There is a bit of Dodgers lore that states, in 1956 when Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson was traded to the hated New York Giants he chose to retire rather than play for the team’s lifelong rival.
I love that story… unfortunately, it’s not true. The true story is less exciting, as Robinson was simply thinking of his future and his family.
Jackie stated, “At my age, a man doesn’t have much future in baseball and very little security. After you’ve reached your peak, there’s no sentiment in baseball.
You start slipping, and pretty soon they’re moving you around like a used car. You have no control over what happens to you. I don’t want that.”
But, it’s a much better story to believe his team loyalty prohibited him from playing for any other team.
Ah, team loyalty, in this age of multi-million dollar contracts, is a pipe dream that I carry foolishly in my heart. I want players that want to spend their careers wearing Dodger blue, even though I realize that’s unrealistic. Loyalty goes both ways and the clubs don’t show much loyalty to players either. But as a fan, I covet the notion. Only 11 players have spent their entire career as Dodgers. Many of these players are still fan favorites and you can see a sprinkling of their jerseys throughout the stadium on game days.
Dodger players who spent their entire career with the club
I understand baseball is a business and the players want to make as much money as they can for their services. They’ve got families, mortgages and bills just like the rest of us… but what the majority of us don’t have is the “struggle” in deciding between an $80 million and $85 million dollar paycheck.
Will that extra five take you to a better place for your family? Because the way I look at it, at a certain point the money in sports is just vulgar excess. As Vin Scully (sad sigh) always said, “they’re playing a boys game” and outside of a rogue beanball to the bum or an accidental line drive to the melon, it’s a pretty low risk – high reward job.
As the saying goes, “you can’t buy happiness”… yeah, yeah I know we all want the chance to try that theory out. I’d love to buy a few million dollars worth of happiness myself. For starters, I’d go directly to Mary Hart and buy her primo, behind home plate season tickets. Name your price Mary! You’d never, ever catch me chatting on the phone during a game either. GAH! I hate those people… but, I digress.
So with that being said, Kenley Jansen’s signing has given me hope for my unlikely dream of team loyalty. The Nationals and Marlins offered Jansen more money. According to his agent, Adam Katz, they were blown away by the presentation offered by the Nationals. But, at the end of the day the big guy opted to stay with the only team he’s ever known.
As Katz went onto say, “At his wedding on Saturday, something pivoted for him. I think it was being with his teammates and his family. He got a jolt of how important family and continuity was,” Katz said. “He called me over the weekend, and said he was having difficulty processing leaving the Dodgers, and instructed me to work hard and get it done.”
I imagine Kenley lit on expensive champagne, sloppy hugging his teammates and drunk dialing his agent, “I love these guys, I wanna stay in LA…get it done!”
That’s my version anyway.
But, I was preparing for him to leave at the end of last season. By all accounts Kenley was going to the highest bidder. So, I was mentally letting him go. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want him to leave. I still wanted to see that exciting moment in the ninth inning when the bullpen gates opened… and there he was, our behemoth 6’5”, 270lb., nasty cutter-throwing closer. His steely black eyes and resolved game face locked in and ready. He’d trot out to the mound to the strains of “California Love” while the roar of the crowd shook the stadium. I wanted more of that, but it wasn’t looking likely.
In case you haven’t noticed, and you may disagree, I’m not fond of money chasers. See: Zack Greinke. I love Greinke… loved. His awkwardly blunt sound bites were a thing of delight for me. I loved the one-two punch of Kershaw and Greinke. But, Greinke, in his own words, was going to the highest bidder. The Arizona Diamondbacks backed the Brinks truck up to Zack’s house and dropped a mountain of cash. He didn’t care about the hideous uniforms, the management’s disarray, the low fan interest and generally crappy team – he just wanted a boat load of Benjamins. Blech.
For the Love of the Game
Where’s the love of the game in that equation? Come on, man. Show some love for this beautiful, nuanced game you’re blessed to play. Show some loyalty to the fans who break their bank accounts buying gear with your name emblazoned on it, not to mention the overpriced tickets, since most LA fans STILL can’t see you play on TV.
Finally, be loyal to the Dodger blue – appreciate and be reverent of the opportunity to play for one of the most storied franchises in baseball history. Your heart should swell with pride every time you put that Dodgers jersey on.
So, when Kenley Jansen did just that, my baseball loving heart grew two sizes larger just like the Grinch.