Dodgers lament muted celebration of 2020 World Series title

Ask the Dodgers what they did to celebrate their 2020 World Series championship, and everyone will offer a similar answer.

“Nothing,” pitching coach Mark Prior answered.

“Definitely not how you would anticipate it,” pitcher Clayton Kershaw said.

“I wouldn’t say it was anticlimactic,” manager Dave Roberts said, “but in a sense it was.”

“It was just like it happened, and then it was over,” third baseman Max Muncy added. “We never really got to celebrate.”

For years leading up to that victorious night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, the club dreamed of how winning a World Series would feel.

“You put so much time into it,” said outfielder Chris Taylor, one of many players and staff to encounter previous close calls and postseason disappointments. “You always envision what it’s gonna be like when you win.”

A big part of those fantasies focused on the celebration. The champagne showers. The all-night revelry. The downtown parade. The exaltation of the efforts it took to get there.

What the Dodgers got instead was far less glamorous, with a global pandemic forcing the Fall Classic inside a bubble and strict social distancing rules that became even more severe after Justin Turner’s positive COVID-19 test in the middle of the team’s clinching Game 6 win.

“It was like a total lockdown,” Muncy said. “There wasn’t really a whole lot of celebrating.”

Three years later it remains a disappointing subplot to their otherwise triumphant memories, the arduous path to an elusive title culminating with an awkward, lackluster and abrupt end.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, right, exalts after the final out of the World Series on Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, right, exalts after the 2020 World Series. “I wouldn’t say it was anticlimactic,” he said of the postgame restrictions placed on the team, “but in a sense it was.”

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

On Friday, the Dodgers will be back in Texas for the first time since, returning to the stadium where they finally became champions — even if they couldn’t fully celebrate it.

“Ultimately, we can say we won, so that trumps everything,” Kershaw said. “But yeah, parades look fun.”

From the moment they arrived in Arlington that October, coming off a National League West title and first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers were bracing for an unknown experience.

The club had made deep playoff runs before, including World Series losses in 2017 and 2018. This time, however, they would have to do it in a bubble, with team members and their families isolated from the outside world at the height of the pandemic.

At their hotel, the Four Seasons in the nearby Las Colinas community, orange tape cordoned them off from regular guests. Normal amenities like the gym and golf course were off limits. An outdoor tent space and running track were few of the communal spaces they had.

The ballpark presented its own unique circumstances, with games played in front of empty seats and then limited crowds.

It had been a shorter season, after Major League Baseball reduced its schedule from 162 games to 60. “But,” Prior said, “it was almost a longer season mentally and emotionally, because of everything going on outside of baseball.”

Despite that, the Dodgers rolled through a division series with a three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres. Then they mounted a historic comeback in the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves, becoming just the 14th team to overturn a three-games-to-one series deficit.

Unlike other teams in that postseason — which was staged at neutral sites across the country after the first round — the Dodgers never left Globe Life Field once they got there. It was technically an advantage for being the league’s top overall seed, but also a burden that quickly mounted after weeks in the bubble.

“The baseball was great obviously, and the whole thing was unique, sometimes really fun,” Prior said. “But at that time, you’d been in the same room for 20-something, 30 days. … It was just a weird, weird experience.”

The highlights of their stay came after the Dodgers advanced through the earlier rounds. Upon returning to the hotel, they’d throw socially distanced dinner parties under the outdoor canopy tent.

Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, left, and Austin Barnes hold the World Series championship trophy on Oct. 27, 2020 in Texas.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, left, and catcher Austin Barnes admire the World Series championship trophy on Oct. 27, 2020, in Arligton, Texas.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

“MLB tried to be kind of jerks about the whole thing. Obviously, it was a little bit of chaos with all the COVID stuff.”

— Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, on the postgame scene after the 2020 World Series

“Everyone would shower up, and then we’d have beer and wine, all the food you could eat,” third base coach Dino Ebel said. “The families were there. It was nice.”

No such soirees commenced after Game 6 of the World Series, however, when the Dodgers came back from an early deficit against the Tampa Bay Rays to win the franchise’s first title in 32 years.

At the start of the eighth inning, the team learned that Turner had tested positive and had to be removed from the game. As Julio Urías recorded the final outs, preparations for postgame restrictions already were in motion.

