Monthly archives: January 2007
And It's One, Two, Three Strikes ... I'm Out
1) Much more than I would have ever expected to read or see about Randy Wolf in January is provided to us by Jayson Stark of ESPN.com.
While losing 45 terrible starts from Tomko, Perez, Hendrickson and Seo will certainly help the Dodgers, this type of analysis ignores the 34 great starts that the Dodgers got from Aaron Sele, Greg Maddux, Hong Chih Kuo, and Eric Stults. Sele somehow managed to accumulate a strong 4.18 ERA in almost half a seasons worth of starts. Greg Maddux put up ace type numbers after we acquired him, and Kuo and Stults were lights out in September. Combined these pitchers threw 197.7 innings of 3.60 ERA ball. Effectively, this mishmash of starters gave the Dodgers another number one starter, and we'd be very lucky if Jason Schmidt could equal this contribution. ...
3) Should Joe Beimel earn more than a million in 2007 or less? Tony Jackson at the Daily News sets up the change-your-world debate. Yep, he's killing time until pitchers and Martinthals, just like the rest of us.
By the way, the answer is, Beimel pitched worth a million-plus last year, but it's unlikely he'll do so again this year. But since arbitration basically rewards you for past performance, the only thing stopping Beimel from getting his $1.25 million is probably how much the arbitrator cares about that one night in October.
As always, the best argument against overpaying Joe Beimel is how the Dodgers found Beimel to begin with. But it's nothing personal.
He Was ... Here!
Kirk Gibson signed with the Dodgers on this date 19 years ago. Doesn't it seem awful late in the offseason for, you know, the most important Dodger free-agent signing of the past, oh, few decades?
BaseballLibrary.com reminds that it was seven days earlier that, "as a result of the Players' Association's 1985 collusion suit against the owners, arbitrator Thomas Roberts declares seven players no-risk free agents until March 1st, giving them a chance to sign with other clubs despite already having contracts. The seven are Kirk Gibson, Carlton Fisk, Donnie Moore, Joe Niekro, Butch Wynegar, Tom Brookens, and Juan Beniquez."
January 29, 1988. Lore almighty.
Tonucci Swings ...
Follow this link to former Cheers writer Ken Levine's greatest home-run call when he was doing play-by-play for the Syracuse Chiefs. (Levine used to juggle both jobs, believe it or not.) I would have used the big finish in the headline, but I didn't want to spoil it.
Follow this link to more funny moments from Levine's broadcasting career - or just check the whole blog out. As I've said before, Levine's blog has become one of my most eagerly awaited reads each day.
Update: From the Wisconsin State Journal:
Charles Littleton, 22, was tasered by police after refusing to remove his Los Angeles Dodgers cap at a Saginaw, Mich., City Council meeting, despite a rule banning hats for men inside, and then resisting police when they tried to remove him from the meeting. "It means more than just a hat," he said of the cap. "It's like my crown. It's like asking a king to remove his crown."
MLB or Just B
Do you need major leaguers to play in order to enjoy watching a baseball game? (Does it make a difference if it's on TV or in person?)
If you prefer MLB, do you do so because MLB games feature the best quality of play, because the games are more important to a bigger (national or international) community, or just out of habit?
Weaver Lands on His Feet, In Shoes of Greenbacks
Man, Jeff Weaver gets cast aside by the Angels in the summer of 2006, and still ends up with over $8 million for 2007. Last season, Weaver had one month in which his ERA was less than 5.47. Then he had four decent starts in the postseason. Is there that much of a difference between him and $1 million-unguaranteed Aaron Sele?
My Vote Is for R.J. Reynolds
You can vote for the bobblehead that will be given away at Dodger Stadium on August 2 at Dodgers.com.
Amazingly, R.J. Reynolds is not on the ballot, nor Pedro Astacio, nor The Second Mike Ramsey. Has Manny Mota even been a bobblehead yet?
Of the listed nominees, I'd go with Russell Martin, though a Juan Pierre bobblehead would have plenty of support.
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A winter league update on Dodger players by Eric Justic of MLB.com highlights some modest recent heroics by Matt Kemp.
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Quick interview with The Office executive producer Greg Daniels at Screen Jam.
I just poured myself a glass of Wilson Betemit, and I can't say yet whether it's half-full or half-unfull.
