Monthly archives: January 2006
Raise a Hullaballoo for The Best of Dodger Thoughts
I just peeked outside and saw that it's a beautiful day for The Best of Dodger Thoughts, for The Best of Dodger Thoughts today.
There's a reason the Dodger Thoughts website is free but the book costs money - organized by subject, the book does the website one better. Why settle for Don Drysdale when for just a few dollars more, you can have Sandy Koufax too?
It's only $25 for this unique look at Dodger life - both a historical resource and a collector's item. It's cheaper than a subscription than just about anything. If you've been reading the site for three years, it's about 16 cents per week. If you're new to the site, it's worth $25 to find that best pieces that you've missed.* Believe me, you wouldn't see me doing this poor imitation of a salesman if I didn't believe your money would be well spent.
Dodger insiders are already getting their hands on the book. Don't be a Dodger outsider. Note the clever play on words, and buy The Best of Dodger Thoughts right away!
*Say you earn $8 an hour. Buying The Best of Dodger Thoughts and streamlining your journey through past entries will easily save you the pre-tax equivalent of three hours, seven minutes and 30 seconds of your time. Isn't Dodger Thoughts worth three hours, seven minutes and 30 seconds of your life?
We're Giving Away Free Trips to Florida!
Kurt Ainsworth and Ramon Martinez, come on down!
No, not our old friend Ramon. Different Ramon.
I don't predict either Ainsworth or Martinez will make it past the Showcase Showdown.
A Short but Sweet Testimonial for Dodger Catchers
The car accident that robbed Roy Campanella of the ability to walk also prevented, on a less significant note, the brand new fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers from being able to see a future Hall of Famer play catcher right in front of their eyes.
Campanella was 36 when the accident occured, and his bat was starting to slow down, so who knows how long he would have worn a Los Angeles uniform. Nevertheless, in the 48 years since Campanella's tragedy, the legacy of Dodger catchers has been a proud one. For 36 of those 48 years, the Dodgers relied upon the toolsmanship of only five men: John Roseboro, Steve Yeager, Mike Scioscia, Mike Piazza and Paul LoDuca. Los Angeles also received nice cameos from Tom Haller, Duke Sims (121 OPS+ in 1971), Joe Ferguson and even at certain moments Todd Hundley, who hit 24 home runs in 299 at-bats in 2000.
From August 2004 to August 2005, the catching position in Los Angeles lost its mojo. But with Dioner Navarro and Russell Martin rising fast, Dodger catching should soon be returning to a position of pride - as has been customary, despite the horrific preamble, for the team in Los Angeles.
'Nine Girls ...'
I have to join in on the salutes to character actor Charles Lane, who just turned 101. Thanks to Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and others for passing on the news. Lane's Internet Movie Database entry lists 322 roles. Reportedly, Lane was honored at the 2005 TV Land Awards and said, "In case anyone's interested, I'm still available!"
Lane is most memorable to me from his appearances on I Love Lucy in different parts, such as the casting director in the episode where Lucy has bet she won't lie, and as the other father in the waiting room the night Little Ricky was born. Lane entered the hospital as the father of six girls and left as the father of three more. His world-weary delivery of the line, "Nine girls ..." is priceless.
Fred, of course, suggests Lane form a softball team.
... say it with an Italian accent. Or if that doesn't work, French.
Sentimentally, a Mike Piazza return would have been lovely ... financially, the Dodgers could certainly have found $2 million for him, considering what they found for other folk ... objectively, despite five consecutive seasons of declining OPS+, he's still a better backup than Sandy Alomar, Jr.
And it would have been one of the more interesting position battles in baseball, to see if and when the younger, spryer, defensively superior Dioner Navarro would have been able to pass Piazza and his Hall of Fame reputation in the night. Would Piazza have anything left, or would he become Jason Phillips with an aura?
But a principal goal the Dodgers have been driving for this offseason is an uncomplicated Spring Training, with clearly defined roles and a strict cap on players who could be set up for disappointment about their playing time. It's ironic, given that Piazza is a baseball guy through and through, but I sense that his presence would disturb the peace. Now, those of you who know me know I'm willing to trade peace for talent, if it's a good deal. But while Piazza would be an upgrade over Alomar, there's no assurance that Piazza is much of an upgrade over Navarro (barely outpacing him in Value Over Replacement Player rate last year, according to Baseball Prospectus), nor is there any indication Piazza would willingly take Alomar's backseat behind Navarro, until it was unnervingly apparent. Quite the opposite, in fact.
So it doesn't surprise me that the Dodgers passed up the opportunity to sign Piazza for Rafael Furcal's tip money, nor does it upset me. My lament remains how Los Angeles lost Piazza, not how it didn't get him back.
1968: Oohs and Blahs
On February 14, 2003, I began my multipart series on the 1967-73 Dodgers with the story, "Traumatized in '67" ...
For me, 1967-73 is the George Lazenby period of the Los Angeles Dodgers. They weren't as bad as they were innocuous.I'm sorry I can't even give you three full years to savor that piece, but I'm moving headlong into Part 2 of the series, covering 1968.
We pick up the storyline with the Dodgers coming off an eighth-place finish in 1967, traceable to the retirement of Sandy Koufax and the all-around funk that followed it: a sophomore slump by Don Sutton, mediocrity in the bullpen, and a decline in offensive production at six of eight spots in the lineup.
General manager Buzzie Bavasi responded in the 1967-68 offseason with something of a housecleaning, ridding himself of eight members of the '67 team, including some True Dodgers. He kicked things off in November by sending John Roseboro, Ron Perranoski and Bob Miller to Minnesota for some True Twins: Mudcat Grant and Zolio Versalles. Roseboro was 34 and winding down and Miller was an average reliever, but Perranoski was the leader of the bullpen, throwing 110 innings with an ERA+ of 127. Meanwhile, Grant, a 21-game winner in '65, was coming off the worst season of his career at age 30 (73 ERA+). The 27-year-old Versalles was acquired to solve the shortstop black hole created by the trade of Maury Wills a year earlier (imagine Dave Ross and Brent Mayne replacing Paul Lo Duca) but considering that Versalles had batted .200 (52 OPS+) in 1967 with 30 errors, a "What was Bavasi thinking?" might certainly be in order. Versalles looked worse than Roseboro, Grant worse than Perranoski. Wrote Glenn Stout in his comprehensive history, The Dodgers: "It would have been an interesting trade two years eariler. Now it was just a swap of fading veterans."
At a minimum, Versalles did make Dodger shortstop Gene (.468 OPS, 41 OPS+) Michael expendable, so he was sold to the Yankees. Fellow shortstop Dick Schofield, soon to be 33, was released no great loss in and of itself, though he was better looking offensively and defensively at this point in his career than Versalles.
But in the other big move of November, the Dodgers traded outfielder Lou Johnson, their second-best hitter in 1967, to the Cubs for infielder Paul Popovich, a 27-year-old infielder with 35 career hits, and 20-year-old outfield prospect Jim Williams. Hard to justify in the short term, this trade would have to be seen as a sign of a rebuilding attempt. The 33-year-old Johnson had been a late bloomer himself, with only 47 major league hits before his 30th birthday, and could reasonably have been expected to be headed for a decline despite posting perhaps the best year of his career.
Bavasi then stood pat until pitchers and catchers were reporting for Spring Training, before making two more moves. Looking for a catcher to play in front of 26-year-old Jeff Torborg, the Dodgers picked up Tom Haller (along with minor leaguer Frank Kasheta) from none other than the rival San Francisco Giants, in exchange for Ron Hunt and Nate Oliver. Haller, 30, was one of the top offensive catchers in baseball, with six consecutive seasons of above-average OPS. Oliver was no loss, but Hunt, the future hit-by-pitch king, had been a rare bright spot in the Dodger lineup with a 106 OPS+ in 1967. The trade made sense, but reads like another change in strategy for the Dodgers. Why acquire Versalles if you were going to get rid of Johnson? Why get rid of Johnson if you were going to get Haller?
Topping things off, Los Angeles purchased Rocky Colavito from the Chicago White Sox in 1968. Colavito hit 20 or more home runs from 1956-66, peaking with 45 in 1961. In 1967, however, Colavito hit eight homers in 123 games with Cleveland and Chicago. It was a gamble that an aging player had one more good season left though admittedly, at no cost in personnel.
Summarizing the transition from 1967 to 1968 ...
The 1967 Los Angeles Dodgers
Regular lineup (with OPS and OPS+):
Starting rotation (with W-L, ERA and ERA+)
The 1968 Los Angeles Dodgers
Regular lineup (with OPS and OPS+):
Starting rotation (with W-L, ERA and ERA+)
So how'd it go? In the book True Blue, Steve Delsohn provides the short version:
"The swift decline continued in 1968," Delsohn writes. "Young starting pitcher Bill Singer ... recalls a Dodger team that batted just .230, scored a measly 2.9 runs per game, and had a guy named Al Ferrara batting fourth on opening day."
