In the hours prior to the Dodgers bringing home a World Series title to Los Angeles, Mark Langill set the mood by listening to the CBS Radio recording of Vin Scully and Sparky Anderson describing Game 6 of the 1981 World Series at Yankee Stadium.
It’s what team historians like Mark Langill do.
Sounds harmless enough until one fully appreciates the full impact. The Dodgers won that day 9-2, 39 years ago, to wrap up the championship, but it remarkably resembled Tuesday night’s contest when they defeated Tampa Bay 3-1 to capture the crown.
In the 1981 Series, the Yankees led 1-0 in the fourth with a potential Game 7 looming. Langill noted the Dodgers blew the game open in the sixth after New York left-handed pitcher Tommy John was pulled from the mound.
So what happens in the sixth game of 2020 Series?
Rays’ pitcher Blake Snell was shutting down the Dodgers’ offense through the first five innings of Game 6, coasting along, his team in front 1-0, when Tampa Bay Manager Kevin Cash made a decision that likely will be second-guessed for the rest of his career. He removed Snell, who had struck out nine, allowed just two hits, zero walks and no runs in a must-win elimination game for the Rays.
The Dodgers went on to score three runs and win the series, which included a solo homer in the eighth by Mookie Betts to help seal their first championship since 1988.
“Having witnessed that (1981) championship in my youth, the rest of the 2020 game and celebration was like watching kids open their presents on Christmas morning,” said Langill, rejoicing over the big Dodgers’ victory. “I’m happy for the young generation of fans along with such veteran players such as Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen.”
Langill watched the season-ending game against the Rays from his South Pasadena home, texting nervously throughout to colleagues, fans, former players and the son of legendary Dodger first baseman Gil Hodges.
After the final out, he heard the celebratory fireworks in the neighborhood. “I’ve never had more than 100 texts in such a short period, so it felt like Lucy Ricardo trying to keep up with the chocolates speeding past her at the factory. I guess that’s the modern-day ‘high five’ so I wanted to reply as quickly as I could to stay in the moment. I think the most memorable text was a message from Layla Hawkins, the widow of former Lakers basketball player and Dodger executive Tommy Hawkins, who hired me in 1994. I also heard from my former South Pasadena High School water polo coach Jack Smith, who in a September 1981 Saturday game caught me hiding a radio in my towel on the bench during the ninth inning of Nolan Ryan’s fifth career no-hitter. I was praying for a close game at the end so he wouldn’t send in the subs.”
“Of course not”, jokes Langill, a True Blue Dodger fan, adding: “No, I didn’t take the radio into the pool.”
After a long wait the Dodgers are finally back on top of the baseball world. The team returned to the World Series for the third time in four years, finally breaking through, erasing the disappointment of falling short in 2017 and 2018.
“There were so many near misses in the past decade, but I don’t think fans realized that’s how it felt to root for the Brooklyn Dodgers,” said Langill. “Between 1916 and 1956, they lost eight of nine World Series, so the battle cry was always “Wait ’til next year!” The Dodgers won the title in their second year on the West Coast in 1959, so Los Angeles fans were spoiled right off the bat. A 32-year wait will make you appreciate the magic of a Kirk Gibson or Orel Hershiser shining in October the way Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Corey Seager were outstanding throughout the playoffs. You can’t really pinpoint the difference between recent Dodger teams because sometimes there are things you can’t control, such as an opponent’s strategy or injury status.”
The Dodgers beat Tampa Bay four-games-to-two at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, experiencing the first neutral site ever for the title in modern baseball history due to the coronavirus, which shortened the regular season to 60 games from the usual 162.
“In a year of a pandemic, this baseball season has been a wonderful distraction and a championship is certainly icing on the cake, producing memories we can cherish for generations,” Langill said. “So many people in the community were waiting to celebrate. At the South Pasadena post office before Game 6, I walked away from the counter after mailing a package and Kate at the middle counter excitedly shouted, ‘Mark, I bought the champagne!’ I said through my mask, ‘Not yet! Not yet!’”
High energy, resilience and a will to win all came together, finally pushing the Dodgers across the finish line after the long, often agonizing, wait.
“Now we can all exhale!” said relieved Langill.