BY KEVIN KERNAN
Fittingly, on Friday, a holiday video landed in my email from the Dodgers. They’ve been busy with lots of holiday shopping, and their fans are thrilled for the gifts they’ve received.
The good news is that I am still on the Dodgers “nice’’ list.
Having been a baseball writer for many years, it was always fun this time of year to see the Happy Holidays cards that arrived in my mail box – not my email – but in my metal mailbox, along with the wonderful assortment of Christmas cards the Kernan household received.
Getting a card from a major league team or the Baseball Hall of Fame was cool. The Yankees, Cubs, Brewers, Mets, and others would wind up in our mailbox; and yes, every year I made sure to tip the mail carrier.
Perhaps this all goes back to being a kid and collecting baseball cards. Having that piece of baseball cardboard in your hands is special and having the benefit of two older brothers, I was loaded with baseball cards; plus I was the best card flipper in my 7th Street group of friends in Kenilworth, NJ.
Topsies were my thing. Competition was the name of the game.
Those boxes and boxes of priceless baseball cards neatly stacked in the attic disappeared one day when I went off to college. My father, not my mother, tossed them out. There went all the Mickey Mantles and so many others, gone in an instant, probably to a neighbor who spotted the stash on the curb and grabbed them before the garbage was collected.
It was no fun to lose all those baseball cards, so maybe that’s why it was so nice to get holiday cards from teams through the years – especially the Yankees. In typical 27 World Championships fashion, Yankees cards featured a Yankee Christmas tree ornament in the card, a classy move by the Yankees back in the days of George Steinbrenner. Of course, I never took the ornament out to hang on the tree. Luckily, I still have some of those cards.
The circular Yankee ornament would highlight something special, like the Yankees setting an AL attendance record with 4,090,692 fans. That 2005 card featured ticket stubs coming out of the Yankees’ top hat and bat, back when there was such a thing as a ticket stub and not just an image on a phone. But much more on the Yankee cards, and other cards, later in The Story, including the Red Sox 2004 card.
Guess what was featured on that card?
Teams don’t send out real holiday cards anymore, at least not to me, so let’s get back to the Dodgers who are all in trying to win their first full season World Series title since 1988.
Thankfully, we still receive a fair amount of hard copy Christmas and holiday cards at the Kernan home; and as I said, nothing from the teams anymore because they have all gone virtual to social media greetings.
I believe there is still something wonderful about opening your mail box and finding a card, and seeing and feeling it in your fingers, and in your heart, a Christmas card with a warm message such as Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All.
It’s real. It’s not TikTok. And it’s in your hands, not on a screen.
Here at our house we still send Christmas cards and that will continue no matter how high the price of stamps becomes; we are not going to stop. Some traditions need to continue.
A different kind of card collection. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Kernan)
The Dodgers’ holiday message is a full-out production – and good for the Dodgers. They are in LA after all, they are Hollywood through and through and Stan Kasten and the Guggenheim Baseball Management Group spend money like no other team (as we know, right Yankees?).
Yes, when you spend more than a billion dollars on Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto you can afford to put together quite a production in a holiday greeting. And the Dodgers did just that. Well done.
Billie Jean King, part of Dodgers ownership, narrates the video, which is pretty spectacular, flying you through Dodger Stadium at dawn, the dawn of a new era. Yes, the Dodgers had their plan and stuck to it. In the video there are multiple light shows highlighting Santa and his reindeer, snowmen, a dreidel, a Christmas tree, and greetings like Happy Kwanzaa and Feliz Navidad.
The Dodgers covered all the bases. They smartly incorporated a sales pitch as well, making it clear you want to be at Dodger Stadium in 2024 to see the Super Team they have assembled with the likes of Japanese free agents and friends Ohtani and Yamamoto, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman.
They still have to prove it on the field in the playoffs, though, and that is the great thing about baseball.
The last two seasons the Dodgers were eliminated without even winning a playoff series and it was the small market Diamondbacks who swept them away this past October in the NLDS – and it wasn’t even close.
Big money doesn’t guarantee big championships, but it sure does help and it does mean big, big crowds. In the Dodgers video with the instrumental “Together for Christmas’’ playing, Billie Jean King notes: “During this time of year you often hear people talking about being home for the holidays. For many of us, Dodger Stadium is our home away from home; but just like any home it doesn’t feel right when it’s empty, no matter how beautiful it is. We appreciate the love and the passion that you show for our team. In just a few months we will all begin the journey of another season, and we can’t wait for all of you to come home. Happy Holidays and we’ll see you in 2024.’’
Smooth as Dodger Blue.
The Brew Crew Card. (Photo courtesy Kevin Kernan)
There is another team holiday video that hit my in-box and in its own way is a good one, too. It features the Mariners Moose and it’s well done. And I mean well done, because in front of the Yule Log the Moose is roasting Yule hot dogs. The video is entitled Yule Log meets the Yule Dog. This video goes on for a long while in the Moose Den and Mariners fans can make it their own Yule Log featuring Seattle Mariners Beef Franks sizzling away as the “Holly and the Ivy’’ plays.
It’s a fun watch and there are even “Dance Breaks’’ with the Moose.
Baseball needs more of a sense of humor just to remind us all that the ballpark is a fun place to be, and that is part of the message here. You may not have ever won a World Series, Mariners, let’s go to the ballpark and enjoy a hot dog, the Mariner Moose, and the game. Good job, Mariners.
