Baseball Toaster Dodger Thoughts
Monthly archives: November 2004


Dreiforting for Dollars
2004-11-30 17:21
by Jon Weisman

In his weekly mailbag for, Ken Gurnick provided a solid answer to a question that has probably crossed the minds of several of you:

Is any of Darren Dreifort's salary for next year covered by insurance if he doesn't pitch? - Gary P., New York, N.Y.

Yes, but it's not so simple that the Dodgers suddenly have an extra $13.4 million to spend. They do have some disability insurance on Dreifort, but the terms are complicated. Reportedly, Dreifort must be disabled for one complete year from the date he last pitched, Aug. 16. As astounding as his record of injuries has been, it's conceivable that he could be healed from his hip and knee injuries before that window expires and return to action.

Also, although the exact terms are not known, the reimbursement to the club is not dollar for dollar, but includes a deductible of millions of dollars. (Dodger general manager Paul) DePodesta said for payroll purposes he is assuming he must pay Dreifort the $13.4 million for which his contract calls.

So if there are any savings to be had from the Dreifort insurance money, they might not apply to the 2005 budget, but rather 2006.

Gurnick also writes that DePodesta has "expressed renewed interest" in Arizona pitcher Randy Johnson, but doubts that the Diamondbacks are interested in sending him to a division rival. Apparently, the line is drawn at Steve Finley and Brent Mayne.

Is Jason Kendall Worth $10M a Year?
2004-11-30 08:21
by Jon Weisman

The quality of the 2004 season of Jason Kendall, quite frankly, takes me by surprise.

Kendall, acquired by Oakland from Pittsburgh last week, was the fourth-most valuable catcher in baseball last season according to VORP on Baseball Prospectus, behind Ivan Rodriguez, Javy Lopez and Jorge Posada. He also had the most Win Shares of any catcher. He had the second-highest on-base percentage of any catcher.

That being said, should you be impressed?

Winning a Most Valuable Catcher award is a lot like winning Best Smelling Pig. The distinction is no guarantee of greatness. Catcher is the least productive offensive position (combining National and American League stats), excluding pitchers, meaning if you chase a player because he's considered a quality catcher, you risk chasing rainbows.

That's not to say there aren't truly great players who happen to be catchers. But catchers should not be evaluated relative only to their peers behind the plate, but to their peers across all of baseball as well.

Kendall was the 46th-most valuable position player in baseball last season, according to Baseball Prospectus, and in the top 30 in Win Shares. Given that there are 30 major league baseball teams, this positions Kendall to be the best or second-best position player on an average major league team, which is a more meaningful credential to have.

At the same time, this credential is about the least one would want from Kendall, given his salary. His new employer will be paying him more than $10 million per year.

Kendall's contract with Pittsburgh owed him $34 million over the upcoming three seasons. In sort of a strange arrangement, the A's will give the Pirates $1 million in 2005 and $1 million in 2006 - then receive $5 million in return in 2007. Do the math, and that leaves Oakland owing Kendall $31 million over three seasons, or $10,333,333 per year.

That's a big chunk of payroll.

Still, it can certainly work out for the A's, or whomever Kendall ends up playing for should the A's trade him. Outfielders who hit like the average catcher, for example, are much cheaper and easier to acquire than catchers who hit like the average outfielder. That's the beauty of locking in a superior catcher in his prime like Kendall, who is still only 30 years old - perhaps just past his peak, perhaps not, but certainly a few years away from the expectation of a sharp decline.

Kendall suffered through two pretty miserable seasons in 2001 and 2002, and those colored my opinion of him, I have to admit, until today, I hadn't really appreciated how much he bounced back. He would be an asset to the Dodgers, even at his current salary.

At the same time, there remain those who would begrudge giving Adrian Beltre $10 million per year. But if Jason Kendall is worth $10 million a year, despite having been outperformed by a younger Beltre in 2001, 2002 and 2004, what is Beltre worth? At least the same amount, even if you factor in that getting an average major league hitter to fill a third base vacancy is cheaper than getting an average major league hitter to fill a catcher vacancy.

The bottom line, of course is ... well, there are two bottom lines. Bottom Line 1 is that you'd like your Kendalls and Beltres to come up from your farm system and become All-Stars before they earn their first million, like Albert Pujols. Bottom Line 2 is that, barring Bottom Line 1, it's nice not to have to choose between your Kendalls and your Beltres. And with the bad Dodger contracts of the past nearing expiration, if Frank McCourt can maintain the payroll, the Dodgers are getting closer to being able to do that.

In the meantime, there remain many other players - including many less expensive players - that can help a Dodger team that came within 10 victories of a World Series title in 2004.

Bradley Arrested
2004-11-29 14:28
by Jon Weisman

Thanks (but no thanks!) to Danny Evans for passing this along.

I just don't have the energy ...

The Quiet Month
2004-11-29 05:41
by Jon Weisman

Back to work. Hi everyone.

My favorite month of the year - the month where the air turns crisp and the worst of the smog goes into hibernation - is about to end. It's literally a month where I breathe happier and easier.

I couldn't help but notice, however, that several of last week's reader comments indicated impatience, if not outright fear, that the Dodgers choked on November and have waited too long to make improvements for 2005.

Call this my November palliative. Here are the significant baseball transactions from November 2003:

  • November 3: Philadelphia gets Billy Wagner from Houston in Brandon Duckworth trade
  • November 14: San Francisco gets A.J. Pierzynski from Minnesota in Joe Nathan trade
  • November 18: Toronto gets Ted Lilly from Oakland in Bobby Kielty trade
  • November 19: Seattle signs free agent Raul Ibanez
  • November 20: Los Angeles claims Duaner Sanchez on waivers
  • November 25: Chicago Cubs get Derek Lee from Florida in Hee Seop Choi trade
  • November 26: Oakland gets Mark Kotsay from San Diego in Ramon Hernandez/Terrence Long trade
  • November 28: Boston gets Curt Schilling from Arizona in Casey Fossum (!) trade

    One year ago yesterday, the Red Sox made a trade that may have won them this season's World Series. Of course, Boston would make several more moves in the ensuing year, but certainly trading one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball for one of the best helped.

    Beyond that, there were very few moves that mattered. Some teams improved, even fleecing other teams, but none made a real difference. Note the playoff teams on the list:

  • Houston, which from a talent perspective lost the Wagner trade
  • Minnesota, which got a closer in exchange for a starting catcher
  • Los Angeles, which made a waiver pickup that in terms of net gain might have been as valuable as any November 2003 transaction outside of The Hub

    This November has been no different, with only one potentially noteworthy transaction - unless names like Omar Vizquel, Christian Guzman or the Washington Exponationals cause you arrhythmia - taking place in the past four weeks: Jason Kendall to the A's.

    Like former Dodger general manager Dan Evans in 2003, Paul DePodesta spent the quiet month poking and prodding the meat market but otherwise shopping in the minor league and fringe produce section, plucking a number of candidates for the back end of the Dodger roster. And as anyone can see, the post-Thanksgiving leftovers on this year's free agent menu, let alone on the trade menu, are bigger than the meal itself.

    So don't worry. The Hot Stove hasn't cooled yet. There's a crisp snap to the air for most of the winter.

  • Thanksgiving Week Open Chat
    2004-11-20 02:41
    by Jon Weisman

    Folks, I'm going to take an extended Thanksgiving break. But don't dispose of me yet. I'll be back by December 1, perhaps sooner.

    In the meantime, feel free to hang out with each other here. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Beltre's First Good Season Wasn't 2004
    2004-11-19 14:36
    by Jon Weisman

    The common knock on the free agent credentials of Adrian Beltre is that he has had only one good year, while Carlos Beltran has a proven track record.

    It ain't exactly true. In 2000, at the age of 21, Beltre on-based .360, slugged .475, OPSed .835, posted 50 extra-base hits, including 20 home runs, and walked a career-high 56 times in 138 games.

    That season, he put Beltran, who is almost exactly two years older, to shame. Beltran on-based .309, slugged .366, and had 15 doubles, seven home runs and 35 walks in 98 games.

    Perhaps it is true that 2004 was Beltre's only great year. And certainly, Beltran was the better player from 2001-2003. It's safe to say that a team signing Beltran should feel confident he will deliver an OPS of .840 or better, as he has the past four seasons, and hopeful he will come in with an OPS of .900 or better, as he has the past two seasons.

    Still, the idea that Beltre should be the subject of some immense amount of skepticism based on his resume, at least compared to Beltran, is overblown:

    Both Beltre and Beltran started their careers solidly, suffered a dip, then rebounded to become better than ever.

    Both Beltre and Beltran had exactly two seasons with OPSes of .800 or better before turning 26.

    Both Beltre and Beltran have had one injury-plagued season, and both have shown they can play full seasons.

    Beltan's two best OPS seasons before turning 26 were .841 and .876; Beltre's are .835 and 1.017.

    This is not to say that there aren't areas where Beltran is significantly better than Beltre. For one thing, Beltran may be the best basestealer in the game today, with a remakrable 192 steals in 215 career attempts. Secondly, Beltran has had healthier career walk totals than Beltre, always good insurance against a slumping hitter.

    We won't know who the better bargain is until the contracts are notarized and the dollar signs released. For now, most major league baseball insiders and outsiders seem to have decided that Beltran is the less risky player. But I continue to feel that people are inflating the risk of Beltre suffering a steep decline - and remember, any kind of shallow decline still leaves him at All-Star caliber.

    Latest Announcer Candidate: Steiner
    2004-11-18 22:48
    by Jon Weisman

    Charley Steiner? I liked him on SportsCenter during that show's halcyon days, and haven't minded him on the few occasions I've heard him on radio. But I don't know that Yankee fans feel the same way.

    Update: Tom Hoffarth at the Daily News says it's happening as of next week: Steiner will be the Dodgers new No. 2 play-by-play announcer. No source for the report is given, however.

    Update 2: Says Alex Belth at Bronx Banter: "The first thing that popped into my head was a moment from The Honeymooners when Alice sang, 'I don’t want him, you can have him, he’s too fat for me.' Yo, chill kid. Actually, I don’t mind Steiner at all, but he was hopelessly miscast alongside ol' Silver Throat, John Sterling. Why? Because their pairing violates the fat-skinny tradition of comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Gleason and Carney, Siskel and Ebert, and Mike and the Mad Dog. With Steiner and Sterling you had heft with hefty and the chemistry just didn’t work. I hope Steiner goes to L.A. and flourishes."

    I will caution that while something seems to be up, as of Friday morning not a single source was on the record about Steiner being hired.

    Update 3: The New York Times says in Saturday's editions that the announcement will come Monday. Not even an unnamed source is mentioned.

    Talk About the Rising Price of Gas ...
    2004-11-17 14:38
    by Jon Weisman

    Saw the nifty movie Sideways on Veterans Day and, among many other things, was struck by a passing shot of a Buellton gas station where the posted prices were under $2 per gallon. What a bargain that seems like today.

    Over the past week, I've had the opposite reaction reading about the first wave of free agent contracts:

  • Troy Percival, two years, $12 million
  • Vinny Castilla, two years, $6.2 million
  • Christian Guzman, four years, $16.8 million
  • Cory Lidle, two years, $6.3 million
  • Omar Vizquel, three years, $12.25 million

    Collectively, we're talking 13 years, $53.55 million, or $4.12 million per year. Yet one could argue that none of the above players performs at a level that would guarantee they will be starters at their positions, or in Percival's case the closer, by the end of 2005.

    Perhaps the Dodger budget won't stretch quite as far as we might have thought. There is some real talent out there, but you start to feel poorer when it costs $40 to fill up your tank just so you can spin your wheels.

  • Quick Notes
    2004-11-17 09:24
    by Jon Weisman

  • Expatriated Dodger announcer Ross Porter will appear on Jim Rome's KSPN (710 AM) radio show at 10:05 a.m. today. Update: (Note the time change - it had previously been scheduled for 11:05. And note that I had the radio station wrong. Note it well, because it's really embarrassing.)

  • Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports Weekly writes that Steve Finley is seeking a three-year contract, and the San Francisco AARPs may be the ones to deliver it. Nightengale writes that "if they win the Finley sweepstakes, the Giants would quickly become the favorites to win the NL West."

    Maybe in that moment, in a vaccum, before the other teams have made their moves, that's true. Nightengale further writes that the Giants may go for broke in 2005 and raise their team payroll from $70 million to $100 million. But that won't mean much until we know what's happening with the Dodger roster vacancies. Becoming the NL West favorite in November isn't too meaningful.

    For what it's worth, it does appear quite possible that the 2007 Giants will be doing their best imitation of the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks.

  • Deciding to focus on a single team, Kurt Helin, formerly of Arrive in the Third, Leave After Seven, has created a new Laker blog, Forum Blue and Gold.

  • More Minor Signings
    2004-11-16 16:49
    by Jon Weisman

    The Dodgers filled some more Spring Training bunks with the signings of five players, in addition to the three revealed over the weekend.

    One intriguing candidate for the back end of the Dodger bullpen could be soon-to-be-27-year-old Buddy Carlyle, who had ERAs of 0.72 in AA and 4.05 in AAA in the New York Yankee organization in 2004. In the two levels combined, Carlyle struck out 140 batters in 144 innings while allowing 136 hits and 25 walks.

    September pinch-runner Jose Flores also returns, as does this year's holder of the Tanyon Sturtze Ex-Devil Ray Chair, Ryan Rupe.

    I'll also tip my hat to a Stanford alumni sighting: Tony Schrager. Rounding out the list is outfielder Tydus Meadows. "Can Meadows Tydus Over?" asks the imaginary headline.

    More Spanish Lessons
    2004-11-16 16:31
    by Jon Weisman

    Fernando Valenzuela on Sunday: four innings pitched, one run allowed. Thanks to Eric Enders for linking this at Baseball Primer.

    Piazza: No. 3 Without a Bullet
    2004-11-16 16:23
    by Jon Weisman

    Former Dodger catcher Mike Piazza has been the third-most popular choice of Most Valuable Player voters since Barry Bonds became a major leaguer, behind Bonds (of course) and Frank Thomas - despite receiving only nine first-place votes in nine years.

    Mike Carminati has the details here - not to mention a historical look at franchise name changes, like the Angels are considering, over here.

    Pop Goes the Weasel
    2004-11-16 16:16
    by Jon Weisman

    News: New Washington general manager Jim Bowden commits $23 million to contracts for third baseman Vinny Castilla (104 OPS+ in 2004, where 100 is average) and shortstop Christian Guzman (78 OPS+ in 2004).

    Preaction: From Dodger Thoughts, February 13, 2004:

    Technically, at least, the Dodgers have other general manager candidates to replace Danglin' Dan Evans. One who would like to be considered is Jim Bowden, former general manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

    Although his name grew familiar to many of us during his 11 years with the Reds, let's not forget that Bowden was once a boy wonder like DePodesta. Until Theo Epstein came around, Bowden was the youngest general manager in big-league history, hired at age 31 - the same age DePodesta is now.

    Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports Weekly wrote a column about Bowden this week, in which the following quote appears.

    "It would be fun to go to a big market, though, and have a chance to win year after year," Bowden told Nightengale. "If I can be creative with a payroll in the forites and fifties, I can be creative with a budget in the hundreds.

    "I look at the Dodgers, and think, how can you have the best pitching staff in the league and score less runs than the Tigers? Come on. You've got to do something."

    I look at Bowden's words, and wonder what kind of wall I can build to keep him out of Los Angeles.

    First of all, creative is a nice mantra to bandy about, but Bowden creatively presided over a team that had six losing seasons out of 11, including the past three, most of the time in the National League's weakest division. Of course, the payroll limitations Bowden cites are legitimate, but for him to brag about his record is silly.

    As far as the second half of Bowden's quote, many people would agree. One of those agreeing would be Dan Evans.

    The idea that Evans didn't think something should be done to improve the offense is preposterous. No, he didn't succeed yet, and his signing of OBP-challenged Juan Encarnacion (a former Bowden acquisition) raised questions anew about his ability to do so.

    On the other hand, Evans reduced the payroll, nurtured the farm system - and oh yeah, built that great pitching staff, the accomplishment many find it so easy to dismiss. He laid the groundwork to acquire some hitting, which he no doubt could have done had Frank McCourt's ownership approval needs not interfered.

    Now, it's one thing for you and I to shoot the breeze, in conversation or in print, and say that the Dodgers need offense. But for a baseball executive like Bowden to take simplistic pot shots at a counterpart, without any evidence he could do the job better - that guy needs his ego balloon popped.

    Combine Bowden's statement with the incident back in 2001, when Bowden tried to big-time Evans by refusing to discuss business at baseball's winter meetings until Tommy Lasorda was in the room, and Bowden sounds like the big-headed spawn of our last general manager debacle, Sheriff Kevin Malone.

    "I don't want to sound arrogant or brash, but there's no doubt in my mind that I can turn the Dodgers into winners again," Bowden later tells Nightengale. "If I did it in Cincinnati, I sure can do it in L.A."

    You had two division titles in 11 years at Cincinnati, Jim. Even the Dodgers can match that - with more than twice as many winning seasons to boot.

    Guess how you sound.

    Not like someone who would come into a situation with the ethic and flexibility to best determine how to improve a baseball team.

    Nightengale writes that Bowden "definitely" deserves at least consideration for the job. Maybe you just need to get to know Bowden for that to become apparent. Maybe you just need to not challenge Bowden when he says that under him, the Reds "finished in first place three times," when it only happened twice. In any case, Nightengale doesn't make a very good case for Bowden with this article.

    Jilty As Charged?
    2004-11-16 07:31
    by Jon Weisman

    More news from the hometown of Jayson Werth ...

    The Dodger outfielder is suing former Chatham (Ill.) Glenwood High classmate Ryan Root for, well, for being a very bad jilted ex-boyfriend of Werth's wife, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. (Baseball Primer pointed me to the news.)

    I've spent nearly a half an hour trying to come up with something insightful to say about this. Here's the best I've got:

    My Chicago-born father pronounces the "root" in "root beer" as if it rhymes with "put" or "foot."

    Previous page 1 news: Werth's sister headed for UCLA.

    Hello Detroit? Carlos Perez Offered Contract
    2004-11-15 16:21
    by Jon Weisman

    The Detroit Tigers are offering memorable former Dodger pitcher Carlos Perez an invitation to Spring Training and a one-year contract with a team option for 2006, according to a Spanish-language report by The Associated Press cited by Raul Tavares of Dominican Players.

    The report indicates that Perez, who has struck out nine while allowing one run in 8 1/3 innings with Licey in the Dominican Winter League, may take some time before choosing whether to accept the offer.

    From the story:

    "Estamos muy interesados en Pérez. Ha lucido fenomenal y creemos que aún puede sacar muchos outs en las grandes ligas," dijo Ramón Peña, supervisor de los cazatalentos de Detroit en Latinoamérica.

    From the always amusing Systran translation:

    "Very we are interested in Perez. It has shone phenomenal and we think that still it can remove many outs in great ligas," said to Ramon Rock, supervisor of the cazatalentos of Detroit in Latin America.

    Perez is famous in Los Angeles for (in no particular order): 1) Four consecutive complete-game victories from September 2-20, 1998, his lawsuit-inducing conduct on a team flight in 2000 and his destruction of what was once a water cooler earlier that year.

    The Disposable Baseball Blogger
    2004-11-14 21:46
    by Jon Weisman

    Farewell, Brian Gunn.

    Farewell, Edward Cossette.

    Rest in peace, Doug Pappas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "On some level, yes, we are all replaceable," Gunn said in one of a series of interviews conducted by Dodger Thoughts in the past week. "I trust that there will always be bloggers with the intelligence, the expressiveness, the time, and the gumption to share their thoughts online with a community of like-minded fans. If anything, I think the blog revolution is just getting started - the more people who do it, and do it well, the more people will follow in their footsteps. On the other hand, there are a number of bloggers out there who have truly original voices, and once they step away from the keyboard there will be no one to take their place."

    David Pinto, writer of perhaps the leading national baseball blog, Baseball Musings, seconded the notion of the disposable blogger.

    "Of course that's true," Pinto said. "No one has a monopoly on ideas, and new blood brings new perspectives. In 20 years, people will be complaining about the old bloggers not being with all the new ways of presenting information, that we're living in the past. (If I ever write that players in the 1990s were better than players today, please shoot me.) And some of it will be true. That's why it's good to try new things. I think All-Baseball and The Hardball Times are great ideas; over time they'll present a familiar structure, but they can be innovative and not only bring in new people, but new ways of presenting information and using technology."

    Even the most faithful readers of certain blogs share the sentiment that baseball bloggers are replaceable.

    "Sorry," said Bob Timmermann, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research and an almost daily commenter on Baseball Think Factory's Baseball Primer and Dodger Thoughts. "No one has made me think that they are the Jim Murray of bloggers yet."

    Murray Markowitz, a 34-year-old corporate transactions lawyer living in New York and a daily reader of Alex Belth's Bronx Banter, pointed out that bloggers shouldn't feel too bad, because "most of us, in all areas of endeavor, are replaceable." On the other hand, he noted that Pappas really hasn't been replaced.

    "The bloggers who take the time to develop a unique style or who cover a distinctive sub-field become indispensable," Markowitz said. "Doug Pappas, for example, was a lawyer who covered the business of baseball at his website. He was witty, incisive, never patronizing to his readers, and covered the discipline better than anybody else in the U.S. The knowledge gap in this field that has resulted from his untimely death is deep and wide."

    The potential exists, in other words, for even the lowly blogger to rise above the expectations of genre and become an integral part of the baseball world.

    Said Jonah Keri, a Baseball Prospectus colleague of Pappas: "I think the feeling was nearly unanimous throughout Baseball Prospectus, the blogosphere and the broader baseball community that it would be extremely difficult to find a writer with Doug's rare combination of legal savvy, financial acumen, writing skill, passion for baseball and free time who could do what he did in the way that he did it. We have called on talented writers from outside the group, such as Neil deMause, as well as some of our own writers to cover topics that Doug would've probably covered were he still around, and they've done a very good job, but obviously their work differs from Doug's in numerous ways."

    Pappas' work ended in the worst kind of sudden. But Cossette and Gunn voluntarily left their websites despite being two of the most respected writers in the field, despite fast-rising critical and popular acclaim. Certainly, these talented writers will resurface in other places - in his final posting, Cossette implied as much - but the question remains, when things are going so good, why go?

    "I do ... miss the other loves of my life," Gunn wrote in his farewell message to his readers. "Spending more time with friends, or watching movies, or getting outside, or working harder on my day job, and all the other things that fell by the wayside during my daily blogathon. As you can guess, keeping Redbird Nation fresh and lively is a huge time and energy commitment, and the sacrifices I'd have to make to come back for a third year are too great."

    Gunn added in his Dodger Thoughts interview that while blogging needn't be all or nothing, sometimes the compulsion is too difficult to resist.

    "I do think there's something about weblogs that contributes to this sense of disproportion," he said. ”One of the virtues of blogs is that they're essentially limitless - you can write as much or as little as you want, any time of the day or night. But this can also be a trap. Because you have no deadlines, you feel like you're always on the clock. Because you have no editor or space limitations, you feel like you can always be writing more. The form practically begs you to be more expansive. Throw in the fact that bloggers tend to have compulsive personalities (actually that's not a fact at all - more of a casual observation), and you end up with a lot of folks who have problems establishing boundaries with their blogging. Or at least that's true in my case."

    Jay Jaffe, whose site, The Futility Infielder, was one of the earliest entries in the field, said he "shocked himself" by completing a year of writing - and now he's well into his fourth. But Jaffe added that his longevity has been aided by him picking his spots.

    "I'm not manic about posting every day," Jaffe said. "My general feeling is that unless I can put together at least four or five interesting paragraphs on a topic, I'll leave it for somebody else to cover until I can weigh in. If that means posting two or three times a week as opposed to five or six, so be it."

    Less is more. Sounds like a simple-enough strategy, like "try a diet low in saturated fats." But it's a difficult balance. Only a few of those who turn off the compulsion to write every day can turn it back on with ease. And with fewer posts, one risks a diminishing hold on the audience.

    "If a blogger is too bored with the subject to post fresh material, then I can't be bothered with his work unless he's really good," Markowitz said. "Especially during the offseason, when I'm looking for something to fill the baseball gap (I don't follow hockey, basketball or football), I like to be able to read something everyday, whether it's a link to a useful article, or a think piece about what the most competitive World Series ever was."

    The dream of many baseball bloggers - though not nearly as many as you might think - is to make money to support, if not justify, the time and effort. The Whopper dream is to earn a living; the Whopper Jr. is to earn enough to cover server costs and maybe a few ballgame tickets.

    Some sites reap a few dollars through advertisements such as Google Ads, others generate a few kind donations from benevolent readers. Sites also function as a de facto resume and portfolio for their writers, and occasionally succeed in finding the writer paid freelance work that otherwise would not have come.

    But with the reality of the disposable blogger comes the fear that if you contemplate charging for your services, you had better be prepared for some awkward silences of the Paypal variety.

    "I don't know when I'd be willing to pay," Timmermann said. "Someone better have some content that knocks my socks off."

    Without a doubt, the audience for a pay-for-play blogger would drop faster than the horse that Mongo slugged. On the other hand, the transcendent blogger might find readers willing to spend.

    "Bloggers who offer genuine analysis, coupled with a good chuckle or two, become worth the price of a subscription," Markowitz said. "Take Jim Baker, Bill James' former assistant who was also responsible for some of the funniest material in Bill's books in the mid-1980s, for example. Jim published a free daily e-mail thread a few years back that I started reading, but he terminated it when he joined the ESPN Insider site. I was willing to pay ESPN to keep reading Jim's work, but I canceled my subscription when they fired him because there's nobody else at their site whose work is worth $50 a year. I now pay for Baseball Prospectus so that I can read Jim Baker and Steve Goldman."

    Said Dodger Thoughts reader Brian Greene: "I hate to admit it because free is nice, but I'd pay for Dodger Thoughts before I'd pay for ESPN Insider. Forty dollars a year is a fair price for what amounts to 300+ entries/year targeted to my top interest. But this is theoretical, right?'

    Actually, it is. For the indefinite future, anyway. Because the income would come with a cost. With the inevitable loss in audience quantity comes losses in something critical to the baseball blogger: the reader who is referred to or accidentally stumbles onto the site. Bloggers who lock their entries away in premium mode before they have fully matured are, in some respect, sacrificing the future for the present.

    By the end of the 2004 season, former Dodger broadcaster Ross Porter was quoting pieces from Dodger Thoughts on the air. When the season began, however, Porter had never seen a blog nor heard of blogging.

    "There must be plenty of people who are searching the Internet who come across columns like yours and learn something," Porter said. "They then bookmark them and study them daily. That's what I did this year."

    As much as bloggers often disdain the mainstream media - a disdain, it should be noted, that is admired by some readers and ridiculed by others - the mainstream media's acceptance of a blog is vital to hastening its must-read status among a wider audience.

    Those sites currently on the move from fringe to mainstream, like Baseball Prospectus, are taking an occasional but important glance at the blog world as well.

    "Several of us at Baseball Prospectus do take notice of the better bloggers out there," Keri said. "And we have reached out to a small handful of the best bloggers for some piecemeal work. Jay Jaffe's done both some very solid articles for us, as well as a bit of design work. Alex Belth has done a couple of excellent Q&As for the BP Web site. There have been a couple others too."

    As 2004 nears its end, the strengths of baseball blogging, however outside of the mainstream the bloggers reside, are fairly clear.

    "Blogs deliver at the speed of the AP wire but with deeply-informed analysis behind it," Greene said. "Throw in the forum for feedback with like-minded addicts and you've got the perfect drug.

    "Bloggers have the opportunity to form more indelible connections with their audience than in any other media form I can think of," he continued. "Bloggers ... put their heart into their columns, reveal personal thoughts and memories, and most importantly interact with and know their readers."

    Timmermann added praise for the "diverse opinions and willingness to embrace new ideas," noting that many do it with a sense of humor.

    And for good measure, Markowitz offered this: "There have been a lot of smart people out there who did their own research about baseball history and statistics, but they never had the means to disseminate their work before. Now they're willing to share it with all the rest of us and give us the opportunity to comment on it, mostly for free. It's wonderful."

    However, there remains an unmistakable immaturity to the medium. There are logistical drawbacks, as Greene pointed out, such as not having press credentials or frequent interviews that lead to scoops. There are also the limitations that arise largely from the average blogger's age.

    "What's come along in the past year or so is a ton of young kids in their early 20s who have the enthusiasm, but haven't necessarily developed a distinctive angle or voice," Jaffe said. "The ones that do survive are better for it; they've shown themselves and their audience a skill and a devotion which leads people to invest time in following them. But what's lacking from these kids is a longer historical view of things. I want to see more 40-, 50-, 60-, 70-year olds blogging and providing us a different perspective.

    "A guy that immediately springs to mind is Steve Treder, who's older than the average blogger and who's done some great historical work on the Giants, Dodgers, and Cardinals of the '60s over at The Hardball Times. Rich Lederer, with his series on the old Baseball Abstracts, is another great example. As blogging becomes more respected and more mainstream, we might see more of those types who will add a needed diversity to the mix. I mean, how many blogs do we need to cover the personnel moves and on-field results of team X?"

    Indeed, some of the genre's deficiencies are simply quality and attitude issues. In Timmermann's words, it's about baseball blogging sometimes being "too hip for its own good." As Markowitz put it, it's "the shrill but phony omniscience that some bloggers convey through their sites."

