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Is It Time for the Dodgers and Giants to Tone Down Their Rivalry?

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COMMENTARY | It was yet another example, a rather macabre one, of the kind of parity that has defined the ferocious rivalry that has existed between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants for the last 124 years.

With the last several tragic incidents of fan violence resulting in death or serious injury to Giants fans at Dodger Stadium, it was a 24-year-old Dodgers partisan, Jonathan Denver, who was fatally stabbed Sept. 26 five blocks away from AT&T Park following a Dodgers-Giants game. A plumber's apprentice and the son of a Dodger Stadium security guard, Denver was wearing Dodgers blue at the time, a primary motive for his killing, San Francisco police said.

Following its most recent savagery, what is perhaps the most violent rivalry in American team sports shows no signs of mellowing out.

Determined to sustain the seemingly perpetual chain of on- and off-field ugliness, low-lighted by the bludgeoning by bat of Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro by Giants pitcher Juan Marichal in 1965, not to mention the scaling of the outfield wall in 1981 by Dodgers right fielder Reggie Smith to attack a fan, some Dodgers fans view the Denver stabbing as retribution for the near-fatal beating in 2011 of Santa Cruz paramedic Bryan Stow in the Dodgers Stadium parking lot. (They may have forgot that Giants fan Marc Antenorcruz was fatally shot by Dodgers fan Pete Marron in September 2003 in the same parking lot.)

"I guess it's payback for two years ago," said an unidentified Dodgers fan to the San Jose Mercury News. "It's OK. Giants fans will get worse if they come to Dodger Stadium."

Of course, it would be great if someone could intervene and stop that from happening. And by someone, I mean the players, former and current, for both organizations, as well as their respective front offices. The marketing/PR departments for these teams need to get together and do some aggressive public messaging -- show the fans that sure, the rivalry is great, but they respect each other as professionals -- and, yes, as trite as it sounds, it's just a game.

Dumb example off the top of my head: Have their respective marketing departments film a silly public service spot showing Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw playing MLB2K13 together. Loser shaves an eyebrow.

Anything to lighten the mood.

Fixating on the Denver tragedy as only it can, sports talk radio has cast this latest incident of fan violence in general terms -- that fans often form strange, dysfunctional identifications with their teams and act out in inappropriately aggressive ways. Oh, and it doesn't help that they often get really drunk, either.

Certainly, the Red Sox fan who was stabbed in the neck in 2010 at a Connecticut restaurant by a New York Yankees denizen can tell you Dodgers vs. Giants isn't the only heated rivalry in sports, or Major League Baseball for that matter, that manifests this kind of ugliness.

But outside of Red Sox vs. Yankees, few rivalries in American team sports seem to produce this level of nastiness this consistently. And the hatred seems to seep out from the organizations themselves. Some view it as good for business.

Decades before the late Walter O'Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, while convincing Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move his team from Manhattan to the Bay Area, viewing it as fertile ground for the rivalry's transcontinental transportation, both organizations have manipulated fan fervor.

Remarking to ESPN in March on the huge player-salary infusion put forth by the Dodgers' new ownership group, former Giants pitcher turned team broadcaster Mike Krukow said the rivalry got the "shot in the arm" it needed.

With Stow's family still grappling with his massive medical bills and his painstakingly slow recovery from disabling head trauma, what Krukow said next is kind of disturbing: "Now, [the Dodgers] are easy to hate and our fans are into it big time. There is expectation in L.A., I think they're going to have a good year, and we're going to have a good year, and it's going to be 18 games of banging heads, and I think there will be fights, and it's going to be awesome."

Quoted in the same story, former Dodgers great Maury Wills recalled warning a young Los Angeles player not to fraternize with a friend who was playing for San Francisco. "He's not your friend," Wills told the Dodger. "He's got a Giants uniform on."

The 80-year-old Wills also described experiencing major personal "growth" late last year when he managed to send a congratulatory note to Giants manager Bruce Bochy for San Francisco's 2012 World Series win.

Certainly, in baseball's modern, more mercenary era, one wonders really how intensely the players themselves actually feel this antipathy anymore, with guys like Wills writing nice notes, Reggie Smith signing with the Giants a season after pummeling a team fan, or former Giants closer Brian Wilson lending his arm and beard to the Dodgers' 2013 playoffs chase.

Both sides would benefit from marketing a healthier, less vitriolic rivalry to their fans.

Leave the hate out of it. It's not needed. With nearly 2,400 games played between them since the 1880s, more than any other two teams in American sports, and the wins and losses divided almost right down the middle, the vitriol isn't accretive to the experience. The tickets sell themselves without the tension.

Daniel Frankel is a veteran journalist who writes about Los Angeles-area sports for TitleTownNews.org, the L.A.-focused regional sports blog he founded and edits.

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