Face masks aside, the Dodgers’ on-field celebration initially looked mostly ordinary. They dogpiled by the mound, posed for team pictures with the Commissioner’s Trophy and embraced family members and loved ones. One long exhale after a seasonlong grind.

Back in the clubhouse, though, the scene was “very muted,” Roberts recalled.

Champagne showers were banned. Players and staff were forced to spread out. And uncertainty swirled about Turner’s positive test, which precluded him from almost all the activities aside from a few on-field pictures.

“The focus was on, ‘JT has COVID. What are we doing next?’ ” Prior said. “Yeah, there was some, ‘Yay, we won!’ But then everybody was in this weird, indecisive [place], not sure how to handle it.”

Kershaw described the situation more bluntly.

“MLB tried to be kind of jerks about the whole thing,” he said. “Obviously, it was a little bit of chaos with all the COVID stuff.”

Back at the hotel, the night took more unexpected turns.

Rather than one last dinner party or team gathering, all staff members and players were administered nasal swabs, required to take yet another COVID test.

“They only had two people [running the] testing,” Muncy said. “By the time that finished, it was 1:30, 2:30 in the morning.”

That late into the night, most Dodgers went their separate ways.

Prior and his family returned to their room, quietly packing up before the team’s flight home the next day. “I literally just kind of sat there in this weird, weird state,” he said.

In another room, Roberts, bullpen coach Josh Bard and their families concluded a makeshift October tradition. Having opened a different bottle of wine following each of the team’s first 12 postseason wins, the coaches uncorked one last burgundy, sipping their 13th and final vintage in a subdued manner.

Elsewhere on the property, a group of players searched for any open space to share a few more moments together. At first, some congregated in a hallway. Eventually, a handful of them, including Austin Barnes, Kershaw and Taylor, huddled around an outdoor fire pit.

That was the closest thing to celebration that the Dodgers felt.

“We probably broke some rules,” Kershaw said.

Yet, as Taylor remembered, even that came to an end after roughly 30 minutes.

“We had a few drinks,” Taylor said. “Then, we pretty much called it a night.”

The Dodgers understood the stakes of the pandemic. After a month in the bubble, they weren’t expecting all health and safety measures to go away.

But reflecting upon that night this week — and all the other typical title festivities they missed, a downtown parade chief among them — those still with the team couldn’t help but feel a sense of regret.

For Roberts, it was a total contrast to his experience as a player with the Boston Red Sox in 2004.

“We didn’t get to fully appreciate being world champions,” he said, noting he still hasn’t seen some members of the team since that day. “There’s a lot of guys that we didn’t get to all say our goodbyes to.”

For Taylor and other first-time champions, it diminished all they had expected to experience at the mountaintop of their profession.

Justin Turner holds the trophy after the Dodgers won the World Series in Arlington, Texas, on Oct. 27, 2020.

Justin Turner, with wife Kourtney, holds the trophy after the Dodgers’ 2020 World Series title. Turner was removed from the game before the eighth inning after testing positive for COVID-19.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

“You always envision what it’s gonna be like when you win a World Series, and to have that celebration taken away, it’s frustrating,” Taylor said. “The main thing is we can say we won a World Series. The memories of the games and actually winning and all that is the most important thing. But yeah, you didn’t get the icing on the cake.”

The Dodgers didn’t face the worst-case scenario, either. Had they lost Game 6, the status of Game 7 would’ve been exceedingly unclear. While contingency plans never reached an official stage, the team’s internal belief was that in the wake of Turner’s positive test, the winner-take-all finale likely would have been postponed several days at least.

“That would’ve been disastrous,” one member of the Dodgers’ traveling party said, speaking anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Indeed, by that point of their bubble experience, most Dodgers players and staff were eager to get home. They were physically exhausted, mentally drained and increasingly fatigued by their Groundhog Day existence, trekking almost everyday from the hotel to the ballpark and then back again.

Still, that 2020 championship forever will induce those subdued postgame memories; a title the Dodgers took years working toward, only to have their celebration restricted.

“A lot of our motivation to get back and win is we weren’t able to celebrate with the fans,” Muncy said. “We weren’t able to celebrate with each other.”