Today, we reignite an old blog – within this website.
Randy’s MLBlog of several years, The Heirloom, becomes a column on Victory & Reseda. The first initial articles are repostings of old pieces from the MLBlog’s past. These will serve as a re-introduction to how baseball has informed this journalist’s life, even as a parallel to his automotive life.
Enjoy the rebirth of The Heirloom – MkII.
Where did this thing called The Heirloom began?
Sometime in the mid-2000s, I began to channel my love for the game of baseball into the ar of writing. What resulted was a rabbit hole that found its way onto Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s blogging platform.Somehow, the baseball blog lent its way onto what you are now reading – except the focus on this blog is the automobile, its industry, history, and enthusiasm for it.
Somehow, there were a few twists and turns in this work, as this site is now coming up on its seventh anniversary. Not because of the industry and the work needed to cover it with complete competency and comprehension. It is that the interests that have kept me alive for 54 years have always been intertwined. The intersection that is the name of this blog means a lot more than just the cars, trucks, vans, and busses that cris-cross it every day, all day and night.
To honor V&R’s seventh year, I am bringing back The Heirloom onto this site. It will be a monthly column that focuses on the intersection of a member of the automotive media and his other love of the game of baseball. For this return, I have a longer story to tell – it will be split into two articles during this month.
The story begins with this site’s namesake. On the corner of Reseda and Victory Boulevards was a park – Reseda Park. It had two diamonds in the clearing behind a wall of trees. Little League, Reseda High School Junior Varsity baseball practice or a pickup game would happen on these two diamonds. It was a point of the other big interest in my life – baseball.
My love for baseball did not start at Reseda Park. It started a generation before me.
PART 1 – RECONCILLIATION
The stories that encompassed The Heirloom was inspired by my mother, Barbara. She carried her love of baseball from summer days at Crossley Field in Cincinnati through the Bloom’s family moved west to the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. They lived just blocks from the Gilmore complex, where the ballpark housed the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars. Mom got into the Stars as she did the Cincinnati Reds and hero matinee idol, Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers when she was just 11 years old.
When she married my father, she discovered that he didn’t like sports. He could care less about them. It would be a while between visits to Gilmore Field, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Dodger Stadium to share her love of the game with her family.
I’m glad she did.
One issue I had in my life was reconciling my relationship with both my parents. It took until about 2005 when I went into deeper discussions with my brother to parse out the truth about my parents. I felt I was in the wrong for how I felt about them. In the end, I embraced the love my mother gave me when she couldn’t physically do so in the last 13 years of her life – debilitated by her second stroke, unable to speak and walk properly. A month after my move from Reseda to the Bay Area in 1987, she ended up having her right leg amputated above the knee.
Everything I did was in rebellion. A rebellion I did not understand. Maybe it was a longing to be free of everything entrapping me in a lifestyle of a semi-failure back in Reseda. I figured success meant getting out of Southern California and forging a path of my own – without my family. That rebellion meant rejecting the Los Angeles Dodgers as the sports franchise of the household.
At the same time, I concluded that my father couldn’t care about anyone he was married into. His children included. That should’ve been received as a message when I took him to a San Francisco Giants-Pittsburgh Pirates game at Candlestick Park in June of 1979. I also concluded that I shouldn’t have rejected the rest of my family as I did. Through various friends over the year, I found the meaning of what family truly was. It still remains so.
Sometimes, families disagree with each other or keep secrets from each other enough to sustain one’s perpetuation of life. Some families are dysfunctional to the point of disowning each other due to some serious chasms that keep them together. Homosexuality is perhaps one of the biggest cases of severe family dysfunction. I was lucky that my mother never disowned me for any reason. Then again, I never had a chance to truly come out to any of my parents. They died too early for me to do so.
I knew the one thing that was missing in my equation was my own blood family. Since 1992, it was just my brother and I. Now, my brother has been happily married for the past 27 years – longer than our parents were married – with two wonderful adult children and a granddaughter.
Through the experience of reconciliation, I began to embrace the love of my mother – 12 years after her passing. This reconciliation brought me closer to my brother and his family. Though, we still have our distance – over 1,500 miles between Minneapolis and Southern California.
I’m grateful she passed on her love of baseball to both my brother and I. My brother has passed down his love for the game to his family. At one time, my brother was the president of his local Little League – the same one his son played in. On Facebook, my brother’s family posted photos of their excursions to Angels Stadium, Dodger Stadium, and Chase Field several years ago. I can’t confirm this, but I suspect my brother got that idea from me – going on a trip somewhere and taking in a game. That was activity was prevalent in the late 2000s before I went all-in on the automotive media business.
My mother’s love for baseball wasn’t the only thing I reconciled with her memory. She also believed in community service. Certainly, that part was inside everything I did in the 1990s for my community. Since then, it was a learning process. There was some ostracizing by some of the people I was involved with, which was similar to what my mother experienced when she did her community work. Recognizing that aspect of our common traits helped in closely completing my reconciliation process.
The last chapter of this process was to reconcile with the Los Angeles Dodgers. There were many reasons why I turned my back on my hometown team as a form of teenage rebellion. Some were rooted in some family history. Others were a reflection of the reality Bowie Kuhn, Marvin Miller and Curt Flood created for the game in the 1970s.
PART 2 – THE BOYS IN BLUE
The Dodgers were an old-school organization that fitted perfectly with the old Los Angeles.
