Monthly archives: January 2004
How My Crazy Day Happened
Plenty of stuff about the Dodgers if you skip this post and read on. I won't be offended.
Everything below meant a lot to me and is a key part of the story that I want to tell, though some of it will seem most mundane.
In 2002 (and feel relieved I'm only going back this far), a friend of mine started this blog.
Over that summer, I mulled starting one of my own. That July, I did.
I continued sporadically through September 2002, when my daughter was born, at which point I stopped writing.
Twelve months ago, I began again, not really sure how long I'd keep it up. But I did keep it up.
In the spring, my first sports editor at the Daily News, Steve Clow, came across the blog from his current perch at the Times and sent me an e-mail saying hello, good job, etc.
On July 4, Larry Stewart of the Times favorably reviewed Dodger Thoughts.
In December, the Dodgers traded Kevin Brown to the Yankees, and Clow contacted me to get quotes for the reaction sidebar in the Times. The paper wanted an independent source representing the voice of the fans.
On January 22, Bill Shaikin of the Times, whom I originally met covering Angel games in 1991, interviewed me for his Monday story on fan hostility toward Frank McCourt.
Wednesday, KCRW producer Ileana Justus left a message with a co-worker of mine that they wanted to interview me for a Which Way L.A. show dedicated to McCourt on Thursday. She said the show topic wouldn't be confirmed until Thursday morning. She then did a short untaped pre-interview about the Dodgers with me, during which it took me about 10 seconds to begin answering her first question.
And thus I was reminded of why I abandoned my dreams as a teenager to become the next Vin Scully. I pause to find the right words, which is not a prized skill when you are talking in a broadcast medium.
Nonetheless, I did feel that I was ready for the challenge when KCRW confirmed the interview Thursday morning. In a sense, I've been following this subject for close to 30 years. I've been reading and writing about McCourt extensively, almost nauseatingly, throughout the offseason. I had things to say.
In 1991, I took over the sports media column at the Daily News from Paola Boivin and was asked to appear on a sports talk radio station after my very first piece, an article about CBS' huge new contract to televise baseball. It was a fine column but it belied the fact that I wasn't an expert on that aspect of the game. Nervous, I declined the interview, and though I have never lost sleep over it, I always thought it was a mistake. Better to take the chance.
Anyway, until last month, my only public speaking since that lost opportunity involved being on the DVD commentary of Roughnecks - The Starship Troopers Chronicles - The Homefront Campaign, having written one of the episodes. (Yes, it's been a long, strange journey.)
Back to Thursday. I let people know about the interview, via e-mail and via this website, and got lots of good wishes and advice for my inaugural (if not final) radio appearance. My friend John Lilly and I, of course, discussed wardrobe and breath issues.
The taping was scheduled between 3:30 and 4 p.m. and would include myself, Frank Del Olmo of the Times, city councilman Ed Reyes and host Warren Olney, all of us patched together by phone, none of us in the same room.
Meanwhile, I did pretty well at the thing I really needed to do: concentrating on the job that actually pays me. Having a lot of work to do certainly helped my anxiety. Chaos was good.
And then chaos increased: At about 2:15 p.m., 15 minutes before the McCourt press conference that my job would prevent me from watching and 75 minutes before my KCRW interview, I got an e-mail from Associated Press reporter Daisy Nguyen, asking if I would comment for a reaction to McCourt's purchase after the news conference was over.
This is what it had come to - I was actually having to juggle. I told Nguyen I would be happy to talk to her but I had commitments until 4 p.m.
At 3 p.m., someone suggested I drink some hot water to relax my throat. At 3:01, I spilled water on me. At 3:03, I spilled again.
At 3:25 p.m., I left my cubicle, refilled my troublesome water cup and went into an unused office to wait for KCRW's call, which came slightly after 3:30, by which time I was - yes - out of water.
There was no real fanfare. You're on hold, and then you hear some background chatter, and then the taping starts - it just starts. Warren Olney is introducing himself, introducing the topic, and then mentioning something about a Jon Weisman and an independent (this has become my defining adjective) website, Dodger Thoughts.
And sure enough, the first question comes to me and I'm saying, "Well, um ..."
I never panicked during the interview, but I did find myself having to work to complete some sentences. When I talk, I'm like an old car whose gears you can hear grinding. I get from here to there, but I really have to grind a lot.
I was asked five questions before they moved on to Del Olmo and then Reyes. I found my listening being interrupted by an ongoing self-critique of how I responded. The biggest thing was that I worried that I had been shouting. Whenever I'm on the phone with my 93-year-old grandmother, who is lively as all get-out but a little hard of hearing, I have to talk loudly to her. That's how I thought I sounded on the radio to poor Mr. Olney.
Another thing that I realized during this interlude was that I really wanted to address the issue of the supposed gag order that McCourt was under, preventing him from speaking publically to the people of Los Angeles during his purchase bid. As I've said before, I think his silence was more than deafening, it was catastrophic - and the recent misunderstanding about whether baseball actually required him to be silent only raised more questions about him. So I kept hoping they'd get back to me to talk.
But after Reyes spoke, instead of starting the circle back with me, Olney went back to Del Olmo. Inwardly (but not audibly!), I cursed. "Damn, I'm not gonna get another chance." And then: "Damn, they must think I stink."
Olney did return to me, however, with a question that caught me off guard: Why did I think Dodger fans were not apathetic? This was one of the few questions about the Dodgers that I've never asked myself, so I didn't have a ready answer. Further, I had this point about McCourt's silence that I was burning to make.
Now, I've seen a few presidential debates in my time, and I've seen candidate after candidate respond to a question with an off-topic answer that only addresses something on his agenda. Well, that's what I did. I started, "Well, um .. " and then talked very briefly about Peter O'Malley and Fox having to deal with fans who want a winner, and grinded over to talking about the McCourt silent treatment. It was awkward, but I have no regrets.
In my final response, I told Olney (not verbatim), "Anyone can run a bad campaign and get elected, but if you do great things, history will rewrite itself." After I said this, Olney laughed and said, "Well, no one's been elected to anything," and I felt a little stupid, although 1) I meant it as a metaphor and 2) actually, McCourt did win a vote of the owners, so he was in fact elected to something. Just not by you or me, unless you are a baseball owner.
The show ended. I have to say, it was very enjoyable. The last moment aside, I really enjoyed Olney (I've always liked him) and enjoyed
What If the Dodgers Win in 2004?
What should Frank McCourt, the Dodger organization, you or I be willing to sacrifice for a World Series title this season?
Should we be willing to go the Florida Marlins route of shocking titles sandwiching last-place finishes?
The elation that comes with winning a title is huge, and there isn't much that can erase the fondness of those memories.
But most of the time, we are forced to live in the present. And that means the memories only go so far.
The best-case scenario is that McCourt puts together a staff that engineers the moves that make the Dodgers a champion, and in so doing so galvanizes the city of Los Angeles that baseball revenue starts pouring into Chavez Ravine. Short-term success feeds long-term success.
If that happens, McCourt is a hero.
But if in going for broke, McCourt puts himself at risk of going broke, and plunders what's good about the organization to make ends meet, I fear that even a 2004 title might end up feeling sour as soon as 2005.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that not all World Series championships are created equally. Not all of them have the same long-term joy. I'm expressing a particularly greedy view that we should want the Dodgers to win a title, but not have to shoot ourselves in the foot to do so.
"I have always felt I could base the state or the condition of the Dodgers on one key ingredient - the look or tone of Vin Scully's face," Tommy Naccarato writes in an e-mail. "Yesterday, it looked as if it was a solemn Scully was ready to say, 'While were at it, this will be my last year...' It was really depressing.
For me, this is just chilling. Did anyone else watching the coverage yesterday share Naccarato's impression?
She is ... gone! In the year of the improbable, the impossible has happened!
I just felt the need.
KCRW Appearance to Discuss the Dodgers
Wish me luck. I have been asked to be a guest on today's edition of Warren Olney's Which Way L.A. on KCRW-FM (89.9). The show is discussing Frank McCourt's purchase of the Dodgers and can be heard at 7 p.m., both on the radio and online. Frank Del Olmo, who wrote this commentary for the Times on Sunday, is also scheduled to appear - and it is possible that McCourt will be a guest as well.
(If anyone has the technology where they could somehow record the show and burn a CD, could you e-mail me? I will gladly pay you for the service.)
Update: Offers from kind readers willing to record the show poured in. You folks are the best - thanks.
His Team Now
Frank McCourt makes me feel powerless.
He could be the next great disaster for the Dodgers. Or, he could be a hidden treasure of, well, adequacy.
But how disturbing is it that after Thursday's press conference to discuss his purchase of the team, there is nothing that actually inspires confidence? Every potential positive statement made by or about McCourt had to be qualified.
Whatever the future holds, good or bad ... today, the Dodgers really seem to belong to someone else. Maybe this feeling will go away, but they don't feel like the city's team right now. They don't feel like our team.
Literally, they never were ours, but figuratively, they were. Not today.
Consider this: throughout the entire day, I didn't find a note of celebration that the News Corp. (majority) ownership of the Dodgers was over. Can you believe this? A few months ago, the city of Los Angeles would have held a bonfire of revelry at Fox's departure. Today, there's just uncertainty.
It's perhaps the oddest feeling I've observed in following the Dodgers.
Here are some primary statements that contribute to this feeling, followed by my response to them.
1) David Wharton, Los Angeles Times: "McCourt had been precluded from speaking publicly during four months of negotiations with News Corp. and Major League Baseball."
I don't know why the Times would publish this statement when people, including a Times reporter, have stated that this was not the case - that there was no rule against McCourt speaking - his silence becoming the first sign of trouble.
2) Frank McCourt, Dodger owner: "We have no plans to do anything other than play baseball here at Dodger Stadium."
It's better than nothing. On the other hand, I had no plans to start a baseball blog two years ago, and look at what's happened since.
3) David Wharton: "But other changes could be in store for the venerable ballpark at Chavez Ravine, including a corporate naming rights deal."
This was a punch in the gut. I know, we're all prima donnas. But if Fox avoided selling the Dodger Stadium name, it's hard to swallow that the new owner is already broaching this one.
Some say that if the money goes to the payroll, then it's worth it. Prove to me that that's where the money is going.
4) David Wharton: "Terms of the deal remained unclear. McCourt said he committed more than $200 million, but baseball sources maintained Thursday he had taken out an unspecified bank loan and that none of the money was his."
This is good. Already, someone's spreading misinformation. Don't know if it really matters who.
5) David Wharton: "McCourt also announced that, for the first time, all 162 of the Dodgers' games will be televised next season."
Even I think this is overkill. I'm not criticizing McCourt on this decision, but of the added telecasts, how many will Vin Scully be broadcasting? Not enough, I fear.
6) Frank McCourt: "At the end of the day, it's not platitudes, it's performance that matters."
Agreed. This is a whole new chapter. McCourt's actions are the key. Does he know right from wrong? Does he know good from bad? No matter how many misgivings have built up to this point, I don't think there's a Dodger fan in town who won't come to like McCourt if he can do the job.
7) Frank McCourt: "We're going to sign a guy that can hit."
Follow-up question: Who determines who can hit, and what criteria do they use?
8) Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times: "Of his focus, [McCourt] said, 'This is about baseball, baseball, baseball.' Yet throughout the afternoon of interviews, he didn't mention one player."
I don't know if this is a crime. I'm wondering which player I would have mentioned. I guess I would have found some way to drop in, say, I'm excited about Eric Gagne or something. I don't know if this matters, but I don't fault Plaschke for bringing it up.
9) Bill Plaschke: [McCourt] said baseball prohibited him from meddling in the Dodgers' off-season moves, thus excusing himself of the failure to acquire a power hitter. "We were forbidden to influence the team," he said.
That's an appalling statement. Is it disengenous or just plain false? Does he not understand what the word "influence" means? His very existence was an influence. It may have induced paralysis, but I think that counts. Disturbing thing for him to say. Take responsibility, Frank. Say "I wish we (yes, we) didn't have to hold off on finding a power hitter, but the waiting is over, and we'll look to make the best deals we can from here on out." It wouldn't have made everything right - we'd still have to see what the future holds - but at least he wouldn't be insulting us.
10) Bill Plaschke: "Yet in the past several months he repeatedly has met with top Dodger officials. And back when the Walt Disney Co. was in that long holding pattern to buy the Angels, Disney was allowed to approve any moves costing more than $50,000."
Good for Bill, not letting McCourt off the hook on that one.
11) Frank McCourt: "We will have a $100-million-plus payroll."
For how long? Not that it matters, not that this figure makes or breaks the Dodgers' chances. But this statement needs elaboration.
12) Bill Plaschke: "Good. Make a trade for a high-priced slugger such as Magglio Ordonez."
Careful. Be very careful. One-year rentals (on players entering their free agent year, such as Ordonez) are dangerous. Never say never, but don't over-spend. This is where you fear McCourt trying to make too big a splash.
