The Sixth Column

By Dave Reardon

Wednesday, April 7, 1999

Dodgers’ fans
are true blue

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Dodger blue is the bluest of blues. Not only are the uniforms vibrant and perfect, but the grass is the most green and plush in the world this side of Augusta National.

Then there are the sounds, the sporadic and sharp pops of ball meeting glove as seven men, all in a row, strong young men who all fire raw heat, learn the fine art of painting. You swear you can hear the pitches move, and you wonder how even Tony Gwynn can hit this stuff. Yeah, that wood on ball sound is sweet, too. But this is a franchise that is always been built on pitching, so that's what stands out.

And there's a cool breeze like nowhere else in Florida. You'd think you were in Manoa, except there's no rain here to blur your vision or smudge the autographs on your scorecard.

Before you can do what you came for, you have to get over the chicken-skin of walking the hallowed grounds where Campy, Duke and Jackie took their BP, where Koufax, Sutton and Fernando learned to hit the corners.

After the sensory overload subsides, you are still left with the question: How can they even consider leaving?


At first glance, Kevin Malone looks like a poster-boy for the new wave of baseball general managers, the young corporate guys who seemingly should be running fantasy franchises instead of the real things. The guys who come up with ideas like putting advertising on uniform sleeves. They're the kid GMs who carry out the owners' orders in the binge-and-purge labor-economic system controlling the game today.

But chat with Malone and it doesn't take long to discover he's as old-school as metal spikes.

Should have figured it from his bio -- here's a guy who actually played the game, got a little taste of pro ball. When you get his take on the Dodgertown situation, it's confirmed; he's a real baseball guy.

"This will not be the last spring here," he says. "For one, I don't think we'll ever leave here. And if we ever do leave, it definitely won't be next year.

"This is sacred ground. Being here, because it's all baseball, helps us get focused for the upcoming season. Dodgertown and Vero Beach represent baseball and history and tradition."

If only it were that simple. If only the real baseball people made the decisions.

But Malone doesn't have the ultimate say on Dodgertown. His job is to build the machine and keep it running. The bean counters will decide. And the bottom line points toward Arizona and the casino and the proximity to Los Angeles.

You wish that just this one time the suits would show some heart. They can afford it.


In 1958, the Dodgers abandoned Steve Oates. Now they might do it again.

Oates, 81, lived in Brooklyn when the Dodgers moved west. Oates survived, the same way he survived all those years when they broke his heart on the field.

Like many from Brooklyn, Oates retired to Vero Beach. He got his Dodgers back, if only for one month a year.

"Yeah, I guess it's a real double-whammy," Oates says with a sad smile. "I hope they stay, but I think they got me twice."

A few aisles away, Dave Stewart smiles and moves to another seat when an elderly lady shows him her ticket. Yes, that Dave Stewart, the retired star who spent his formative years as a pitcher with the Dodgers organization. The Dave Stewart who is now considered a front office up-and-comer, a possible future GM."I grew up here as a baseball player, hearing the stories, walking in the footsteps of legends," Stewart says. "There's something to that, something that's important to baseball. But we're no longer in the era of the great family owners, like the O'Malleys."

There is an air of resignation in Stewart's trademark squeaky voice. At this one point, it overwhelms his equally-signature death stare.

Stewart, like Malone, is a real baseball guy. But he knows the game is changing and can never be the same.

Dave Reardon, who covered sports in Hawaii
from 1977-1998, is a sportswriter for the
Gainesville (Fla.) Sun.

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