VERO BEACH, Fla. — So much of what was held sacred for generations had been lost.
The Dodger family.
The famed Dodger way.
Through the mostly mediocre, sometimes sad and occasionally embarrassing ownership runs of the Fox Group and the McCourts, from March 1998 until May 2012, too much of what made the Brooklyn and then Los Angeles Dodgers one of the truly special organizations in American sport was abandoned, forgotten, almost mocked for being so corny and outdated.
And throughout those 14 years, the Dodgers eroded into just another major league franchise.
Then last spring, Magic-ally, everything changed.
With Frank McCourt and his ex-wife still publicly haggling over their divorce settlement, and with commissioner Bud Selig pressuring the owner to sell the team to prevent further humiliation, former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson showed up with longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten and a group of investors willing to pay $2 billion to purchase the franchise and its properties and reclaim the Dodgers once-lofty standing in the community, in the game, in sports.
“One of the things the new ownership has done is commit to embracing the history of the ballclub,” Dodgers broadcaster and former player Rick Monday was saying Tuesday from his home here, in this seaside town that for 61 years was the team’s spring-training headquarters. “They fully understand that tradition is important, character is important and how you do things is important. And they’ve started bringing people back into the fold, as coaches and consultants and advisors, even as ambassadors.
“They’ve reached out to people who know the Dodger tradition, who’ve been a part of it, who can share what it was and what it meant to be a Dodger.”
This week, they reached out to Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, the longtime Vero Beach resident who, at age 77, has agreed to serve as a “special advisor” to Dodgers chairman Mark Walter, attend a portion of spring training to work with the team’s pitchers and consult with ownership and management throughout the year.
“The Dodgers are thrilled to have Sandy back with the organization,” Kasten, the team’s president and CEO, said in a prepared statement released Tuesday morning. “Sandy’s experience and perspective will be invaluable as we endeavor to do everything in our power to bring the city of Los Angeles a World Series champion.”
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said all players, especially young pitchers, will be encouraged to “tap Sandy’s expertise and counsel during spring training and throughout the season.”
As for Koufax, a three-time Cy Young Award winner who pitched four no-hitters (one perfect game) and led the National League in ERA from 1962-66, he said in the statement that he’s “delighted to be back with the Dodgers” and is eager to “contribute any way I can,” adding, “Some of my most cherished memories came at Dodger Stadium.”
Monday said bringing back an iconic figure such as Koufax, arguably the greatest pitcher in baseball history, is another example of the ownership’s commitment to reconnecting with the past as the franchise strives to restore its lost glory.
The Dodgers owners, who already have spent millions of dollars to add punch to the team’s lineup and pitching staff, also committed to spending $100 million this offseason to give aged Dodger Stadium a much-needed facelift. On the nostalgia side, the owners will spring for more bobble-head nights honoring past greats. And an Old Timers Game is scheduled for June.
They’re making an effort.
“I don’t know how much of the Dodger tradition was lost along the way, but it did become different,” Monday said. “The new owners want to get back what was lost. These guys aren’t just owners. They’re passionate about the Dodgers.”
About Dodger pride.
About the Dodger family.
About the famed Dodger way.
Unfortunately, their passion has limits: Nobody has said anything about returning to Dodgertown.
Not literally, anyway.
“All of the photographs that were at Dodgertown -- in the residences, in the dining room, in the hallways and lounge area -- they weren’t just pictures of baseball players,” Monday said, wistfully. “They were special moments in time that were captured on film.”
The Dodgers took most of those photographs with them when McCourt moved the team’s spring-training complex to the Arizona desert, and so much of what was held sacred for generations was lost.
But, hey, we still have Koufax, who belongs as much to Vero Beach as he does to the Dodgers.
And that’s special, too.