Monthly archives: March 2005
La Vida DePo
Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta lives, learns - and most of all, listens
As the shadows spread their fingers across the field during the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium, Paul DePodesta, executive vice president and general manager of the Dodgers, sat with vice president and assistant general manager Kim Ng in the isolation of manager Jim Tracy's office.
It was October 2, 2004. The Dodgers were attempting to come back from a 3-0 deficit against San Francisco, in a game that would either win them the National League West title or squeeze their lead over the Giants down to one game with one game remaining.
Four years earlier, DePodesta had been assistant general manager with the Oakland A's when they needed a victory to clinch the American League West on the season's final day - or else travel to Tampa Bay for a makeup game. Oakland broke a 0-0 tie in the seventh with a Randy Velarde home run, hung on to a 3-0 lead in the ninth despite the tying run coming to the plate, and won the division before a home crowd goin'-crazy.
"The intensity of the moment was indescribable," DePodesta recalled Thursday morning in an interview with Dodger Thoughts, "and the raw emotion, because of the odds we had overcome to get there. I wasn't a fan, but I felt like a fan probably the only time in my career that I allowed myself to feel that way."
"I really expected that if I had the opportunity as a general manager to get a team in the playoffs it must just be overwhelming if there's something more intense than this."
In Los Angeles, the rally began. Hee Seop Choi walked on a 3-2 pitch to drive in a run. Jayson Werth got a big two-strike single to tie the game. Steve Finley then came to the plate with the game tied, three on, one out, and the first-year general manager somewhere between holding down the fort and the fort holding down him.
"As soon as I saw the ball leave his bat, I literally just stood up and put my arms straight over my head and looked at Kim and basically, that was all I had," he said with a laugh. "That was all I could muster. I was just so spent.
"The thing I realized at the moment when you're the GM, the difference is, you take it so personally. You feel a huge sense of responsibility, not just for your team but for the city, for the impact it's going to have. When [the game] was over, it probably was just a giant relief as opposed to joy."
As the evening went on, DePodesta was able to savor the moment as a celebration rather than an escape. But the memory may be enlightening to those who have pigeonholed the second-year Dodger executive as beholden to no one but his computer, or for that matter, his immediate superior.
Round-Tripper of the Tongue
The following quotes appeared in print Wednesday:
"I need to stop trying to hit home runs all the time. I need to get on base because there are good hitters behind me."
- Hee Seop Choi, Sports Illustrated
"Today I tried to hit a homer," he said. "I'm ready for opening day."
- Hee Seop Choi, Los Angeles Times
Open Chat: March 31
Six Days to the Opener
Man, I feel like they're this close to letting me out of solitary. Just want to smell the 'dogs and feel the sunshine. Let there be light!
I Don't Know - Third Base
It's all well and good that the Dodgers bonded during a team meeting initiated by Jeff Kent and Milton Bradley, as Steve Henson writes in Wednesday's Times, but the second notebook item was a bit like going outside to get the morning paper and having the locked door close behind you: Jim Tracy doesn't think Antonio Perez is ready to play third base.
Though Tom Meagher of The Fourth Outfielder is sanguine enough about Jose Valentin, I have my reservations. To be clear, I don't think Valentin is hopeless, just that I think he is a player in pretty serious decline, one that will be perhaps the weakest hitter in the infield. The more he plays, the more I feel the wind whistling at my bathrobe.
Fortunately, this should solve itself as the season goes on as 1) the Dodgers revert to 11 pitchers and test out Norihiro Nakamura and 2) Tracy gains more confidence in Perez at the hot corner. But it could make for some chilly legs in the season's wee hours.
Henson also passed along a third item, which is that the Dodgers have convinced Hee Seop Choi to try to hit home runs. In this Spring Training, I've read about two things that go directly against baseball lessons I've been taught for years: a player (Eric Gagne) purposely altering his mechanics as he comes back from an injury and a player trying to hit home runs instead of line drives (that will become home runs).
Look, I'm not beyond believing that Choi could benefit from being less selective, nor am I certainly beyond believing hitting coach Tim Wallach after his success with Adrian Beltre in 2004. But are we so sure that Choi's mental approach was so wrong? Not a rhetorical question - I'm asking. Every generalization has its exceptions, but these are testing me.
Back inside the house I go...
* * *
Update: Wilson Alvarez is headed for the disabled list to start the season, according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com. That opens up room for not only Kelly Wunsch and D.J. Houlton to start the season in Los Angeles, but Ryan Rupe or Buddy Carlyle as well. (Of course, the quintessential 25th man, Brooks Kieschnick, is now available - not to mention former Dodger first-round pick Ben Diggins, who went to Milwaukee 2 1/2 years ago in the Tyler Houston trade.)
Update 2: Comments have already begun on Hideo Nomo backing into the Devil Rays rotation and the sale of Dave Ross to Pittsburgh. Adding to Ross' sadness is this from The Associated Press: "It is uncertain how Ross fits into the Pirates' plans since they will start the season with Benito Santiago and Humberto Cota in Pittsburgh and have prospects Ryan Doumit, Ronny Paulino and Neil Walker, their first-round draft pick last season, in the minors."
Somehow, I never gave up on Ross. I wish him the best. Nomo too, of course.
Checking in on other ex-Dodgers ... It looks like Pedro Astacio will pitch for the Texas Rangers sometime this season, though he may start the year on the disabled list with a strained groin. ... Shades of 1999: Trenidad Hubbard, still going at it at age 38, was cut by the Houston Astros. ... Jason Romano too, by the Cincinnati Reds.
Update 3: Dodger fans know not to count on a full season from Dave Roberts, likeable as he is. The Padres are learning, according to the San Diego Union Tribune:
Padres center fielder and leadoff man Dave Roberts could open the season on the bench or the disabled list because of groin soreness that has lingered since March 12.
The Padres will re-evaulate Roberts, but after checking with him yesterday, manager Bruce Bochy said there's a "real good" chance that Xavier Nady will start in center in Monday's season opener at Colorado.
General Manager Kevin Towers said that Roberts, obtained in a winter trade primarily because of his base-stealing skill and quickness, could need extra time to ensure he returns at full speed. "If it's not 100 percent, we'll give him a couple of weeks to get it right," Towers said. "I don't want it to be lingering."
Tell the Pirates we'll see them in October...
I repeat: four strikeouts all of Spring Training.
Choi then walked on a 3-2 pitch. Sure, when he does swing he's got to produce, but he's not exactly lost in a deep count. Even if Choi is not Barry Bonds or Ted Williams, those two prove that selectivity in and of itself isn't a sin.
Rotation Questions Plague Padres, Too
You might fret over the possibility that the Dodgers will start Ryan Rupe in the season's first week (how am I going to explain that one to my Dad?), but San Diego isn't having a much better go of things. After ill-advisedly pinning their hopes on Darrell May, the Padres have already begun to look elsewhere.
If Monday's acquisition of Tim Redding is any indication, San Diego's search isn't going well. In his career, Redding has allowed 13.6 baserunners per nine innings, and his strikeouts have declined sharply since his 2001 rookie year.
Meanwhile, Rupe's numbers are almost as bad. Though his accomplishments are limited to the minor leagues, Dodger Thoughts is still rooting for Buddy Carlyle to be the Brad Penny placeholder...
Today We're Gonna Blog Like It's 1999
Hey, look - it's newly acquired Todd Hundley!
Can't believe Opening Day is finally near. Something tells me that Robinson Checo is going to have a big moment for the Dodgers this year ...
Update: If you insist, you can talk about 2005 as well...
Defensive Charts by Baseball Musings
Graphic illustrations of how well every ballplayer fields, courtesy of David Pinto at Baseball Musings. The X axis, I believe, is a physical representation of the range a ballplayer covers in a given situation, while the Y axis shows the quantity of outs recorded, with the black line showing actual outs and the yellow line showing expected outs. My favorite at first glance: Adrian Beltre on bunts. Supoib.
Feel free to add your own discoveries ...
(Pinto recently also gave us day-by-day offensive stats for any player. Great stuff.)
The Sidebar Is Back
Thanks for your patience. Some things need to be updated: links, payroll information, ex-Dodgers. And I plan to add individual Baseball Cube links to the roster at the bottom of the sidebar. But it's nice to unpack another set of boxes.
Spring Training Open Chat: March 26
Celebrating Baseball's 'Shrine of the Eternals'
Thanks largely to its Shrine of the Eternals – essentially, a baseball Hall of Fame for the soul - the Baseball Reliquary has become an increasingly beloved part of the sport's culture.
The Shrine of the Eternals honors those who have had a meaningful impact on baseball history, even if they haven't had traditional Hall of Fame statistics. In six years, the 18-member Shrine has honored Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Moe Berg, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton (pictured here delivering his 2001 acceptance speech), Roberto Clemente, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, William “Dummy” Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, and Bill Veeck, Jr. To further illustrate the range of candidates, Willard Mullin, who drew the famous cartoon Brooklyn Bum, is among the first-timers on this year's ballot.
Tuesday night at the Hollywood Improv on Melrose Avenue, comedians Fred Willard, Jack Riley, George Wendt, Ronnie Schell, Greg Proops, Dom Irrera, John Caponera, John Mendoza, Andy Kindler, Wayne Federman and Tom Tully – baseball fans all - are scheduled to perform at a special comedy fundraiser benefiting the Baseball Reliquary – just the latest indication of how far this grassroots organization has come since its founding in 1996.
"I think we get better known with each passing year," Baseball Reliquary founder and executive director Terry Cannon said in an e-mail interview with Dodger Thoughts this week. "The Shrine of the Eternals Induction Day now receives more national publicity, and our membership ranks have shown gradual increases over the last several years. More than anything, we've been very persistent and have developed our vision very slowly and methodically."
It appears over for former Dodger Tom Goodwin - who might belong on this list - but not for Hideo Nomo.
Although Goodwin has often been the subject of ridicule, this farewell by Roger Mooney of the Bradenton Herald is touching if you follow the link to read it to the end (even though the Maury Wills pupil bit has already been done to death in Dave Roberts profiles throughout this century):
ST. PETERSBURG - He was the hot prospect once. The first-round draft pick. The guy Maury Wills tutored each spring on the finer points of stealing a base.
Yes, Wills was there for all the speedsters in the Los Angeles farm system, but he always let Tom Goodwin know that he was the prized pupil.
Goodwin thought about that Wednesday morning as he sat in a chair in the visitor's bullpen at Dodgertown before Tampa Bay's game with the Dodgers. He thought about his first big league camp, his first big league game, his first big league hit.
"I sat there and look out at the field, and it all came back to me," Goodwin said. "I thought this is where it all started. I thought that not knowing what would happen (Thursday). That it could be my last game."
Meanwhile, Mooney reports that Nomo allowed two hits over six innings while strking out five against the Reds on Thursday, showing improved velocity and location.
