5:40 PM PST, December 17, 2012
Hate to be a killjoy, but has anybody pondered when the goose might stop laying those golden eggs?
We now live in the land of the Magic Guggenheims and Arte. That sounds like a circus act, and with the way the money has been flowing of late, that might not be an unfair moniker.
Those are our two baseball owners, the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. We used to hate the Yankees for doing what our teams are doing. Now, we are them. Somewhere up there, George Steinbrenner is pounding on a table in anger. In terms of our sports teams, we no longer live in Los Angeles. It is Ft. Knox, Calif.
They ran a horse race at Hollywood Park on Saturday called the CashCall Futurity. To be clear, it was named for a company, not our baseball teams' operational strategy.
The recent multimillion-dollar signings of Zack Greinke by the Dodgers and Josh Hamilton by the Angels should be greeted with applause and caution. Magic Johnson and his Guggenheim investment company partners are trying to give us a World Series in Dodger Stadium. Arte Moreno is trying to do the same thing in Angel Stadium.
If money talks, then perhaps we'll get both. The World Series opens Oct. 23. Has Caltrans considered beginning work now on the widening of the 5 Freeway?
The developments of last week are both exciting and cautionary. They are exciting because both ownership groups are trying to get the best team on the field. They are cautionary because anything that looks too good to be true often is.
Among the most difficult pressures in sports is that of expectations.
The Angels signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year deal last year and he got out of the gate like a plow horse. He certainly didn't forget how to hit, and his eventual statistics showed that. But when the world knows that every time you swing the bat — including in the on-deck circle — it is worth a couple of thousand dollars, it can be tough to swing the bat. The Angels stuttered along with Pujols to a 6-14 start and never recovered.
The Dodgers began 2012 in Frank McCourt chaos and transitioned to Guggenheim's checkbook. Now, after additional spending and promises that there still is a $1-billion piggy bank tucked under a pillow to improve the stadium or build one, fans can't help but expect Daddy Warbucks to keep bringing it.
The developments of last week are also exciting and cautionary to both managers, each good at his job and each good people. Don Mattingly can drool over his ability to send out Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier in support of the pitching of Clayton Kershaw and Greinke. Mike Scioscia can do the same at the thought of having Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson supported by Mike Trout, Pujols and Hamilton.
Each also knows that anything less than a playoff spot, maybe less than a berth in the World Series, will bring the murmurs. When a manager's job security is a topic — here, there and everywhere — before Christmas, the pressure of expectation is a large issue.
There are other questions, such as:
—Might those fans who find distasteful the reality of men being paid millions to play a game stop supporting those millions by not buying tickets and not watching TV?
—Can this create an underdog backlash? Will the number of Pittsburgh Pirates and Oakland Athletics fans grow?
—Might fans slowly come to the recognition that the TV people, whose money is enabling the owners to go confidently and stridently to their checkbooks, will get it back from them by raising cable and satellite rates and shoving more commercials down their throats?
—Will ticket-buying fans start to understand, and react to, the reality that sports teams are rapidly becoming TV shows first and foremost; that fans' presence in the stadium is nice window dressing for the telecasts, but that TV rights fees drive the bus now and ticket revenue is decreasingly essential? Are starting times and schedules now done more for the comfort of the person in the stadium seats or the person on the living room couch?
No answer needed there.
Financial extravagance and marketing pizzazz are the domain of team owners. Sign Greinke/Hamilton, watch the headlines get big and the talk shows go crazy and see the tickets flying out the door. Good for both teams.
Wrinkled brows and shaking heads are the domain of columnists. This one will be more than delighted to admit, from his World Series press box seat, to needless concern over the appearance of out-of-control buying, not building, to great success.
The Dodgers have given us the Cy Young Award twins and the Angels a Murderers' Row. Let's assume it will be as good as it looks on paper. Let's also be clear that it pretty much has to be, because Ft. Knox, Calif., has never been a city to take kindly to egg on its face.
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