Dodgers as Civic Icon

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

If the rest of the country even cares about the mess surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers – and I guess they do, since I was interviewed about it on Saturday by NBC's Nightly News – they may just see a drama.

A bad divorce. Or: powerful sports team hits hard times. Gets taken down a notch or two.

In Los Angeles, the story of the Dodgers being seized by the lords of baseball has a lot more meaning. It's a civic insult…a smack to our collective ego…if not our psyche.

You see, Los Angeles as we know it grew up with the Dodgers. Before the Brooklyn Dodgers moved west, LA still had one foot firmly planted in the old days.

It was a small town with big aspirations. And, because of the Depression and World War II and the eternal sunshine, a lot of people.

They still burned their trash in backyard incinerators in the 1950's. They hung their laundry out to dry on clothes lines, and left their cars unlocked. With the keys in the ignition.

The tallest building was City Hall, by design. LA in the mid 50's still limited most buildings to about 12 floors. No New York skyscrapers here. No subways.

The LA Rams played in the grand old Olympic Coliseum, but the NFL was not as big a deal as it is today. The major spectator sports were college football, boxing and car races.

Minor league baseball teams played to loyal fans in the Fairfax district and South LA. But it was still major news when a barnstorming team of big league stars would come through in winter.

Or do spring training here, as the Chicago Cubs did on Catalina Island and the St. Louis Browns did in Burbank.

Then the Dodgers came to town. The Brooklyn Dodgers.

LA became major league, especially in its own eyes.

The height limit was lifted, and a modern downtown skyline began to form.

It helped that the Dodgers won the World Series in their second season, and again in 1963. They had baseball royalty in Sandy Koufax, and a homegrown star in Don Drysdale.

You could say that LA grew up with the Dodgers. Turned into a city.

A city where people of different races and backgrounds mixed in the stadium seats and listened to Vin Scully together on their radios.

Maury Wills and Mike Piazza and Kirk Gibson and Eric Gagne were embraced as heroes -- and symbols of the city.

This is the legacy Frank McCourt became the guardian of when he bought the Dodgers.

He came completely unprepared – apparently – to fit into this larger story line. Or for the backlash that was inevitable if he failed to keep the story going.

Or, worse, let the flame go out.

McCourt and his antics have not just disappointed. They have offended, and that's a deeper, more painful wound to get over.

Scripted apologies written by crisis PR gurus can get you out of trouble. But healing a bruised ego – or a broken heart – is harder.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.