* * *
Giants manager Felipe Alou will serve a one-game suspension on Day 2 of the regular season, April 6 against the Dodgers. The Assciated Press reports that Alou's suspension relates to the three-game suspension given to former Giants relief pitcher Dustin Hermanson, now with the White Sox, for intentionally throwing at former Astros second baseman Jeff Kent, now with the Dodgers.
* * *
* * *
Update: Nick Christensen of the Las Vegas Sun has the perspective from the Dodgers' top minor-league team, the 51s:
Las Vegas 51s manager Jerry Royster has worked his way back to Triple-A camp at the Dodgers' spring training complex in Vero Beach, Fla.
Now, he just needs a team to join him.
"There's just not that many guys that are here" at minor league camp, Royster said. "It would probably have been better for me if I had stayed with the major league team. That's where the bulk of my team is. It's where both of my potential catchers are, that's where the outfielders are, and where the middle infielders are.
"I think my entire starting rotation, other than maybe (Joel) Hanrahan, are up there."
Full Choi Ahead
In an e-mail conversation today, Steve Henson of the Times told me that first baseman Hee Seop Choi won't need to look over his shoulder when the regular season begins.
I had wondered whether playing time for Choi might be a source of tension between Dodger manager Jim Tracy and general manager Paul DePodesta, but Henson said that "everybody" - not just DePodesta, but Tracy as well - "seems OK with giving Choi a leisurely trial run."
That doesn't rule out Choi sitting out against some left-handed pitchers, but it should give him more than 62 at-bats to prove himself.
Just a real nice piece on listening to Vin Scully by ESPN.com's Eric Neel, taking the Designated Hitter slot today on Baseball Analysts. A sample:
It's a vast stretch between the coast and the desert, and thanks in part to a tangle of freeways, a history of water grabs, and great geographical diversity, the L.A. area is a spread-wide place, with communities distanced and often cut off from one another. That's part of the charm of the place, for sure; you get great variety and, at the margins, some fantastic cultural, culinary, and political mélanges. But it comes, too, with a kind of alienated undercurrent, like the city's prone to spin, from time to time, like Yeats' widening gyre, like you're not always sure what connects you to folks on some other spoke of the wheel. I've always felt that Vin counteracts that in some steady, fundamental way.
Mechanical Failure for Gagne?
While most appeared pleased with Eric Gagne's second exhibition game appearance Wednesday - including the man himself - the following comments alarmed me:
"The last time," Gagne told MLB.com, referring to Monday, "I tried my regular mechanics, which I'm not ready to do. I backed up today. I don't care about the velocity, I don't care about the result. I just want to be comfortable, where it won't bite. I did that today better, it only bit once when I got my cleats stuck."
I understand the idea of going only 75 percent, but I'm not used to pitchers consciously avoiding regular mechanics. Kevin Modesti of the Daily News was also perplexed, asking "whatever happened to the idea that you don't pitch with an injury because you might favor it and hurt something else?"
And on Baseball Prospectus, Will Carroll offered this downer assesment.
"The Dodgers pitching staff has problems at both ends, but appears to have the depth to cover for it," Carroll said. "Most worrying is the way that Eric Gagne is dealing with his knee injury. It's one thing to go at a reduced rate - Gagne said he pitched at around 75 percent at his most recent outing, though it should be noted that pitchers are very inaccurate when self-analyzing their effort - but entirely another to consciously alter mechanics. Sources are telling me that Gagne is completely out of whack, even tipping his vaunted 'vulcan change.' He'll need to get it together quickly or the pressure will increase on Yhency Brazoban."
Ultimately, one wants to give the benefit of the doubt to the Dodger coaching and medical staff, although their denial of injury reality with such players Hideo Nomo and Shawn Green in the past calls for some scrutiny. On the other hand, Adrian Beltre thrived in 2004 on his bum extremities.
Personally, I have faith that Gagne will be fine this season. But I've learned over time that just because a Dodger tells the media that everything is okay doesn't mean that it is.
The 18-Man Pitching Staff
So, just when you forget that Wilson Alvarez is made of origami - lots of origami - Ken Gurnick passes along the reminder. The valuable swingman has tendinitis:
Alvarez last pitched in an intrasquad game Friday, but did not register much above the mid-80s on the radar gun with his fastball. He tossed 88 pitches and allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings with four walks.
Alvarez has only one big league game appearance of two hitless innings and a three-inning "B" game appearance, having been slowed by the flu.
He was considered a candidate to start the second game of the season if Odalis Perez hasn't built up enough pitch count, but the latest setback makes Alvarez questionable even to be the fifth starter after Scott Erickson.
Gurnick notes that Norihiro Nakamura is probably headed for the minors at season's open so that the Dodgers can start with 12 pitchers. Any Alvarez misanthrophy really opens the rubber door.*
In (9): Derek Lowe, Jeff Weaver, Odalis Perez, Scott Erickson, Eric Gagne, Yhency Brazoban, Giovanni Carrara, Duaner Sanchez, Elmer Dessens
Questionable (1): Wilson Alvarez
Candidates (7, for 2 or 3 spots): Buddy Carlyle (the Dodger Thoughts pick to click), Mike Venafro, Kelly Wunsch, Frank Brooks (seems like he's losing in the popular vote), Edwin Jackson, Ryan Rupe (did I mention he was this year's Tanyon Sturtze?), D.J. Houlton (Rule 5 helps his cause)
Disabled (2): Brad Penny (and Darren Dreifort, of course)
"Venafro has an escape clause in his contract that allows him to be a free agent if the club attempts to assign him to the minor leagues after Friday," Gurnick noted. "That might give him an edge over Wunsch, who has an escape clause in his contract if he's not in the Major Leagues by June 15, as does Rupe. Carlyle said he has a July 1 escape."
Still, it's not as if the minor leagues are going to be Siberia for Dodger pitchers. They should think twice about rushing to leave. For the most part, we might as well just call it an 18-man staff.
*Wouldn't it be cool if the pitchng rubber was really a trap door and relievers entered the game by rising up through the mound?
Fun While It Lasts
No one should get carried away with optimism about Jason Repko's March Madness, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun to see a guy get two or three hits each day and make spectacular catches.
Repko will have to do it when the games count before he sheds the skepticism skin. (Sadly, he'll have that chance, it appears, at the expense of Jayson Werth, who had a setback. Steve Henson of the Times posits the right-handed hitting Repko as a platoon partner for Ricky Ledee.) But all hail Repko's day in the sun. Gets the pre-Opening Day juices flowing.
Stop the Meta-Bloviation
It's not as if the word "bloviate" was invented the day of the Congressional hearings on steroids, but it sure seems that way. People are jumping on the bloviate bandwagon faster than they hopped up to go hayriding with Valparaiso in '98. Writing about Congressmen bloviating has become a bloviation in itself.
That's not to say we did not endure quite the Bloviathon last week in Washington D.C. Whatever your views on steroids are, "bloviate" was a perfect word to use with regard to the many of the participants, and I understand why people fell in love with it even and began using it even though it wasn't part of their normal vocabulary. Just noting here that the word's tipping point has sprinted by with the speed of a bloviate-powered missle. It has gone from clever to cliché that fast.
Antonio Perez: Taken for Granted No More
"Although his spot on the opening-day roster seems secure, Antonio Perez continues to raise questions about his value as a utilityman," Jackson writes. "A natural second baseman, he committed his fourth error of the spring. All four have come on the left side of the infield, where club officials are hoping Perez can occasionally start and frequently enter as a late-inning replacement."
The follow-up question is whether Perez has the range to compensate for his errors, though there's little in the press reports to indicate this is the case. Although the errors are nothing to be happy about - apparently, a leaping Olmedo Saenz catch (you heard right) of a high throw by Perez spared the 25-year-old infielder a fifth error - here's some eyebrow relaxant. With Norihiro Nakamura and Jose Valentin on the roster, Perez isn't really needed for his defense on the left side.
Where the Dodgers could be most vulnerable is if there is an injury to Cesar Izturis. That could move Valentin, Nakamura and Perez out of their comfort zones - albeit with the tantalizing possibility that Joel Guzman would get his first sip of major league Starbucks.
Ultimately, Perez's role in 2005 is going to be to get on base. If he can't do that, the cries for slick-fielding Alex Cora will be heard from 570 to 1540. But if Perez fulfills his offensive promise, he'll be fine.
* * *
For review, the likely Dodger roster. Odalis Perez seems an increasingly good bet to make the Opening Day 25:
Catchers (2): Jason Phillips, Paul Bako
Infielders (7): Hee Seop Choi, Jeff Kent, Cesar Izturis, Jose Valentin, Olmedo Saenz, Antonio Perez, Norihiro Nakamura
Outfielders (5): Milton Bradley, J.D. Drew, Ricky Ledee, Jason Grabowski, Jayson Werth or Jason Repko
Starting rotation (4): Derek Lowe, Odalis Perez, Jeff Weaver, Scott Erickson
Swingman (1): Wilson Alvarez
Bullpen (6): Eric Gagne, Yhency Brazoban, Giovanni Carrara, Duaner Sanchez, Elmer Dessens, Mike Venafro or Kelly Wunsch (honestly, could you really need both of these guys?)
Bonds Is Tired
Barry Bonds let out a sigh heard 'round the world today:
A dejected Barry Bonds said Tuesday there's a chance he might not return this season because of multiple knee surgeries.
"Right now I'm just going to try to rehab myself to get back to, I don't know, hopefully next season, hopefully the middle of the season. I don't know. Right now I'm just going to take things slow. I feel bad for the guys [Giants teammates] because I want to be out there for them," he said Tuesday after meeting with San Francisco Giants trainer Stan Conte for 1½ hours.
"I'm 40 years old, not 20, 30."
When asked directly if he said he might not be back until midseason or next season, Bonds answered, "Maybe. I told you that before I left, remember? You thought I was joking."
Yep, that Bonds is a regular comedian. Like Mel Brooks.
I'm not taking this as a retirement speech, though I do think it sounds significant for the immediate future. I just want to say, before the piling on begins, that I have lived in awe of what Barry Bonds could do in the batter's box. Special effects or not, it will be a lasting memory.
Spring Training + National Anthem Singers Open Chat
Talk about the Dodgers at will, with topics not limited to:
Who is your dream Dodger Stadium Opening Day National Anthem singer?
For me, it's Sam Cooke.
(FYI, Mrs. Lima jokes have passed their expiration date.)
Strikeouts per nine innings in 2004 (major leagues only) by 2005 Dodger pitching candidates:
12.46 Eric Gagne
Some of these pitchers, of course, didn't pitch enough innings to make these statistics relevant. But Duaner Sanchez, among others, seems like a candidate for trouble. He had a big strikeout year in 2002 (wearing five uniforms - El Paso, Tucson, Nashville, Pittsburgh and Arizona), but since then he has a less impressive 81 strikeouts in 147 professional innings. Of his balls he allowed into in the field of play in 2004, 26.9 percent went for base hits - below the league average. Since this is largely a luck-dependent stat, that's another negative portent for 2005.