Many now consider the third baseman who helped key the Dodgers' late-July rally into playoff contention after coming over from Atlanta to be the biggest question in the Dodger infield. He tailed off toward the end of the season, finishing his Los Angeles debut with a subpar .257 EQA.
Arguably, the best-case scenarios at third base for the Dodgers would be for top prospect Andy LaRoche to go all Russell Martin on Betemit's Dioner Navarro, or for James Loney to play first base so that Nomar Garciaparra can move across the diamond. Both notions have their merits; neither is an even-money bet for April.
The midrange possibility platoons the switch-hitting Betemit with the right-handed LaRoche. Betemit has been notoriously awful against left-handed pitching in his career, OPSing .624 with a .276 on-base percentage.
Whenever anyone brings up Betemit's right-handed struggles (which have been perplexing because he's a natural right-hander), my first reaction is to point out how few opportunities he has had. He had 11 plate appearances against lefties in 2004, 84 in 2005 and 81 in 2006. For a player who just turned 25, I don't think this is enough to suggest he is hopeless from the right side of the plate.
(As you may recall, there is disagreement over what Betemit's actual birthdate is. Although some sources list him with a July 22, 1980 birthdate, I have joined others in concluding that his actual birthdate is November 2, 1981. The discrepancy arose from the falsification of Betemit's age so that he could sign with a major league organization sooner.)
Anyway, while it's true that he may never show prowess against lefties, it's too soon to close the door on him.
Against righties, Betemit has shown enough for people to drink a toast: a career .810 OPS, with 30 doubles, 18 home runs and 53 walks in about a season's worth of plate appearances (567). He has struck out 130 times in that span, but that shouldn't move anyone to tears.
Maybe the league figured out Betemit at the end of 2006, but would you disagree that odds are that a 25-year-old will improve?
Against the kind of pitcher the Dodgers will face much more often than not, the Dodgers have an .800-plus OPS third baseman. Against lefties, the Dodgers have, perhaps, a No. 8 hitter, but perhaps something more if LaRoche can play. (And I could stand to see Olmedo Saenz get a spot start there.) It's not the dominance at the position anyone would hope for, but there's no black hole there.
Meanwhile, the left fielder with the resume, Luis Gonzalez, OPSed .740 against lefties and .819 against righties at age 39 last year while playing half his games in a better ballpark for hitters than Dodger Stadium or Turner Field. Sure, the Dodgers might have Matt Kemp boosting the outfield at some point in 2007, but it's not clear to me that Betemit or third base should be the bigger concern for Los Angeles.
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I just poured myself a glass of Brook Lopez, and it's completely full!
Yes, This Is Still a Baseball Site ...
... and I plan another Dodger post late this evening, but in the meantime, feel free to continue to open-chat. For my part, I will have the UCLA-Cal and USC-Stanford basketball games on TV as much as the wife and kids permit.
Also, please check out my plea at Screen Jam to draw more viewers to Friday Night Lights, newly annointed by none other than me as the best one-hour show on network television.
Goal: Marrow Donors
Sunday at St. John Bosco High School, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra are co-hosting a soccer clinic and marrow donor drive benefiting Children's Hospital cancer patients.
Being a marrow donor could be the most rewarding experience of one's life. It is estimated that a marrow or cord blood transplant could benefit more than 35,000 children and adults with life-threatening diseases each year. Such a transplant is possible only when the patient and donor have matching tissue types, but 70 percent of patients do not have a matching donor in their family. These patients can turn to the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) and its Registry of volunteer adult donors and cord blood units.
To join the NMDP Registry volunteers just need to be between the ages of 18 and 60, meet health guidelines and be willing to donate to any patient in need. To join, volunteers complete a short health questionnaire and a small swab of cheek cells is taken to determine the tissue type to be matched against patients who need a donor. This information is added to the NMDP Registry. Patients are much more likely to find a match within their own racial group, so it is important for people of all races and ethnicities to participate.
The marrow donor drive begins at 11 a.m., and the soccer clinic for recovering cancer patients from Children's Hospital, members of the Boys and Girls Club of Venice, and L.A.'s BEST starts at 12:30.
Hamm and G. are also planning an inaugural charity celebrity soccer match for January 2008.
Glamour (or Glamor)
- Jerry Seinfeld
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The National League West is the new glamor division, according to Bob Klapisch of ESPN.com.
