The Curse of Time Warner Revisited
A Tale of Dodger Greed

I stood near the third base line under a giant crane that lowered the loge level concrete supports into Lookout Mountain.  A Valley kid in the hills by Chavez Ravine, I came to baseball in 1955 watching the beautiful losers of Brooklyn beat the mighty Yankees on TV.  Now, my hometown of Los Angeles was building the most symmetrical ballyard on the planet for those winning beautiful losers: Dodger Stadium. 

In the years that followed, the stadium became my city’s centerpiece and the Dodgers part of an unspoken public trust that could be bought and sold but never owned.  Millions of Southern Californians enjoyed Dodger baseball live at the stadium…and if they couldn’t, live on TV.  Players like Koufax, Valenzuela, Gagne, Hershizer, and Kershaw visited our living rooms for the cost of electricity.

But now, thanks to Time Warner, millions of Angelenos and their children have more access to porn than they have to the Dodgers.  Beginning in the 2014 season, after over half a century of beaming into every home in Los  Angeles and points beyond, Dodger free-of-charge broadcasting went dark. The Time Warner Dodger fan blackout officially began when the east coast media cartel paid an astronomical $8.6 billion for Dodger broadcast rights — an exclusive 25-year contract to first create, then manage a new Dodgers-only cable TV network: SportsNet LA.  To boost their profit margin, Time Warner wanted to charge every cable TV subscriber whose carrier offered Dodger Baseball $4 per month — everyone — whether they watched SportsNet LA or not.  Not surprisingly, no other carrier bought in.  Since Time Warner cable covered only 30% of the city, 70% was blacked out.  

But so what?  Let the fans suffer.  Time Warner’s number one priority was to make money by any means necessary. In its first year as the Dodgers owner, the company paid nothing in federal income taxes even though they made $4.3 billion.  What’s more, Time Warner received a rebate of $26 million from the IRS.  Meanwhile, in his last season as baseball’s finest announcer, Vin Scully practically disappeared from the airwaves.

Not everyone wants or gets cable TV. In fact, three quarters of a million homes in Los Angeles — more than anywhere in the US. — use TV antennas.  Others affected by the Dodgers blackout simply can’t afford the sports tier of cable TV.  They aren’t luxury box owners cutting deals in a glass bubble where the line score is a distraction.   They’re lifelong fans.  They know that 3 forces are at play on the ballfield: the Dodgers, their opponents, and the game. As  Dodger third baseman Justin Turner said, “It’s a mess-up game.” It’s messed-up because you can crush a ball to the warning track and record an out, but accidentally squib a ball 15 feet in front of home plate and win.  Sometimes you play the game.  Sometimes the game plays you.

That’s why baseball is the most superstitious game in sports.  It is awash in magic, fetishes, rituals, and taboos — Nomar Garciaparra’s at-bat Velcro routine, Jason Giambi’s good luck gold lame thong underwear, Yasiel Puig writing “Dios” in the dirt near home plate.  Don’t step on the foul line when you take the field.  Don’t talk about a no-hitter while it’s in progress.  Don’t cross the fans.  The game will turn against you.

You could say it would set a bad precedent for these blacked-out Dodgers to win the World Series. As the highest playroll team in Major League Baseball, the logic goes, Time Warner (or whatever the conglomerate who owns the Dodgers is calling itself these days) needed to jack up the price. They needed to make their product exclusive.  But in doing so, the Dodgers crossed their fans.  The public trust became a product line.  What they gained today, they could easily lose tomorrow. 

There are ghosts at Chavez Ravine where, in 1957, thousands of low-income residents, mostly of Mexican descent, were cast out in order to build Dodger Stadium.  Now, as I stand near the third base line, I can hear their spirits whispering in the hills. May a cold wind blow in from the outfield when a Dodger connects.  May a bad hop turn an inning-ending double play into an opponent’s game winning hit.  May a blue-capped shortstop lose the ball in the lights. 

It’s a messed-up game.  Boston had the Curse of the Bambino.  Chicago had the Curse of the Billy Goat.  Los Angeles has the Curse of Time Warner.  Here’s to a good long run for the game.

— Nathan Callahan

First BroadcastOctober 13, 2017

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


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