13) Bill Plaschke: "Only two years ago, the new ownership group in Boston was greeted with similar skepticism before confounding baseball officials by spending the money to build a contending team."
Although Plaschke is comparing apples to cantelopes here, this is why we're going to give McCourt his chance.
14) Frank McCourt: "It's not how much money you spend, but how smart you spend it."
See 7) and 11).
15) Bill Plaschke: "But right now, they have what appears to be the worst team in the division."
This almost seems off topic - talking about a pennant race. Anyway, the Dodgers are not worse than Colorado.
16) David M. Carter, USC Sports Business consultant, to Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times: "If [McCourt] makes changes soon, it looks like he's cleaning house and is a reactionary. If he waits, he runs the risk of a year going by with a lame-duck management team and forgoes a chance to get his own people up to speed."
A real dilemma, exacerbated by the tensions raised by McCourt's silence during the McCourtship with baseball.
17) Dave Roberts, Dodger outfielder, to DiGiovanna: "We have to hope the people controlling things have the organization's best interests in mind."
It all rides on hope for everyone.
18) Unnamed baseball agent, to DiGiovanna: "I think anything the commissioner's office can do to take a premier spending franchise out of the mix, that will bring more salary restraint, it will do."
The source is bad, but the statement is too obvious to ignore.
19) T.J. Simers, Los Angeles Times "THE FIRST guy I ran into at Dodger Stadium was one of parking guy's many PR advisors."
Boy, do these people need help.
Three More Seasons of Gagne, And Then ... ?
So you're worried that Eric Gagne might leave the Dodgers when he becomes a free agent?
Here's some food for thought. Some munchies for musing.
Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus had a theory that "the best relievers in the modern era have short, high peaks before slipping." He identified major league baseball's 16 best relievers since 1980, limiting himself to closers who excelled when they were between 26 and 30 years old, and analyzed their statistics.
First of all, he found that four of the 16 pitchers were completely out of baseball by the time they turned 34. Four others, including Trevor Hoffman, Robb Nen, and Billy Wagner, each lost a season because of injuries.
"Collectively, relievers who are dominant in their 20s do decline in their early 30s," Sheehan said. "Much of that risk is in the form of injury, rather than performance deterioration. The real break for the guys on the field seems to occur between 31 and 33, where the pitchers who had formerly been dominant step back to being just good, often at the same time they become very expensive. The chance of getting a star-caliber season from a top relief pitcher after they turn 30 is less than half of what it is before that."
Eric Gagne is 28 years old now. He is not eligible for free agency until after the 2006 season, at which point he will be nearly 31. We have no way of knowing what kind of pitcher Gagne might be and how much he will demand nearly three years from now. But if this small sample is any indication, it serves no purpose to worry about it.
"What I take from this research," Sheehan concluded, "is a reinforcement of the idea that there is no reliever in the game worth the risk of a long-term free-agent contract. They don't age well, they miss entire seasons with too much frequency, and the salaries they command on the market make it nearly impossible for them to end up as a good value."
Unless, I suppose, they create a whole bunch of concessions sales.
This is anything but me trying to usher Gagne out of town at the first opportunity. Rather, this is me using an interesting article to attempt to minimize stress during a trying offseason.
The Devil You Know, The Devil You Don't
Many Dodger fans are impatient with lack of change to the roster. Here's the flip side.
As Twins manager Ron Gardenhire proved on Friday during the Twins' annual media luncheon, fans aren't the only ones stumped about the talent level of this year's team.
Gardenhire stepped to the podium holding some papers and immediately looked over to General Manager Terry Ryan.
"Terry, I'm going over the roster here," Gardenhire said. "Who in the hell are these guys?"
Desperate Yankee Alert
With Aaron Boone injured on the basketball court, will the Yankees be coming after the Dodgers for potential-ridden Adrian Beltre or veteran presence Robin Ventura? Could free agent Ron Coomer rise from the ashes?
The smart thing for New York to do would probably be move Derek Jeter to third base and try to fill their infield with a slick-fielding shortstop.
Update: ESPN.com checks in with might-someday-be Dodger general manager Billy Beane:
Beane meant no disrespect to the American League champs, but his decision to not call Cashman sent a clear message: even in their moment of crisis, the Yankees have nothing that would interest the A's: no affordable starting talent, and nothing in the farm system, either.
Dodgers Apparently Merge with Diamondbacks
Or at least, they appear to have learned to share, at least according to this preview of baseball's Western divisions in the San Francisco Examiner:
The Dodgers, hamstrung by the pending sale of the club, have picked up some help by acquiring free agents Juan Encarnacion, Shane Reynolds and Roberto Alomar, but they lack a big bat to support the pitching staff.
Have baseball's mathematicians built a better crystal ball to predict future pitcher performance?
In trying to answer this question from a 2004 Dodger perspective, I'm gonna try to keep this as simple as possible - for my sake as well as yours.
The theory: Major League pitchers essentially only control walks, strikeouts and home runs. On balls hit in the playing field, defense and chance play more of a role than the pitcher's skill.
As Jay Jaffe writes in his detailed examination on The Futility Infielder:
The Defense Independent Pitching Statistic (DIPS) system was invented by Voros McCracken. His studies of pitching statistics suggest that major league pitchers do not differ greatly on their ability to prevent hits on balls in play. The rate at which a pitcher allows hits on balls in play has more to do with defense and luck than to his own skill, and can vary greatly from year to year.
The upshot: By predicting what earned-run averages would be based only on innings pitched, strikeouts, walks allowed and home runs allowed (using a method of run estimation, a time-honored sabermetric concept, according to Jaffe), one can eliminate the chance elements from the equation and arrive at an defense-independent ERA, or DERA, that more accuarately reflects a pitcher's performance.
That number is more useful in predicting a pitcher's performance for the following season than his actual ERA is (obvious mitigating factors like injuries and age notwithstanding).
The mitigating factors: Subsequent studies on pitchers with long careers have shown that they do have some ability to prevent hits on balls in play, though this is still less than their impact on walks and strikeouts.
Let's see how DIPS works with Dodger pitchers from 2002 and 2003 as we look to 2004:
Comparison of Dodger ERAs with DERAs, 2002-2003
Pitchers whose 2002 DERA was lower than their 2002 actual ERA
As we consider the key guys on the 2004 Dodger staff, the system has had trouble predicting Nomo and Ishii - which may signal a flaw in the system, or may mean that those two are particularly due for a decline. Alvarez's ERA should normalize.
On the other hand, Weaver and Perez would be due for improvement, as would Dreifort if he is healthy. Even Gagne underperformed his 2003 DERA and could be considered a candidate to improve (!) this year. (Meanwhile, as many predict, Brown may be headed for a decline pitching in 2004 in front of the Yankee defense.)
I asked Jay Jaffe to comment further and he wrote, "Ishii and Nomo don't look so hot because of their high walk rates, but Nomo's K rate is good - he's not going to be your problem. Perez doesn't look so hot because his K rate is down, but he'll be OK. Call him and Nomo 'somewhat better than average but not spectacular.' Gagne ought to remain ungodly - it's not results on balls in play that makes him dominant, it's keeping balls from getting in play. Mota looks pretty good (though not as great as his ERA would lead you to believe), Dreifort too. I don't see any serious red-flags here, even with Nomo and Ishii's presence in the Higher dERA than ERA board."
Below is the full chart for the 2003 Dodgers, courtesy of Jaffe. Please go to The Futility Infielder to read much, much more about DIPS.
(BFP is actual batters faced by the pitcher. BIP is actual batting average against the pitcher on balls in play. ERAR is how many fewer earned runs the pitcher will have allowed over the number of innings pitched, compared to a replacement-level pitcher - that is to say, not an average player, but your average last man on the roster.)
Dodger DIPS Chart - 2003
I continue to think that Steve Colyer is a good candidate for the Opening Day roster.
A Despicable Vendetta
Unfortunately, I missed this piece from a week ago by Bob Keisser of the Long Beach Press-Telegram (scroll down after you click), in which Keisser takes baseball commissioner Bud Selig's honor to the woodshed:
...nothing titillates him more than the thought of the Dodgers going to seed. Selig grew to despise Peter O'Malley because he represented old-school baseball people who still acted with a sense of integrity, a word Selig couldn't say without swallowing his tongue.
The betting line or so Pete Rose told me is that McCourt gets approved, announces he must reduce payroll in the spirit of baseball's new-found frugality, and then starts ruminating about a new stadium.
Imagine Selig's joy in seeing the Dodgers bumble and become part of baseball's middle class and then leverage the city on a new playpen. Selig won't be happy until the Dodgers are a bigger joke than his own team (the Brewers).
Speaking of which, is there a better model for sports fraud? Selig becomes acting commish while owning the team; passes the team to his daughter when he becomes full-time commish; has his heir hire an African-American in a prominent role, who eventually resigns because he was nothing but a figurehead; gets the citizenry to pay extensively on a new stadium; builds said stadium on the cheap to the degree that it's considered a pothole; reaps the usual bump in ticket revenue that comes from a new playpen; and then self-imposes a salary cap of $30 million to make the team more attractive to buyers.
Bud Selig deserves to be suspended by baseball as much as Pete Rose.
Keisser doesn't source his statement that Selig "grew to despise" O'Malley. I had at one point added another comment here but have since removed it to abide by my policy on not using unnamed sources.)
Cora Breaks Arm Playing Baseball
At least Dodger infielders injure themselves the right way, not playing hoops ...
Second baseman Alex Cora broke his right arm trying to break up a double play in a Puerto Rican winter league game, according to The Associated Press, and is out for four to six weeks.
Joey Thurston, your life is calling.
(The above should not be construed as an endorsement of Joe Thurston.)
By the Way
Won't it be nice when McCourt appears and the Times finally gets to take its own picture of him, instead of having to run the same old Boston Globe photo with every story?
Prove Us Wrong, Frank, Prove Us Wrong
So here he comes, dressed to dazzle in his rented tux, pink corsage in hand. (We're wearing blue.)
Our blind date is ringing the doorbell, and now all we're wondering is what he's gonna say when we open the door.
Back in November, I urged Frank McCourt to come meet the parents. I wrote:
If you intend to bring glory back to the Dodger franchise, Frank, then Step 1 is for you to come to Los Angeles and tell the people so.After I published this piece, readers wrote to me to tell me that McCourt was under a gag order imposed by Major League Baseball and could not make any public comment on the purchase until after it was completed.
However, when Bill Shaikin of the Times interviewed me for this McCourt story and I mentioned the gag order, he clarified that there is no rule preventing McCourt from commenting, just a recommendation.
Are the two the same? Perhaps McCourt was in no position to find out on his own. But the smart thing to do would have been to tell MLB commissioner Bud Selig that silence was anything but golden.
The best interests of everyone involved - Selig, McCourt and the fans - woud have been much better served if, at a minimum, McCourt could have prepared some talking points that would have filled the information gap about his intentions. If he's the family man/passionate baseball fan that his supporters would have us believe, then all the more reason to let him converse with us.
Instead, McCourt let Selig and his lieutenant, Bob DuPuy, make guarded comments that offered platitudes but nothing concrete, let the media and fans fill rest of in the blanks and, as I predicted two months ago, created an environment of fear and resentment.
So now, McCourt has to make up for it.
First, he's going to have to answer questions about Dodger Stadium, and either he's going to say a teardown is on the table or it isn't. That's most of the game right there - more than anything, his intentions about the Chavez Ravine property will determine whether McCourt gets a kiss on the lips or his corsage thrown back in his face.
As for the team on the field, yes, the Dodgers need hitting. And yes, not a single Dodger minor league prospect should be considered untouchable in the literal sense.
But Dodger general manager Dan Evans has been on the right track in being ferociously careful with the jewels of the team's minor league system. (Vladimir Guerrero, as we all know, could have been signed without sacrificing a single ruby.) If McCourt's idea of winning the fans involves giving up top prospects for a one-year rental on a hitter that, given the team's payroll concerns, will leave the Dodgers as empty-batted eight months from now as they are today, then Los Angeles and McCourt will have truly embarked upon a dysfunctional relationship.
The hostile reaction to McCourt over the past two months has debunked the myth that Dodger fans are stupid and apathetic. They haven't bought in to the myth that no owner can be worse than News Corp. And after years under that ownership, they will surely recognize when the future of the team is being trashed.
The good news, of course, is that because of McCourt's cash-poor situation, he may have no choice but to hang onto the prospects - or if he's going to approve a trade, make it a trade for a productive, long-term investment.
We can only hope. We can only hope.
When that door opens and you walk in, Frank, you get a clean slate. Everyone in Los Angeles is perfectly willing to eat their words, to apologize, to say that their fears about you were misguided.
Be smart. Be good. That's the whole ballgame.
And He Gets the Girl in the End ...
In response to Thursday's Matt Luke posting, Tommy Naccarato send this e-mail:
Glad to see you had something in there about Matt Luke.
