With all of the recent travails the Dodgers have had both on and off the field, I have wondered what feels worse: to root for a franchise that is poorly run and not interesting to watch, or to root for a team that came close to winning it all, only to fall short in a horrifying fashion?
One of my favorites photos to look at in the Los Angeles Public Library's photo collection is this one taken by Her-Ex Photographer James Ruebsamen. Local writer David Davis picked out for display in an exhibit at the library called "Play by Play." Davis also had a companion book about the exhibit.
To set the scene, the Dodgers were playing the Cardinals in the 1985 National League Championship Series. The Dodgers had won the first two games in Los Angeles, but the Cardinals had won the next three in St. Louis. The series returned to Los Angeles on October 16. The Dodgers were leading 5-4 in the ninth inning of Game 6, but the Cardinals had runners on second and third, but with two outs. The Dodgers top reliever Tom Niedenfuer was on the mound. The Cardinals best power hitter, Jack Clark, was at bat.
It didn't go well for Niedenfuer and the Dodgers. Clark homered high up into the left field pavilion on Niedenfuer's first pitch to give the Cardinals a 7-5 lead. The Cardinals would win the game and advance to the World Series and lose to the Kansas City Royals in seven games.
Even though this moment was one of the more painful moments I've experienced in my life rooting for the Dodgers, I'm always fascinated by this photo. For starters, I didn't actually see the home run by Clark live. The game went long and I had to get to a class at UCLA, Speech 1. I listened to the end of the game on the radio, right before the class started.
There are so many emotions in the photo. Pedro Guerrero, the Dodgers best player of that season, is the principal figure in the shot. He is about to slam his glove on to the field in disgust, not unlike a Little Leaguer. 99.9% of all professional players would have grimly accepted his fate. Guerrero was acting not unlike the way many fans at the stadium felt at the time.
Just above Guerrero is an usher, who is crouched down and holding on to his straw boater. Was the usher tired after a long day of trying to control the crowd in the pavilion? Was he upset about the home run? Was he realizing that he was not going to be getting a paycheck for being an usher for the rest of the year?
In the first row of seats, a couple fans stare out onto the field, presumably watching Clark circle the bases and seeing the Cardinals celebrating in their dugout. But others are turning and watching the ball fly into the seats, including another usher (the woman in the white boots on the right side of the frame).
Then, in the second row, is the Man with the Radio. Even for 1985, this man has a fairly large radio with him. He seems to have it pressed closely to his ear to listen to the radio call (which I believe was done by Ross Porter as Vin Scully was working NBC's broadcast.) Is he trying to listen to an explanation of what he just saw?
For me, the photo encapsulates a moment in time when the biggest complaint about the Dodgers was why Tommy Lasorda let Niedenfuer pitch so long and rack up so many innings in relief? Why didn't Lasorda intentionally walk Clark?
It may be like that again. One day. One day.