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Dodger Thoughts Year in Review: July-December
2004-12-30 22:11
by Jon Weisman

July 2004

July 1: They Booed a Man in Reno, Just to Watch Him Die

I've never been booed in my life - not because I've never deserved it, but because, despite a famous In the Bleachers cartoon of years past, writers rarely get heckled by 50,000 angry fans.

Maybe being booed isn't so bad. Maybe if I had experienced it, I wouldn't be so sensitive to it.

Of course, I haven't been smacked with a 2-by-4 either. I could try that too.

* * *

Why did some fans boo Hideo Nomo when he walked off the mound last night?

It's not a trick question. I know what an 8.06 ERA is.

Though I don't boo people, I can understand fans venting while the opposition cracks, shellacks, lacquers and spackles their pitcher, and while their manager tolerates it. That's often as much about booing the event as the man.

But after it's over, after a guy has sweated through 95 pitches, almost every one of them traumatic in some fashion, how do you boo him?

Was it once-in-a-blue-moon attendees who booed, annoyed that their game had been spoiled?

Was it diehard fans who booed, to send a message that Nomo shouldn't return to that mound until the day - if that day is to ever come - he is ready to pitch with authority rather than prayer?

Was it the fates who booed, enforcing the rules that those who earn cheers one day must earn boos the next, to balance out the cosmos?

At a certain point, the past becomes irrelevant when you play the game. You have to send out your best nine of that day, regardless of how great a career someone has had. Otherwise, the starting center fielder for the Giants last night would have been Willie Mays.

But when a guy is walking off the field, if you have any knowledge at all to what he has done for your team in the past, the joy he has brought so many people, the effort he has put in for so many years, booing sounds way more hurtful to me than an 8.06 ERA.

* * *

Turning to Shawn Green ...

The original title of this piece was going to be, "Did They Boo Loo Gehrig?"

I have wondered over the past few days whether Yankee fans in 1939, before they knew that Gehrig was fatally ill, had booed their hero when his performance suddenly fell off the eight-year-old Empire State Building.

Some quick research on Retrosheet this morning reminded me that Gehrig made it through only eight games in 1939. Though he was 4 for 28, that probably wasn't enough time for Yankee fans to get angry at someone so beloved. Gehrig was coming off a fine 1938 season, batting .295 with 29 home runs and 114 RBI.

No one on the Dodgers, as far as I know, has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. But I've never seen a power hitter still in his prime look more weak, look more like he was suffering the initial effects of Lou Gehrig's Disease, than Shawn Green.

Wednesday, Dodger manager Jim Tracy dropped Green to sixth in the order, and, though he is still holding out for patience, Green has accepted the demotion.

"This team, right now, Belly should be hitting fourth," Green told "Today's lineup, it's fine. I haven't been productive. If you move a guy down with the intent of it being a holding pattern until the player gets hot, sure. I'm just trying to get in a good groove and not worrying about anything else. When my swing is right, it's right."

Obviously, Dodger fans aren't happy that Green is struggling. Some will be satisfied that he was dropped to sixth in the lineup; others won't be satisfied until he is dropped further or benched.

For my part, no matter how much he claims otherwise, Green does not convince me that something isn't physically wrong with him. He kept quiet about being hurt last year and had a major health issue heading into this season. There is very little evidence that Green would publicly disclose a physical problem.

I can be unhappy about his performance. I can even yell at him when he only jogs after a foul fly ball to right, as he did Tuesday.

But I can't boo an injured player. And something - whatever it is - about Green is hurting - even if I'm wrong about the physical and it turns out to be only mental.

July 7: Winner! The Most Obscure but Memorable Dodger Is ...

The quest: Name "The Most Obscure but Memorable Los Angeles Dodger."

The level of response was memorable and hardly obscure: a total of 216 nominees.

And now, the real challenge comes - to determine a winner. What Los Angeles Dodger holds the perfect balance of anonymity and fame? Who pulled the greatest disappearing act? Which forgotten Dodger is most deeply and intimately recalled?

Who is the guy that you haven't thought of that you think the most of?

The key is balance. He can't be too memorable - goodbye, Terry Forster - or too obscure - goodbye, Fred Kipp. He can't be too recent - Bruce Aven - or too ancient - Randy Jackson. He can't have been a folk hero whose name comes up every year, like Dick Nen, nor someone you see asking trivia questions at Dodger Stadium every game, like Jim Gott.

He can't have virtually the same last name - Greg Gagne - as the most famous current Dodger. He can't be the brother of a famous Dodger - Dave Sax, Chris Gwynn. He can't have been an infamous disappointment - Greg Brock, Dave Goltz. He can't have had a real career with another team - Enos Cabell, Sid Bream.

And he certainly can't be my favorite Dodger of all time, R.J. Reynolds.

He should be a folk hero whose folk heroism went unrewarded.

I've given this a great deal of brain-churning thought over the past week. I have struggled. I have chosen and unchosen. And I have the answer - the definitive answer. The Most Obscure but Memorable Los Angeles Dodger is:

Mike Ramsey. Not the other Mike Ramsey. This Mike Ramsey.

Michael James Ramsey came out of nowhere to win the Dodger starting job in center field in 1987. When the regular season began, he stroked 10 hits in his first 28 at-bats. Then it started to come apart. He tried to hang in there with a batting average in the low .200s, but by late May, the Dodgers gave up and traded for John Shelby.

Ramsey was sent back to the minors. He came up in September, only to be used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. The season ended, and with it, the major-league career of Mike Ramsey. He never made it back.