Mix and Match
Okay, I'm going to actually look at the team and put aside the painful obsession with Frank McCourt.
I can't believe that the Dodgers won't make some additional move to boost their offense, but I not going to assume that they will either. So let's see what we've got:
Dodger Depth Chart
Comment: The Dodgers simply do not have a cleanup hitter against right-handed pitching. You might as well say to Beltre, "You're the man," because as of now, there is no obviously better option. Ventura is the next-best alternative, but then you have a left-handed hitter batting behind Green, making it easy for opponents to bring in left-handed relievers.
Comment: If Beltre isn't the man, you could try betting on Lo Duca as a No. 3 hitter, drop Green from his best spot to cleanup, move Ventura's walks up to the No. 2 slot, and protect Green with Encarnacion. I thought about Encarnacion in the third slot, but don't think he will walk enough to man it.
Comment: If Roberts can't get on base enough to use his speed, you could throw the track shoes out the door and put the plate-discipline guys 1-2 at the top. Green bats fourth, and you can take your lousy pick from Beltre, Encarnacion, Trammell and (in this case) Cabrera at No. 3.
Comment: If Green ends up at first, you essentially lose a left-handed bat, as all of the Dodger outfield reserves behind Roberts and Encarnacion are right-handed.
Comment: Dave Ross hit seven home runs in 93 at-bats against righties last year. He deserves a chance to build on that - whether he could do it at No. 4 remains to be seen.
One area where Jim Tracy erred last year was his platooning of Cabrera and Cora. Cora hits better against lefties, yet often sat out against them so the right-handed Cabrera could play. Cabrera, while also better against lefties, is also better against righties than Cora is. Yet Cabrera would often find the pine against righties while Cora played.
The Dodgers actually had a semi-productive lineup facing left-handed pitching last year if they wanted. Let's see what they might look like in 2004 with a southpaw on the mound against them.
Comment: You might as well give Roberts some rest against lefties.
Comment: I'll take a chance leading off Cora against lefties. You won't see me put Izturis up there, though.
I think Tracy is destined to do a lot of experimenting in March, if not in April and May.
A guy with power and on-base capability against right-handed pitching would make all the difference in the world.
Forget Eli Broad - Here's Hideo Nomo!
Once again, I'm linking to an oddly written article about a Japanese ballplayer (scroll down if you click on the link):
TOKYO (AP) - Hideo Nomo is giving back to the system that allowed him to become one of the best pitchers on either side of the Pacific.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' pitcher now has his own baseball team to go along with a long list of playing achievements, including his two no-hitters.
The Nomo Baseball Club will be based in his hometown of Osaka and begin play this spring in Japan's semipro league.
"If it wasn't for the opportunities I had when I was young, I have no idea what I'd be doing today," Nomo said Thursday at a news conference to introduce the team. "This is my way of contributing to the development of baseball."
Nomo, who joined the Dodgers in 1995 and was rookie of the year his first season, said he was inspired to lend his name to the team by the charitable efforts of his fellow major leaguers.
The article says that Nomo "has" his own team, which I originally took to mean that Nomo had purchased it or was sponsoring it. The phrase at the end of the article about "lending his name" gave me pause - maybe that was Nomo's only act of charity and no money changed hands. But no, he has to be paying the bills, right?
It occurs to me that this might be the biggest offseason move the Dodgers have made.
Update: Frank McCourt was in Osaka last year hoping to purchase the team and the surrounding metropolis, but was rejected by semipro league officials. A gag order prevents McCourt from commenting.
Real Update: Here is a more full account. I'm taking advantage of the blogging system and giving this story to you as I uncover it, rather than rewriting it so that the pertinent facts are prominent and the confusing and irrelevant facts are eliminated. Ain't that grand?
I'm also ignoring the revelation that this news came out in July, so it is not the biggest offseason move the Dodgers have made - although July wasn't much for Dan Evans to write home about either.
Anyway, the Japan Information Network wrote:
With the amount of support provided by companies to their corporate teams dwindling, amateur and semipro players face an increasingly tough situation. Hoping to give these players some encouragement, Nomo supplied the funds for the new team himself in what could be described as a gesture of putting something back into the world of baseball. ...
About 50 people, ranging from former pros to veterans of high-school baseball, took part in the tryouts held in April to select players for the team. The team chose 12 players, including trainees, and began practicing soon after. As it is a truly amateur team, the players receive no salaries. They earn their livings working in places like factories and gas stations by day and attend practices in the evenings. The team aims to start competing in official games from spring 2004, but the dream held by every player is to use the opportunity as a springboard to a professional career - just like Nomo did.
Final? Update "The Wall Street Journal had an article a couple of weeks ago about the decline of 'company' baseball teams and how some of those players were being signed by independent league teams in the U.S.," Bob Timmermann writes. "All part of the decline of the Japanese economy."
Touching Base with the 1990s' Jack Fimple
Steve Bisheff of the Orange County Register caught up with one of those short-term Dodgers that everyone rooted for, Matt Luke. The headline calls Luke an ex-Angel, but it was with the Dodgers that he had his greatest success, hitting nine home runs in 160 at-bats during the 1998 season.
Bisheff writes that dual shoulder surgeries ended Luke's career at age 28. But as you'll see from the warm, sincere story, that hardly seems to matter now.
Eric Gagne: Harry Potter?
I've added The Bench Coach to the Dodger links on the right; I think you'll enjoy checking him out. The Coach's font also looks better on my computer than the Dodger Thoughts font does.
I liked the Coach's post this morning on Eric Gagne because it really takes a calm but pointed approach to the situation regarding Gagne's contract status. Perhaps the Coach's most noteworthy comment: Gagne "seems to be morphing into the leader of the Dodgers just when the team needs him most."
The Coach adds: "But there is coming a day, possibly as soon as Jan. 31, when it will be time for Gagne to be rewarded. How that plays out will be the first major test of McCourt's ownership, and I fear it will tell Dodger fans all we need to know."
The other day, I stated my feeling that a salary arbitration hearing between Gagne and the Dodgers would turn into a non-event. Today, however, the Coach writes that he's "been waiting for the Gagne negotiations to get really, really ugly," and I admit the Coach is right when it comes to any negotiations for a multiyear contract. There is going to be a huge disparity between what Gagne wants and what the Dodgers - whoever "the Dodgers" are - will prepared to offer.
For that matter, Times smacktalker T.J. Simers, who you'd expect would have nothing good to say about the $5 million the Dodgers are paying Adrian Beltre this year, fulfills those expectations in a way you wouldn't expect, noting today the risk that the Dodgers are taking by not locking the young Beltre up to a long-term deal.
Gagne and Beltre are symptoms of a much larger uncertainty that is facing Dodger fans now that the Voldemort ownership appears ready to take over Hogwarts. (I promise to drop that analogy post haste, but it seems to fit today.)
No one wants to lose Gagne and no one will want to lose Beltre if he flowers. Ultimately, though, Dan Evans, Billy Beane or whoever will do their best to make the most of whatever New Age payroll they have to work with. If that means they can't pay $8-10 million a year for your closer, well, that doesn't eliminate the Dodgers' postseason chances. In fact, many will argue that paying a closer that much money - even with a $100 million budget - is a misallocation of funds.
The mystery that needs to be solved, before any individual players are concerned, is just how low will Voldemort go with the payroll. Any contract discussion of any player works its way back to that question, and I'm not sure it's worth worrying about Gagne or any other single player right now. The whole team is caught in the ether.
That is going to be one interesting press conference when Voldemort finally appears and speaks. We do need a Dumbledore.
(Okay - that's it, J.K.)
I've got some questions for Ross Newhan to follow up with today. Actually, I've got many, but here's a mere sample:
In the Times today, Newhan writes that revisions to Frank McCourt's ownership bid, revisions that would would leave News Corp. as a temporary minority owner, give McCourt "from one to two years, the source said, to find a Los Angeles-area investor to buy out News Corp."
Can this window of one or two years be extended indefinitely, or will the investor-to-be-named later have McCourt over a barrel, further weakening his ownership position and in turn the Dodgers?
After all, we've heard from baseball how McCourt shouldn't have to sell his Boston real estate under the gun. Doesn't this revised proposal simply transfer this burden - to the Dodgers and their support base?
Famous First Words
From the October 9, 2003 Times:
The proposed sale of the Dodgers to Boston real estate developer Frank H. McCourt could adversely affect the club's off-season plans if the process drags out much longer, baseball executives said Wednesday. ...
The negotiations might produce an agreement by the end of October, sources close to the talks said, and the other owners would be expected to eventually approve McCourt. But the potential length of that process has stirred concern at Chavez Ravine. ...
That would be especially problematic for the Dodgers entering a winter in which General Manager Dan Evans is under pressure to improve the National League's worst offense, and the club hopes to be a player in the free-agent market after dropping more than $19 million from the 2004 payroll.
The Dodgers said throughout the season the potential sale of the club would not affect day-to-day operations and continue to maintain nothing has changed because News Corp. is still operating the team.
"[Chairman] Bob Daly continues to stress to all management that it's business as usual," said Derrick Hall, senior vice president. "It will continue to be just that."
Times stories from the past year on News Corp.'s attempt to sell the Dodgers can be found here.
Thoughts That Count
The words come probably too late and definitely too clumsily - read it and tell me it doesn't appear to be written by a sixth-grader - but the editorial page of the Times comes out sorta kinda against the Frank McCourt ownership bid today. I'm glad the paper did so, but it's a feeble effort, and pales in comparison to the outstanding work led by the paper's Ross Newhan over the past several days.
More impressive than the editorial is this recap from Jay Jaffe at The Futility Infielder. Jaffe touches my normally pacifist heart with these words:
I will concede that if the speculation is true that McCourt, a Boston real estate developer, is interested in buying the Dodgers so that he can build a downtown ballpark, raze Dodger Stadium and develop the Chavez Ravine land for his own devices, then there is no action on the part of Bud Selig, the United States military, or organized criminals (even disorganized ones) that I will not condone to prevent that from happening. Smite him and his seed from the earth if he so much as lifts a finger to harm that ballpark; I promise not to say, "boo."
Doug Pappas adds this at Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog:
The Los Angeles Times reports that even though Commissioner Selig has recently reiterated the importance of the debt rules in the context of the proposed sale of the Dodgers, one unnamed owner on the Executive Committee "saw no problem with McCourt buying the Dodgers entirely with borrowed money." In the words of the owner, "If he didn't have the collateral he wouldn't be getting the loans."
Then why have a debt rule at all? Without one, I could bid for the Dodgers as easily as McCourt can. If as part of my bid, I could agree to sell naming rights to Dodger Stadium, let real estate developers subdivide a chunk of Dodgertown, and auction off the next concessions contracts for a hefty upfront sum, I could offer MLB $100 million up front and finance the rest, secured by the club and its assets, without investing a dime of my own money.
If the debt rule isn't enforced to ensure that prospective owners have the liquidity and operating capital necessary to operate a club properly, its only purpose would be the one long feared by the players: a weapon wielded by the Commissioner to hold down salaries by limiting the rights of owners to sign the players they want.
Comparison I Can't Resist Making
Adrian Beltre is 24, turning 25 in April.
Here is what Eric Gagne did at age 24: 4-6, 5.15 ERA, 101 1/3 innings, 106 hits allowed, 20 home runs allowed, 60 walks allowed, 79 strikeouts.
At age 25, Gagne went 6-7, 4.75 ERA, 151 2/3 innings, 144 hits allowed, 24 home runs allowed, 46 walks allowed, 130 strikeouts.
At age 26, Gagne went 4-1, 1.97 ERA, 82 1/3 innings, 55 hits allowed, 16 walks allowed, 114 strikeouts.
Gagne is obviously not a first-rate comparison for a third baseman. But like it or not, Beltre is still young and primed to improve.
Comparison I'd Like to Resist MakingAdrian Beltre is 24, turning 25 in April.
At age 25, Soriano had an EQA of .296 and an OPS+ of 128.
Soriano, maligned for his plate discipline, has walked 61 times in the past two years, in a Yankee lineup with better hitters behind him. Beltre, in a Dodger lineup that gives opposing pitchers little else to be afraid of, has walked 74 - once more per month.
Beltre signed a $5 million contract this year; Soriano will earn $5.4 million.
Soriano has less service time in the majors than Beltre, thus lowering what Soriano could stand to earn in salary arbitration this month. In his third full season with the Yankees last year, Soriano earned $800,000. (By comparison, Beltre earned $1 million in his third season and $1.25 million in his fourth.)
Justice dictates that the Dodgers should not be paying Beltre only $400,000 less than Soriano in 2004. But that's life in the big city right now. The greater point may be that baseball should review the rules that so prioritize major-league experience - good or bad - in salary arbitration awards.
The Single Life
Is the lead graph in this Kyodo News story insight into Japanese culture? Or just an awkward use of English?
