There are so many things in life that I miss and to which I would gladly return. One that I especially miss is the “Dodger Way”. Following Branch Rickey’s lead Al Campanis wrote “The Dodger Way to Play Baseball” in 1954 . In short, his book became the Dodger organization bible. Campanis’ commandments included pride in coaching and fundamentals and teams built on pitching, speed and defense.
“Al’s book was a cornerstone of our success, as fundamentals always are, and that continuity was also a cornerstone,” said Peter O’Malley of the Campanis book. “I can’t think of any organization in baseball which had that continuity for as long as we did. There was stability throughout.”
That continuity was fostered on a vigorous and vibrant minor league system, the best farm system in all of major league baseball.
I expect each Dodger fan has a different recollection of the Dodger Way. For me the Dodger Way was an attitude that permeated the Dodgers striving to be the best in every facet of MLB.
- It was the farm system producing players learning the fundamentals along each step of the way so that they became second nature.
- It was always being prepared for the retirement of key players with younger versions waiting in the minors.
- It was that steady stream of home grown players keeping the team constantly competitive with at least two World Series appearances in each of the first four decades in my career as a Dodger fanatic – 1950’s through the 1980’s.
- It was pride in being a Dodger with players well groomed and uniforms neat.
- It was resisting the trend in MLB to move towards gaudy appearing uniforms.
- It was breaking down barriers and leading the way to new frontiers. There was Jackie, Campy and Newk, the move to the west coast, leading the way in international scouting and signings – Roberto Clemente, Chan Ho Park, Hideo Nomo, Fernando Valenzuela.
- It was the Dodger baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.
- It was making astute trades for players approaching or in their prime: Claude Osteen (25), Burt Hooten (25), Dusty Baker (27), Reggie Smith (31), Tommy John (29), Tim Belcher (25), Andy Messersmith (27).
- It was a time when other teams looked to the Dodgers for the way to do it.
In the 1990’s the Dodger Way started to fade away. Was it caused by the loss of Al Campanis as a result of that fateful interview in 1987 or the sale of the team by Peter O’Malley in 1998 – making the team no longer a family enterprise? Was it the free agent frenzy by general managers with teams looking for instant gratification? Was it because of two rather tumultuous ownerships with Rupert Murdoch and Frank McCourt – owners who saw the Dodgers as investment opportunities rather than a fan based entertainment franchise? Or was it simply that the Shelf life has expired on the “Dodger Way”?
The “Dodger Way” has definitely died a slow painful death but it appears it has been resurrected elsewhere in MLB and the St. Louis Cardinals now have a “Cardinal Way” similar to the lost “Dodger Way”. That is spawning consistent success with the Cardinal organization. I don’t think the “Dodger Way” can ever return. However, with new ownership a new generation of “The Dodger Way” distinctive from all others may emerge – perhaps an even better “Dodger Way.”