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Sports Are Indeed a Metaphor for Life: Dodger Baseball Opening Days, 1912 & 2016

Larry Wines: Some years — like election years — make us more desperate for escape than others. In 1912, especially rancorous presidential campaign politics were an obsession for some, and a challenge to sanity for others.

You can take the news at face value. You can assume things operate in their own arenas. But you'll miss a lot.

Dodger Baseball Opening Days

Sports Are Indeed a Metaphor for Life: Dodger Baseball Opening Days, 1912 & 2016—Larry Wines

Monday, the Dodgers started the 2016 season by pounding the Padres for 17 hits — including seven doubles and one triple — in a 15-0 victory at San Diego's Petco Park. That win is the largest shutout victory on opening day in major league history.

Proclaiming any superlative assures citation of some carefully parsed empirical comparison. Especially in sports. Or politics. Even though statisticians don't lie in the former, but they're expected to in the latter.

To wit: a 15-run margin of victory ties the only other, previous, largest-ever on any opening day in National League history. There is quite a story there, resonating far beyond an old scoreboard with its hand-turned number placards.

That earlier, equally lopsided record season opener also involved the Dodgers — when they were in Brooklyn. They opened that season against the Giants, their biggest rivals then, as now. That was long before there was a team of San Diego Padres.

It was decades before the Giants moved to L.A.'s all-around rival city, San Francisco. The Giants, based in New York, were chief rivals of the Brooklyn Dodgers since both were, and still are, rivals in the same National League division.

Things already seem a bit deja vu. Grab your catcher's mitt. There's more. Except the Dodgers didn't win that long-ago day. "Dem bums," Flatbush vernacular for the Brooklyn Dodgers, lost that season opener 18-3, establishing an enduring record-book statistic of an opening-day 15-run margin.

Let's get wonky. Back then, New York had three baseball teams, including the American League's Yankees. The New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, both in the National League, gave Gotham its trio of diamonds.

Okay, double wonky? The Padres, like the Mets, weren't yet a twinkle in anybody's eye.

So it is interesting that all three teams involved in both record-setting 15-point-margin season openers — games played more than a century apart — are now, all three, California teams.

Even triple wonky? Back then, major league baseball had no franchises west of St. Louis, because it took too long for a team to ride a train from the East Coast.

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So the 1912 season began with the Dodgers playing their geographically nearest division rival. Just like in 2016, when that's now the L.A. Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. Basics of time management: keep 'em close and minimize travel while you're still messing with the season roster. Fundamentals don't change. We wouldn't think to remember that crosstown rivals 1912 game except that its record score was just bested in a shutout. And that's where we would miss something. Plenty, in fact.

Dodger Baseball Opening Days

For starters, all those stats and numbers that endure in sports are not, at all, why people watched games then, any more than now.

Baseball is a metaphor for life. Reaching bases. Making every incremental gain amount to something. Watching a high fly ball, and for a moment, losing yourself in the wide, spacious sky, transforming worries and fears and chores and cares into joy, freedom, escape, as it disappears over the center field fence.

Some years — like election years — make us more desperate for escape than others. In 1912, especially rancorous presidential campaign politics were an obsession for some, and a challenge to sanity for others. There was egghead Woodrow Wilson, the Princeton University president and likely Democratic candidate. But he had progressive ideology that resembled that of Teddy Roosevelt, and many in the Democratic Party thought all that was just too liberal. There was that Socialist candidate, Eugene V. Debs. Which might suggest an engraved invitation for conservatives to win, with voters splitting on the left. But it was the Republican party that was very publicly tearing itself apart, with nasty name-calling, shocking accusations, and bitter rancor that sounded, well, batsh*t crazy.

There was Republican William Howard Taft, so fat he had broken through the second floor of the White House in his oversize bathtub. That became an easy symbol for his ties to the bloated rich. Taft, the elephant tethered to his party's establishment of big money manipulators, bankers, financiers, and oligarchical masters.

It was a reversion. Taft had betrayed the progressive agenda of his predecessor, Teddy Roosevelt, who had hand-picked him to preserve the most progressive gains in American history, to that time. Gains that were Teddy's legacy. Bringing righteously and furiously indignant Teddy back into the arena. Where he encountered fierce resistance from plutocrats in his party's power structure. Teddy would soon break away from the GOP to form the Bull Moose Party for his candidacy. A rough summer awaited as baseball season mercifully got underway.

We can be sure that back in 1912, baseball fans would have been talking about that record-setting, opening day drubbing. Of course, they'd have talked just as we do: who had played best, which players had scored hits and runs, what each aspect portended for a chance at the pennant through the months ahead.

Not just Dodgers fans or Giants fans, but everybody in New York would have embraced the fray. It was the national pastime in a baseball town. Anything was possible in a fresh season. And it was a welcome escape from election year politics.

Plus, plenty of people on their way to New York — the only city with three teams — were surely talking baseball, where soon they could see for themselves those teams from that opening-day shocker. Travelers. Commerce, on the way. Business for the hotels and restaurants. For ticket vendors and hot dog carts. For carriage drivers through Central Park. For Vaudeville shows. For Broadway. For the makers of clothes and shoes. Because America made everything and New York was the place to get it. All of it.

Travelers coming, who could eat peanuts and Cracker Jack at the ballpark. Just after they arrived in New York. Just after the Carpathia docked. The Carpathia, that trans-Atlantic steamship which had, in fact, turned around at sea and come back, after leaving New York. After being diverted by the first-ever use of a radioed "SOS" call.

Indeed, those travelers, after that, debarking the Carpathia, would need a diversion. It would be — good for them — a good thing to lose themselves in something, like taking the measure of two baseball teams. Though the travelers' arrival meant no one in New York or anywhere else would be thinking about a lopsided opening-day score. Not any more.


All the attention would be on those just-arrived travelers, picked up by Carpathia. In mid-ocean. Where they had become the only survivors of RMS Titanic.

Larry Wines