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Playoff fever absent

One of the more thrilling nights in recent Major League Baseball history took place Wednesday night.

Two wild card spots were determined in riveting contests that showcased Tampa Bay and St. Louis coming from far behind in the standings to crush Boston and Atlanta. And now the playoffs begin. But none of the five California franchises qualified for the postseason.

The Dodgers and Angels had especially frustrating seasons. What is wrong with local baseball and how can it be fixed?

The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of sports most storied organizations. No team has really ever had more dedicated fans. Great grass roots marketing, Vin Scully's voice and multiple pennants and World Series victories meant that "going to a Dodger game," notwithstanding the opponent, pitcher or standings became a Southern California tradition that Peter O'Malley and his family carefully nurtured.

Drawing three million-plus fans was the norm. For years they had a unique model that featured a deep farm system that produced many Rookie of the Year Awards that translated into long-term set lineups.

There was no need to buy a scorecard to identify Maury Wills, Jim Gilliam, Tommy and Willy Davis. They were followed by Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes and Dusty Baker. The pitching was exceptional, from Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, to Fernando Valenzuela and Bob Welch. Their relievers were dominant: Phil Regan, Ron Perranoski, Mike Marshall and Eric Gagne. But then FOX bought the team and traded catcher Mike Piazza and the disintegration began.

Frank McCourt should have been rejected by Major League Baseball in his bid to replace FOX. Most contemporary franchise owners have billion-dollar assets from their primary businesses and are willing to put their own funds into the club to enhance the product.

I talked about McCourt in a column I wrote earlier this season. He has used the team as a piggy bank for his own lavish lifestyle. Attendance has dropped dramatically at Dodger Stadium, where fans have become worried about their safety.

Still with all the mayhem and negativity surrounding McCourt it has done little to detract from the Cy Young-type performance of Clayton Kershaw and the MVP-like season for Matt Kemp. I don't believe the Dodgers will ever be able to compete with the market and retain the services of these two young, attractive superstars or Andre Ethier, who had an injury riddled subpar season dim his steady growth.

The Angels' struggle to make the playoffs is not a function of irresponsible ownership. Arte Moreno has been a model of stalwart support and runs a fan-friendly business.

Their high payroll makes them a top-tier spender.

They have been the victim of some disastrous talent evaluation and bad deals by now former general manager Tony Reagins. They were forced to devote $23 million this season to two players, Scott Kazmir and Gary Matthews Jr, who did not play this year.

The signing of Vernon Wells, who struggled to hit .200 even with some late season power, drained another $21 million this season with another couple guaranteed seasons. This means that a third of the payroll went to non-productive players.

The emergence of young players Peter Bourjous, Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout gave them their only payroll solace. The inconsistent offensive production and losses in key games to weaker opponents destroyed the ability to catch Texas or Tampa Bay.

The Angels' nemesis had been Boston. Now it's Texas, Oakland and Seattle, all division opponents.

The Angels have two aces in young superstar Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, and a serviceable third starter in Erwin Santana, but that doesn't make up for the lack of clutch hitting. Losing potential MVP Kendry Morales for the past two seasons has been a crippling blow.

So it is a tale of two owners: one who can only continue to be destructive to the Dodgers' heritage with his greed and lack of resources. The other owner has all the right attributes, but needs better veteran talent assessment input.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog.steinbergsports.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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