Righthander Buddy Carlyle, who in his entire minor league career has struck out 7.27 batters per nine innings, might not make the Dodger roster for Opening Day, but we could easily see him later this season, and it could be as a replacement for Sanchez - if not as a replacement in the starting rotation for Scott Erickson. The 27-year-old Carlyle made 23 starts in the New York Yankee system last season, 27 appearances overall, and had an ERA of 3.18, striking out 140 batters in 144 innings and walking 25.
In Sanchez's favor: He's still only 25 and can continue to improve. Without jumping to the conclusion that Sanchez will have a bad 2005, a little bit of Dodger fate could depend on how quickly the team reacts to a poor season by him.
Abbott and Costello Go to the Movies
Who's on First?
by Chris Gavaler at McSweeney's.
(A CUSTOMER steps up to a video-store counter with a stack of videos.)
CASHIER: Hi. Did you find everything you wanted?
CUSTOMER: (Handing over membership card.) Yes, thanks. (Pause.) When is this one due back?
CASHIER: The day after tomorrow.
CUSTOMER: Yeah, when's it due back?
CASHIER: The day after tomorrow.
CUSTOMER: Yes. The Day After Tomorrow.
CUSTOMER: Right. When's it due back?
CASHIER: The day after tomorrow.
CUSTOMER: I mean the movie. The Day After Tomorrow. When is it due? ...
Finish it here. Thanks to Dodger Thoughts reader Robert Fiore for the link.
The Grass Melangerie
Watched my first game of the season Sunday (it took all day on TiVo) and gosh, October is still so fresh in my mind, I was struck by the contrast in intensity. Almost hard to believe it was the same sport. ...
Some notes from over the weekend. ...
With his proclivity for walks, Hee Seop Choi may bat No. 2, with Jayson Werth or his injury replacement batting sixth, according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com. Sensible enough ...on-base percentage high, power low. Of course, Cesar Izturis will still bat leadoff. ...
It's still in doubt whether Werth will begin the season on the disabled list or not. What doesn't seem in doubt is that Jason Repko would take his roster spot if need be. ...
Gurnick also writes that newly-acquired catcher Jason Phillips is not expected to play for "several days." Do the Dodgers lead the leagues in Ja(y)sons yet? ...
Jim Tracy wants two lefties in the bullpen, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times. Shaikin suggests this might mean Kelly Wunsch and/or Mike Venafro, depending on whether Wilson Alvarez begins the season in the rotation. Frank Brooks should be in that discussion too - if you're going to have that discussion. However, especially if Barry Bonds is starting the season on the disabled list, just go with your best 11 or 12 pitchers, regardless of hand.
The staff (11 men when healthy): Jeff Weaver, Derek Lowe, Alvarez, Elmer Dessens, Eric Gagne, Yhency Brazoban, Duaner Sanchez, Giovanni Carrara, Scott Erickson, Odalis Perez (if healthy), Brad Penny (if healthy).
The potential replacements (two or three from this group): Venafro, Wunch, Brooks, Aquilino Lopez, Buddy Carlyle, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Rupe.
Left-handed reliever Orlando Rodriguez was cut but apparently gets to stay in the organization after being outrighted to AA Jacksonville. Remember, we're pulling for him long-term:
In 2002, Rodriguez allowed no runs in 35 A ball innings and struck out 52! In 2003, he had a 3.75 ERA with AA Jacksonville before injuring himself. He's 24; root for this one.With Rodriguez off the 40-man roster, two spots are available for non-roster players. One will be Scott Erickson - the other presumably Norihiro Nakamura, or Nori as Vin Scully called him Sunday. Nakamura, remember, was signed to that visa-complicating minor-league contract. ...
Scully and Jim Tracy blamed the Dodger defense (particularly minor-leaguer Mike Edwards) for Erickson's crooked numbers Sunday, but Erickson is going to be in trouble all year if he can't close out hitters with a strikeout, or at least get them to keep the ball on the ground. Erickson had some pop Sunday, but the hitters seemed to catch up to him. Not drawing any conclusions - just pointing it out.
Koyie Hill may be winning a roster spot with the Diamondbacks, according to the Arizona Republic. In addition to batting .400 (with no walks) in Spring Training, Hill on Saturday "helped Arizona get out of a rocky sixth inning with a hustling, diving play to tag out Jamal Strong in a rundown at third." ...
Another Pedro Guerrero tidbit - did you know he went 11 for 17 as a pinch-hitter in 1980, in what may have been the greatest pinch-hitting season ever for a player with 15 at-bats or more? ...
Derek Lowe starts for the Dodgers today against his former teammates, the Boston Red Sox, in an ESPN game at 11 a.m. Open chat-away ...
Trade of Ishii to Mets Rumored
Domino: Steve Trachsel injures his back.
Domino: Kaz Ishii strikes out 10 batters in seven spring training innings.
Phillips isn't exactly a top prospect anymore - and he had a pretty poor season in 2004 following a good 2003. Kind of like David Ross on a different scale. Phillips might not be that much added value. Then again, he would give the Dodgers another body to choose from and keep them from needing to rush Dioner Navarro.
Perhaps more importantly, a trade of Ishii would also have to be considered a vote of confidence in the starting pitching left behind.
And finally, although I'm among the minority that thinks Ishii is not completely without value, there are better ways to spend the salary he is going to earn this year. The dividend of an Ishii trade might not be just in the journeyman catcher that comes in exchange, but in the dollars that could be parlayed into another acquisition down the 2005 road.
Anyway, as of this writing, it's just a rumor. Ironically, Ishii is the lead item in Ken Gurnick's notebook on MLB.com.
With a couple weeks of exhibition play left, Jason Repko is the favorite to win the Jim and Dearie Mulvey Award as the top Dodger rookie in Spring Training. (Norihiro Nakamura is actually running second, with Russell Martin a strong third.)
Last year's Mulvey honoree, James Loney, will probably offer sober congratulations to the winner. Loney is 1 for 10 this month.
One day after a rainout, the Dodgers have their last scheduled off day of the month (on a Friday, oddly). Just intrasquad action today.
All That Matters Is: Can We Do Better?
In the end, it almost never hurts to talk about things.
Thursday, baseball's policy on steroids underwent a bit of analysis by an independent body. That body happened to be the United States Congress, which is a little more intense than, say, having Bob and Bob review your job performance.
Congress imposed its will to get baseball's on- and off-field brass to attend its hearings, and in the end there wasn't much disputing that it was the government's right to do so as well. Does Congress have more important things to deal with? Of course - just like I have more important things to do than write about half the things I write about. But amid the misinformation, misdirection, evasion and senseless pontification, there was an undercurrent of legitimacy in the hearings boiling down to one simple question: Can baseball do better?
The answer appears to be yes.
Will Carroll covered the hearings admirably in two parts, here and here, so there's no need for me to pursue the details - many of which were hard on a brain eager for intelligent discussion. Baseball's new steroid policy is not as bad as many members of Congress insinuated - which is to say they argued it was a non-policy. And in fact, as much as some may want to criticize baseball for its tortoise-like reaction to the steroid problem, real progress is being made in terms of testing and sanctions.
That doesn't mean that baseball can't do better. Just because there are bottles of Two-Buck Chuck older than the policy doesn't mean it can't be revisited and honed.
Of course, it would be nice if someone at the hearings Thursday were able to tell Congress that it can do better too. Although the hearings were designed to be an information-gathering endeavor, many of the Congressmen had drawn their conclusions before the day began and were not about to be told that the drug problem in baseball is nuanced, not black and white. From Carroll's articles, it appears that many of our representatives are as willing to take science from the grieving parents of steroid-using suicides than from, well, scientists. There was a "you're with us" or "you're against us" atmosphere. Not that there wasn't some dodginess among those testifying, but there were times when straddling the fence was actually evidence of someone being thoughtful.
But overall, however inhibited the dialogue was, there was a dialogue. That's positive.
There's at least one more nagging problem, though, and it's big. You could say it's about the size of Mark McGwire.
Society does not buy into the Fifth Amendment, or as McGwire massaged it Thursday, the "I'm not here to talk about the past" amendment. You can say that the court of public opinion doesn't matter when it comes to the law, but the problem is we live in the court of public opinion. And Thursday, McGwire was sentenced to an indefinite term in public opinion jail.
What do we do about this? Is it possible to convince ourselves that a person can take the Fifth Amendment without being guilty? I wouldn't mind seeing a national town meeting on this issue. To accept someone's Fifth Amendment right in the spirit it is intended, society must make the conscious decision to strike not just the answer, but the question as well, from the mental record.
Obviously, there is a difference between real jail and public opinion jail, so the standards for conviction are going to differ as well. But as we all know, the public has the notorious ability for making rash and incorrect judgments. So does a non-answer really deserve to be judged on the same level as an admission? Is taking the Fifth a neutral response or not?
In the end, it almost never hurts to talk about things. But in the middle, it can be more than a little painful.
Picture Postcards from Dodgertown
Dodgertown is the newly released third photo essay compiled by Dodger publications editor and team historian Mark Langill - and well worth adding to your shelf. Suffice it to say, it tops the Weisman Spring Training collection with ease.
Langill particpated in an extended interview with Dodger Thoughts last year - so this time around, I did him a favor and only subjected him to a handful of questions. Still gives you a nice taste of what Dodgertown will offer.
1) Do you have a personal favorite among the pictures, and why?
My favorite photo is spring training 1957 with Emmett Kelly (the famed circus clown), Los Angeles mayor Norris Poulson and Dodger president Walter O'Malley. There were rumors the Dodgers might be moving after the 1957 season. During that spring, O'Malley hired Kelly to perform at Dodgertown and at various minor league affiliates. The posed photo shows Poulson whispering something to O'Malley while the sad-faced Kelly is holding an umbrella and trying to "listen" to the conversation.
My other [favorite] was taken during the 1972 labor dispute which led to the first players' strike. The head of the union, Marvin Miller, visited Dodgertown during that period to meet with the Dodger players. Miller accepted an invitation from Walter O'Malley to attend the team's St. Patrick's Day party. In the cafeteria line is the normally serious-looking Miller in a business suit with a slight smile and wearing a St. Patrick's Day party hat.
2) How organized was the collection of photographs you searched?
The photos were organized by player, year and events. I knew the text of the book would take care of itself, but the hardest part was choosing the photos. I wanted to assemble the book like a family album, with a range of scenes, emotions, and choose photos which would trigger an emotion from the fans. It seemed the best photos were the original "outtakes," the ones originally passed over years ago but in time became perfect for this project.
3) How long did it take?
I estimate it took three months, with the last few weeks a race to the wire in terms of making a photo jigsaw puzzle and always wondering if there was a better photo than the one selected at the time.
4) What was the most surprising thing (or things) you learned about Dodgertown while putting this together.
Instead of surprised, I was fascinated to learn so many details of routine and historical events. The project also reinforced my original assumption of how much the Dodgers and the complex have meant to the local Vero Beach community.
