in

Dodgers: Why They Haven’t Won It All in 31 Years

This one might hurt a bit…

Dodgers

The Dodgers’ lack of a championship for three decades is often groaned about by frustrated fans, and weaponized by rival fanbases even more. Yet it doesn’t seem like we often take time to reflect on just why the team hasn’t won the bacon since N.W.A. released their debut album. 

Especially after such a listless showing in a likely World Series preview, albeit with the Dodgers still highly favored in power rankings, it’s an appropriate time to stop and think: how did we get here? How has a franchise as regal as Los Angeles gone so long without being on top? It boils down to a multitude of factors, really, each one taking precedent at different times. 

This is far from a fun subject to parse, but it’s a necessary one. Here’s a list (by no means exhaustive) of the main reasons why the True Blue faithful haven’t had a parade in downtown L.A. for so long. 

The Worst Trade in MLB History

After winning a championship right away in Los Angeles in 1959 (only their second season there), the Dodgers went on to dominate the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. They churned out elite talent like General Motors made cars in the ‘40s, and won eight more pennants and four more championships. 

The ‘90s seemed destined to be a similar marathon of consistent prestige. Sure, it started rough with the heartbreaking fade of 1991, the last-place disaster of 1992, and the flameouts of hometown free agent signings Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry. But there was an incredible crop of rookies on the rise, among them a heat-throwing Dominican named Pedro Martinez. 

The younger brother of Dodgers ace Ramon Martinez, Pedro would prove to be even better. In other uniforms, that is. Tommy Lasorda was highly skeptical of his capabilities, using him almost exclusively in relief. And when it came time to address the team’s second base needs, he was shipped off to Montreal in exchange for Delino DeShields. 

Martinez would not only go on to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, but he capped off the ‘90s with a postseason relief stand for the ages in 1999 for the Boston Red Sox. He threw six no-hit innings against Cleveland’s gargantuan offense to send them to the ALCS, while the Dodgers missed the playoffs and finished the decade without a single postseason series (or game) victory. Five years after that, he won a World Series in 2004. It’s painful to think of what could have been if he had been kept in Los Angeles. 

And yes, trading Mike Piazza in 1998 is another reason for the Dodgers’ lack of a flagged trophy all these years. But at least it didn’t come as swiftly and carelessly as the Martinez-DeShields swap. While Fred Claire should always be celebrated for the Kirk Gibson signing and other moves, it stands alone as the most lopsided deal in baseball history. 

Bad Ownership

When a team has a long stretch of futility, fans will blame bad ownership in almost knee-jerk fashion. In the case of the post-1988 Dodgers, it is indeed a big part of the story. From the early ‘50s all the way to 1997, the Dodgers were owned by the O’Malley family, whose dedication to hiring top executives and maintaining organizational stability reaped boundless success. 

However, O’Malley sold the franchise to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Group in 1998, then the highest sale of a sports team in history. More interested in broadcast rights than quality baseball, Fox was downright neglectful, forcing the unpopular Mike Piazza trade and letting the team dip into uncharacteristic mediocrity. 

Yet that was just a warm-up for the malice of Frank McCourt, who took over in early 2004. Despite some highly promising players and a couple of deep playoff runs, McCourt’s divorce from his wife Jamie highlighted his own neglect in running the team. The long-heralded farm system dried up, and McCourt’s investment in the team paled in comparison to that of his gaggle of beach houses. It would take the tragic beating of Bryan Stow in 2011, and an ensuing fan boycott, to force McCourt out at MLB’s behest. 

Some fans may feel inclined to finger the current ownership group as an impediment to getting over the hump, with strict dedication to the luxury tax threshold a common grievance. It’s not a viewpoint without merit, and I am not one to put them beyond reproach. At the moment, though, they have unquestionably done far more to get the Dodgers to the doorstep of glory than anyone in the near two decades prior. 

Losing to Better Teams in October

MLB differs substantially from the NBA and NFL in that the best team doesn’t always win the championship. The postseason is a highly entertaining crapshoot, one where even middling second wild card teams can end up hoisting the trophy. 