So that's how Ramsey became a finalist - someone who had hopes pinned to him like Eeyore's tail, wagging for a brief moment, only to fall off and disappear into the soil and grass of summers gone by.

The clincher for Ramsey is that only two years earlier, the Dodgers had another player named Mike Ramsey - Michael Jeffrey Ramsey. This First Mike Ramsey was more obscure and less memorable than The Second Mike Ramsey. And yet, both exist. So while The Second Mike Ramsey was memorable, it is also true that by virtue of his brief April/May career and his need to be distinguished from The First Mike Ramsey (as Bob Timmermann did in nominating the pair as "The White Mike Ramsey and The Black White Ramsey"), he retains his core obscurity. He holds the balance between being and nothingness.

The Second Mike Ramsey is, in short, The Most Obscure but Memorable Los Angeles Dodger.

Honestly, I think it's a real honor.

July 30: Advice to Local Media and Talk-Show Callers

Talk about Paul Lo Duca as the Dodgers' heart and soul all you want. Really. It'd be reprehensible to ignore it.

But "heart and soul" can't be the only words that cross your lips, any more than "Heart and Soul" should be the only song you can play on the piano. Tonight, I listened on the radio to broadcasters and callers, one after another, talk at length about the trade without mentioning a single statistic from any of the players the Dodgers received in exchange - not even a negative one that would support their anger over the trade. They couldn't be bothered.

"I just can't understand it," they wailed. Well, maybe if they took five minutes to do some research, they might find an explanation. It doesn't diminish one's love for Paul Lo Duca to look for answers.

If you consider both sides and decide the Dodgers have made a mistake, then we'll all be grateful to hear your arguments. But if your summary of today's trade is Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion for lint, you are doing the Los Angeles sports community a serious disservice.

August 2004

August 1: Thinking It Through

... I have spent the past two days discussing the trades with my brother and father, neither of whom understand the moves. I've been explaining where DePodesta is coming from. They weren't familiar with how good Penny and Choi have been this season or how much potential they have. I'm reminding them that Lo Duca is 32 and entering the decline phase of his career, that the value of a Mota pitching four innings each week isn't equivalent to the value of a Penny pitching 7 to 14 innings each week.

It hasn't been hard to convey the value of ridding ourselves of Martin and Encarnacion, two players signed to contracts that pay them for perceived value rather than actual value.

Now, my family is now open-minded about Penny and Choi. Choi is a great pickup that will help the team this year and beyond. Again, in the Dodger lineup, substituting Choi for Encarnacion (even with Green making a slight step backward defensively to right field) is a positive.

At the same time, I've been struggling with the transactions more than you might expect - and it's because of Lo Duca.

It's not the "heart and soul" argument. I do feel the emotional impact of losing Lo Duca - truly, madly, deeply - but I looked at that Dodger team tonight, and they're going to be fine carrying Lo Duca in their hearts. And eventually, so will we.

It's just such a glaring hole at catcher. Whatever you thought of the Dodger starting pitching, there wasn't this huge crevice of performance that you were staring at. But when you look behind the plate, the void represented by the disappointing Dave Ross and the newly acquired Brent Mayne is huge.

Then, I went back to VORP. Essentially, given the choice between a starting battery of Wilson Alvarez (20.3 VORP) and Paul Lo Duca (22.3) or Brad Penny (33.3) and Dave Ross (-2.4), I'm actually going to take Alvarez and Lo Duca. With the stats to back me up.

Overall, the Dodgers have won the trades on paper. They have acquired more talent than they have given up. But I'm not sure I'm going to argue in favor of the trades any more, because I'm not sure that they've won the trades by enough.

There's no law, is there, that says I have to decide in advance whether these trades were good or not. I know it seems like there's such a law - in fact, it feels like it must be in the Constitution, the imperative is so strong. But I checked the books and it doesn't exist.

The remaining pre-trade Dodgers may render the trades unnecessary. Or absolutely necessary. I'm not convinced either way.

I am officially taking the position of wait and see, with hopes for the best. You may think it a cop-out, but I've given it a lot of thought and I find this to be the strongest position I could take.

August 9: Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

If Odalis Perez leaves his start Saturday writhing in agony, the trade for Brad Penny is looking pretty savioriffic.

Instead, it's Penny who runs off the mound Sunday like his arm was caught in a grease fire, and life in Dodgertown takes on a whole new meaning, pending the diagnosis.

The twin scenarios illustrate both the rationale and the risk behind the acquisition of Penny. Was Penny an injury risk? Perhaps, but you can't ask that question without asking the same about Perez. Both have had a history of arm troubles - Perez as recently as a month ago. A more proper question would address the relativity of the risk among the pitchers.

Today, the Dodgers have eight starting pitchers on their 25-man roster and disabled list, with immediate questions surrounding half: Penny, Edwin Jackson, Hideo Nomo and Kazuhisa Ishii (who had been demoted less than 24 hours before Penny's injury), not to mention lingering concerns about the long-term health of Perez and the long-term viability of Wilson Alvarez, Jose Lima - and what the hell, Jeff Weaver, too.

While many will find Penny's early departure Sunday adding injury to the insult of the Paul Lo Duca trade, I don't think it requires too convoluted a journey, as bizarre as it sounds, to conclude that Penny's injury justifies his acquisition. The Dodgers have been playing well, but their starting pitching is like strapping tape, nearly impossible to tear - until it is punctured, that is.