    Markowitz also pointed out that blogging is too inconsistent.

    "Newspapers and magazines have editors," he said, 'but most bloggers don't."

    Whaa? Bloogers neeeed editorz?

    "It takes some work sifting through the lower-quality sites to find the few that warrant attention," Keri said.

    And there's the Jose Offerman, otherwise known as the Catch-22. Like many other endeavors, it takes about as much work to go from D work to A- as it does to go from A- to A.

    In the end, what motivates baseball bloggers to do even the flawed work they do?

    "I just enjoy commenting on baseball," Pinto said. "It's just wonderful to have a voice. I had many motivations for starting the blog ... but the main motivation was that I had hosted Baseball Tonight Online for a year, and liked being able to get my opinions out, rather than working to support other people's opinions. I think that will always be the motivating factor behind the blog."

    Jaffe's motivations are oriented both to the community and personal.

    "The connection I feel to my readers and to other bloggers, the desire to focus on something that I'm knowledgeable and passionate about yet can stomach contemplating 365 days a year (unlike, say, politics or even music), and the hope that eventually I'll be able to support myself at least in part with my writing," he said.

    "Now, as my blog has grown in popularity and I've gotten the opportunity to occasionally make a buck from my work, I'd like to write a baseball book. Actually, I'd like to write several baseball books, and I've got a proposal that's in the works. I believe that the stuff I've done with the blog has shown that I'm a viable candidate to do a book-length project."

    Without a doubt, blogging has generated some fond memories for its brethren - and community has played a large role. The reaction and interaction can prove addictive.

    "One time," Gunn said, "I did a post on Albert Pujols right after a game in which he downed the Cubs with three home runs. I put up the post, noticed a small error, corrected it, and by the time I returned to the main page - seriously, a 10-second process altogether - there was already a comment from a fan. Within 10 seconds! I'm a screenwriter during the day, and in my job it can sometimes take years and years for something to go from idea to screen. With Redbird Nation it was instantaneous. That moment after the Pujols game reminded me just how closely connected I was to this community of Cards fans sharing in my excitement."

    Said Pinto: "The day the A-Rod to Boston trade fell apart was a great example of what blogging can do. I started off the day angry at the (players') union, but discussion in the comments, letters and other articles moderated my views by the end of the day."

    And there is always the tantalizing possibility that you can become more significant than you would ever have dared daydream.

    "My other favorite blogging memory," Gunn said, "is when Jeff Luhnow, VP of Baseball Development for the Cardinals, asked me to assess, on my blog, the signability of Edgar Renteria. I thought, man, it's not just my mom reading this site anymore."

    Nope, it's not just Mom. But these are still Mom and Pop shops in the baseball blogging corner of the universe, and if history has proven anything, it's that Mom and Pop shops can so easily disappear.

    "I take a very Darwinesque view," Jaffe said. "There will always be new talent to fill various niches, though whether they measure up to what came before is up for grabs. I like to think that the best of us have unique, inimitable styles, but there are scores of other great writers out there who could take up blogging and quickly be among the best."

    For some, baseball blogging remains simply a good time, and that's plenty. But for those who care to pay attention not just to the content of the baseball blogs, but the blogs and bloggers themselves, the next chapter could be a pivotal one, as some of those fighting the replaceability demon scores some knockdown punches.

    "I imagine that's the goal of any writer worth his salt," Keri said. “No one's irreplaceable, but make a unique legacy for yourself in your writing, so that people can look back on your body of work and say: 'There will be plenty of good writers who'll do great work in the future, but no one quite like that guy.' "

    San Francisco Gets Older Up the Middle
    2004-11-14 13:30
    by Jon Weisman

    Omar Vizquel is the Giants' new shortstop, according to an unnamed source of The Associated Press. David Pinto reviews the transaction at Baseball Musings and gives it a thumbs down, mainly because San Francisco committed three years and more than $12 million to a 38-year-old who isn't likely to be significantly better than Deivi Cruz.

    I tend to agree. Vizquel may help the Giants marginally in 2005 - which perhaps is all that matters as the Barry Bonds retirement clock ticks - but that money might be better spent on pitching.

    Update: The Fourth Outfielder Baseball Blog examines the signing in great detail, concluding that we may be underestimating Vizquel's remaning value, both offensively and defensively - and yet even so, "neither is this the kind of signing which indicates a team is playoff-bound."

    Penny Let Loose 'High Heat' Friday
    2004-11-13 23:18
    by Jon Weisman

    Caveat: It's a Houston Chronicle hunting story.

    On Friday, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brad Penny loosed some high heat on a huge buck at Carter's Apache Springs Ranch north of San Antonio.

    "We've got him scored at 213," (Carter's Country hunting stores and Sombrerito Ranch owner Bill) Carter said from the ranch. "He's got 22 points, and he's 23 inches inside. (Florida Marlins pitcher) Josh Beckett's up here, too. He got an 8-point that goes better than 160."

    And they say baseball has all the cool stats ...

    Werth to UCLA
    2004-11-13 23:00
    by Jon Weisman

    Hillary Werth, sister of outfielder Jayson Werth, signed a letter of intent to attend defending national outdoor track-and-field champion UCLA, according to the Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register, and compete in the hurdles, heptathlon and graphic arts.

    Footnote: Her high school track coach is named T.J. Jumper.

    Catcher Signing Raises Questions About Ross' Future
    2004-11-13 20:44
    by Jon Weisman

    Minor-league journeyman catcher Mike Rose has been signed as a free agent by the Dodgers to compete with fellow eight-lettered backstop Dave Ross for a roster slot with Los Angeles, according to Rose's hometown paper, the Sacramento Bee.

    Rose, it may not surprise you, played in Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta's former organization, the Oakland A's, with AAA Sacramento - and had a .407 on-base percentage last season, walking 76 times. That was higher than his .401 slugging percentage, but still enough to help Rose win AAA All-Star honors. By comparison, former Dodger catching prospect Koyie Hill on-based .339 and slugged .471 with AAA Las Vegas in 2004.

    The Bee goes as far as to call the 28-year-old Rose, who has played for 12 teams in 11 seasons, a "front-runner" for a job. The article further indicates that Rose would be competing with Ross to be the backup, indicating that a new front-line catcher is very much in DePodesta's plans.

    Los Angeles also signed two other ex-Sacramento players, utility man Mike Edwards (.816 OPS) and outfielder Jon Weber (.951 OPS in 19 games with Sacramento after .825 OPS with AA Midland), to compete for slots on the bench, according to the report.

    NLCS Game 4, 1984: Drysdale, Cey and Garvey
    2004-11-13 20:28
    by Jon Weisman

    What an unexpected feast of Dodger legends I found today when I caught the last 20 minutes of an ESPN Classic broadcast of a game from 20 years ago: Chicago at San Diego, Game 4, National League Championship Series, October 6, 1984.

    Cubs lead the series, 2-1. Game is tied, 5-5, in the ninth inning.

  • Don Drysdale has the play-by-play call for ABC.

  • With the bases loaded and two out in the top of the ninth, Ron Cey grounds to second base to end the inning for the Cubs. Cey finishes the night 5 0 0 0.

  • With Tony Gwynn on first base and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Steve Garvey blasts a game-winning home run well over the right-field wall. Garvey finishes the night 5 1 4 5.

    Trivia time:

    1) The late Alan Wiggins led off the bottom of the ninth by bunting just foul with two strikes. What record did Wiggins set while in the Dodger organization?

    2) Who were the commentators for ABC alongside Drysdale?

  • Holy Cow - I Am an Old Fogey
    2004-11-12 16:10
    by Jon Weisman

    When the season ended and Robin Ventura and Steve Finley parted ways with the Dodgers, that meant that for the first time in my life, I am older than every single Los Angeles Dodger.


    Cold Water on the Hot Stove
    2004-11-12 10:34
    by Jon Weisman

    Extra! Here's a story about something that isn't going to happen.

    Extra! Here's a story that tells us people talked about something.

    Extra! Here's a story about the story that told us people talked about something that isn't going to happen. We have no new information to add to the previous non-information - read all about it!

    Welcome to the Hot Stove League, every baseball fan's second-favorite time of year. What's the purpose of these Hot Stove stories? They get us talking. They let us play Assistant General Manager.

    What's the harm? None, right? Except we're talking about nonsense.

    Everybody loves the Hot Stove League. Everyone is looking for the latest rumor. Think about it. The latest rumor. It doesn't have to be real news. It can be the most hypothetical or fantastical discussion involving any general managers. It can be reported by journalists from every walk of credibility.

    That doesn't stop people from denigrating the legitimacy of the rumor. But that seems to be part of the fun.

    So what's happened to this baseball fan for the past 30 years? Why am I no longer having fun? Why, when I see a Shawn Green for Sammy Sosa or Mike Piazza trade rumor, or for that matter, Eric Gagne for Mark Prior (sheesh), why can't I engage in the fun of rating the pros and cons? Why, when I conclude that rumor won't come true, can't come true, does the rumor SO ANNOY me?

    How come I just want someone to wake me when the actual event occurs?

    It's not as if I'm against discussing whether a player would be a good acquisition for the Dodgers. I've been doing it plenty. But I think I have a problem with my perception that the flimsiest rumors can be taken so seriously.

    We all know that a conversation between two general managers, or a general manager and an agent, is just a conversation about nothing 99 times out of 100. It's just part of the process. It's the lather before you rinse and repeat. In fact, this qualifier usually comes on the second or third day - the traditional rumor-debunking follow-up story. "They were just talks - nothing more."

    Yet in the meantime, every little conversation that gets reported is analyzed coast-to-coast, fan-to-fan.

    If there were a collective acknowledgement that hey, everyone's really just shooting the breeze, from the media and its audiences, than I might relax. But the heatedness with which everyone seeks to sell and buy these snake-oil stories turns me into a curmudgeon faster than the guy in the lane next to mine causing an earthquake with his car stereo.

    I don't want to be an old fogey. I don't mean to ruin everyone's fun. I wish I were sharing in it. But I'm not.

    Maybe, somehow, this will turn out to be cathartic. For now, it's time for my nap. Wake me when there's a real deal to discuss.

    Update: Actually, I do feel more relaxed having gotten that out of my system, as crochety as it sounded. Just to show I'm not such a bad guy, I'll completely invent, make up, fabricate a rumor for you all to discuss: Greg Miller for Barry Bonds.

    Maximum Offers
    2004-11-11 10:33
    by Jon Weisman

    In interviews with 15 baseball executives at baseball's general manager meetings this week, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN Insider found none who predicted Mr. Free Agent, Carlos Beltran, would receive a contract worth more than seven years at $105 million.

    Like Scott Boras, baseball's hierarchy may have a posturing agenda in responding this way. But what the executives are saying seems more realistic to me than Boras' talk of a 10-year, $200-million deal.

    This relates to Adrian Beltre, of course, in that Beltre's contract should fall just lower than Beltran's, based on Beltre's more recent ascendance to stardom.

    A Conversation Was Had, Regarding Mr. Piazza and Mr. Green
    2004-11-09 22:50
    by Jon Weisman

    And some will find it dubious, and some will find it keen.
    Throw enough darts at the dartboard, maybe one will stick.
    There's rumors enough for everyone, go ahead and take your pick.

    From the Times:

    (Paul) DePodesta and Met General Manager Omar Minaya discussed a trade that would result in catcher Mike Piazza returning to Chavez Ravine in exchange for outfielder Shawn Green.

    The talks are in the preliminary stages and could include other players, but the swap makes more financial sense for the Dodgers than another potential deal involving Green, a trade that would bring outfielder Sammy Sosa to the Dodgers.

    The Newark Star-Ledger calls the possibility "remote."

    The Last Dodger HR Leader
    2004-11-09 16:33
    by Jon Weisman

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

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

    Until now!

    0695fu.jpgBeltre's home run doppleganger was born on Valentine's Day in New York, 125 years ago. A left-handed-hitting first baseman, Jordan made his debut at age 22 with the 1901 Washington Senators, but five years later, had only eight games and five hits in the majors to his name when he surfaced with the Brooklyn Superbas in 1906.

    That year, on one coast, San Francisco was shaken by an earthquake. On another, Brooklyn was shaken by ... Tim Jordan!

    Since 1900, according to Baseball Digest, three rookies have led the National League in home runs. Two of those were Brooklyn players at the turn of the century: outfielder Harry Lumley, who hit nine in 1904 (in the process becoming that rare home run leader to have more sacrifices than homers), and Jordan, who hit 12 in that 1906 season (with teammate Lumley again hitting nine to come in second). Both, by the way, finished behind the 1906 league leaders in triples, Pittsburgh's Fred Clarke and the Cubs' Frank Schulte each hitting 13, with Lumley hitting 12 in this category as well.

    It will go without saying for most people that this was the Deadball Era. Think Dave Ross struggled in 2004? Brooklyn's starting catcher, Bill Bergen, batted .159 with six extra-base hits and seven walks in 103 games. Only two other Superbas, Whitey Appleman and "Silent" John Hummel, even homered for the team - combining for four.

    Setting a precedent for Beltre, Jordan followed his smash rookie season by signing a seven-year, $103 million contract before the 1907 season (give or take six years and $102.99 million). Sadly, the cash went to his head and the homers went away from his bat. Jordan's home run production declined, by 67 percent, to four four-baggers, though the 6-foot-1, 170-pounder did boost his batting average and on-base percentage.

    But in 1908, Jordan rallied to post the season that would have us all (okay, me) talking 96 years later.

    1650fu.jpgWhen Jordan again eked out 12 home runs, for a 53-101 Brooklyn team in 1908, to lead the league, nobody knew it would be another century before a Dodger repeated the feat. What people did realize, however, was that Jordan had denied legendary Pittsburgh shortstop Honus Wagner, who had announced his retirement in March ("an annual rite of spring," according to only to show up and lead the league with a .354 batting average and 109 RBI, a Triple Crown. Wagner finished second in the NL with 10 home runs, falling short in the best chance, as it turned out, that Wagner had in his career for the feat.

    Despite leading the league with a home run total that was met or surpassed by 180 big leaguers in 2004, Jordan was no pansy. On July 22, 1908, Jordan became the first player to hit an over-the-fence home run at Pittsbugh's Exposition Park in the century. (Forbes Field opened the following season.) Foreshadowing many Dodger games of the future, Brooklyn lost the game, 2-1.

    Two weeks later, Jordan and his teammates were held hitless by St. Louis lefty Johnny Lush in a rain-shortened five-inning game, which the Cardinals won, 2-0, when Jordan dropped a fly ball with the bases loaded. Another story of the times: Jordan made 28 errors at first base that season and 89 from 1906-08.

    The NL's first two-time home run leader of the 1900s, Jordan was out of the majors before his 30th birthday. "Ailing knees forced his premature retirement," according to

    Tim Jordan died, at age 70, in 1949. Fifty-five years later, he came back to life.

