anywhere soon.
Not even in the similar case of the San Francisco Giants can a team's history be so easily split into two parts. The story in New York City is one of occasional success but more often, entertaining failure. The Dodgers were terrible but won their fans' hearts through a blue collar character, and endearing nutcases like Kirby Higbe and Casey Hugh. They had their good years; 1890, 1899, 1900, 1916, and 1920 all ended in Pennants, but the two they won in the World Series era (1916 and 1920) both ended in Fall Classic losses. They won the Pennant again in 1941 just before World War II depleted the rosters, and lost the World Series to the Yankees. After the war, the team was able to rebuild very effectively. In 1947, they added their keystone when they broke the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson, and took off on one of the most spectacular runs of the era. They won Pennants in 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956 during this period, an impressive run even though they only one a single World Series (1955) during the time. They were a hard, talented, determined bunch who fought their way back again and again - and this was at a time when the league champion was whoever was at the top of the standings after the last game, which wasn't easy - until they finally took the title they deserved all along.
In a reflection of the upward mobility which dominated America in the 1950's, the Dodgers then moved from their iconic Brooklyn home all the way to Los Angeles, where their potential finally blossomed fully and the team turned into a dominant dynasty through the dominating pitching duo of Sandy Koufax - a contender for the greatest pitcher in baseball history - and Don Drysdale. They took the World Series three more times (1959, 1963, 1965) during the immediate aftermath of their move and won the Pennant in 1966 to close out the Koufax era. They won three more Pennants in the 1970's, when the legendary manager Tommy Lasorda began his career and took two World Series titles in 1981 and 1988. They haven't returned to the World Series since that 1988 title, but their 21 Pennants are tied for the most in the National League and their six World Series victories put them into the top tier of World Series-winning teams.
Their Pennant and World Series victories - and this amuses me no end - are both tied exactly with their archrivals, the San Francisco Giants. I'll keep my cries for the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry (the White Sox rivalries are better than that too), the Giants/Dodgers is the best in Major League Baseball, bar none. It's easily the closest and hardest fought. These two teams bring everything at each other. They created some of the most memorable moments in baseball history: The shot heard 'round the world and Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series are just two. The Giants even followed the Dodgers to the west coast in 1958 to keep their old rivalry from New York City going. The locations may be different, but this rivalry is as powerful as it was back east. That takes a lot of hate! Unfortunately, it recently resulted in two thuggish assholes in Dodgers jerseys beating up some poor guy in the Dodger Stadium parking lot and putting him into a coma because he wasn't wearing the right colors. One of them was recently arrested, and it was found he he is part of a street gang that uses the Dodgers as a rallying point. But guys like them aren't fans - they're pissants and punks and should be regarded as such.
The Dodgers also share a regional AL/NL rivalry with the Los Angeles Angels which is similar to the Yankees/Mets, Cubs/White Sox, and Athletics/Giants rivalries. This is called the Freeway Series, and to call it an intercity rivalry is misleading because no matter how the Angels try to spin it, they still live in Anaheim, 20 miles south of Los Angeles. The Yankees are a rivalry from the Dodgers' past. Their rivalry has cooled since the move to Los Angeles, but they still faced off in the World Series many times since, last in 1981.
Ten players have had their numbers retired as Dodgers, including Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax, and Don Drysdale. Jackie Robinson's number was also retired by the team - his number was retired on June 4, 1972, right along with the numbers of Koufax and old Brooklyn catcher Roy Campanella. But this was Jackie Robinson here, who broke baseball's color barrier. In 1997, baseball retired Robinson's number across the league. MLB said anyone wearing the number at the current time could continue to wear it, but the number would be taken out of circulation as those wearing it either retired or were forced to switch. Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is the only current player still wearing number 42, and once he retires, 42 is supposed to be hung up for good. Unfortunately, Bud Selig can't resist a good promotion, so he decided to break the rule and he now makes literally every player in the league wear it every April 15. That, folks, is the textbook definition of overkill, and it makes no sense to make everyone wear the number when you've forbidden everyone to wear it.
The Dodgers' uniforms, despite everything, have remained pretty much unchanged: A large "Dodgers" written in cursive script across the chest, slanted upward. Even after the move, it remained the same way. The away outfit was a gray version with the word "Brooklyn" written the same way. After the move, the away uniform was switched to say "Los Angeles." The B on the cap that looks like a pair of horned glasses was changed to an interlocked LA, in which the horizonal bar on the L is used to cross the A. With respect to their past in Brooklyn, it was a good way to honor where they came from.
Most of the old gurad from Brooklyn, however, doesn't feel quite the same way. Brooklynites felt robbed and cheated, and the rumor mill is always alight with cries to bring back the Dodgers. The Mets - as I lamented in my review of that team - have even been actively trying to cling to the Dodgers' glory dust left when they bolted west, even creating a rotunda at their new stadium dedicated to Jackie Robinson, who was never a Met. This blatant attempt at identity theft shows just how great the hold of the team on New York City's imagination still is.
The Dodgers are currently managed by Yankee great Don Mattingly. They were last managed by Yankee great Joe Torre, who took got them to the brink of a Pennant in 2008 and 2009. Their current roster has solid all-stars like Juan Uribe and Ted Lilly and Tony Gwynn Jr. They're bleeding at the moment - their record in 2011 as of this writing is 31-39. You know what, though? They're the Dodgers, it's Los Angeles, and they'll one day rise again.
Famous baseball fanatic Alyssa Milano is a soul slave to the Los Angeles Dodgers. She loves the team so much that it inspired her to create a clothing line called Touch, a line of sports clothes created specifically to cater to female fans of any team said female fans love. Milano clearly knows how awesome her team really is, and every Dodgers fan should consider themselves lucky to be born into that fold. To win her heart, she confesses, you need only know two words: Kirk Gibson. Unfortunately, Dodgers nuts have a bad habit of writing fawning odes to the team's past or completely ignoring the Brooklyn parts. Apparently, some people just can't appreciate the team as a single entity.