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Soul Survivors
2004-10-13 22:24
by Jon Weisman

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.

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