In The Dodgers, Stout implies that as Opening Day approached, there was an additional omen of a season off its axis:
Just before the start of the 1968 season, the Dodgers made another monumental mistake. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assasinated on April 4, and America erupted. Whille the rest of baseball suspended operations, the Dodgers went ahead and played an exhibition game at Dodger Stadium against Cleveland. And when the rest of baseball pushed back Opening Day until after King's funeral on April 9, the Dodgers planned to play, even though their opponents, the Philadelphia Phillies, announced they would rather forfeit than participate. Hollywood even postponed the Academy Awards. But the Dodgers, the team that signed Jackie Robinson, insisted on playing their game.
Everything Bavasi said about the situation made him sound insensitive, and the organization appeared totally out of touch. "I talked to Willie Davis and (coach) Jim Gilliam," said Bavasi of the team's two high-profile African Americans. "I told them the game would be played but they would not have to participate. ..."
Ultimately, the Dodgers opened the season on April 10 - and were shutout in their first two games and held to one run in their first 43 innings. Remarkably, however, they split their first six games and were 13-13 after 26, sitting four games out of the National League lead. Double the games played, and the Dodgers were 26-26 after 52, 3 1/2 games out of first. A seven-game winning streak, which included Don Drysdale's mesmerizing sixth consecutive shutout (lowering his season ERA to 1.21) put the Dodgers alone in second place on June 9, two games behind St. Louis.
Unfortunately for Los Angeles, that would be the peak. Drysdale's scoreless streak became history, in the good and bad sense, and the Dodgers lost 32 of their next 45 games - capped by a 5-20 tailspin to start the month of July - to fall into a tie for last place, 22 1/2 games behind the front-running Cardinals.
During the slide, it should be said, there were two key off-field events. First, as Stout and Delsohn recall, the San Diego expansion franchise enticed Bavasi with a 30-percent ownership stake, and he left the Dodgers after three decades with the team to become Padre president.
Second, in a a turnaround that might resonate with Dodger fans today, the Dodgers unexpectedly pulled together perhaps the single best amateur draft baseball had ever seen - or would ever see. Stout provides the background:
The farm system, although under the control of player development director Al Campanis and Fresco Thompson, had not provided a first-rate position player in years. Most Dodger prospects semmed to follow an familiar pattern: early success, like that enjoyed by Tommy Davis and Jim Lefebvre, followed by a long slow decline. Dodger minor leaguers, many of whom had been considered absolute blue chippers when first signed, seemed to peak early, and time and time again the club rushed players to the majors a year before they were ready.
The system did a good job of identifying talent but was not adept at predicting future performance. Like the Yankees a few years earlier, the Dodgers signed prospects who looked like ballplayers instead of players who were the real thing. Although the Dodgers were the first team to put into place the now-standard numeric grading system that rates skills on a scale from 20 to 80, they also looked for what they called "the good face" - a ballplayer who looked the way they expected a ballplayer to look. The result was a good-looking team, but not a whole lot of talent.
Fresco Thompson took over for Bavasi, although many thought he was just a stopgap hire to prevent him from jumping to Montreal. In the 1968 free agent draft held a few weeks later, the Dodgers hit the jackpot. Either Bavasi had been the problem or it was just time for the Dodgers to get lucky. After all, if Drysdale could hit a batter with the bases loaded and still pitch a shutout, anything was possible. Among the players the Dodgers selected were unknown kids named Bobby Valentine, Steve Garvey, Bill Buckner, Ron Cey, Tom Paciorek, Joe Ferguson, and Doyle Alexander. Lee Lacy would be selected the following February. Few teams have ever had a more productive draft: none of these players would stay unknown for long, for these "good faces" also had some skills.
Of course, the benefits of the draft would not help the Dodgers in '68. An eight-game losing streak in August ended any hope of recovery and put the Dodgers in their deepest hole, 54-74 and 27 games behind St. Louis. Thus buried, Los Angeles rallied for an 18-9 September to finish tied for seventh place at 76-86, a mere 21 games behind the Cards, four games ahead of the last-place Houston Astros.
What went right, and what went wrong? Well, there was Drysdale and his legendary streak, of course. But Drysdale was something of a key figure in the midseason slump. His ERA in July was 3.83, worse than the overall NL average that year of 3.43. (It's interesting to note that Drysdale only made 29 career appearances after his scoreless inning streak ended.)
Unless they were allowing a lot of inherited runners to score, the relievers were rather exceptional, even by late-'60s standards, posting a 2.14 ERA. Grant surprised the naysayers with an ERA of 2.09, albeit in a career-low 94 2/3 innings. In addition, Sutton rebounded from a disappointing 1967 to pitch more than 200 innings with a 2.60 ERA, aided by a 5-1, 1.24 ERA September. However, the rest of the Dodger starting rotation was below average.
On offense, Haller (128 OPS+) earned All-Star recognition at catcher with his .285 batting average. But the Dodgers were led in home runs by part-time outfielder Len Gabrielson, who hit all of 10. While familiar names like Wes Parker and Willie Davis held their own, Ron Fairly had his second consecutive disappointing season, and Versalles (59 OPS+, 28 errors) was a disaster at shortstop. Colavito played in 40 games, hit three homers, and was released in July. On the whole, it wasn't an old team, a young team, a great team or a terrible team. It was a fairly undistinguished group.
Good news was just around the corner for the Dodgers, if for no other reason than with expansion and the introduction of divisional play, there would be only five teams to beat to reach the postseason. But with the exception of 58 1/3 scoreless innings of glory, the post-Koufax doldrums continued for the '68 Dodgers.
Inside Inside Baseball
I've noticed the term "inside baseball" creeping into news articles oftener and oftener. For a while there, I was too inside baseball to understand what "inside baseball" meant. I had never heard the expression inside a baseball conversation, a baseball game, or even in the giant baseball balloon I have in my backyard. (Just kidding - my wife isn't that crazy.)
Here's an example, from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
To the average citizen, it might have seemed like inside baseball: a debate over arcane matters like the tensile strength of mortar compounds and the patina of old vs. new brick and terra cotta. But when it comes to preserving Milwaukee's most revered landmark, City Hall, even the smallest detail takes on historic significance.
The irony, I think, is that the average citizen doesn't even know the expression "inside baseball." Either that, or I've been sub-average most of my life. It is true that I have usually sat out debates over the tensile strength of mortar compounds and such.
Now, "inside baseball" is creeping back from outside baseball inside baseball, such as in this Boston Globe article about the Red Sox front office, and elsewhere. With all the fascination about inside baseball, can the center possibly hold?
Who's your favorite in Daily News writer Tony Jackson's Dodger update today? Use any criteria you like.
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From Kevin Kelly of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Away from the podium where Bob Castellini announced the dismissal of general manager Dan O'Brien on Monday, the new Reds owner fielded a few more questions.
One concerned how much control the next general manager would have over baseball operations and personnel decisions.
"When the next person comes in," Castellini responded, "he or she will assess who their personnel will be."
And yet, Kelly writes that Dodger assistant general manager Kim Ng is not expected to be a candidate to become general manager in Cincinnati.
I can't tell if Castellini is open-minded for using "he or she" or close-minded for not considering Ng, if that's the case.
The 2006 NL West: What a Fun, Sexy Time for You
And I say that with all of George Michael Bluth's melancholy sincerity ...
More people than myself are beginning to take a look at the state of the National League West for 2006. Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle has his own rundown today.
Jenkins' hunch is similar to mine, which is that if Barry Bonds has one final season of greatness or goodness left in him, and if young Matt Cain can help amp up the starting rotation, the Giants look like favorites. If not, the Dodgers look poised to return to the top of the molehill - although I take issue with, among other things he wrote, Jenkins' broad use of the word "gamers" to describe only Ned Colletti's acquisitions. Somehow Nomar Garciaparra and Kenny Lofton are gamers, but Jeff Kent is one of the Dodgers' "issues."
As a third option, though they have made a mixed bag of offseason moves, you can't rule out the Padres because they won the 2005 NL West despite being hampered by injuries. They could have their own year of good news from the doctors, and the Giants and Dodgers might not stay healthy. Basically, the division is a battle of first-aid kits.
As for the other two teams in the division, you don't have to rule out the Diamondbacks because they do have some young (albeit maybe too young) talent to go with their old (albeit maybe too old) talent. And you don't have to rule out the Rockies because ... what fun is that?
But overall, I like the Dodgers chances to fend off Bonds and others to win the NL West, booby prize that it may be. But feel free to reshape my thinking. What do you think?
