Teams with large payrolls are not guaranteed to win championships. In sports the more talented the player, the more expensive their services become once they reach free agency, thus teams with large payrolls are filled with players who are, or at one time were, extremely talented at their chosen profession. The road to a championship requires a commitment to excellence, and for the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers that journey was just beginning.
The Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight explores the transition of the Dodgers from the disastrous ownership tenure of Frank McCourt to the new ownership of Mark Walter. Knight explores the team on the field, in the front office, and the world around them. Major League Baseball understood the value of ensuring the transition from McCourt to Walter went smoothly and acted in the best interest of baseball.
*Spoilers beyond this point.*
Knight does an excellent job of examining the players on and off the field. The Dodgers to securing their ace, Clayton Kershaw, for the long term was critical to the health of the team. If Kershaw was able to walk away from the Dodgers, like Zack Greinke eventually did, the immediate future for the team would have been about building towards division not World Series titles. Los Angeles’ front office knew their fans would turn on the team if Kershaw was allowed to walk. Resigning Kershaw was as much a baseball move as it was a public relations move. Contrasting the focus and dominance of Kershaw was the explosion of Yasiel Puig. The willingness to sign a relatively unknown talent was a risk, however the excitement Puig brought with him to the Dodgers out weighed the risk in the eyes of the fans. Puig’s experience with his teammates and the insight Knight provides shows the difficulty many Latin American players have in adjusting to life in the United States, especially Cuban players. Puig’s near instant success meant he found some of the pitfalls that caused other superstars stumble. While electrifying on the field, Puig’s antics off the field and in the clubhouse rubbed many of his teammates the wrong way. This left manager Don Mattingly with the delicate job of keeping Puig happy while not alienating the rest of the team. This challenge was made even more difficult as the Dodgers showed little faith in Mattingly, who never felt secure in his job while in Los Angeles. This constant balancing act in the clubhouse made performing on the field more difficult than normal. The internal drama was overshadowed as the ownership regime of Frank McCourt came crashing down all around Dodger Stadium.
The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse (Simon & Schuster)
Prior to owning the Dodgers, Frank McCourt owned a parking lot in south Boston. He attempted to buy the Red Sox and move them to a new stadium that he would construct on his parking lot. When this plan failed he turned his attention to the Dodgers. McCourt had bigger dreams than bank accounts, but was able to purchase the Dodgers with loans he secured by putting the parking lot up as collateral. Eventually the loans went unpaid and the parking lot was seized. Ultimately the Dodgers were sold to McCourt for a parking lot in south Boston.
McCourt ran the Dodgers into the ground. He had little interest in the team beyond how they could make him richer. As his personal life went up in flames he attempted to hold onto the Dodgers through a television deal that would pay him enough to remain owner after his divorce was finalized. Major League Baseball was forced to step in to prevent the deal. His divorce turning nasty and dragging on, McCourt was ordered to sell the team. The Dodger fan base was skeptical of new owner Mark Walter. However, Walter was only interested in winning. Signing fan favorite Andre Ethier to an over priced contract was more of a public relations deal than a smart baseball deal. Walter understood he had to win back the fans after many had rightly walked away under McCourt. Winning was the most important thing, money would solve some problems but not everything.
The early building blocks of the perennial contender the Dodgers have become were laid in 2013. Molly Knight examines the circumstances surround the team during this critical time, yet she also helps the reader understand why the rebirth of the Dodgers is so important to baseball. She does an excellent job of exposing the personalities on the team that made the team successful and struggle. Sports teams are often not seen as being made up of people, but Knight makes you see the quirks and craziness that each player brings to the Dodger clubhouse. Molly Knight’s work in The Best Team Money Can Buy is as critical to the understanding of baseball’s current state as Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. Money does not guarantee championships, as baseball cannot be bought and sold, but it does not hurt.
Kevin Youkilis will never lead the league in home runs or batting average, but he is an essential part of a team winning. He is a two time World Series Champion with the Boston Red Sox, in 2004 and 2007. A three time All Star (2008, 2009, and 2011), Youkilis won the 2007 Gold Glove Award for his superb defense at First base. Additionally he is the recipient of the 2008 Hank Aaron Award for the American League. Although he was overshadowed by super stars like David Ortiz, his impact on the team and their success is undeniable.
Youkilis is a player which the Oakland Athletics and General Billy Beane love, he does all the little things that are required to win. You do not get nicknamed the Greek God of Walks (although Youkilis is of Romania heritage, not Greek) by accident when you have an On-Base Percentage of .392 over a 6 season span. A career .281 hitter, Youkilis led the league in Sacrifice Flies in 2006 and in being Hit By Pitches in 2012. Whatever needs to be done to win, he was willing to do.
Youkilis is a reflection of the city of Boston, where he has played the majority of his career. Tough, head strong, and willing to run through a brick wall if it means being successful. While he has been hampered by injuries over the past few seasons with the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees, Kevin Youkilis has left his mark on Major League Baseball.
So as I looked for a topic for my first entry I was blindsided by one when I least expected. Lets get some background on my baseball history. I grew up in north New Jersey and have been a New York Yankees fan since I remember. My friends and family were also mostly Yankee fans since you were either a Yankee fan or were dropped on your head very early and became a Mets fan because of the pretty colors. Now I also do not believe in many things I cannot see, so believing in superstitions seems odd. As luck would have it I moved to Atlanta at a time the hometown Braves were on a roll and winning championships. So my first real foray into my Yankees superstition came in the fall of ‘96 when I watched the first two games of the World Series and witnessed the Yankees fall behind and couldn’t bear to watch the next four games as the Yankees came back to take the series. It would be tough the next fifteen years trying to watch certain games without causing losses due to my viewing.
This past weekend was a good series in Boston. The hometown team celebrated their stadiums one hundredth birthday and were hosting the beloved Yankees. As I watched the second game in horror, the Yankees gave up nine runs five innings; I was saved by the television networks. It seems a pitcher from the White Sox had a perfect game going into the eighth. So I watched in suspense as he retired the bottom of the eighth and worried if my watching my ruin his chance as has happened two or three times after I switch the channel. I watched as Philip Humber completed the twenty-first perfect game in Major League history and when I switched back I was amazed at the score of the first game. My Yankees started a comeback while I watched the other game. So of course I changed the channel and started to pace. I explained to my girls what I was doing by switching the game back just to get a score and back to whatever I had on. I was able to explain superstition to the point that if I left the game on too long I got screams and cries. Surprisingly the Yankees came back with fifteen runs and shocked the Red Sox. As I jumped and screamed with the girls and laughed at how unbelievable it was, I looked back and wondered if my superstition could be real, could I be empowering the Yanks with my lack of viewership or am I missing some of the greatest games due to my paranoia. All in all it reminds me of how amazing the game of baseball is no matter who you root for (except the Mets, those fans are sad) and how a regular season day of baseball can turn into a day for the history books.