5) How many Spring Trainings have you spent in Vero Beach?
I began coming to Vero Beach as a reporter for the Pasadena Star-News in 1990. Over the years, I've always looked forward to my time at Dodgertown, whether as a reporter or a member of the front office.
6) What's the atmosphere at Dodgertown this year?
Like any spring, there is optimism. Whether you're coming off a disappointing season or a playoff appearance, the start of spring training means fans can stop replaying the previous season - good or bad - and can concentrate on that blank canvas in front of them, which is another season. And no matter the level of expertise, no one can accurately predict the events in baseball during the ensuing eight months. It's the ultimate unscripted reality series.
Langill's first two collections:
More Knee Surgery for Bonds
From The Associated Press:
Barry Bonds underwent a second operation on his right knee Thursday morning, a setback that could complicate his hopes of being ready for Opening Day.
While the San Francisco Giants offered no timetable for the slugger's return, it took the seven-time NL MVP more time than expected to recover from the original surgery on the knee Jan. 31.
The Giants said in a statement that Bonds had arthroscopic surgery to repair tears in the knee. The operation was performed in the Bay Area by Art Ting, the same doctor who performed Bonds' earlier surgery.
Bonds, 40, has "experienced periods of swelling in his knee following an incident when he accidentally hit his knee on a table at SBC Park Feb. 4. Neither rest nor his current rehabilitation program has helped alleviate the periodic swelling," the Giants said in a release.
Spring Training Open Chat: March 17
Oh yeah - baseball!
The Juice Watches the Juice Hearings
To keep abreast of the Congressional steroid hearings, inconveniently scheduled as far as I'm concerned, go to my breadmate on the Toaster, The Juice.
March Madness Open Chat
Lowe To Go Opening Day - Alvarez Next?
So much for my logic. Derek Lowe will start Opening Day in San Francisco, with Jeff Weaver running third in the rotation and starting the home opener, according to this report by The Associated Press.
The article suggests that lefthander Odalis Perez will slot in the No. 2 spot to break up righties Lowe and Weaver. This news is ironic, considering today's revelation that this is a game Barry Bonds might plan on sitting out.
This scenario is still muddled, though. In order for Weaver to start the home opener in Los Angeles on April 12, Perez's spot in the rotation would have to be skipped, because there is an off day on the schedule April 11.
So perhaps the mystery lefty starting Game No. 2 will be ... Wilson Alvarez, who appears healthier than Perez, who doesn't have much of a platoon advantage facing lefthanders, and who could easily slip back into the bullpen for any length of time with that scheduled off day - or for good, once Brad Penny returns. It would also give Perez an extra two days to get himself ready for the regular season.
So perhaps it's going to be Perez fourth and Scott Erickson fifth?
If Erickson is simply adequate in 2005, what a boost that will be for the depth of the Dodger starting rotation. With Lowe, Perez, Weaver, Alvarez, Erickson and Penny, that would be six solid starting pitchers before you even consider people like prospect Edwin Jackson (who may work the kinks out yet) or inconsistent Kazuhisa Ishii.
Venturing into Foul Territory
In the Baseball Analysts National League West roundtable today, I said the following:
I don't expect a significant jump in runs per game because of the shrunken foul territory in Dodger Stadium. This is very oversimplified reasoning, but...I would guess that a given Dodger Stadium game will lose no more than three outs per game on average because of the foul territory. I haven't checked how many foul popouts per game have been recorded at Dodger Stadium, but I can't imagine it's much more than this. The percentage of those outs becoming baserunners should be what, maybe 30 percent (keeping in mind that the batter will have at least one strike on him when he returns to the plate). So one extra baserunner a game? Even if it's sometimes a home run, what impact is that really going to have over the long haul?
At The Fourth Outfielder, Tom Meagher took this foul ball and ran with it - all the way to some actual statistical analysis, as opposed to off-the-cuff musing. (And when you think about it, where else would you position a fourth outfielder but foul ground?)
You can follow the link to see how he gets to this conclusion: The decreased foul territory in Dodger Stadium will yield an estimated extra run every six games, and only two extra pitches per game. In other words, not much.
One More Look at the 2004 Dodgers
If you've been in Vero Beach this month, perhaps you noticed the review of the 2004 Dodger season that I wrote for the Dodger Spring Training program. (Perhaps a few of you even found this site via the program - if so, thanks for coming, and don't be shy about saying hi.)
Since most of you aren't anywhere near Florida, I thought I'd go ahead and reprint the article here. Join me as we take a trip in the Not-So-Wayback Machine. ...
Sometimes, if you foul enough pitches off, magic happens. Ask the 2004 Los Angeles Dodgers if you don't believe it.
And a One and a Two and a ...
1) Dodger Thoughts has a seat at the Baseball Analysts roundtable on the National League West, along with hosts Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith and fellow guest John Perricone of Only Baseball Matters. You'll be disappointed with my prediction, but I offer it with not much conviction and the right to reconsider before Opening Day. And yes, I did pick the Diamondbacks in 2004.
2) On the heels of the television appearance by Will Carroll on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Jay Jaffe of The Futility Infielder hits the national airwaves at 9 a.m. to discuss steroids on MSNBC's Connected Coast to Coast.
3) Lots of happy pitching candidates for the Dodger roster. So, what are the park effects of Holman Stadium and the rest of the Grapefruit League, anyway? (Seriously, don't answer that.)
4) Vin Scully is on the air ... !
5) This is one of those "I'll believe it when I see it" stories, but Barry Bonds might make April his personal Spring Training and not play on consecutive days until May. Five of the Dodgers' first eight games are against the Giants, with two coming after off days. That would mean Bonds would be in the lineup April 5, 7 and 12, but not April 6 or 13.
6) The first local telecast of the year will be Sunday, on Fox Sports West 2 at 10 a.m., with Scully calling the entire game.
Day by Day
For fun, I give you Pedro Guerrero's spectacular June 1985, with a home run every 6.2 at-bats. Sweet memories ...
Sabermetrician Likes Dodgers' Chances
Mitchel Lichtman, the longtime sabermetric researcher who is now a part-time statistical analyst for the St. Louis Cardinals, told Dodger Thoughts on Monday that he ran 10,000 simulations of the 2005 season and found the Dodgers to have the best chance to win the National League West.
"That is with no unusual injuries or trades of course," said Lichtman, who talked at length about the 2005 Dodgers in this earlier Dodger Thoughts interview.
The Dodgers finished first in Lichtman's NL West simulations with an average of 86 victories, one more than the San Diego Padres. Trailing distantly were San Francisco and Colorado (tied, shockingly to me, at 76 wins apiece) and Arizona (74).
"I am not very impressed with San Francisco," Lichtman said. "And of course if Bonds goes down, you can subtract a win for every 15 games he is out."
Lichtman said that in his simulations, the Dodgers won the NL West 49.7 percent of the time and the wild card another 6.7 percent. They advanced past the Division Series round 30 percent of the time, the League Championship Series 14.3 percent and won the World Series just over six out of every hundred.
"Penny is the biggest question mark," Lichtman said. "The rest of the team is pretty straightforward."
He added that if used correctly, Wilson Alvarez could be a difference maker.
"If Penny could not pitch or was not effective, Alvarez would be fine," Lichtman said. "As you know, I think he is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball. I don't know why he is not a full-time starter. I know he is not that durable, but surely he could start and go 90 pitches max or so. When he does pitch, either as a spot starter or a reliever, he is terrific. The way they use him is very inefficient (I think). He used to suck (for two years) before he was (acquired by) the Dodgers, but he was hurt (surgery in 2000 I think) and recovering for those two years. Before that, he was very good for a long time. For some reason, people forgot about him and how good he used to be..."
Because I haven't ruled out predicting that San Francisco will win the NL West - but I had pretty much locked the Rockies in last place - I asked Lichtman to explain why he thought the teams would converge.
"Colorado gets no respect going into the season because, well, they are Colorado," Lichtman said. "In fact, they have a bunch of decent young offensive players (I like Closser a lot) with no black holes in their lineup, and one superstar (top-10 player in baseball). They have several pitchers who are excellent but get little or no respect. This kid Francis may be the real deal - possible superstar. Kennedy used to be excellent and may be almost 100 percent healthy and back to his winning (or at least good pitching) ways. Cook and Jennings are above average. If not for Jamey Wright, they would have a really good rotation from top to bottom. They also have an outstanding bullpen (with Chacon back in the rotation - hopefully, for Rox fans)."
Lichtman said that his simulation might even be underestimating the Rockies, but he is hedging because of where they play.
"The reason for the conservative (actually) projection for them is that pitchers can implode pitching for them (and the pitching staff in general gets taxed heavily)," he said, "and the road 'hangover effect' is greater (in a negative way of course) than the extra home field advantage they have."
Conversely, Lichtman sees little upside in San Francisco, beyond the obvious.
"The Giants, on the other hand, just plain stink," Lichtman said. "Schmidt is one of the best pitchers in baseball and Bonds is of course the best hitter in baseball, but that's about it. Well, they have an excellent closer in Benitez. Matheny is a black hole offensively, and everyone else in the lineup besides Bonds is around mediocre in hitting for their position, and their team defense is atrocious (on a par with the Yankees). We're talking five-extra-losses-per-season defense. Probably one of the worst all-time team defenses in modern baseball."
Pressing, Lichtman found a little more to consider in the Giants' favor.
"Jerome Williams is very good and Lowry has a chance to be a good pitcher (only a little above average now), but Tomko (despite showing a little something last year with them) and Reuter are awful. They also have terrible management (IMHO). My projection for them is generous."
Personally, it is the Giants' pitching (plus Bonds, of course) that I think could still get them a division title. I think they might well find sooner than later that they have better options than Reuter, and Tomko can probably get through the season without too much catastrophe. But just as an example, the contrast between the praise for signing Mike Matheny and Omar Vizquel vs. the ridicule some have given the Dodgers for signing Jeff Kent and not solving their catching problems is inappropriate. Both teams have things to worry about.
I still see an NL West where it's not hard to find reasons that any given team could finish with fewer than 80 victories. So that means no team is a lock. I'm fairly optimistic about the Dodger pitching and think that the lineup will exceed mainstream expectations. But Los Angeles certainly doesn't have the look of a dominant team yet. San Diego has a nice young staff but a starting eight that doesn't overwhelm you. San Francisco could still ride Bonds and Schmidt. But as Lichtman points out, it could be a rougher ride than Bay Area fans might have bargained for.
The Biggest Penny News of Spring Training
Meanwhile, for chit-chat on a fairly random topic, join in today's discussion on The Griddle: How many players would the ideal major league roster have?
Spring Training is the pilot season of baseball, when almost every actor gets a look from the majors, knowing that few will be on TV in October.
As a writer, I used to live and die with pilot season, but now it barely registers. And in this, the third March of Dodger Thoughts, I notice that with each passing year I've also taken less interest in guessing who will end up on the Opening Day roster of the Dodgers - and here we're talking about casting an established show, one guaranteed to hit the airwaves next month.