Scrubs Turns 100
All these freelance articles that I wrote in different weeks are coming out at once. Today, if you're interested, I have a feature for Variety on Scrubs, which celebrates its 100th episode tonight.
Not everyone can be Kobe, but here's my story ...
Our living room has no furniture; it hasn't since we bought our house 18 months ago. With two itty-bitty children, it didn't really make sense to build a salon in a room best used as a play area, and anyway, once we moved in, we didn't have much money left to go that route.
This didn't stop my wife last year from dropping hints the size of Stonehenge about her "push present." (Guys, if you don't know what that is, I'm not gonna be the one to break it to you.) After weeks of unseemly negotiations, I gave in to her desires but extracted an Andre Ethier-like concession, meaningful to me if perhaps no one else. On a wall in our living room, despite it being the first thing that other moms, dignitaries or the paparazzi would see upon crossing our threshold, I would be allowed to hang a Nerf basketball hoop.
The living room is actually almost as perfect a setup for a modest Nerf halfcourt as you could want. A loft, housing our little home office, hangs over the room, and the hoop is installed low on the front of the overhang, about eight feet off the ground. It's a good height to make dunks challenging but not too challenging, and it also means that you can run through your layup or dunk into the empty space under the overhang, instead of banging into a wall like Pete Reiser.
The floor is hardwood, probably installed around the time that Kareem was bringing home the Lakers' first NBA championship won in Boston Garden. And thanks to the lack of furniture, if you can avoid the toys here, there and everywhere, there is ample room for all kinds of outside shots.
Saturday night, guarded from in front by a children's play tent and from above by the sloping roof of the house, using the same small, tattered Nerf basketball I played with in my childhood room in Woodland Hills when Magic did his Game 6 1980 tour de force in Philadelphia, on my second try ever from this distance, I swished a shot from 18 feet. And exulted. The whole family was in the room at the time; none of them saw it, none of them appreciated it. Eventually, my wife smiled one of those "My husband's a little boy - maybe too much of a little boy, but I'll go with it" smiles. All this happened, and my arms were still up in the air in triumph for another 5 or 10 seconds. Eighteen feet at home - that's gotta be like double on a real court.
Had they given it any thought, no one would have thought I could do it. But that wouldn't have phased me. Why, it was only six hours earlier that for the first time, I took my 1-year-old and 3-year-old to a UCLA basketball game at Pauley Pavilion, which wouldn't have been the least bit noteworthy except that I did it solo, while my wife worked. For 48 hours leading up to the event, she, my parents and anyone else who knew me revealed their true lack of faith in my fatherly abilities, puzzled that I would even attempt such a quest and pessimistic about its success.
I have to admit, their doomsday fears started to get to me, especially after the kids had a meltdown while teeth were being brushed two hours before gametime. I had thoughts of calling the experiment off. But I wanted to see if I could do it.
As it turned out, it went fine. Now, you have to understand that I never intended to stay the whole game, because it started at 12:45 p.m. and naps needed to begin back home by 2 or 2:30. So, the fact that we made it to our seats before the National Anthem, that my daughter enjoyed the players and the cheerleaders and that my son even watched in between the squirms of a kid who just wants to run everywhere, was another triumph, allowing me to leave with head held high even though there were still more than nine minutes to go in the first half.
Sunday brought a similar victory. If the last one seemed modest, this one will, too - but you have to understand that my wife and I were both born with some serious laziness and paranoia in our DNA, the combination of which often makes us shy away from the unfamiliar or untested, however much we want to assay it. Nevertheless, we made it down south of Pico Boulevard to the beach, where we rented bicycles with baby seats and rode for nearly an hour with the kids strapped in behind us. We had fun, and no one got hurt (although there were a couple of slippery enough moments to keep us humble).
All in all, a good weekend, one that allows me to greet an otherwise unwanted Monday morning with more pleasure than pain. It comes almost as a footnote that I have begun to freelance for SI.com, a semi-fulfillment of a dream I had two decades ago. Back in college, I had set my career goal as being a columnist for Sports Illustrated, the magazine. And while this isn't that, while this isn't 81 points in a game, while it might not even be an 18-foot Nerf swish, it's somewhat rewarding for me, and I hope you don't mind the egotism of me pointing it out. (Thanks are also due to SI freelancer Alex Belth of Bronx Banter, who endorsed me to our now mutual editor.)
If nothing else, my first piece itself should be of some interest. It's an early look at whether the National League West can regain its self-esteem in 2006; feel free to comment about it below. (And I guess it's worth noting that I'm no longer the Phantom of the Opera, my visage hidden from view in the bowels of the Internet.)
If none of this is to your taste, well, there's always NATPE.
Recently traded Dodger prospect Chuck Tiffany gave Rich Lederer a terrific, in-depth interview for Baseball Analysts today. Not to re-ignite the debate that became tired in a hurry over the Danys Baez trade, but if you miss Tiffany already, you're only going to miss him more.
Chuck: ... I worked on my changeup a lot last year. My changeup was a weak pitch at one time. In fact, everytime I threw a changeup, it was, pretty much, a home run. The Dodgers brought me to the instructional league to work on my changeup, and I was throwing 80-90% changeups and only five or ten fastballs and two or three curveballs to try and get out of innings. It was probably the best thing that's ever happened because I noticed how much a changeup can work against a batter. I felt really confident when they let me throw all three pitches and now my fastball, curveball, and changeup are all great pitches that I can use. ...
* * *
Smokescreen update: Free-agent catcher Bengie Molina won't become a Dodger unless he swallows a lot of salary pride, which he doesn't seem inclined to do, reports Tony Jackson of the Daily News:
Molina told the Yuma (Ariz.) Sun over the weekend that he will sit out the upcoming season if he doesn't receive the salary he is seeking, which is believed to be in the $6-million range. ...
"I got a pretty good idea of what they were looking for, and it's not something we're inclined to do right now," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said Sunday. "We're fine, in my mind, if we open the season with (Dioner) Navarro and (Sandy) Alomar and if we have Russell Martin at Triple-A gaining more experience. That won't bother me one bit."
Alan Nero, Molina's Chicago-based agent, said Sunday he was unaware the Dodgers no longer were interested in his client. Jackson writes that the Dodgers never formally offered Molina a contract.
* * *
What do Derek Jeter and Hee Seop Choi have in common? They're two of the four flag-splashed promotional faces in the full-page ad in the Times for the World Baseball Classic. Choi is primed to follow Tommy Lasorda as goodwill ambassador for the game.
Given the Dodgers' current roster construction, we might not see Choi play in Southern California for a while if Korea doesn't outlast Japan, Chinese Taipei and China to make it out of Pool A.
What My Friends Are Up To
My friend, groomsman and former writing partner Chris Leavell is producing Full Force Nature, a new Weather Channel series that "delivers some of the most unbelievable weather moments caught on tape." It premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday. Leave those Housewives to their desperation and come watch. Chris says that "the best way to describe the show is 'weather pornography.' "
* * *
My oldest friend (as in length of the relationship), John Lilly, is blogging life in China during his 5 1/2-month rotation there for Sun Microsystems, and I'm finding it most interesting. A couple of excerpts:
... My English language brain knows to store the letters of a syllable and that's it. So I can often recall how to spell the pinyin yet still forget its tone, which really does me no good at all.
Did I mention tones can change shape? A third tone followed by another third tone turns into a second tone, so you had better think ahead. The word yi by itself is first tone. When followed by a fourth tone it becomes a second tone, otherwise it turns into a fourth tone.
Despite all of this, it's endlessly fascinating and tremendously fun when it works. You say cèsu? six times, convinced you're saying it just right, and on the seventh time their eyes light up, they shout CÈSU?! and they point you to the bathroom.
Believe me, few things are more surreal (and fun) than sitting in a dark indoor arena filled with thousands of frenzied Chinese John Denver fans waving their Bic lighters and singing longingly for the country roads of West Virginia. ...
* * *
And now for something completely different, here is Kill Your Inner Child, by friend and writing colleague Sam Bernstein:
...This is the story I am told: While I am a toddler my father is away so much because he is in South America organizing ammunition deliveries to Guatemalan revolutionaries. The thing is, he probably is doing just that, though I do imagine that in trying to help the revolutionaries he mostly bosses them around and makes their lives miserable. It is impossible to talk about my family without running the risk of sounding like a person on crazy pills. The managers for my screenwriting career wonder if I am a pathological liar. Every time we have a pitch meeting at a studio or network there is small talk and invariably the person we are about to pitch mentions being from somewhere and I say that I lived there too, or at least have been there. Some of the locales pass without comment. New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, New York - all pretty blah. But Hawaii? Cairo? Months in Asia, Jamaica, and Mexico? Waimanalo is so beautiful. I walked barefoot to school every day. Cairo? I remember the beggars and finding out about circumcision. Small talk. No matter where anyone is from I seem to chime in saying how I once lived there or visited. After a slew of such performances one of the managers (I could say which one, but since I have two at the time and both are named Josh it would just confuse the matter) asks me if I have some weird idea that I am supposed to make nice with people by bonding over hometowns. That is not entirely outside the range of possibility since I am often eager if not frantic to please, but I assure both Joshes I am telling the truth. ...