Heal or Heel
Do we have yet another example of a Dodger playing in pain when he shouldn't have been?
It won't stop infielder Julio Lugo from playing, but when he was acquired from Tampa Bay in last month's deadline deal, he reported with an injured middle finger on his right hand.
Trainer Stan Johnston said the injury is to a ligament around the knuckle nearest the fingertip, making it difficult for Lugo to fully straighten the finger. He said the discomfort is felt both while throwing and batting.
Johnston fitted Lugo with a metal splint to wear when he's not playing in hopes the injury will heal without requiring surgery.
Putting aside whether last summer's trade should have even gone through for a healthy Lugo, much less an injured one, did it make sense to keep pushing him out there when he was hurt? Note that this report was published three weeks after Lugo arrived in Los Angeles. (And the fact that it comes beneath an Eric Gagne update is poetic.)
With a revamped medical staff in 2007, let's turn over a new leaf. Injured players get to heal. Just try it - you might like it.
And Speaking of Memorable Home Runs at Dodger Stadium ...
Fernando Tatis, whose career peaked with his two grand slams in one inning off Chan Ho Park at Dodger Stadium, signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers, the Associated Press reports. It can be for no other reason than they had a uniform that fit him.
Amazingly, Tatis only turned 32 on New Year's Day, but still ...
Devil's advocates and cautious optimists can compare Tatis' recent stats to those of Olmedo Saenz when he was around 32.
Unsung Hero of 4+1 Game Returns to L.A.
Rudy Seanez, the oft-injured, long-ago Dodger who allowed Nomar Garciaparra's game-winning home run in September's 4+1 game, signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers today that guarantees him a minimum of $700,000 if he makes the big club, reports Steve Henson of the Times.
Now 38, Seanez has averaged more than a strikeout per inning in his career, but has always struggled to find the strike zone and to stay healthy. As with last week's singing of Chin-Hui Tsao, it's a matter of throwing cheap darts and hoping one hits a nice target - and sticks. It's both the reason last year's Joe Beimel signing worked and why Beimel shouldn't be considered essential for this year's pen. Remember: relief pitchers are almost by definition unreliable.
No Relation to Joyce
Dodger prospect Blake DeWitt gave a 10-minute audio interview over the holidays that you can hear here. (Dodger Thoughts reader Terry Austin passed it along.)
Dodger general manager Ned Colletti spoke to Joe Hamrahi of Baseball Digest Daily. Not particlarly newsy for us locals, except for some affirmations. Here's an excerpt.
BDD: You brought in a lot of veteran free agents this year with Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre, Randy Wolf, Luis Gonzalez and Nomar (Garciaparra) coming back. With all these veterans coming in, are you basically saying that guys like James Loney, Matt Kemp, and maybe Chad Billingsley aren't quite ready for Major League action?
NC: No, I don't think so. It's more about us having enough depth, and making sure the young players are as prepared to play here as possible. The season is long, and a lot of things can happen. There are a lot of ups and downs. I don't believe you can go into a season with a lot of question marks and a lot of unproven situations. Because once you get into the season you can't change it.
But that's not a knock on the young players. I think it gives them a chance to thrive. I think Grady (Little) did a great job last year of mixing and matching veterans and young players. I'd rather have a young player competing against his teammates initially for playing time than to give a player a job and ask him to compete against the rest of the league with no safety net.
BDD: And it's not like you've gone and traded away your prospects.
NC: No. The young players are very much a part of our present and our future. Billingsley has a chance to start and stick with us all year. Kemp Kemp is going to have a chance to compete for a job in spring training. (Andre) Ethier is going to have a chance to retain his job in spring training. (Russ) Martin is the number one catcher. Loney is going to have the chance to make the club as both a first baseman and a swing outfielder.
Meanwhile, Andrew Grant at True Blue L.A. passes along a Hardball Times Annual finding that Juan Pierre has the third-worst outfield arm in baseball since 1957, though Andrew Shimmin points out in the comments that at least Pierre has some range.
Football, the Drug?
A hundred years ago, because of the severity of on-field injuries and game-related deaths, organized football's existence was threatened with bans unless it imposed safety restrictions upon itself. Which it did.
Today, it's become clear that the sport is held to a different standard than baseball. While use of performance-enhancing drugs by baseball players enrages much of the sport's fan and media base, to say nothing of the government, football seems to police such matters dispassionately. This is not news.