    Image credits (1 and 2): KJA Consulting.

    Next Stop on the Time Capsule: 1959-66
    2004-11-09 15:54
    by Jon Weisman

    The Dodgers of 1959-1966 get the spotlight treatment from Steve Treder in the Wednesday edition of The Hardball Times. A sampling :

    The manner in which the Dodgers would respond to their 1964 problems was fascinating. One might expect that a team with plummeting offense would look to try and find another bat or two. Instead the Dodgers did just the opposite. In December they pulled off a blockbuster deal, easily the organization's most significant trade in at least a dozen years - and it was designed to bolster the pitching and defense, at the expense of the hitting. The Dodgers sent Howard, their only hitter with consistent home run power, to the Washington Senators, along with a promising young power-hitting third baseman (Ken McMullen) and two of the struggling young pitchers (Ortega and Richert). In return they received John Kennedy, a great-glove, no-bat third baseman, and the prize of the package: 25-year-old control-artist southpaw Claude Osteen.

    ...their remarkable run from 1959 through 1966 deserves recognition as a feat of patience and prudence, followed by a sudden dash of idiosyncratic boldness. In the long and storied history of the Dodger franchise, they may have had better teams, but few quite as successful, or as interesting.

    Pitchers to Pursue
    2004-11-09 10:35
    by Jon Weisman

    Here's a peek at 28 pitchers available on the free-agent market. Though it leaves off such players like hometown loyalist Roger Clemens and reclamation projects like Hideo Nomo and Shane Reynolds, and of course doesn't consider players available in trade, it still should give you a good idea of what's out there.

    SNLVAR is a Baseball Prospectus statistic that measures the team wins the pitcher provides in comparison to a replacement-level pitcher, accounting for the quality of the batters faced by the pitcher.

    Wilson AlvarezL34120.2109311024.031.1Still a top swingman
    Kris BensonR30200.1202611344.282.9This guy was a primo July trade target?
    Paul ByrdR33114.112319793.941.8Has his good moments and his injured ones
    Matt ClementR30181155771903.683.2Good numbers, still underrated
    Shawn EstesL312022231051175.84-0.1Somehow survived Colorado, somehow only 31
    O. HernandezR3584.27336843.302.9Best-looking potential bargain?
    Al LeiterL39173.2138971173.214.6Better version of Ishii: high walks but low hits
    Cory LidleR32211.1224611264.901.3Durable in '04 – that's about it
    Jon LieberR34176.2216181024.332.6Improved as season went on in comeback
    Jose LimaR32170.117834934.072.7You're paying for spirit and magic, here.
    Esteban LoaizaR32183217711175.701.5Probably not salvagable
    Derek LoweR31182.2224711055.420.7Postseason success obscures truly lousy year
    Pedro MartinezR33217193612273.905.5Still freaking good if not great, asking for moon
    Kevin MillwoodR29141155511254.850.5Recovery potential, will poor 2004 lower price?
    Eric MiltonL29201196751614.751.4Also gets Ks, but pricy and hittable (43 HR)
    Matt MorrisR30202205561314.721.8Inconsistent
    Russ OrtizR30204.21971121434.133.9Long overrated, people may be catching on
    Carl PavanoR28222.1212491393.005.6Control good, Ks average. Too hip a choice?
    Odalis PerezL27196.1180441283.255.0Stats similar to Pavano's
    Brad RadkeR32219.2229261433.486.9Best season of 10-year career
    Glendon RuschL30129.212733903.472.1Hmm … an older Odalis or younger Alvarez?
    Ismael ValdezR3117020249675.190.2Cue the talkshows if he signs. Ug-lee K numbers
    Ron VilloneL3411710264864.080.4Reliever who could spot start
    David WellsL41195.2203201013.734.2Wily and wooly - great control gets him by
    Woody WilliamsR38189.2193581314.182.4Another oldie but somewhat goodie
    Paul WilsonR31183.2192631174.362.6Mediocre
    Jamey WrightR2978.28245414.121.6Decent season in pitcher's park possible
    Jaret WrightR28186.1168701593.284.1Another Leo Mazzone success – great comeback

    Here are, in alphabetical order, the best-looking targets:

    Top targets, regardless of salary
    Matt Clement
    Jon Lieber
    Pedro Martinez
    Carl Pavano
    Odalis Perez
    Brad Radke
    Woody Williams
    Jaret Wright

    Top bargain candidates
    Wilson Alvarez
    Orlando Hernandez
    Glendon Rusch

    There really isn't enough pitching to go around, is there?

    Another High Mark for Dodger Defense
    2004-11-09 04:04
    by Jon Weisman

    Even accounting for the fact that their ballpark is conducive for good defense, the Dodgers fielded, by a wide margin, the top defensive team in baseball in 2004, according to James Click of Baseball Prospectus.

    Dodger Stadium was the sixth-easiest major-league park to play defense in, behind Cinergy Field, Network Associates Coliseum, Miller Park, ProPlayer Stadium and Camden Yards. Surprisingly, SBC Park in San Francisco was the most challenging place, ahead of Coors Field in Colorado. That propelled the Giants' defense to third-best in baseball.

    However, the Dodgers still topped the charts, with St. Louis coming in second.

    "What I found most interesting," writes Click, "was that the Dodgers and Cardinals - baseball’s two best defensive teams - managed to hold their top spots despite park factors that suggest some of their prowess is a result of friendlier confines than other teams. Also, despite some of the more well-publicized gaffes of the post-season, the Red Sox come out in the top tier of defenders. If the Sox’s braintrust truly was focusing on defense this season they accomplished their goals, as Boston’s new World Series champions flashed a great deal more leather than could have been expected.

    "The rest of the playoff field seems to run the full range of defensive ability as the Cardinals, Dodgers and Red Sox finished well ahead of the pack while the Yankees, Astros and Braves finished well behind," he adds. "With the Angels and Twins both slightly below average, we can chalk up another point for those who feel that defense isn't a good predictor of who will reach the playoffs. However, considering how well the Cardinals and Red Sox did in October with their superior defenses, the idea that defense wins in the playoffs could be argued. Of course, considering some of the 'defense' we witnessed in these playoffs, it's tough to say that that had anything to do with who won the games."

    You Put the Lima in the Coconut ...
    2004-11-09 02:19
    by Jon Weisman

    Over at Dominican Players, Raul Tavares reports that:

  • Jose Lima says he has contract offers from seven teams, including the Dodgers, but that the Padres have made the top offer so far.

  • Cody Ross, a Dodger backup outfield candidate for 2005, was released by winter league ballclub Escogido "due to poor performance."

  • Yhency Brazoban has been okay as the closer with Licey, although most recently he blew a save by allowing a two-run home run to Wilson Betemit.

  • And, there's been a Carlos Perez sighting ...

  • Turns Out People Like Me Can Publish a Book
    2004-11-09 01:47
    by Jon Weisman

    The newly released 2004 Hardball Times Baseball Annual offers several items of interest to fans of the Dodgers and the National League West, including an in-depth review of the 2004 season in words and statistics. Created by the plucky and insightful folks at The Hardball Times, the book is available in a print version for $16.75 plus shipping or in a downloadable version for $6.25.

    As Christian Ruzich writes, "The Aaron Gleeman media empire rolls on, and I still have trouble finding my keys every morning."

    Angels in America (Southern California, Specifically)
    2004-11-08 12:35
    by Jon Weisman

    Los Angeles Angels. California Angels. Anaheim Angels. Hmm...

  • The first of these really seems the strangest, its appeal limited mostly to its throwback status. Admittedly, a Los Angeles-Los Angeles rivalry could be fun, however artificial.

  • Given the team's desire to appeal to a wider audience, the second of these seems most logical.

  • My sense is that Anaheim's public has supported the Angels just fine. Seems a shame to cut the cord on the third name.

  • Dare we consider a fourth way? There is a precedent.

    However it goes, it's nothing to get into an uproar about. The days of sports teams all having the correct geographic name are long gone.

  • The 2005 Dodger Payroll: Spending Room
    2004-11-06 15:54
    by Jon Weisman

    Frank McCourt and Paul DePodesta both said this week that the 2005 Dodger payroll could easily approach $100 million. If that turns out to be the case, the natural question is, how much of that money is currently free to spend?

    The following outlines my best salary estimate for the players the Dodgers are currently committed to for 2005. I have made educated guesses for salaries of arbitration-eligible players - those might be off, particularly in the case of Eric Gagne, but I’d say that the total margin for error is fairly negligible. (For more information, go to The 2004-05 Offseason: A Preview.)

    Catchers (2)
    Ross: $315,000
    Total to date: $315,000

    Infielders (6)
    Choi: $325,000
    Cora: $2,000,000
    Izturis: $500,000
    Perez: $300,000
    Total to date: $3,125,000

    Outfielders (6)
    Bradley: $2,250,000
    Grabowski: $320,000
    Green: $16,000,000
    Werth: $340,000
    Total to date: $18,910,000

    Starting pitchers (5)
    Ishii: $3,230,000
    Jackson: $310,000
    Penny: $4,000,000
    Weaver: $7,750,000
    Total to date: $15,290,000

    Relief pitchers (6)
    Brazoban: $325,000
    Carrara: $450,000
    Gagne: $7,500,000
    Sanchez: $325,000
    Total to date: $8,600,000

    Disabled List (1)
    Dreifort: $13,000,000

    Team Total (26)
    18 players, 8 vacancies: $59,240,000
    Cash remaining: approximately $40 million
    Cash per vacancy: $5 million

    Just to start to play with these figures: if you assume that the Dodgers will fill two of the position-player vacancies and one bullpen vacancy with minimum-wage minor leaguers or low-salaried free agents, say at a total of $2 million for the trio, that leaves about $38 million for five slots.

    Commit a healthy $13 million to Adrian Beltre for the first year of his new contract (the hope here is actually that Beltre will come in for less), and that still leaves $25 million for four slots: a catcher, outfielder and two pitchers. (Only one starting pitcher vacancy is listed, though realistically, there are question marks surrounding Ishii, Jackson and Penny.)

    You could have four $6 million players, or two $10 million players, a $4 million player and a $1 million player, or ...

    Okay, folks. Go to town.

    P.S. Did I read the Green-Sosa article? Yes. Felt like a hot stove starved for something to cook.

    The Dodgers Author Talks Shop
    2004-11-04 07:38
    by Jon Weisman

    Glenn Stout, whose book with Richard A. Johnson, The Dodgers: 120 Years of Dodger Baseball, was excerpted Wednesday on Dodger Thoughts, also answered some quick questions this week about the book's creation.

    How long did this take you to research and write? Well, that depends on what is meant by "research." In a sense, all my books in some way build on my base of baseball knowledge that has been built over a lifetime.

    But in a more direct way I would say this book probably began in the mid-1990s, when I was researching and writing a book on Jackie Robinson (Jackie Robinson: Between the Baselines, Walker 1997). That book alerted me to the fact even for a person as well-known as Robinson, there were vast areas of his story that were lesser known. For example, the role the black press played in making certain that when anyone from the major leagues went looking for a black player, there was already a player they had "pre-selected" to break the color line. That was Jackie Robinson. An old sportswriter in the African American press, Doc Kountze, tipped me off to this in the late 1980s. The series of oddities that took place during Robinson’s spring with the Dodgers in 1947 is another example.

    In short, throughout my whole career, which started out writing about Boston sports history, I continually stumbled across untold stories or perspectives about even the best-known subjects. I found this true while researching and writing both Red Sox Century and Yankees Century, and knew that the Dodgers would be similarly fertile, particularly because most books about the team were either just about the Dodgers in Brooklyn, or just about them in L.A.

    Red Sox Century, which was published in 2000, was a book Richard Johnson and I discussed doing the first time we met, back in 1986. By the time we started working on it in about 1996, we knew the Yankees were the next logical subject, and then the Dodgers. Those three teams, along with the Cardinals and a few others, like the Cubs and Giants, are baseball’s signature franchises. Actual aggressive work one the project began shortly after I finished Yankees Century in the fall of 2001. I start by reading everything to put together a timeline of significant events, then bury myself in microfilm to ferret out what actually happened. I didn’t go to Los Angeles (although I’ve been there before) but I did spend a week in Brooklyn. The writing part takes place very quickly – over about six months – but then again, I’m getting faster at it.

    Other than the basic idea of creating a comprehensive history of the team, did you have any specific goals for this book? I’m not interested in repeating stories that have been told in other books. As much as possible, I try to build the books from the best historical record that still exists, which essentially means from old newspaper stories. I try not to assume that anything previously written in book form is correct but start new, without prejudice, and just write what I find, telling the story season to season.

    Specific to this book, I wanted to write about the Dodgers as a single story, not as two teams in two places during two different time periods. For old Brooklyn Dodger fans, I hope to show them that the L.A. edition of the team shares some characteristics born in Brooklyn. For L.A. fans, I hope the book delivers a past they previously knew relatively little about. The book is one story; the Dodgers are one team, I think fans who’ve limited themselves to either just the Brooklyn Dodgers or the L.A. Dodgers have missed out. The Dodger story is bigger than either place. That’s also why I began the book with a prologue, about Roy Campanella’s accident in winter after the team had announced it was leaving Brooklyn but before they had arrived in Los Angeles. For a brief period of time, Campanella and the others were simply "Dodgers," and hopefully the prologue works to inform fans of both Brooklyn and L.A. that there is something in this book for them. It lays out the themes, foreshadows the story.

    How did your process of writing this book differ from your other team books? As I’ve already described, the process was very much the same. I don’t write anecdotal history – you know, just talking to a bunch of players and relate their anecdotes. Those books are entertaining, but often without context or much lasting value; they’re disposable. I also try not to retell what others have already told in their books. For example, Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer and Jane Leavy’s Koufax. Both books are well known and cover a specific story from a specific perspective quite well. So I don’t tell readers what those books have already told them.

    But during those time periods there are still other perspectives and other stories than can add to the cumulative history – this book I think adds to the stories told by Kahn and Leavy. In every team history I write, I try to find the lasting personality and character of a team, and how the place they play informs that character. Here, obviously, Brooklyn and Los Angeles provide two extraordinarily strong influences that in contrast make each place stand out even more so. And along the way I always try to keep these two questions in mind – why do they win when they win? Why do they lose when they lose? That’s what really matters.

    When you're done with a project like this, do you remain interested in the team, or have you had about all of the Dodgers you can take for a while? I not only remain interested, I’m usually more interested, because each win and loss after I’ve written a book sort of informs what I’ve written, adding to it, or in some cases, changing what I think. That being said, I do have to turn away at a certain point and move on to the next project. You know, I finished this book about a year ago. Now I have to read it to be prepared to talk about it, because I’m already a couple projects past it. It’s very strange for me to read my own books and come across long passages that I have absolutely no recollection of writing. I find myself questioning myself. I’ll read something and go, "Really? I don’t remember that," then run back to my notes in a panic to see if what I wrote really happened. I haven’t stumped myself yet, but it's always interesting to me when it happens. So I figure if I have that experience reading what I’ve written, readers of the book should find it something of a discovery too. I have to admit though, that after doing one of these team books, which at 250,000 words is much longer that most books, it takes me about six months to re-charge.