More from Giants-land and Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle: You might not have heard it above the clang of mismatched beakers in Los Angeles, but absent chemistry has been demonized in the Bay Area as well.
... Could it be these 2006 Giants want to hang out together?
That would be a plus, because the lack of team chemistry in 2005 was an issue. Was it the biggest reason for the Giants having a losing record (75-87) for the first time in nine years? Hardly. (Barry) Bonds' five-month absence, the loss of closer Armando Benitez and an awful start by the rotation rank much higher.
Nevertheless, a lack of cohesion inside the clubhouse and on the field did not help. A month into the season, newcomer (Omar) Vizquel publicly bemoaned what he viewed as a shortage of team play. In mid-June, (Moises) Alou highlighted the off-field polarization by revealing he had not gone to dinner with a single teammate.
Management took notice, and it was no accident the new players for 2006 -- (Steve) Finley, (Matt) Morris, Tim Worrell, Mark Sweeney, Steve Kline and Jose Vizcaino -- have plenty of experience on playoff teams, reputations as solid teammates and, in some cases, the will to bust on anyone who strays from the common purpose -- winning. ...
I'm hoping Alou at least ate with his manager.
I can live with the idea that good chemistry doesn't hurt and bad chemistry doesn't help. But as far as wins and losses go, well, old friends Jose and Steve still need to be able to get a hit - and old nemesis Barry still needs to play.
By the way, did the Giants have good chemistry in 2004, when they went to the final weekend before losing the National League West? I assume that for his part, a certain ballplayer with the initials A.J.P. is laughing at the Giants right now.
The Dodger Top 40 at 6-4-2
With not nearly enough fanfare, nor Casey Kasem as a host, Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 has kicked off a series on the Top 40 Dodgers of all time. Coming in at No. 40 - a long-distance dedication to Jeff Pfeffer, who led the Dodgers to the 1916 National League pennant with a 1.92 ERA and .279 batting average.
Bonds in the Order
Batting Barry Bonds' of the rival Giants in the No. 2 slot of the batting order was the subject of a long discussion between Giants manager Felipe Alou and Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. (Thanks to Baseball Think Factory for pointing the article out.)
Alou is worried about what happens to the Giants lineup when Bonds is removed for a defensive replacement. He'd rather have a weaker hitter batting second and Moises Alou batting fourth in those situations. I think batting Bonds second might be a good idea for the Giants even without that rationale - just to get him more at-bats and put more pressure on the opponent sooner. How often does a cleanup hitter get up there with the bases loaded, anyway?
All in all, it doesn't matter much, but it interests me from a Strat-o-Matic perspective.
The May 1 Option
In Europe, it's a mark of continental sophistication. In the United States, it's a statement of individual wealth and elegance (or unemployment, if you want to be cynical about it).
What we're talking about here is the one-month vacation. And I'm waiting for the day when major league ballplayers jump at the opportunity to take one themselves.
A free agent who is not offered arbitration by his previous team, or who refuses aribration when his team does offer it, is ineligible to resign with that team until May 1. Right now, 43-year-old future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens is the most prominent player to fall into this category. Ex-Dodger Jeff Weaver fits there as well. The common theory is that because a month of the season will already be gone, it would be too late for that player to return - and so he must leap into a contract with another franchise.
But wouldn't someone, after earning millions of dollars in baseball, welcome the respite of a one-month holiday? Wouldn't they enjoy feeling tanned, rested and ready to take on a 140-game season in May, to have an extra month of strength come September or October, at the mere sacrifice of one month's salary.
Yes, these players do get time off from November through Spring Training - but so does everyone else. It's the one-month vacation while others toil away beneath the sun's rays and into the midnight hour that truly massages the mind and soul.
Teams make plans to move on with filling their rosters after players don't go to arbitration - but plans fall apart. Clemens might be the first to take advantage of the May 1 option - in recent years, as I understand it, he has already forced his team to tailor the scheduling of his starts so that more would be made at home. But if not Clemens, I have to think it's only a matter of time before someone catches on to spending an extra month at home with the kids or on the beach.
Reduced to a Talking Head
Firmly establishing myself as someone who will answer the phone when called, I chit the chat today on AOL's Sports Bloggers Live. You can catch a replay of my segment here; I followed right behind ESPN's Buster Olney, much the way the Grandma with the potato chips that looked like Nixon followed right behind Nipsey Russell.
New Leaf Talks About Being Turned Over by Bradley
In his recent interview with A's general manager Billy Beane, Tyler Bleszinski of Athletics Nation came away with a progress report on former Dodger outfielder Milton Bradley. An excerpt:
Blez: You're probably already tired of answering this question, but there are a lot of concerns about Milton Bradley's perceived attitude problem. How much did you take that into account when you were considering acquiring him?
Beane: Obviously, some of the things that have gone on, you can't change that or ignore that. But I think it was also something we tried to investigate as much as possible. And a number of people we've talked to who have come in contact with him were very supportive of him There's no sense in talking about his talent because it's evident. He's a switch-hitting, 27-year-old kid in the prime of his career. He's a bright young man and I've had the opportunity to talk to him. People who know him all say the same things. I think you also have to take into account that it was a tough year for the Dodgers. They went through a ton of injuries. The year before they won the division with Milton. I think people need to be careful and fair, even though I understand why they do, in prejudging Milton. I know he couldn't be more excited about coming here. I talked to a number of players before the trade was made, Eric (Chavez), Kots (Mark Kotsay) and Kendall. They all couldn't wait to have this guy on the team because they know he's going to contribute to a winning atmosphere. And listen, my attitude is a lot better when we win. Believe me, if you caught me on a tough season or a tough day, I would be accused of having the nastiest of attitudes. He's a great talent, and we got some great references that he's a bright and competitive young man. He's going to fit in very well here.
Blez: Did you happen to talk with Paul DePodesta about Milton?
Beane: I didn't think it was too fair at that point, so I tried to limit my conversations with him. I didn't want to put him in an uncomfortable position. But I consulted with players, guys who played against him and stuff like that. I couldn't have gotten a great endorsement than I did from some of the team leaders we have here.
Blez: Is Milton healthy?
Beane: Yeah, he had knee surgery last year. And he was up here in Oakland last week. We got his medical reports. ... He was up here last week. If I was at liberty, the report is sitting right in front of you, but I can't let you look at that. (laughs) He's doing great. We actually had to slow him down. He's far ahead of schedule.
Blez: So he should start the season?
Beane: Oh yeah. As a matter of fact, we think he should be ready for spring training. We'll probably take it easy on him in the spring. But according to the most medical reports, he should be ready for normal activity in the spring. But we're still going to take it easy on him.
What, Another One?
I'm still waiting to see if his interest is of the smokescreen variety, but if Ned Colletti completes a deal for free agent catcher Bengie Molina, as the Times suggests is possible, perhaps the most interesting aspect is that Colletti will have definitively shown less interest in building a team from within than Paul DePodesta did.
Break out the hoary 2005 nametag jokes. Already, the longest tenured Dodger starting position player is Jeff Kent.
The idea of young catchers Dioner Navarro and Russell Martin splitting time in Las Vegas seems like a tremendous waste - more likely, Navarro would become trade bait in a package for an outfielder to supplant Jose Cruz, Jr.. But I'd still be surprised and disappointed if Navarro doesn't start for the Dodgers in April. It's not that Molina couldn't represent an improvement for 2006, but it might be a marginal one, and anyway, I thought the idea was to mix the up-and-coming Dodger prospects with veterans. Just because the Dodgers are aiming to contend next year doesn't mean they can't afford to break in one young, promising player.
You may have to hand it to him - perhaps Colletti believes (as I do, not that he would care) that chemistry is a byproduct of winning, and not the other way around. As I've said before, winning trumps all. If Colletti can make it all work, few will care how he did it.
But I'm starting to get shopper's fatigue, like I used to have on childhood trips to Ralphs with my mom that seemed to go on endlessly.
Forget About Trading Gagne
There's been some talk that the Danys Baez acquisition would lead the Dodgers to trade Eric Gagne.
Given that the entire offseason has been about restoring Dodger public relations, it is simply impossible for me to envision Gagne being traded unless it's July and the team is in last place. (Presumably, a physical by the other team would prevent the Dodgers from unloading damaged goods, were that to be their inclination.)
