It seems like once every few months, Bill Plaschke writes a column saying the Angels are better than the Dodgers in something. It's part of the general pro-Moreno/anti-McCourt narrative that he's been propagating since 2004. And it's somewhat understandable, especially in light of the embarrassing stories that have come out about the McCourt divorce. Yesterday was no exception, as Plaschke showed his true bias.
Plaschke compared Angel Stadium and Dodger Stadium, and of course he likes Angel Stadium better. A lot better. (It's actually the second LA Times article comparing the two parks in eight days, after Chris Erskine's more even-handed piece.)
He writes: "This week's All-Star game was awarded to Angel Stadium because it is the best ballpark in Southern California by about a 450-foot homer."
Plaschke's preference is what it is, and it's not the first time he's expressed his distaste for Dodger Stadium. But the column is really unfair, even by Plaschke's standards, and contains some inaccuracies.
Before I continue on the column further, let me note that I attend multiple Dodger and Angel games every year. I'm fortunate enough to occasionally get excellent seats at both parks, and I go to plenty of games in the cheap seats. I know both ballparks extremely well, and feel very qualified to discuss their differences.
Personally, I like Dodger Stadium better (by a wide margin), but I don't want to diminish Angel Stadium. Arte Moreno has done a phenomenal job of picking up the baton from Disney, and has created one of the most fan-friendly atmospheres in the game. I can certainly understand why some people might prefer the Anaheim experience. But if someone is going to compare the two parks in the LA Times, then they should at least be fair.
Plaschke criticizes Dodger Stadium, noting that after Tuesday, Angel Stadium will have had two All-Star Games (1989 and 2010) in the time since the Dodgers last hosted the game in 1980. Plaschke writes: "First, it is because the Dodgers, with baseball's third-oldest stadium, realize their limitations and have simply stopped pushing for All-Star games. Second, well, they wouldn't get one if they asked."
The first sentence is simply inaccurate. The LA Times has reported multiple times in recent years that the Dodgers have been pushing for an All-Star Game. As recently as April 2009, the Times' Dylan Hernandez wrote that Bud Selig had acknowledged the Dodgers desire to host the game.
As for the second sentence, well MLB actually selected the Dodgers to host the 2009 World Baseball Classic, in a bidding process similar to the All-Star Game. Numerous other teams wanted to host semi-finals and Final of the WBC, yet obviously MLB didn't think Dodger Stadium was too old or decrepit. I actually went to the final of the WBC, and it was one of the most enjoyable baseball games I've ever experienced (World Series games included).
The real reason why Dodger Stadium hasn't hosted an All-Star Game in 30 years is because of all the new stadiums in MLB. Bud Selig has made a policy of rewarding teams that build new stadiums with All-Star Games, partially to help justify the enormous expense of doing so. As a result, new stadiums in Colorado, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Houston, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and St. Louis have hosted the last seven All-Star Games held in NL parks. Next year, Arizona's new park will host the game, and new ballparks in New York, San Diego, Washington, Florida, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia are all probably in the queue for the National League.
As for the American League, new parks in Baltimore, Cleveland, Texas, Seattle, and Detroit have already hosted the game, and now MLB has given the game to Anaheim after it made substantial stadium renovations. Kansas City's renovated park is set to host the game in 2012 and will probably be followed by Minnesota.
My point is, Dodger Stadium has no glaring deficiency that has prevented it from hosting the All-Star Game, and MLB clearly thought it was worthy of hosting a premier event like the World Baseball Classic. But unfortunately for the Dodgers, they will likely have to wait for several more new parks to host the All-Star Game, or they will have to undergo dramatic renovations to jump the line.
Plaschke has some other biased and rather silly statements. He writes:
"Angel Stadium concession stands are so efficient, the other night I fed my children from Panda Express and missed all of three batters. Dodger Stadium concession stands are so overworked, the other night there were 15 people in line for one guy selling pretzels -- and this was on the renovated field level."
In all truth, Plaschke could have swapped the words "Dodger" and "Angel" in that paragraph and been equally accurate. Just recently I got stuck waiting in line for about 20 minutes at Angel Stadium for food, as one of the guys at the counter was completely incompetent. At Dodger Stadium, if you know what you're doing, you can get food pretty quickly. (I've even missed fewer than 3 batters!) If a fan is willing to walk a few sections over they can often find a less crowded concession stand serving the same food as the one closest to their seat. There are express lines in several places around the stadium, including a quick Panda Express line on the Reserved Level. (The Panda Express is equally tasteless at both ballparks.)
The fact of the matter is that the Dodgers and Angels both are among MLB's leaders in attendance, and long lines are going to happen no matter what. If you don't want to wait in line, then I recommend not getting food in the 3rd inning when the visiting team is batting. That's when it's always the worst.
