As Monday’s trade deadline ticks closer, the Dodgers have plenty of critical decisions to make.
If the Dodgers are to make a move, it is no secret that young Julio Urias is on the table for a trade with the Chicago White Sox involving Chris Sale. Urias’s potential is obvious, but there is ultimately no guarantee that he will enshrine himself amongst baseball’s best. Sale, while eight years older than Urias, is already one of the game’s best. Trading for Chicago’s ace would give the Dodgers their best chance at a world championship this year, even with an ailing Clayton Kershaw whose season is in doubt.
No action would signify that the club is willing to gamble with its short term success, and the ultimate legacy of baseball’s finest pitcher. Indeed, at stake is the greater legacy of Clayton Kershaw who, next to Sandy Koufax, is the greatest Dodger pitcher ever. While Kershaw’s individual accomplishments with the Dodgers stand in a category of its own, the team has failed to win a world championship during the ace’s tenure with the club. Given the possibility that Kershaw’s best days are behind him, no major support added to the pitching staff while the Dodgers are in the thick of a pennant race will raise doubts that the team might not win a World Series during Kershaw’s historic career with the club.
But if Urias is to stay, he is in line to inherit a rich legacy of both Dodger pitching dominance and the club’s exceptionally strong ties to Mexico and the Mexican-American community. When Walter O’Malley proclaimed that he wanted a Mexican version of Sandy Koufax, he must have been dreaming of Urias alongside Fernando Valenzuela. Indeed, also at stake before tomorrow’s trade deadline is the potential legacy of a young player poised to build on the special relationship the Dodgers have worked long and hard to build with the Mexican diaspora in Los Angeles and around the world.
The longtime Mexican Dodger utility player and current coach Juan Castro once told Dodger Insider, “If I can describe the Dodgers, it would be (the word) ‘opportunity.’ They helped me to become who I became as a player and a person.” Thirty-six years ago, Fernando Valenzuela shook the baseball universe when he broke through with the team after literally pitching on dirt fields for most of his life. Today, Adrian Gonzalez continues the Dodgers’ rich ties to Mexico as perhaps the greatest Mexican ball player to have lived. But this rich history that has seen the likes of Valenzuela, Castro, Gonzalez, and now Urias grace the field in Dodger blue has not always been a matter of fact.
“There’s still a town under third base,” the legendary musician Ry Cooder once told The New York Times when talking about his album Chavéz Ravine. Dodger Stadium was literally built on top of a Mexican-American community who’s residents were ultimately evicted by the City of Los Angeles to make room for the stadium. Real people were forced out of their homes by police officers in what Great Britain’s The Guardian once compared to similar events that happened in apartheid-era Johannesburg, South Africa.
However, it was within the shadow of this controversy that the bright star of Fernando Valenzuela ushered in a new era of Dodger baseball that continues to this day. On the field, we remember Fernando’s brilliant 1981 rookie season in which he won the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and started the season winning his first 8 starts with a 0.50 ERA, 7 complete games, and 5 shutouts. Of course the Dodgers went on to win the World Series that year and Fernando went 3-1 with a 2.21 ERA during the postseason.
Off the field, Fernando transcended sports and became a timeless icon and symbolic bridge constructed on the mote that had been formed between the Dodgers and LA’s Mexican-American community following the demolition of Chavéz Ravine. Between 1962, when Dodger Stadium was built, and 1981, Fernando’s rookie year, the Dodgers drew 3 million fans to the stadium just twice. In 1982, the Dodgers drew 3.6 million fans, and the team has eclipsed 3 million fans 25 times since Fernandomania.
Fernando’s success on the field also opened the floodgates of Dodger players originating from Mexico. The legendary Dodger scout Mike Brito legitimized his career on the success of Fernando Valenzuela. Brito, in turn, signed a slew of Mexican Dodgers including Juan Castro, Ismael Valdez, Antonio Osuna, Dennys Reyes, Karim Garcia, and Fernando Valenzuela. Brito also picked out Yasiel Puig in Mexico City after Puig had made his harrowing escape out of Cuba. So it is no surprise that the man who discovered Fernando—the single most important cultural icon in Los Angeles Dodgers history—also discovered Julio Urias.
Brito has maintained high praise for the young Urias since he signed the southpaw to the club as a 16-year-old three years ago. Brito once predicted that Urias would be pitching for the Dodgers as an 18-year-old. He was off by less than a year. Of course, since pitching in the Major Leagues, Urias has faced the Mets, Cubs, Giants, and Nationals away while facing the talented Orioles and Nationals at home. For the most part, he has more than held his own, and Urias obviously has the stuff to stick around the majors.
If Urias stays, there is the likelihood that he will follow the Mexican Dodger legacy of Fernando and Gonzalez and the Dodger pitching legacy of Newcombe, Koufax, Drysdale, Sutton, Fernando, Hershiser, and Kershaw. But the Dodgers are under pressure to win it all now, and Chris Sale is an obvious piece to the championship puzzle. So Urias could go.
If Urias does indeed go to the White Sox, he will likely blossom into a star for Chicago’s South Side team. Off the field, Urias will move to Chicago at a time when the Mexican-American community in the Windy City is burgeoning into an integral part of the city—particularly on the South Side. Urias might reach the prime of his career at the same time that Chicago potentially elects its first Mexican-American Mayor, Chuy Garcia, in 2019. Urias’s legacy in Chicago could make as great an impact as his career would make in Los Angeles, and the White Sox might be in for their Fernandomania moment.
We will know soon enough the fate of Julio Urias and the Dodgers. No matter what happens, the Dodger front office’s decision to either keep or ship Urias will alter the trajectory and future of Dodger baseball.