Rightly or wrongly, trading Gagne now might put general manager Ned Colletti in hotter water than trading Paul Lo Duca put former GM Paul DePodesta. Of course, there are those who were determined to hate DePodesta from Day 1. But for those fans who are just beginning to recover from the LoDuca trade, with little else to root for, loosing another earthquake can't be something the McCourt ownership would allow.
The Baez acquisition was about relief depth, not about replacing Gagne now. Whether Gagne or Baez will be with the Dodgers a year from now, that's another story.
Recalling what attracted me to Edwin Jackson in the first place, Bryan Smith of Baseball Analysts takes us through a detailed look at Jackson's Dodger career, which ended over the weekend with Jackson's trade to Tampa Bay.
... It seems now that what I saw in that August 27 start was not the same pitcher I had seen in the past. His fastball was really between 91 and 93, and Edwin could occassionally add a bit onto that. The control of the pitch seemed to vary, though I understand it's difficult given the good amount of movement it possesses. However, Jackson also has pretty noticeable mechanical problems, falling heavily to the first base side after pitching. His key pitch was his breaking ball that was quite successul. In fact, he didn't rely on this pitch enough, again showing an overdependency for the fastball. Jackson flashed a change up that wasn't very good, as each time the ball was left too high in the zone.
So what's next for Jackson? The change of scenery should be good, mostly because he can start the season in AAA, in a more neutral environment. The key for the Devil Rays will be to try and get Jackson to gain more confidence in his breaking ball, and also learn to control his fastball better. He can pitch from just 91-93, that's fine, but to do so there must be some semblance of control. And most of all, Jackson needs to regain the confidence of his youth, to again show the smile on the mound that Jon Weisman referenced.
We were wrong about Edwin Jackson, he wasn't a phenom. Let's just hope the Dodgers didn't prevent him from becoming anything at all.
Smith also has some notes on Jackson's trademate, Chuck Tiffany.
Hochevar Update: No Update
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com offers this assessment of the Luke Hochevar situation:
Pretty much what it's been since negotiations turned ugly in September. Hochevar, the Dodgers' top draft pick in 2005, remains unsigned, and there's no indication that will change. Although scouting director Logan White said the club hasn't written off Hochevar, he reiterated what he said at the time he took the Tennessee right-hander -- that he knew Hochevar might be unsignable. He felt it was a risk worth taking, because the club had forfeited its first-round pick and this was the only way to get a first-round talent without one.
White came close when Hochevar agreed to sign for $2.98 million before backing out of the deal while juggling agents. The Dodgers then withdrew their offer. While the Dodgers liked Hochevar enough to draft him twice, they also feel they are relatively loaded with pitching prospects.
Of course, the Dodgers are less loaded than they were four days ago.
Some background the Dodger-Hochevar negotiations can be found here and here.
I mean no disrespect whatsoever when I write that a trivia answer has passed away. According to the Shreveport Times, Seth Morehead, reportedly the last pitcher to face Roy Campanella and the Brooklyn Dodgers, died of a heart attack this morning at age 71.
Morehead was the winning pitcher in Philadelphia's 2-1 home victory over Brooklyn on September 29, 1957.
Karros Becomes a Cautionary Tale
In 2004, the Athletics signed veteran first baseman Eric Karros for the bargain sum of $550,000, virtual peanuts for a 36-year-old veteran with (at the time) 282 career home runs. Sure, his recent performance was less than impressive; over the previous four seasons, his OPS was worse than the league average, which meant his OPS was well below average for a first baseman.
Still, for $550,000, what's the worst that could happen? If Karros didn't work out, the A's could just release him, and nothing would be hurt (except maybe his feelings).
Except something else did get hurt. Karros was an utter disaster: In the 40 games he played before the A's released him, Karros batted .194 with two home runs. Of course, very few pennant races hinge upon such things but this one did. The A's finished exactly one game behind the first-place Angels. If they'd had just a below-average hitter soaking up Karros' 111 plate appearances - rather than a way below-average hitter - the A's probably would have finished first instead of second.
- Rob Neyer, ESPN.com
First Jack Snow, now Ron Jessie.
With Harold Jackson, before baseball took center stage for me, these were the wide receivers I was weaned on. An era where the Rams had gold on the helmets, but my older brother's play helmet still had white.
When I had my T-shirt that said, "McCutcheon: Lawrence of Los Angeles," and a blue and gold letterman's style-jacket not much bigger than a dishtowel.
When the Rams played in Los Angeles, California and won division titles but no Super Bowls. A rise and fall, every year.
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Shav Glick once told me he liked an article I wrote, which surprised and smiled me. (At first I remembered his words more than the subject of the piece, but now I recall it was about Willy T. Ribbs.) After more than 70 years of sportswriting, Glick is retiring today, and he went out on a high note.
It seems to be that as one grows older, it's easier to recall events of youth than of last week. Perhaps that's why what I consider the most significant event in my career occurred when I was only 17.
It happened March 13, 1938, on a baseball diamond in Brookside Park, near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
The Chicago White Sox had their spring training there, and as a fundraiser for the city's baseball school, the American Leaguers played a group of Pasadena youngsters in an exhibition game.
At shortstop for the Pasadena Sox was a skinny black junior college player named Jack Robinson. There was no mention of its social implications then. Robinson had played with and against white athletes all his life. It was only years later that Robinson became the lightning rod for the civil rights movement and black athletes in particular when he became the first of his race in the modern age to play major league baseball.
As a 17-year-old, it was heady stuff to be the official scorer for the game.
The White Sox won, 3-2, in 11 innings, but it was the teenager Robinson who sparkled. He had two of Pasadena's six hits, stole second and handled seven chances without an error at shortstop.
His fielding was spectacular. When American League batting champion Luke Appling bounced a hard grounder labeled base hit toward left field, Robinson cut it off and made a perfect throw to second base to start a double play.
Jimmy Dykes, the crusty old White Sox manager and himself a legendary third baseman, nearly swallowed his cigar. Later, talking with reporters, he said, "If that boy was white, I'd sign him right now. No one in the American League could make plays like that."
After hearing Dykes, I wrote in the Pasadena Junior College school paper, "If a black player ever makes it to the major leagues, that player will probably be Jackie Robinson."
This Headline Surprised Me
A Wood of Chocolate
Cursed with the Weisman writing gene, my daughter, now 3 1/4 years old, has spun her first story. It's about the wooden spoon you stir the brownie mix with. And it has a moral!
A Wood of Chocolate
Succumbing to Baez Reporting
In their first trade of a major prospect in nearly two years, since Milton Bradley came over from Cleveland, the Dodgers have sent two - pitchers Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany - to Tampa Bay for relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter.
Sentimentally, this isn't a pleasant trade to hear about. Jackson was the Adrian Beltre of this micro-generation, a struggling Dodger prodigy still young enough to turn things around and nice enough to root for. Tiffany, a Southern Californian, was a promising Dodger draftee as well. This isn't going to go down in history or even in Sunday's papers as trading Paul Lo Duca, but it shows that Dodger general manager Ned Colletti isn't going to be a bleeding heart for the Los Angeles farm system.
Objectively, the trade isn't hard to understand, but it may be hard to support. It is safe to say that Baez is an above-average reliever - more consistent than and superior to the recently departed Duaner Sanchez, albeit two years older. Carter is being touted as a former All-Star, which I have to admit was news to me - and frankly, borders on intellectually dishonest. He was a default choice for the Devil Rays in 2003 thanks to nothing more than 15 saves, 30 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings, and a 4.05 ERA in the first half of that season. Carter is 31 with 122 career strikeouts - the kind of guy you take a waiver flyer on and hope for the best, like Giovanni Carrara. Mike Sharperson, R.I.P, was a truer All-Star than Carter.
So this trade is about Baez, about whether he can augment the Dodger bullpen in 2006 and stand as a worthy alternative to Eric Gagne should the supercloser succumb to injury or free agency.
As it happens, the Dodgers will owe Baez $4 million in the process - and face his own impending free agency at the end of the season. Because of this, the long-term prospects of the trade clearly favor Tampa Bay. Jackson and Tiffany are 22 and 21 years old, and while there are no guarantees for their futures, the teams that have them will have in the neighborhood of six years to find out how valuable they are - at a combined cost that won't approach Baez's 2006 salary for at least three seasons or so. We've seen what Jackson can do when his mind and body are healthy; Tiffany has averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings in his minor league career. I've seen worse bets.
The argument for the trade, then, is that it improves the Dodgers for 2006. But does it? If you turned Jackson into a one- or two-inning pitcher the way Baez will be used, limiting Jackson's exposure and need to master multiple pitches at a young age, and then parlayed the $3.65 million of leftover salary elsewhere on the roster, what has more value? Baez or Jackson plus $3.65 million. You can make the case for either. And then you're reminded there's the long-term to consider.