OSAKA — Kintetsu Buffaloes infielder Norihiro Nakamura will single himself out from the rest of the team and take part in the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring training in Florida next month, Buffaloes general manager Keisuke Ashitaka said Wednesday
(Bob Timmermann, who toured Japan last year and saw games at every Pacific and Central League Park, writes: "That sounds very much like a non-native English speaker writing. The Kyodo News Service is Japanese-based and I met one of their writers last year. Nice guy, but I could tell that his English wasn't great.")
Did You Ever Think You'd See the Day?
Farewell, Jesse Orosco - Man of Baseball.
When You Think About It,Mike Scioscia Blocking the PlateMakes Him the Most Ironic Dodger
My oldest friend, John Lilly, sent me these from McSweeney's: HEADLINES IN THE SPORTS SECTION OF MY COLLEGE NEWSPAPER THAT SEEMED FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT IN RETROSPECT WERE PROBABLY JUST UNNECESSARILY MEAN-SPIRITED
Pick your favorite! This is mine:
Men's Hoopsters Outgunned by Quakers—Both Ironic and Deeply Humiliating, When You Think About It
They really just seem determined, in the face of all logic, to make He Who Should Not Be Named the man.
I feel like I've been facing a grave future for the past month. It may finally be time for me to face the present.
Some of you probably thought I was too easy on Adrian Beltre on Monday. In the interest of fair play, here's a reason why you might have thought that.
According to Lee Sinins, Beltre's career on-base percentage vs. the league average ranks fourth-worst in Dodger history (min: 3000 PA).
Diff. OBP Lg. Avg.
Not Exactly India vs. Pakistan
Although no one likes a salary arbitration hearing, the idea that The Los Angeles Dodgers v. Eric Serge Gagne will turn into a visit to Jerry Springer seems farfetched.
What are the Dodgers going to say?
"Uh, well, Eric's not a starting pitcher."
"He allowed 12 runs last season - 11 earned."
"He lost three games."
"If not for great plays by Dave Roberts and Shawn Green, he would have blown two saves."
"He gave up that All-Star Game home run."
("That didn't count.")
"Our bosses at Fox told us this time it counts."
That's really it. The points are there to be made, but honestly, what else is there to say? The facts in this case are pretty indisputable. The only drama is the picking of the dollar figures - what is justfied based on salary arbitration history. But it's not like the stage is set for the Dodgers to trash Gagne to his face.
Ross Newhan Is Playing Ping-Pong With My Brain
The Frank McCourt camp has its rally cap on today, and the Times has the latest. Here are the major grimaces:
Although Broad's emergence has provided baseball with a viable alternative — a person who is highly respected in the community and requires no credit check — the timing of his letter, coming late in the process, has almost seemed to increase support for McCourt.
What are we, seven years old? Is this some Afterschool Special where we're supposed to stick with the 98-pound weakling to defend our honor? Must our attitude toward alternative bids for the Dodgers be "better never than late?"
On Monday, a high-ranking baseball official said McCourt was being "prejudged unfairly" by Los Angeles media, which has raised questions about his leveraged proposal and operating resources if approved.
The media is reporting the facts of McCourt's bid. If anything, the media has refrained from prejudging McCourt - they've been almost silent on what would happen if his bid succeeds. They've only gone as far as to calculate from the debt he would be carrying that he'd have trouble making ends meet. More likely, it's baseball that would be unfairly prejudging McCourt if they approve him.
The official said reports that he has had his "fingerprints all over the Dodgers' off-season operation" are not true.
Baseball insiders have said on the record that the Dodger payroll is being frozen if not cut, as a result of the status of McCourt's ownership bid. And up to now, no one has denied that the tenuous state of McCourt's bid kiboshed the Dodgers' pursuit of Vladimir Guerrero.
"I know the deadline is Jan. 31, but it could be Feb. 10 or March 4. If it's a delay caused by baseball requiring certain clarifications, I can't imagine there'd be a problem getting an extension."
That's a quote from an unnamed MLB owner. Next to Broad's proposed alternative, the best thing Dodger fans have had going for them during McCourt's evaluation process has been the deadline a week from Saturday. How fun will this be if this is still dragging on by the time pitchers and catchers report to Vero Beach?
You may be trees falling in the Big Blue wilderness, but you do make a sound. And someone is there to hear it.
Dan Evans reads the fan forum at Dodgers.com.
Ben Platt, national correspondent for MLB.com and overseer of the Dodgers.com message boards, said in an e-mail interview Monday that he discusses fan postings with Dodger general manager Evans, president and Chief Operating Officer Bob Graziano, and senior vice president of communications Derrick Hall.
"Evans peruses the board on a regular basis during the season," said Platt, who introduced the Dodgers to the Internet in 1994 and was webmaster of Dodgers.com until MLB.com took over all individual team sites in 2001.
To be sure, Evans isn't looking for advice from fans on the boards. Nor should people expect a response of any kind from Evans in the forum - unless the collective train of thought is venturing into Neverland.
"He and I will talk about certain threads," Platt said, "and if he feels a clarification is needed or if a rumor is floating around on the board that is completely off-base or with no foundation, he will call me and I will relay the message to the board."
The most the Dodgers have done with fan-posted information, according to Platt, is get an idea for a marketing campaign.
"I remember in 1999, a fan had pointed out on the old message board that the Dodgers had won the pennant in '55, '66, '77 and '88, and we were due to win it in '99, but that didn't pan out," Platt said. "The publicity department ran with that all through the 1999 season."
Nevertheless, if you do have something to say, you might as well give it your best (and most articulate and unprofane) shot. Evans and Co. is listening. None of the displeasure that many Dodger fans are feeling is lost on anyone at Chavez Ravine.
"The negativity is at an all-time high," said Platt, who was prompted eight days ago by the hostility and vulgarity of some messages to respond with this plea: "Will everyone please just take a chill pill?"
The fury that led to this response became part of one of Platt's discussions with Dodger management.
Is there a moral to this story? Ultimately, the Dodger.com message boards are for the entertainment of the fans. The folks sitting on either side of you at the game are the principal audience for anything you might post.
Still, Dan Evans gets wind of what you post. And I would rather be heard by Dan Evans - even if I'm going to be ignored - than not heard at all.
Want proof? I didn't ask Platt if anyone with the Dodgers reads Dodger Thoughts. I was afraid the answer would be no. (Well, I also thought it would be a pretty pathetic question.)
Anyway, what follows is the interview with Platt, who also discusses the official Dodger website's approach to news. It is not the task of MLB.com sites to break any stories, so don't look for any revelations about Frank McCourt or Eli Broad there.
* * *
--How are topics for Dodgers.com news stories chosen (aside from game coverage and notebooks)? Does writer Ken Gurnick choose them? Is he assigned? A combination?
A little bit of both. Ken gets assigned some stories, but most of the time he writes what he wants. Often or not, the story of the day dictates what Kenny's covering. He has a little more freedom to do more profiles, etc., during the off-season.
--What is the relationship between Dodgers.com and Dan Evans/Bob Daly/etc.? How does your site's access to the braintrust compare to that of Ross Newhan or Jason Reid of the Times?
I personally have a great relationship with upper management, but even with that I have to request on-the-record time with Dodger publicity just like everyone else. But I would say because of my proximity to everyone and because it's the web and we need to prep a story with graphics, etc., I'm sometimes tipped in advance on a breaking story, just to get everything setup. The understanding is we won't release the story until the Dodgers want it released.
--The Times (and for what little it's worth, Dodger Thoughts) has found concerns over the financing of McCourt's bid. How has Dodgers.com reported this story? Would Gurnick or anyone do any investigative reporting, or do you consider your role to report the news as it is revealed?
In this case, because all the dealing are really going on at Pico Blvd. (the offices of Fox Broadcasting), not at Dodger Stadium, we find out a lot of stuff just like everyone else does. In the case of the sale, we don't speculate or do our own investigating. We will just report the facts as they come out.
--Did Dodgers.com know before anyone else that money gained from the Kevin Brown trade would not be spent on a long-term free agent signing, at least until the McCourt bid was resolved? That there would be, as you wrote on the message boards, "a spending freeze during the final phase of the sale."
No. My comments regarding the spending freeze were based on my experience in 1997-98 when the O'Malley family sold the team to News Corp.
--If and when Dodgers.com has a scoop (as opposed to public knowledge) that reflected negatively on members of the organization, how does the site treat that?
It's really not our place to break a story like that. If the rest of the media finds out about it, we'll post the facts. For instance, if I had found out about Guillermo Mota's DUI and the rest of the media didn't, I would have sat on it. You walk a fine line with the players and organization and those are tough calls.
--Roughly how many messages are there on the message boards are there in a given day or week or month?
It really depends on time of year and what the news is. I would say there are at least 100 posts a day, minimum, and it could jump up to 500 or 600 if there is some big news. On our old message board we averaged more than 1,200 posts a day in May of 1998 when Piazza was traded.
--What percentage of the messages do you read?
I try to read as many as I can. I go on the board about four times a day. I am fortunate that because of my position with MLB I was able to get two other people, Andrea Berman and Jared Ravich, on to monitor the board with me. It is by far the cleanest message board in baseball. We don't tolerate personal attacks or profanity. We use a bend-but-don't-break defense with posters. But we're also not afraid to delete posts that break the Terms of Service agreement and throw out people that continuously break those rules. We want the board to be a fun and safe place for fans to talk about the Dodgers.
--What has been the hottest topic since you've been on the job?
Piazza was the all-time champ back in 1998 on the old board. This has been a very trying off-season for fans and the negativity is at an all-time high. I feel for them, because I'm still a fan at heart and I know what they're going through.
--Do Dodger executives read the messages?
Yes they do. Do they post? No. Dan Evans peruses the board on a regular basis during the season. He and I will talk about certain threads, and if he feels a clarification is needed or if a rumor is floating around on the board that is completely off-base or with no foundation, he will call me and I will relay the message to the board.
--How would you describe your relationship to the people posting messages?
For the most part, I have a good relationship with the posters. I see the board as entertainment. To me it's a fun community where like-minded people can get together and talk about their favorite team. There is a faction on the board of people who take what goes on with the Dodgers way too seriously or have transferred their own personal frustrations into the team, so if the team is a winner - so are they; if the team is a loser than they are too. To those people, I write periodically and say, "Turn off your computer and go take a walk in the park, call a friend or a relative or just go do something different." Remember, with everything going on this is still suppose to be fun. If you're not having fun, then it's time to go.
--Your post on January 12th reflected some genuine (and I'm guessing legitimate) frustration on your part with some recent messages on the site. When you see that level of frustration or even hostility displayed on the site, who does that get reported to in the organization, if anyone?
I will periodically talk it over with Dan and Bob Graziano. Bob has always been interested in what the fans are thinking. Derrick Hall and I talk about the board too.
--If you were a fan, not employed by the Dodgers, what would your state of mind be about the Dodgers today?
I think the current team needs a one more real spark plug to compliment a healthy Shawn Green. Shawn is a quiet, lead by example type. The team needs that one superstar to really rally around. As for the future on the field, I'm very optimistic. I've met all of the Dodgers blue-chip minor league prospects. If the organization hold on to Loney, Miller, Gutierrez, Jackson, Nixon, Pilkington, Billingsley, etc., and they stay healthy - watch out. That is going to be a good nucleus to work from for many years to come.
-- Can you describe an example or examples of when someone on the message boards posted an idea that hadn't occurred to the Dodger management, and that idea was followed through on? Or has that never happened?
That has really never happened. I remember in 1999 a fan had pointed out on the old message board that the Dodgers had won the pennant in '55, '66, '77 and '88, and we were due to win it in '99, but that didn't pan out. The publicity department ran with that all through the 1999 season.
Third Base: Your Ticket to Riches
Of course it is. The Dodgers paid Beltre $3.7 million in 2003, and he proceeded to stumble on the treadmill and nearly get flung off. He had an on-base percentage of .290 last season and an OPS of .714. For the more advanced out there, Beltre's park-adjusted OPS+, according to Baseball-Reference.com, was 89 on a scale where an average player is 100. I'm sure it makes no one in the Dodger administration happy to sign Beltre to a near 33-percent raise, as the Dodgers did today.
Chalk this one up to the position Beltre plays: third base, where there is a talent drought throughout baseball. Oh - and of course, this Frank McCourt-induced offseason of paralysis for the Dodgers. They could not risk declining Beltre salary arbitration: Beltre led the Dodgers in home runs last year, and the team has made no acquisitions to make itself less dependent on him. And Beltre fielded superbly.
However shaky Beltre has been, he's still the best they've got at the position, by far. And I know you're tired of hearing it, but Beltre isn't even 25 yet. That matters. At this point, the $1 million to $4 million that he's being overpaid is the least of the Dodgers' problems.
Heading into his free agent year, with the Dodgers presumably a bit more on track organizationally, Beltre will have to earn his next raise.
