Greatness was confirmed in October as the Los Angeles Dodgers — who dominated throughout the pandemic-shortened season, erasing playoff struggles of the past — turned back the Tampa Bay Rays to win their first World Series title in 32 years.
Reflecting on the memorable season on Thursday were three South Pasadena residents who know a little something about the heartbreak and now exhilaration of finally winning it all. Going into the series, Los Angeles had won eight straight division crowns but came up short of reaching the championship seven times.
Outside the South Pasadena Public Library, Dodger broadcaster Joe Davis, team historian Mark Langill, and Terry Kiser — the club’s longtime grounds crew member — talked about what it took to win it all, some of the players who made it happen, with it all culminating in a 3-1 comeback victory in Game 6 over the American League Champion Rays.
The idea for the gathering came from outgoing South Pasadena Mayor Bob Joe, who stepped aside from public office Wednesday night with the reorganization of the City Council, as Diana Mahmud took over the helm. Prior to his departure, Joe wanted to highlight the local MLB club and those associated with the franchise making their home in the city.
“I think it’s pretty neat that little South Pasadena has a strong connection with the Dodgers,” said Joe before Thursday’s event in which city Library Director Cathy Billings was presented a commemorative Dodgers book capturing the team’s ride to winning the crown. “It’s great that it will be apart of our library.”
Langill, full of Dodger knowledge, and Davis, who joined the broadcast team in 2016, calling the action on television with former Los Angeles pitcher Orel Hershiser, have been featured speakers at the South Pasadena Library over the years. Kiser was a longtime youth baseball coach in the city and played with Tommy Hutton, the first player from South Pasadena High to reach the majors, joining the Dodgers in September 1966.
Undisputed, the Dodgers were the best team in baseball, providing Langill with plenty of historical material looking back on a ball club that compiled the best record in the 60-game season, 43-17 for a .717 winning percentage, hit the most home runs, allowed the fewest and had the most runs scored in the majors.
Langill, who grew up in South Pasadena, told a story about receiving a book about the Dodgers from a fellow first grader, weaving the history of a franchise that became the foundation for his interest in the team at a young age. “I learned about Ebbets Field (in Brooklyn), the World Series and the early years in Los Angeles. Now years later, they’re a landmark, an icon, status of the city. I would memorize aspects of the franchise by reading the book and it became the basis that eventually would become a career.”
The Dodgers employee remembers the collection of tables full of books at the local library when the young girl approached him saying, “’I found a book that you would like’. A couple of minutes later she handed the book to me. I wonder to this day ‘what was it like for her to come up to me and offer this book?’ For some reason she probably saw it and thought ‘I bet Mark would like that.’”
Making a successful run in the postseason was no easy feat as the Dodgers had to win a record 13 games while living in the MLB-mandated bubble as a way to keep players and staff safe from the coronavirus.
The Game 6 victory came just in the nick of time as Dodger Manager Dave Roberts discovered in the seventh inning that the team’s third baseman, Justin Turner, had tested positive and was removed from the contest. Who knows what would have happened in the series had the Dodgers not won that night? Among the heroes in the club’s final game of the season was 24-year-old reliever Julio Urias, who got the final seven outs without giving up a hit, becoming the youngest pitcher to save a World Series clinching victory since fellow Dodger Steve Howe did it in 1981.
There was standout play at every turn, but none better in the postseason than, perhaps, shortstop Corey Seager who compiled a .328 batting average, belting eight homers and 20 RBI in 18 games while walking away with the MVP Award in the National League Championship Series and World Series.
Adding significantly to the mix were pitcher Clayton Kershaw, finally turning the pain of the past into a shining moment with two World Series victories, and Mookie Betts, an amazing talent who had eight doubles in the postseason, and following the season was awarded his fifth consecutive Gold Glove and finished second in voting to the Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman for the National League MVP.
“First of all, I would say it was sheer talent,” answered Davis when asked what made this’s year’s Dodger team so good. “Even during normal spring training days, going back to March before the World changed everybody, clearly said this is the best of the bunch. They had been winning divisions for an entire decade. The easy way to look at that (question) is Mookie Betts came over from Boston. He’s a world-class player. But then some of these young guys never seemed to be phased or unprepared. Tony Gosselin, Dustin May, everything they did… Will Smith is still a really young player and was incredible during the postseason run. There are a lot of pieces to it. I think talent is a big part of it. (Manager) Dave Roberts is a big part of it; what a great personality and demeanor in leading the team in a season like this. There were a lot of different dynamics that lined up for them to finally get it done in a year that was like no other to begin with.”
In any championship, explained Langill, “you look back on the title and you see the trophies and all the celebrations, you forget about all the little things along the way that could have gone wrong, that didn’t. When you celebrate any championship you have to remember all those close calls. That’s why you have to savor this year because even though it has been 32 years, you have to look at some of the other franchises, like the Cubs in how long they had to wait. Cleveland hasn’t won it since 1948. You just have to savor it. You can’t worry about when you’re going to win it next.”
Like Davis, Kiser insists it was the arsenal of talent, including a mix of youth and season veterans, responsible for closing the deal for the Dodgers in 2020. “It was an entire team effort, from the top man down to even the grounds crew,” he said of the organization.
Kiser worked with the grounds crew from 2007 to 2018, putting in long hours over the 12 years helping maintain the Dodgers’ playing surface. “I had fabulous times,” he said, “and at 73 years old, who would have known I’d be doing that kind of work?”
During the library ceremony, Davis, Langill, Kiser and Billings posed for pictures with a 20×30 poster board of the cover of the book, “All For One,” the foreword written by Kershaw, the introduction by Hershiser and preface by Roberts, which will be the gift for the season ticket holders and available on the MLB shop website. It tells the story of the Dodgers long fought journey to finally claiming the right to be called baseball’s best.
“The book itself is wonderful and people are going to love it,” noted Billings of the offering. “What I think is special, is those who work for the Dodgers care about our library and want to make that connection between their work and the library. And, of course, we do have a lot of Dodgers’ fans in our city and they will be thrilled to see this book, check it out and enjoy it. To have it given to us because these guys care about the library and it matters to them is really special.”
It takes an historian like Langill to come up with interesting facts and information as he explains that the World Series began in 1903, and in more than a century of playing baseball, only seven Dodger teams have finished with a victory in their final game, adding: “The 2020 Dodgers — from the high-profile superstars accustomed to October pressure to the eager rookies taking center stage for the first time — can take their collective place alongside champions from other generations – the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers and the Los Angeles teams of 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 and 1988.”