It's been more than four years since the Dodgers traded a starting pitching propsect for a reliever. In December 2002, Los Angeles sent Luke Prokopec and Chad Ricketts to Toronto for Cesar Izturis and Paul Quantrill. That trade turned out to be a steal for the Dodgers. It was also the first trade where I can recall noticing that the Dodgers were unloading a starting pitcher whose strikeout ratio was less impressive than his ERA, and figuring that the team was selling high. Jackson, if he hasn't been affected by injuries, may fit the Prokopec profile. Furthermore, some, such as Bryan Smith of Baseball Analysts have suggested that even with his high strikeout rate, Tiffany is a flawed prospect. Odds are the Dodgers won't miss Jackson and Tiffany in 2006, and it's very possible that the Baez acquisition, combined with a healthy Gagne and some stalwart pitching by Yhency Brazoban, Jonathan Broxton and/or others, will turn Dodger games back into the six-inning contests they were during the great pitching year of 2003.
But this trade still makes me uneasy. For season after season, the Dodgers have found relievers cheaply - and only in 2005 did the bullpen falter. (The Devil Rays themselves picked up Baez off waivers following his release by Cleveland in 2003.) Relievers are often starting pitchers who couldn't cut it, while good starting pitchers are gold. The more legitimate starting prospects you have in your system, the more likely you are to turn up one in the majors. Surrending the Jackson and Tiffany poker chips for a 70-inning pitcher seems like an expensive play.
* * *
Of course, those given to speculation and familiar with falsely optimistic medical reports coming from the Dodgers in recent years are free to wonder whether this is a signal that Gagne is not entirely healthy at all.
Tampa Bay executive vice president Andrew Friedman made an interesting comment, according to The Associated Press.
"We didn't seek this out, but after an in-depth exploration it makes sense for us,'' Friedman said.
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While I'm thinking about it, how about the $4 million for Jackson, Tiffany and Luke Hochevar instead of Baez?
* * *
AP is reporting that the Dodgers will also get a player to be named later, adding a minor suspense element to the news.
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Morning Update: Dodgers player development director Terry Collins talked to Tony Jackson of the Daily News about the latter's namesake:
"I really believe Edwin Jackson was ... so good that he tried to become a polished major-league pitcher before he was ready to handle it," Dodgers player development director Terry Collins said. "He wanted to try to sink the ball and cut the ball and worked very hard at trying to (paint) corners. Because of that, he changed a lot of things he did mechanically and backed off that great fastball he had trying to get the ball to sink."
Collins, who went from managerial candidate to twisting in the wind when Paul DePodesta was fired as general manager in October, was the flattered and interested subject of a "Come Home" column by Chris Stevens of the Midland Daily News in Michigan today:
There's a name from Midland's glorious sports past, and, get this, he's interested in coming back to be a part of Midland's new Class A baseball team.
"I'd be very interested," Collins, 56, said Saturday by telephone when asked if he'd have any interest in working with the new team. "Without question, absolutely."
Collins' father, Bud, still lives in Midland, as does his sister, Connie Altimore. He'd love nothing more than to come back to Midland. ...
Although Collins has spent most of his adult life in places other than Midland, he's still considered a hometown sports hero and has strong local ties. He was a gifted three-sport athlete at Midland High, won a national baseball championship at Eastern Michigan University, and was player-manager of Midland McArdle when it won the national softball championship back in 1979.
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As a footnote to Saturday's trade news, the Dodgers invited non-roster minor leaguers Tony Abreu, Edwin Bellorin, Chad Billingsley, Matt Kemp, Justin Orenduff and Eric Stults to Spring Training. For more information, consult The Dodger Thoughts Comprehensive, Non-Definitive 2005 Minor League Report.
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Rich Lederer offers his own take on the Dodger offseason over at Baseball Analysts.
Alvarez, Lima, Erickson ...
Age and ERA+ (average is 100, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com) the season before their non-roster invitations to Spring Training for the Dodgers:
Wilson Alvarez (2002) age 32, 85 ERA+
Hmm. But welcome back, Jamie Jarrin ...
Since many in the media have decided that the Dodgers are back on the right track, it's apparently time for people to pick on the Angels.
As the offseason began, when the American League West champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were shopping for players like Paul Konerko, I expected I might write about why the Angels weren't getting grief for messing with a champion, in contrast to the chiding the Dodgers got for the changes they made to their 2004 National League West champion squad.
Turns out, the Angels aren't changing much. But the interesting thing is that, people are rumbling that things have been too quiet. Steve Dileck of the Daily News is the latest:
Called the Angels - and this is absolutely true - somebody answered the phone. Honest to Gene Autry.
There are people there actually breathing. Capable of verbal communication. Presumably, capable of action.
Would never know it by the Angels' exciting offseason. Guess it's tough to make winter moves while hibernating.
Despite the fact that the Angels advanced one round further in the playoffs in 2005 than the Dodgers did in 2004 (not that he's making this comparison himself), Dilbeck offers a pessimistic assessment of the team.
When we last saw the Angels, they were getting schooled by the Chicago White Sox. Their lack of offense, lack of depth became striking.
And then the offseason came and they lost two starting pitchers, their starting catcher and their mostly starting center fielder. Fear not, they added some journeyman relievers and a backup third baseman.
Keep in mind that that "mostly starting center fielder" was Steve Finley.
Dilbeck allows Angels general manager Bill Stoneman to explain the Angels' decisions:
"What we determined at the end of the season was we'd go after an impact free agent, and there weren't really that many there," Stoneman said. "We did go after one guy and didn't get him.
"We decided at that point that rather than to get somebody that had a name that people knew but who wouldn't necessarily impact the club the way we wanted, that we had some very young talented players ... we wanted to give a full opportunity to win a spot and be productive here."
In other words, Stoneman argues that the Angels haven't been quiet - but that their major changes mostly involve the ongoing promotions of minor leaguers like Casey Kotchman and Jeff Mathis, with more waiting in the wings. Dilbeck doesn't buy it.
The Angels have one of the most highly regarded farm systems in baseball, but it's one thing to have outstanding potential and another to be a proven major-league star.
But there's still another thing. Between outstanding potential and proven major-league stardom, there is also overrated mediocrity. Buoyed by a farm system rated near or above that of the Dodgers, Stoneman is rejecting that third way.
Dilbeck tries to conclude on an optimistic note, but his unease is clear.
The Angels will certainly be competitive. They were last year when they advanced to the American League Championship Series.
But that only proved to reveal their shortcomings, left followers hungry for more.
There weren't too many sportswriters around town who looked at the post-2004 Dodgers in this light. The contrast is striking - and instructive. We don't know if the Angels will improve or decline in 2006, but just as the Dodgers weren't inherently wrong in following their division championship with a loud offseason a year ago, the Angels aren't inherently wrong in following their title with a so-called quiet offseason today. It's all about the nuances, the specific players involved. You need to look at things on a micro level: Is each move you make a good move? That's how you help a team. You don't help a team by standing pat for the sake of standing pat, nor by making moves for the sake of making moves.
Eddie! Eddie! Eddie?
Illustrating both the depth and the idiosyncrasy of The Best of Dodger Thoughts, there is an entire chapter devoted to longtime Dodger villain and ex-Dodger batting coach Jack Clark. It's sort of like what a U.S. history book might have looked like if Jefferson Davis had returned to government after the Civil War as a city councilman in Ohio.
Anyway, Clark got all his page time as an exploration of the peculiarities of batting coaches, who are often hired based on playing-days reputations that mostly become irrelevant once they begin tutoring their proteges. Yes, they can relate their experiences, but what else? Many times, not much. Clark was a notable failure, particularly for taking zero responsibility for the Dodgers' offensive struggles. As has been discussed before on this site, if batting coaches are so meaningless, why have them? The marketplace would have dictated that their salaries would be better spent elsewhere.
Tim Wallach, who succeeded Clark and interim replacement George Hendrick, got less attention in these parts, but was also an interesting case. He was one of the earliest hires under former Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta, despite modest experience as a coach and little evidence from his 17-year playing career that on-base percentage, clearly important to DePodesta, was important to him. Wallach's career OBP was .316, and walked more than once every 10 at-bats in only two seasons.
Surprisingly, as it turned out, Wallach espoused that batters should work the pitcher deep in the count. A little less surprisingly, some Dodgers seemed to listen to him with one ear shut. Perhaps the most confused was Hee Seop Choi, a naturally patient hitter whom Wallach (and certainly, former Dodger manager Jim Tracy) felt was too passive, encouraging Choi to be more aggressive at the plate.
In any event, Wallach had success with players including Adrian Beltre in 2004, less so with others, and eventually left the team for what Tony Jackson of the Daily News disclosed as "personal reasons," as opposed to the more recently typical "I'm following Tracy to Pittsburgh" reasons.