The “old” Los Angeles would be seen in the guise of the Pacific Electric interurban trains, Aimee Semple McPherson attracting thousands to her revivals and the old Hollywood studio system. It was quite a conservative place when the Dodgers arrived from Brooklyn. It suited Walter O’Malley well.
Yet, the Dodgers knew this was a city in transition. They kept on breaking barriers at every turn. The Dodgers were one of the first ball clubs to have their games broadcasted in English and Spanish. They embraced as many communities as possible to Chavez Ravine – even though it took longer for some to gain traction as part of the Dodger family.The latter was because of a bulldozer running through a neighborhood that once stood on the grounds of the ballpark. For O’Malley’s baseball palace on a hill to be built, it would have to displace the proud people that lived there. That took 20 years for that community to return to Chavez Ravine and support the team that once removed them from their hilltop home.
The Dodgers ran the same way Walter O’Malley did when it was back in Brooklyn. The surroundings may be 1962 modern, but that was fine for an old-school baseball man such as O’Malley. He expected loyalty from his organization – something O’Malley had to amend when the team moved west. You stayed with the organization forever. The greats stuck around as long as they could.
There were a few exceptions. Don Drysdale wanted to get into broadcasting, so Gene Autry hired him to do the Angels games in the 1970s. He would come back to work the Dodgers broadcasts after several seasons doing baseball coverage on the national and local level.
Then, there was Glenn Burke. He was promising ballplayer who tried to keep his homosexuality a secret. According to various stories, Tommy Lasorda could not accept any ballplayer being gay and ostracized Burke – eventually having Al Campanis trade him to Oakland.
Being a traditional ball club, they did what they can to create a baseball paradise in a carved out piece of hilltop above Chinatown, Echo Park and a swath of the city northeast of downtown Los Angeles. It had to be the perfect baseball park. That was O’Malley’s dream manifested in Chavez Ravine.
And, we came to the stadium. We filled its seats, ate Farmer John’s Dodger Dogs and heard Helen Dell’s organ prompting us to cheer for the guys who could never be called “Bums.” It was the first place where I witnessed a ballclub attracting three million fans in a season. That was a feat I never thought possible.
Mom used to pay $3.50 for a field box seat in 1977. Today, those seats cost from $37.00 to $165.00 a piece.
My first recollection of being in Chavez Ravine was around 1970. It would be the only time both of my parents, my brother and I would attend a ballgame together. I often forget the reason why we returned to the stadium as a nuclear family – through the story of my father having a heart attack was often mentioned. I’m still trying to recall that moment or confirm it.
It took a few years after the divorce was final until mom decided to treat us to several ballgames. Just as Lasorda replaced long-time manager Walter Alston, it was her chance to bring us to Chavez Ravine. It was just the three of us in that big Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight using the Stadium Way approach into the ballpark.
That was in 1977.
Once we got into the stadium, dinner was served in the form of those Dodger Dogs – the foot-long forms of processed meat of various origins warmed our hearts even on the warmest of nights. Our entertainment came with a lineup all too familiar to Dodger fans: Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Steve Yeager, Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith and Rick Monday. The starting rotation was historic: Don Sutton, Tommy John, Rick Rhoden, Charlie Hough and Doug Rau. Though Hough bounced between the rotation and the bullpen – he was a Dodger regular through a chunk of the 1970s – an unforgettable arm at that.
From the bench came some of the finest utility players of the time. Manny Mota was the best pinch hitter in the game. His role was to be a clutch player when the Dodgers needed it the most. Every time he came to bat – something amazing happened. Johnny Oates and Lee Lacy provided opportunities to jump in when needed. Oates was a terrific catcher behind Yeager and Lacy could play anywhere. Not to mention he’s really a nice guy.
It was either in 1977 or 1978 when Baker and Lacy did an autograph session at a Northridge sports fan shop. While Baker simply bolted at the end of his session, Lacy hung out and talked to a few of us. One time, while getting gas in Westlake Village, we saw Yeager pumping gas into his supercar – probably a Ferrari or Corvette of the time. It was those chance moments that you rarely get these days for the common fan. It was sort of a rarified air that you get a chance meeting with a Dodger. They were as equal as celebrities from the entertainment business to us.
It was through those excursions into Chavez Ravine that I learned the game of baseball. I was just watching, observing and noticing the nuances of the game – and the teams. I was able to see the differences between the Dodgers and its opponents – understanding the styles of the Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves…and so on.
Though the Dodgers won the National League in 1974, fans were hoping for a new kind of winner out of Lasorda’s squad. They had not won a World Series since 1965 and felt that 12 years was too long in-between championships. They won the NL West effectively ending the Big Red Machine’s domination of the decade. After a tough NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Dodgers faced the New York Yankees for the marbles. Little did they know that they would end the season giving up the dream of many Losangelinos for George Steinbrenner’s first World Series title.
Given personal recent sports history, one would think that would end everything. Not in Tommy Lasorda’s world. He bled Dodger Blue and will not let a six-game Series loss on the bat of Reggie Jackson prevent him from delivering what he wanted to achieve. Nothing less than a World Series championship will ever satisfy the fire inside of the Dodgers’ skipper.
Since that season, Dodger baseball took on a different look – one fitting for a city in constant change. It would embrace the diversity of the city while upholding the values of a prevailing conservative community.
That was my mom’s Dodgers.