August 15: It's No Mendacity To Talk Tenacity

Disappointed but not discouraged was the tone I was prepared to take this afternoon. Two straight losses to a potential playoff opponent would be nothing to celebrate. But they were tight games, with perhaps the Dodgers' two most fallible starting pitchers (aside from Hideo Nomo) matched against two Chicago Cub aces - and therefore not indicative of how a postseason series might go.

Then came the comeback, from Mark Prior striking out the first four Dodgers to another derailment of the Cub bullpen and an 8-5 Los Angeles victory. To paraphrase Tennessee Williams, "There's nothing more powerful than the odor of tenacity."

This is a tenacious Dodger team. I don't offer that description as a character reference, though it may be apt. But rather, with that bullpen, that lineup and that bench, on a performance basis, there really isn't that much surrender to be found.

How did it happen? Better on the infield compared to 2003, better in the outfield, better on the bench.

I've been preparing for a swoon to come, fomenting in the middle relief and at catcher - a single loss quickly turning into five. But it hasn't come yet. Right now, this is not a team that gets buried for long.

August 18: Next Stop Porterville

Dodger announcer Ross Porter discusses an L.A. team in contention, the July trades, and the day, however far off, that change might come in the broadcast booth

Presidents come and go, both in the Oval Office in Washington D.C. and the Dodger office in Los Angeles, but Dodger announcers are like Supreme Court justices. The broadcast booth is the high court, a hallowed place that offers a lifelong vocation.

That doesn’t mean that it immediately occurred to Ross Porter back in 1976, when the Dodgers introduced him to the media as their newest announcer, that he would be still be broadcasting Dodger games nearly three decades later.

"The day that they announced that I was joining the broadcasting team, Walter Alston had just announced he was retiring after 23 years,” Porter told Dodger Thoughts in an interview Wednesday. “The 1976 season had just ended, and they had a little thing to introduce me to the media. Walter O’ Malley, bless his heart, was still alive ... and Walter got up to introduce me, and I’ll never forget he made this statement: ‘We’re happy to have Ross with us’ and something to the effect of Walter Alston just retired after 23 years, and we’ll come back here in 23 years and Ross will still be going.

“And I’ve thought about that often, and I’ve gotten to 28 now.”

Twenty-eight years is as long as any U.S. Supreme Court Justice has ever served, save John Marshall (1801-1835). Of course, Porter works alongside a man who puts Marshall’s tenure to shame: Vin Scully is in his 55th year in the high-backed chairs.

Inevitably, when the opportunity to discuss Dodger broadcasting appears, the elephant in the interview room is how long Scully will remain a Dodger broadcaster. But the question also applies to Porter, often considered the heir to Scully’s Chief Justice seat - yet someone who is 65 years old himself.

Porter emphasized that neither he nor Scully have any plans to leave the Dodgers, and that their departures, while inevitable someday, aren’t currently being discussed with the Dodger executive branch. However, that doesn’t mean that Porter and Scully don’t address the subject in chambers.

“Vin and I will talk about what’s coming up,” Porter said, “what he sees ahead, and we both realize that neither one of us has too many years left. He has not put any year on the end of his career; neither have I. And I’ve always said I never wanted to be the one to step into those shoes. I think the person who replaces Vin Scully has got a major problem. Like Gene Bartow replacing John Wooden.”

Those words would shock no one. But then Porter went on to share a less obvious scenario, yet one that would be remarkably poetic. It’s just a thought, lightly etched, but nonetheless a dramatic one for longtime fans of the Dodgers.

“I think in the back of my mind,” Porter said, “it would suit me wonderfully if Vin and I went out at the same time.”

* * *

Porter has been humbled before. At the start of his career, he relied so much on statistics that he drew significant criticism. While to some extent Porter is still the distaff brother in an Everyone Loves Vinny world, that criticism has softened for a number of reasons.

“I’ll give you my view on it,” Porter offered. “Somebody once said, ‘Statistics are the soul of baseball.’ I think that’s true. I think when I got started, that I leaned on them too much. ... I overdid it, I admit that. I think over the years I’ve cut back on that. I think over the years, I haven’t heard too much of that criticism. Yeah, occasionally somebody writes a letter to the editor. But the style has changed in baseball - you turn on a telecast and you’re gonna get a lot of numbers.”

Porter is intrigued by the more advanced statistics now available - he is a reader of this site and others that use them - but admitted he is not in a comfort zone with them. In any event, even in a climate more willing to embrace statistics, Porter remains wary of going overboard.

“I think I really believe now that it’s more prevalent than it ever has been,” Porter said, “but I’ve gone out of my way to cut back on (statistics) as much as I can. Some people e-mail or say to me, I sure appreciate you put the numbers out there. But I’ve also worked hard of late to try to tell more stories, and get a more personal view of the players in. It’s been an interesting 28-year ride, let me put it that way.”

The ride never got more interesting than just a few years ago, when nearly yearlong attempts to explain a persistent throat irritation Porter was experiencing culminated in an unimaginable diagnosis.

“First I had a four-hour sinus operation, to go up in there and clear some things out,” Porter said. “They found a quarter-sized hole over my brain, then I had a 10-hour brain surgery.

“I was in the hospital eight days. When I got out of the hospital, the Dodgers had been nice enough to put up a message that you can send Ross e-mail. The message was up for 13 days, and I got 1,300 e-mails from people, and that really kind of staggered me. And I think that gave me a greater appreciation of what I do and how many people love the Dodgers and want to see them do well, and kind of look to me as a member of the family. I think it makes me more grateful.”