So now comes Eddie Murray, Hall of Famer. Murray was a wonderful ballplayer, a local product (from Locke High School, best remembered by this writer for producing such major league stars as Murray and Ozzie Smith - and for its football team facing a fourth-and-77 in a game against Verdugo Hills High) who led the major leagues in batting average while with the Dodgers in 1990 (yet, memorably, did not win a league batting title).
While this isn't the same as having Magic Johnson coach the Lakers, it's a pretty big name to have dispensing advice. And just the same as having Magic Johnson coach the Lakers, the name alone is no indication of how Murray will perform. I had no immediate reaction to Murray's hiring because as far as the impact of his name on the Dodger stats was concerned, the Dodgers might as well have hired, well, Torey Lovullo.
In Jackson's article, however, Murray puts forth a plank or two of his hitting coach platform:
"I didn't always believe in working the count," Murray said. "I think I hit over .400 off the first pitch in my career. It's about selection. Talk to pitchers. That's how you learn to hit, by talking to the other animal. Every pitching coach tells their pitchers the most important pitch is strike one. That's the pitch they want to come the closest to home plate with. After that, they work the corners and off the plate."
Now, onto my fourth batting coach since beginning Dodger Thoughts, I have several reactions to this single quote. Principally, the thought about pitchers going for strike one is incomplete. Just because they're going for strike one doesn't mean they're throwing fastballs down the middle to start every at-bat. Especially if your team has a reputation for swinging at the first pitch, some of those first pitches are going to be Raul Mondesi specials - sinkers and sliders and splitters designed to make you miss. Certainly, if swinging at the first pitch guaranteed you a .400 average (if that's even true in Murray's case), everyone would do it.
Further, even if you swing and make contact with the first pitch, you're saving the pitcher a lot of work. Unless you string together a series of hits, you're ensuring that the pitcher will get through his innings quickly and efficiently, rationing his strength - and in turn, that of the entire opposition pitching staff - for later in the game.
At the same time, we should all know by now not to take what Murray says, or what any batting coach says, as an absolute. He's not going to encourage his hitters to swing at literally every first pitch. He's going to teach other things besides swinging at the first pitch. In general, he might have many other strengths to offer.
At this point, I don't know how you determine in advance who will be a good hitting coach except by trial and error, by looking at his experiences. Murray claims that his firing in Cleveland last summer after 3 1/2 seasons as hitting coach (and the Indians' subsequent improvement at the plate after he was gone) "had nothing to do with anything on the field," according to Jackson. Murray could be right. Or Murray could be channeling Jack Clark. Don't know yet.
Batting coaches matter. But batting coaches remain a big mystery, and there's little sense trying to predict what the impact of any new batting coach will be, even one who looms as large as Eddie Murray.
Drew's Wrist Better Than His Shoulder;
Bradley Signs A's Contract and Divorce Filing
Though his wrist is in good shape, J.D. Drew has been slow to heal from shoulder surgery, and won't be doing much hard throwing during Spring Training, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. ...
Milton Bradley signed a one-year contract with Oakland today worth approximately $3 million, none of which he wants to share with his wife Monique, from whom he has filed for divorce, according to court papers obtained by CBS.
According to the papers, Bradley "is seeking joint legal and physical custody of (his) three-week-old son," "wants a judge to enforce a premarital agreement he says they signed on Feb. 7 -- eight days before their wedding," and does not want to pay spousal support. ...
Joe Thurston's career in the Yankee organization didn't last long. According to this press release (pointed out by Dodger Thoughts commenter das411), Thurston will attend the Phillies' Spring Training camp on a non-roster invite.
Company Loves Misery
Impressively avoiding being poisoned by the franchise's disappointments recent and ancient, Jim Caple of ESPN.com ranks the Dodgers 22nd out of 30 teams on his "MLB Misery Index."
"The Misery Index is a 60-point system that measures two types of fan misery," Caple writes, "despair (produced by losing seasons) and pain (brought on by agonizing ends to winning seasons)." The Dodgers score high on recent despair and historic pain (Bobby Thomson, 1962 and the Yankees figure in there), but all in all, a sour 2005 shouldn't prevent us from realizing that we've had it pretty good. The Giants ranked No. 5 among the miserable.
Duncan Go Nuts
Mariano Duncan may be many things to many people, and he is now one more thing (new Dodger first-base coach) to all people, but to the Weisman people, he'll always be this:
DePo and Colletti: Frick and Frick?
If a contrarian falls in the woods and no one is there to hear him ...
One of the arguments I've been making this offseason is that the biggest difference between former Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta and his successor, Ned Colletti, is not in philosophy, but how the media has covered them. Despite the perception that Colletti is a 180-degree reversal from DePodesta, my belief has been that in reality, the two are much closer in approach than we've been led to believe. Both prize the Dodger farm system. Both relied on veterans from other organizations - including veterans with considerable injury histories - to carry the Dodgers until the farm system matured.
To explore this admittedly seat-of-the-trousers analysis, what follows is a comparison of the team DePodesta had formed by January 2005 with the one Colletti has in place a year later. Keeping in mind that DePodesta had been on the job for several months longer, and that Colletti's moves have been influenced by what DePodesta had left in the pantry, I've tried to show, minimizing bias as much as possible, where their philosophies have converged and diverged.
Dominican Dodger Winter Highlights
Twenty-one-year-old Dodger prospect Joel Guzman became the youngest Dominican Winter League RBI champion, reports Carlos J. Lugo on Baseball Prospectus. Playing third base, shortstop and designated hitter, Guzman OPSed .840 despite a late-season slump.
Yhency Brazoban, with a 1.64 ERA, 14 saves and 22 strikeouts in 21 innings, was named Pitcher of the Year.
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Excerpts of an interview I gave over the weekend to John Strubel of MetsDaily.com regarding the Duaner Sanchez trade and other Dodger news have been spliced together and posted here.
Surviving the Winter Doldrums
I'm at a point in the offseason where I'm just desperate for some games. It's not for lack of topics to write about on Dodger Thoughts - my To Do list is as long as ever - but I'm numbed by the "what-if" chit chat and so eager for the real thing.
I haven't stopped caring, but right now the non-baseball world is much more interesting to me than the baseball world. The newspapers, magazines, books and videos on and about by nightstand siren-song me much more than Jeff Weaver Decision Day. And I've been bombarded with Meaning of Life messages in recent weeks - relatives falling ill, weird nightmares and daymares. Last week, I started the new Sam Cooke biography, and in the past three days, two figures in the opening chapters of his life, Lou Rawls and the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago have met their demise. I don't need to be told to cherish every moment with my family - I just need more moments.
It's been a weird week. Nights that I would normally spend on the DT To Do list, I'm spending on my other To Do list. I started gathering figures for my 2006 taxes, for crying out loud. I'm eager to get on top of things, get some good stuff and necessary evil stuff in my rearview mirror, so that when Play Ball finally comes, I can sit back on the couch and let it engulf me.
I'd be lying on the couch right now, reading about Sam and the Soul Stirrers, but I've got two freelance stories due Sunday that I have to continue working on as soon as I've finished this confession. In the morning, we're taking the family to meet a friend of mine and her two kids at the park. Her husband won't be there - he's working on the road until March. Life doesn't stop. Which is good - I don't want it to stop. But life overwhelms, and that's not so good. Days and nights like this, I dream of moving somewhere closer to nowhere, to a land of slower pace. But even there, I'd still need work that pays and still need DT, too. I'd still have taxes and concern for my family; I'd still have books and newspapers piling up, and an entire world of wonders outside the window without the time to explore it. And I'm pretty sure that appliances break and sprinklers leak in the middle of nowhere, too.
I've long felt I love baseball because I'm so invested in its characters and its history. But do I love it also because when the games are on, I'm so involved that time and life do slow down? Baseball has a hold on me that pushes me to push things aside, to procrastinate things that I probably shouldn't. I've often mused about the time I've wasted watching baseball games when I could be doing other, more productive things. But maybe that's been a salvation all along. Baseball isn't life and death, baseball isn't family, but maybe baseball's pastoral timelessness, like a glimpse of sun in an Alaskan winter, is nutrient to my mind, body and soul.
I crave things that make me feel. And for whatever reason, baseball makes me feel. Baseball doesn't matter, and yet somehow, undeniably, it matters.
Kent To Have 'Precautionary' Surgery
... to eliminate non-baseball discomfort in his right wrist, as far as I can tell from John Nadel's Associated Press report. Apparently, somehow, throwing and hitting are the only things he can do that don't hurt.
Kent might still be recovering when pitchers and catchers report, so figure on Willy Aybar getting his moment in the early March Florida sun at second base. It doesn't seem like it will affect Kent's regular season preparation significantly, but the Dodgers are ever-optimistic in this sort of thing.
