Interesting idea floated in Buster Olney’s column this morning. It’s behind the ESPN paywall, but the gist is that, according to Olney, the Dodgers’ bankruptcy has to be one of the “10 worst chapters in Major League Baseball history.”
He doesn’t do a formal list or order them, but he throws out several potential top-10 (or bottom 10, depending on your point of view) moments. The ones he names: segregation (which he says would be the worst, and I agree, even if it wasn’t specific to baseball), the Black Sox scandal, the Pete Rose gambling thing, steroids, collusion in the 1980s and the 1994-95 strike.
That’s six. He says the Dodgers thing is the ninth or tenth worst. For that to be true, there can’t be four worse moments in baseball history. I’m, not criticizing Buster’s list here — he’s making a bigger point in all of this — but for fun, let’s see if we can find four!
- The cocaine scourge of the 70s and 80s has to be on that list. People died. People’s lives and careers were ruined and the game was clearly impacted, both competitively and culturally.
- Ray Chapman getting killed with a pitched baseball has to count, right? I mean this is a ballgame we’re playing here. If it freaking kills someone, that has to be a dark chapter. And it can’t be dismissed as a freak thing, because it was the direct result of baseball’s general indifference to player safety in the name of saving some money by leaving dirty baseballs in the game longer, not suspending games due to darkness, etc.
- Some may argue that this isn’t even the darkest chapter in Dodgers’ history, citing the move of the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Not sure how I feel about that. Everyone wants to paint Walter O’Malley and/or Robert Moses as villains in the go-west drama, but there were multiple historical, financial and political factors in play there. And of course, baseball was going to go to California eventually. And let us not forget, it’s arrival there could be painted as a bright chapter depending on whether you lived in Los Angeles or Brooklyn. Or whether you were a baseball fan or one of the poor Mexicans who were kicked out of their homes under dubious circumstances to make room for Dodger Stadium. But that’s another story.
- It’s hard to make this an actual “chapter” because it involves distinct incidents in time and space, but the untimely deaths of ballplayers like Lou Gehirg or Roberto Clemente — or the accident that ended Roy Campanella’s career — seem like far darker things than the Dodgers’ bankruptcy. Maybe that counts. Maybe not. I’m not sure.
- Maybe this goes together with collusion or can be classified in a general chapter entitled “the owners’ exploitation of ballplayers over time,” but I think the existence of the reserve system until the 1970s was simply awful and, unlike the Dodgers’ bankruptcy which is going to murder Frank McCourt’s balance sheet, the reserve system cost a lot of money to people who didn’t have it coming.
Maybe some of those don’t rate. And of course I’m sure we could come up with more. Either way, I like morose topics so I’m glad that Buster introduced it this morning.
As I sit here right now, though, I’m not going to put the Dodgers’ woes into the top 10. Although feel free to convince me otherwise in the comments.