The New, Improved, Big-Budget Dodgers Had Better Win the World Series

The once-broke team now boasts the biggest payroll ever and the best 50-game record since 1942. As a thank-you to their fans and generous owners, it's the least they can do.
Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, center, is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run during a game against the Miami Marlins on Aug. 20. The Dodgers won 6-4. (AP / Lynne Sladky)

On June 21, the Los Angeles Dodgers were 30-42, 9½ games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West. Then, in a remarkable surge over the next 50 games, they not only earned themselves a chance to save their season but manager Don Mattingly's job as well, winning a fantastic 42 of 50 games.

As many have been quick to note, the last 72 years of baseball history show that if you go through a 42-out-of-50 stretch during the season, you're going all the way: The last two teams who went 42-8, the 1941 Yankees and the 1942 Cardinals, both capped their seasons with a World Series win. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, though, if you go back further, there was one team with an even better 50-game stretch that didn't win it all -- the 1906 Cubs, who went 45-5. The 1912 Giants also went 42-8 during the season, but lost the World Series.

It's possible that the Dodgers will be forgiven if they make it to the Series and don't win, but more than likely the reaction of the fans and press will be the same sentiment expressed by Brad Pitt's Billy Beane in Moneyball: Even if you've had a stellar season, he explains, "If you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a shit."

After a remarkable turnaround of a different kind, the Dodgers don't just have the best 50-game record in the league -- they've suddenly got the biggest payroll in Major League Baseball, too. The Dodgers have spent more than $200 million on salaries; if they "lose the last game" and don't bring home the title, their fans won't care what they did all year.

The Los Angeles area is the second-biggest market in baseball behind New York, which makes the Dodgers, by definition, one of the three or four biggest money-producing teams in either league -- along with the Yankees, Mets, and Angels. They haven't always acted like a top-earning, top-paying franchise, though: The last time they won the World Series, which was also the last time they won the NL pennant, was 25 years ago. Over that time span, they pretty much surrendered the Los Angeles area to the NBA's Lakers. Even worse, they lost West Coast supremacy to the hated San Francisco Giants, who have won two World Series in the last three seasons.

During that time, the team got far more publicity from the bitter divorce battle of Frank and Jamie McCourt, the husband-wife majority owners who bought the team in 2004, than from baseball. The McCourts brought the Dodgers a disastrous cash-flow problem; the front office cut spending so drastically that fans complained that there wasn't enough mustard on the legendary Dodger Dogs.

The most spectacular new Dodger, though, is Yasiel Puig, 22-year old Cuban who cost them a hefty $42 million. More than any other player, Puig has sparked the Dodgers' resurgence both this season and as a franchise.

Things reached a low point in 2011 when the team filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to keep MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig's office from taking over the team. Court papers indicated that the Dodgers needed $28 million by July 1 just to meet their payroll. As reported by Reuters, "Selig responded to the bankruptcy filing with a statement blaming the Dodgers' financial woes on McCourt's excessive debt and his diversion of club assets to address personal needs."

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Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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