As I've pointed out before, the peculiarities of Spring Training push you to spend disproportionate amounts of time discussing who will be the least important person on the team - the 25th man. (Do we ruminate this much over who will be "Man #4" on Law and Order?) We mitigate this misguided mishigoss with health concerns over a few prominent players (How is Lorraine Brocco of The Sopranos handling her depression?) and the uncertainty over some young talent (Is Jennifer Love Hewitt going to have a real career, or just a body of work?) But otherwise, Spring Training is probably more interesting for the casting calls than the actual casting.
This year, for the first time, most of the Dodger Thoughts readership seems to have adopted the same patient attitude. Whereas fervent appeals for the likes of Terry Shumpert (Somewhere out there, someone is demanding that CBS not cancel Yes Dear) have marked recent preseasons, folks in 2005 seem to have taken a big-picture approach.
Don't get me wrong - I do find it interesting to see who will win a job (tune in for The Apprentice) and I'm certainly paying attention to the daily Spring Training grind. But what you realize is that Spring Training mostly isn't meant to be covered on a daily basis. With players getting so few innings and so few at-bats, momentum swings too sharply. A couple of days ago, Norihiro Nakamura was swinging like the folks from Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. And now, Nakamura is suddenly as straightforward as Nightline. Tomorrow - who knows?
Jayson Werth, Brad Penny, Dave Ross, Odalis Perez ... there aren't many conclusions we can draw about them on any individual day. It would be like trying to determine from just one of the 162 games whether the Dodgers will win their division.
So I'm liking the balance this year. We're watching Spring Training, but we're not overthinking Spring Training. We're just gearing up for premiere week.
Certainly, the Dodgers don't have great programming in all their time slots - we may be staring smack at Small Wonder at catcher - but overall, we'll get what we need from our pilots, whether they are CSI: Erickson, Law and Order: Repko Victims Unit or The Aquilino Lopez Show.
A Lovely Blogger Roast
Gotta love the Score Bard.
Spring Training Open Chat + Earliest Dodger Stadium Memory
Talk about whatever you want, but if you can't think of anything else to say, try this: What is your earliest Dodger Stadium memory?
Mine includes a game against the Cincinnati Reds, my Dad's cousin with the Rollie Fingers-like mustache, ballpark peanuts, and fascination with the old left-field scoreboard and the way the letters for "CHARGE" appeared on it. I don't remember any details about the game.
The Wild and Wooly Jackson and Ishii
Through his professional career, Edwin Jackson has walked four batters per nine innings: 3.94 in the minors, 4.24 in the majors. What would seem to be the defining aspect of his brief 2004 stint in Los Angeles, his wildness, was nothing unusual for him. What was unusual was how he got hit: 31 hits allowed in 25 innings, the first time on any level he had allowed more hits than innings pitched.
Today, albeit in an exhibition, Jackson had a typical Jackson outing. He pitched 3 1/3 hitless innings, walking four. He more or less went halfsies on this key game from the 2003 season, in which he went six innings, allowing two hits and walking eight. He did not allow a run in either game.
Any kind of extreme wildness in a Dodger pitcher, of course, eventually makes one muse upon the ethereal, ephemeral, all-too theatrical Kazuhisa Ishii. Watching any start by Ishii requires nerves of Remington Steele.
How has Ishii survived? You can speculate on how lucky he has been in posting a winning record in the United States, but for whatever reason, here you have a fellow who not only has never allowed more hits than innings pitched in a season, but also goes through long stretches in which the hits he does allow have been disproportionately singles.
On one level, Jackson takes the Ishii method a step further. Jackson is wild, but he has pitched 366 innings in professional baseball and allowed 15 home runs. That includes the majors; that includes Las Vegas. By comparison, Ishii allowed 21 home runs last season alone. And need I remind you that in 2004, Hideo Nomo allowed 19 home runs in a mere 84 innings.
The reason to truly fear for Ishii's future is that not only has his won-lost record, and for that matter his ERA, been the product of a tightrope walk rather than true effectiveness, but now Ishii is facing a decline in strikeouts: from 8.6 per nine innings in 2003 to 5.2 in 2004. Unless that slide is an anomaly, a reckoning approaches.
With Jackson, the future seems brighter. Rising to AAA from AA, and again to the majors from AAA, Jackson's strikeout rates have diminished - down to 6.7 in 2004. And yet, that figure remains solid. We simply await learning whether Jackson has reached rock bottom in strikeouts. If his strikeout reduction is a product of physical or mechanical problems, if it's a matter of adjustment to pitching at higher levels, then great - we look forward to the fix. If six Ks a game is his new reality, that's livable. Will he go down further - that's the question. Which was the anomaly - the strikeout decline or the brief increase in hits allowed? Jackson is only 21 after all, for all the promise and worry that comes with that age.
Jackson and Ishii are similar pitchers - but with Jackson there is just so much more uncertainty, and in turn so much more hope.
Of course, up to now, when you think of Jackson, you would think of Randy Johnson before you think of Ishii. Johnson was Jackson's opponent in Jackson's classic major league debut (in which Jackson walked none). Johnson was also a pitcher who had to conquer his wildness to make it. And he didn't really reign it in until his 30th birthday approached - he didn't even appear in a major league game until he was 25.
Randy Johnson was born September 10, 1963.
Kazuhisa Ishii was born September 9, 1973.
Edwin Jackson was born September 9, 1983.
Oh, and yes, Scott Erickson is having a nice March. He was born in June, though, so he doesn't count.
Wills Negotiates a Ruthian Contract
There's just something cool about revisiting Dodger history - and even cooler if it's your dad doing the telling.
Through the press clippings of his father, Rich Lederer at Baseball Analysts spins the tale of Maury Wills negotiating a contract in the neighborhood of $80,000 in March 1966 - a contract that for a brief moment made Wills the third-highest paid player in baseball behind Willie Mays ($125,000) and Mickey Mantle ($100,000).
At the time, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were in their famous holdout. Ironically, as Lederer père pointed out, Drysdale was simultaneously having labor pains of a different sort.
"The tigers have turned on their trainer at Don Drysdale's restaurant in Van Nuys," George Lederer wrote. "Drysdale, as the world knows, is holding out with Sandy Koufax for a joint million-dollar, three-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"An official of the AFL-CIO Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union announced Tuesday that employees of Drysdale's restaurant have received strike sanction from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, adding that 'if Don can "strike" for his contract, so can his employees.'"
Rich Lederer hints that "The Best of George Lederer" might become a series on Baseball Analysts. We can only hope.
I'd Like To Propose a Toaster
Blogging is evolving.
Ken Arneson, known to some of you as The Score Bard, known to others of you for his writing on All-Baseball.com, is developing a new software system called "Fairpole." We don't know for sure, but we think it just might be Thing, The Next Big.
It's in part for this reason that you're seeing a lot of transition at All-Baseball.com, and why today, myself and many of your favorite A-B writers are moving to a new site ...
So anyway ... it's time to reset your bookmarks.
The new home for Dodger Thoughts is dodgerthoughts.baseballtoaster.com.
Shortly, I will update the re-direct for www.dodgerthoughts.com so that continues to be a shortcut to the site.
Dodger Thoughts will not change in philosophy. I'll still try to bring fun and insight to our Dodger conversation whenever I can - and shut up whenever I can't. However, I want to add that one of the principal goals of the Toaster will be to make your experience as reader even more engaging and interactive. The new site should make it easier and more rewarding for you to comment. (Internal sever errors begone!) And that's just the tip of the Icee, really. I think it's fair to say that the strength of the Dodger Thoughts readership has played a significant role in pushing us further in this direction, so pats on the back to all of you.
There will be other rich additions via the Fairpole software as well. We have a plateful of ideas. Ken is still developing Fairpole as we go, and he's cautioned us that there will be speed bumps. But it's gonna be great.
As I leave All-Baseball.com, I just want to say what an incredible pleasure it was to be a part of this great network. I view it as a complete success. I'm consoled by the fact that many of us are making the trip to the Toaster together, but I will miss working side by side with Jeff Shaw, Peter White, Rich Lederer, Bryan Smith, Mark McClusky, and Christian Ruzich. It's just been incredibly rewarding. That being said, we will continue to be colleagues, if not next-door neighbors, and I do hold out hope that at least some more of us will be in the same kitchen again someday.
So that's the scoop. Probably will take a day to get things settled in, so enjoy an open chat below on the Dodgers. And check out the other Toastmasters as well via the sidebar - not to mention our site-opening roundtable on The Griddle.
In short - get ready to toast!
Spring Training Open Chat: March 10
At least one person asked on another thread why Jeff Weaver might start the season in the rotation ahead of Derek Lowe, or at least why I put Weaver ahead of Lowe. Here's my response:
1) I think it's more customary for a returning pitcher to get the Opening Day start over a new acquisition, unless that new acquisition is phenomenal - like a Randy Johnson.
2) It puts pressure on a new acquisition that maybe he doesn't need right away.
3) Jeff Weaver had a better season than Derek Lowe last year
4) It doesn't matter anyway. They'll all pitch by the second game.
If Lowe just looks like he's ready to roll, sure, give him the Opening Day start. But while Lowe has had some peak moments in his career, he would by no means be the obvious choice to start Opening Day.
* * *
In other topics - sometimes outside consultants hurt more than they help, but this isn't a bad idea for the Dodgers. From Tony Jackson in the Daily News:
Dodgers officials and a local consulting firm downplayed the club's recent hiring of the firm for what is being termed "communications consulting," saying the move has nothing to do with the handling of public relations for the McCourts.
The locally-based firm, Sitrick and Company, offers crisis management among its services, but Allan Mayer, the firm's managing director, said the firm will not be providing it to the Dodgers.
Lon Rosen, the Dodgers chief marketing officer, reiterated that claim, saying, "This is not for crisis management. We just thought it was in our best interests to hire a company like this one to help with strategic communications, both internal and external."
Jackson also has some less-than-sterling reviews of Norihiro Nakamura's swing.
Dodgers hitting coach Tim Wallach said Wednesday he hasn't seen enough of Norihiro Nakamura, who reported to spring training last week, to thoroughly evaluate him as a hitter. Wallach has seen enough, however, to make a rather obvious prediction about the veteran third baseman's swing.
"It'll probably have to be shortened at some point," Wallach said.
Spring Training Open Chat: March 9
Smokey Rick Ankiel
Smokey Joe Wood's career remains for me one of the most fascinating from the first half of the 20th century. In 1912: 34 wins. In 1922: 150 hits.
Update: Mike Carminati has more on Ankiel and his new ilk.
No Need to Platoon Alvarez
Should Wilson Alvarez end up in the bullpen this season, remember this comment by Dodger manager Jim Tracy (from The Associated Press):
"I've never seen as many right-handed hitters (s)wing and miss on a left-hander as I do with Wilson Alvarez," Tracy said.
