A rivalry, what exactly is that?
A dictionary definition might say something about two teams or individuals who regularly compete against each other in a sport or event. But that doesn’t really adequately explain it. We always hear the word rivalry tossed around in professional sports these days, like an over-used cliché. There are some classic, familiar rivalries in every sport, such as the Yankees-Red Sox, Lakers-Celtics, or North Carolina-Duke. Fans of any team likely can identify another team they get especially excited to play against.
Equally deserving of recognition in any such conversation is the longstanding Giants-Dodgers rivalry, a relationship that traces its roots back to the other side of the country. The Giants and Dodgers first faced off at the Polo Grounds in New York, way back in 1889. Both organizations relocated out west at the same time after the 1957 season, the Giants heading to northern California and the Dodgers settling in southern California.
Since that first game in New York, the two teams have gotten together over 2,300 times. But what’s probably even more amazing is that they are so close in number of victories over all those years head to head (the Giants having won 20 more games, holding a .504 winning percentage against the Dodgers). That sounds like all the necessary ingredients for a great rivalry- a long history, geographical proximity, and a very tight lifetime record. And there have certainly been plenty of memorable moments on field, both crucial late-season games and boiling hostilities. But does a San Francisco-Los Angeles match up today still create the excitement it used to?
There are many fans who would say it’s just not the same anymore. There’s no denying that major league baseball’s current system of free agency has created a much higher rate of player turnover. Players regularly bolt the second their contract is up, abandoning the club that developed their talents and brought them to the majors, choosing money and individual glory over loyalty and team chemistry. A player on your favorite team one year may end up on your rival’s the next season. So is the Giants-Dodgers rivalry slowing fading out?
I’m a life-long San Francisco fan, born and raised in northern California, but now living in enemy territory. The last few years I’ve had to learn to adapt to life down south. It’s definitely hotter here, not as green outside, and there’s a lot more traffic. But perhaps one of the most difficult adjustments has been every time I turn on the TV. Instead of seeing my beloved orange and black taking the field, I see only that annoying Dodger blue.
I grew up learning about and understanding the rivalry from my dad, also a loyal Giants fan. I remember as a kid, long before the days when every local game was televised, listening to baseball on the radio. While we didn’t get to hear the soothing voice of Vin Scully on a daily basis (perhaps the only part of the Dodgers I can honestly say I envy), it was still baseball, all summer long. We’d listen to games while driving in the car, while playing catch in the yard, or while doing absolutely nothing in the house. I picked up two important principles in those young, formative years of my life: and, #2 just as hard against the Dodgers.
To this day, if I realize at any point in the season that my beloved Giants are realistically out of the playoff race, I shift my energy towards cheering against the hated Dodgers reaching the postseason. You could say I have two favorite teams actually… there’s the Giants, and then whoever is playing the Dodgers.
While I am a big baseball fan and follow the Giants closely, I can’t say I make it out to the ballpark much every season. Over the years, I have gone to a few Giants-Dodgers games in San Francisco, where I was always surrounded by the safety of thousands of other Giants fans. But about a month ago, in the middle of July, I decided it was time to see a game in the other guys’ house and get a first-hand look at the status of this ancient rivalry, if there still was one.
I figured if I was going to a game in LA, with both teams still in the thick of the summer pennant race, I might as well do it right and get myself some seats where all the action is, in the left field bleachers. So I put on my Giants shirt, and off I went with my wife (who was somewhat reluctant about what we’d encounter in the bleachers).
As it turns out, my luck in choosing games is terrible. The Giants took two out of three from the Dodgers in the series. I, of course, picked the only game the Dodgers managed to win. And as far as baseball games go it was entirely unexciting, unless you’re one of those strange fans who get a huge thrill out of a 2-0 pitchers duel. Chad Billingsley pitched well, shutting down the Giants all night, tossing a five-hit complete game, and leaving me little to cheer about.
Although the game was only marginally interesting and the Giants lost that night, the experience was still well worth the over-priced tickets and parking fee. Before even reaching the entrance of old Dodger Stadium (L.A. needs to catch up with the rest of MLB and build a new park, by the way), I was greeted with a number of unrepeatable pleasantries by Dodger fans. For my own safety (or perhaps more so because of direct orders from my wife) I decided to be as un-obnoxious of a fan as I could be. So I ignored them and kept on walking. But once we found our seats in the bleachers, there were plenty of other Giants fans there who had no such reservations.
That created a frenzied atmosphere that provided entertainment all evening to make up for what the game may have lacked.
There were, unfortunately, some bleacher fans that seemed to have taken the rivalry a bit too seriously. There was the guy behind us shouting vulgarities about Giants’ left fielder Aubrey Huff’s mother (he thankfully was finally escorted out of the stadium by security), or the mom of a young child who I overheard emphatically exclaim to her son,
“Remember, all Giants fans are horrible people!”
Of course, to avoid appearing biased, there were also a number of San Francisco fans pushing the envelope of appropriateness. They inevitably found themselves in the center of a brawl, and always significantly outnumbered. Any such occurrence usually elicited a loud cheer from the crowd and a panic among security.
But overall, the complete idiots and inebriated morons were outnumbered by the true fans that were there to see a baseball game, have fun, and root against their rivals. There was plenty of good-natured cheering and booing. Sticking with baseball bleacher tradition, the Dodgers fans hounded the Giants’ left fielder all evening long. They called him Audrey instead of Aubrey, and yelled that he was old and slow any time he had to chase a ball into the corner. And they also had the baseball classics- they chanted “Giants suck”, booed each San Francisco fan that left their seat for a food run, and they cheered loudly right in our faces when the Dodgers scored or made a good defensive play.
There were some brave Giants fans in the bleachers, braver than me. I particularly got a kick out of a guy who had spray-painted his entire body (including his hair) bright orange. Mr. Cheesepuff seemed less interested in the action on the field, and more so with enticing the Dodgers fans. He would get up between every half inning and parade up and down the aisle, eliciting jeers and the occasional bag of popcorn tossed in his direction.
As I made the long walk back to my car after the game, still sporting my San Francisco shirt, I was taunted by countless Dodgers fans, giddy over shutting out the Giants. I kept quiet at first, trying to swallow my pride and ignore them. But after awhile I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I finally shouted, “Two outta three! We just took two out of three, in your park!” But they didn’t care about that, or the fact that San Francisco remained ahead of Los Angeles in the standings. Because, the Dodgers had just beaten the Giants, and for them, this night was a good one.
About then I realized that if everything was completely opposite (the standings and the results of the series), and if the Giants had just beaten the Dodgers in San Francisco, the Giants fans there would be just as annoying. And that’s because the Giants-Dodgers rivalry still lives, and it’s as strong as ever. That means that a win for your team is always a sweet thing, but a win against your rival, well that’s twice as sweet.
If a random baseball game in the middle of July between these two clubs can still generate this much energy and excitement from the fans, there must still be something special to it. It’s not just another game. I also realized something else. The Giants-Dodgers rivalry is not really about the players on the teams, because they come and go. It’s all about the loyal fans, the fans who follow their team every summer, win or lose, year after year, and who keep coming back to the ballpark to cheer.
Giants and Dodgers fans may not have a whole lot in common, and they may not like each other very much. But they do share one important thing- an old-fashioned, classic, and energetic rivalry, arguably the greatest in baseball. And because of that, they have one thing they can always agree on… there’s nothing better than beating the other guys in a big game.
Questions or Comments? Contact Nathan Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org