When it comes to the Los Angeles Dodgers, it seems you either love 'em or hate 'em.
Certainly, there are millions of fans supporting the Dodgers on the club's exciting run to the National League Championship Series after enjoying an incredible turnaround from last place to first place in the NL West. After all, the team led Major League Baseball in attendance both at home and on the road.
But as a large-market franchise with a payroll well north of $200 million and a roster full of big-name and bigger-money superstars, it's easy to make enemies too. It may seem impossible, but because of the way their 2013 season has played out to this point, these Dodgers are both David and Goliath.
There's no question this Dodgers team is as talented and capable on the field as it is divisive and polarizing to the public, the media and even the competition off it.
But it's the second part—the divisive, polarizing angle—that has been gaining steam as the season and postseason have progressed. Since L.A. embarked on its historic 42-8 stretch midseason, it feels like there haven't been many weeks (or even days) where someone hasn't had something negative or nasty to say about the team as a whole or a player in particular.
The Dodgers have become an inescapable topic unto themselves. Just talking about them has become de rigueur and zeitgeist-y. (OK, so has writing about them.)
Not that they haven't given everyone plenty of reasons to talk, write and debate about them. Let's review.
A hint of what was to come might be traced all the way back to April 11 when freshly minted $147 million man Zack Greinke drilled San Diego Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin, setting off a brawl that got the former injured and the latter suspended.
But the L.A. scene remained fairly quiet for the next several weeks, in large part because the disappointing Dodgers were scuffling and struggling more than anyone could've imagined.
The spotlight really started shining on the Dodgers once Cuban rookie sensation Yasiel Puig came up in early June. The 22-year-old became a lightning rod of excitement and controversy due to his exceptional play coupled with a "how dare he" over-aggressiveness that rubbed plenty of people—including the opposition—the wrong way.
Then in the July 9 rematch, Puig did this:
If he's my teammate, I probably try to teach him how to behave in the big leagues. He's creating a bad reputation around the league, and it's unfortunate because the talent that he has is to be one of the greatest players in the big leagues...He's got so much talent, it'd be really bad if he wasted it doing the stupid things that he's doing. You have to respect to earn respect. If you don't respect anybody, you aren't going to earn respect.
The Puig-centered criticism didn't end there. Around the same time, there was an incident in which the rookie reportedly ignored Diamondbacks great Luis Gonzalez. And a couple of months later, Puig caused another stir when he apparently cursed at the media:
And of course, who could forget "Poolgate" in late September, when the entire Dodgers team celebrated clinching the NL West by beating that team again—the Diamondbacks—on the road and then jumping into the Chase Field pool.
That kicked off all sorts of comments, like this from Arizona's Willie Bloomquist, via the Los Angeles Times' Steve Dilbeck: "They clinched the division this year, so if that's how they're going to act and be classless, that's their clubhouse. I would expect them to act with a little more class than they did."
Or this from, of all people, Arizona senator John McCain:
On top of that and given all that went on between the two rivals this season, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers made it pretty clear recently that he still hasn't let go of things that happened between his team and the Dodgers. Here's what he had to say about watching the Dodgers playfully eating bananas in their dugout during a victory over Arizona on Sept. 9, via Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:
I was sitting behind home plate that game, and when it showed up on the Diamondvision of stuffing bananas down their throats, I felt like we were a punching bag. Literally, if I would have had a carton of baseballs, I would have fired them into the dugout from where I was sitting behind home plate.
Moving onto the postseason itself, the biggest story so far came from Game 3 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. In that one, you'll recall, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning with an RBI double off Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright that led to a celebration upon reaching second base.
Puig smashed what he thought was a home run, causing him to prematurely flip his bat and raise his arms, only to realize that the ball would go on to hit the wall. It turned out to be a triple.
After that game, Wainwright and Carlos Beltran spoke up about what they saw.
Beltran offered his thoughts on Puig, via MLB.com's Steve Gilbert:
I think he doesn't know. He still thinks he's playing somewhere else, I don't know. He has a lot of passion, no doubt about that. Great ability, great talent, and I think with time, he will learn that you have to sometimes act a little bit more calm. Not only with trying to show up other teams, [but also], like, umpires. It's going to take him time, but he's going to learn...As a player, he will learn. I don't think he's a bad kid, I just think he doesn't know right now.
And Wainwright noted that he saw Gonzalez "doing some Mickey Mouse stuff." To which the first baseman responded by saying, "We are in L.A., so Mickey Mouse stuff does go. ... Mickey Mouse is only an hour away. So, you know, it fits us. I did what I always do." Which is true, as this RBI single from June 5 shows:
Of course, that wasn't the only event from this exciting NLCS. With all of that still fresh entering Game 5, shortstop Hanley Ramirez grounded into a double play when the game was still tied at two in the third inning and proceeded to have a bit of a dugout flip-out in which he blew up a water cooler, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com wrote and tweeted:
The very next hitter was Gonzalez, who hit this tie-breaking home run:
That little celebration Gonzalez did by putting his hands on the sides of his helmet while walking back to the dugout? Yep, it was a nod to the Cardinals' comments about the first baseman's exultant gestures from Game 3.
And the latest? Well, those honors go to manager Don Mattingly, who went so far as to say the following—albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek—per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
I think if you look at it now, we've kind of become America's team, because everyone wants to see a seventh game. Probably even the fans in St. Louis would like to see a seventh game, so I figure that everybody's for us to win on Friday night.
As if people weren't already divided enough over the Dodgers, their manager had to go and invoke the nickname of the Dallas Cowboys.
OK, now that we're all up to date, what are we supposed to make of everything?
First, it's obvious why there has been quite a commotion surrounding the Dodgers, who have supplied critics and haters with plenty of ammunition to use against them this season. But it should be noted that much of the grousing and complaining came from folks—executives, coaches, players—who happened to be on the receiving end of defeats at the hands of the Dodgers.
That's not to say that some of the events and "incidents" surrounding the Dodgers aren't objectionable to varying degrees. It does, though, show that competition can get the best of everyone from time to time. It also proves that many in and around baseball still very much remain of that old-school mindset and go about things in a traditional, by-the-book way. That's fine too.
A lot of what was laid out above has been overblown. Let's not pretend that other teams don't celebrate emphatically on the field. That no other player has ever punched a water cooler or incited a brawl. These things happen in baseball—in sports—all the time. Professional athletes are playing at the highest level there is, and to expect them not to show emotion from time to time when something good or bad happens, well, that's silly.
In the Dodgers' case, there's definitely a snowball effect where a few early occasions started the narrative rolling and made everyone aware of what was going on out in Los Angeles. The fact that it's Hollywood only added to the fervor and the furor.
There's no doubt the Dodgers are an excitable lot with players like Ramirez who can get upset and guys like Puig and Gonzalez who like to celebrate. Every team has that, it just hasn't been made into a major ongoing story that's lasted the better part of the summer and on into the fall.
Maybe because most of those teams haven't made it this far.
While it's evident that the Dodgers could tone things down a bit, it should just make other teams want to beat them even more. And if they do, then reactions and celebrations are fair game.
One thing's for sure: This entertaining, dramatic NLCS is nearing a conclusion that is going to lead to some kind of raucous behavior. If the Dodgers advance, expect this story to continue. But if the Cardinals do, well, here's hoping the Dodgers can handle what's sure to be a party in St. Louis.
The Cardinals, after all, will have slain David and Goliath.