(I won this one over Ken Gurnick. He predicted $6 million for Beltre; I had him at $4.5 million.)
The Jig Is Up
In the Times and (finally) Daily News sports sections today, there are six stories describing the flaws with Frank McCourt's Dodger ownership quest and the promising alternative in Eli Broad's backup proposal.
Caveats are these: Broad has often been a proposer, not a closer. Peter O'Malley, who may be joining Broad's effort after his offer to help McCourt was apparently spurned, is not God. And Broad himself is asking for loans and credits, as well as higher payments from Fox for the Dodger television rights.
But Broad has certainly closed on plenty - Disney Hall being a prime example. And the help that Broad is asking for is minor compared to what McCourt is needing. And even if O'Malley is not God, he does define integrity when it comes to operating a baseball team.
Even without Broad's 11th-hour apperance, McCourt's bid to buy the Dodgers should have been rejected on its merits. The Daily News, silent on this story for more than a week, finally decided to write about it and - lo and behold - found a gaggle of material highlighting the McCourt bid flaws. In particular, Rich Hammond has a great article today. I don't understand why it took so long for the Daily News to start covering this freight train jumping the tracks - think about how unconscionable it would have been if the Times had followed suit and the story was ignored - but at least the Daily News is starting to make up for lost time:
"It could turn into a big mess," said one source familiar with details of the McCourt transaction. ...
"I'd give him three years before he has to sell the team," another source said. "He will either realize he can't do it, or he just won't be able to make payroll."...
"It's like a high school kid who convinces his dad to buy him a car," said David Carter, a Redondo Beach-based sports consultant and USC professor. "He gets the car, but then he realizes he can't afford to buy the gas. I think Dodger fans should be concerned that, in this case, they're going to be the ones buying the gas."
Without backing, McCourt would have significant trouble running the team, and sources say he has been rejected by several potential partners because of concerns about his finances and because investing in the Dodgers is considered risky business. ...
"On many levels, it doesn't look good," Carter said. "I think the fact that the deal is almost entirely funded through loans makes it a big risk for Major League Baseball."
With Broad on the horizon - even if he is not a closer - how in any way can baseball's owners approve McCourt. It would be like signing Darren Dreifort to a long-term contract with Pedro Martinez still available on the free agent market.
The deadline for baseball to approve McCourt's bid is January 31. Bluntly, it should not take that long for the bid to be rejected.
A Broad Alternative to McCourt
I've got a passing familiarity with Eli Broad. Never been formally introduced, but I have been in the same room with him several times.
Broad has made more money than you and I will ever see (at least I think so - I've already asked who my youngest reader is; maybe I should ask who is my richest) in the financial and (breathe deep) real-estate development sectors, and has been a leader, if not the leader, of the movement to revitalize downtown Los Angeles, highlighted by the completion of Disney Hall.
The first thing I looked for when I saw in the front page of the Times today that Broad had offered to buy the Dodgers for $430 million if Frank McCourt's bid falls through was not whether it would be financed primarily by loans. I know that Broad doesn't need to buy a team on layaway.
Nor did I suspect that Broad had any interest in taking a George Steinbrenner-like role in running the Dodgers.
Rather, I wanted to see if there was any mention of making a baseball stadium part of his downtown plans. My hunch is that he does not. It really is just a hunch, but over the years, to my knowledge, Broad has never joined those who support building a new sports stadium downtown. His participation in trying to bring an NFL team to Los Angeles advocated the existing Coliseum.
Here's what we have.
"A source close to Broad said that although Broad is vice chairman of the nonprofit Grand Avenue Committee, which promotes downtown Los Angeles development, he has no interest in relocating Dodger Stadium there or developing Chavez Ravine property," Ross Newhan wrote in his article.
Take this as far as you want, but I appreciate that accompanying the very first story on Broad's new proposal, they have addressed the most important concerns on McCourt's bid.
Rob McMillin has put together a useful timeline of the Frank McCourt ownership bid. Note the warning, way back on October 10, that there isn't enough cash to support the bid.
Sometimes, you get conditioned to expect people to blame others for their disappointments. To his credit, ex-Dodger Daryle Ward, now with the Pirates on a non-guaranteed contract, is pointing the finger for his poor 2003 at himself.
"It was a big learning experience for me," he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I had a bad attitude and that didn't help. This game is tough and you have to know how to enjoy yourself and be a team guy. I was selfish. The manager and I got into it, things went south and I got disciplined. I think I'm a lot more mature than I was last year."
My follow-up question would have asked why he had a bad attitude. But this is enough. We all move on.
From what I can tell, the Daily News hasn't run a Dodger story in six days.
Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street
Is she really going out with him?
- Joe Jackson
Dodger chairman Bob Daly believes that everyone has has unfairly judged prospective owner Frank McCourt, and that McCourt has the Dodgers' "best interests at heart," according to Ross Newhan in the Times.
If that's true, why is McCourt buying the team?
Let's stipulate that the Dodgers' best interests are these:
How does a man purchasing the Dodgers almost entirely with borrowed money help achieve those ends?
Absent McCourt, the Dodgers are on a path, after years of meandering, toward satisfying those interests. Their minor league system is in the best shape it has been in years and still improving. They have cleared payroll and are able to pursue quality ballplayers. They have most of an 85-win team returning in a mostly weakening division. And they play in a lovely ballpark whose only drawbacks are the traffic hampering access to it, ancient bathrooms and expensive food.
If the debt-ridden McCourt succeeds in purchasing the team, the first thing he's going to need is cash. Here are his options to get that cash:
If the last of those is true, then we'd have much less worry about. But if the last of those were true today, I don't know if News Corp. would be so anxious to sell the Dodgers.
Make no mistake - I've somewhat doubted the reports of how much money the Dodgers lose and completely doubted that the right owners can't make a profit from the team. But the key to making money is molding a team and an atmosphere the fans can be enthusiastic about - that makes them as happy to spend money on you as if you were one of their own children at Christmas.
Though it helps, you do not need a $120 million payroll to create that atmosphere. McCourt could come in, set the payroll at $80 million (and Daly made it even clearer that a payroll cut is coming), hire the right people, and deliver a better team than we've seen at Dodger Stadium in years - keeping them at the Stadium all the while.
I want to believe. If the sale goes through, I'll swallow hard and start over and try not to pre-judge.
In the meantime, I look for evidence to indicate that this is a possibility. So far, the very best that I've gotten is Bob Daly saying in the Times that McCourt "is a good guy who will have the club's best interests at heart."
Any objective observer can see that the Dodgers can do better then a Boston real-estate investor who is subletting the team. How is it possible that McCourt is our best man, and not our gorilla?
It's Shaq Signing With Sacramento
On top of everything else, The Bench Coach is disturbed that the Dodgers have become the San Francisco Giants' protege.
How distasteful is it when the lame-duck semi-owner of your favorite team says the team should be more like its most hated rival?
It's Ohio State changing its mascot to the Wolverines.
Dodgers CEO-of-the-moment Bob Daly tells the LA Times' Ross Newhan that, when the Frank McCourt sale 'Tis completed, the Dodgers will begin to look a whole lot like the evil to the North (see 16th graph).
Good piece by the Coach, who's off the bench and back in action after a hiatus.
They Sure Love Him in Beantown
Rob McMillin, who has turned into my Guillermo Mota on the Frank McCourt story, forwards this article from Steve Bailey of the Boston Globe:
The McCourt Appeal is designed to help our parking lot attendant realize his dream of owning a major league team - only not here. We've seen enough; it's someone else's turn. Can't L.A., the land of the car, use some parking lots? Send those donations to the Frank McCourt Appeal, c/o The Downtown Column, The Boston Globe, Boston, MA 02107. Give till it hurts.
Few in this town have talked the talk more and walked the walk less. McCourt is strong on vision. Doing is his problem. Cooperative is not a word often associated with the man. For years he has presented countless slide shows with his vision of the New Boston on the other side of the Fort Point Channel. No other plan was ever grand enough for McCourt. He was going to buy the Red Sox. He was going to build a new Fenway on the waterfront. Instead, 25 years after McCourt bought his South Boston land from a bankrupt Penn Central, what we have down there is acres of parking lots.
Dedicated to the Game
Good news from a good guy.
I don't know how many of you have followed the link on the right side of the page to "A Season in Savannah," my 2002 article on former Stanford star Paul Carey, the Cardinal's all-time home run leader and 1987 College World Series hero, whose major-league playing career was undermined by injuries.
If you have, you might be interested in the following update from Todd Wills of the Dallas Morning News. Carey spent the 2003 season as the Rangers' AA Frisco (Texas) Roughriders batting coach, and is now considering a move toward a front-office career:
Carey, the RoughRiders' hitting instructor, recently completed a 10-week mentorship with the organization, learning the day-to-day operations of working in a baseball front office. The mentorship is a prerequisite for a master's degree Carey is working on in sports management.
Carey, 35, learned the public relations side of the business, met with sponsors, sold tickets and – yes – even dressed up as Santa Claus for a recent team function at Dr Pepper/Seven Up Ballpark. ...
He won over most of his Double-A hitters last season with his instruction in the batting cages. Now there are those who will swear by him if he decides to try the business side of the game.
"Paul might be at a crossroad in his life," RoughRiders president Mike McCall said. "He has a taste in the business side now. It will be interesting to see what he does in his career.
"I know if he decided to go into the business of baseball, he has a home here with us."
Carey definitely cuts a Paul Bunyan figure, but he attends to the smallest detail. He has a great mind for the game and is a born leader, and I hope he goes far.
It Must Be Fate
Well, now, here's a perfect match, Frank!
Mr. McCourt, our would-be Dodger owner, knows Bud Selig. Mr. Selig knows Mr. McCourt. Seems to like him, in fact.
Well, guess what - the family Selig is selling the Brewers!
Is this perfect? It's at least as perfect as Monica* and Chandler - which is to say, perfect enough to do the job.
And here's something else any prospective owner light on dough would like. According to The Associated Press, "the Brewers were baseball's most profitable team after revenue sharing, netting $16.1 million."
Frank, this is the one! This is true love, right before your eyes! Don't let it pass you by ...
*My theory on Courtney's relatively bloated appearance on last night's rather pathetic half-an-episode. I'm guessing it was drugs to encourage pregnancy, not the pregnancy itself.
Dodgers Sign Giambi, The Other
Jeremy Giambi is a 5-foot-11, 216-pound truck - who at one point was the leadoff hitter for the Oakland A's.
That's because Giambi knows how to draw a walk - he averages one every seven plate appearances and has a career on-base percentage of .377. His career EQA is .284. In 2002, he hit 20 home runs in 313 at-bats.
Giambi's 2003 stats don't look that much better than Daryle Ward's - he batted .197 with five home runs. (Actually, they do look a good deal better - that's how bad Ward was.) And of course, he's no Jason Giambi. But he's still only 29 years old, and with a non-guaranteed contract, Giambi is a good candidate to be a productive bench player - a nice peripheral signing by the Dodgers.
I'd add that he's a nice left-handed compliment to the Bubba Trammell, but you still have to consider that Trammell may be asked to do too much in 2004.
At this time, that's as much as one can ask for.
Sixteen days remain before Frank McCourt's exclusive window to buy the Dodgers expires, according to the Times, and there is increasing acknowledgment from inside the game that there are hitches in McCourt's get-along.
Further, Ross Newhan writes that Bud Selig may not have to force the McCourt square peg through the round ownership hole - that Selig has done what he needed to placate national broadcast partner Fox and its umbrella company, News Corp. (while of course denying that News Corp. needed placating):
One way or the other, some theorists believe, Selig has set the stage, satisfying News Corp. Chairman Peter Chernin.
If McCourt is approved, News Corp. finally gets its wish and is out as owner.
If he isn't approved, or doesn't get to a vote, Selig can assure Chernin he did all he could and took it as far as he could.
Grain of salt me when, earlier in Newhan's article, Selig talks about fastdiousness in applying baseball's ownership rules. But there is doubt from on high, and doubt matters.
I suppose one might ponder the holy hell News Corop. and Fox would unleash on the Dodgers if, come February, they're still lame-duck owners. However, keep these two things in mind: the hell would be short-term, not indefinite like a McCourt ownership, and a Dodger Stadium teardown shouldn't be part of it.
Congratulations to the Times for sticking on this story. I was disappointed Wednesday that the paper had nothing on the ownership situation, but it came back today - and keep in mind, it could have been ignoring this story all along. Again, the big thing missing right now from the Times is a story detailing the consequences of McCourt ownership before it happens. (If it happens!)
For my part, I'm in catchup mode, too - and of course, very much wanting to get back to talking about the game and not this ownership fooforall.
Oh Yeah - And There Was This
Site reader Louis Hamel reminds me to mention this tidbit about Dodger general manager Dan Evans from T.J. Simers:
EVANS SAID he didn't mislead fans when he repeatedly said the impending ownership change had no impact on his dealings to improve the team.