Aside from the effect drugs may have on the integrity of the sport and its participants, a major reason the baseball world recoils at player drug use is because of the potential unhealthy influence it has on the uninitiated, encouraging them to risk their future well-being in order to preserve a competitive edge. People debate how strong this connection is, whether it is correlation or causation, but there's no doubt that it's on people's minds. Again, with football, there seems to be less hand-wringing it's almost as if baseball is the gentleman's game, and football is a sport where if you choose it, you sow the seeds of your own destruction.
That leads me to the question and it is a question, a conversation-starter rather than a conclusion that I have today. Thursday, I read the following description by Alan Schwarz in the New York Times of the November 2006 suicide of 44-year-old former defensive back Andrew Waters:
... after examining remains of Mr. Waters's brain, a neuropathologist in Pittsburgh is claiming that Mr. Waters had sustained brain damage from playing football and he says that led to his depression and ultimate death.
The neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh, a leading expert in forensic pathology, determined that Mr. Waters's brain tissue had degenerated into that of an 85-year-old man with similar characteristics as those of early-stage Alzheimer's victims. Dr. Omalu said he believed that the damage was either caused or drastically expedited by successive concussions Mr. Waters, 44, had sustained playing football. ...
He added that although he planned further investigation, the depression that family members recalled Mr. Waters exhibiting in his final years was almost certainly exacerbated, if not caused, by the state of his brain and that if he had lived, within 10 or 15 years "Andre Waters would have been fully incapaci-tated."
Dr. Omalu's claims of Mr. Waters's brain deterioration which have not been corroborated or reviewed add to the mounting scientific debate over whether victims of multiple concussions, and specifically longtime N.F.L. players who may or may not know their full history of brain trauma, are at heightened risk of depression, dementia and suicide as early as midlife. ...
In a survey of more than 2,500 former players, the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes found that those who had sustained three or more concussions were three times more likely to experience "significant memory problems" and five times more likely to develop earlier onset of Alzheimer's disease. A new study, to be published later this year, finds a similar relationship between sustaining three or more con-cussions and clinical depression.
Having read several of these stories and they come around every year it makes me wonder whether the number of football-related health problems (even just those independent from drug use, if one can separate the two) is greater than the number of health problems caused by drugs in baseball and their potential influence on kids.
I'm not trying to be melodramatic, and I'm hoping that I'm just overreacting. I'm not trying to minimize the steroid issue. But it makes me wonder, if we're going to be angry about something, what should we be more angry about? Which is the more dangerous drug? Steroids, or football?
Shrine On You Crazy Diamond
The Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals released its 2007 ballot this week. How many of these names do you recall with fondness, and how many make you realize you still have more to learn about the game's history?
Sons, Sons, Sons, Here They Come
Sons of Steve Garvey has been going for a little while now, and I want to recommend it to you for the following reasons:
Check it out and see for yourself.
The Fate of Hiro Nakamura's Alter Ego?
It should probably have never come to this, but the Orix Buffaloes have turned Norihiro Nakamura out on the street to seek the fortune they are no longer willing to pay him.
After a season in which he earned 200 million yen and was even outproduced by Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who is nearly six years older, Nakamura complained bitterly about his treatment and is now looking for someone who cares enough to listen. The one-time rising star with a superb swing and a chronic weight problem now just can't seem to fit in. ...
It just gets snarkier and snarkier. Time for Hiro to buy more time?
By the way, I met Masi Oka (the actor who plays Hiro on Heroes) Tuesday. More about that later if time permits.
Previously on Dodger Thoughts ... May 9, 2005:
This week, Oscar Robles, an infielder who is younger than Norihiro Nakamura and more versatile and whose path is where "off the beaten path" goes to get away from it all, joins the Dodgers. And Nakamura says so long, for now if not ever, on an almost heartbreaking note (passed along by Steve Henson of the Times) even for those who never believed in him:
And as for his Dodger beginnings: "Nakamura, Up and Down" (February 4, 2005) and "'We Don't Need a Norihiro' - Or Do We?" (January 31, 2005). Lots of coverage in between of his ill-fated voyage in a Dodger uniform, too.