So yes, like Vin Scully - if not with Vin Scully - someday Ross Porter will leave the Supreme Court of the Dodgers. But the job still has more than enough to offer him, and he still has more than enough to offer to the people.

September 2004

September 1: The July Trades: Despite a Hazy Outcome, A Clear Rationale

On April 16-17, Eric Gagne allowed runs in consecutive appearances.

They came a day after he had thrown all of 12 pitches on April 15, following four days of rest from April 11-14.

They came with Guillermo Mota on the roster.

They came without an uproar of any kind.

* * *

On August 18-20, Eric Gagne allowed runs in three consecutive appearances.

They came following rest on August 16 and 17. They came following a stretch in which Gagne made one appearance, totaling 23 pitches, in seven days (August 11-17). They came 15 days after Gagne had allowed his last earned run.

They came without Guillermo Mota on the roster.

And the reaction was as if someone had taken an axe to the Statue of Liberty.

The Dodgers have destroyed their bullpen. They've ruined Eric Gagne!

* * *

A few years ago, I wrote and edited for an Internet news service focusing on technology coverage. The publisher was a savvy businessman, who found the capital to build the company and who kept it alive even during the dot-com plunge. He knew as much about journalism, however, as a camel knows about an igloo.

Early on - but after I had taken the job, unfortunately - the publisher articulated his philosophy about how you write a news article. He felt quite strongly about it, in fact. He believed that first, you write the story with the point of view you want to convey, and then, you call to get quotes from sources that will fit what you have already written.

I can't begin to describe how appalled I was. It was the journalistic equivalent of "I'm gonna fit in this size-2 dress even if it kills me." (The more cliched version of this is, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.")

Such has been the case with much of the discussion of the Dodgers since July 30. Many pundits believed that the Dodgers had made a mistake in trading Mota and Paul Lo Duca - and so they were going to find a way to back up that opinion if at all humanly possible.

The fact is, the Dodgers did weaken their bullpen when they traded Mota. No one can deny that. However effective Yhency Brazoban and Giovanni Carrara have been since Mota's departure, having them in combination with Mota would be glorious.

The other fact is, the Dodgers surely weakened their catching in parting with Lo Duca, the key element of the trade for the Florida Marlins.

But those facts needs to be put in perspective. Today is September 1. The first day of a new month. Let's use this occasion, shall we, to put to rest the notion that the trade was unjustified.

Tonight, in the heat of a pennant race, the Dodgers will start a pitcher with an 8.06 ERA, Hideo Nomo. The Dodgers traded Lo Duca and Mota precisely so that this tightrope act would not occur. Instead, they designed that spot to go to a pitcher with a 3.02 ERA, Brad Penny.

In other August moments, the Dodgers started a pitcher whom they wanted to demote to the bullpen, Kazuhisa Ishii, and a pitcher who himself wanted to be demoted to the bullpen, Wilson Alvarez. They regularly started a journeyman in Jose Lima.

I like Nomo's chances to lower his ERA tonight, especially against the Arizona Diamondback lineup. Ishii has had consecutive solid starts. Lima has been respectable. Alvarez had half of a good month.

But truly, with a starting rotation ERA (4.27) that is eighth in the National League - worse than possible playoff opponents St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and San Diego, despite the nurturing environs of Dodger Stadium - how can anyone fault the Dodgers for wanting Penny?

In case it has gotten lost in the shuffle, I determined August 1 that I wouldn't have made the Lo Duca-Mota trade. "Overall," I wrote, "the Dodgers have won the trades on paper. They have acquired more talent than they have given up. But I'm not sure I'm going to argue in favor of the trades any more, because I'm not sure that they've won the trades by enough."

In other words, I felt that the Dodgers risked too much for the potential reward. I felt very much that the Dodgers might come out ahead, but that it was definitely a wait-and-see, and that they almost as easily could come out behind (especially in 2004, as opposed to 2005, 2006, etc.).

However, the fervor with which any Dodger ill gets blamed on the Lo Duca-Mota trade has made my summer in the "Keep Lo Duca" camp truly uncomfortable.

News flash: Even with Mota, Gagne has and would have been vulnerable to a stretch where he would give up - gasp - runs.

Even with Lo Duca, the Dodgers would have been vulnerable to nights of no production from their catching.

And if had Penny not been acquired, and any existing Dodger starting pitcher had gone down with injury, how stretched out would the pitching staff be then?

Beyond that, I've noticed that the July trades tend to be thought of as separate entities: 1) Penny/Hee Seop Choi, 2) Steve Finley. But shouldn't they be evaluated as one, since they were clearly done in concert with each other?

As far as their 2004 roster is concerned, the Dodgers gave up a decent hitter, especially for a catcher, and a superlative reliever. In return, they got two hitters and a pitcher.

Choi and Penny haven't produced much for the Dodgers. But Finley, on the other hand, has been in center field what Mota was for the bullpen. Finley has been the ace setup man for Adrian Beltre.

The Dodgers are currently on the losing ends of the combined trades because Penny, after pitching eight shutout innings in his first apperance with his new team, got hurt, and Lo Duca, after homering in his first appearance with his new team, did not. Had the reverse occurred, the Dodgers would be clear winners. Had neither player gotten hurt, the Dodgers would be just fine.

So is there any way at all people can stop asking, "How could the Dodgers have traded Lo Duca and Mota?" Because the explanation is clear, and has been clear from the get-go. They wanted a starting pitcher and more left-handed power. They paid a lot, but they got a lot. Brad Penny, Steve Finley and Hee Seop Choi constitutes a big haul.

The only notable event is that we simply haven't seen all of this haul in action for the past three weeks.

As someone who was at best ambivalent about losing Lo Duca, I hardly expect everyone to like the trade. But those who judge should at least bring in all the facts.

September 16: Your Morning Sedative

If the Dodgers trailed in their division and their final 15 games were against teams with a combined .551 winning percentage, wouldn't you feel pretty poorly about their chances?

That's the dilemma - that's right, the dilemma - facing the San Francisco Giants beginning Friday ...

September 24: Don't Drop the Boy

My 7 1/2-week-old son, who has never known the Dodgers not to be in first place in his lifetime, was quite agitated between 9 and 10 p.m. tonight. My wife thinks it was constipation, but you and I know the real reason.

So there he was in my arms, for about a solid hour, as the countdown to win a game by avoiding Barry Bonds went down. (As Vinny said in the line of the night, "You know how the Dodgers try to get the ball to Gagne? The Giants are trying to get the bat to Barry.")

I held the boy steady when Cesar Izturis made the diving stop to retire Deivi Cruz. And I held the boy steady when Eric Gagne, one out away from victory without Bonds, threw his 12 consecutive balls to the next three batters.

I told myself that I had to take care of the boy, no matter what.

And I whispered to the boy with the bases loaded, "Bring it home."

And he did.

October 2004

October 2: Chemistry!


* * *

Chemistry. Lo and behold, the Dodgers have it.

We all loved Paul Lo Duca, but even without him, they're ionized.

Because chemistry is not an ingredient, it's a product. In the Dodgers' case, it's certainly not a product of hitters putting the team ahead early, or starting pitchers going the distance. It's a product of being ready to seize the moment, no matter how late nor how improbable.

Jump up, Dodger fans. Jump up!

* * *

And for those who insist that chemistry matters, what about the chemistry discussed after the game? What about the idea that the acquisition of Steve Finley mixed a playoff veteran into a broth of playoff virgins? What about the team meeting that Finley and Robin Ventura held three weeks ago to guide the Dodgers over the pressure cooker stretch run?

The Dodgers went 15-10 in their final 25 games up to the clinch. That's .600 ball, and they were maligned and questioned almost every step of the way.

* * *

September 11, 1983 is still the greatest regular season game in Los Angeles Dodger history. Start to finish, it had everything, while today's game was 8 1/2 innings of prelude to a half-inning of incredulity. But for a new generation, October 2, 2004 will never be forgotten. Some new baseball fans were born today.

Others were born two months ago. Remember "Don't Drop the Boy"? I was tested again, through a 31-minute bottom of the ninth.

This time, my wife offered to take my son from my hands. But something told me I shouldn't let go. I stood, pacing with him, from Shawn Green's single just in front of a should-have-been-defensively-replaced Barry Bonds all the way through Finley's walkoff grand slam.

Then I put the boy down and jumped up.

* * *

The Dodger bullpen pitched nine innings today and allowed three runs. That ought to have been plenty, as was suggested in the morning.

But the Dodger offense went the entire game without hitting a line drive, and didn't really put solid wood on the nose of the baseball until the final at-bat of the game today. It was the team's worst showing at the plate this season.

Last week, the hitting was there but the pitching was gone. This week, the reverse.

If both get on or off next week, we're looking at a playoff series sweep, one way or another. If they alternate - more nailbiters.

* * *

Eric Karros was the color commentator on Fox for today's game, which added an interesting touch. First of all, he wasn't bad.

He tended to shout a little - he got a little too revved up. And more than once, he stated the obvious - or even the proto-obvious, like when he pointed out that A.J. Pierzynski, who was 8 for 8 in his career against Elmer Dessens, was either due to get out or likely to get a couple more hits.

But you have to give Karros credit. He was dignified in his opening conversation about Jim Tracy, who in 2002 was the man removing an underpeforming Karros out of the lineup. If Karros was a little too enthusiastic in questioning Tracy's decision not to pinch-hit for Wilson Alvarez with two on and one out in the fifth inning, perhaps he can be excused - it was the key moment of the game until the bottom of the ninth.

Even more surprisingly, well before the remarkable comeback, Karros came out in favor of Paul DePodesta's July trades. Karros hit all the points - that the struggles of the Dodger pitching validated the need to acquire another starter, that Hee Seop Choi - significantly, Karros' competitor for playing time in Chicago in 2003 - had strong potential, and that chemistry and Lo Duca weren't the be-all and end-all. At the end of the game, Karros said emphatically that Finley was the best deadline acquisition by any ballclub this year, and who could argue?

There's an edginess to the on-air Karros that I always sensed about him on the field. He has a sense of humor, and is articulate, but there seems to be a level of intensity - if not anger - just below the surface. If he can find the right, um, chemistry of all these elements, I can see him succeeding in this new career.

I just hope it doesn't come at the expense of a broadcaster that I like.

October 9: Prima Lima - He's a Dreama

Prior to tonight, the two most exciting Dodger pitching performances I've witnessed in person:

1) Fernando Valenzuela's no-hitter in 1990.

2) Pedro Astacio's three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout in his major-league debut.

Jose Lima's shutout against the best offense in baseball, in the playoffs, in an elimination game, easily makes this a top three.

I was forced to be at home for the Dodgers' amazing division-clinching comeback against San Francisco two weeks ago. I saw the entire game on television (Dodgers, I'm hopelessly TiVoted to you) and was thrilled.

But the difference in being able to attend the game is the glory of being able to genuflect, to offer your praise and feel it being received. And it was just a magnificent experience. I mean, I was waving and yelling to Lima from the Loge level - and I'm pretty sure he knew it.

Leaping to your feet in front of the television set just isn't the same.

Lima's roughest inning tonight was the first, when Tony Womack became what turned out to be the only Cardinal to reach third base. When Lima escaped that dilemma, he earned a standing ovation - who knew if we would able to give another?

As it turns out, we gave him about a dozen.

While I was in the food line, the Dodgers got a break when Lima was ruled safe on a hinky bunt to load the bases with none out in the third inning. Not apologizing for that one, considering how rough it's been for Los Angeles this week. The play came just after Alex Cora was deked by Scott Rolen into not sliding into third on Brent Mayne's single and almost got himself tagged out. Razor-thin margin for error, these Dodgers have.

Cesar Izturis popped out to short left, and Jayson Werth struck out. Just as it looked like the Dodgers would miss their latest, and perhaps last, golden opportunity, Steve Finley delivered a broken-bat two-run double to put the Dodgers ahead.

Shawn Green then hit two solo home runs in the fourth and sixth innings - bigtime plays that help make up for Adrian Beltre's sudden power shortage - to give Los Angeles and Lima a 4-0 lead.

When Lima came up with the bases loaded in bottom of the sixth, one can understand the tempation to pinch-hit for him. Would four runs be enough against St. Louis? Did Lima have more than one good inning left in him?

While I was against Jim Tracy's decisions in recent weeks not to pinch-hit for Wilson Alvarez against the Giants on September 25 and not to relieve Jeff Weaver in Thursday's Game 2, I supported his choice to let Lima bat for himself. Lima's pitch count was in the sixties (he needed only 65 pitches to pitch the second through seventh innings) and he was so integral to this game - to remove his energy from the mound with three entire innings to go seemed premature.

After all, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa walked perhaps the worst-hitting catcher in baseball, Brent Mayne, with a runner on first base. Do you think he expected the Dodgers to take Lima out?

Lima cruised through the seventh and was one strike away from a perfect eighth before Womack singled. Lima suddenly looked a little wobbly - a couple of pitches went in the dirt. Eric Gagne was warm in the bullpen. With Larry Walker up and Albert Pujols on deck, this figured to be the end.

Instead, Lima retired Walker. Eight innings in the books.

And indeed, that seemed enough. You didn't want to see Lima's outstanding outing marred by a collapse - and you had a rested Gagne ready. But then again, with a four-run lead, wasn't it worth a shot to see if Lima could ride this horse all the way back to the stables? The Dodgers certainly planned to remove him if one batter reached base in the ninth.

Facing the three All-Stars, Pujols, Rolen and Jim Edmonds, Lima retired them in order on 10 pitches - 10 pitches! - Beltre flairing a basket catch of a popup to end it.

Lima kneeled down and genuflected. As did we all.

What an incredible night in Los Angeles baseball history.

October 10: Tip 'o the Hat

Sad but satisfied, I bid adieu to the 2004 Dodgers. I enjoyed them tremendously.

Dodger Thoughts will continue in the offseason. I might take a few days off after the World Series, as I did last year, but otherwise I hope all of you who have found this place during the season will stick around. We'll start looking ahead almost immediately, but for now, it's with a great deal of fondness that I tip my hat to 2004.

Beltre comes alive.

Cora's 18-pitch home run.

Bittersweet farewells to Guillermo Mota, Dave Roberts and Paul Lo Duca.

Pulling for Nomo even though there was nothing left.

Weaver outpitching Kevin Brown.

A find in Jayson Werth.

Robin Ventura, Jose Hernandez and Olmedo Saenz - the oldies but goodies.

Shawn Green's second-half comeback (Did you notice in the paper today he finally admitted his shoulder was still bothering him in the first half?)

Izturis keys a galloping gourmet defense.

Lima Time is no joke.

Tim Wallach makes believers.

Yhency is fency.

Jason Grabowski provides some key help amid first-half injuries.

C'mon, Milton, light my fire ...

Odalis' big win in San Francisco.

Steve "finally, a deadline acquisition that works" Finley.

Nancy Bea, we cherish each moment they give you.

Paul DePodesta, we're keepin' the faith.

Jim Tracy, you're always learning. You might just make it after all.

Ross Porter, you're coming back. I'm overruling whoever says you're not. No way you're going like this.

Ishii, I'm so used to your act right now, it doesn't even faze me.

Brian Jordan, you - whoops, wrong year.

Wilson Alvarez, tough going today, but we still like ya.

Did you think I would forget Eric Gagne? You're all right, kid. Come back real soon.

Congratulations to the Cardinals. That's a fine team.

October 13: Soul Survivors

In the end, chemistry had nothing to do with it.

Those who today criticize the Dodgers' trade of Paul Lo Duca, with the season in rear view, point to the stretch-drive failings of Hee Seop Choi, Brent Mayne, Dave Ross and/or Brad Penny.

Perhaps I missed a corner of the Internet, but I didn't find anyone this week who was attributing the Dodgers' first-round playoff exit to a loss of chemistry, heart or soul.

Part of this is because the Dodgers displayed what many would interpret as chemistry, heart and soul - not to mention blood and guts - in surviving something of a September performance collapse to win 94 games, a division title and one more postseason victory than it had achieved in any year since "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was Billboard's No. 1.

But the lesson here is that even for July's chemistry diehards, results were what mattered.

If some combination of Choi, Mayne, Ross and Penny had performed to expectations - and make no mistake, none of them did - even critics would have viewed the trade more favorably by degrees.

If Lo Duca had excelled in September, people would have pointed first to his numbers, not his personality, in noting what the Dodgers had lost.

If the Dodgers had fallen out of first place and/or missed the playoffs, those clawing at the carcass would have hit on chemistry only if there were no bones to pick over the on-field performance of the aforementioned principals.

I say this as someone who loved watching Lo Duca, who loved the way he played the game. But I think the past two months have shown the limits that one person's chemistry has on a 25-man roster.

Lo Duca's heart and soul certainly infuse his own play, and perhaps they serve as a limited influence on others. But it's not significant.

If there's any more doubt, consider Jose Lima, who picked up the Dodger heart, soul and fire banner where Lo Duca left it. Lima enlivens and inspires. But he didn't inspire the other starting pitchers to pitch better, he didn't inspire the hitters to give the Dodgers early inning leads, and it's unconvincing to say that he had any meaningful role in the late-inning comebacks.

There are reasons to feel support the Dodgers' trade of Lo Duca and reasons to critique it. For example, on the one hand, the Dodgers needed starting pitching and cheaper offense for the future. On the other hand, was it worth acquiring both a first baseman (Choi) and an outfielder (Steve Finley) in a pennant race when only one position was available for them, while at the same time diminishing the catcher slot?

Frankly, my desire to continue this debate is as over as the Dodger season. Many of you might feel the same way. But if this debate continues - or if a new one begins, say over Lima - I am hopeful that, it will be about the real issues, not invented ones like chemistry. As much as I love seeing players play with heart and soul, this would save me a lot of heartache and soulache.

October 26: The Hole Closes Up

I first became aware of the hole closing up in 1997, the year after an incident in which, for the second time in about 18 months, a friend of mine died unexpectedly and tragically.

This was someone I saw or talked to on an almost daily basis, someone who combined joy and thoughtfulness, someone who taught me when I was single, unemployed and depressed - taught me like I was learning to walk - that I was still young and that my life was very much ahead of me.

It wasn't that John Egan didn't have his own troubles, but he didn't let those troubles run his life. It is not trite, but rather simple fact, to say that Egan conveyed to me much of the means I needed to cope with his passing.

Egan's death, just before his 26th birthday, left a hole in my life painful enough that I could physically feel the wound open.

Though it was one of the deepest, this was not the first time in my life that I could feel such a wound. In fact, I'm fragile enough to have felt it after a breakup. Even the pang I feel in my stomach when I leave a place where I've built sentimental ties, I associate with that wound.

But something about the lessons Egan passed on to me made me experience his wound in a new way - and I say this with some regret. In helping me be positive about my life amid the gloom, he made me conscious of how the holes that open in your life almost always close. The wounds heal. There might be a scar, but faint.

And so it is today that when I think of John Egan, my very good friend, I don't feel pain, but disbelief. I don't feel physicality. I just wonder, wonder what his life would be like today, what he would share with his family, and his friends, and me.

I find it strange that I had not connected this awareness with the Dodgers until this month. The Dodgers won a division title, won a playoff game, celebrated more than they had in years. They did so without a player, Paul Lo Duca, who was part of the fabric of the team, whose departure ripped open wounds for many fans. Lo Duca is remembered and his contributions missed. But the outpouring of grief, which had people all but rending their garments on July 31, is gone. Nowhere to be found. The hole closed up.

And so it is today that I return from a weekend away at my college reunion, a weekend all about connections made and lost, to learn that Ross Porter has officially been told not to return to the Dodger broadcasting booth.

This is not a tragedy, not a death in the family. Some fans won't even miss Porter, though I think even most of those, as has been written elsewhere, cringe at how callously his departure was handled. (Among other insults, did not even do a news story on the event, instead publishing only that feeble press release.)

But for me and many others, when we think of the Dodgers right now, there is that hole where Porter sat, where his friendly drawl floated through the air. There is that emptiness.

For selfish reasons, I feel this even more than a few others. Porter, as you might know, became a friend to me and this website this year, friendships that I consider among my highlights of 2004. Those won't end with his departure, but I will certainly regret the distance as he moves on to his next job.

We can cherish the fact that Vin Scully is still around, but the hole of Porter's absence remains.

For now.

From where I sit today, what saddens me the most about Porter leaving the Dodgers is not that it leaves a hole, but that the hole will eventually close up. And what we'll be left with are just the hair's-width memories of what it was like to listen to him talk about the Dodgers with some of the same passionate level-headedness that I try to bring to this site.

Today, people feel Porter's departure. Tomorrow, all they'll do is remember it. Because, as John Egan certainly would have shown me by his example, there's so much in this world to feel good about. When I think of Egan at this moment, it is sadness mixed with a smile. How could it not be?

But, even in deference to Egan, I say this. Time marches on, time grabs lives before they are lived and careers before they are completed, and I don't like it.

November 2004

November 9: The Last Dodger HR Leader

When Adrian Beltre took over the major league lead in home runs this season, it was widely reported that he was the first Dodger to do so since Tim Jordan, way back in 1908.

The ensuing number of people rushing to tell the story of Jordan numbered, well, in the zeroes.

Until now!