"You haven't heard me say that since the end of the winter baseball meetings," he said, implying new marching orders have been issued.
I asked him if that was what he was implying, and he said, "I just said what I said," which is true when you think about it. And maybe the first time with certainty I could say that about anything he has had to say.
Said Hamel: "So it's official...our GM has no authority to effectively do his job."
Times-rumored Dodger target Richard Hidalgo does have EQAs of .316 and .309 sandwiching .271 and .252 over the past four seasons (.260 being an average EQA), but somehow, the idea that we would be paying $12 million plus the cost of players in a trade for him, when Vladimir Guerrero would have been the alternative, doesn't sit that well right now.
I've got some tough time constraints today - I'll probably be back this evening at the latest.
I've been curious about how old my youngest readers are. So far, I don't think I've heard from anyone who wasn't at least college age. If you think you might be the youngest, e-mail me at ShiftyJ@aol.com.
I hope this doesn't come across in a tawdry fashion in this age of Michael Jackson under arrest. I'm not interested in your identity - just the demographic.
1) Rich Lederer revisits Game 7 of the 1965 World Series:
I recognize that Koufax benefited by pitching during the 1960s when runs were more scarce and by starting half of his games in the expanse of Dodger Stadium, one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks of the past 40 years. However, sabermetricians routinely undervalue Koufax's counting stats during his peak years and fail to give proper credit for pitching on two or three days rest, especially at critical junctures in the season such as Game Seven of the 1965 World Series.
According to Jane Leavy in her masterfully written book, "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy", the Dodger great pitched on two days rest eight times in his career. He won six times, including three complete game wins with a combined total of 35 strikeouts.
How valuable is it to get one additional game out of a pitcher like Koufax in a seven-game series? That's a 50% increase over the more normal two starts. If that extra game is what makes the difference between winning and losing the World Championship, how do we quantify that?
Go to Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT for, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.
2) Tyler Bleszinski on Athletics Nation uses my discussion of Frank McCourt earlier this week to launch back into the speculation about whether Oakland general manager Billy Beane is headed to Los Angeles:
McCourt will look around baseball for the best bargain bin shoppers and inevitably, his search will begin and end in Oakland. Billy Beane is the King of Baseball Frugality, the Purveyor of Penny-Pinching. The question is, will Billy want to be a part of this mess? Well, with one of the better farm systems in baseball because Evans refuses to part with any prospects and Beane's daughter residing in Newport Beach, the answer would appear to be yes.
It's a lingering cloud A's Nation will have to deal with until the McCourt sale is either final or goes down the debt-tube. For baseball's health and stability, lets hope the McCourt sale gets declined faster than Hammer's credit card at Macy's.
For my part, I don't think Billy Beane seems like the type of guy to get himself involved at this stage of his career with as problematic an owner as McCourt looks to be.
The Honored Commissioner Speaks
Under the headline, "Selig honored by Red Sox," baseball commissioner Bud Selig is quoted by MLB.com discussing the Frank McCourt ownership bid:
"Frank has made an application; it's gone to the ownership committee. They'll have another meeting in Phoenix on Wednesday. I put it on the agenda, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it will get through those steps (then). These things are generally a pretty slow process. So I can't tell you that it will be acted upon. But certainly the ownership committee ... it's moving in a very normal fashion. He's made a deal with FOX; I'm hopeful that the deal continues to move forward. He's been very cooperative. The clubs and the ownership committee will have a lot of questions; they always do on everything. This one will be treated the same way."
The way I read this, the only doubt in Selig's mind is not whether the purchase will be approved, but when.
Selig was honored at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner for "his long and meritorious service to the game."
Good Job - Don't Stop
Bill Plaschke figured it out:
This problem reaches all the way to the commissioner's office, where Bud Selig has allowed the defacing of a franchise that former commissioners considered a treasure.
How could Selig allow an owner who has stopped spending money on the team to sell to a guy who can't afford it?
Frank McCourt can't buy Vladimir Guerrero because he can barely buy the Dodger uniforms.
And Fox, already loaning him money for the purchase, certainly isn't going to help him.
How can Selig approve of this?
The franchise with the major-league guts to break the color barrier is being treated like triple-A team.
The franchise that popularized baseball on the West Coast is being allowed to go south.
Forget Pete Rose, how come Selig is gambling with baseball's future in its second-biggest city?
McCourt will be approved soon as the new Dodger — cough, cough — owner.
He will come to town for the first sports news conference featuring representatives from all major credit cards.
He should first be asked, why?
Why are you buying something you seem incapable of improving?
Why does it seem as though you want the baseball team less than the property in Chavez Ravine, so you can turn it into apartments and build a new stadium downtown?
Why would you not allow the money saved on the Kevin Brown deal to be spent on someone just as powerful?
The next critical step is for the media to confront Bud Selig and the owners for an explanation of how they could possibly approve Frank McCourt's ownership bid. Enough with the off-the-record rationales of "we need to keep our national broadcast partner happy by letting them sell to whomever they please." Get Selig and the owners on the record explaining how they can justify selling the Dodgers to Oliver Twisted.
Two Fans Have Had Enough
From another longtimer, Dan Reines:
"He's not going to let a little thing like baseball get in the way of his owning a baseball team and the land it sits on."
Eesh. I couldn't agree more, Jon.
I know I'm overreacting. I know it. Still, I can't help but feel just as lousy and pissed off today as I did when they moved Piazza, and just as pessimistic as I did that day seven years ago this month when O'Malley put the team up for sale.
Guerrero. To the Angels.
Encarnacion. To the Dodgers.
Right island. Wrong guy.
You know, it's funny. I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, equidistant from Dodger and Angel stadiums. I was a fan of both teams -- my favorite players were Rod Carew and Reggie Smith. But sometime around the late '80s, early '90s, I renounced my fandom with the Angels. I got tired of rooting for a team that made no apparent effort to win. I got tired of feeling like a rube. So I became a Dodger fan exclusively. And though I got nice and wistful when the Angels won it all, I didn't feel like I owned it. They weren't my team. Whatever.
I'm feeling the same way about the '04 Dodgers as I did about the '90 Angels. I don't know what to say. I wouldn't say I'm ready to give up on the team, but I'm definitely ready to ask for a trial separation. Unless they surprise the hell out of me between now and opening day, I'm done for a while. With the Dodgers and, probably, with baseball. Hey, I could use the extra time.
And if, down the line, the Dodgers start coming back, if they start running the team like a team with which I'd want to associate myself, then maybe I'll come back. But the thing is, I'm really not a rube. Or at least, I'm not as much of a rube as the Dodgers -- whoever "the Dodgers" are this week -- seem to believe I am.
We'll see. Maybe we'll work this out. But I'm not holding my breath.
I know there's a danger of these Dodger supporters coming across as fair-weather fans, but I don't think that's the case at all. I look at these reactions as
1) examples of tough love. I think they see a team spiraling out of control, like a family member gone south on drugs, and they don't want to be enablers. They will continue to advocate and hope for solutions, but they don't want to be part of the problem.
2) as Reines himself later indicated to me, a perception that "I've got better things to do with my time and my money than to spend either on an entertainment option that isn't actually trying to entertain me." In other words, Reines isn't abandoning the team - he feels that the team has abandoned him. "Not bothering to compete is not fun," Reines said. "I'll give a damn about the Dodgers when they demonstrate that they give a damn about the Dodgers."
One Fan Has Had Enough
From longtime (I think I can actually say that now) Dodger Thoughts reader Chris Hamilton:
When I saw the news late [Saturday] night I couldn't sleep. I sat in bed until 5 a.m. depressed. Until [Saturday] there was at least a chance for next year and now that hope is dashed. Unless there is some sort of miracle the Dodgers are going to enter the season with .500 talent.
1) Forget 2006 - I don't know that the Dodgers are playing or not playing for any year in particular. They won't stop trying to win per se - they'll just be trying to do it the Oakland (or Milwaukee) way.
2) If you're going to go on a Dodger ticket strike, you should try a Dodger food strike as well, even if you do get free seats from someone.
I can't believe what I'm reading.
With major league owners scheduled to vote this month on whether to approve the bid of would-be Dodger buyer Frank McCourt, a source said Sunday that McCourt asked Commissioner Bud Selig whether some owners might vote against him if he spent freely to acquire Guerrero yet presented a financing package heavily dependent on loans. Selig offered no assurances, the source said, and McCourt sent word to General Manager Dan Evans to cease talks with Guerrero.
Is this for real?
The Dodgers are saving Brown's salary in 2004 and 2005. When the Brown savings stop at the end of 2005, that's when the Dodgers knock $30 million in Shawn Green and Darren Dreifort off the books.
And yet we're supposed to believe or accept that, amid a market correction for player salaries, Vladimir Guerrero's is the one that would drive McCourt out of business?
Did anyone actually think this through? It makes no sense.
If McCourt can't afford to sign Guerrero with the Dodger payroll already on the Atkins diet, he can't afford to buy the Dodgers. Period.
This should unequivocally mark the end of McCourt's ownership bid.
If baseball's owners approve McCourt's purchase of the team, it can only be because they want the Dodgers to be less competitive. They want a weaker team in the nation's second-largest market.
Just out of curiosity, if the Dodgers had not completed the Kevin Brown trade, would that have kept McCourt's bid from being approved? Because with Brown's salary on the books, how on earth would poor Mr. McCourt have afforded his lown payments?
Forget about comparisons to Angels owner Arte Moreno. Frank McCourt is not in the baseball business. He's not going to let a little thing like baseball get in the way of his owning a baseball team and the land it sits on.
Dodger fans are game for any challenge, but having phony challenges thrust upon them for no defensible reason is shameful.
News Corp. is unloading the Dodgers at the local pawn shop, and Bud Selig is all too happy to oblige. We're all being sold down the river.
More Food for Thought
And to think I just told Chris Hamilton to boycott the food. Dodger Thoughts reader Rob McMillin adds this to the mix:
Aramark helped McCourt to creatively buy the Dodgers by providing loans in exchange for an equity position. That in hand, McCourt turns around and rebids the concessions. This is blackmail at its finest, folks. This is a desperation move by a man who knows he's in trouble. Starting out your career by sticking a knife in your business partner's back is just not a good thing, you know?
Turn Up the Volume - Nationwide
At The Futility Infielder, Jay Jaffe sees our pain and raises it:
While I share Jon's concern that the team may be bought by an owner who won't spend the appropriate money to make the Dodgers competitive, I see a far more ominous cloud over this. Namely, that Selig effectively blackballed McCourt out of pursuing Vlad in exchange for his blessing regarding the Dodger sale - we all know that behind the scenes, Bud can orchestrate the other owners' yea or nay on this.
I want to see sombody investigate this as further evidence of collusion or at least a foul Seligulan shenanigan. As per our ongoing community-wide discussion on the growing influence the non-mainstream baseball writers, I think we can do our part in building a fire that will make Bud sweat this one.
Jaffe adds to my belief that the recent revelations involving the Dodgers, McCourt and Guerrero need more national coverage. This isn't a parochial, SoCal issue. It's symptomatic of the best interests of the game itself being subverted. At a minimum, the writers with real followings need to start looking at the ramifications of what's happening.
Fill in the Blank
Yeah, I'm here.
I've heard. I heard Saturday night. I read articles on the Internet and IMed my baseball-loving cousin until 11:30 last night, well past my father-of-the-toddler bedtime.
I'm thinking, right as you read this.
There's a place in my mind waiting for a productive thought to come. Sort of like there's a place in the Dodger lineup waiting for a productive outfielder to come.
Last night, as midnight approached, with my wakeup call under six hours away, my head and sleep fought each other. A small part of me savored Stanford's victory over Arizona - a much smaller part than was savoring it hours before. The rest was wondering when the Dodgers became like the Stanford I knew most of my undergraduate years, unable to close out a meaningful victory. (Actually, Stanford's program-defining victory over a then-No. 1 Arizona came only about 10 weeks after the 1988 World Series ended.)
You don't care about Stanford. But you might understand my need to find something positive to write about.
Vladimir Guerrero, if the unnamed sources talking to Times are true about him going to the Angels (and I hold out naive hope that they're somehow wrong), is not so much the girl that got away. Many of us who have loved and lost will love again.
It's that we can't get the girl, period. Once we were The Bachelor; now we've become Average Joe.
Right now, it could be Dan Evans' bad-date banter or Frank McCourt wanting to go dutch on the check. It doesn't matter. We've got the money, but we ain't got the goods.
The prom is coming up, and we're going to need a fix-up. We're looking at guys like Paul Konerko or Darin Erstad - overpaid, underproductive hitters. We're looking at Ivan Rodriguez, who helps us at the position that is our second-strongest, even if Paul LoDuca never hits 10 home runs in a season again, while leaving us bereft in half the lineup. (Lo Duca's trade value is being overrated.)