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The Dodgers made the playoffs despite dreadful Aprils from middle infielders Jeff Kent and Rafael Furcal. Could the promise of a better spring boost the team's chances? Ken Gurnick of MLB.com wonders ...
Furcal proved to be a bargain, as he shook off early season nagging injuries and a spate of errors to emerge as the most consistent offensive player on the team. He hit .300, provided significant power leading off with 15 homers and scored 113 runs, the most for a Dodgers leadoff hitter since Maury Wills (130) in 1962.
But Kent's (contract extention) remains puzzling, as his body appeared every bit of its 38 years. He played in only 115 games and, despite a .294 average, hit only 14 home runs and drove in 68, his worst run production in a decade.
Kent spent two stints on the disabled list, one for a sprained wrist from late May to mid-June, another for a strained oblique muscle from mid-July until early August. He turned himself into a singles and doubles hitter over the final six weeks of the season, when he hit .355 but had only one home run over his last 92 at-bats.
With Father Time working against him, Kent has spent the offseason dedicated to a comeback. Dodgers strength and conditioning coach Doug Jarrow trekked to Kent's Texas ranch to lay out a conditioning program designed to keep Kent on the field at age 39. Kent, who generally shuts down in the winter, instead has worked out diligently, according to club officials.
It will be interesting to see the physical condition of both when they arrive at Dodgertown. A year ago, Furcal showed up noticeably flabby following knee surgery performed shortly after signing his contract. His lack of conditioning resulted in shoulder and back problems, leading to an April in which he batted .198, had a .306 on-base percentage and notched only two of his 63 RBIs.
Kent arrived in Florida still recovering from his wrist surgery and unable to swing aggressively, leading to an April in which he batted only .183 with one home run. New trainer Stan Conte has said Kent is expected to be physically ready for the start of Spring Training.
Did someone mention Father Time? Another mission for Hiro Nakamura!
No long post today, but sometimes this stuff is better than anything I write: Who is your single favorite current Dodger?
Life and Death
My deepest condolences to Alex Belth regarding the passing of his father. Please read Alex's eloquent tribute.
If Mr. Belth's only legacy were Alex, that'd be a hell of a legacy. I'm proud to call Alex a friend, and I'm terribly saddened by the news. Alex, of course, already has an amazing handle on things.
The big guy gets $2,925,000 for 2007, according to The Associated Press.
When I play ball (not that I've been doing much of it lately), I have to force myself to keep cool.
Even in the Sunday softball games I used to play in each week - just pickup games, nothing serious - I can remember more than once hitting that rare home run (say, on a gapper past the outfielders) and jamming my lips together to make sure a smile didn't cross my face too soon or too big. If I grounded out or made an error in a key situation - or even in some moments of no moment - my instinct would be to exclaim exclamatorily, perhaps a nicely chosen profanity off the right side of the menu.
I think part of the reason I got in the habit of getting upset was that subconsciously, I wanted whoever was watching to know that I was trying, that I cared, that I appreciated the magnitude of the opportunity lost. I think part of me felt that showing my emotions might lighten up or forestall any anger or disappointment coming my way.
But then, when I thought about it consciously, I realized that I'd prefer folks not to think I was tempermental or that I couldn't handle failure. First instinct: get hot. Second instinct: be cool.
Anyway, I've been wondering if all this is another reason, in addition to my feeling he was criticized excessively as a Dodger, that I tended to rally to J.D. Drew's defense.
Keep in mind - I have never loved Drew - I've just always appreciated his production. R.J. Reynolds, for example, wasn't the ballplayer that Drew is, but Reynolds is near and dear to my heart in ways Drew couldn't possibly approach.
Drew's stoic presence on the field has frustrated many a fan, and I get that. But maybe it's because I find stoicism a greater challenge than passion that I am not bothered at all by Drew. The guy goes and does his job, and doesn't appear to worry about what other people think of him. As they say about folks who hand the ball to the ref after they've scored a touchdown, he acts like he's been there before. Like he belongs.
Baseball can be a grimly frustrating game, but Drew stands up to all the frustrations - and the abuse - and takes it. I respect that. I don't need to see Drew get excited when he hits an RBI double - the double itself is excitement enough. I don't need to see Drew go Carlos Perez on a water cooler. I really don't. To me, that's the easy way out.
Drew is not insecure, and I am. And I guess opposites attract. But maybe I'm strange, and maybe that's the whole problem.
