As the Dodgers were making their way to the World Series for the third time in four years on Sunday, coming from behind to beat the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, the team’s historian was in, well, the most unusual of places.
“I cleaned the garage and enjoyed reliving the souvenirs of more than 48 years as a Dodger fan, a reporter or as an employee,” explained Mark Langill, a product of South Pasadena, who attended local schools before moving onto Cal State Northridge, later becoming a sportswriter for the Pasadena Star-News in advance of eventually working for the major league team he applauds to this day.
The Dodgers fell behind 2-0 early to the Braves, but it hardly mattered to Langill, who wasn’t watching, busy going through a large collection of baseball relics holding sentimental value.
“While everyone else was sweating the Braves’ early lead, I was playing a 1956 Brooklyn Dodger instructional record that featured a young announcer named Vin Scully introducing the players, and (former Dodger pitcher) Carl Erskine giving pitching tips,” said Langill, whose knowledge of the team in blue is boundless.
As he combed through mounds of memories, the Dodgers Cody Bellinger smacked a seventh-inning homer that helped catapult them past the Braves 4-3 in the deciding game at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, setting the stage for becoming the first team in franchise history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a postseason series. Next comes Tampa Bay, the American League champs, as the Dodgers chase their first World Series championship in 32 years. They finished the two month regular season with the best record in baseball, 43-17, raced through the first two rounds of the playoffs before finding themselves down two games to zero to the Braves, then packing a punch with 11 runs in the first inning of Game 3 in a 15-3 victory, dropping Game 4 to go back down 2-1, then winning three straight to put themselves in a position to garner their first title since 1988.
Meaningful stuff indeed, and the club’s historian can’t wait for the opportunity as the World Series begins Tuesday night, but Langill was busy on a trip down memory lane during Sunday’s broadcast. “I’m helping a film producer with a documentary on Erskine, who is 93 years old and living in his hometown of Anderson, IN,” he said about not watching the nail-biter.
Understandably, with COVID concerns still raging, it has been one of the unusual times in the history of the sport. Isolated, playing inside a bubble, Major League Baseball has managed to give fans an escape from the world outside, Langill saying, “This is the most unique season in the 130 years of the Dodgers being a member of the National League. This whole season has felt surreal, so it’s hard to compare this pennant with the ones in 2017 and 2018.”
He hopes October will be friendlier this time around. In 2017, the Dodgers lost to the Houston Astros, a team that will forever be known as cheaters for a sign-stealing scandal, in the seventh and deciding game. A year later, the Boston Red Sox came out on top, winning it all in five games.
Unlike past years, Langill said the phone isn’t ringing off the hook with people wanting to purchase tickets “and I’ve only been to the stadium briefly on two occasions since mid-March to film TV shows,” he added. “What doesn’t change is the feeling your team can win the World Series. Why suddenly be pessimistic so close to the finish line, especially with postseason heroes Johnny Podres (1955), Sandy Koufax (1963, 1965) and Kirk Gibson (1988) as reminders that anything can happen in a Fall Classic.”
Langill says the two previous chapters in club history were easy to catalog — “Brooklyn” and “Los Angeles.”
The third chapter, he noted, starts with “2020 and it’s anyone’s guess what happens to professional sports and large-crowd events down the road.”
Not only did he not catch Sunday’s wild affair against Atlanta, but Langill has a confession to make. “I haven’t watched a Dodger N.L. playoff game live since 2008 because it’s too stressful,” he confided.
After Bellinger rocketed a 94-mph sinker into the right field seats giving his team a one-run 4-3 advantage, Dodgers’ reliever Julio Urias was perfect over the final three innings, determined to protect the slim margin. Overcoming two huge deficits in the series and two in the final NLCS game showed the resiliency of this club.
“I’m glad this seven-game classic with the Braves will be replayed for generations because it will give me a chance to savor the details without sweating the finish,” not a fan of live pressure cooker Dodger finishes. “I remember a viewing party at the stadium when we faced the Cubs in the first round and I walked out after the third batter because my chest felt tight and I found myself yelling at the TV every few pitches,” recalled Langill. “My self-imposed blackout ends if the Dodgers reach the World Series – I tell younger employees to savor the moment because it’s so hard to reach this point. Yes, there may be painful memories – Reggie Jackson as a base runner throwing his hip into a Bill Russell throw from shortstop in 1978 comes to mind – but the World Series will be over in a flash.”
Early in the Dodgers-Braves finale and Langill pouring through memorabilia in the garage, not watching the game, he received a text from a Tom Niedenfuer, the former Dodger reliever (1981-87) watching the game in Florida.
“He didn’t reveal the score, but I could tell from his tone and language that we weren’t ahead 11-0 after the first inning,” said Langill, making light of the NLCS Game 3 when the Dodgers scored 11 runs in the first inning. “Instead of worrying about the game, I thought, ‘Could it really be 39 years since I got Tom’s autograph after every game I attended in 1981 and generations later as longtime friends he would be sharing pictures of his grandchildren?’”
Not watching Sunday’s action and ignoring his cellphone for the next three hours, “I thought something might be up when I heard the ‘ding’ of steady text messages,” said Langill. “When the fireworks started in the neighborhood, I had a hunch people were celebrating. That is a wonderful example of what a sports franchise can mean for a community. I’m very happy for the fans, but have a special appreciation for the players, coaches and support staff who traveled to Texas. Don’t forget in this world of the pandemic, these people have given of themselves to provide sports fans a distraction from the real world. Now, if we could just get four more wins, I promise to scream and yell.”
While wearing a mask, of course.