Shaikin: The Dodgers and everyone else: A not-so-Golden State for MLB

Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Mookie Betts in front of a California image.

The entrance plaza outside the main gate at Angel Stadium was quiet and still the other day. The advertising panel above the gate heralded “SIX HUGE EVENTS.” The events were monster truck competitions.

The ticket windows were closed, but the nearby poster still promoted the Angels’ 2023 giveaways, including a Shohei Ohtani bobblehead doll, an Ohtani bag, an Ohtani T-shirt and an Ohtani blanket.

The team store featured Ohtani merchandise, including most valuable player T-shirts ($51.99), a baseball Ohtani used to strike out José Altuve ($4,995) and a jersey Ohtani wore in a game in which he homered ($49,995). No clearance sales.

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Ohtani has played his last game for the Angels, one of four California teams enduring the winter blues.

The Angels lost the biggest name in baseball, an international superstar. The San Diego Padres are expected to lose National League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and five-time All-Star closer Josh Hader after trading Juan Soto, a dynamic outfielder whose statistics at his age are most comparable to those of Bryce Harper and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

The San Francisco Giants lost out on Ohtani and pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, after losing out in recent winters on Harper, Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa. The Oakland Athletics have stripped their roster of proven talent, slashing costs as they prepare to flee the state.

In 2014, four of our state’s five teams made the playoffs. In 2024, the Dodgers might be the only one.

The Dodgers used to celebrate an annual event called Hollywood Stars Night, where TV and movie stars would play a few innings of softball.

In 2024, every night will be Hollywood Stars Night, with the home team constellation including Yamamoto, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith, Max Muncy, Teoscar Hernández, Tyler Glasnow, Walker Buehler, maybe Clayton Kershaw … and Ohtani, the star of stars.

At the Dodger Stadium team store, amid scores of giddy fans speaking in English and Japanese and clutching bags of merchandise, the sales are brisk for Ohtani jerseys ($190), Ohtani shirseys ($56), Ohtani T-shirts ($50), Ohtani mini-bats ($42), Ohtani decals, patches and pennants ($14 each), Ohtani koozies and pins ($8 each) and Ohtani magnets ($6). The Ohtani baseballs were sold out, with another shipment on the way.

In Ohtani, the Dodgers have a walking, talking, slugging sales pitch for 2024.

General manager Brandon Gomes puts a Dodgers Jersey on Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

“It is a much more difficult marketing challenge when you’re not speaking about superstardom,” said Andy Dolich, the marketing guru for the A’s in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the team played in three consecutive World Series and regularly sold 2 million tickets per year.

“When you have a 'Barbenheimer' type of circumstance, you don’t have to be all that brilliant. There are lots of other movies, but who is starring in them? Who is going to the theater?”

The Padres still have Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. as stars, and they still can sell their self-proclaimed rivalry with the Dodgers. They have finished a combined 67 games behind the Dodgers over the last three years.

The Giants still can sell their historic rivalry with the Dodgers, but their biggest name is part-owner Buster Posey and their biggest targets this winter were Ohtani and Yamamoto.

“Who are your stars?” Dolich said. “The ones you said you were trying to get — and rightfully so — chose to play in L.A.

The A’s, ahead of what might be their final season in Oakland, are not throwing a fan festival, so the fans are organizing one by themselves. Their executives are planning a “fireside chat” event at $125 per person and sponsored by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

This is the last year of the A’s lease at the Oakland Coliseum. They hope to move into a new ballpark in Las Vegas in 2028, and they have absolutely no idea where they will play in the interim.

“They’re a Bedouin organization that has promised its fans it is going to be bad,” Dolich said. “You have divorced your spouse, but you are sleeping in the same bed. And that’s supposed to work out how?”

On the drive from Dodger Stadium to Angel Stadium, I spotted an Angels billboard with this sales pitch: “GREAT SEATS, GREAT PRICES” and a picture of Mike Trout.

That’s perfect, and perfectly honest: see a major league game for much less than you can at Dodger Stadium, and see our Hall of Famer too.

“You’re not going to market something differently than what the fans see,” said Tim Mead, formerly the Angels’ longtime vice president of communications.

The Angels have not posted a winning record in nine years. They have not won a postseason game in 15 years.

“That’s the fact,” Mead said. “That’s not the future. That’s why the rear-view mirror is small and the windshield is big.”

In 1986, amid a postseason drought of 15 years and coming off a 100-loss season, the Giants hired unusually optimistic manager Roger Craig and adopted the slogan, “You Gotta Like These Kids.”

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The Giants posted a winning record in 1986 and returned to the playoffs in 1987. It helped, of course, that one of those kids turned out to be Will Clark.

Maybe Ron Washington, the Angels’ energetic new manager, can channel Craig. Perhaps catcher Logan O’Hoppe, shortstop Zach Neto and first baseman Nolan Schanuel — all 23 or younger — can form the core of the Angels’ next playoff team. O’Hoppe played 51 games last season, hit 14 home runs, and drew raves from the pitchers for his defensive aptitude and take-charge attitude.

For the Angels, hope can come in unexpected places, like the corner of the team store.

The majority of the jerseys available in the team store are ones with Ohtani or Trout on the back. Toward the end of last season, in the corner of the store where you could take a jersey to get whatever name you wanted on the back, fans started to ask for O’Hoppe.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.