As I sat in the stands during Game 5, the text messages started to roll in. One friend asked, “How is the atmosphere?”
In truth, the atmosphere at Dodger Stadium during the playoffs is blasé at best. One caller to the Dodgers postgame show on AM 570 described the Dodger Stadium crowd “like Laker fans waiting to be impressed before making any noise”. The Guardian’s Dave Schilling described the game 4 crowd as such:
“Never have I seen a playoff crowd quite like game 4 at Dodger Stadium…The vibe was nervy and joyless, one of expected defeat rather than impending victory. The rally towels they gave us walking into the park were used less to intimidate the opposing team and more to wipe the blood off of our faces after a succession of haymakers connected with our collective jaw. But this has happened before, and it will happen again.”
You might remember when the Dodgers were down to their last out against the Mets in game 5 of the NLDS last season, the whole stadium was on their feet, except for lifelong Brooklyn and LA Dodger fan Larry King. King sat in his seat right behind the plate as the Dodgers lost. “I stand up if we’re winning – I don’t stand up if we’re losing,” King responded to critics.
Larry King is the embodiment of many Dodger fans. I generally don’t wave my towel or stand up during Dodger playoff games unless we are winning. Los Angeles is probably the most entitled place in the world, and rightfully so. Entitlement is in the DNA of L.A. sports fans as it is also etched within the fabric of the city. Fans will not get loud unless something meaningful happens. Unfortunately, for Dodger fans, nothing really meaningful has happened in 28 years.
“These Los Angeles Dodgers have done a truly remarkable job piecing together a losing tradition to rival the pre-1955 Brooklyn Dodgers – a team that was duty-bound to fall on their sword for the New York Yankees, as though they were programmed to do so like one of the robots from Westworld,” Schilling writes in his piece. And ultimately, he is right. As I sat in the stands in game 5, the score had ballooned out of control, and Dodger fans began to make their exit to beat the traffic. I could not help but recall my personal memories of playoff disaster at Dodger Stadium. I remembered the nearly suicidal look on everyone’s face as I left Dodger Stadium after game 5 of last year’s NLDS. I recalled being at Dodger Stadium when the Phillies won the pennant there in 2008. I stayed with the sea of Cubs fans that had taken over Dodger Stadium until the final pitch was thrown last Thursday, but I sure as hell did not stand or clap as the team cut an 8-1 blowout into a more modest 8-4 defeat.
If there is any one thing that can explain the misery that has been the last 28 years for the Dodgers, it is that Dodger Stadium is hardly a fortress. The Dodgers’ inability to defend home field cost them in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015, and perhaps this season as well. Indeed, the Dodgers have seen the Cardinals, Mets twice, and Phillies eliminate the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine since 2004.
But if there is any saving grace to the Dodgers’ rather disgraceful 21st century home playoff history, it is that the Cubs are even worse at home. Yes, Wrigley Field’s crowd can be ten times more electric than the Dodger Stadium crowd–but that kind of atmosphere is generally only reserved for the regular season. Once the playoffs roll around, Wrigley can be so silent, so miserable, and so intense, that it makes the depressing playoff atmosphere at Dodger Stadium feel like Disneyland.
Make no mistake, if the Dodgers take an early lead in game 6 and can find it within themselves to push the series to game 7, the horrors of Cubs playoff baseball will slowly resinate within the collective minds at Wrigley.
How will the Cubs players respond then?