What the L.A. Dodgers taught me about the messiness of life

Baseball is messy. So is life.

The Dodgers have come a long way.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Everyone loves a good sports story.

I do mean everyone. So please don't tell me you don't watch sports, or don't read about them, or think that baseball (or football, or golf, or ping-pong) is boring. Because sports stories are never really about sports. They're about people: what makes us want to succeed, and what we do when we fail. Sports stories are about rivalries and friendships and curses and miracles. There is nothing more human, or more fascinating, than that.

When Leicester City beat Manchester United (that's English soccer, sports haters) earlier this year, claiming its first title in its 132-year history and overcoming 5,000-to-1 odds, it was never about the sport itself. It was a story about an underdog. It was a victory in the footsteps of David and Goliath, the Russians' defeat of Napoleon, Harry Potter vanquishing Voldemort.

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But often, sports aren't this binary. Life is rarely this black and white. Sometimes you don't have David or Harry Potter.

Sometimes you have the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers are the Jay Gatsby of baseball, the Charles Foster Kane of the MLB. All the money in the world can't seem to afford them what they really want: happiness.

Oh, don't pity the poor Dodgers. There are plenty of teams in the 2016 MLB playoffs with World Series droughts longer than the Dodgers, who have gone a relatively short 28 years without a title. The Chicago Cubs, for example, are fighting a goat curse that has allegedly kept them from winning for 107 years. The Cleveland Indians haven't won the World Series since Harry Truman was president.

But it's not the drought that makes the Dodgers interesting. It's the quest.

The Dodgers are filthy rich, thanks to a 2013 Time Warner Cable TV deal worth $8.35 billion. As a result, they've been able to pay up for immense (and expensive) talent like the lights-out pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the knight in shining armor in this narrative if there ever was one, and have tangled themselves up in deals where they continue to pay big bucks to Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Michael Morse, who are no longer even on the team. The Dodgers once signed Héctor Olivera to a $62.5 million deal, and he never even had an at-bat in Dodger Stadium.

But despite the lavishing of huge money and the inflation of equally huge expectations, the Dodgers have failed to actually, you know, win. And really, every great sports story ultimately comes down to its ending.

That is just how sports work. There are only two possible endings: winning and losing. There is no other way out (the tragicomic 2002 All-Star Game notwithstanding).

Consider Molly Knight's brilliant Dodgers book, The Best Team Money Can Buy, from that perspective. Knight tells the story of the Dodgers 2012-2015 seasons. There is no satisfying conclusion. The Dodgers went 86-76, 92-70, 94-68, and 92-70 in those four seasons. Not bad! But they never even made the World Series, let alone won it. Not great.

And so, The Best Team Money Can Buy is ultimately about the Dodgers losing, but not losing so tremendously that it becomes a sort of morality play about the perils of trying to buy happiness. The Dodgers hoped to be great, and were instead pretty good. This is rarely the stuff of great sports stories.

But here's the thing: Knight's book actually is great — because it refuses to try to make the Dodgers mythical. It embraces the messiness and disappointment of real life. People don't always win. They don't always break the curse. Sometimes "even year magic" is just a coincidence, and "devil magic" is just really good baseball. Life is chaotic and beautiful and weird, but really, it's mostly chaotic. The fact that any of us exist at all is hilarious and impossible.

So instead of artificially creating a narrative for the sake of trying to organize the game into a beginning-middle-climax-and-conclusion, Knight takes a brave and almost baffling step to close the book with the beginning of the 2015 season. She hands the outcome of the story entirely to the reader to find out on her own: You want to know what happens to the Dodgers? Go watch them yourself.

It makes a lot of sense. Art may imitate life, and baseball is nothing if not an art.

So will the Dodgers finally get their happily ever after this year? Who knows. The Nationals, who the Dodgers will meet tonight in the National League Division Series, are a formidable foe. "In this battle of snake-bitten behemoths, I like the more youthful Nats to win their first postseason series since the franchise moved from Montreal," Anthony L. Fisher writes in his playoff predictions for The Week.

But really, who knows. And that's what's so great. I love baseball for its unpredictability. For every 99 percent chance there is always a 1 percent chance, too. For every 86-year-old curse, there is eventually a 2004 Boston Red Sox.

This is what excites me the most: In terms of the Dodgers' "story," I'm not sure this game or this series will even really matter. Tonight could just be one more delightfully messy chapter. Maybe there isn't an ending after all. Maybe that's the real lesson of the Dodgers' story.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at TheWeek.com. She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.