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Oh Henry! Returns
2004-02-09 20:02
by Jon Weisman

A very late but very great Winter League season enabled ex-Dodger Henry Rodriguez, who has only one major-league hit since 2000, to receive a non-roster invite to Spring Training from the Pirates last week.

Given the annual flux of the Pittsburgh roster, which also will take a chance on humbled Dodger washout Daryle Ward, this isn't a huge surprise. But there is an interesting story about it, courtesy of Carlos J. Lugo, a Dodger Thoughts reader who is a television broadcaster for the Estrellas de Oriente ballclub as well as the Dominican Winter League on Fox's cable networks.

Reporting on the DWL for Baseball Prospectus, Lugo wrote that Rodriguez ...

... was clearly overweight and out of shape and he couldn't even made the (Licey) team for the season opener, even though there are many spots available early in the season. Licey's manager Manny Acta acted very politely regarding Rodriguez, and refused to discard the possibility of him joining the club later, saying that he just need more time to get back in shape.

The season went on for Licey, and Rodriguez wasn't even mentioned in conversations regarding the team, and when the outfielder finally appeared at the end of the season, people thought it was just a good gesture from Acta and the Tigers' front office to let him play a few unimportant games. As expected, Rodriguez looked overmatched, hitting just .200/.273/.550 in 20 at-bats, and the line wasn't worse because he had a two-homer game at friendly Julian Javier Stadium.

When the playoffs started manager Acta surprised everybody when he named Rodriguez his everyday leftfielder, but at the end Acta was right because Rodriguez was useful in the playoffs, hitting three home runs, two of them in key games, and had an incredible Final Series hitting .579 with two home runs, eight runs batted in, a double and four walks. As expected, Henry was named the series MVP.

There's no doubt that Henry is in much better physical shape than two years ago, and according to him, his troublesome back is not bothering him for the first time in the last few years. He showed good power during the post-season with five home runs in 18 games played, and his pitch recognition and plate discipline during that time was the best I've seen in him.

Although banking hopes for a comeback on a couple of playoff series for Licey is a little dicey, with Rodriguez' birthday only 18 days before mine, I'm rooting for his attempt at a career renaissance. Look at me, rejuvenated as a sportswriter after a long absence - although admittedly without a six-figure salary or anything thereabouts.

Lugo also writes that Jose Offerman, born one year to the day after Rodriguez, "still has the same virtues of years ago - good plate discipline and solid contact - and he's hitting for a little more power now than in the past. Offerman is in very good physical shape, and if a team could live with his defensive shortcomings, he's not a bad gamble as a bench player."

Update: Offerman signed a minor-league contract Monday with the Minnesota Twins.

* * *

Coincidentally, I received an e-mail over the weekend from another Dominican Republic reader, Raul Tavares, who has been a fan of the team since the World Series title year of 1981 and follows the games on DirecTV.

Tavares describes himself as "a Dodger fan in heavy pain," over the Frank McCourt purchase for the team, but had an interesting encounter recently. He writes:

As you may know, the Dodgers have a training facility here that it's called Campos Las Palmas, which has developed such great players as Pedro Martinez, among others.

Well, yesterday was the final game of Caribbean World Series, in which my other beloved team, the Licey Tigers, beat Puerto Rico, 4-3. In that game, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Ralph Avila, senior consultant for the Dodgers, and the best part was meeting Luchy Guerra, Assistant Director of Minor League Operations. We spent about three innings talking Dodgers baseball.

She told me that she hopes that the Fox-McCourt transfer would be less traumatic than the O'Malley-Fox. I told her that I cried watching the press conference. She also told me that GM Dan Evans had a meeting with his staff and told them not to worry about him.

McCourt certainly has some good soldiers under him - or at least, some people who want to keep their jobs. In any event, how nice for Tavares that he could have that lengthy chat with Dodger management.

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