You know, Shohei Ohtani—the rookie pitcher who can’t hold the Tijuana Toros to under six runs in four innings. The guy who was supposed to be the new Babe Ruth.
“Shohei Ohtani is the greatest thing to happen to baseball in a century,” Arden Zwelling, a Sportsnet Canada writer, gasped earlier in the offseason. “He’s a player many scouts believe is ready to step into MLB today as a front-of-the-rotation starter or an everyday outfielder with a middle-of-the-order bat—or maybe both. He’s something baseball has not seen for lifetimes. He’s a modern day Babe Ruth.”
Ohtani, 23 years old and a proven Nippon Professional Baseball phenom, will likely turn out to be a fine ballplayer. But let’s slow down on the greatest-of-all-time comparisons until, you know, he’s played one regular season game in the Majors.
If nothing else, Ohtani needs to work on his poker face. According to The Los Angeles Times’ Andy McCullough, Ohtani and his agent, Nez Balelo, made little attempt to conceal that an offseason visit with the Dodgers was anything besides, in the words of both Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner, “a waste of time.”
Ohtani apparently used L.A. as a pawn in his more serious negotiations with American League clubs. The Dodgers, in carefully worded statements, made it clear they were not impressed.
Kershaw did get an ounce of revenge, making Ohtani look foolish on a curveball strikeout in a 4-2 Dodgers exhibition win.
The result was meaningless, yes. And Kershaw played it off like a pro.
“I [couldn’t] care less now,” Kershaw told reporters who pried him for more on the showdown. “He didn’t pick us. Good luck to him.”
But wasn’t that kind of fun? Aren’t rivalries great? Isn’t it nice to get the blood pounding a little bit, even if it was a spring training game?
I live in Washington, D.C., an entire country away from the Dodgers. I grew up in Buffalo. I feel the Dodgers-Angels rivalry a little less passionately than you West Coast readers. I don’t like the Angels, but I also don’t really care about them, either.
I have a lot more animosity for the Nationals, for example, because in the two years since I’ve moved here, I have sat through a dozen Dodgers-Nats games at Nationals Park (including all three of the games in the 2016 NLDS). In that time, I have been subjected to some of the most ill-informed commentary you’ll find this side of the L.A. Times comments section. Gems have included:
- “I don’t get why they can’t hit Alex Wood. Alex Wood is terrible.”
- “Everyone knows Clayton Kershaw is overrated.”
- “Justin Turner gets attention because he’s a Dodger. And the hair.”
- “Yasiel Puig is a complete bust.”
- “There’s no way Joc Pederson is hitting a game-tying homer off of Max Scherzer in the seventh inning of an elimination game, causing Dusty Baker to panic-pull him and then lets the Dodgers feast on our mediocre bullpen.”
I made up that last one. Still, the Ohtani incident got me thinking. What are the Dodgers’ best rivalries right now? Who are the teams that make you anxious before the start of a new series because you really, really need the Dodgers to beat those guys up?
Here are my Top 10, and I’d be interested in knowing yours:
- The Giants. Of course. One-hundred and twenty-seven years of shared history tends to create some ill will. Can’t stand Madison Bumgarner. The sad, desperate acquisitions of Andrew McCutcheon, Evan Longoria and Austin Jackson just make the team all the more hateable. Enjoy your 78 wins this year.
- The Diamondbacks. Beanballs, the swimming pool incident, fights — it’s been a heck of a decade for these two teams. Nice that the Diamondbacks let Dodger fans take over their park every time L.A. heads to Phoenix, though.
- The Padres. Really any NL West team qualifies as a rival, and it’s not like the Padres have much hope this season — their current roster is like baseball’s version of the Island of Misfit Toys — but San Diego really bugs me. Padres fans are always good for a “Beat L.A.” chant, which gets annoying. Andy Green was asking for it.
- The Cubs. Despite last year’s NLCS whooping, the scars of 2016 still hurt. And I don’t understand how Javy Baez “just loves playing the game!” when he showboats but Puig is always one missed cutoff throw away from a national conversation about whether or not he gets it. Imagine if Yasiel did something like this. The Cubs’ addition of Brandon Morrow and Yu Darvish ups the intensity. Chicago went up, 1-0, in the first inning of last night’s exhibition and I found myself getting genuinely angry.
- The Cardinals. That Cardinal Way stuff is always grating. Winning two World Series, making the postseason 12 times and posting 90 or more wins 10 times since 2000 makes it that much worse.
- The Nationals. Washington fans were convinced they were going to the World Series in 2016 and thought the Dodgers were a speed bump. Sorry, guys. Then, for some reason, they talked themselves into believing that the Cubs were the real challenge in 2017, and were ready to blow past L.A. if/when they beat Chicago in the NLDS (they didn’t). I will be happy when Bryce Harper signs with the Dodgers in 2019, though.
- The Astros. Not necessary to explain this one. Sad, because I enjoyed watching Houston’s turnaround over the past few seasons. Now I just want bad things to happen to Alex Bregman.
- The Brewers. This may be a little random, and it hasn’t been as bad in recent years, but it seems like the Brewers always give us a ton of trouble. The Dodgers are 24-27 against Milwaukee since 2010, including 1-5 and 1-6 swoons in 2014 and 2012, respectively. Oh, and Ryan Braun stole Matt Kemp’s MVP trophy in 2011.
- The Mets. It comes and goes with the Mets. When they’re scrappy and fun and putting together wildly enthusiastic runs at a wild card spot, I kind of like the Mets. When they actually have a legitimately good team, the Mets (well, Mets fans) get up on their high horses pretty quickly. The 1988 NLCS was my first extended encounter with playoff baseball and I learned to hate those blue-and-orange uniforms. Oh, and the Chase Utley slide was good, hard baseball.
- The Marlins. Again, kind of random, but I’m surprised by how much bitterness I have towards Don Mattingly. Also, I know Dee Gordon is in Seattle now, and was traded when he left L.A. in 2014 so it’s not like he walked out on us, but I didn’t like the fact that he was a Marlin, either. Justin Bour and Michael Morse (a former Marlin, National AND Giant) rank among my least favorite facial-hair players of all time.
Honorable mentions: The Rockies (always a pain in the neck), the Angels (crosstown rivals, feels like you have to beat them) and, of course, the Yankees (history).