The stats back it up. Over the past three seasons, in more than 900 plate appearances, opposing right-handed batters have a .644 OPS against Alvarez. Alvarez should not be limited to facing left-handed batters.
(By the way, I do like "wing and miss," as the AP article puts it.)
Pacing Perez and Penny
Will Carroll has figuratively penned and literally typed his Dodger Team Health Report for Baseball Prospectus. Nothing earthshattering: The position players except for Jayson Werth fare well, and the non-Jeff Weaver, non-Derek Lowe starting pitchers draw concern. (There's an interesting sidenote in the article that one of every nine major-league pitchers in 2004 had undergone Tommy John surgery at some point.)
My hunch is that the Dodgers are better equipped right now to handle Brad Penny or Odalis Perez breakdowns than they were last September, when you wondered whether anyone could get out of the second inning. Just about everyone on the team seemed exhausted by that final month. But with an offseason of rest, even if Scott Erickson is fool's gold, the Dodgers now have the manpower to go with a solid 11- or 12-man pitching staff, mix and match according to situation, and get some outs. Might make for some annoyingly recurring Jim Tracy visits to the mound and walks to Barry Bonds, but they should get the job done.
It seems more important that Penny and Perez be healthy as the season progresses, as the lesser arms of their teammates begin to tire out, than on Opening Day. I'm comfortable with Penny and Perez pacing themselves here in early March.
Spring Training Open Chat: March 8
Monday Morning Melange
Over at Baseball Analysts - and I can't believe he waited this long to share it with us - Rich Lederer has a great story about the day that his father, a Dodger beat writer for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram switch places with Dodger manager Walter Alston.
George Lederer managed one half of the Dodgers in an intrasquad game, and Alston wrote the very droll game story that ran in the paper the next day. There are pictures as well.
I, P-T Scribe Flop as Mgr.
ED. NOTE: Dodger manager Walter Alston and I, P-T baseball writer George Lederer traded jobs Saturday -- for one day. The following is Alston's account of Lederer's managerial debut and retirement, written exclusively for the Independent, Press-Telegram:
By Walter Alston
(Who feels quite secure today)
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- I'll try to break it to you gently:
Your Dodger reporter, George Lederer, mixed his signals Saturday as he mixes his metaphors. His team -- which he named the "Lettermen," but should have named "Leadfoots" -- lost 6-2 in an intasquad game.
I wouldn't say that the opposing manager, Phil Collier of the San Diego Union, was smarter. I'll let Collier say that.
Great stuff, and I'm inspired to invite Jim Tracy to blog with my son rolling around at his feet while I juggle Henri Stanley and Russell Martin in the Dodger lineup.
* * *
Fourth Outfielder Tom Meagher discussed the future of Dodger prospect Joel Guzman over the weekend. Like me, Meagher is concerned about Guzman's plate discipline; unlike me, he has the ability to go deeper.
Here is Meagher's guardedly optimistic conclusion, after posting the data to back it up:
The issue for Guzman is not whether he can cut down on his strikeouts but rather how he'll cut down on his strikeouts. If he can start hitting more pitches but continue to hit them hard, he'll have no problem - in other words, if he can keep mashing while becoming less selective, there's no question that he's an outstanding prospect. Conversely, if his current selectivity is necessary for his power, he'll need to develop a better feel for the strike zone and turn a lot of those strikeouts into walks. So far, he's mainly done the latter, as his batted balls per plate appearance hasn't fluctuated much but his K and BB rates have improved. If he continues to do that - and continues to smack the balls he does hit - he'll be just fine. If Guzman can't cut down on his strikeouts without compromising his ability to pound the ball, then his future is in jeopardy.
Update: Baseball Prospectus has an interview of Guzman by Carlos J. Lugo - a Dodger Thoughts reader, I'm happy to say.
Had the 6-foot-6 Guzman grown up in the United States, it seems pretty clear we would be talking about replacing Kobe Bryant, not Adrian Beltre:
BP: What was your favorite sport?
JG: It was basketball. I played a lot of basketball and was the sport I was most advanced and developed. Obviously I was very tall for my age, the size helped me a lot and I was a good player.
BP: Why has your interest turned to baseball?
JG: Well, baseball is the main sport in the country and there are more opportunities playing it. As I told you, I played with my friends, and as I advanced in the Little Leagues people started to get noticed. When I was around 13 or 14 years old I started to make tryouts, and several organizations showed interest when their scouts saw I had talent. Finally, 2001, I signed with the Dodgers.
An encouraging tidbit is that one of Guzman's main accomplishments in winter ball this past offseason was to focus on hitting to the opposite field.
JG: One of the things that most helped me last season was learning to use the whole field, specially going the opposite way with outside pitches and avoiding trying to pull the ball with those pitches. I tried the whole season to handle those pitches that way. The great right-handed hitters hit to the opposite field with ease - guys like Julio Franco and Manny Ramirez. I won't say I was consciously trying to hit all the pitches the opposite way here in the Dominican, but I kept working on it with my hitting coach here every day and thank God the results were good.
* * *
Don't miss the Dodger Thoughts Roster Competition 2005 post before it slides off the front page. By the way, didn't I tell you that the papers would be getting to the Jason Repko story soon? Today, Steve Henson of the Times wonders whether Repko is playing himself into a fifth outfielder slot (right behind Tom Meagher, I suppose) - or whether Repko is playing himself into trade bait like Jason Romano a year ago.
* * *
I'm only mentioning this so you don't have to:
<95> OBP (on-base percentage). Somewhere between Bill James and "Moneyball," the OBP overtook ERA in a palace coup to become baseball's most elite statistic.
Oh, and it could lead to the Dodgers' ruination.
OBP is based on the total of hits, walks and hit by pitches divided by total at-bats, walks, hit by pitches and sacrifice flies <97> kind of sticks in your throat, doesn't it?
The theory on OBP is you can trade star players for a bunch of slap hitters who work every count to 3 and 2.
Some believe OBP is a code word for "cheapskate ownership."
Move along ... nothing to see here.
Jeff Kent says that there's no way to measure defense. None. Forget even trying.
From Bill Plunkett in the Orange County Register:
"I still think it's all (expletive)," Kent said. "How can you (measure defense)? It's one stat in the game that people have really tried to corner and they can't, because the decisions each defensive player makes prior to each pitch is different. You can't do it.
"You can easily say one player is slower than another. But one guy may get a better jump than another. How can you measure that? Or maybe one guy sets up differently to get an advantage. You can't factor that."
Paul DePodesta might not be ready to give up.
A standard bearer for baseball's new wave of freethinkers who rely on stat-creating, computer-literate player analysis, DePodesta said he has been trying to devise a way to measure defensive contributions and "separate pitching and defense" for seven or eight years. During that time he has discarded some attempts, refined others and continues to refine the one he currently uses.
"We have our own that's pretty unique," he said, joking that he doesn't have a catchy acronym like UZR or OPS or VORP for it yet.
DePodesta said he uses a "melange of items" including raw statistics, including errors and chances, as well as information gleaned from charts kept during games which show the position of fielders and where balls are hit.
And in the end ...
"We try to look at every player holistically in terms of runs created and runs prevented. That being said, we're very comfortable with Jeff as a total player."
Spring Training Open Chat: March 5-6
Update: Sunday chat, too...
The Dodgers can potentially earn an extra $15 million just from the sale of new Dugout Club seats in 2005, and another $8.6 million from the sale of the new baseline seats where foul territory used to be, according to this detailed look at the offseason Dodger Stadium renovations by Chris Coates of the L.A. Downtown News.
For the first year, this will more or less cover the $20 million cost of the renovation. In ensuing years, it means extra profit going somewhere.
Dodger Stadium Opening Day tickets sold out in 45 minutes, a Dodger record, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
Assuming this is true ... why is it true?
This isn't the first time the Dodgers are coming off a division-winning season. They aren't returning as World Series or National League champions. Many of the popular heroes from the division-winning team are gone. There's no consensus that they will return to first place. Opinion from the most-read newspaper in the city on the Dodger offseason has ranged from dubious to corrosive.
So what propelled this reported breaking the Mach 1 ticket barrier?
Is it merely a reflection of better ticket technology in 2005? Is it that the most fervent fans somehow didn't hear that the heroes are gone? Is it that the most fervent fans believe in the franchise makeover by the McCourts and Paul DePodesta? Has the new leadership simply made things more interesting?
Is it because organ music has been reduced? Is it because "This is L.A. baseball?" Has Los Angeles somehow run out of other things to do?
Is it for real?
Top Prospects, 1990-2005
Baseball America published its annual Top 100 propsect lists dating back to 1990.
Looking at just the small sample of Dodgers, membership on the list would appear to give you a better-than-average chance of becoming a major league starter - 17 out of 29 Dodger names succeeded in that fashion - but it indicates nothing about your ability to become a regular at the All-Star Game.
Still, with those odds, one wonders if the Dodgers have might have five or mroe front-line players out of the 10 TBDs below.
Anyway, here are the named players, divided ever-so-simply into five categories ...
1991: Offerman (4), Raul Mondesi (14), Henry Rodriguez (29), Jamie McAndrew (40), Jones (43), Dan Opperman (71), Karros (94)
1992: Pedro Martinez (10), Mondesi (21)
1996: Garcia (7), Park (18), Konerko (42), Hollandsworth (44), Cedeno (57), Wilton Guerrero (61)
1997: Konerko (11), Garcia (20), Adrian Beltre (30), Guerrero (49), Onan Masaoka (95)
1998: Konerko (2), Beltre (3), Mike Judd (59), Dennys Reyes (91)
1999: Angel Pena (41). That's all - time to reboot.
2001: Chen (86). Still rebooting.
2003: James Loney (34), Jonathan Figueroa (35), Edwin Jackson (99)
2004: Jackson (4), Greg Miller (8), Franklin Guiterrez (31), Loney (42)
2005: Joel Guzman (5), Chad Billingsley (19), Jackson (30), Loney (62), Andy LaRoche (74), Russell Martin (89), Miller (100)
Update: John Manuel of Baseball America posted a detailed look at how the publication puts together its lists.
Spring Training Open Chat: Dodgers-Braves
Bigger posting just below, but here's a place to talk about the first TV game of the season.
Roster Competition 2005
Here is an assessment of the competition (40-man roster plus non-roster invitees) in major league camp for the Dodgers. Plus Joel Guzman for flavor.
That leaves six spots open: four pitchers, one position player and one wild card.
Trainer's Room (3)
Jayson Werth, OF: Press reports indicate he should be ready, but it's too soon to be definite.
Brad Penny, RHP: So far, so good. But if he needs an extra week after Opening Day to finish preparing, the Dodgers will give it to him. Los Angeles does start the season with six consecutive games, so no four-man rotation at the outset.