As for Drew's stalled contract with the Red Sox still nothing new, according to Jeff Horrigan of the Boston Herald. Drew is still expected to get the contract, but with some additional language to protect the Red Sox against preexisting health concerns. Most of baseball is rooting for Drew and agent Scott Boras to eat it on this deal. I'm not - I don't care either way - and maybe that's just another sign something's wrong with me.
Via Baseball Musings (which itself was directed by MetsBlog), we find this brief Associated Press mention and photo of pitching prospect Pedro E. Martinez, the 19!-year-old son of we-miss-you-Dodger Pedro J. Martinez and nephew of we'll-always-remember-you Ramon J. Martinez.
Young Pedro attends the Mets' pitching academy in Boca de Nigua, Dominican Republic.
Makes me curious to see if Pedro Guerrero has a kid playing anywhere.
2006 ERA, Brad Penny: 4.33
2006 ERA+, Brad Penny: 106 (100 is average, higher is better)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Penny had a better season in ERA in 2006 than in 2005, even though his ERA was higher.
He did have higher walks+hits/innings pitched in 2006 - 1.376 vs. 1.289. And on The Hardball Times, Penny's ERA+ declined slightly in 2006, and his fielding-independent ERA worsened.
On the other hand, even with his second-half slump, Penny's strikeout ratio improved in 2006, and his home-run rate remained constant.
The small point I'm trying to make is that even when ERA goes up year-to-year, it doesn't always mean a pitcher had a poorer season. So many other factors are in play.
That leaves the larger question of whether with an offseason of rest, Penny can approach his first-half 2006 form. I don't expect him to match it for all of 2007, but at age 28, I think he can have an overall season that's an improvement over 2006. Something to consider when evaluating the Dodger pitching staff (or, if you prefer, what Penny is worth in trade.)
I probably sound like a broken record, but I think making sure the guy doesn't pitch hurt is critical to this. Let's take maturity over macho.
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Nice feature on Ross Porter by Fred Fehr of the Shawnee News-Star. Next week, Porter will receive the Bill Teegins Excellence in Sports Broadcasting Award.
As a Shawnee High School sophomore in 1953, Porter began dabbling in sports broadcasting. Fred Davis, KGFF radio sports announcer, began inviting his youthful Chapman Street neighbor to baseball games involving the minor league Shawnee Hawks.
"He did the game, and I would sit in the booth," Porter said. "He asked me once if I wanted to broadcast half an inning. I ended up doing that several times that summer."
This was no whimsical flight of fancy for Porter, who at the tender age of 8, told his mother, Elizabeth, that he wanted to be a sports announcer. Elizabeth had envisioned a stockbroker.
There was a natural base for the allure of broadcasting. Ross Porter Sr. created KGFF in 1930 and launched the Oklahoma Radio Network.
"My father broadcast the 1932 Shawnee football games. That was the team that went undefeated and unscored on," Porter said. "He also courted my mom by singing on KGFF." ...
The article goes on to describe such memories as when Porter got to meet Jim Thorpe.
Gain Weight Now - Ask Me How
Changes at Dodger Stadium, as reported by Bill Shaikin of the Times:
The Dodgers advanced to the playoffs last season and sold a record 3.76 million tickets along the way. But ticket demand could soften, and so the team should be wary of raising the price of the cheapest tickets and limiting their supply for fear of losing families, particularly at a time children might prefer to play video games or extreme sports, said Cal State Fullerton marketing professor Thomas Boyd.
"The lowest-priced ticket should be about introducing your next generation of fans to the game, not just about filling seats," Boyd said.
Update: Inside the Dodgers notes that there is still an $8 advance ticket available, so you can still get in the ballpark for single digits.
Fate of Dodger Offseason Rests Greatly on Little
A word of warning: Chips, as you may know, are an important ingredient in computers, and it so happens that in my interview, you can hear the chips. Weird, I know, but just one of those things...
Anyway, in describing how I would evaluate the Dodger offseason, I passed along my intention to reserve judgment until I see how Dodger manager Grady Little uses the players he's got. There's nothing wrong, in the absence of having a true superstar, with having depth at almost every position, if you let the best man win. The team clearly had money to spend, and if, for example, you're hoping for James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to have big years but Nomar Garciaparra, Luis Gonzalez and even Juan Pierre are insurance against that, that's fine. On the other hand, if the idea is you're going to play the vets until they get hurt, regardless of how mediocre they are, that's a problem. Given that Little was willing to demote Brett Tomko, Aaron Sele and Mark Hendrickson during 2006, I'm a little encouraged - though it took longer than some would have liked.
