Friday, July 8, 2011

Blue bogeyman

If Larry Lucchino said it once, he said it dozens of times soon into his tenure as Padres president and CEO. First, however, came the geographic disclaimer from this Princeton and Yale man who maintained a law office in Washington D.C. and said he was still learning what it meant to be a San Diegan and a Padres fan.

"But," Lucchino would say next, pausing for effect, "I have found it easy to develop a hatred for the Dodgers."

The Smartest Man in Baseball understood better than many of his colleagues in the sports biz that rivalry is good for a club's financial statement. In his pre-Padres days with the Baltimore Orioles, Lucchino tweaked Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in public comments and often depicted his O's as scrappy upstarts compared to the haughty Yankees and all their money. The day Lucchino left San Diego for the Red Sox 10 years ago, this blog expected him to goose the Sox-Yankees rivalry, and Luchino did not disappoint. Speaking to the New York Times, he likened the Yankees to the Evil Empire.

The Dodgers, it could be said long ago, were the Yankees of the West.

As such, the Dodgers inspired not only disdain from Padres fans but also apprehension sown by their years of dominance.

Now look at them. The Dodgers are in bankruptcy court. Their owners are in divorce court. Their team occupies last place going into tonight's series opener with San Diego, and their grand but decaying ballpark grows emptier by the day.

Yet, several Padres fans known by this blog still obsess over the blue bogeyman.

At Padres home games, my friend Phil watches the out-of-town scoreboard as intently as he does the Padres themselves; whenever the Dodgers' opponent claims a lead, Phil blurts out the news.

Another friend of this blog -- Steve -- checks the standings to see if his hopeless Padres are ahead of the hopeless Dodgers. If they are, Steve feels better about Padresdom.

A blood relative of mine refuses to allow any Dodgers on his Fantasy League team, implying that even if some dummy offered him Clayton Kershaw for Wade LeBlanc he would decline out of anti-Dodger principle.

More fascinating even is the recurring Dodgers-as-sleeping-giant specter. Even as the Dodgers' World Series drought ran into a third decade, Padres personnel and officials throughout the National League West continue to speak of L.A.'s potential dominance. Of late, the mere whisper that Mark Cuban might buy the Dodgers inspired fretting from two of the aforementioned Padres fans.

West Coast Bias, conversely, long has looked at the underachieving Dodgers and thought of two words -- opportunity cost. Dodgers stagnation over the last two decades-plus cost baseball a ripe chance to better grow its revenue pie at a time when King Football had abandoned Los Angeles.

WCB also doubts that what's bad for the Dodgers is always good for the Padres and other NL West teams.

If the Dodgers raised the competitive bar for the Padres and other rivals, could that not further compel them to do the same?

The Tampa Bay Rays bring in far less revenue than the Padres and are confronted by not one but two superpowers in their own division. Responding to the challenges, the Rays became super efficient at growing their own players, reached a World Series and won the American League East last year. When the Red Sox prepared for the draft this year, one of the spurs for them to do better, a Red Sox man told this blog, was that Tampa had collected so many extra draft picks.

Competition is supposed to be a good thing in American businesses and sports. The view here is that a smart, sound and aggressive Dodgers franchise would be good good for baseball, the West region notably -- and yes, in some ways, good for the Padres, who would have more cause to sign the best amateurs and raise their payroll. They also might enjoy a bigger slice from a bigger revenue pie to which the Dodgers contribute.

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