‘Topes win, Dodgers cheer, and Levine can at least smile about it

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In today’s column (linked here), KABC-AM (790) “DodgerTalk” co-host and veteran Hollywood script writer Ken Levine admits he’s both amused and honored that the team last week agreed to have the Pacific Coast League’s Albuquerque Isotopes become its Triple-A affiliate.

But hardly more the richers. He’ll probably never see a residual check for having named the Isotopes way back when, as a joke, no less.

It was maybe a throw-away line in an episode of “The Simpsons” that he and writing partner David Isaacs came up with for a 1990 episode. But the ‘Topes opponent that night — the Shelbyville Shelbyvillians — was even more of a joke, Levine admits.

“It’s just a funny name, like a lot of teams are,” he said. “The Dodgers are just another example. It’s sort of a random word that really doesn’t mean anything. Does anyone under 30 even stop to think why the Dodgers are named the Dodgers? Or the Lakers are called the Lakers? What does that have to do with anything here?”

Springfield became the Isotopes because of the fact it had a nuclear power plant. An isotope is (linked here) an unstable atom, a Greek word adopted by a chemist in 1913 who won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for his work on radioactive substances. It also works as a term for New Mexico, which has plenty of scientific and military sites that work with nuclear technology and did testing long ago.

Now it’s full circle for Levine, a Valley native who grew up embracing the Albuquerque Dukes as the farm team of his beloved Dodgers. And he’ll get to talk about them nightly during the season the radio.

“I look forward next year on the Dodgers post-game show to talk about how the minor-league teams have been doing, and then say, ‘ ‘Topes win!’” said Levine.

One of the inside jokes in that “Dancing Homer” episode was how Levine, who did the voice for the ‘Topes’ play-by-play man named Dan Hoard (which is the same name of the broadcaster he worked with in the International League in Syracuse), proclaimed an Isotopes’ victory — ” ‘Topes win! ‘Topes win!” as if he were Russ Hodges screaming about the New York Giants beating the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1951 pennant.

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The explanation on Wikipedia is fairly accurate about how the ‘Topes were named (linked here), except for the fact that Levine actually created the name for the local Springfield team in an episode called “Dancing Homer,” (linked here).

It was fifth episode of the series’ second season — the stone-aged years of “Simpsons” lore. Here’s a link to Levine’s blog entry of the script for that episode (linked here) which gives great detail into what they were trying to do, based on the fact they were dealing with animators, not actors, in moving the story alone.

Like this dialogue:
HOMER: You know, boy, some of the players you see tonight may make it to the big leagues, one day.
BART: What? Aren’t we going to see any washed-up major leaguers?
HOMER: Sure, we get a nice mix here.


The episode has plenty of inside jokes that Levine and Isaacs snuck in, based on the fact that Levine had just taken an hiatis from script writing and did three years of play-by-play for minor-league baseball (he’d eventually work for the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners).

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The more direct link to Albuquerque was the 2001 episode “Hungry Hungry Homer” (linked here), as Homer tried to stop the team’s secret move from Springfield to Albuquerque by going on a hunger strike. That episode coincided with the fact that the Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes (then owned by the Dodgers) had moved to Portland in 2000, and the PCL’s Calgary Cannons were thinking of moving to Albuquerque.

Before the new team even moved in — in the three months after the new nickname was announced in 2002 — the franchise already led minor-league baseball in merchandising revenue. It didn’t hurt that the new team logo was featured in a front-page USA Today story when it happened.

In an Albuquerque financial trade story recently (linked here), Rick Johnson & Company president Jim McKenna, who oversees New Mexico’s largest marketing and public relations firm, said the Albuquerque baseball franchise hit a home run by branding itself the Isotopes.

“They tapped into a major fan base by picking a name tied to `The Simpsons,’ ” McKenna said. “The name accomplishes everything we tell our clients to go after when they are creating a brand. It’s true, it’s meaningful and it’s distinctive. Now the icon should feed the merchandise sales for a long time. … People have adopted the team, and I don’t see the popularity fading anytime soon.”

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The Florida Marlins had been the Isotopes’ minor-league partner before the Dodgers came back into the fold. The ‘Topes finished second in 2008 in the PCL’s American South Division, 68-75 and eight games out of first.

Of course, the Dodgers and Albuquerque are hardly strangers. The Albuquerque Dukes, as they were called (Albuquerque is nicknamed “The Duke City”), were the Dodgers’ affiliate from 1963 (then in the Texas League) to 2000 (starting as a Triple-A team in ’71), where Tommy Lasorda once managed and the famed Dodgers’ Rookies of the Year once paraded through before coming to L.A. But then the Dukes were sold by the Dodgers (who owned them), moved to Portland.

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Levine got to meet Isotopes general manager John Traub when he came to L.A. to finalize the deal with the Dodgers. Traub promised him that next season he’d be invited out to Albuquerque to throw out the first pitch of a game, and Levine said he and “DodgerTalk” co-host Josh Sushon would probably stay and do a show from there that night.

“I can’t wait to introduce him to the Albuquerque public,” said the 44-year-old Traub, born in Encino, a former Woodland Hills resident and recipient of a degree in psychology from UCLA. “It’ll be having our founding father make an appearance. We won’t be shy about giving him credit. Without his creativity, who knows what our name would be. It’s just great how this has come full circle.”

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