    What was the most surprising thing or things you learned about the team? In a sense it’s all surprising, because I try not to assume I know anything in advance, but I was surprised to see the way Brooklyn had already abandoned the Dodgers before 1958 – even as they won a world championship in 1955, the writing was on the wall – crowds were down, Brooklyn was changing and people really didn’t care. There’s an awful lot of hagiography about the post-war Dodgers.

    And Koufax. Absolutely incredible. After they knew he was hurt and that every game could be his last, neither he nor the organization protected him at all. He pitched more, not less, again and again and again and was remarkable. Makes you wonder what might have happened if they had been a bit more cautious with him – 35 starts a year as opposed to 41 or 42, 250 innings instead of 350 plus. No short rest starts, or relief appearances. If they’d have done that after 1963 or so he might have pitched another 10 years. But they burned him out – something the organization has almost always done with pitchers, and in Koufax’s case he was so good the rest of the organization got incredibly lazy. Who needed hitting when Koufax wouldn’t give up any runs?

    Part of the reason they burned him out, I think, was those one year contracts for the managers. They had no incentive but to win now. That extracted a price. One way to think about Koufax today is to imagine Pedro Martinez at his best – say 1999 thru 2001 or so. But Koufax pitched almost twice as often at that level.

    What do you think a current, particularly a young, Dodger fan would find most interesting of the team's early days, say pre-1940? Presuming they are already informed about the "Boys of Summer" era, I think they’ll be surprised that the team had a rich history even before then. The Dodgers were always at the forefront of the game – first ballpark, first admission charge, first pitcher to throw a curve ball and so on. Dodger history tells you the history of the game.

    Your writing about Al Campanis' appearance on Nightline is particularly strong. You refute defenders of his conduct very lucidly. Was this a response you had ready for a while, or did you develop this point of view during your research for the book? From the time I first began writing sports history, the subject of race has always seemed to me to be overlooked, or marginalized, told as a series of events that just pop up but are rarely dealt with consistently over time. Yet race is present as an issue every day in this society. I didn’t have an idea about Campanis incident in advance. Although I remembered it when it happened I hadn’t looked at it closely. But his response to the questions that night wasn’t just the accidental blubberings of an over-tired elderly man – they were identical to the doctrinaire responses of hate groups. His words weren't accidental but pre-meditated – he'd obviously held those opinions and had voiced them before, but privately. The way I present the story is an example of how I approach projects. I had no opinion about it beforehand, but wrote what I discovered.

    What are you working on now? Well, I just published a story about the untold history of the "Curse" for, in which I reveal that a) the "Curse" is an artificial concept invented in 1986 and the reason Sox the Curse identifies Harry Frazee as the evil bastard goes all the way back to 1921 when Henry Ford incorrectly identified Frazee as a Jew in his anti-Semitic newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. I’ve received more positive responses from readers than for anything else I’ve ever written, plus a measure of hate mail from anti-Semites and those who think the curse is cute and are pissed that I took the fun and profit out of it.

    I also just finished a story on Jackie Robinson’s 1945 tryout with the Red Sox that an academic journal, The Massachusetts Historical Review, asked me to write, and I’ve recently completely juvenile biographies of Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth as part of the "Matt Christopher" series. In addition to my work as series editor for The Best American Sports Writing series, I’m currently working on a book for Scribner with Charlie Vitchers and Bobby Gray, two construction workers who were heavily involved with the cleanup of the World Trade Center, to tell the story of the cleanup from the perspective of the workers. Now that the Red Sox have won the Series, I’ll be updating Red Sox Century, and Richard Johnson and I have just agreed to write another team history, about the Cubs. This is what I do for a living. I’m very fortunate.

    Is the picture (click on thumbnail for better quality) of the smiling Brooklyn Dodger at the front of the book not one of the greatest of all-time? I think it is. My partner Richard Johnson does all the photo research and captioning, and I think he’s the best there is at finding images to enhance and illuminate the text. We really try to give readers two books – the most thorough and comprehensive written history, and the best illustrated history. Each are given equal weight.

    2004-11-03 12:23
    by Jon Weisman

    National League Gold Glove winners will be announced today. It's probably too much to expect a three-quarters-time player like Alex Cora to earn one, or even that Adrian Beltre will knock out Scott Rolen (we all know how tough it is to beat an incumbent). But if the Beethoven of the ballpark, Cesar Izturis, is denied this time around, we really might as well just give up.

    Update: And there it is: Izturis wins. Rolen wins at third base, and Luis Castillo wins at second base. Izturis is the league's only first-time winner this year.

    But hey - who's that winning in the outfield? None other than Steve Finley - and the Dodgers get the affiliation. Congratulations. And yet, I wonder, is Finley really a better outfielder than, say, Milton Bradley?

    Exclusive: Excerpt from The Dodgers: 120 Years of Dodger Baseball
    2004-11-03 09:33
    by Jon Weisman

    As many of you know, I am dying to write a book about the Dodgers - and have been held back only by the lack of a patron and the lack of time to earn one. You know, good ol' excuses.

    Two people who doesn't need to make excuses are Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson. With books on the Yankees and Red Sox already under their belts, they have now created The Dodgers: 120 Years of Dodger Baseball. A comprehensive review of the entire history of the Dodger franchise, with encyclopedic information, interviews, a wide range of photographs and pointed commentary, The Dodgers: 120 Years of Dodger Baseball is a book any Dodger fan should consider as the holiday shopping and by-the-fireplace reading season begins.

    In a combination of promotional savvy and kindness (with an emphasis on the latter), Stout was good enough to allow me to excerpt a chapter of my choice for Dodger Thoughts. Though tempted in a number of different areas, I chose his chapter on the most unexplored period in Los Angeles Dodger history, the time from Sandy Koufax's retirement through the end of the Walter Alston era. It was a period that laid the groundwork for the Dodgers many of us grew up with it, but as I've written before in my feature on the 1967 season, it's fallen too far from the radar screen.

    Later this week, I'll have a short interview with Stout, who will also appear with Johnson for a reading and panel discussion at Bob Timmermann's Los Angeles Public Library on November 10. Sometime in the next year or 50, I'll have my book completed. In the meantime, enjoy the following excerpt.

    * * *

    From The Dodgers: 120 Years of Dodger Baseball (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). Text by Glenn Stout. Photos selected and edited by Richard Johnson. Copyright 2004 by Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson, all rights reserved.

    Chapter Fourteen: 1967-1976
    California Dreaming

    Six months after playing in the World Series, Dodger GM Buzzie Bavasi made an admission that only a few months before would have been unthinkable.

    "We always want to win the pennant and we always expect to, but we don't think the public expects us to win this year . . . So we think we're free to experiment." For in the six months since the World Series, the Dodgers had changed more dramatically since before the days of Branch Rickey.

    Since coming to Los Angeles in 1958, the Dodgers had enjoyed one long sweet ride. In less than a decade, they had achieved more success than they had ever dreamed of in Brooklyn - at the gate, on the field and everywhere else it mattered. Unless one still lived in Brooklyn, or maybe Long Island, whenever anyone mentioned the Dodgers they evoked visions of palm trees and Dodger Stadium, fastballs and starlets, stolen bases and champagne.

    If any team in baseball had adopted the swagger that until recently had belonged only to the Yankees, it was the LA Dodgers. Yet almost as soon as the 1966 World Series ended, despite possessing a pitching staff that still appeared capable of giving them a chance to win, the Dodgers were prepared to toss it way, to play "wait til next year" before next year had even started.

    That approach would be an enormous mistake, one that would take nearly another decade to overcome fully, a decade in which the team that had so long been ahead of the curve spent much of its time, if not behind the curve, behind other teams.

    Of course, the wheels had started to fall off shortly after the end of the 1966 season. In the days following the loss to Baltimore, it was clear there had to be some changes – scoring only two runs in the World Series was embarrassing.

    Even Alston admitted, "It's pretty obvious we need a solid swinger," but he should have been thinking plural, not singular. And he dismissed the notion of getting a bonafide slugger, saying, "I don't care so much for a long ball hitter because our park isn't built that way." In a story headlined, "Are Dodgers Due to Collapse Like Yanks?" the Times openly wondered if the loss to Baltimore was akin to the Yankees loss to the Cardinals two years before, a herald of bad times ahead. And this was before anyone even knew Koufax wasn't returning.

    A few days after the debacle against Baltimore, the team was scheduled to leave for Japan to represent American baseball in the annual goodwill tour. Koufax and Drysdale begged off, citing fatigue. Maury Wills also wanted out. As much as either pitcher, playing a 162-game season took a toll on Wills. By October his legs were a mess, a mass of abrasions and bruises.

    But Wills wasn't Koufax or Drysdale. The Dodgers bluntly told him he had to go, and Wills went – grudgingly. But after only a few days he left without club permission and went to Hawaii.

    O'Malley took it personally. Ballplayers were changing. The nineteen sixties were starting to take hold and players were beginning to think for themselves. After being a holdout in 1966, Wills' defection was the last straw, a sign of egregious disloyalty. O'Malley wired Bavasi – who didn't make the trip either, but went on a cruise - and told him to get rid of Wills ASAP.

    While Bavasi endeavored to do just that, Koufax was mulling just how to announce his retirement. He wanted to do it right after the Series, for there was already some speculation that he might call it quits – his recently published book was full of hints. Writers were pestering him with questions about his plans and he tried to be diplomatic, telling them only "I won't be able to say I'll return until I see how my elbow feels next spring," but he felt as if he were lying.

    On November 16, while the Dodgers were in Japan and Wills was playing his banjo in a bar in Hawaii, Koufax told Bavasi he was done. Bavasi begged him to hold off on any announcement for at least a week, until O'Malley returned from the Japan, or even better, until after baseball's winter meeting. Bavasi knew he needed another pitcher and if Koufax announced his retirement before then, he'd be dealing from a position of weakness. He hoped there was another Osteen out there.

    But now Koufax had the hammer. And he remembered how he'd been treated the previous spring during the holdout.

    He didn't wait for O'Malley or anyone else. He held a press conference on November 18 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and announced his decision. He was understated, as usual, "I don't have much to say, just a short statement. A few minutes ago I sent Buzzie Bavasi a letter asking him to put me on the voluntarily retired list." Then he took questions and told reporters the reason for his retirement was, quite simply, his arm. But the pain and fear that his arm would be permanently damaged was only part of it; the treatments he took were just as much a concern. "I had to take a shot every ballgame," he admitted, "I don't know if cortisone is good for you." He added that he had been taking so many drugs that while pitching he felt "high half the time."

    In Japan, his teammates were stunned. Most echoed Ron Fairly, who said simply "There's no way to replace him." The press concurred. Wrote Charles Maher in the Times, "This may appear to put the Dodgers in terrible trouble. But it is actually a little worse than that."

    No kidding. Bavasi was already bemoaning the future. Although he said, "For fourteen years they've been telling me to get rid of my older players. And in that time we've won only eight pennants," he knew that now it was different. Koufax was completely irreplaceable.

    And while it was common knowledge that the Dodgers were mad at Wills, it wasn't yet public knowledge that he'd be traded. Now that Koufax was gone, that didn't make any sense, did it?

    No, but that didn't matter – that wasn't the point. Getting rid of Wills for skipping out on a series of exhibition games made little sense as it was. Getting rid of him after the Koufax retirement meant none whatsoever. But he'd embarrassed O'Malley.

    There wasn't a huge market for Wills. At thirty-four he was old for an infielder, and his skills weren't much in demand, for few other clubs had the need to scratch and claw for runs like the Dodgers. They didn't need a player to steal bases, and the consensus was that Wills was starting to slow down. The shortstop position was still viewed as essentially a defensive position and Wills was no longer a very good fielder. He'd always been erratic, and while his shortcomings had been masked playing half a season on the rock-hard infield of Dodger Stadium, that wasn't the case elsewhere.

    The Dodgers also had to get a shortstop back in the deal. Bavasi opened shop and there received few offers. "The line," he moaned, "is not forming to the right."

    At the winter meetings, he did what he could. For some reason, the New York Mets thought Tommie Davis would regain his earlier form. The Dodgers thought he was babying his leg and had run out of patience waiting for him to be a star. Bavasi packaged him with infielder Derrell Griffith in exchange for second baseman Ron Hunt and outfielder Jim Hickman, a sometime slugger coming off a broken wrist. Hunt was actually pretty good, but had trouble controlling his temper. During the 1966 season he'd written his ticket out of New York when in a fit of rage he'd thrown a bat into his own dugout. The Dodgers now planned to move Lefebvre to third, a perennial trouble spot. If they kept Wills the Dodger infield was looking pretty good.

    But that wasn't going to happen. Wills and the Dodgers started arguing in public. The shortstop said his knees were bad and that if he didn't play with the Dodgers, he might not play at all. In response, the Dodgers announced they'd cut his salary by the full legal amount, 25%. The end result made him even less valuable in trade.

    Yet on December 1 Bavasi agreed to a trade with the Pirates. All he could get for Wills was Bob Bailey and Gene Michael. Michael was a triple-A shortstop who couldn't hit, while Bailey, a native of Long Beach, was a California high school legend turned bonus baby who had stagnated on the Pirate bench and never fulfilled his promise.

    Wills couldn't believe it. He considered himself as a much a part of the club's success as Koufax, and in a way, he was. On a team that had a hard time scoring and that played in a place like Dodger Stadium, he had been invaluable. And now he was being traded for a couple of spare parts because he flew to Hawaii? "I feel I've been as loyal and dedicated as any ballplayer that ever wore a Dodger uniform," he said.

    And that was it. The Dodgers – the LA Dodgers - the team that had used pitching, speed and defense to win three world championships - were finished, just like that. The farm system, apart from pitching prospects, was barren. The Dodgers had been blind to their weaknesses, convinced they could always win with pitching, that hitting didn't matter. They stocked up on arms and let the offense take care of itself. But when they traded Wills they lost any chance they had to remain respectable.

    Bavasi was finished making deals. The Dodgers didn't even try to add a veteran starter to replace Koufax. Bob Miller started on Opening Day and lost to the Reds, 6-1. It wasn't long before the press began referring to the pitcher as "Bomb" Miller. Rookie Bill Singer soon took over for him in the rotation.

    The Dodgers still had pitching, but even according to their low standards they couldn't hit, scoring nearly 100 runs less than in 1966, averaging barely three runs a game. In Don Drysdale's sixteen losses, the Dodgers scored a total of fifteen runs. Gene Michael hit .202 and couldn't field either. Bailey hit .227. Lou Johnson broke his leg.