Yet just because the best team doesn’t always win, doesn’t mean they always lose either. In many instances, the Dodgers have run in to plainly better opposition in the playoffs. In 1996, they were swept by the defending champion Atlanta Braves, hardly a surprise. They wouldn’t make it again until 2004, when they were quickly brushed aside by the St. Louis Cardinals, that year’s winningest team in all of MLB. 

Two years after that, they fought their way to an exciting wild card entry…only to be swept with ease by the NL-best New York Mets. Then came the NLCS showdowns with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008 and 2009. Yes, they were absolutely heartbreaking, the gut-punches of Stairs, Victorino and Rollins still haunting our dreams. 

However, let’s be real: the Phillies were the better team, chiefly because they had the pitching necessary to win in the postseason. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee especially were difference-makers, while the Dodgers tried to get by with the likes of Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla. Not bad pitchers by any means, but not exactly championship material. 

In their current run of annual playoff trips, they have occasionally lost to teams that were just better. The 2013 and 2014 defeats at the hands of the hated Cardinals were hard to swallow, but those St. Louis teams were better built top to bottom to win in October. In 2016, Los Angeles fell in the NLCS to a Cubs team so superior that Clayton Kershaw admitted just as much after the final game. 

This isn’t to make excuses, as anything can happen in a playoff series. But the reality of a better team winning is an unavoidable one when you make the playoffs a lot. Baseball is a sport where people who succeed three times out of ten are considered heroes. Likewise, you’re going to fall short in October most of the time. Facing better teams a lot will lead to that.  

Big Players Failing to Seize the Moment

Oh boy. This is where it hurts. We Dodger fans love our players in a way that feels downright like family. We hate to criticize them…but it’s hard to ignore the reality that in some crucial instances, their best players have simply failed. 

Take the 2015 NLDS against the Mets. Justin Turner had a record-setting series at the plate throughout the series, but when he failed to cover third in game five, it set up a game-tying sacrifice fly. Then, Zack Greinke, who had been historically dominant in 2015, was taken deep by Daniel Murphy to set up the final score of 3-2. 

Then…the 2017 World Series. It’s argued about every day on Twitter, and torments our memory on a daily basis. I will not go in-depth here. But one cannot ignore Kenley Jansen’s borderline impossible failure against Marwin Gonzalez in game two. Clayton Kershaw, already beleaguered by a chorus of critics for his October shortcomings, blew two leads and failed to go deep in game five. Yu Darvish, the trade pickup who was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle, tipped his pitches. 

This isn’t to put the blame solely on these few. The entire offense shares blame for their collective failure in the past two World Series. While I do maintain that 2017 was lost by Jansen, Kershaw and Darvish’s failure to execute, you can’t ignore the bats compiling a truly pathetic .205 while Houston destroyed the ball at will. 

2018 was even worse. Granted, the Dodgers’ offense was insipid all season long. But against an even tougher 108-win Red Sox squad, they needed to match the likes of J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi blow for blow. They didn’t, limping to a .183 cumulative average while everyone in Boston from AL MVP Betts to Brock Holt rose to the occasion. 

Some time ago, while watching the official 2008 World Series film for a baseball book I’m working on, there was a passage that stood out. Ryan Howard, who struggled at the plate in the first two rounds of the playoffs, suddenly reclaimed his power stroke when the Fall Classic returned to Philadelphia. As the highlight ended, a journalist said, “When a team wins the World Series, they should do so on the strength of their best players.” 

Surprise heroes can be fun, but I believe this is true. When a team wins it all, it has to be at least in part because of their best being the best. The Yankees didn’t win trophies while others picked up the slack for Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson. If the Dodgers want to be champions again, their finest must seize the moment. 

Perspective

In my constant musings on Dodger history (as well as after reading K.P Wee’s excellent book on the 1988 team), my feelings on the severity of their current title drought vacillate between intense frustration and some degree of level-headedness. Yes, it’s been awhile by any objective measure. There have been four entire U.S. presidencies since then. Many stadiums that were around in 1988 are long gone. I wasn’t even alive yet! 

