By Mark Langill
Special to the Review
When the alarm clock rang at 5 a.m. the morning after the 2020 World Series, I thought about Johnny Podres, the left-handed pitcher who at age 23 blanked the New York Yankees, 2-0, in the decisive Game 7 at Yankee Stadium in 1955 to give the Brooklyn Dodgers what would be their only championship.
The following morning, a shirtless Podres posed in his hotel bed with the local newspapers spread out on the blanket. His arms were triumphantly raised in the air and he flashed a big smile. For the next 57 years of his life, Podres was associated with that moment — the hero of Brooklyn’s only victory in nine World Series appearances between 1916 and 1956. The Dodgers staged a 50th anniversary reunion in 2005 in Los Angeles and I asked Podres if he would’ve felt added pressure if he knew what the next half-century would bring. With a soft chuckle he said, “When you’re that young, you think you can do anything.”
And so Southern California baseball fans, originally spoiled with a championship in the team’s second season on the West Coast in 1959, can finally celebrate a World Series crown after a 32-year wait. The paradox of seven consecutive but fruitless trips to the postseason between 2013 and 2019 — the previous record being back-to-back playoff appearances on six occasions — meant the “World Series or bust” label on the first day of spring training.
The global pandemic of 2020 changed the dynamics and produced the most unique season in the history of Major League Baseball with face masks, cardboard cutouts filling empty grandstands, and social-distancing toe taps after home runs. But it also provided a wonderful distraction from the real world, where days after the unlikely restart to the season, fans could reset their priorities and complain about a team’s offense.
The 1981 Dodgers won a World Series during an abbreviated strike-shortened schedule that divided the season into a “first half” and “second half.” That’s how I will remember the 2020 Dodgers. The first part of the season was actually the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, led by director Nichol Whiteman, stepping to the plate and serving a community in need. Instead of a 2020 All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, Whiteman’s staff and legions of volunteers provided support and comfort in uncertain and unprecedented times.
When it was time to play the games, manager Dave Roberts’ squad posted the best overall record in the quest for a championship. Who will ever forget the drama of Los Angeles rebounding from a 3-1 deficit against the Braves in the NLCS, or the heartbreak of an 8-7 loss against Tampa Bay in Game 4.
As for the players, the likes of Kershaw, Buehler, Seager and Betts now stand alongside the other championship eras, whether Podres and Snider, Koufax and Drysdale, the record-setting infield of Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey, or the pack of underdogs led by Gibson and Hershiser. Their names will share a familiar ring.
Mark Langill is the official Dodgers team historian and has worked for the organization for 26 years. He resides in South Pasadena.