Most Likely to Succeed (1)
Starting Rotation Candidates (3)
Kazuhisa Ishii, LHP: Statistically, Ishii was lucky to do as well as he did in 2004 - not just talking run support here, but with a sharp decline in strikeouts as well (8.6 per nine innings in 2003, 5.2 in 2004). Ishii arrived in Florida saying he had rediscovered his splitter after a mysterious absence of a few years, so we'll see if that helps.
There should be one open spot on the roster from this point on.
Could Be (10)
Mike Venafro, LHP. Inconsistent 31-year-old has the inside shot to be the team's lefty specialist if the Dodgers carry one (Alvarez should be allowed to face righties as well). But Venafro doesn't have that much margin for error, and he has opened Spring Training hobbled by a hamstrain.
Frank Brooks, LHP: Had a hot AA stint in 2003, found it a bit harder, unsurprisingly, at higher levels. This is whom Venafro is looking over his shoulder at.
Kelly Wunsch, LHP: Career ERA of 3.64 with 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings for this third lefty option. His control trouble - nearly five walks per nine innings - has him looking uphill.
Mike Rose, C: Nice darkhorse. No one talks about him. But if offense at catcher is a concern, if you want your 25th man to have a shot at getting on base, Rose's .407 on-base percentage in AAA ball last season is worth a consideration.
By the way, aren't most winners of horse races dark? Who are the dominant light horses?
Dioner Navarro, C: Will get a lot of attention because of the circumstances of his acquisition.
Aquilino Lopez, RHP: Has strikeout potential at age 24.
Brian Myrow, IF: Went off like a firecracker in Las Vegas last season (1.045 OPS in 50 games). A left-handed bat, which the Dodgers might need. Career minor-league slugging percentage of .492. In 511 games, 351 walks vs. 376 strikeouts.
Jason Repko, OF: The papers should be getting around to this story soon. A first-round draft choice six years ago, the right-handed Repko almost fell off the radar screen completely but showed signs of life last year. Has to prove he's not dependent on the Las Vegas ballpark for success. At worst, this year's Bubba Crosby.
Cody Ross, OF: Has 80 professional home runs at age 24. Injuries marred much of his 2004, and he's never OPSed over .900 in the minors. But he's a Paul DePodesta acquisition and that puts him in the game.
See You Midseason? (9)
In January, after the Dodgers signed Derek Lowe, re-signed Odalis Perez and acquired Dioner Navarro, they needed 40-man roster spots. (Henri) Stanley, infielder Joe Thurston and outfielder Chin-Feng Chen were taking up three of them. All three were designated for assignment, cleared waivers and were outrighted to Triple-A Las Vegas. Any player whom a club outrights after Aug. 31 isn't eligible to play in the big leagues for that club before May 15.
Mike Edwards, OF: Played a full season with Oakland's AAA Sacramento team and had 13 home runs, 76 walks and 41 doubles. Now 28, he's a longshot for much of a major league career, but with three somewhat fragile starting outfielders, the Dodgers may need him at some point.
Jose Flores, IF: Perhaps forever to be remembered, if remembered at all, as the guy who couldn't put a bunt down, he'll hang out in Las Vegas and see if anyone on the infield gets sore.
Henri Stanley, OF: Doesn't seem to have quite enough power or quite enough speed. But he can work at things with the knowledge that he's still younger than Dave Roberts was when he made his major-league debut.
Orlando Rodriguez, LHP: In 2002, Rodriguez allowed no runs in 35 A ball innings and struck out 52! In 2003, he had a 3.75 ERA with AA Jacksonville before injuring himself. He's 24; root for this one.
Derek Thompson, LHP: After missing 2003 because of surgery, Thompson began the road back in 2004 with a 3.72 ERA in AA Jacksonville - which isn't really that impressive. Still, don't give up on a 24-year-old lefty who isn't comatose.
Jon Weber, OF: Need more details on him. He's already 27 but his professional record only dates back to 2003. In that time, he has moved from A ball to AAA with a career OPS of .881.
September Callups (5)
Joel Guzman, SS now, 3B later, OF in a while: Impress your friends with trivia - his real first name is Irvin. Beyond that, salivate patiently.
James Loney, 1B: The darling of Spring Training 2004, people are just waiting on the health and the power.
Ryan Ketchner, LHP: Turns 23 on April 19. Career minor-league ERA of 3.11 with 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
Willy Aybar, IF: His stats should shoot up if he makes the jump to Las Vegas and forces Thurston into a utility role there. Turns 22 on Wednesday.
Oscar Robles, IF: Almost 29, he had some nice Mexican League numbers in 2004. Listed at 5-foot-11, 155 pounds, he is that rare player thinner than me.
Tony Schrager, IF: Had a .777 OPS in AAA Pawtucket last season.
Franquelis Osoria, RHP: A fairly undistinguished 23-year-old reliever.
Check Back in a Year or Two (2)
Delwyn Young, 2B: Prospect hit 22 home runs for Vero Beach last season at age 22.
Darren Dreifort, RHP: Blue Cross blue plate special.
Werth Could Miss Opening Day
So there is bad news after all. Left fielder Jayson Werth has a small fracture in his left wrist after getting hit by a pitch Wednesday. Looks like he'll be spending the better part of March on an exercise bike - according to The Associated Press, Werth won't see game action for at least 10 days and might not be ready in time for Opening Day.
Ricky Ledee would figure to replace him in the lineup, with an extra bench spot opening up temporarily. But a month might be enough time for Werth to recover.
Update: Dodgers.com has a full story. According to Ken Gurnick, trainer Stan Johnston is "hopeful" Werth will be healed by Opening Day. Gurnick also has updates on Brad Penny, Odalis Perez, Wilson Alvarez and others in the story.
Spring Training Is Not 1985
In settling a bet among people at work, I came across the following list of songs from the year of my high school graduation. I post it here because ... because ... because that was my favorite non-World Series championship year. Yeah, that's it.
Top 100 Songs of 1985
1. "Careless Whisper".....Wham! - X
I guess with those numbers, I have to be pretty ambivalent about this list.
And the No. 1 song of 1985 is ... "The Boys of Summer."
Spring Training Open Chat: Braves-Dodgers
Those of you listening on out-of-town radio or some other miracle of modern technology, feel free to post any play-by-play or other newsy bits.
Friday - live on ESPN!
Hall Keeps Door Shut
Baseball Analyst Rich Lederer has disagreed with me in the past in this friendly debate and, if prodded, would no doubt be quite happy to do so again ...
Along with Ron Santo, former Dodger Gil Hodges came the closest to crashing through with 52 votes (65 percent of the total, with 75 percent required). Wills received 26 votes.
Is Guzman Truly an 'A' Prospect?
Over at his new, free-to-be-off-ESPN location, minor leagues expert John Sickels has his report on the Dodgers' top 20 minor league prospects. (Thanks to Dodger Thoughts reader Nolan for the fast reaction.)
After everyone's favorite, Joel Guzman (who draws rave reviews everywhere despite walk totals that give me pause), Sickels likes pitcher Chad Billingsley at No. 2 and interestingly, pitcher Jonathan Broxton at No. 3.
It's not so much that I have a problem with Guzman at No. 1 for the Dodgers as I do with the idea that he would be an A. Maybe it's all about the curve, but I feel that in this day and age, points should be deducted for the plate discipline issue. Not saying Guzman won't be a regular, or even a star someday, but I feel that he could still be years away at best.
Just as an example - not that it proves anything - Adrian Beltre had significantly better walk totals in the minor leagues. In 306 games, Guzman has walked 77 times. In 385 minor league games, Beltre walked 218 times.
On the other hand, Miguel Cabrera, to whom Sickels compares Guzman, walked 129 times in 360 minor league games - and Cabrera is already a star player at age 21. So, maybe ...
Like I said, it depends on the curve. I don't know how many other players were given A grades. Ultimately, we can have high hopes for Guzman, but though he may make the majors this year or next, he's not likely to excel before 2007. Plan accordingly.
At the same time, for all the praise the Dodger system has gotten, there really isn't a single other position player who looks likely to become an above-average major-league hitter. Certainly, some like Dioner Navarro could become starters and, thanks to the position they play, above-average players despite their average hitting, and James Loney could rebound. But if the Dodger farm system is one of the best in the game, I think it's a) because of pitching and b) reflective of greater uncertainty in the position player market than we normally feel.
Logic problem 1:
"The Angels' stunning decision to suspend their second-best hitter during their most important two weeks of last season <97> then later trade him <97> resulted in not only an amazing division championship, but an unmistakable message," Bill Plaschke writes in the Times concerning Jose Guillen.
The cause-effect relationship of the Guillen suspension and the division title is nowhere to be found in Plaschke's column - assuming it could be found anywhere. And one wonders why the suspension resulted in a division title but not an American League pennant, a World Series title and the end of global warming.
Logic problem 2:
"The Angels needed to win big in the final week to make the playoffs. The Dodgers were already on the verge of clinching."
This is convenient spin. With one week remaining in the 2004 season, the Dodgers led the Giants in the National League West by 2 1/2 games. The Giants had won 10 of their past 13 games. The Dodgers had the advantage, but to say they didn't need to win big in that final week to make the playoffs is to ignore the tension everyone endured over those final six days.
The Dodgers had to win four out of seven games to clinch. The Angels, who trailed Oakland by a game entering the final week, needed to win five out of seven games. Just a one-game difference.
On Saturday, October 2, the Dodgers were three outs away from having their lead in their division reduced to one game with one game to play. Not because of a sudden collapse. The team had won six of its last nine games to that point. It was that close because it was that hard.
Logic problem 3:
"There were several times last season [Guillen] could have been suspended - for ripping his pitchers, for lying about attending a clubhouse meeting, for doing dumb things to draw attention to himself beyond his 27 homers and 104 runs batted in.
"He was very much like Milton Bradley. And the Angels were very much like the Dodgers, preferring to counsel him, soothe his teammates and cross their pine-tarred fingers that he could last the season."
The Angels were very much like the Dodgers. Everything else in Plaschke's column is designed to highlight the differences between the cultures of the two teams. Yet here we learn that up to the point of Guillen's suspension, the situations were practically identical.
Now, in March 2005, we look at life after the Angels suspended Guillen for the season after Incident X, while the Dodgers suspended Bradley for only a week after Incident Y - keeping in mind that Incidents X and Y were different.
"This spring, Guillen is 3,000 miles away, and the Angels are at peace."
The Dodgers? "The Dodgers must dance around Milton Bradley."
Must they? Yes, the Dodgers have had more turnover than an astronaut in zero gravity, but is there any indication that the Dodger clubhouse is in chaos? The dustup over who would play center field in 2005, Bradley or J.D. Drew, was minor at worst, misreported by much of the media and resolved with ease in two days.
"Two teams, two cultures, two choices," Plaschke writes. Well, for most of 2004, by his own analysis, it was "two teams, one culture, one choice." Despite their problems, Bradley and Guillen remained on their teams' active rosters for almost the entire season. And then, the paths diverged. After two different incidents.