Is Todd Helton still on the block? Jim Edmonds?
Hell, we may end up going to the prom stag. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed, indeed.
I've said it before. I love the game. And, in my somewhat pathological way, I love the Dodgers. I will go to the prom no matter what, and hope there's a lonely companion who's been ignored too long.
But this is embarrassing. It's disheartening. And most of all, it's disturbing. The ownership transition is not an excuse. If this absence of activity is to be the Dodger offseason (and you know me, I'll give Dan Evans until April 4 to make something happen), then this is the clearest sign you need that the McCourt ownership bid is abhorrent.
I haven't felt this pessimistic about the Dodgers' future since Kevin Malone. I remind myself about the promise of Edwin Jackson and Greg Miller and James Loney, but it's not helping much. This organization has mad cow disease and someone needs to step in and save it, not spread it.
I suppose it's not their place, but I wish the people at the Times would do more than report the cloud of McCourt's prospective ownership. I wish they'd step up and fight it.
Tasteless but True
Okay, I feel a little better after that. The way you do after a good post-drinking barf.
Let's face the future. Let's think vigilantly but not wallow.
We Can All Do Better
Been lots of discussion and meta-discussion lately about print journalism vs. online journalism: goals, standards, ethics. Bloggers have been taking a hard look at all of it.
The print folk have, too.
In today's Los Angeles Times Magazine, staff writer Glenn F. Bunting profiles Frank Deford. Here's the headline:
Picking Nits with Frank Deford
In the Hyperbolic World of Sports Journalism, the Sports Illustrated Icon Is Considered a Master Storyteller. And Most of the Time, He Gets It Right.Deford influenced my formative sportswriting years considerably, and apparently, Bunting's as well. Decades after "admiring Deford's magazine profiles in [his] sports-crazed youth," Bunting is spurred by the recurring complaints of a Rancho Park golf instructor, whose religion is compiling a rap sheet of Deford's exaggerations and outright errors, to engage the trepidatious task of confronting the master with his miscues.
I book a flight, feeling slightly apprehensive about the confrontation that lies ahead. I relish the opportunity to match wits with the "world's greatest sportswriter." But I also feel a bit overmatched, like a rookie stepping in to face a Nolan Ryan fastball.
Some of the golf instructor's relayed complaints are in fact nit-picks: subjective at best. (This reminds me of my all-time favorite newsroom moment, when one of our Daily News copy editors asked aloud, "I know this is gonna sound minor, but is nit-picking hyphenated?") Others are factual errors, but certainly minor enough, the kind that no writer wants to make but that no writer can completely avoid.
In facing the list of transgressions, Deford is defensive. Sometimes he's melodramatic, accusing Bunting of portraying him as a "serial killer." Other times, Deford struggles to hone up as easily as he could, such as in this example:
The next excerpt is from an Oct. 7, 1996 Newsweek article about hockey star Mario Lemieux. Deford wrote "posterity will never forget that no athlete—not even the sainted Lou Gehrig—has ever before Lemieux been struck down by a deadly disease at the very moment when he was the best of his sport at the best he would ever be."
Who else, Deford wants to know, could possibly rank beside Lemieux?
... Early in the 1991 season, Los Angeles Laker all-star Earvin "Magic" Johnson announced that he had tested positive for the AIDS virus and was retiring from the NBA.
"Was he the best at that time?" Deford asks me. "Again, I think you're cutting hairs here."
Seems fair to say that Deford is the Barber of Denial, considering that, other than Michael Jordan, Johnson was quite arguably the best player in the NBA when the virus struck.
What's heartening in Bunting's article, however, is that a clear belief underlies Deford's defensiveness: Even the little stuff matters. Deford met with Bunting; he listened. He got frustrated, but he also told Bunting, "I'll be very honest with you. I had no idea that I had been so sweeping in these. I really didn't. I'll be more careful in the future."
He even kept his sense of humor, Bunting said.
On Nov. 13, 2002, he wrote that Myles Brand, formerly the head of Indiana University, is "the first college president ever chosen to lead the NCAA." But James Frank, the president of Lincoln University in Missouri, became the NCAA's first president in 1981.
"I anticipated that one," he says. While taking several minutes to passionately describe the changes in titles of those who sit atop the NCAA, Deford becomes so rattled that he nearly drives the Jaguar onto a median strip as the Jersey Turnpike merges into Interstate 95.
"Oh Christ!" he shrieks, steering the vehicle back onto the highway. "See, you are ruining me here!"
He tells me he is unaccustomed to arguing and navigating a car simultaneously. Surely, I suggest, he has had his share of front-seat spats with his wife during 38 years of marriage.
"Yeah," he retorts, "but she doesn't have evidence!"
The article was another reminder - and somehow, we seem to need these reminders all the time - that we can all learn. We can all do better.
They're Real ... And They're Spectacular
The Angels have announced Vladimir Guerrero will have a physical Monday, with a press conference to follow Tuesday.
The Angels are in the house. The Dodgers are the boys next door.
Paris Hilton? Yesterday's News
Finally, Liz Smith has weighed in on the Pete Rose controversy:
BASEBALL'S ROGUE champ, Pete Rose has, as you know, just published his autobiography containing his "sorta" mea culpa confession that, yes - he bet on baseball. Sports commentary for the most part insists Rose hasn't been humble and regretful enough to be allowed into the Hall of Fame, despite his record of achievement. Well, his legacy will always be tainted, whether he is in or out. He isn't the world's most engaging personality - just put him in and get it over with.
Anyway, Rose's story is now hot, and Hollywood is eager to option the book. Already, names like Matt Dillon, Brad Pitt and Nic Cage are being thrown around as those starry enough to eventually play Rose.
Listen, who needs the Hall of Fame if in the end a hottie like Brad Pitt portrays you for the ages onscreen?
In other news, Ross Newhan of the Times sees love in Liz Taylor's future ...
Leg Man Cashes In
Roberts had an OPS of .638 in 2003, with an incredibly disappointing 13 extra-base hits in 388 at-bats, though he did sneak in those 40 stolen bases in 107 games. He turns 32 in May.
Surprisingly, in limited opportunities, Roberts has hit left-handed pitchers better than right-handers each of the past three years.
A Four-Team Race
The most glaring weaknesses remaining for National League West teams to fill:
Arizona: None. Roberto Alomar may prove inadequate at second base, but the Diamondbacks roster looks pretty fully formed.
Colorado: The Rockies have an inexperienced double-play combination in Aaron Miles and Clint Barmes, backed up by retreads Royce Clayton, Damian Jackson and Benji Gil (only one of whom may start the season in the majors). Overall, this looks like the division's last-place team.
Los Angeles: Nothing's changed. The Dodgers need a slugger to move Robin Ventura out of the starting lineup, if not another to move Alex Cora out. I also still have Joe Thurston and Chin-Feng Chen filling out the bench. It's probably time to see if these two can contribute for more than a few games each season (if Thurston is ever going to unseat Cora, this is the moment), but I'd expect the Dodgers to bring in better challengers than Jason Romano for these roster spots.
San Francisco: Neifi Perez at shortstop. Someone wake these guys up. And my guess is that live-by-the-hit, die-by-the-hit Marquis Grissom is due for a regression. The Giants won the division by 15 1/2 games last season but had a 28-12 record in one-run games, a level of luck 6 1/2 games better than anyone else in the NL West. San Francisco has a cushion to work with, but it's not as much as one might think.
Right now, this division has four contenders, and by April, let alone September, any one of them could be the favorite.
National League West Rosters - Updated January 8
According to the Washington Post, contract talks between the Baltimore Orioles and Vladimir Guerrero are about to end, one way or another:
Whether the process will end with Guerrero in an Orioles uniform, or with another team snatching him away, remains to be seen. But this unprecedented situation -- never before has the consensus top player on the market remained unsigned this late into the winter -- may finally reach an outcome.
One source speculated the Orioles may have placed a deadline on their standing offer of five years, $65 million.
A 32-year-old outfielder who hit 25 home runs with a .276 EQA for San Diego and isn't Daryle Ward, signing for the major league minimum of $300,000 (with the Yankees paying $1.25 million)? Yeah, Bubba Trammell is a good signing for the Dodgers. He doesn't get hit by pitches the way Mike Kinkade does, but he should serve to replace the Japan-bound Kinkade sufficiently.
I am taking at face value the fact that charges were not pursued against Trammell following a police report filed in September that he had allegedly threatened to kill a friend of his estranged wife, according to the New York Daily News.
Trammell does not hit for a high average, but draws an occasional walk and has decent power. Perhaps only Ward had a worse season for an outfielder than Trammell did in 2003 (55 at-bats, 0 home runs), but Trammell isn't too old for a rebound. Hopefully, he has received counseling for his emotional state.
* * *
I know I wasn't the only one shocked to realize that second baseman Alex Cora will earn a higher base salary in 2004 than Hall of Fame candidate Roberto Alomar, who signed a $1 million contract - $350,000 deferred - with Arizona on Tuesday.
Alomar turns 36 in a month, however, has been a below average hitter for the past two seasons and a below average fielder as well. He earned 12 win shares combined with the New York Mets and Chicago White Sox last season, while Cora earned nine. I'm not saying that I wouldn't prefer Alomar to Cora for 2004, but I'm not saying I would, either. In any case, the difference between the two players is nothing like their reputations would suggest.
* * *
The Dodgers might have done well to get 34-year-old Juan Gonzalez at the $4.5 million he signed for with Kansas City, even if Gonzalez were to play only half the season, as he has done the past two years. Gonzalez hit 32 home runs in 152 games over 2002-03, admittedly while playing home games in hitter-friendly Texas.
His 2002 EQA, on the other hand, was lower than Trammell's that year. Gonzalez's recent performance is closer to his reputation than Alomar's, but again, he's aging and not the hitter he used to be.
If the Dodgers were to sign Vladimir Guerrero, there would be little reason to have Gonzalez. But the Dodgers need more power from somewhere, and passing on Gonzalez tightens the noose another stitch.
Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record writes that the Dodgers have a five-year offer on the table for Guerrero, but I haven't seen that confirmed elsewhere - certainly not in the Los Angeles papers. Klapisch adds that Guerrero is adamant in wanting seven years, but coming off his back injury, that is unreasonable in this climate. Klapisch's article notes that the Mets hope to woo Guerrero with a lower offer than anyone else's.
* * *
Dodger non-roster signee Bill Simas, a six-year major league veteran with the White Sox, had a low ERA for AAA Las Vegas last season, 1.96, and allowed only one walk every five innings, but struck out only 25 in 46 innings - a ratio that does not necessarily imply major-league success. However, depending on Darren Dreifort's availability and Edwin Jackson's maturity, there may be a role on the major-league roster for Simas.
Fellow returnee Troy Brohawn looked promising with the Dodgers before he was sidelined with season-ending surgery. He and Steve Colyer will be the prime left-handed candidates to fill the last slot of the bullpen.
Should I be surprised or just gratified that some readers want the mainstream world to take blogs as seriously as much as writers want them to? Dodger Thoughts reader Terry Austin writes:
Your entry on the "credibility" of bloggers and other online reporters reminds me of some recent mini-research I did on how newspaper editors typically respond to technological matters. It seems most of them get bent out of shape over the latest version of Quark or Photoshop; you can imagine how threatened they feel by something as seemingly complex as the Internet (and, in turn, blogging).
I read the other day a note from the Dodgers’ webmaster (and, I presume, PR flack) to the posters on that site's fan message board. He noted that Dan Evans semi-regularly reads that board to gauge and gather fan interest, opinion and - tell me this isn't scary – even trade and signing ideas. Evans seems to grasp the importance of the Internet’s "grass-roots" nature. But many baseball writers attack online sources as a way to validate themselves: "Internet rumors yesterday claimed X, but GM Bob Smith dismissed the idea as ridiculous." You’ll note they don’t do the same to one another. As you pointed out, when's the last time someone took Peter Gammons to task?
The Baseball Prospectus folks may be in for a long wait if they're hoping for ESPN to throw them a bone. The good news is that they – and folks like you – gain more and more credibility every day where it counts: with readers. Eventually the "big dogs" will figure this out, too – such as when the Los Angeles Times contacted you for comment a few weeks back.
The old guard of sportswriters and editors may not welcome or even acknowledge bloggers and online journalists, but that doesn't make your work any less important or valuable. The folks at the Poynter Institute seem to take blogging as a serious newsgathering and reporting medium. A few golden parachutes may have to be opened before mass media follow suit.
What I want to know is, does Dan Evans read Dodger Thoughts? Cause I've had some ideas ...
Austin adds as a P.S.:
Dare we draw any parallels between the steroid "saga" of Derrick Turnbow and the feel-good story of Eric Gagne?
If it turns out that Turnbow's 98-mph fastball perhaps owes some of its oomph to andro, does that (again) cast suspicion on Gagne's mysterious velocity (and weight) gain prior to the 2002 season and his conversion to ubercloser?
