East coast bias is a very real thing, but it’s somewhat understandable. When major media corporations are based on the East coast, they’ll prioritize the coverage of franchises based on their proximity to New York City, undoubtedly the media capital of the world.
Other factors are stacked against teams playing in the Pacific Time Zone, most obviously the time difference. A night game in Los Angeles is typically going to start around 10:30pm Eastern time. Only the most hardcore of baseball fans living out on the East coast are going to stay up that late on a weekday to watch an entire game.
The reason I bring these details up is because most people will instinctually say that the best rivalry in baseball is the Yankees and Red Sox, but I don’t think that assessment is entirely fair. It’s hard for me to speak for fans in that area, because I have lived in California my entire life. Admittedly, I’m predisposed to associate the Dodgers/Giants rivalry as the ultimate symbol of hatred between two passionate fanbases.
My gripe isn’t that the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry is in any way overblown. That’s objectively not the case when seeing the atmosphere at the stadiums between the two squads. My issue is that I believe that the Dodgers/Giants deserve to be in the conversation for best rivalry in baseball, and too often they are neglected.
The only reason I can attribute that to is the East coast bias I mentioned above, because these are two successful and proud franchises that have had many epic showdowns with each other over the years. The bond was so strong that Walter O’Malley and Horace Stoneham both moved their franchises from New York to California in the late 50s to preserve their fantastic rivalry. Amazingly, these two franchises have never met in the playoffs. Of course, the modern incarnation of the baseball playoffs is still relatively new.
Before the wildcard was implemented in 1994, only two teams per league would make the playoffs. They’d then meet in either the NLCS or ALCS for a chance to advance to the World Series. The championship series, however, weren’t implemented until the 1969 season. Before that, league pennants were simply decided by best regular season record.
During the 1969 season, two divisions in each league were set up. The winners of each one would then meet in a playoff series to advance to the World Series. The Dodgers and Giants were always in the NL West together dating back to 1969, meaning that they’d never end up meeting in the playoffs.
From 1965-1969, the Giants finished 2nd in either the NL or the NL West. In 1965 and 1966, the Dodgers won the pennant, and won the World Series in 1965. The NL West has gone through some shifts in members since 1969, but the only 3 teams that have been there from the very beginning to the present day are the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres.
The Rockies came in as an expansion franchise in 1993, and the Diamondbacks joined as an expansion team in 1998. The Braves, Reds, and Astros were original members, but left after the 1993 season. More divisions in both leagues made the wild card a necessity.
The theoretical possibility for the Dodgers and Giants to play each other in the playoffs has existed for over two decades now, but has yet to happen. Maybe this will be the first season it does; however, these two team have tormented each other during September chases for division crowns.
There was the Steve Finley walk off grand slam against Wayne Franklin on October 2, 2004 that clinched the NL West for the Dodgers. The Giants finished 1 game out of the wildcard that season and 2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. The Dodgers were able to clinch the NL West against the Giants in 2014 as well. However, the Giants ended up winning the World Series as a wildcard team that year.
The two clubs also have a deep history of spoiling each other’s chances for a playoff berth. It’s somehow just as satisfying to end the other’s playoff hopes as it is to actually make the playoffs themselves. In 1991, the Dodgers lost the NL West to the Braves by just one game. The Dodgers dropped 2 out of 3 to the Giants that final weekend. In 1993, the Dodgers defeated the Giants in the final game of the season. It resulted in the Giants missing the playoffs despite winning 103 games. On September 18, 1997, Brian Johnson hit a 12th inning walk-off home run for the Giants against the Dodgers to tie the NL West. The Giants eventually made the playoffs that season.
The animosity isn’t just felt with the fans. Notable players over the years have illustrated the intensity of this rivalry. Willie Mays refused to sign with the Dodgers after the 1972 season, and Tommy Lasorda has claimed over the years that Jackie Robinson chose to retire instead of report to the Giants after being traded to them in 1956. Of course, that was a different era before salaries skyrocketed, and it would seem unlikely that a player nowadays would ever make such a sacrifice.
There has been significant crossover between the two squads. Leadoff hitter extraordinaire Brett Butler comes to mind. He was one of the few who had good seasons for both. Jason Schmidt left the Giants to join the Dodgers, but injuries caught up to him before he could replicate his San Francisco numbers while wearing Dodger blue. Brian Wilson might be the most prominent recent example. Wilson was the eccentric closer for the Giants during their 2010 World Series championship, and went to the Dodgers as a free agent during the 2013 season after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Wilson had a great 2013 after he signed with the Dodgers in late July, but struggled somewhat in 2014.
There’s also a morbid dimension to this rivalry. Competitive ire on the field is one thing, but when violence seeps off the field, fans really need to maintain a healthy perspective on what baseball represents. This is a game that’s meant to be fun, and it’s really tragic when violence between fans of the two teams threatens to soil what’s supposed to simply be good-natured ribbing.
Equally terrifying is when violence occurs between a player and a fan. In 1981, a Giants fan threw a batting helmet on the field at Reggie Smith. The situation escalated into Smith leaping into the stands at Candlestick Park and punching the fan.
Numerous fans have either been killed or severely injured in altercations that seemed to be linked to the rivalry between the two teams. As the Giants and Dodgers play yet another memorable series, I hope fans on both sides of this rivalry are able to enjoy the competition while also putting it in perspective. Competition is supposed to bring out the best in people, not the worst in them. The uncomfortable reality is that it’s difficult to write about this rivalry without acknowledging the tragic events that have occurred in recent years due to this animosity. While perhaps it’s simply violent people who will use any excuse necessary to engage in fights, it’s still troubling that something that’s supposed to simply be a fun game drives fans to violence.
We’re doomed to repeat history if we don’t learn from it, and in any reflection of this rivalry, it’s irresponsible to gloss over the negative aspects of it. While these two clubs certainly have an acrimonious relationship, I do think there’s an underlying level of respect that each side feels for the other. Rivalries are only compelling if the two sides are skillful enough to really make the other work for any meaningful victory.
These two teams are among the premier organizations in all of professional baseball, and can consistently be counted on to assemble a winning roster. This is going to be a fantastic battle for the NL West over these next handful of weeks. I still believe that both teams will make the playoffs in some capacity, but avoiding the dreaded wildcard game will be plenty of motivation for each squad to strive for that division win. This stretch run is poised to deliver some thrilling memories that Dodgers fans will either look back on fondly, or with an amount of pain distinct to watching a beloved team falter.