This past week, many pictures were tweeted by various members of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization during their time in Australia. They were in the land Down Under promoting the opening series of the 2014 season between the D’backs and the Los Angeles Dodgers which will take place on March 22nd and 23rd. Based on what happened during 2013 between the two teams, with the epic brawl in Los Angles and the Dodger pool party in September, many anticipate an interesting get-together in five months. But can Diamondbacks-Dodgers be considered a big rivalry?
From an Arizona perspective, I would say yes. It is easy not to like the Dodgers, starting with where they play. It’s Hollywood. No one likes to see a bunch of fans show up two innings late and then leave after the seventh. Then again, if I could listen to Vin Scully for any length of time, I might do the same thing. And are those celebrities real baseball fans or do they just want to be seen? Now that their payroll is somewhere north of $200 million, there are lots more reasons to dislike them. They have stable ownership with Magic Jonson on board and the perception is that they could buy any player they want. The two incidents from last year certainly add fuel to an already burning fire, at least to D’back fans.
I am not sure that alone constitutes a real rivalry.
For one thing, I don’t think there are as strong feelings from the LA fan toward the D’backs as there are in the reverse. It is impossible for a Dodgers fan to generate such strong emotions when they have had the San Francisco Giants for 100 years. They were enemies in New York and it has followed them out to the West Coast. The D’backs have never knocked the Dodgers out of a playoff spot like the Giants have on more than one occasion. Dodgers-Giants is one of the top five rivalries in all of professional sports with many of baseball’s most memorable moments occurring when these two teams have gotten together. You could begin with 1951’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” and continue it with the Giants taking a three game playoff in 1962 from Los Angeles in order to get the World Series. In 1993, the Dodgers beat San Francisco on the last day of the season preventing the 103 win Giants team from making the playoffs. Steve Finley (traded by the D’backs to the Dodgers earlier in the year) hit a grand slam on the last day of the 2004 season off SF’s Wayne Franklin to give LA the NL West title. In between, there have been memorable brawls, particularly when the Giants’ Juan Marichal hit the Dodgers’ John Roseboro in the head with a bat.
When I think of the word rivalry in terms of sports, I think of two teams and their respective set of fans sporting a true dislike for one another. That’s not to say you can’t have more than one rival in baseball. The Mets have the Braves and the Phillies and the Yankees have the Red Sox and Orioles. While Mets-Phils might be more intense, plenty of animosity exists between New York and Atlanta. Just because the Yanks and Sox have so much heat and history with each other doesn’t mean a big drop off in intensity with NY and Baltimore. However, while the Dodgers might be Public Enemy #1 in the eyes of Phoenix, there is no way Los Angeles feels the same way about their brethren in the desert. In fact, the D’backs could very well be #3 behind the San Diego Padres. To me, the more natural rival for Arizona would be the Colorado Rockies. The teams came into existence five years apart and the Rockies actually beat the Diamondbacks in a playoff series, the 2007 NLCS. That one event hasn’t done much in terms of the birth of a true rivalry. Another event has to trigger some intense feelings. A brawl (which I don’t advocate), a hard takeout at second base, some extra inning theatrics and one team knocking the other out of a playoff spot can stoke some fire.
D’backs-Dodgers just doesn’t have the same type of history yet when I think of a true rivalry. Until Arizona does something more to Los Angeles than just brawl with them, the Dodger organization and its fans will look at the D’backs as nothing more than a speed bump to bigger and better things. What is the best way to start to change that perception? Embarrass the Dodgers on the field in March and then smash their playoff hopes in September.