Thursday, April 4, 2013

Refugee City

                Magic Johnson and Co. made a really good purchase recently.  Yes, the Dodgers cost a lot of money, but what he’s really investing in is the greater Los Angeles area.  This is the area that has throughout the years made giants out of runaways.  What I mean by that is it has taken into its arms those entities which have come from the east seeking greener pastures.  And it doesn’t get much greener than Los Angeles, it turns out.
                L.A. is the nickname for a city whose original full name[i] was twenty-five times bigger than that.  But it’s all marketing.  And a better market is what early motion picture producers saw when they started bolting for the area in the early 20th century.  You see, there was this guy named Edison who invented the motion picture camera, and he wanted everyone to pay him royalties when they used it for profit.  And if he couldn’t do it the legal way, he had some “helpers” who would make sure it got done.  So these pioneering filmmakers went as far away from Edison and his goons as they could get while still getting noticed in the US of A.  But the added benefit of being in California was that the state was pretty lenient on patent law and generally ignored Edison’s suits.
But the Dodgers might be the most assimilated entity that has come out to California, especially considering their roots.  They were so despised when they left Brooklyn that there’s a story told in the borough about three business men who went to lunch to decide who the three worst men in the world were.  They all wrote three names down on their napkins, and when they went to look at each others, they had all written the same thing: Hitler, Stalin, Walter O’Malley.  It didn’t seem to bother Los Angeles much.  With a strong core of players who had all played in Brooklyn, they went on to win a World Series in their second year out there.  The team was so successful, they lured an expansion franchise to the area in three years and the west coast soon became a bastion of Major League Baseball.
                I’d be remiss as a Minneapolitan if I didn’t mention the second most successful pro basketball franchise of all time.  My biggest problem with their franchise is not the rampant success they’ve had, in contrast to the terrible track record of the team the NBA later saddled us with, but I feel as though their insistence on keeping the name ‘Lakers’ is essentially a slap in the face.  There are absolutely no lakes in the greater Los Angeles area, nor is it a name that you could argue applies to just about any city in America, or even just to the West Coast, as ‘Raiders’ and ‘Clippers’ might.  And while the Dodgers only moved out West a couple years prior to the city stealing what-would-have-been-my team, it feels like Dodger Blue has made the nickname the city’s own, due to both the nickname’s ambiguosity, and the immediate success they found out there.
Yes, the fans in Brooklyn were very upset, possibly even about L.A.’s refusal to change the team name or colors, but the fans in SoCal as a whole embraced the team.  Ironically, L.A. might have been able to stake a claim on the reference to street-car Dodgers were it not for the burgeoning automotive conglomerate which elbowed out the trolley system to make it the car traffic hell-hole it’s now known as.  So it’s almost justifiable to keep the name in that sense.  Maybe you even argue that the name refers to all the automotive traffic fans of the team or just denizens of the area are required to Dodge on a daily basis.  Heading out west with the rival Giants probably kept a little of the old Big Apple spirit alive, and they managed to meet the Yankees often enough in the Series to keep the fans cognizant of who else they should hate.[ii]
I went on the Lakers’ internet site the other day and was dismayed to discover that they do list all the old Minneapolis incarnation’s NBA championships as their own.  And it kind of makes sense, as that team was also called the Lakers.  But what I never understood was how the Twins would never list the Washington Senators’ meager championship resume as their own. It’s true that they have a different nickname, but they were the same franchise, and nobody knows[iii] what colors they wore anyway because everything was in black-and-white.  It’s not like the District is going to claim them, because nobody missed the team when they were gone anyway, partly due to the expansion team they received the same year the Twin Cities got their franchise.  I understand that the team didn’t want to be like that city that stole their first major franchise, and while I’m always in favor of the area-specific name, calling them the Minnesota Senators makes a lot more sense than does L.A. Lakers.

[i] El Pueblo de Nuestra SeƱora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula.
[ii] Not to mention meeting their fellow itinerants, the Twins, in a riveting 7-game World Series classic that helped bolster the baseball (and sports) profile of both areas.
[iii] I don’t know, rather.