Yet the Dodgers’ run of bad luck pales in comparison to many of those that were only recently extinguished. Giants fans who smugly crow “three in five!” do so while pressing their backs against a closet with 56 years worth of skeletons. (Russ Ortiz and Bobby Richardson anyone?) Many Astros fans seem to have forgotten their identical run of futility that made 2017 so sweet. And the Red Sox and Cubs…well, you know those ones. 

Within Dodger history, keep in mind that this isn’t even close to being the worst. It took the Brooklyn incarnation 52 years to finally get their first. (The inaugural World Series was played in 1903, and Brooklyn didn’t win until 1955.) That may be a long time ago, but remember how destitute “Wait ‘Til Next Year” had to be for Brooklynites. Fans today can at least take solace knowing we’ve been there before.

That being said, I try to keep things more on the “balanced but negative” side. These are the Dodgers, a team that has shaped baseball and history itself time and again for decades. They really shouldn’t be anywhere near 30 years since the last title. It’s overdue. 

Whatever reasons one blames primarily for why it’s taken so long, here’s hoping it’s an irrelevant topic in just a few months.

Written by Marshall Garvey

36 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. Lol Watch them play last 3 games.. that tells whole story.. and why they won’t win this year.. if three games with yanks was a preview.. hell just give series to Yanks.. why waste the time playing…they can’t even beat a bottom team..

  2. Excellent article Marshall, while us Dodger fans can and all have our reasons and theories, why it’s been so long, i do get the frustration of some but it still never changes my attitude of optimism, which makes Twitter arguments tough as I’m always the optimist, I’m not ignorant to the facts of why they haven’t won it all, but i choose to be optimistic and look at each season calmly and choose to enjoy the ride because i love the game and the Dodgers i feel it allows me to enjoy it just a little more than the fan that gets flustered with the obvious reasons why. I know we will win it soon and being the way I am i believe will allow me to enjoy it just that little bit more. I still think this year may be our year, we have all the pieces, and that Yankees series meant nothing, it was nothing more then media hype, I’m not sold on the fact the Yankees will even be in the WS.

    • Thank you! I too am optimistic this is the year, although the weak offense the past few games is giving me some real concern.

      • Marshall, on High heat Russo pointed out what he saw was and should be obvious to all of us… the Yankees have a far superior offense (Having the DH does help), we saw that with them hitting 9 HR’s in this series, while Dodgers ‘scored’ a total of 5 runs in those 3 games. To sum it up, the Yankees showed they were the better team, outplaying the Dodgers IN EVERY FACET OF THE GAME!

  3. Your point about the best players on the team must lead and perform when it matters most is the key. Look at ‘88… Hersh and Gibson (along with a Hatcher surprise). Pedro, Schilling, Bumgarner, Reggie, Rivera,…. your best carry you to the trophy. If the DOdgers are to win it, Bellinger and Turner and Muncy have to hit. Ryu, Buehler, Kelly, and Jansen need to be lights out. That is the bottom line. Maybe Gonsolin and May are a major surprise and help the bullpen in mid-relief.

    • 100% this. Especially since we’d likely face a slugging team like NYY or Houston the offense has to respond accordingly. But above all, Kershaw has to have his signature postseason.

      • And I forgot to mention that especially in these past 2 WS (12 games combined) Dodger pitching (starting and relief) gave up 23 HR’s! If I recall even in the 2017 PS that Dodger pitching staff allowed a TOTAL of 29 of them, an MLB record for a PS.

  4. If kershaw were more selfish then he would have sparkling postseason stats. Back when Torres and Mattingly were managers, the Dodgers had no bullpen and overrated offenses. The only way the Dodgers had a shot at winning games was for kersh to go eight shutout innings. And everybody knew this, even kersh, but he always believes in team first.

  5. A different perspective. Would winning a world series again be nice? Of course it would! But going through 162 games every season and never having a chance to even win our own division or be in the playoffs or win anything, is a LOT worse in my opinion. I’d much rather be a fan of a team that is competitive EVERY single season, instead of going 162 games following my teams descent to the bottom of the toilet bowl. Being a Dodger fan is nice! Watching the team never rebuild but actually just reload?…….it’s a beautiful thing.

    • So you wouldn’t trade the Dodger’s consistency for the Red Sox who have four titles in 15 years interspersed with some truly awful years? Where are our participation medals for the past six years?

      • Exactly, I don’t want truly awful years. Maybe it depends on how much you actually follow the team. Because I watch EVERY single play of EVERY single game, 162 games is a long stretch. Take the Astros for instance, they just won the world series year before last, right? But they had to suffer through THREE seasons of losing over 100 games per year to rebuild their team. During that stretch, they played in empty stadiums @ home every game but opening day. It was ugly……..(but then their fans are not loyal like Dodger fans)………Point is I would HATE that kind of pain. So would my financial balance sheet. Participation medals? They are called division titles and we have several. Best of all……our team extends the season and gets into the playoffs while everyone else is sitting @ home already. (Insert Red Sox here). Playoff baseball is a whole different animal and something I enjoy watching even more than regular season. Even when we lose, it’s great entertainment. Seven division titles in a row……..something the Dodgers have never done………..priceless!

  6. One of the best thought-out and written articles I’ve read in a long time. As a Dodger fan since 1958 it has been frustrating for the past 30+ years to see opportunities lost. But your article opened up some windows I hadn’t known about and assuages my feelings at least a little. Thanks!

    • Thank you so much, and you’re welcome! It felt somewhat cathartic to write it, but I still hope I’m in the final few months of my life where I have to grapple with any of it.

      • Avery informative article that explains in enough detail as to the Dodgers not winning a WS Ring in 31 years, along with what I pointed out that I hope you get a chance to read in my posts here. I hate to say this, Marshall but I honestly would feel better about the Dodgers quietly being eliminated in the 1st round of playoffs than to see this team fail in 3 consecutive WS appearances, and ESPECIALLY on their own home field.

  7. why year after year are the same three problems……batters dry up, pitchers can’t keep ball in the stadium and poor manager decisions? why do Dodgers sponsor a re-hab team and hope that some miracle might happen from the cast-offs and when to release players that can’t perform their requirements……why make minor league players suffer because they are stuck behind a group of broken down players and management doesn’t want to tell a player it is time to move on and then become liabilities of the cause…….would you want to play for a team and not know when and if you are gonna play or where you are going to play and if you make a mistake, you are on the black list…….I wish that they would re-discover the values that the Dodgers were built upon

  8. Good job on your research, giving a history (which I can verify is accurate – just add some BAD luck to BAD trades, BAD ownership, BAD management, etc.) to younger Dodger fans, who don’t know the history and cannot feel the pain of the last 30 years.

    “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    • Thank you so much! There are definitely other instances I wanted to mention, just didn’t have the space for them this time.

      • Yes and they all hold truth too. I agree totally with old dodger fan about the younger players, who if I were one of them, would not want to be in an organization that constantly plays musical chairs with daily lineups and see unproductive players on the 25 man roster completely block them from being here, with maybe an exception of a few.

  9. Scary thing about this season right now is that it looks just like the stumble the teams bats took in ’17. They just cannot seem to keep once late August/Sept. comes around. Of course, a big part of it is fatigue but it is the teams that keep hitting that win World Championships and the Dodgers as a team, in the last 3 years at least, really do seem to lose the ability to hit come August.

    • You are spot on. Think of when they blew Rich Hill’s perfect game in August 2017…couldn’t even get him a run to secure it, then they go into the 1-16 dive. I think that game not only cost them a chance at more history, but exposed their limits. I hope we’re not seeing the same thing right now.

  10. Good points, except that with the Dodgers overall successful management structure and – except for McCourt – financial strength, we really don’t compare to some of the other teams that have had droughts. We had four straight ROYs in the early 1980s and that led to two titles. But how do you account for the 1990s teams being so mediocre when we had 5 straight ROYs from 1993 to 1998? Shouldn’t we have absolutely dominated those years? You can’t blame Fox and McCourt for that.