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Theo Epstein spoke to Steve Silva of Boston.com about many topics, including the Dodger general manager vacancy last fall:
"I looked at the Dodger job," Epstein said. "The GM job (was) there when I was available and that was an interesting opportunity but I thought it was too close to leaving the Red Sox to really jump in with both feet. ..."
Rod Dedeaux, 1914-2006
Legendary USC baseball coach Rod Dedeaux died today at the age of 91, The Associated Press reports.
As a Stanford baseball fan, I have to say that USC's program under Dedeaux is the standard I've always measured ours against.
More reflections, surely, to come in further news reports.
Update: The Griddle has more.
DePo Was Too Old
The Dodgers' AA team in Jacksonville has a new 29-year-old general manager in Kirk Goodman, who takes the controls upon Peter Bragan, Jr.'s promotion to team president. The Business Journal of Jacksonville has the story, noting that Goodman first came to Jacksonville 27.5 percent of his life ago as director of marketing, left, then returned in 2002 as assistant GM.
Almost exactly one year ago, Emily Christy became general manager of the A-ball Vero Beach Dodgers. Christy is also 29.
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In case you've missed it, Mike's Baseball Rants is hosting a great series on the Hall of Fame ballot:
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Geoff Baker of the Toronto Star delves deep into Jason Phillips career at a crossroads:
A job-hungry Phillips sat around for a while before contacting Doug Davis, his former minor league manager with the Mets who now works as the Double A field boss for the Jays. Phillips asked Davis for the phone number of Jays manager John Gibbons, who he'd also worked under and gotten to know well in New York's system. ...
Phillips grew up in an impoverished area south of San Diego, near the Mexican border, and often lacked the money to join the travelling squads of elite baseball teams from the area. He wasn't drafted while playing at El Capitan High School and had to continue his baseball career at San Diego State before the Mets finally picked him in the get this 24th round in 1997.
"I should never have made it to the big leagues," Phillips said.
Phillips can barely see without his thick, black-rimmed glasses. He feels uncomfortable wearing contact lenses and has reservations about laser surgery, so he dons the specs and takes a good-natured outlook to the teammates referring to him as "Rick Vaughn" and "Wild Thing" the Charlie Sheen relief pitcher character from the Major League series of Hollywood movies.
Sources in Los Angeles say Phillips is also so slow that he makes former Jays catchers Darrin Fletcher and Ken Huckaby look like the anchors on a 4X100 relay team. ...
No Fear or Loathing of Las Vegas
In his article on the Jae Seo trade, Steve Henson of the Times reports that Dodger general manager Ned Colletti "wants Chad Billingsley, who is now considered the top Dodger pitching prospect, to begin the season at triple-A."
Chad, just ignore those park-inflated stats, challenge those hitters, and duck.
USC-Texas Open Chat
May the game live up to the hype.
1) What are you eating during the telecast?
2) What time will the game end?
3) How many points will each team have when the game ends?
Seo or Sanchez
Last August, Jae Seo entered the Mets rotation in place of former Dodger Kazuhisa Ishii, and all I could wonder was what took the Mets so long? The 28-year-old Seo won his first four starts following his recall, averaging 7 2/3 innings per game with an ERA of 0.89. He then allowed 18 runs in his final 36 innings (4.50 ERA), so that for the entire second half, Seo was 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA.
The downside of Seo, whom Newsday is suggesting - based, you should be ever-so-cautioned, on unnamed sources - will be traded to the Dodgers this week for Duaner Sanchez, is that he is another pitcher whose ERA totals might be too dependent on where the ball bounces. Seo struck out 45 batters in his 72 1/3 second-half innings - that's 5.6 per nine innings, which is not an impressive figure. On the other hand, Seo is a true starting pitcher in his prime, with good control (2.5 walks per nine innings in his career), and a much more intriguing placeholder for the Dodger starting rotation than, say, Brett Tomko.
Sanchez surprised last year by raising his K/9 ration by 57 percent from 2004, to 7.79 strikeouts per nine innings. At age 25 (he turned 26 after the season), Sanchez became the Dodgers' third closer of 2005 and did the job - perhaps finding it easier than the setup role that required him to pitch multiple innings in a game more frequently. Durable, Sanchez has also flirted with conversion into a starting pitcher.
The key to whether this would be a good or bad trade for the Dodgers is whether Sanchez's strikeout improvement is real. A one-for-one trade of a relief pitcher with a higher ERA for a starting pitcher with a lower ERA is a no-brainer - the former is more easily replaced (especially given the live arms the Dodgers can find in the minors and on the scrap heap), the latter more valuable. Most relievers are like penny stocks, subject to wild fluctuations and only in rare, pristine cases reliable long-term investments. Only if Sanchez's dramatic strikeout increase is a signal of things to come should the Dodgers even hesitate to consummate this deal.
You could even argue that if Sanchez is the better pitcher, then work should begin immediately to convert him into a starter. It may not have been intentional, but in some ways Sanchez has had all the right preparation for the conversion - he has pitched and become adept in every other role: long man, set-up man and closer. He knows every kind of game situation except facing the first batter of the game. And he wasn't burned out in his early 20s.
Yes, a Sanchez-to-starter experiment could be a failure - maybe he was a born reliever, if there is such a thing - but the experiment is not exactly a risk one should be afraid to take. There isn't too much to lose.
Given their current roster makeup, it's a fine idea for the Dodgers to explore getting a starting pitcher in exchange for Sanchez - whether it is Seo or Sanchez himself.
Update: It's officially Seo, coming with throw-in Tim Hamulack (age 29), for Sanchez and Steve Schmoll, according to The Associated Press.
The loss of Schmoll doesn't bother me - another nice kid with an interesting delivery, but who was too inconsistent, posting 22 walks and 29 strikeouts along with 47 hits allowed in 46 2/3 innings.
Wilkinson, Key Figure in Chavez Ravine Saga, Dies at 91
Frank Wilkinson, whose role in the 1950s Chavez Ravine land controversy I wrote about in October, died Monday, according to the New York Times, which has a lengthy obituary.
Happy 2007 ... and 2006 Too
In case it gets lost amid all the statistics thrown back and forth on this site like dodgeballs, I get that the Dodgers have a weird team.
The feeling is like looking across the gym at a dance, intrigued but nervous. But the analogy ends there. Like it or not, they're all coming to our after-party this year.
So even though there are many players on the roster that haven't given us the time or the results in a Dodger uniform to grow fond of, in some cases this will just be a matter of seeing them in action, seeing them produce. Never panic about the quality of a team just because you haven't gotten to know its players yet, because like it or not, you'll get to know them all. You can panic for other reasons if you so choose.
As I sit here in that void, at the start of the new year, waiting for the attachments to form, my impatience to see the players whom I have the most time and hope invested in - players that, for the most part, are still a year away - hovers foremost in my Dodger consciousness. It's the start of 2006, and yet I'm already eager for 2007.
It's only as an afterthought, with a scan of the Dodger roster, that I'm reminded of holdovers that I'm eager to see. ...
Eric Gagne back on the hill in his baggy uniform ... Jonathan Broxton - even baggier, trying to harness that power ... D.J. Houlton, trying to establish himself more on performance than roster technicality ... Edwin Jackson, heir to Adrian Beltre as the player I am rooting hardest for as the wolves turn against him ... Hong-Chih Kuo, a blink of hope and concern like a preemie ... Derek Lowe, wondering if he can remember to keep the ball in the park ... Franquelis Osoria, under the radar, trying to make it as a groundball artist ... Odalis Perez, an even-numbered year pitcher? ... Glove-throwing Duaner Sanchez, who salvaged a good year out of an embarrassing start but needs to prove he didn't overachieve ... Steve Schmoll, worthy of skepticism but likeable ...
Dioner Navarro, at 22, one eye on a great year, the other looking back over his shoulder ... Willy Aybar, enjoying that career .326 batting average while it lasts .... Hee-Seop Choi, what can I say? ... Cesar Izturis, who gets no hate from me as people pile onto him, while he's down, mostly for batting-order crimes of his manager's commission exacerbated by his own poor health ... Jeff Kent, nagging but game ... Oscar Robles, a Fimple for '05 ... Olmedo Saenz, worthy of the title "old friend" ... Jose Cruz, Jr., a prime example of an outsider earning fast love ... J.D. Drew, who could prove all the critics wrong ... Ricky Ledee, growing into his wily veteran role ... Jason Repko, he is speedy ... Jayson Werth ... you deserve one healthy year.
Yeah, turns out there are some familiar faces after all. Here's hoping for the best, that they keep us satisfied from time to time until 2007 comes.
Update: Jason Phillips will try to keep it going in Toronto, with a minor-league contract/invitation to Spring Training.
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