November 14: The Disposable Baseball Blogger

Farewell, Brian Gunn.

Farewell, Edward Cossette.

Rest in peace, Doug Pappas.

Baseball blogging is young, young like the days when there were hundreds of automobile makers instead of a handful, young like the days when there was enough test pattern time on your television that anyone with an idea and a sponsor could grab a regular time slot (although, thanks to cable and satellite, you might say TV clumsily clings to its youth.)

The brief history of baseball blogging has been a land rush - acres and acres of virgin www out there for the pickings like an online version of the old American West, requiring only a little moxie to stake a claim. But just like the dark side of Manifest Destiny, not every homesteader hangs on. Some stick it out for only a few months, or weeks, or days, or - you've seen it, no doubt - hours.

The tattered remnants of their domains can still often be found, scattered about like ghost towns or crosses in the dirt. It's been axiomatic in the genre that even very intelligent voices are better suited to be regular readers than regular writers. And some cityfolk never had any business being out in that wilderness to begin with.

But 2004, perhaps, marks the first year in which a couple of baseball bloggers who struck it rich creatively, a Huntington and a Stanford (hey, it's Big Game week) of baseball blogging, have decided to walk away on top. Within weeks of each other, Gunn and Cossette, the leading bloggers of this year's World Series teams at Redbird Nation and Bambino's Curse, pulled up stakes and head back to their former lives.

Most certainly, this year marked the first time that the passing of a baseball blogger was mourned. Doug Pappas, a contributor to Baseball Prospectus, also authored his own website, Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog, which was the world's most lucid and informative provider of legal and business information and commentary related to baseball. Pappas died unexpectedly in May, at the age of 42.

It's enough to make the hardiest consider questions of their own baseball blogging mortality. No one sticks it out in the Great American Blog without passion and dedication, but in a world where financial compensation could be years away, if it's coming at all, in a world where there's always some young whippersnapper ready to try his luck at being his own baseball-writing boss, in a world where some of the best have already bid us goodbye, some serious questions come to mind.

No. 1 on the list is this: How fleeting is a baseball blogger's existence?

December 2004

December 16: True Dodgers, Part II

From Monday's group discussion on "True Dodgers," Dodger Thoughts readers Ling Ngoh and Tim Weiss got their comments into Jim Alexander's Riverside Press-Enterprise column today on sports and loyalty. (Read Dodger Thoughts, become famous!)

It's an interesting piece, although I think it gives us fans too much credit. We are as quick to abandon a player when he falls on hard times as they are quick to abandon us for a better offer.

You'll notice, I think, not a single tear being shed over Hideo Nomo's departure (this year or the first time it happened a few years ago) - even though he captivated fans for long stretches. Kirk Gibson was only with the team for a couple of seasons - much less than home-grown flops Jose Gonzalez or Billy Ashley. But is Gibson less of a true Dodger? Nope.

Whether that means fans are jaded, I don't know. But I think the reality is that you become a true Dodger just by doing well in a Dodger uniform, not by how long you wear it - and I think that's not a recent development, that it's been true for a long time.

That being said, though, I don't think anyone can top Eric Enders' description of what it means to be a true Dodger. For those who missed it:

OK, here's my definition, I guess. A "True Dodger" is like your girlfriend: You know she's slept with others before you, and will sleep with others after you, but you don't care, because she's sleeping with you now and that's all that matters. You just have to be careful to avoid the ones who are too young or all washed up...

Ex-Dodgers also have subcategories like ex-girlfriends do:

- There's the one who, although long gone, you smile every time you think about. (Fernando)
- There's the one you wish you had back. (Pedro Martinez)
- There's the one you hope you never see again. (Carlos Perez)
- There's the one who never shuts up. (Lima)
- There's the one who was really special, although you never seem able to explain why. (Dave Hansen)
- There's the one who you thought would be really great but turned out to be a major disappointment. (Greg Brock)
- There's the one that was short-lived, but incredibly hot while it lasted. (Steve Finley)
- There are the one night stands, with names you can barely remember. (Hey there, Garey Ingram.)
- Last, but not least, there's the one who ran away with all your money. (Andy Ashby)
- (And one more) The one you go out with because you really have the hots for her sister. (Chris Gwynn)

By the way, a number of sportswriters in recent weeks, including at the Winter Meetings, have told me how impressed they are by the quality of discussion in the comments on this site. That Alexander came here to solicit thoughts for his column further supports the point. You folks really deserve a pat on the back.

December 16: Transition

ESPN reported the Beltre signing Thursday afternoon. Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi could not be reached to comment, but a club official said the team doesn't comment on signings until they are finalized.

As we wait on official confirmation ... for the white smoke to appear ...

Thinking about Pedro Martinez ... although at the time, he didn't leave a hole the size of the one the Dodgers are staring at now ...

Thinking about Mike Piazza ...

Thinking about how unlikely it is that any of the Dodger middle infielders should play third base ...

Thinking about whether a trade of an outfielder to come and a run for Carlos Beltran is in store ...

Thinking and reading ... your comments, the wires ...

Thinking about whether 2005 becomes a rebuilding year ... and reminding myself that the A's under Billy Beane haven't needed to have rebuilding years, so why should the Dodgers?

Someone mentioned Joel Guzman ... thinking about whether he will be rushed to the big leagues like Beltre was ...

Thinking about how much I'll miss watching the blossoming of Beltre before my eyes ... but how I won't have to worry that it won't continue ...

Thinking I really do have Beltre indigestion ...

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