It's also worth noting that the Dodgers employ Levy Restaurants and the Angels employ Aramark as their respective concessionaires. The concessionaires, not the teams, typically hire and train the workers. So it's hard to blame the Dodgers when some guy is fumbling around with soft drinks and a roll of quarters.
It's true though that the Dodgers concession stands are older (with the exception of the renovated field level). The Dodgers have plans to renovate the all levels of the stadium, which will include bigger and better kitchens to increase efficiency, and a greater number of points of sale to reduce the lines. But the current system isn't awful, and you have to be a pretty negative person to excessively complain about it.
I also think the Dodger Dog (when it's grilled) is far superior to the Angels hot dogs. And I'd argue that the Dodgers open-air grills taste better than the Angels BBQ areas, but that's all a matter of preference.
Plaschke goes on to say that Dodger Stadium "doesn't always feel safe" because of the "closeness of the crowds, and the literal heat in those tight concourses." However, for the Angels, he writes: "Two acts of violence in Angel Stadium last season have been well-documented. But the general stress among fans there is absent. C'mon, it's Orange County. Nobody even frowns."
Obviously Plaschke and I have dramatically different perceptions of the same ballpark. I've never once felt unsafe at Dodger Stadium, and I've been there literally hundreds of times. But I do know plenty of people who will frown simply on the idea of being in Orange County for more than five minutes. And clearly Angel Stadium is capable of having "well-documented acts of violence."
Plaschke also writes: "Walking into Angel Stadium, with its wide, clean concourses and comfortably spaced seats, is like opening a sunroof. Walking into Dodger Stadium, with its low ceilings, dark corners and claustrophobic concourses, is like clenching a steering wheel."
It's funny how different some people can be. When I walk into Dodger Stadium, I admire the beautiful views of the San Gabriel Mountains and feel relaxed in the cool California air. When I walk into Angel Stadium, I see a freeway, the Honda Center, and fake rock formations that look a little tacky. There are no obstructed seats at Dodger Stadium, and the seats themselves are all comfortable and fairly new. Most of the seats at Angel Stadium are good too, but I've gotten stuck in the 200 level several times. In those seats, the overhang juts out so far that fans can't see one of the two main scoreboards. Yet those seats still can cost up to $80 each.
Plaschke cites the "Fan Cost Index" from Team Marketing Report, which shows Angels games are about $90 cheaper than Dodgers games for a family of four. I'm very familiar with how the FCI works and there are numerous ways to manipulate it when teams care enough to do so. For example, the FCI assumes that a family will purchase two caps, and the Angels somehow have a cap available for just $6.99. The Dodgers caps are sold for the more standard amount of $16, so caps alone account for $18 of that $90.
I could spend a whole column breaking down those numbers, but the point is, you can walk away from both stadiums paying about the same amount and having a relatively equal experience. It's true though that the Angels concessions are slightly cheaper than the Dodgers, and I'd love it if the Dodgers could work with Levy Restaurants on reducing prices. It would also be nice if parking cost less than $15 at Dodger Stadium.
Perhaps the only area where I really agree with Plaschke is on cleanliness. Outside of the field level, the Dodgers need to do much a better job of keeping the bathrooms clean. The Angels do a fantastic job of keeping their stadium clean, but they did have an embarrassing incident three years ago when they were cited for 33 major health violations, including rat infestation at concession stands.
I also have to give credit to the Angels for their customer service, which is as good as any in MLB. Angels employees are friendly and helpful and their efforts help lead to a positive fan environment.
Overall, Arte Moreno has done an amazing job of turning one of baseball's more mundane parks into one that does truly offer a first-class fan experience. It's hard to go to an Angels game and not have a great time. I can even understand why someone might prefer Angel Stadium to Dodger Stadium.
But even with the recent increase in sponsorship signage, there is a sense of baseball purity to Dodger Stadium that is truly special. Even if it's a little old and starting to show its age, I walk into Dodger Stadium every time and feel like I'm in the perfect baseball venue. It feels real and authentic, whereas Angel Stadium can sometimes feel fake. I've taken numerous friends from out of town to Dodger Stadium, and they're amazed that a baseball stadium can be so great without pretending like its 1920.
Yes, Dodger Stadium needs some renovations, and those will happen in due time. But to write: "Although Southern California baseball's soul was born in Chavez Ravine, its heart is in Anaheim," is bewildering.
For 48 years Dodger Stadium has been "Blue Heaven on Earth" and it has fostered generations of Southern California baseball fans. A 15-minute wait for a pretzel doesn't erase its memories or its beauty. And being upset with the McCourts doesn't mean you should report biased information about the Dodgers home stadium. My heart is still in Chavez Ravine.