In Shangri-L.A., Another Dodgers Championship Merely Incidental

Ian CCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2009

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Manager Joe Torre of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on during the MLB game between the Los Angeles Dodger and the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on September 30, 2009 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Heading east on Sunset, miles and miles away from where it becomes "the Strip" and just before it hits Alvarado, is a sign that reads "Slide Area." 

If you don't think this is relevant to an article about the Dodgers, who nearly ceded the NL West Division and their 15.5-game lead at the beginning of June to the Colorado Rockies, then may I introduce you to my old friend the metaphor?

Anyway, if you were to keep driving past the "Slide Area" sign east on Sunset—and if you were sure not to blink before it curved past Chávez Ravine and the stadium—you'd see another sign, this one neon and pink, outside a dark building, denoting "Cocktails." 

It, in fact, marks The Short Stop bar, nestled between the steep inclines that characterize the neighborhoods that make up the border of Elysian and Echo Parks, not unlike those neighborhoods that once constituted the neighboring Ravine—before that 'dozer took their yards.

In the latter part of last decade and the earlier part of this one, the Short Stop was known as a cop bar, a roost for the officers implicated in L.A.'s notorious Rampart scandal

(If only The Shield's fictional Vic Mackey—inspired by the Rampart scandal himself—and his dirty cops really existed. Maybe they could do the Dodgers the civic duty of kidnapping Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard until, oh, say, Nov. 5.)

Now, the only evidence of The Short Stop's notorious past is a glass case displaying police shields from across the country hanging in the pool room. These days, The Short Stop is the closest thing that passes for a Dodgers tailgate watering-hole, our version of Chicago's Murphy's Bleachers or Boston's Cask 'n Flagon. It also gets good club crowds on Friday and Saturday nights, despite a sign advising, "Dancing Iz [sic] Evil."

Moreover, though, once you walk in you can tell this is very much a place that supports the neighborhood ballclub. 

Team photos dating back to 1958—when Mr. O'Malley made good on his Manifest Destiny threat to Brooklyn—line the wall. One photo shows Sandy Koufax dwarfed by the Dodger Stadium scoreboard during one of his no-hitters. Another is of a white-haired Jackie Robinson leaving the clubhouse, waving goodbye. In Dodger Blue Heaven, these are our patron saints and we like to keep the memories of them near.

As your eyes move to the bar, and just above it, you see dusty Dodger bobbleheads (but, thankfully, not one of old nemesis Dusty Baker) sharing shelf space with old beer bottles. Below that, an impromptu shrine to recently-departed celebrities. 

In August, the centerpiece was a photo of Michael Jackson. In September, Patrick Swayze and Ted Kennedy. It was just that kind of summer outside the lines.

The best time to go to The Short Stop, if one is serious about the game and not about cultivating a pregame buzz or dancing, is during road games when the home team is on television. You get a crowd a little more like what you'd see at an L.A. bar after work.

For instance, when I went last month to see the Dodgers at the Nats (one of the six of eight they lost to the N.L. Worst before taking care of business at home against the tail-chasing Rockies), I was bookended at the bar by two actors. 

One of them had a small part in Clint Eastwood's The Changeling—fittingly, a movie about L.A.'s corrupt police force in the 1930s.

The other, a Sam Shepard type, was originally from Chicago, a Cubs fan first who generally supported the L.A. team. The bartender, well, she was from just outside of Boston and had started rooting for the Dodgers after she moved here and the Red Sox won the World Series. That, in her thinking, ceased to make them interesting to watch (something to ponder the next time you're rooting so hard for your team to win a championship).

In that sense, the Dodgers are like the city itself. Adopted by many, unloved by the same, except for the most native of Angelenos; hated by few outside of that peninsula approximately 400 miles to the north; a sunny and amenable alternative to one's born-and-bred hometown. It's only fitting that our manager came to us via the Bronx and our star left fielder arrived on the last rocket ship from Mars.

However, both the bartender and the actor were even more emphatic in their love of the city's climate, especially in contrast to their the inclement weather of their respective home cities. 

How are you gonna get them back on the farm once they've been to the beach?

So, Dodgers fans, my advice to you is to not be too disappointed if the Blue Crew again comes up short in these playoffs. Remember, you live in Shangri-La, the logical last destination of any individual odyssey—including your baseball team's—and Joe Torre has again given you meaningful October baseball. 

Just smile and think to yourselves, "Yes, baseball's been pretty good to me."


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