Dodger Dogs, Mariner Dogs, and holiday greetings.
Looking back on my assortment of holiday baseball cards still brings a smile to my face. True to their nature, the Yankees ornaments feature the history of the team. Now, that love of history didn’t work in their pricey pursuit of Yamamoto, but that’s Yamamoto’s decision and the lure of teaming up with his buddy Ohtani – that plus $325 million, $25 million more than the Yankees offered, got Yamamoto to become a Dodger.
The Yankees card from 2007 has these words: “Where Players Become Legends.’’ That sure didn’t work for Yamamoto.
The 2008 card is neat because it features Yankee Stadium 1923-2008. This was the real Yankee Stadium. The ornament had these words: “The Final Season.’’
The 2006 card offers a preview of the new ballpark with the Yankee emblem and the words “Ground Breaking.’’ The 2004 card was a tough pill to swallow for the Yankees and their fans after the collapse in the ALCS to the hated Red Sox, so that ornament is pretty simple with the Yankee logo, 2004, and the words: “World Class.’’
Inside it offers: “Peace on Earth.’’
``With Love, The Sox`` (Photo courtesy Kevin Kernan)
It just so happened that December I also got a card from the Red Sox. It features an open red gift box with the Red Sox logo and rising out of the box is the World Series trophy. That was the year the Red Sox finally broke the Curse of the Bambino. In the background are Red Sox players, with David Ortiz leading the way, in celebration after winning the whole thing.
Inside are the words: “The Gift that Keeps on Giving. Happy Holidays from the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox.’’
That card could have been sitting on the shelf since 1918 when the Red Sox last won the World Series. Beginning in 2004, the Red Sox own four World Series titles to the Yankees’ one. The Red Sox have hit hard times now, though, and have finished last in three of the last four seasons.
Both the Red Sox and the Yankees are coming off seasons where they could not even make the watered down Manfred Playoffs. The Yankees have added Juan Soto so far this offseason. There remains work to be done. The Red Sox pretty much continue to dumpster dive under new baseball boss Craig Breslow.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum sends out wonderful holiday cards. One of my favorites was a snow covered photo of the beautiful grounds at Cooperstown and at least six inches of snow on the pitching statue of lefty Johnny Podres. That statue is on the side of the building. During Hall of Fame Weekend that was a great spot to hang out because legends would come out from the crowded Plaque Gallery to congregate and I would strike up a conversation with everyone from Johnny Bench to Cal Ripken to Mariano Rivera to Greg Maddux. And did I mention the outside bar under the big tree was much less crowded than the bar inside the Hall of Fame?
That Christmas card symbolizes the simple beauty and elegance of Cooperstown.
Written in the card are these great words from Bill Veeck: “There are only two seasons – winter and Baseball.’’
This is the time of year that we begin thinking that spring training really isn’t that far away. I think for baseball to survive and prosper, it’s really going to have to get back to some basics and find a way to reconnect with fans.
It can’t just be a sport about gambling, analytics, and WAR. The simple beauty of the game has to be re-established.
That is what made these cards I kept so endearing. There is the delightful 2005 card from the Brewers that features a drawing of Bernie the Brewer surrounded by his racing buddies as they toboggan down the snow-hill: The Bratwurst, the Polish sausage, the Italian sausage, and the Hot Dog, above the words Sledding Sluggers. The drawing was done by a fourth grader named Nathan Fetherston.
A Very Yankees Christmas. )Phot courtesy Kevin Kernan)
A Mets card from that era showed an assortment of photos embedded in the words “Happy Holidays.’’ Inside were the words: “And an Amazin’ New Year, too.’’
Mets fans continue to wait for that Amazin’ New Year.
The Blue Jays featured a card with slugger Carlos Delgado wearing a Santa hat, reading to children. Inside, the Blue Jays offered this greeting: Happy Holijays.
Toronto is another team trying to overcome pitfalls and the Blue Jays haven’t won a playoff game since 2016.
Another wonderful card from the Hall of Fame features Jackie Robinson and his young family on the front of the card. On the back is a breakdown of Robinson’s career and an image of his HOF plaque. The picture on the front is from the late 1950s and shows Jackie and Rachel and their three children, Jackie Jr., Sharon, and David, and points to the work of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and sadly mentions that Jackie Jr. tragically lost his life in a car accident in 1971.
These holiday cards are loaded with history.
The 2003 Cubs card has 16 photos on the front including Dusty Baker, the manager of that team, Sammy Sosa (40 home runs), GM Jim Hendry, who works for the Yankees now, and Moises Alou. It was Alou who was in left field when the Steve Bartman incident happened at Wrigley Field. Those cursed Cubs lost to the Marlins in seven games in the NLCS. All this happened 20 years ago. Baker would have to wait until 2022 to win his first World Series, and that would come with the Astros.
Baker, 73, became the oldest manager to win a World Series.
He edged out Jack McKeon, who was 72 when his Florida Marlins beat Baker’s Cubs and the Marlins went on to win the World Series in 2003 against the Yankees. Funny how baseball works out.
Inside that Cubs card are the words: “The 2003 National League Central Division Champions wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season.’’
Once again it wasn’t the Cubs’ year, but in 2016 they finally broke the Curse of the Billy Goat.
These cards say much more than Happy Holidays. They tell a story, the story of baseball in a different way, and I’m blessed I still have them.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.
And Peace on Earth.