The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs play in separate divisions, and have since this reporter was in kindergarten. That means they only play each other a handful of times during the regular season, but despite not being bitter rivals, these two teams that wear blue provided more than their share of memories for someone who grew up with baseball in the seventies and beyond.
When I (switching to the first person now) was a kid, my favorite player was Bill Buckner. I remember, and my mom reminds me, that I had a shirt with his picture on it. Eons before that ball went through his legs in the 1986 World Series, Buckner made a catch I'll never forget. Playing left field at Dodger Stadium, a ball was hit deep. He went back, back, back, leapt over the box seat railing into the stands, disappearing from view. What seemed like a minute later, he raises his glove, with the baseball in it, and the batter was called out. I told myself if I ever met Buckner, I'd tell him about that one particular play in his career, and before he punched me out (thinking I was going to mention the error in '86, I'd tell him about that catch. I actually got my wish in 2010. Buckner visited Marysville as a guest speaker, I interviewed him, and when I told him about the play, without batting an eye, he said “You know who hit that ball, don't you?” Shocked that he remembered the play, or that I remembered it just like it happened, I told him I had no idea. He said it was Dusty Baker (who was with Atlanta at the time and later played for the Dodgers). Buckner was a Dodger from 1969 to 1976. During that offseason, he was traded to the Cubs with Ivan DeJesus and minor leaguer Jeff Albert, for pitcher Mike Garman and outfielder (and now Dodger broadcaster) Rick Monday.
Monday, remember, was the guy, who as a Chicago Cub at Dodger Stadium, came running over from center field to the left field line, to scoop up an American flag that some protesters were trying to burn. That happened during this country's bicentennial year, and I figured that was the reason that the Dodgers picked him up the following season. It was more than that, of course, and it was impossible not to like a hero like that, even though he replaced my beloved Buckner. Monday would finish his playing career with the Dodgers in 1984. He had more years in LA than in Chicago, but played more games as a Cub than a Dodger. Mo, as he is called by teammates and friends, is also an answer to a trivia question. He was the first player ever selected in the Major League Baseball draft. He was picked by the Kansas City A's in 1966, moved to Oakland with the team in '68, and then was sent to the Cubs in 1972.
In the 1970s and into the eighties, the Dodgers had a record setting infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey that played more games together than any other infield in history. After the Dodgers won the World Series in 1981 (my dad died just weeks earlier), that infield was broken up. Lopes was traded to Oakland. Russell would finish his career as a Dodger and later manage, but Garvey and Cey would only be in Dodger blue one more year. After the '82 season, Garvey signed as a free agent with San Diego, and Cey was traded to the Cubs. 'The Penguin', as he was called for the way he ran, played 12 seasons with the Dodgers and hit 228 home runs. He had 84 more as a Cub before finishing his career in Oakland. He played 45 games for the A's in 1987 and then called it a career. By the way, the Dodgers traded Cey (one of three MVPs in the '81 series) for a minor league pitcher named Vance Lovelace. Lovelace would appear in just nine major league games, and none of them were with the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have had success with rookies, and on a couple of occasions, had an impressive string of multiple consecutive Rookies of the Year. In 1979, that honor went to pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. He won 17 games (which is still a Dodger rookie record) that year, but struggled the following two seasons. After being sent to Cleveland in 1982, he ended up, guess where?, with the Cubs in 1984. After a 4-5 start with the Indians, he went 16-1 with the Cubs and won the National League Cy Young Award. The 6-foot-7 gentle giant known as the 'Red Baron' would pitch 18 years in the big leagues and win 171 games. Almost half of those (82) were with the Cubs, but he started as a Dodger. Another claim to fame for Sutcliffe was that he started the first-ever night game at Chicago's Wrigley Field after they finally installed lights in 1985. The game wasn't official, though. It was rained out after three innings. Sutcliffe was the Pitching Coach of the Idaho Falls Braves when I was there in 1997, and I got to know him a little, and hear some pretty wild stories. He also met my mom when she visited, signed her pink Dodger shirt, and was impressed by her knowledge of the game. He was telling a story about the Dodgers, and mom corrected him about a fact, and mom was right.
There are other Dodger-Cub memories to add. Dodger pitcher Jerry Reuss won two games in one day at Wrigley Field. Before the lights were installed, a game was suspended because of darkness. It would be concluded the following day, followed by the regularly scheduled game. Since Reuss was to start the regular game, manager Tommy Lasorda ran him out there for the suspended game. The Dodgers won that one, and went on to take the regular game. Several years later, with the Dodgers at Wrigley, rocker Ozzy Osbourne attempted to sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It was absolutely awful, but I remember a shot of Vin Scully in the booth trying not to act mortified by the whole thing. TV had a picture of Scully giving a 'thumbs-up', but it wasn't for Osbourne.
Fast forward to 2008, 20 years after winning the 1988 World Series, the Dodgers, led my skipper Joe Torre, won their first playoff series since. Manny Ramirez had two home runs, left field was dubbed 'Mannywood', and the Dodgers swept the Chicago Cubs 3-0.
And now, in 2016, in the National League Championship Series, it's tied 1-1. The starting pitcher for the Cubs in Game 1 was Jon Lester. His catcher was David Ross, who began his career, that's right, with the Dodgers.
A lot going on between two teams that hardly see each other, and it looks like a lot more to come.
Beyond the Cubs?: If the Dodgers get to the World Series, they'll face either Toronto or Cleveland. There's not a huge connection between the Dodgers and Blue Jays other than Toronto catcher Russell Martin, who had five great seasons in LA, before moving to the Yankees, then Pittsburgh, and then his native Canada. Blue Jays infielder Darwin Barney also played for the Dodgers, and ironically before that, the Cubs. Orel Hershiser pitched in Cleveland after leaving the Dodgers. And with the recent passing of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident reminds me of Tim Crews. Crews pitched for the Dodgers from 1987 to 1992. He signed with Cleveland during that off season, and he and two other players were killed in a boat crash before the 1993 season began.
Why the Cubs shouldn't win: Forget that they are playing the Dodgers, everyone knows that the Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908, and many know that they haven't been there since 1945. Just for the lore of baseball, it should stay that way. The Boston Red Sox finally won it all in 2004 for the first time since 1918, and look what happened to them. Fans hate them now. They've become just like the Yankees. We love the Cubs fans out there, they are a great team now with great players and a great manager, but one team has to play the role of lovable loser. The Cubs and their fans are perfect for it.
Even-year magic finally dries up: Sorry Giants fans (especially my favorites, the Coles in Sebastopol), but the World Series every other year thing had to go. It was sad, though, that it ended the way it did. Fitting, but sad. The Giants had the Cubs on the ropes, but the bullpen blew it, just like they did many times during the year. Just think if the Giants had won, they'd be facing the Dodgers right now. Frankly I don't know if I could handle that (Love you Gayle, Jim, Briana, Alivea, Brian, and Kevin).
Cheaters prosper: In the final minute of FS1's pregame show before Dodgers-Nationals Game 5 Thursday, the four 'experts' were asked who was going to win. Good guys Dontrelle Willis and Frank Thomas picked Washington, while steroid poster boy Alex Rodriguez and gambler/tax evader Pete Rose went with Los Angeles. Rose didn't say if he had money on the game.
I mentioned above that my dad passed away just two weeks before the Dodgers won the World Series in 1981. That was 35 years ago last Friday (October 14). It's so hard to believe that I have now lived almost two-thirds of my life without him. I miss him so much. Rest in peace, Dad.