Plaschke overlooked the important distinction between Guillen and Bradley. Bradley has an anger problem, but there is no evidence his anger is directed at his teammates or manager. Guillen's problems, as Plaschke documents them, were clubhouse problems. Whether or not one or both of them should be excused for their behavior, their situations are not parallel.
If Plaschke had uncovered evidence of dissension in the Dodger clubhouse, his column would have been more meaningful. If Plaschke had examined the difference between hostility toward fans and umpires vs. hostility toward teammates and management, his column would have been more meaningful. As it is, the column regrettably provides fuel for those who feel Plaschke's mind is made up before he begins his reporting.
To a great extent, especially on the Internet, writing negatively about Plaschke has become a cliche. It feels like a cliche - I enjoy it about as much as I would enjoy writing "out of the frying pan, into the fire." I enjoy it about as much as being in the frying pan. At some point, I do fear that the widespread criticisms become so numerous that instead of becoming conclusive, they lose meaning altogether. I don't see any reward in writing what I just wrote at all.
But there it is.
Update: I've given this some more thought and what's occured to me is that, despite all the criticism he receives, I don't think Plaschke is a lost cause. I think he is a good writer. Flawed, but most of us are flawed. He can write. I think the problem is that he's in a thinking slump. I'd love to see him snap out of it.
I pledge not to make rash judgments, positive or negative, based on Spring Training statistics.
Bocachica Chica Boom Boom
The A's told Beane and Beane told ... never mind.
Bocachica has endured two miserable seasons since he was traded by the Dodgers, spending time with the Detroit Tigers (who lost 119 games in 2003) and then playing for the Seattle Mariners (99 losses in 2004).
He's with the A's this spring, his third organization in three years after escaping Los Angeles for the opportunity to be a full-time player.
"I wish I could go back and say I want to stay here,'' Bocachica said. "You never know what's going to happen in the future, but at that moment I wanted to get traded and get my chance to play. Now that I look back I should have stayed there, but things happen. They're a great organization. I've got nothing but good things to say about them.''
Did Bocachica have a choice about staying or leaving? That wasn't my impression. He never cracked .300 in on-base percentage with the Dodgers, though he did have four home runs and three doubles in 65 at-bats before being traded in July 2002 for Tom Farmer. That would be enough production for many short-term memorists to give Bocachica the 2005 Dodger first base job over Hee Seop Choi, but still ...
The 25-year-old Farmer, by the way, had a 4.59 ERA in 82 innings in AAA Las Vegas last season, allowing 105 hits and 34 walks while striking out 70.
Bocachica is 29 now. Oakland general manager Billy Beane said some nice things about him - he signed him, after all - but somehow I feel he was manufacturing compliments the way Little Ball advocates like to manufacture runs.
"He's a versatile guy,'' Beane told Roderick. "He gives us speed late in the game. It's a component we were missing last year. We haven't had that kind of guy off the bench.''
Is my interest in these obscure ex-Dodgers over the top? It's a sickness, isn't it? I tell you, I can't get enough. Even as I dismiss them, I root for them. Most of the time.
When Arthur Miller passed away two weeks ago, the obits focused rightfully on his plays but glossed heedlessly over The Misfits, dismissing it merely as the movie he wrote for his former wife, Marilyn Monroe.
It was so much more.
Time and again in tense physical and emotional struggles, The Misfits takes the guileless idealism that we are born with, tears it down, and then rebuilds it. It shows how crushing the disappointment can be when the world does not live up to our expectations, and yet how few of us can resist trying to reinvent the world so it will. It shows how flawed we are and yet how sympathetic, how deserving of rescue, we can be. It shows the battles of our lives.
If it isn't clear how this film relates to Dodger Thoughts and baseball, consider how often the team and game we love seem to let us down, and how often so many of us (though certainly not all of us) return to them, reconfiguring our passion for them in what we hope will be a workable equation. And how often we are rewarded for our pains.
Though there are some who consider the screenplay flawed, The Misfits features Miller's gifts at full flower, rocking firmly back and forth between the seduction of idealism and the limits of idealism.
The movie (spoiler alert, if such a thing applies to a 44-year-old movie) begins in then-present-day Reno with Roslyn (played by Monroe) getting a divorce. Soon, she is with an old friend, Isabelle (Thelma Ritter) and a new friend, Guido (Eli Wallach) in a half-built purgatory of a shack, miles and miles from town. Roslyn listens to Guido describe his wife, whose premature, fluky death caused him to leave the building of the home unfinished.
Guido: She stood behind me 100 percent. Uncomplaining as a tree.
This conversation comes after Isabelle, helping Roslyn prepare for her divorce, illustrates her own surrender, her choice to revel in the beauty of fallen ideals ...
Isabel: This'll be my 77th time witnessing a divorce. Two sevens - that's lucky!
... and soon after, advising Roslyn to follow her path.
Isabel: Dear girl, you've got to stop thinking you can change things.
Roslyn doesn't give in. Not yet, anyway. She continues to gently nudge the peace Guido has made over his wife's limitations - for example, his wife's clumsiness at dancing. Superficially meek, inwardly a fighter - a crusader - Roslyn wants Guido to understand that he can do better. We can all do better.
Roslyn: Why didn't you teach her to be graceful?
The stage is set for Roslyn and Gay Langland, played by Clark Gable. (Like Monroe, Gable was making his last screen appearance before his death.) They have met briefly before in the story, but now they are just beginning to grasp the depth in each other. Suddenly, Gay, a cowboy in 1961, a man who has journeyed further and further to the fringes to retain his ideals, realizes that Roslyn is the ideal for everyone else - at a cost to herself.
Gay: It's almost kind of an honor sitting next to you. You just shine in my eyes. That's my true feeling, Roslyn. ... What makes you so sad? I think you're the saddest girl I ever met.
It's this perception that gives Roslyn a proper venue for her idealism - that rekindles her belief.
Now of course, this was not a movie about baseball. This was a movie about life and love. Pause for a moment, though, and consider that we've all had moments where baseball has let us down, where we've asked ourselves why we waste our time following this game.
We need a place to land. To rest. To rekindle our faith, even if it's a diversion.
Roslyn: Let's just live, like you said in the bar. I don't know where I am yet.
Roslyn and Gay shack up in the shack. They even do a little sprucing up, a little building, a little planting. The way one might express fascination with the seemingly perfect proportions of the baseball diamond - 90 feet between bases - Roslyn expresses wonder at the simple lives of vegetables.
Roslyn: I never really saw anything grow before. What tiny seeds they are - and yet they know they're supposed to be lettuces.
Soon after, Gay comments:
Gay: You have the gift of life, Roslyn. Rest of us are just looking for a place to hide and watch it all go by.
Roslyn's idealism is infectious.
Perhaps by this point, you're thinking that I'm too idealistic, drawing Ray Kinsella-like homilies about baseball from a movie. And you're half-right. And in some ways that's my point. I shouldn't be doing it - they probably won't hold in the end. It's too idealistic. But I'm doing it anyway.
Roslyn's faith finally clashes with Gay's reality. The four principals pick up a fifth on their way to a county fair - a rodeo cowboy and old friend of Gay's named Perce, played by Montgomery Clift. Via Perce, Roslyn is exposed to the rodeo for the first time. It is an unromanticized exposure - Perce lands and hurts his head badly. It is a dangerous game - and she objects.
Gay: You wouldn't have a rodeo otherwise.
One person takes the bad with the good, the other can't understand it. And the game - or the game player himself, Perce, doesn't know any better.
Roslyn: Why are you doing it?
Perce is as fatalistic as Roslyn is idealistic. But again, one affects the other. In the next moment, Perce thanks Roslyn for crying for him - and Roslyn hints at her loss of faith in Gay.
Perce: I can't figure you floating around (here) ... Do you belong to Gay?
From almost the beginning of the movie, Gay and Guido extoll the virtues of not becoming addicted to everyday work. "Anything's better than wages" is their mantra. One of the ways they avoid wages is to periodically round up wild mustangs for sale. In years past, they might have sold these mustangs for people to ride. But times change, and now the biggest customers for mustangs are pet food manufacturers.
For Gay, he's just rolling with the times. For Roslyn, this is the Black Sox and steroids rolled into one.
Gay: It all got changed around. See, I'm doing the same thing I always did.
Gay makes the comment that the few remaining mustangs are "nothing but misfit horses." These words, being spoken by a cowboy in 1961, crystalize the movie's irony. Misfit horses, misfit cowboys.
Misfit sport, misfit fans.
The discouragement to which Roslyn succumbs - and perhaps we can say she plays the role of the idealistic fan broken - begins to engender seepage of regret in the game and its players. First, Perce. Gay, Perce and Guido learn that for all their efforts and angst, the yield will be only six mustangs.
Gay: Six is six. Better than wages, isn't it? I said, better than wages, isn't it?
Guido, who has been nursing a crush on Roslyn but ceding the chase to the more attractive Gay (you know I'm aware that you don't see first names like this much anymore), now spots an opening to rescure Roslyn from her despair. But his professed regret is transparently cynical - some would argue Seligian.
Guido: Give me a reason (to stop this). I've been waiting. I'm going out of my mind with waiting.
Finally, having had time to think things over, Gay is about to be converted. He is about to find another path - go further out in the fringes, away even from mustanging, in order to preserve his connection to Roslyn and her inherent idealism. But just before he can, Roslyn screams.
Roslyn: KILLERS! MURDERERS! LIARS! You're only happy if you can see something die! Why don't you kill yourselves and be happy?! You with your God's country! Freedom! I pity you! You're three dear sweet dead men!
Gay refuses to follow after this browbeating. He returns to the chase of the mustangs. He truly nearly gets killed being dragged by one. (In fact, many speculate that Gable, performing his own stunt, hastened his own death shortly after filming.)
But he ties the horse up. And then he lets it go.
Gay: Don't want nobody making up my mind for me, that's all. Damn 'em all. They changed it. Changed it all around. Smeared it all over with blood. I'm finished with it. ... I just gotta find another way to be alive, that's all - if there is one, anymore.
We can always try to do better. It just means a harder life. It means sacrifice. The Misfits dramatizes this inherent conflict. Sacrifice on the primary level is less than ideal, so life is less than ideal. But we can still make a better life through it.
How often I take the easy way out myself. But I have to remember, in a changing world, in a changing sport, we need to continue to reevaluate right and wrong, as much as we can. And choose right, as much as we can. That can involve life or death situations, or it can involve what stats and observations to use to evaluate a ballplayer's talent. It can mean the difference between love and loss, or the difference between grilled hot dogs at the ballpark and boiled.
It can mean the smallest degree of improvement, or it can mean everything over nothing.
Roslyn: Gay, if there could be one person in the world, a child who could be brave from the beginning. ... How do you find your way back in the dark?
Baseball is my favorite game. The Misfits is my favorite movie. Arthur Miller is gone, and I felt I needed to write something.
Jon Weisman's outlet
for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
09 08 07
Jon's other site:
Thank You For Not ...
1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity