MARCH 31, 2011
This is an article from the Aug. 29, 2011 issue
Louis Santillan was born in a two-bedroom house on a dirt road at the bottom of the ravine. His neighborhood was an urban oasis, more than 300 unspoiled acres laid out less than two miles from downtown Los Angeles, dotted with eucalyptus and palm trees. Children slid down dirt hillsides on cardboard slabs. Women picked avocados in vegetable gardens. Chickens wandered door to door. Goats grazed in front yards. When families threw parties, they did not bother to send invitations. Neighbors simply listened for the squeal of a pig in the morning, the signal that carnitas would be grilled for the entire village that night.
Santillan was born in February 1935, and in keeping with Mexican tradition, his parents buried his umbilical cord in their backyard. Fifteen years later the Santillans were among roughly 1,000 residents of Chavez Ravine bought out of their land to make room for a low-income housing project. The city paid poorly but promised first dibs on the new homes. The project, however, never broke ground. The property was used instead to lure Walter O'Malley from Brooklyn and create another urban oasis: Dodger Stadium. "Now my umbilical cord is buried under third base," Santillan says. "Every time somebody hits a triple, I feel a pain right here."
He grabs his stomach and winces in his wheelchair. His sons, Louie and Eddie, chuckle. Santillan tells this story every year, on the third Saturday in July. He is the founder of a group of former Chavez Ravine residents called Los Desterrados—the Uprooted—which gathers for an annual picnic in Elysian Park, the greenbelt bordering Dodger Stadium. Santillan has never been inside the stadium, still fuming that his parents received only $7,500 for their two houses on Gabriel Avenue, but his children let go of the grudge. The stadium became the cord that connected them to their past. When they wanted to see where their dad grew up, they just bought tickets along third.
Despite the salsa music and grilled chicken, the mood at this year's picnic was a little glum. Some of Los Desterrados had died. Others were sick. Most, however, were angry. As the sun pierced the morning clouds, Louie and Eddie gazed over the ravine, through the eucalyptus trees, toward the stadium on the hill where they had spent so many happy nights. They too felt a pain in their stomachs. "When I think about what happened up there," says Louie, who unlike his father regularly attends Dodgers games, "I'm ashamed for all of us."
Chavez Ravine has again been spoiled. The Dodgers are more than $500 million in debt. Attendance is down nearly 18% from last season. Television ratings are down more than 25%. Fans wear jerseys with the name CHAPTER stitched over 11. Team employees wonder if their paychecks will bounce. Latin American talent brokers, who used to funnel the Dodgers their best players, don't even invite the club to tryouts because they assume the organization can't afford to sign anybody. Meanwhile, owner Frank McCourt wages legal battles in three states against his ex-wife, Jamie, his former law firm and Major League Baseball. "You go to games there and everyone is so mad at the owner they won't show up," says Padres closer and Southern California native Heath Bell. "It's heartbreaking."
Some ballparks transcend the teams that play within their walls—Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium. Dodger Stadium used to be that way, full whether the club was in first place or fifth. You didn't go for the party, as at Wrigley, or the history, like Fenway. You went for the San Gabriel Mountains at sunset, the palm trees standing sentry behind the outfield fence, the beach balls floating in the dusk; ushers in straw hats, Nancy Bea Hefley on the organ, Vin Scully on the call. The building itself, as mid-century as Mad Men, was never an architectural wonder. But for almost 50 years Chavez Ravine offered the residents of Los Angeles something that is not easy to find in the middle of a teeming city, the same idyll that once lured the Santillan family: peace.
The rivalry between the Dodgers and the Giants traces back to New York in the 19th century and has a feral intensity even at its most tranquil. When the two teams met at Dodger Stadium on March 31, it was Opening Day. San Francisco was coming off a World Series championship. The Dodgers were coming off a fourth-place finish and an off-season in which their biggest acquisition was journeyman infielder Juan Uribe. As the date approached, the Dodgers learned that some San Francisco fans planned to hire private planes to fly near the stadium with taunting messages, and the hosts braced for a charged atmosphere. They had no full-time security director in place—Ray Maytorena, a former Secret Service agent, had been dismissed from the post in December—but had hired former director Shahram Ariane on an interim basis. According to records provided by Jerry Jackson, the Dodgers' lawyer, the club deployed 457 security personnel on Opening Day, including 195 uniformed LAPD officers. Jackson called it the largest show of force for a regular- or postseason game in his 23 years representing the organization. Major League Baseball also dispatched two of its own security officials to the stadium.
Bryan Stow, a 42-year-old paramedic from Santa Cruz, drove the 350 miles to Los Angeles for the game. A divorced father of two, Stow has several passions besides his children and his work: the Giants, the beach, mixed martial arts, hard rock and his hair. "His hair was his signature," says Patrick Bostic, who worked with Stow at American Medical Response in San Jose. "It had its own personality. It was super spiky, and he used so much product that it never really moved. He was not happy when it got messed up."
Stow went to the game with three friends—Corey Maciel, Matt Lee and Jeff Bradford. They all wore hats, but not Stow: He opted for a black Giants batting practice jersey over khaki shorts. According to LAPD sources, Stow and his friends left their car at a hotel and took a taxi to Dodger Stadium. They posed in the parking lot for a picture with two other fans. Stow stood in front, arms outstretched, sunglasses tilted toward the sky.
Two hours before the game, a plane flew over Chavez Ravine with a sign that read: LA 5, SF 1, GO DODGERS, a reference to the World Series tally for both teams since they moved from New York to California. Then another plane, with a different sign: DODGERS STILL SUCK, FROM SF CHAMP FANS. Then a third: SF GIANTS 2010 CHAMPS, BEAT LA.
The Stow group sat in the rightfield pavilion, a notoriously rowdy part of the stadium. According to LAPD sources, Stow traded trash talk with Dodgers fans, but it did not escalate into anything serious; detectives were told that Stow called out, "I'd rather eat my own feces than a Dodger Dog," and a middle-aged Dodgers fan named Juan Banda approached him. A video published by TMZ shows Stow raising his hands, as if to indicate he wants no trouble, and Banda walking away. When the four friends from Santa Cruz posed for another picture in the pavilion, with Stow standing over the others, two Dodgers fans flipped them off.
In Section 149, along the third base line, Dodgers fans Louie Sanchez, a 29-year-old auto detailer from Rialto, Calif., and Marvin Norwood, a 30-year-old carpenter, were sitting with Sanchez's sister, Dorene, and his 11-year-old son. Witnesses would tell LAPD officers that Sanchez and Norwood tossed peanuts at Giants fans, and toward the end of the game the pair allegedly grew more unruly. According to a court filing by the Los Angeles district attorney, Sanchez also threw a soda at a couple wearing Giants gear, hitting a female fan named Kathryn Gillespie. Her male companion shouted at Sanchez. Norwood restrained his friend. Other Dodgers fans asked the Sanchez group to leave.
The Dodgers won the game 2--1, and team staffers celebrated what appeared to be a successful Opening Day. Arrests were down from the previous year's opener, from 132 to 72. Stow's group left through the rightfield exit. LAPD sources say the friends bypassed the nearby taxi stand because they didn't want to pay for the inevitable additional time they would spend in traffic. They walked through the vast parking lot and, according to the court filing, stopped at Dorene Sanchez's car. Words were exchanged. Louie Sanchez, who the DA claims had already swung at one Giants fan in the parking lot, allegedly shoved Stow and punched Lee in the left temple. According to the police report, Stow and his friends walked away, more than 200 feet, with the assailants following them through Lot 2, shouting, "F--- Giants. Get the f--- out of here."
One witness, Dolores Donnelly, told a Los Angeles television station that Stow and his friends told the assailants, "We don't want any trouble. We're paramedics. We lose our jobs if we fight." According to the court filing, Sanchez hit Bradford and then charged at Stow from behind, punching him in the side of the head. Witnesses said Stow was unconscious before he hit the ground. His head bounced off the concrete. He was kicked several times in the head and torso; Norwood allegedly joined in before standing over him and crowing, "Who else wants to fight?"
Witnesses said it took more than 10 minutes for security to arrive, long enough for the assailants to flee in a light-colored sedan, driven by a woman with a young boy. The DA claims the woman was Dorene Sanchez. Stow was rushed to Los Angeles County--USC Medical Center with a severely fractured skull and bleeding in both frontal lobes. According to the paramedic's report, his Glasgow Coma Score was a 9, indicating moderate to severe brain injury. The Dodgers' season was less than four hours old and the stadium was already a crime scene.
Fan-on-fan violence dates back at least to A.D. 532 when 30,000 people died in three days of riots at chariot races in Constantinople. Over the past 10 years just in parking lots after major league games a fan was beaten to death in Philadelphia, stabbed to death in San Francisco, shot in the head and paralyzed in Anaheim. After a 2003 Dodgers-Giants game at Dodger Stadium, a fan was shot and killed. After the two teams played in L.A.'s home opener in '09, a fan was stabbed. (There was another outbreak last Saturday, when a fan was assaulted and knocked unconscious in a Candlestick Park restroom while the 49ers were hosting the Raiders in an NFL preseason game. After the game, two fans were shot in the parking lot.) None of those cases registered more than a blip on the national radar. "This was much different," says Thomas Rubinson, who prosecuted the '03 case for the Los Angeles district attorney's office and is now an L.A. Superior Court judge. "It was seen as the nadir."
Stow was a symbol of the Dodgers' deterioration. When Frank and Jamie divorced last summer, it was thought to be the moment the franchise hit bottom. The trial revealed that the couple borrowed money from the club to fund an exorbitant lifestyle, including nine homes and seven country-club memberships, $800,000 a year for personal security and $150,000 a year for hair care. The trial laid waste to public confidence in the Dodgers' owner, so when reports spread of a Giants fan beaten in the stadium parking lot, McCourt became the obvious target for blame—whether he deserved it or not. Politicians had an excuse to lash out at McCourt the way baseball fans already were. The divorce had led to dramatic cuts in team payroll and spending for players abroad, a market the franchise once owned. The question became whether it also resulted in a deterioration of the stadium atmosphere that culminated with Bryan Stow on the ground in Lot 2.
L.A. county supervisor Michael Antonovich was at the World Economic Forum in China when he learned of the Stow attack. Antonovich, 72, grew up in South Central L.A., and remembers taking the streetcar to see the Angels at the old Wrigley Field. In recent years constituents and family members had complained to him about negative experiences at Dodger Stadium, from bad language to threatening behavior. "What happened [to Stow] was the direct result of a culture McCourt allowed to exist in and out of the stadium," Antonovich says. "It was barbaric."
Antonovich was appalled that McCourt did not immediately put out a reward for information about Stow's assailants. Antonovich e-mailed his spokesman, Tony Bell, on April 1 and told him to announce a $10,000 reward from the county. "McCourt's people called the office," Antonovich says. "They were upset we got involved. They wanted us to ignore it. They tried to sweep it under the rug."
Dodger officials dispute Antonovich's account, claiming they were waiting for instructions from the police, who sometimes worry that rewards encourage perpetrators to skip town. The LAPD was just beginning to identify suspects, and the Dodgers were already on trial. Larry Baer, the Giants' president, tried to contact his equivalent with the Dodgers, but because of heavy turnover in the L.A. front office he did not know whom to call. He wound up face-to-face with McCourt at Dodger Stadium the day after the opener, and told him that he did not feel comfortable encouraging Giants fans to wear their colors to games in L.A. McCourt told Baer everything was fine. "That was unnerving," Baer says.
Stow was in a coma. Half his skull had been removed to allow his brain to swell. He required seven forms of medication to limit his seizures. "He came as close to not making it as you can come," says Dr. Gabriel Zada, Stow's neurosurgeon at USC. His parents, Dave and Ann, and his sisters, Bonnie and Erin, spent seven hours a day at the hospital. At night they retreated to the downtown Marriott and toasted "the Great Hodge," a nickname Stow gave himself as a boy. On April 6, a candlelight vigil was held outside the hospital. Hundreds attended, including Dodgers officials and a local talk-show host on KFI 640 AM named Bill Carroll. Ann invited Carroll to Stow's room. Standing next to the bed, where Stow was covered in tubes and bandages, Carroll decided to make this story his own. He led his show with it most afternoons. He had Zada on as a regular guest. He sometimes took calls for three hours about the case, and when he went off the air, phone lines were still jammed. Everyone seemed to have survived a traumatic ordeal at Dodger Stadium, and they knew just who was responsible. "It was a convergence of two stories," Carroll says. "People said, 'I knew this would happen because McCourt let the team go downhill and security do the same.'"
Even after the Dodgers announced, on April 4, a $25,000 reward for information on Stow's attackers, talk-radio host Tom Leykis pledged $50,000 of his own money in an attempt to embarrass McCourt. Leykis was also harassed at Dodger Stadium, by two fans during a game in 2009, and has not been back since. "I grew up in New York so I'm used to going to Yankee Stadium and seeing drunken louts threaten each other," Leykis says. "Then I moved to L.A., and it was much different. Dodger Stadium was more like Disneyland. You have fun and feel safe and drift off into this dreamlike world. But now we've got this carpetbagger from Boston who never took the time to understand the deep connection of Dodger Stadium to Southern California. I'm not a dramatic person, but it hurts my heart. It kills me."
Dodgers fans were not the only ones desperate to rid themselves of the carpetbagger. Commissioner Bud Selig told confidants that the Stow beating was "the final straw" for McCourt. By the time the Dodgers returned home from their first road trip, on April 14, Selig had dispatched a six-man task force to Los Angeles, led by MLB executive vice president John McHale Jr., to evaluate stadium security. McCourt's hold on the franchise he had diminished was slipping.
Piles of anecdotal evidence stacked up against McCourt, ostensibly revealing an epidemic of violence at Dodger Stadium—but the stories did not match the hard data. According to LAPD records, three violent crimes were committed at the ballpark last season and four in 2009. McCourt was the first Dodgers owner to hire uniformed LAPD officers for games. In 2008 he hired Maytorena, who had spent 24 years with the Secret Service, as vice president for security. Maytorena wanted to cut back on the LAPD presence and build a private force, and the Dodgers spent an extra $500,000 on security starting in '08, according to Jackson. Private security guards don't project the same authority as police officers, but they are preferred by many crowd-control experts. "Police presence won't do it," says John Cheffers, a former Boston University education professor who studied fan violence and consulted with numerous teams. "That heightens tension. We found that if you have cops with guns, fans will bring guns too."
In many respects McCourt will go down among the worst owners baseball has ever seen. His commitment to security, however, is not necessarily one of them. "It wasn't one of those places where we thought we had to put more cops," says LAPD commander Andrew Smith. "What happened to Bryan Stow was terribly tragic and upsetting. But it was an isolated incident. The problem was with perception." Los Angeles is sensitive to perception, and for good reason. Last year, there were 297 homicides in the city, the fewest since 1966. Yet movies and television shows, mostly filmed in L.A., still portray the city as the urban war zone it was in 1992, when there were 1,092 homicides. "We've worked too hard to get to this point," says City Council member Ed Reyes, whose district includes Dodger Stadium. "If you remember the environment and the stereotypes cultivated when the Raiders were here, we could not allow that to happen with the Dodgers. It's like violating our Camelot. We couldn't let that stain occur."
Selig's task force found Chavez Ravine transformed into a police state. For their second home stand the Dodgers had approximately 50% more uniformed police officers on hand. They hired the Kroll security consulting firm, chaired by former LAPD chief William Bratton. They brought in behavior detection officers trained to seek out belligerent fans, added improved lighting in the parking lots and announced plans to implement computer mapping and crime-tracking technology commonly used in gang-infested neighborhoods. "You're going to see a sea of blue," LAPD chief Charlie Beck announced on April 7. "And it's not going to be Dodger blue. It's going to be LAPD blue... . We will not suffer this as a city again."
The Dodgers' reaction to the beating, while not as swift as many would have liked, turned out to be forceful. They paid for all the security enhancements. They raised $61,000 for the Stow family, which did not include McCourt's undisclosed contribution, and continued soliciting donations throughout their second home stand. Selig, however, was not impressed; rather, he was alarmed when McCourt required a $30 million loan from Fox just to make payroll in April. By the end of the month, Major League Baseball had seized control of the Dodgers.
It has been a strange, sad summer in Los Angeles. The Lakers were swept out of the playoffs, and head coach Phil Jackson retired. USC prepared for another football season on probation. There are no plans for an NFL team to move to the city, but two developers competed for the right to build a stadium, with the city council finally approving the framework for a $1.5 billion football palace downtown. Longtime Boston crime boss James (Whitey) Bulger was arrested in Santa Monica thanks in part to tips the FBI solicited from local beauty salons, where his girlfriend reportedly spent a great deal of time; parallels to the Dodgers' owner and his well-coiffed ex-wife were irresistible. McCourt and Selig sparred like no other owner and commissioner in recent memory, with McCourt insisting Selig had no right to take over the team, Selig rejecting a proposed $3 billion local broadcasting contract with Fox, and the two sides battling in bankruptcy court—McCourt filed for Chapter 11 in June—over how the team will climb out of its debt hole.
Blaming McCourt for the beating in the parking lot proved much simpler than finding the actual culprits. There was no video or DNA evidence, and descriptions of the suspects were vague: Latino males, in their late 20s to early 30s, possibly with tattoos on their neck. In the police report a witness said one of the assailants placed his hand on the hood of a car, but no fingerprints could be lifted. The LAPD assigned 20 Northeast Division detectives to the case. Citizens pitched in as well. After one of Ray Baker's employees declined an invitation to a company party at Dodger Stadium because his wife didn't feel comfortable there, the advertising executive donated 300 billboards for wanted signs in the city that included pencil sketches of the assailants, numbers for tip lines and the promise of a reward.
On May 22 a SWAT team arrested a 31-year-old ex-convict named Giovanni Ramirez in East Hollywood after his parole agent noticed he had covered tattoos on his neck with a new one. Witnesses picked Ramirez out of a lineup. In a press conference at Dodger Stadium, Beck fought back tears as he made the announcement. But Ramirez had never even been to a Dodgers game, according to his lawyer, Anthony Brooklier. The suspect passed two polygraph tests and had 11 alibi witnesses. The district attorney declined to file charges. Stow's picture remained on the front of the LAPD website.
The case was reassigned to the Robbery Homicide Division, which has more experience handling complex investigations. In all, 110 detectives were employed across every division, logging more than 10,000 hours. The total reward offered by the city and the Dodgers (who in May increased their share to $125,000) rose to $250,000. Politicians could not remember a higher reward in L.A. history. Police could not remember more attention on a case since O.J. Simpson was arrested for murder. As detectives sifted through thousands of tips, they heard complaints about two male fans sitting in section 149 on Opening Day with a woman and a child. Detectives contacted the Dodgers for ticket records, and the team provided all available names, phone numbers and addresses for fans sitting in the section.
On July 21, Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood were arrested on the same street in Rialto, one hour east of Los Angeles. Police found five guns at Norwood's home, including an AR-15 assault rifle. Beck wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times exonerating Ramirez and explaining how mistakes were made in the police investigation. In an arraignment at the Criminal Courts Building in downtown L.A., with news trucks circling the block, Sanchez and Norwood pleaded not guilty to charges of felony assault, battery and mayhem.
At the arraignment Deputy District Attorney Frank Santoro acknowledged that no witnesses picked Norwood out of a lineup and only one picked Sanchez. But Santoro said he had admissions from both suspects, Norwood in a formal interview and Sanchez in a surreptitious recording taken in custody. Dorene Sanchez, who was arrested but not charged, spoke with a grand jury, and according to LAPD sources she implicated the men. Gilbert Quinones, Sanchez's lawyer, said he needed more information to say whether his client was truly innocent. The DA promised him 25 binders of discovery.
LAC-USC Medical Center's emergency department routinely renders the names of violent-crime victims anonymous in their medical records. But according to documents from the hospital, a nonresponsive 42-year-old man who'd been assaulted in an altercation at Dodger Stadium on March 31, 2011, was admitted with a .176 blood alcohol content, more than twice the legal limit in California. Quinones said he heard during his investigation that Stow might have been beaten in a fight, not in an unprovoked attack, which would be consistent with most episodes of fan violence. Rarely is a fan beaten simply for wearing an opposing team's jersey, especially at a venue like Dodger Stadium, where opposing jerseys are common. "I've been defending these cases for 23 years and have yet to see one in which at least two parties weren't involved," says Jerry Jackson, the Dodgers' lawyer. "It still takes two to tango."
Sanchez's criminal history dates back to when he was 16 and includes nine arrests, among them a DUI in which he led police on a high-speed chase. Norwood has reportedly been arrested five times. Stow has a much shorter rap sheet. According to Santa Cruz County court records, he was arrested three times between October 1989 and July 1990, once for domestic violence and twice for DUI. On the second DUI, police found marijuana and cocaine in his car. But that was more than 20 years ago. Stow got married, had kids and landed a respectable job. "Look, he wasn't an angel that day," says an LAPD officer. "But he definitely didn't deserve what he got."
Stow stayed at LAC-USC for seven weeks. His seizures subsided. He opened his eyes slightly and moved his hands occasionally. He received more than 20 letters a day from supporters. "You could feel the entire community of L.A. behind us," says Zada, the neurosurgeon. "People were so invested in him." Stow's family started a website, support4bryanstow.com, to blog about his progress. They sold T-shirts and hats with the slogan, for stow. Barry Bonds visited the hospital and later offered to pay all college expenses for Stow's two children, 12-year-old Tyler and nine-year-old Tabitha. When Stow was flown to San Francisco General Hospital in mid-May, nurses at USC hugged the family and wept. Ann said at a news conference, "This truly is the city of angels."
A week later, the Stows sued McCourt and the Dodgers. The family's lawyer, Thomas Girardi, filed a 31-page complaint alleging negligence, premises liability, negligent hiring and much more. Girardi, who hired former police detectives and CIA investigators to assist with research, alleges that McCourt had in recent years cut two thirds of the Dodgers' security force even though the club sells more beer than any other team in the major leagues. (The Dodgers say they do not know where they rank in beer sales and deny making such deep cuts in their security staff.) "This is a case you couldn't win if O'Malley owned the team," Girardi says. "And it's a case you can't lose with Frank McCourt in charge."
In fact, the Dodgers were sued in a similar situation during the O'Malley days. In 1985 a fan was assaulted in the stadium parking lot and claimed that the team's security was negligent. The court ruled with the Dodgers because they had 69 security employees on hand, one for every 900 fans. On Opening Day this season, they had one security employee on hand for every 122 fans. "If you act responsibly and avoid those who don't," says Jackson, the club's lawyer, "then you will have no problems here."
The Dodgers are playing the Padres on a cloudless Saturday afternoon and 18 cars are parked in Lot 2. There are four mobile light stands. An LAPD officer whizzes by on a motorcycle, then one in a car, then another on a motorcycle. The stands are half empty at best. Protestors have organized a one-day boycott. A group of Padres fans slide into a row behind home plate. Two Dodgers fans thank them for coming. Tommy Lasorda appears on the scoreboard and reminds everyone to watch their language. Several innings later, he does it again. An usher approaches a father and son to ask if they'd like to move under an overhang, so they can be shaded from the sun. Cops stroll through the concourse. Everyone seems to walk on tiptoes.
No violent crimes have been reported at Dodger Stadium since March 31, according to the LAPD, but then again there are far fewer people at the games. Two years ago the Dodgers led the major leagues in attendance. Last year they were third. This year they are 10th. It's hard to say whether fans were put off by the Stow beating or by the security lockdown that followed—or by how poorly the team, only two seasons removed from a second consecutive NLCS appearance, has performed. "The question has become, 'How much is too much?'" says Councilmember Reyes. "Does it feel like a ballpark or an institution? That's the balancing point they're trying to reach right now."
The same question—How much is too much?—can be put to the LAPD. In 1993, 22-year-old Veronica Ultreras and her three-year-old daughter, Cynthia, were strangled in their home in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. "We got two detectives working part-time," says Veronica's father, a 66-year-old plumber named Luis Navarro. The murders were never solved. When Navarro hears about the number of detectives on the Stow case, he starts to shake and tears form in his eyes. "I get so angry," he says, "so frustrated."