    • Oh I agree, they should have done more with that talent. That’s part of what makes the Pedro Martinez trade so painful. Imagine him paired up with Nomo, Piazza, all those rookies, etc.

      • Pedro Martinez for a ham sandwich to be named later! WORST trade in the history of the Dodgers. But just another example of the superiority of the Dodgers farm system. Pedro and his brother, Ramon, were stalwarts on that team. I loved watching them pitch. But just for clarification, it was LASORDA and Claire who did not recognize what they had. Adding to your article, trading or not resigning your younger players that you invest in and develop is risky business. (Insert Beltre here, another HUGE mistake we made).

  11. 13 runs total in the past 6 games, 52 strikeouts in the last 4 games, ever changing revolving door lineups, especially failing over and over and over again against the better LHP, last night leaving the bases full not once but twice ,poor management of the pitching staff, sitting the hot bats just because of who i facing them, and the umpires having some vendetta against the Dodgers where they call strikes against our hitters and they call pitches balls when the opposing team is hitting. Do I need to say more, besides what this article so perfectly explains?

  12. Eight different managers I believe since that time, a topic you never even touched, definitely factors in. Also, you point to the Brooklyn Dodgers waiting 52 years to win their first title. That’s only 21 years from now! Of the long-standing franchises in the sport, only Cleveland and Los Angeles have a longer drought, with the Dodgers the longest in the National League if you exclude the Pirates. I’m trying to get a perspective on the current crop of fans you haven’t experienced a title. At 60 years old, I was too young to experience Koufax, but old enough to be crushed by three World Series losses in a row, then the immense Joy over the ’81 and ’88 victories. I was 20 when they won it the first time that I was aware. It would be harder to live now in this time. Not merely because those who are 30 or so have waited their whole life, but because of the 12 playoff appearance failures since ’88. The generation that’s still waiting, this is the hardest luck Dodger fans of all time in Los Angeles.

  13. I don’t think the Dodgers make it to the big one this year, platooning is fine for season play, but once in the playoffs, it’s a different mind set. lack of back end arms, weak right side hitting, and low contact hitting, will have them eliminated. I don’t like saying that, but that’s what I see. I think also, management doesn’t play to win, they play for profits and margins.

    • 100% concur on everything in your comment. Regarding the last sentence, that’s why they hired a small market guy to run things

  14. Great article Mr. Garvey, totally agree with comments by bluz & old Dodger fan. For me it’s all about the Dodgers being competitive with a chance to win it all every year, bottom line. Sure the frustration is there for me daily & certainly others when it’s loss or a decision I don’t agree with, but for us we’re Dodger fans there is no other baseball team to cheer for !

  15. I was Five years old the last time the Dodgers won it all but all I remember was watching the games on my grandfather’s lap. My grandfather has since passed but my grandmother doesn’t miss a game. See for me Dodgers are more than just a baseball game it’s a family tradition, going to Dodgers games with my grandfather was an experience I’ll never forget, now people visit my grandma’s house to watch the games with her. Dodgers will always be special win or lose but dang it please win this World Series already so my 83 year old grandma can be happy.

  16. You know this is a great article, as I have never seen so many responses for on article on Dodger Nation. You missed one point….our current front office has to be called out. Yes, they have down a fantastic job in rebuilding the farm system and developing top tier prospects. However, they have no balls to pull the trigger when needed. In 2016, the Cubs ended up with Chapman. In 2017, Verlander wanted to be a Dodger, he ended up with the Astros. In 2018, Red Sox traded for Sale and signed JD Martinez. All 3 walked away with the World Series trophy, while we took our usual seat on the sideline. And of course we all know we got nothing during the trading deadline this year. If Lux was our one main prospect tagged as off limits, then everyone else should have been made available and the deal for Vázquez with the Pirates, should have been worked out. Like I have been saying all year leading up to the trading deadline…NO RISK in giving up prospects = NO RINGS.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Dodgers Disagree With Umpires Bad Strike Zone

Dodgers

Dodgers: Russell Martin Activated, Austin Barnes Optioned to Triple-A