I mean this sincerely - don't mean to be pithy in any way - but I guess it casts as much suspicion as you want it to cast.
An 87 Percent Raise for Adrian Beltre?
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com takes an advance look at Salary Arbitrationrama 2004 and predicts some eligible Dodgers will pursue some serious raises.
For Dave Roberts, from $400,000 to $1 million. (With my limited expertise, I have been predicting $500,000.)
For Jolbert Cabrera, from $475,000 to $1.4 million. (I've been saying $500,000.)
For Guillermo Mota, from $675,000 to $2 million. (I've been saying $1 million.)
For Odalis Perez, from $3.4 million to $5 million. (I've been saying $4 million.)
For Adrian Beltre, from $3.75 million to $6 million. (I've been saying $4.5 million.)
For Eric Gagne, from $550,000 to at least $6 million. (I've been saying $6 million.)
My pick on Cabrera seems the most conservative, but I really would be surprised if all the Dodgers got the raises that Gurnick is outlining. But these are my first attempts to make these predictions, so I don't have any kind of track record.
The total difference between my picks and Gurnick's is approximately $5 million. That would affect the Dodgers' ability to sign a mid-level player, but not a major one. And, of course, they could still get multiple strong mid-levelers.
Ownership Transition No Excuse to Avoid Guerrero
No, it's the reality of the 1992-1993 San Francisco Giants.
"On a Dodger board I read a reference to the Giants signing Bonds in 1993 concurrent with the new Magowan ownership group," Dodger Thoughts reader Brian Greene wrote me Monday. "But according to [Baseball Library.com], the Giants signed Bonds on 12/8/92; however the sale was not appoved until 1/12/93."
Furthermore, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the 1992 Giants payroll was $30.8 million. After making the changes that included signing Bonds, the 1993 payroll was $34.9 million, an increase of $4.1 million or 13 percent. Keep in mind that the Giants wouldn't move to their new baseball stadium until 2000.
The Barry Bonds that the Giants signed was 26 years old, coming off a season with 34 home runs (in 140 games) and an EQA of .374.
Vladimir Guerrero is 27 years old, coming off a season with a back injury, 25 home runs (in 112 games) and an EQA of .327.
Riskier signing? Sure. The difference is, the Dodgers don't have to increase their payroll to sign Guerrero.
We can't fairly judge anyone's decision to sign or eschew Guerrero until he plays out his entire contract and we see what kind of injuries he had. But for the Dodgers not to aggressively pursue Guerrero, it had better be because of definitive evidence that his back will likely keep him off the field for months, if not years, at a time.
And even so ... if such evidence exists, wouldn't that evidence scare off all teams? (Perhaps it has already, explaining the sluggish interest in Guerrero.) If so, shouldn't that reduce Guerrero's bargaining position for all, making his demands reachable?
Is there any team with better reason or better means to gamble on Guerrero than the Dodgers?
Breaking News from 1988
Kirk Gibson's home run came off a Hall of Famer.
At a Newsstand Near You
I never subscribed, but I was a religious purchaser of the magazine back in the early 1960s. I got mine at a newsstand on Westwood Boulevard just above Olympic. 25 cents cover price, as I recall, which was the price of two issues of the weekly West L.A. paper I delivered every Wednesday morning to six blocks of 40s-50s era housing a few blocks over from my home on Kelton.
Let's Talk About the Issues, Not About Rose
Most of all, I just want the issue of Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame to disappear.
I always felt that there was ample evidence that Rose bet on baseball, including bets on his own team while he was managing. His denials since these disclosures have included misrepresenations of what was in the public record at the tmime, further rendering his innocence unlikely to me. And his combative stance in making those denials was an abuse of his popularity, villainizing those with more integrity than he has.
Now, with his admission that he did bet on the game, we are re-confronted with the question of whether he should be in the Hall of Fame.
I don't care.
You can make an argument that Rose should be forgiven, that gambling is an illness that makes no distinction between betting on someone else's team and betting on your own. You can make an argument that he committed what serves as the closest thing to original sin in baseball, and that he should be kept out.
But my bottom line is that we should be talking about the perils of gambing addiction, about the difficult morality of admitting your guilt, about why baseball has the no-gambling rule in the first place. But enough angst over Pete himself. The last thing this guy deserves is the spotlight.
Wishful thinking on my part. It's because the issue of his Hall of Fame election is Ground Zero for all the above philosophical discussions, with arguments on either side, that it won't go away.
Where is Sophocles when you need him? He's the guy that would make this a morality play worth watching.
Credit and Respectability – Are We Journalists by Name or by Action?
As Alex Belth writes today, Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg of Baseball Prospectus broke the story in August that an agreement was in the works to allow Pete Rose to return to baseball this year. The mainstream press and Major League Baseball pilloried Carroll and Zumsteg at the time, as much for their unnamed-sources story as for "who the hell are these guys to break a story like this." However, Rose’s admissions this week are logically part of the effort to make that agreement happen, basically vindicating Carroll and Zumsteg.
Belth interviewed me today for his article, perhaps because I had written this piece at the time of the Baseball Prospectus story. Belth wonders whether this event will be a watershed moment, marking a time that the mainstream press starts to take outsiders seriously, whether those outsiders be up-and-comers like Alex and me or up-and-arrivers like BP. As you can see from my quote, a better reason for people like Carroll and Zumsteg and their BP colleagues to be taken seriously is not because they got this scoop, but for the consistent quality of their work.
I had some further thoughts in talking about this with Alex, which I'd like to share here.
I have a very precise line of thinking about the nature of scoops and I think it's relevant today. Basically, I trusted Will and Derek, but I didn't trust their sources because they were off the record. I'd still be an advocate for waiting until two sources are willing to go on the record before reporting a story, because once you lower that standard, I think you risk being wrong on a story and consequently losing your readership's trust. I do realize, though, that not everyone agrees with me. In any case, I'm thrilled that Will and Derek weren't led astray.
I also have to say that, though there is no Baseball Tonight on right now for me to watch and I haven't paid attention to SportsCenter's coverage (for example), I don't think there have been nearly enough mea culpas in the mainstream press, which seemed to attack - viciously at times - Will and Derek's report. Will Outside the Lines return to this story? Are they bringing Will back? I only think that these events will help outsiders like BP and bloggers like us get respect if we're given credit. Rob Neyer, whom I like and respect, has gotten considerably more credit - to the extent that some consider he has broken the story - just for noting that Rose's book deal was timed with his ABC interview, right? Astute observation by Rob, but he's hardly deserving of more credit than the BP guys.
I guess it's a function of ESPN being the de facto New York Times of the sports world. Unless someone, inside or outside ESPN, steps up this week and points back to Will and Derek's report, then I think little victory has been had. I take that back - the other possibility is that ESPN will stay silent about it now, but look closer at Baseball Prospectus in terms of future hires.
Bly Bly Love
Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT has been campaigning for a good cause - promoting Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame. How does this relate to the Dodgers? Well, try this: as good as Steve Garvey was, voting him to the Hall of Fame would be wrong. Not voting for Blyleven would be wrong.
Anyway, Lederer went as far as to send his very strong case for Blyleven to two voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. The results of his e-mails make for interesting reading - score one (just one) for Rich!
... For the Memories
There was, and maybe still is, a newsstand just off the northwest corner of Ventura Boulevard and (I think) Newcastle Avenue in Tarzana. Back around 1975-85, at least, it was next to a place with a big clock above its doorway, and across the street from what was alternatively a Wherehouse or Big Ben's record store. The Pizza Cookery was across on the diagonal, on the southeast corner.
My family would go get pizza for dinner sometimes (fooling me into getting mushrooms on the pizza by saying they weren't mushrooms, but rather a much better topping called "scallotini"), and then head over to the newsstand, where my brother, sister and I would get comic books or something along those lines. But one time, when I was about eight years old or so, I made my first sports magazine purchase. It was Baseball Digest. Soon after, I began subscribing.
Maybe a year or two later, my Dad got me a subscription to The Sporting News, which was serious stuff back then - a rarity in the universe with weekly reports on all the major league teams, comprhensive weekly statistics and, perhaps most prized, publication of every major league box score. For those of you who were born with computers in your household and ESPN on the tube, try to imagine a world without them. The Sporting News was like your war correspondent from the front lines.
But I also treasured my monthly Baseball Digest in my single-digit years. I was learning the game, and the magazine helped fill my tabula rasa on both baseball history and current events. I remember riding in the luggage compartment of our family's '76 Plymouth Sportsman van (uh, yeah, no ESPN and no seat belt laws either) and asking my Dad if he knew who held the career strikeout record. "Walter Johnson, 3,509" was his reply. I was absolutely astonished someone could have that information memorized. The moment truly energized me as a fan - and student - of the game, and Baseball Digest became one of my textbooks.
I saved every issue, stacking them standing up in a shelf in my bedroom closet. Not as narrowly focused as I am now, I also began subscribing to and saving Football Digest and Basketball Digest as well. I basically was done with comic books - this was it.
In sixth grade, we had what we called "bank accounts" in school. It was a primitive economics lesson - I don't remember exactly how it went, but we earned credits for certain projects - maybe it was even points for high marks - and logged them in a workbook. I was a good student, but there were other good students too, so there was a race for wealth.
But it wasn't all about academics. One week, Mrs. Marsden announced a class auction. You could bring anything of yours from home and sell it, garage-sale style, for these credits. To make this part of a long story short, I sold my entire Digest collections for Monopoly money.
I had seller's remorse almost immediately thereafter, though it was also around that point that I started to outgrow Baseball Digest a little bit. I had my baseball foundation by this point, I had The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated and others, and Digest, as time went by, was telling me fewer and fewer things that I didn't know. The change was gradual but steady.
Today, the magazine is something of a timewarp. Though it has made some half-hearted attempts to modernize, both its overall approach to the game and its look are fairly dated. In the current issue, for example, there is an article by George Vass, who may have been writing for Digest when I first began reading it, on whether Josh Beckett's World Series performance may change conventional wisdom about pitching on three days rest. It's a good story idea, but nowhere in the nine pages of the article is there a sophisiticated look at the problem.
The article's premise is basically this: Pitchers did in the past, and Beckett did it in October, so there's little reason to baby these arms today. Vass selects anecdotes dating back to 1890s pitcher Jack Taylor to justify the premise, but offers no systematic analysis to fairly address the issue. Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Primer writers and readers would have heart attacks. There is an argument to be made for not piching everyone on three days rest, but this article doesn't come close to making it.
Nevertheless, nearly 30 years later, I still subscribe to Baseball Digest.
There are two reasons for this. One, the subscriptions department of the publisher of Baseball Digest, Century Publishing Company, has had its crafty moments in the past, fooling me into thinking my subscription was running out - only to leave me looking at the expiration date on the mailing label of the next issue and realizing I've got a longer commitment to Baseball Digest than the Dodgers had with Kevin Brown.
Of course, as we've seen, those kinds of commitments can be ended. But the main reason I can't let go of Baseball Digest is the letters section, "The Fans Speak Out." It is consistently the best letters section of any magazine I've ever read. Baseball Digest devotes roughly 10 pages to letters in each issue. There are some dumb or pointless questions, to be sure, but there are also priceless gems.
Here's one from the current issue, for example:
Regarding home runs hit over the center field wall to the right of the flag pole in Fenway Park (November Baseball Digest):You can get great memories, I suppose, on Baseball Primer Clutch Hits, but I don't know the pristine quality of the stories gets any better than this. I love this letter, and I love that it came in response to a discussion of "home runs hit over the center field wall to the right of the flag pole in Fenway Park."
In addition, just about every month, you can count on someone writing Baseball Digest with the story of the first baseball game he or she ever attended and asking the editors to print the box score. The letter-writer's story will have wonderful detail about the experience and about the game. The editors will then, without criticism of any kind, correct some of this detail based on the factual record. It's part of the charm of the whole experience - how much these games mean to us, and simultaneously, how we can alter the finer points of such meaningful events over time.
Without these letters, my subscription to Baseball Digest would long ago have gone the way of, well, my subscription to The Sporting News. But the letters keep me reading.
However, on page 4 of the current issue, there is this message:
Dear Readers:This made me sad, and I wonder if it marks not a road bump but the beginning of the end of Baseball Digest. Clearly, some people still like it (click and scroll down to "All Customer Reviews"), but not everyone is as quirky as I am to buy a magazine based principally on the letters of its readers.
Perhaps Baseball Digest has self-petard-hoisted. After all, would there be quite as many alternative outlets for baseball coverage were it not for the interest Baseball Digest has kindled in its 61 years of publication?
Dodger Thoughts wouldn't exist without Baseball Digest, I believe I can say with some authority.
Baseball Digest is like Bob Hope in the golden years. The whole package is from some other time, and the material isn't always what it used to be. But it's a treasure, and I hope it hangs on as long as it can.
Jon Weisman's outlet
for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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