He is on his hands and knees at the Oakdale Memorial Park cemetery in Glendora, scrubbing his daughter's and granddaughter's graves with WD-40. He brings fresh flowers every Wednesday, never the same kind twice. Navarro believes he knows why 110 detectives worked the Stow case and only two worked his. "It's because the city is trying to protect the Dodgers," he says. In 1960 fewer than 2.5 million people lived in Los Angeles. Now, the population is nearly four million. The Dodgers helped trigger the migration west. Although the tie between town and team has nearly been severed by McCourt, the civic uproar after the Stow beating was a symbolic attempt to repair it.
L.A. is waiting for McCourt to sell the franchise, but there is no telling how long the bankruptcy court will let him hold on. General manager Ned Colletti says he plans to sign outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to contract extensions this off-season, but he is only assuming he will have the money. Even the Stows' lawsuit cannot proceed until the Dodgers are out of Chapter 11. The family is listed on the Dodgers' official creditors committee.
Into this mess stepped Don Mattingly, a rookie manager who has a slogan for his fourth-place team. "No excuses," Mattingly says. "Sure we'd like a full house, energy in the building, but you can't sit there and feel sorry for yourself."
Mattingly has decorated his office with black-and-white photographs of the Brooklyn Dodgers, snapshots of an era that still inspires not just nostalgia but optimism. In the 1930s the Dodgers were near bankruptcy. Ownership factions fought for control, and the team earned the nickname the Bums. But president Leland MacPhail, hired in 1937, turned the organization around, starting with his interview: "Sure I'll take the job," MacPhail told the board of directors, "if you lay the kind of dough I want on the line for me, give me a free hand, and fix it up with the bank so that when I want some real money for operating purposes I can walk in there and get it." Neil J. Sullivan's book The Dodgers Move West describes how MacPhail renovated Ebbets Field, turned the farm system into a player development powerhouse, spent on talent and even improved stadium security. Attendance spiked, and in 1941 the Dodgers went to the World Series. "Perhaps no team has ever been transformed so dramatically in so little time," Sullivan writes.
Sixty years later the Dodgers are looking for another quick fix. They are coming off five mediocre drafts. Last year they spent only $314,000 on international amateur free agents, lowest in the majors. This season they have used 10 leftfielders. They fired hitting coach Jeff Pentland. They also fired franchise icon Steve Garvey, who attempted to buy out McCourt while working in the club's community relations department.
But there was at least one redeeming element to the season. Los Angeles and the Dodgers set a new standard for how cities and teams respond to fan violence, an accomplishment met with equal parts shame and pride. "Twenty-nine other teams have taken their security and stadium operations up several notches since March 31," says Baer, the Giants' president.
On Aug. 9, the Stows returned to Los Angeles for the first time since Bryan was transferred to San Francisco General, and when they walked into the downtown Marriott the front desk erupted: "The Stows are back!" A plate of chocolate chip cookies, with a card, was waiting in their room. The Stows met with the LAPD. They hugged the nurses at LAC-USC Medical Center. They gave updates on Bryan, how he puckered his lips to kiss Bonnie, how he waved his arm when Erin tried to change the channel from a Giants game. Those who met the Stows in the spring and saw them again this month said they looked different, more relaxed. Bryan remains in the intensive care unit at San Francisco General, but his family gathers hope from Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who walked onto the floor of the House of Representatives this summer, less than eight months after she was shot in the head.
The Stows are grieving for another fan who was at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day: Matt Lee, one of the friends who accompanied Bryan to the game, died on July 31 from an intense peanut allergy after he ate a salad he did not realize contained nuts. "It's been 4½ months," Erin says, glancing at her watch, "and it doesn't stop." She was standing on the outdoor terrace of The Shack, a bar and burger joint in Santa Monica, where Los Angeles--based Phillies fans were holding a fund-raiser for Bryan. The line was out the door. "We have passionate, smack-talking fans," says Debbie Axel, who organized the event, which included a silent auction and five professional comedians performing for free and raised over $10,000. "This could have easily happened to one of us."
As Erin scanned the overflowing terrace, she waved excitedly to the neurosurgeons who operated on her brother. "You'd think there'd be anger or bitterness," she says. "But that's not the case at all. We never blamed L.A. or Dodgers fans. This is our second home now. There's nowhere we feel more loved." The next morning the Stows turned out of the downtown Marriott and headed north, back to San Francisco General, leaving behind a city still looking for peace.
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