    Wills hit .302 for Pittsburgh. Only the Astros and Mets kept the Dodgers out of last place. They finished 73-89. More significantly attendance at Dodger Stadium dropped by a million fans, down to only1.6 million, less than the pennant-winning Cardinals and Red Sox, the first time since moving from Brooklyn that the Dodgers hadn't led the majors in that category.

    Some experiment. And it didn't not appear as if 1968 would bring any improvement. It was obvious the Dodgers missed Wills and needed offense, so in the offseason Bavasi made a trade he thought would make up for it, sending Roseboro, Ron Perranoski and Bob Miller to the Twins for Zoilo Versalles and Mudcat Grant.

    It would have been an interesting trade two years earlier. Now it was simply a swap of fading veterans.

    It soon became clear why Bavasi had never made many trades – he didn't know how. He dealt for names, not talent. Lou Johnson was sent to the Cubs for Paul Popovich, an infielder with no pop whatsoever. He bought former slugger Rocky Colavito from the White Sox and sent Hunt to the Giants for catcher Tom Haller.

    All it did was a shuffle the deck – badly. Versalles was terrible and hit .196, Colavito was almost as bad. Haller helped, but Popovich was dismal.

    Just before the start of the 1968 season the Dodgers made another monumental mistake. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4 and America erupted. While the rest of baseball suspended operations, the Dodgers went ahead and played an exhibition game at Dodger Stadium versus Cleveland. And when the rest of baseball pushed back opening day until after King's funeral on April 9, the Dodgers planned to play, even though their opponents, the Philadelphia Phillies, announced they would rather forfeit than participate. Hollywood even postponed the Academy Awards. But the Dodgers, the team that signed Jackie Robinson, insisted on playing their game.

    Everything Bavasi said about the situation made him sound insensitive and the organization appear totally out of touch. "I talked to Willie Davis and [coach] Jim Gilliam," said Bavasi of the team's two high profile African-Americans. "I told them the game would be played but they would not have to participate. It is similar to the time when Sandy Koufax did not play because of religious holidays." It was not.

    He said the Dodgers planned to play "to give people some sort of amusement when they need it most. It may help keep people off the streets and to forget their anger." Besides, he reasoned, the Dodgers were playing a night game – King's funeral was in the morning.

    The Dodgers were excoriated over the decision. On April 8 O'Malley and Bavasi met and finally backed down but the damage to the teams' reputation was done. Bavasi didn't help matters by saying afterwards, "There's no sense bumping our heads against a stone wall," as if the decision had somehow been correct and everybody else was wrong. They simply didn't understand that choosing not to play was a simple matter of respect.

    The Dodgers were trying to give the 1968 season a theme. They called it "Operation Bounceback." And when they finally opened on April 10, that's just what they did, bouncing back to where they'd ended 1967. Chris Short and Phillies shut them out 2-0.

    Dodger observers were finally starting to get impatient. Columnist Charles Maher in the Times referred to the club's home schedule as "eighty-one slumber parties" and offered that from the fan's perspective the season slogan should really be, "We're tired of sitting on a stiff board when we are bored stiff." Lack of offense was a problem throughout baseball in the 1960s, but the Dodgers raised it to an art form. Even club vice president Fresco Thompson went on record as a supporter of the "wild card" hitter, a notion similar to the designated hitter. No team needed that more than the Dodgers. Unless they won by shutout, it was hard for them to win at all.

    And no Dodger pitcher knew that better than Don Drysdale. Now that Koufax was gone, the pitcher they called "Big D" was supposed to fill the same role he had. But as the Times' Dan Hafner commented after Drysdale's eighth start of the season on May 14, "The Dodgers can get a run for almost any pitcher [but] the pitcher had better be prepared to hurl a shutout though if he expects to win." After seven starts, Drysdale's only victory was a 1-0 whitewashing of the Mets, and in their last four games, LA had scored only a single run in each. Hafner had no idea just how prophetic his words would be.

    This time, the Dodgers got one for Drysdale, and he followed Hafner's advice, shutting down the Cubs on two hits to win 1-0. After the game, a clearly exhausted Drysdale was asked if he thought he could pitch twenty shutouts.

    "Oh my heavens, no," he said. "I couldn't stand something like this every time out. I'm too old for that."

    But he wasn't. In his next three starts, Drysdale threw shutouts. The major league record was five shutouts in a row, set back in 1904 by Chicago White Sox pitcher Doc White.

    When Drysdale took the mound at Dodger Stadium against the Giants on May 31 for a chance to tie White's mark, there was more excitement in the stands that at any time since 1966. And more people. More than 46,000 fans packed the park for a chance to witness history.

    The Dodgers gave him a lead in the second when, miraculously, Colavito doubled and Bailey followed with a single, which for the Dodgers was nearly the equivalent of batting around. They added single runs in the third and eighth and Drysdale took the mound needing only three outs to make history.

    Drysdale hadn't been in much trouble all night. Only one Giants hitter, the pitcher Mike McCormick, had made it as far as second base.

    Still, Drysdale hadn't been particularly sharp. He'd thrown a ton of pitches and although he hadn't walked anybody, he'd gone to a three-ball count on a dozen hitters. His fastball was tailing and his sinker dropping out of the strike zone, movement that led most hitters to believe that Drysdale was doctoring the ball.

    In the ninth, the Giants were determined to break his streak. There was still considerable bad blood between the two teams and San Francisco, in first place, enjoyed looking down at the seventh place Dodgers. Willie McCovey worked a walk – the first of the night – then Jim Ray Hart singled and McCovey stopped at second. Dave Marshall followed with a walk and with no outs the bases were loaded.

    Alston was in a quandary. As much as he wanted Drysdale to get the record, he also wanted to win the game. In the seventh inning he made a few changes to put his best defensive team on the field. Now, with San Francisco catcher Dick Dietz up, he had to decide whether to play the infield in to cut off the run at the plate, or back for the double play, conceding the run. He kept the infield back, making Drysdale's task a little bit harder.

    Dietz worked the count to 2-2. Then Drysdale came inside with a fastball. The pitch hit Dietz, a right-handed hitter, on the left elbow. The hitter dropped his bat and started to first base as McCovey started toward home.

    Home plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt immediately called him back and called the pitch ball three. Dietz got in his face and started to argue, and San Francisco manager Herman Franks raced from the dugout.

    Dietz, ruled Wendelstedt, had made no effort to avoid the pitch. In such an instance, the umpire did not have to recognize that the pitch hit him.

    That's what the rule said, but the judgement call is one of the most rare in baseball. Franks tried to argue, but Wendelstedt was unmoved. "It was the worst call I've ever seen," raged Franks later.

    But now Drysdale, with the crowd threatening to explode, still had to work out of the bases loaded jam. With the count 3-2, Dietz flew out to short left field. McCovey had to stay put.

    Alston kept the infield at double play depth, but with pinch-hitter Ty Cline at bat, he moved everyone in a single step. Cline smashed a pitch to the right side.

    It went directly to first baseman Wes Parker, acknowledged by most as the best fielding first baseman in the game. He dug the ball out of the dirt and fired home for the force out. Now Drysdale was one out away from the record.

    In his previous start, against Houston, he had wiggled out of a similar jam, giving up two hits, a walk and hit batsman in the ninth, only to be saved by a spectacular double play. But this was escape artistry of another order.

    Jack Hiatt was the last hitter. Drysdale, who had already thrown more than 150 pitches, jammed him and Hiatt popped the ball up to Wes Parker. Drysdale had the record and his teammates mobbed him as if he had just won the World Series.

    But the Giants were still livid. Franks called Wendelstedt a "Gutless son of a bitch," after the game and said "put Wendelstedt's name on the trophy first." He went on to claim the pitch in question was a "Vaseline ball." Dietz denied being hit on purpose, saying the pitch froze him and all he had done was "Flinch before it hit me."

    The Dodgers backed their ace. Alston admitted that he had never before seen such a call in his long career, "but then it's the first time I ever saw anyone get deliberately hit by the ball." Dodger catcher Jeff Torborg concurred and said, "As soon as the ball hit Dietz, ‘I yelled, ‘Hey!' and Wendelstedt was already making his call." Drysdale, for the record, called the pitch a slider, and the victory "the biggest thrill of my life."

    The shutout put a few more records within reach. He had not given up an earned run in his last 49 innings and only two in 67 innings for the season. He needed only two more scoreless innings to match Carl Hubbell's NL record of 46 1/3. Another shutout would give him that record all by himself, and put Walter Johnson's major league record of 56 consecutive scoreless innings within reach.

    In his next start against Pittsburgh on June 4, he was near perfect again. He broke Hubbell's mark with a second inning strikeout of Bill Mazeroski, and cruised from there, shutting out the Pirates on three hits to win 5-0 and run his scoreless streak to 54.

    Excitement over Drysdale's record assault obscured two events that would, in the end, prove more important to Dodger history. At the end of May, Buzzie Bavasi announced that he would resign as Dodger general manager and become part owner of the expansion franchise in San Diego that would begin play in 1969.

    That was the first sign that changes were about to take place atop the Dodger organization. Walter O'Malley was getting old and maneuvering to put his son, Peter, atop the organization. He'd already served the organization for a number of years in the minor leagues, and was ready to assume a greater role. Bavasi, who had never been cut into ownership by O'Malley, saw the San Diego opportunity as his big chance to cash in.

    Next to O'Malley, Bavasi was as responsible for the shape of the organization as any man since Branch Rickey. But after Rickey's club grew old Bavasi had been slow to react as Dodger offense took a dive and he didn't have a plan after the retirement of Koufax. His trades since then had been disasters. The farm system, although under the control of player development director Al Campanis and Fresco Thompson, had not provided a first-rate position player in years. Most Dodger prospects seemed to follow a familiar pattern – early success, like that enjoyed by Tommie Davis and Jim Lefebvre - followed by a long slow decline. Dodger minor leaguers, many of whom had been considered absolute blue chippers when first signed, seemed to peak early, and time and time again the club seemed to rush players to the majors a year before they were ready.

    The system did a good job identifying talent, but was not adept at projecting future performance. Like the Yankees as few years earlier, the Dodgers signed prospects who looked like ballplayers instead of the real thing. While the Dodgers were the first system to put into place the now standard numeric grading system which rates skills on a point scale from 20 to 80, the Dodgers also looked for what they called "the good face," a ballplayer who looked the way they expected a ballplayer to look. The result was a good looking team, but not a whole lot of talent.

    Fresco Thompson took over for Bavasi, although many thought he was really just a stopgap hire to prevent him from jumping to Montreal, but in the 1968 free agent draft held a few weeks later, the Dodgers hit the jackpot. Either Bavasi had been the problem or maybe it was just time for the Dodgers to get lucky. After all, if Drysdale could hit a batter with a pitch with the bases loaded and still pitch a shutout, anything was possible. Among the players they selected were unknown kids named Bobby Valentine, Steve Garvey, Bill Buckner, Ron Cey, Tom Paciorek, Joe Ferguson and Doyle Alexander. Lee Lacy would be selected the following February. None would stay unknown for long and few teams have ever had a more productive draft. These "good faces" also had some skills.

    For now, the face everyone was interested in was still Don Drysdale's. On June 8 he took the mound against the Phillies in pursuit of a record seventh shutout in a row.

    An overflow crowd filled Dodger Stadium, and Drysdale was the big story in baseball. For the first time, his nerves betrayed him. He had other things on his mind. A supporter of Robert F. Kennedy, Drysdale was shaken by his assassination on June 5– in 1968, it was hard to play baseball without taking into account the madness that seemed to be breaking out all over the country. Of his first eight pitches, seven missed the plate and with one out he walked John Briggs. But Versalles then made a great stop and Drysdale settled down.

    He passed Johnson in the third, inducing Roberto Pena to ground out to Ken Boyer and set his sights on the shutout.

    But now that Drysdale had the record, Phillies manager Gene Mauch wanted to win the game. He went out and spoke with umpire Augie Donatelli, and as Drysdale walked off the field, Donatelli stopped him, examined his wrist and then had Drysdale take off his cap. The umpire ran his fingers through his hair and found what later referred to as "greasy kid stuff." Donatelli suspected Drysdale was doctoring the ball, using Vaseline rubbed in his a hair, which he then transferred to his fingers between pitches. That enabled him to throw a pitch like a spitball, one that would squirt out of his fingers with little spin and drop sharply. Then, to emphasize the point, when Drysdale took the mound to start the fourth, Donatelli told him not to touch his head with his hand. If he did, he'd be thrown from the game.

    The admonition bothered Drysdale. In the fifth, Tony Taylor and Clay Dalrymple singled. With Taylor on third, pinch hitter Howie Bedell, just up from the minors, hit a fly ball to left. Taylor tagged and scored, giving Bedell the second and last RBI of his career. After 58 2/3 innings, Drysdale had finally given up a run.

    Now that he had, he couldn't stop. The Phillies added another in the sixth and one more in the seventh before Alston took him out. The Dodgers, however, hung on to win, 5-3, their sixth victory in a row, lifting them into second place behind St. Louis.

    That's as close to first place as they would come. Drysdale, Vaseline or not, returned to mortal status. Over the remainder of the season, he'd only collect one more shutout on his way to a 14-12 record, and the Dodgers soon slipped from their lofty perch, falling all the way to tenth place before a late surge lifted them into a tie for sixth, 76-86. They hit a collective .230 for the season, and scored only 470 runs, worst in the majors. Despite the big crowds that had come out to see Drysdale, attendance continued to tumble to just over 1.3 million.

    Change was coming. Desperate to create more offense across the board, major league baseball lowered the pitcher's mound and banned pitcher's from licking their fingers. The National League added two teams in 1969, the San Diego Padres and the Montreal Expos, split into two divisions, and decided to play night games during the World Series. Jim Murray joked that in one fell swoop "baseball has eliminated the second division, the home run, the spit ball, day games [and] the shirtsleeve World Series." Overnight, there were suddenly two more teams even worse than the Dodgers. Now they had only five other teams in their division to overtake. It was almost as if the league decided to make things easier on one of its flagship franchises.

    There were also more changes in the Dodger organization. Walter O'Malley installed his son Peter as club vice-president and began to loosen his grip on the franchise. And in the off-season, Fresco Thompson died of cancer. Al Campanis became the new general manager.

    He was no Bavasi. Campanis had actually played the game in the major leagues – albeit briefly – as a Dodger catcher in 1943. It was time, finally, for the Dodgers to rebuild. He was in a hurry, as eager to make trades as Bavasi had been loath to. That winter the Dodgers were more active than they'd been in years - Campanis even traded away his own son, Jim, a minor league catcher.

