By Bill Shaikin
8:47 PM CDT, October 17, 2013
ST. LOUIS — Disney calls them "ear hats." You can buy one in pink or lime, or topped with a tiara or bow tie.
But the traditional hat is all-black, adorned with nothing but the ears that Adrian Gonzalez mimicked the other day. That is only fitting, because the bad guys wear the black hats.
The Dodgers ought to go all in on their new image as fun-loving, free-spending bad boys. Embrace it. Own it. This is the second coming of the Big Blue Wrecking Crew, this one wrecking old-fashioned decorum on the quest for October glory.
The Dodgers field a team with such distinguished players as Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez, but mercurial rookie Yasiel Puig leads in jersey sales. Puig hits the ball a mile, throws the ball almost as far, puts hands on hips to stare at umpires, points to the sky and gestures in celebration whenever he gets a hit.
The Dodgers clinched the National League West in Arizona, then jumped in the Diamondbacks' pool. They invited comedian Will Ferrell to announce the starting lineup Wednesday, before Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, and he introduced Zack Greinke as "today's winning pitcher."
In the third inning, Gonzalez hit a home run, flipped his bat, then trotted around the bases with mischief on his mind. After Game 3, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright had accused him of "Mickey Mouse" heckling from third base, a charge Gonzalez denied but did not forget. As he trotted back to the Dodgers' dugout, he put his thumbs atop his helmet and wiggled his fingers.
An ear hat. Mickey Mouse ears.
"I'm going to retire them," Gonzalez said.
"Once you start it, you've got to keep it going," Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford shot back.
These are the emotions of October, and the Cardinals let out a scream every now and then too.
"I think there needs to be more of that," Dodgers utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. said. "We're not playing Game 137 in August. This is the playoffs. Both teams are trying to get to the World Series.
"People are paying a lot of money to see these games. It's not just the games. This is entertainment. It's good for the game."
The Dodgers are paying more money to their players than any team in baseball history. That alone gets them the black hat. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch presented its series preview with this headline: "The Cardinals' Way vs. the Dodgers' Pay," with the rich uncle from Monopoly as the Dodgers' mascot.
"We do not ever have as one of our goals being a team people love to hate," Dodgers President Stan Kasten said. "If you have the highest payroll, we know some of that happens naturally."
TMZ cameras already trail Puig whenever he goes out in L.A. This could be Hollywood's team, a reality show in cleats, flattening the Diamondbacks, annoying the Cardinals, not caring whether you see enthusiasm or arrogance in their actions.
"We do not shy away from any of that," Kasten said. "We have made no apologies. We think everything that has happened so far has been appropriate.
"But we don't want to do anything that is artificial or contrived in general. As long as whatever we see is spontaneous and natural, that's a positive."
In other words, while the Dodgers might be fine with Puig on the field, they won't be selling action figures of a miniature Puig thrusting his fists into the air, or T-shirts depicting players with Mickey Mouse ears.
"The Diamondbacks need to get over it. Maybe the Cardinals need to get over it," said David Carter, executive director the USC Sports Business Institute. "But the Dodger brand is too important to allow it to be demeaned by an erosion in credibility."
Andy Dolich, a veteran sports marketing executive who implemented the "Billy Ball" campaign when Billy Martin managed the Oakland Athletics, said the Dodgers would be wise not to adopt a marketing strategy based on "the immediate nanosecond" of a few late-season antics.
Besides, he said, the Dodgers do not need a gimmick, no matter how creative.
"The ownership has shown, in a most serious way, it will do anything in its power to win," Dolich said. "That's the greatest marketing campaign you can have."
If the Dodgers win Game 6 of the NLCS here Friday, and then Game 7 on Saturday, the World Series will return to Dodger Stadium for the first time since 1988.
It would be quite a sight if 50,000 fans got a Dodgers cap affixed with mouse ears. As Gonzalez said after Wainwright's accusation: "Mickey Mouse is only an hour away. It fits us."
Officially, the Dodgers say they are above such marketing mirth. But one club executive had a twinkle in his eye when we asked whether the Dodgers would consider giving away a blue cap with the team logo and mouse ears.
"No," he said. "We're going to do a swimming contest when we get a pool."
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