By Anthony L. Cuaycong
The Dodgers are champions anew. They didn’t find the going easy. In fact, they had to suffer heartbreaks — and under extraordinary, even extra-legal, circumstances — en route in order to build the institutional resolve to see their mission through. And in making the third time the charm, they made sure to stamp their class on the field and overcome singular challenges, including those posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic, off it. That they ruled the truncated regular season is nothing new. That they then did the same in the expanded playoffs speaks volumes of their determination.
Indeed, the nature of baseball — and competition in the modern era — is such that not even all the preparedness and a surfeit of talent can guarantee success. And it certainly didn’t help that the Astros and Red Sox, the Dodgers’ World Series foils in 2017 and 2018, respectively, rode on cheating-enabled campaigns to deny them their due. If there’s anything their experience gave them, however, it’s fortitude. Their seemingly Sisyphean travails prepped them for the grind. They accepted that claiming the ultimate prize wasn’t going to be easy, and knew well enough to stay confident and self-assured through all the trials.
And there were trials. With the pandemic making the 2020 season an iffy proposition, the Dodgers fretted that their astute assembly of their roster would go unrewarded. Three and a half months from the cancelation of spring training, however, Major League Baseball was somehow able to pull a shortened schedule together. They then made the most of their opportunity to prove their worth. And it’s a testament to how hard titles are to claim that they nonetheless had to survive three elimination matches against the gritty Braves in the National League Championship Series and suffer from two defeats featuring an absurd sequence of endgame miscues against the overachieving Rays in the World Series.
Admittedly, the gut punches made victory even sweeter. Forget that advanced statistics highlighted their dominance in the World Series. For all their supposed superiority, they benefited from unsolicited help in the clincher; history will not be kind to Rays manager Kevin Cash’s decision to relieve in-the-groove ace Blake Snell in the middle of the sixth inning. Certainly, they had to work for every win, and then some. And when they finally managed to live up to preseason prognoses, they rightly basked in their achievement.
Considering the extent of the Dodgers’ efforts to accomplish the rare feat of clinching a second straight sports title for a host city in the same year, it’s too bad that focus now turns to the manner in which they celebrated it at Globe Life Field. Third baseman Justin Turner, who had to be pulled out of the lineup in the eighth inning of Game Six due to a positive test for the virus, blatantly disregarded safety protocols and joined his teammates in the revelry. As a leader and veteran who suffered through their downs, he understandably wanted to enjoy the ultimate up. Even as he knew he couldn’t bottle the moment, however, he should have been aware of the danger he posed to others on the field, and he should have acted accordingly.
If the MLB is serious in its desire to have players serve as role models, it would do well to throw the book at Turner and the Dodgers, who appeared to tolerate, even encourage, his major transgression. Just as they’ve earned the privilege to be honored as heroes, they deserve to be exposed as heels. Commissioner Rob Manfred has to do what’s proper. Else, he will be fueling the notion that rules are being followed in the breach and, worse, being enforced selectively. Nothing less than the next season is at stake.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.