    In the spring, rookie Ted Sizemore took over at shortstop and Bill Sudakis at third. Willie Crawford, a local product and perennial contender for a starting job, took over one outfield spot. The other went to Andy Kosco, obtained in a trade with the Yankees. Rookie Bill Russell made the team as a backup. With LA's pitching – and the presence of both San Diego and Montreal in the National league – the club had to improve.

    They did, and by mid-season the Dodgers were in the midst of the fight for the division title in what the press called, not too inventively, as "the wild, wild West.'

    But in early June, Willie Davis broke his cheekbone. Everyone expected the Dodgers to fall off, but Campanis pulled a shocker – he made a mid-season trade that meant something, an occurrence that hadn't been seen in Los Angeles, well, ever.

    Incredibly, it had been more than a decade since the Dodgers had picked up an impact player in midseason - 1956, when they had purchased Sal Maglie. Since then, Bavasi hadn't made a single important deal. Campanis did, and even better, it was for a player Dodger fans already knew and loved, and even better than that, needed desperately.

    Since the spring, shortstop had been a problem. Sizemore didn't have the range and had been moved over to second. Rookie Bill Grabarkewitz simply couldn't hit. And now, with Davis hurt, the Dodgers needed not only speed but also veteran leadership. They were, after all, in a pennant race of sorts.

    Campanis had been pestering O'Malley to let him bring back Maury Wills. After two decent years in Pittsburgh, he been made available in the expansion draft and picked up by Montreal, where his talents were wasted and he hated playing. He finally just stopped, and said he was going to retire, only to come back after he learned that if he quit, the Expos couldn't trade him. He'd been awful in Montreal, but Campanis thought he'd come alive back in LA. O'Malley, although still disdainful of Wills for his perceived "disloyalty," finally caved in. Campanis shipped Paul Popovich and Ron Fairly to the Expos for not only Wills, but also Manny Mota, a bonafide hitter who for much of the next decade would be the best pinch hitter in baseball.

    Wills was thrilled and called it "The greatest thing that has ever happened to me." Now, somewhat incredibly and improbably, the Dodgers had a chance again. In the NL West, the divisional split worked perfectly as the Giants, Braves, Reds and Dodgers all scrambled for first place.

    There was just one problem – Drysdale. Until 1969 he had never missed a start –ever - pitching despite broken ribs, shin splints, shingles and god knows how many sore arms, propped up at times by taking the same assortment of medication as Koufax. And while he hadn't enjoyed his counterpart's spectacular level of success, Drysdale had been as dependable as the California sunshine, and was the Dodger career leader in just about every pitching category worth mentioning.

    But in May he'd blown out his shoulder, gone on the disabled list, came back, went back on, came back off after the All-Star break and was terrible, yielding more than a run an inning. And like Koufax, to Drysdale the pain wasn‘t the worst part. "I can't take any more medication," he said. "Sometimes I honestly felt I was becoming dopey. I was afraid the police would pick me up on a corner. I can't sleep. I roll over on this arm and the pain wakes me up. This morning I had to use my left arm to brush my teeth." In early August, he retired.

    Campanis didn't give up. He pried veteran Jim Bunning from the Pirates on August 15 for the stretch run as Willie Davis, healthy again, went on a tear and set a club record with a 31-game hitting streak. Although the Dodgers lacked punch, base hits weren't a problem. But the Dodger just couldn't get into first place, and over the last two weeks, the Braves pulled away as LA fell to fourth, eight games back at 85-77.

    Yet as the Dodgers watched the division title slip away, fans got a glimpse of the future. In the waning days of the season the Dodgers brought up a host of rookies to give them a taste of life in the major leagues, including Bobby Valentine, Steve Garvey, Bill Buckner and Von Joshua. None were ready for the big leagues yet, but they were getting closer.

    Peter O'Malley took over as club president in 1970, another sign of change, as Walter O'Malley took on the more ceremonial title of "Chairman of the Board." In the spring there was optimism that glory days were about to resume.

    One week into the season, those thoughts were gone. Cincinnati swept the club three in a row to open the season and then they dropped two to the woeful Padres. Alston reamed everybody out and called the club's performance, "The worst exhibition of baseball in Dodger Stadium for a long, long time."

    The season was effectively over. The Reds went wire to wire and even though the Dodgers finally got on track, it was far too late. The "Big Red Machine" was starting to rev its engine and the Dodgers didn't have enough horsepower. The finished second, 87-74, but 14 ½ long games behind the Reds. The difference between the two teams was obvious. The Red had clubbed 191 home runs. The Dodgers had hit only 87.

    The Dodgers hadn't had a consistent power threat since Frank Howard. Since he'd been traded, only one Dodger, Jim Lefebvre in 1966, had hit more than twenty home runs in a season, and he never came close again.

    The talent bubbling up from the farm system was giving the team some flexibility. Campanis saw what was on the horizon and felt confident enough to start trading away the surplus and making room for the new recruits.

    In October he dropped a bomb and dealt Ted Sizemore and highly touted catcher Bob Stinson to the St. Louis Cardinals for problematic slugger Dick Allen. With the farm system full of infielders and Joe Ferguson making his mark as the catcher of the future, the Dodgers weren't worried about finding replacements. And Allen was a slugger of the highest order. In fact, he was one of the most talented players in the major leagues when he chose to play.

    That was the problem, because he was also one of baseball's new breed, an individual who had no need or desire to go along to get along. The press had killed his career in Philadelphia, and after being traded to the Cardinals in 1970 he looked as if he had found a home and gotten off to a great start, earning All-Star honors at first base over Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks and Orlando Cepeda – all eventual Hall of Famers. But in August he tore a hamstring, and instead of staying in St. Louis to heal, he went home to Philadelphia. Despite knocking in more than 100 runs in only 122 games, the Cardinals decided Allen wasn't worth the trouble.

    Observers were surprised that the Dodgers went after him. He had everything but the "good face," and simply didn't fit their mold. Players in the organization were schooled in the "Dodger Way" and individualism in the increasingly conservative organization was frowned upon. The Dodgers, after all, were a lot closer to Orange County than Haight-Ashbury. Other trades delivered veteran catcher Duke Sims and pitcher Al Downing.

    The influx of veterans allowed the Dodgers to take more chances, and they opened the year with three youngsters in the lineup – Steve Garvey at third, Bill Buckner in right, and Bill Russell, a former outfielder who the Dodgers not only made an infielder but a switch hitter to boot, at second base. Bobby Valentine was pressing for playing time if anyone faltered. Allen was installed in left field. In the spring one LA headline gushed, "Dodgers So Good It's Scary!"

    But the kids were the ones who were scared. They weren't quite ready. They all had trouble hitting. Garvey kept throwing the ball into the first base stands and broke his hand. Grabarkewitz and Sudakis were also injured. And Alston couldn't seem to decide exactly who he wanted to play where - the only players with set position were Willie Davis in center and Wes Parker at first base. That made the other veterans were angry and the kids confused.

    By the time Alston finally figured out who could play and who couldn't, the season looked to be over. The Giants jumped out to a huge lead, starting the season 37-14, and seemed likely to go wire-to wire, just as the Reds had the previous year. Meanwhile the Dodgers struggled. At the end of May they trailed by 10 ½. Although they pulled close several times, drawing to within 3 1/2 games on both June 6 and August 11, each time, as Dodger pitcher Bill Singer put it succinctly – "We died." With twenty-four games left to go on September 5, they trailed the Giants by 8 ½ games and needed a miracle.

    They almost got one. The Dodgers had five games remaining with the Giants and won all five as San Francisco went into near total collapse. LA pulled to within one game of the Giants with only four games left and looked to be closing.

    But the Giants finally woke up, and with two days left in season the Dodgers suffered a devastating loss. Al Downing, with a new screwball, had emerged as the staff ace. He'd won twenty games on the season, including six in a row, and in September had an ERA of 0.88 ERA. But the Astros drubbed him 11-0 while the Giants beat San Diego to clinch a tie for the division lead. On the final day of the season, although the Dodgers beat the Astros 2-1, the Giants won behind Marichal to capture the division.

    Under Campanis and Peter O'Malley, the Dodgers didn't stand pat. Dick Allen, despite hitting .295 and leading the team with 23 home runs and 90 RBIs, hadn't fit in and had angered the club by speaking out before the last game of the season, telling Jim Murray he viewed his performance as "Money well-earned." When asked if he wanted to play another year with the Dodgers saying he was non-committal. "We [players] go where they tell us to go," he said. "If they want me, I'll stay, if they don't, I'll go."

    That kind of talk didn't fit the increasingly important Dodger image. PR had become almost as important as RBIs. A show business, glad-handing atmosphere had taken hold within the organization. Players were supposed to be at the park at 5:00 p.m. for night games, but Allen didn't see the need to greet celebrities and sign autographs and often wouldn't arrive until much later.

    Peter O'Malley didn't want Allen around anymore. After a couple of minor deals, on December 7 Campanis pried Frank Robinson away from the Orioles for a package of kids, none of them top shelf. That made Dick Allen a spare part and he was simultaneously shipped to the White Sox for pitcher Tommy John.

    But it almost didn't matter what the Dodgers did in 1972. The Reds, after a year off-track, were back, and Frank Robinson, at age 36, was no longer the player who had won MVP awards in each league. With the Dodgers holding a narrow lead going into June, Robinson, with 7 home runs and 27 RBIs, pulled a hamstring and all of a sudden the Dodgers couldn't score runs again. He never got untracked after that and the Reds slowly pulled away. The Dodgers finished tied with Astros for second place, 10 ½ games back.

    The Dodgers hadn't won anything since Koufax anchored the staff six long seasons before. Dodger Stadium had ceased to be a special place – that had been one of Dick Allen's complaints. The fans were too laid back, arriving late and leaving early. "It was baseball as theater," he said later, complaining that Dodger fans watched baseball like they were at the movies, "polite." And despite some improvement on the field the past few seasons, the organization seemed stuck, unwilling to commit fully to a youth movement that was beginning to look overdue.

    Part of the problem was Alston. Living contract-to-contract had become a way of life and he wasn't willing to risk failure for a year or two. He tried to win as many games as possible every year, even after it became apparent that the Dodgers weren't going anywhere. All those Dodger kids had been shuffled in and out of the lineup so much it was hard for them to get in a groove. A generation before the Dodgers had ruined a host of minor leaguers by rushing them to the big leagues. Now the opposite was happening.

    Down in the minor leagues, former Dodger pitcher Tommy Lasorda had been working wonders as a manager. In eight years in the organization his ballclubs had finished no lower than third. Campanis liked him. His draft picks had thrived under Lasorda. He was the polar opposite of Alston, whose "iron-hand" style didn't have the impact it once had – younger players were different. Lasorda, on the other hand, was a pal, a pied piper, an enthusiastic advocate, as if by his own will and belief he could get his players to what he could not as a player – reach the major leagues to stay. Many older players and longtime baseball men looked at Lasorda and rolled their eyes, but his players – at least those he played - seemed to buy it.

    He had his eyes on the Dodger manager's job and everyone knew it. Several years before, at a press conference when Walter O'Malley announced Lasorda's promotion to Triple-A, Lasorda said " I want to continue working for the Dodgers even when I'm dead and gone." Amused, O'Malley asked him just how he proposed to do that. Said Lasorda, "Just put the Dodger schedule on my tombstone." Alston was also getting up in years – he couldn't manage forever. In 1973 the Dodgers brought Lasorda up to the Dodgers as a coach and the youth movement was put into full effect. Tellingly, his appointment was an organizational decision, not one made by Alston. In recent years, the responsibility to select his own coaches had been taken away, a not-so-subtle message that the organization believed Alston's clock was beginning to wind down.

    There was no turning back. Lasorda's appointment as third base coach was a visible signal that the direction of the organization was about to change. Campanis, with the support of Peter O'Malley, was the key figure now. Personnel decisions were primarily his, and not Alston's.

    In the off-season, he broke the logjam. Frank Robinson was traded, sent to the Angels along with Bobby Valentine and Bill Singer for established starter Andy Messersmith. Maury Wills finally retired, as did Wes Parker.

    By spring, the Dodger roster had turned over, with a deep, experienced pitching staff anchored by Osteen, Sutton, John and Messermith backing up a team of unknown kids.

    What would someday become the best-known infield in baseball was about to take shape, and the Dodgers were on the precipice of entering a new era. But not on opening day. Lee Lacy won the second base job and started the season as the Dodger's leadoff hitter. Bill Buckner played first. Veteran Ken McMullen was the third baseman. Bill Russell started the season at shortstop.

    That configuration didn't hit and the Dodgers got off slow, despite a pitching staff that was strong from top to bottom. Alston started shuffling the lineup, looking for the right combination.

    On June 13, finally, he found it. Suddenly everything snapped into place according to a kind of infallible logic. He moved Bill Buckner to the outfield. That opened up first base for Steve Garvey, who the Dodgers had finally decided just couldn't cut it at third. Davey Lopes pushed Lacy off second base and Ron Cey played third after Ken McMullen hurt his back. With Joe Ferguson supplying power behind the plate, all of a sudden the Dodgers had their best hitting team in years, and Willie Davis, Willie Crawford and Lopes could all run. Defense was a concern at first, for of the four infielders only Cey was playing his natural position, but Russell, who'd been booed for his defense in 1972, suddenly settled down, Garvey was fine at first base and Cey was a vast improvement at third, where in 1972 the Dodgers had made an incredible 52 errors.

    That group would remain together for the next eight and a half years, as productive and sure as any core of players the Dodgers have ever had. And for the next eight and half years they made the task of the Dodger organization simple and clear cut. All the front office had to do was supply complementary parts. It was not unlike the situation in Brooklyn from 1947 thru 1955, when Robinson, Reese, Hodges, Campanella and Snider had formed a similar core group. All they lacked was experience – and a leader.

    Although the Dodgers lost that day to Philadelphia,16-3, in late June they won fourteen of sixteen to vault past the Giants and take over the lead in the National League West by an incredible 11 ½ games. The Dodgers appeared as if they would run away with the division title and big crowds were again the norm at Dodger Stadium.

    But they weren't the only club coming together. The Cincinnati Reds rebounded from a slow start and in July began to take off. Still, in late August the Dodgers had the look of division champions.

    But they hadn't been there before - the Reds had. Pennants are won and lost in September and as soon as the calendar turned the Dodgers couldn't win as the kids stopped hitting. It didn't help that nagging injuries chipped away at the pitching staff.

    On September 3 the in Candlestick Park the Giants reminded the Dodgers that even though they were out of the race, they could still have a say in who won. The Dodgers led 8-1 entering the seventh inning, then collapsed. Bobby Bonds cracked a grand slam home run in the ninth and the Dodgers fell, 11-8, falling into a tie with the Reds. "I never saw anything like it," moaned Alston. Then he made a huge error, telling the increasingly jittery club that maybe they needed to lose a few more before they could straighten themselves out.

