The Dodgers Did It Their Way

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.”

There was a time when Al Campanis's 1954 book The Dodger Way to Play Baseball was mandatory reading for all Dodger major and minor leaguers. I bet there isn't one current Dodger who has read this book. (Photo courtesy of Amazon.com)

There was a time when Al Campanis’s 1954 book The Dodger Way to Play Baseball was mandatory reading for all Dodger major and minor leaguers. I bet there isn’t one current Dodger who has read this book.

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”?

Prior to his untimely death in 1993, Dodger Hall of Famer Don Drysdale wrote in his book Once a Bum, Always a Dodger that he feared that "The Dodger Way" was lost forever.

Prior to his untimely death in 1993, Dodger Hall of Famer Don Drysdale wrote in his book Once a Bum, Always a Dodger that he feared that “The Dodger Way” was gone forever.

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.”

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8 Responses to “The Dodgers Did It Their Way”

  1. Ron Cervenka says:

    I believe that there are two very specific reasons why The Dodger Way is lost and gone forever:

    1) Free agency – There is no longer a sense of commitment or loyalty to any one franchise anymore, as there was prior to free agency when guys stayed with the same team for most (or all) of their careers. Today it’s all about the money. That said, free agency has its pluses too, but it is impossible to dispute that it has changed the game forever.

    2) Social changes and attitudes – As Drysdale noted in his book, the players of old used to hang around long after the games and talk about that day’s game – what they could have done or should have done better, etc. According to Drysdale, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges were the leaders of these after-game sessions and Don (as a rookie) absolutely LOVED them. The players of today can’t get out of the clubhouse fast enough after the games.

    While the new GBM Dodgers may show some symptoms of the old Dodger Way, it will never again be as it was ‘back in the day.’

  2. Evan Bladh says:

    re: #2. Duke Snider said back in the 80s that when train rides were done away with in the majors, the camaraderie established during those long hauls went away. I’m not sure if I buy completely into that because the modern day players have adapted to the modern world and there are some real cohesive groups that have developed amongst the millionaire balplayers of today. Look at what the bearded group in Boston was able to accomplish.

    It’s a different era and a different way to deal with the game, that’s for sure, but I still believe that some teams mesh well together and form a kinship that leads to wins on the field.

  3. OldBrooklynFan says:

    I saw the change in the Dodgers in the 90s. Whether it was ownership or free agency or both it’s hard for me to say.
    Too me a lot of improvement has been shown over the last 10 years in regards to N.L West finishes and some NLCS appearances.
    I’m just hoping this improvement continues to grow.

  4. SCDodgerFan says:

    The Dodgers owned their training facility, their stadium and their airplane. This was done without public money. Why should they be required to participate in revenue sharing? Most teams today expect the cities, or states where they play to pay for their stadiums.

  5. RC says:

    I agree with Ron’s # 1. Free agency. The Dodger way, as described in the book, is long gone. The most glaring on field example is the loss if basic fundamentals, not the least of which is on any play every base is covered and every base is backed up. Outfielders should anticipate the overthrow and move on each pitch. They do not. Every game you can see them standing there watching. They miss their cut off and throw three bouncers off line. I’ve seen better more accurate arms on softball fields around the country. The “Dodger Way” is a part of history. Can they get it back? I doubt it. Today’s player is just not about solid fundamentals and hustle. It’s about 7 figure contracts and being a celebrity. Heck, today a AAA player who hit .187 gets $700K. How you gonna ask that guy to back up a base?

    • Bluenose Dodger says:

      I agree and I don’t RC. I doubt that the Dodger Way as we knew it can ever return. But I truly believe that a new Dodger way can develop. I have used the Cardinals as a prime example of an organization that has a “way” and they stick to it. Their pitchers and position players grow within expectations and learn how the Cardinals want them to play fundamental baseball. I also think they draft players they feel will fit best into their way. They can give up Freese, Beltran, Pujols, and keep on chugging within their way.

      I think it is just too easy for management to throw their hands in the air and say they can’t develop a system because players are now more concerned with contracts. The truth of the matter is that the better they develop and play fundamentally the better the team does and the better suited they are to garner better contracts.

      I would go further and say that if players don’t back up, continue to miss cut offs, then it is management’s fault for not addressing it and fixing it. If all of that is promoted in the minors players reach MLB more readily equipped to do so in the big leagues. I have seen Corey Seager play minor league ball on MiLB.com and I think he is typical of most minor leaguers. They are gung ho and hustle like heck. Management has to channel that energy into the “way’ to play the game with promotion dependent on it. In my opinion, too much is made of offense and pitching at the expense of defense and baseball savvy.

  6. RC says:

    In general I agree with your point. But what I have seen in the last few decades is simply this: if you can hit, you don’t need to do any of that other crap.

    • Bluenose Dodger says:

      RC – I wrote this above: “In my opinion, too much is made of offense and pitching at the expense of defense and baseball savvy.”

      I agree with you 100% about the hitting trumping everything. But, to me ,that is the fault of management – GM, Player Development, Manager, coaches, etc. The truth is players do need to do the other stuff – winning teams do.

      That is one of the good things about Puig. He does do the other stuff. Yes he is a bit raw yet, needing refining, and he makes mistakes. But, he does it all – hit, run, catch, throw. He misses cut offs or doesn’t back up an infield play at times. If that continues it says more about management than Yasiel.

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