    That destroyed their confidence. The Reds took over first place good the next day as the Dodgers went on to lose a total of nine in a row, and ten of twelve, including two to the Reds. The division title went to the Cincinnati. LA finished 95-66, three and a half games back.

    In the off-season Campanis got busy again, although with the infield settled his task became much easier. Willie Davis, the club's senior statesman, had been named captain before the 1973 season, taking over from Wills. But he'd clashed with Alston, who wanted him to set the table for the Dodgers younger hitters. Fresco Thompson had once complained that Davis never learned to use his speed, that "you couldn't get Willie to bunt if the third baseman used a cane and was a certified alcoholic." Ever since he'd reached the majors, the Dodgers had expected him to become the next Willie Mays. He wasn't, but as the first Willie Davis he'd been pretty valuable. Now, they decided that wasn't enough. On December 5 Campanis dealt him to the Montreal Expos for eccentric reliever Mike Marshall, then we went after power, trading Osteen to Houston for slugging outfielder Jim Wynn and picking up one-time Mets star Tommy Agee.

    Marshall was the key. The screwball-throwing right-hander was studying for his doctorate in the science of human movement at the University of Michigan and was convinced that he could pitch everyday. So far, it seemed as if he could – in 1973 he had pitched in 92 games for Montreal. In baseball circles, his vocabulary alone made him a certified flake – Jim Murray aptly described him as a "prig," for the haughty pitcher considered most ballplayers far below his intellectual level. He called Dodger pitcher Jim Brewer's grasp of the screwball "infantile," but the Dodgers realized that despite his personality quirks he was unlike any other pitcher in baseball.

    Nineteen seventy-four was a cakewalk – for a while. Even when the Dodgers lost they won. They opened the season by sweeping the Padres, outscoring them 25 –2, then Al Downing allowed Hank Aaron's record breaking 715th home run and the Dodgers lost, 7-4, as if it were a sign or respect. As soon as history was out of the way, the club resumed its March through the NL West, opening up a 10 ½ game lead over Cincinnati by July 10. Five Dodger players made the All-Star team and Steve Garvey, who had emerged as both a power threat and the most popular player on the team, became the first write-in candidate ever elected to the game.

    In the second half, the Reds started stalking them, and it appeared as if 1974 would be a repeat of 1973. Yet this team was a year older, and didn't collapse. In early September they stopped the Reds by taking two of three as Mike Marshall, on his way to a record 106 appearances, pitched in all three games. They finally clinched the division on October 1. For the first time in eight seasons they were going to play baseball after the first week of October.

    The Dodgers faced NL East champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS and swept to victory in four games, completely outplaying the Pirates as Don Sutton won twice, Mike Marshall didn't give up a run in two relief appearances, and Steve Garvey, who would later be named NL MVP, cracked two home runs and knocked in five. All that stood between them and a world championship were the defending champion Oakland A's.

    In terms of personality, the two teams seemed polar opposites. The A's were all swagger and bravado, fighting amongst each other, hating owner Charlie Finley, grappling for headlines and beating up on the rest of the league as if they were some kind of minor distraction that got in the way of their own internal turmoil. They were like a huge, extended disfunctional family that used their own crises to create an "us against the world" mentality. In contrast, the Dodgers were quiet and restrained, businesslike and professional. The A's were baseball's equivalent of the Weather Men - the Dodgers were the Young Republicans. But in the way they played the game on the field, the two clubs were not dissimilar. Each was anchored by a strong set of starting pitchers. The A's triumvirate of Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Ken Holtzman compared favorably to the Dodgers' Don Sutton, Andy Messersmith and whomever else Alston chose to pitch, for Tommy John, after a great first half, had elbow surgery. And while the Dodgers had Mike Marshall, the A's had Rollie Fingers. He didn't pitch as often as Marshal, but was nonetheless as effective.

    Offensively the two clubs were near mirror images, each with ample portions of power and speed. But the A's, with their experience, were heavily favored and Oakland exuded confidence. Before the Series one unnamed Athletic player said of the Dodgers, "I'd like to know who they've beaten." Moreover, on the precipice of the Series, the A's seemed to be ready for battle. Before a Series workout at Dodger Stadium, Fingers and A's pitcher John Blue Moon Odom fought – Odom emerged on crutches while Fingers had five stitches on the back of his head. For any other team such a fight might have been devastating. For the A's, it was an announcement that they were primed for action.

    And the Dodgers were not yet ready for prime time. After the two teams split the first two games at Dodger Stadium, Oakland winning game one 3-2 and the Dodgers winning game two 5-2, the Series moved north to Oakland.

    In more ways than one, the A's won the Series in game three, or rather after it. After the A's dispatched the Dodgers with a workmanlike 3-2 win, Dodger outfielder Bill Buckner, whose eighth inning home run had been the first Dodger score of the game, spoke out of turn.

    "I definitely think we have the better ballclub," he said, despite being down two games to one. "The A's have only a couple of players that could play on our club. Reggie Jackson is outstanding. Sal Bando and Joe Rudi are good and they have a good pitching staff, other than that . . . if we played them 162 times we'd beat them 100."

    As far as the A's were concerned, those were fighting words. They needed little motivation anyway, but Buckner's quip fired them up. Before game four Oakland owner Charley Finley had the comments pasted to a card and read them to his team. "What Buckner is saying, "he said, "is that twenty-two of you aren't worth (Bleep)." The A's then went out and won game four 5-2, and Buckner upped the ante afterwards by making a disparaging comment about light-hitting Oakland center fielder Bill North.

    Although the final score of game five was only 3-2, it wasn't that close. The A's and their fans were able to extract not only a world championship, but a measure of revenge.

    At the start of the seventh inning, with the score tied 2-2, a raucous A's crowd, which had been taunting Buckner all game, got ugly. The outfielder was hit in the head with a whiskey bottle. He got the umpire's attention and threatened to walk off the field.

    The game was delayed for several minutes as Alston and several Dodgers, including pitcher Mike Marshall, on in relief of Don Sutton, discussed the situation with umpires and Marshall consoled Buckner. When play finally resumed, it had been several minutes since Marshal had thrown a pitch. When he finally did, Joe Rudi sent the ball into the stands to give the A's a 3-2 lead.

    The Dodgers had one more chance. In the eighth Buckner singled to center. A's center fielder Bill North misplayed the ball and it squirted past him. Buckner, the tying run, raced to second. But instead of stopping, he kept going, ignoring third base coach Tommy Lasorda's stop sign, and trying for third. Reggie Jackson gunned him down.

    That ended LA's chances. Rollie Fingers set down the next six hitters and the A's captured the world championship. The Dodgers took the loss hard. After the game Buckner said he'd make the same play again. North chortled that it was "stupid." When Mike Marshall was asked if it had been a mistake not to stay warm during the delay, he responded, "If I don't answer your question, that means I'm not interested in it."

    Before the Series there had been some speculation that if the Dodger won, Alston, who would soon turn sixty-three, would retire after twenty years as Dodger manager. Privately, there were many in the organization wishing he would do so, for he had the team in something of a fix. Although his contract only went year-to-year, in a sense that made it the most secure contract in the game. He was an institution, almost above reproach, impossible to fire. Tommy Lasorda was in line for the job and getting impatient. Other teams were interested in Lasorda but the only job he wanted was Alston's. While older players generally looked upon Alston favorably, the younger guys, most of who had played for Lasorda in the minors, were starting to tune out the old manager. And while Lasorda wasn't overtly undermining Alston, his actions were having the same effect. Lasorda was all over the field in spring training and before regular season games, throwing batting practice, talking non-stop, playing the press and the crowd. Every day he made Alston look a little older in comparison.

    In the end, the Cincinnati Reds forced a change. For in 1975 and 1976, while the Dodgers were very, very good, the Reds were the best team in baseball. In both seasons the Cincinnati pulled past the Dodgers in May and never looked back, winning the division by twenty games in 1975, and by ten in 1976, and winning the world championship in back-to-back seasons as the Dodgers finished second. Nothing the Dodgers did – trading Mike Marshall, picking up for sluggers Dusty Baker and Reggie Smith, adding pitcher Burt Hooten, the emergence of pitchers Charlie Hough, Doug Rau, and Rick Rhoden – not even the miraculous comeback of Tommy John from the groundbreaking elbow ligament transplant surgery that now bears his name - was able to break Cincinnati's stranglehold on first place.

    And as the Dodgers grew accustomed to also-ran status, the squeaky clean veneer that the fans and media had built around the team began to become unglued. Steve Garvey had become Mister Dodger, a status, although earned by both his play and fan-friendly behavior, was something that also appeared premeditated and something some teammates found disingenuous. One guy's "Mister Dodger" was another man's "Mister Fraud."

    Garvey had the ultimate "good face," and projected the precise image the organization loved - a clean cut, hard-working family man. That was something that helped Garvey immensely both during contract talks and in off the field endorsements opportunities. He and wife Cyndy appeared to be the perfect California couple, and Garvey's persona was making him rich, something that wasn't happening to the same degree to many of his similarly talented teammates. Both Ron Cey and Davey Lopes, for example, were every bit as important to the Dodger lineup. Cey was as good a hitter as n Garvey and a much better defensive player, while Lopes was one of the first middle infielders to have both power and speed. Yet their contributions were overlooked as all the attention went to Garvey. LA was a city that loved a little scandal and inside dirt, and in 1975 and 1976 Dodger watching – looking for cracks in the façade – became something of a cottage industry. And something that made Alston seem even more removed from the inner workings of his ballclub.

    In the waning days of the 1976 season, as the Dodgers played out the string, there were rumors that Alston wouldn't receive one-year contract number twenty-four. But neither he nor the Dodgers wanted to go through the indignity of a public ousting.

    Alston, not altogether willingly, opted out when it became clear his ongoing status was in doubt and no one on the Dodgers would tell him otherwise. There was no sense waiting until the end of the season. On September 27, the Dodgers held an uncomfortable press conference and announced Alston's retirement. Both Walter and Peter O'Malley attended, but it was the son who did most of the talking, saying "It was not until this afternoon that Walter told me he wanted to retire." When asked if he had been prepared to offer Alston another contract, O'Malley parried the question by saying "That question is hypothetical since our discussion never got that far."

    Alston looked tired and sounded bitter and resigned, "I'm not retiring because of criticism," he said, and went onto list a few other reasons he wasn't retiring, including "the times," which made the contemporary ballplayer, in Alston's estimation, far less deferential and appreciative of being in the big leagues. What he didn't do was say why he was retiring, and brushed off questions about his relationship to Campanis. He left with a record of 2,040 wins, 1,613 losses, and four world championships, one in Brooklyn and three in LA. Since 1955 no team in baseball had won more.

    Although coach Jim Gilliam, who had once been touted as Alston's likely successor, was blunt and said, "Do I want to manage? Yes, of course. The O'Malley's know where to find me," he also knew they wouldn't come looking. Forty-nine year old Tommy Lasorda was the only candidate.

    The Dodgers made it official on September 29. "This is the greatest day of my life," said a beaming Lasorda, "to be selected as manager of an organization I love so deeply. To wake up and learn I had inherited a post being vacated by the greatest manager in baseball, is like being presented the Hope diamond." Baseball writers around the country would soon become accustomed to such hyperbole.

    Alston didn't wait around, but stepped aside and allowed Lasorda to take over immediately. In his first game, Lasorda's Dodgers won the old-fashioned way, 1-0.

    A Baseball/Election Quiz
    2004-11-02 09:55
    by Jon Weisman

    I pray thee, kind citizens, to answer the questions below in the comments.

    1) What will the kids be talking about in 50 years? The Red Sox coming back to beat the Yankees and winning the World Series, this election, neither or both?

    2) If you have kids, what are their ages and what is their level of interest in the recent postseason and in this election?

    3) Compare the process of how you fill out your All-Star ballot versus how you fill out your election ballot. Do you vote intuitively? Do you do research for neither, either or both? If so, by what means?

    4) What's the latest you stayed up to watch a postseason game this season, and will you stay up later than that (if need be) for election results?

    5) Would you trade a World Series title for your team in order to get a victory for your presidential candidate?

    6) If Dodger Thoughts endorsed a presidential candidate, would that influence your vote? If so, what's wrong with you?

    In your answers, no endorsements are necessary or really desired. I'm torn because I think this election is important enough to violate my policy of keeping politics from this site, and I actually do have strong and fairly well-reasoned opinions about it, but we all seem to enjoy this place as a nonpartisan refuge, so we'll stick with that. To let loose, may I suggest making use of the comments at Will Carroll Presents.

    Thanks for participating. Bonus question: Pick the day and time (Pacific Standard Time) we will have a declared presidential winner.

    Happy November
    2004-11-01 10:27
    by Jon Weisman

    Bob Keisser of the Long Beach Press-Telegram likes where the Dodgers are headed:

    The Dodgers placed 15 players on Baseball America's top prospects list from each minor league. The club has a major-league prospect at every infield position, two deep in some cases and a half-dozen pitchers rated by scouts as having major-league potential. ...

    "Every prospect doesn't make it," (Paul) DePodesta said. "But if you have three or four players you believe are very good, chances are one or two will come through." ...

    Oh, and then there's this: DePodesta said he plans to aggressively pursue adding TWO starting pitchers from the free agent or trade ranks for the 2005 team and is serious about keeping free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre.

    What a concept - the Dodgers' present and future looking promising at the same time.

    Tracing Tracy
    2004-11-01 08:49
    by Jon Weisman

    Wild Rumor of the Day: This one should make Steven Haskins at Fire Jim Tracy tingle ...

    "One other potential wild card in the Mets' mix could be Los Angeles manager Jim Tracy," writes Mark Hale of the New York Post. "He is currently negotiating with the Dodgers on a new deal, but if talks fall apart, the Mets could take a look at the 49-year-old, who led L.A. to the NL West title this year."

    Having conceded the likelihood that the Dodgers will re-sign Tracy, Haskins has said he will document his performance in the coming season: "We will cover the good, the bad, and the ugly -- though we expect mostly the latter two."

    I think that Haskins has a real opportunity with his blog, if he can approach it objectively. A site devoted to keeping score of managerial moves - positive and negative, from setting the lineup to the bottom of the ninth, could be quite worthwhile. Managerial debates tend to boil down to the anecdotal - a systematic evaluation is rare indeed. Heck, I'd like to try it, but it's hard enough keeping this site going.

    Perhaps, under close examination, Tracy really doesn't deserve the Dodger job. I certainly have pointed to moves he is made that seemed obviously wrong. On the other hand, there's a lot I think that he has done right, and his teams have contended each year with a mishmash of players. But my evaluation of Tracy is mostly subjective. If Haskins, or anyone, wants to really keep score on Jim Tracy, he'll get a daily reader out of me.

    Maybe a point-counterpoint approach after each game would be the way to go. Just a thought.

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    About Jon
    Thank You For Not ...

    1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
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