Part of the reason I dislike the Juan Pierre signing is that it clearly goes against the spirit of option A: he's expected to play no matter what. There's such a limit with him - there's no "if he stays healthy, he can be great" like Garciaparra or "if he matures, he can be great" like the kids. He's just a true mediocrity that really wasn't worth pursuing at any price.
But a thought does occur to me that it will be more palatable for Dodger fans and/or management to insert a kid in place of a slumping veteran than to carry a kid through an April slump. Sure, I have no trouble carrying that kid, but many would. So if the plan is for the April lineup to be one that remains provisional, I can get behind that.
(This is not to imply that veterans don't have the right to snap out of a slump, but that the tolerance shouldn't go on indefinitely.)
On the pitching side, Jason Schmidt makes me a little uneasy because I feel he's a guy with wear and tear, but if he's on the mound he should be good, and he (along with Randy Wolf) adds to this depth equation. I don't know what the starting rotation will be or how much it will fluctuate, but I think that the odds are that the Dodgers will have five good starting pitchers.
I also consider as an offseason move the new hirings in the medical staff. I have no idea how this will play out, but the team's recent history this decade of rushing people back onto the field, only to see them get hurt again, has nowhere to go but up. So I'm hoping change is for the better. But again, we wait and see. If you've been reading this site for a while, you know that "maybe good, maybe not" is considered a better answer than being sure about something you can't really be sure of. Just consider it burnishing the cat. (You do the math.)
The Dodgers should contend for a division title in 2007, and if they make the playoffs, it will probably mean that enough things went right that they should have a chance to win the World Series. Unlike in the past, I just worry about getting to the playoffs now. I want the best team possible, but we've seen so often in recent years that the best team in October isn't necessarily the best team in April, July or even September.
By 2008, I'm optimistic that there will be less uncertainty with the team: we'll have much better ideas of what to expect from players like Kemp, Ethier, Loney, Andy LaRoche, Chad Billingsley and Hong-Chih Kuo. There will be maybes - the Scott Elbert watch will be on, for example - but more players whose major-league skills are obvious. This offseason hasn't been perfect, but I still feel that this is a team that is ascending.
Julio Franco, Eat Your Heart Out
But I have a little more information on Bronson, stemming from the fact that I've known him for 20 years now, ever since he was sports editor at the Pasadena Star-News and offered me an internship for the summer after my freshman year in college, before giving me my first post-Stanford job. It's not exactly a secret, but Bronson has some serious fun playing and coaching baseball in the L.A. Senior Men's Baseball League conveniently, as far as I'm concerned, for a team called the Brooklyn Dodgers (though Bronson, he would hasten to remind me, is cut from Cardinal cloth).
He had some pretty impressive play last season for a 50-year-old pitcher/shortstop playing in a 25-and-older league. He bats leadoff and is also a No. 2 starter who hit 80 mph on the radar gun twice at the national MSBL World Series in Phoenix in November.
"Well, it's just adult baseball," Bronson said. "I would think there's a lot more athleticism involved in something like road cycling ... but you'd be surprised at some of the people who play in our league (Jose and Ozzie Canseco, Bret Saberhagen and Scott Erickson, in the upper division, for instance; a lot of B-list musicians and actors in the lower divisions). It's a baseball junkie's heaven."
Jokes about Erickson aside, who could argue?
McGwire Is Big; Baseball Is Bigger
SI.com asked me to contributed a piece discussing Mark McGwire's impact on the game, in the context of Tuesday's upcoming Hall of Fame election announcement. Here it is:
Wandering past one of the display racks in the children's section of a major bookstore chain Saturday morning, I saw a youth paperback with Ken Griffey, Jr., Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire on the cover.Also at SI.com, the opportunity to fill out your own Hall of Fame ballot, with the choices being "Now," "Never" and the unusual third option, "Later."
There's something greater in sports than winning a game, or even a championship. There's winning history.
Boise State proved it on the football field Monday night, with its spectacular hook-and-ladder and Statue of Liberty plays to take the Fiesta Bowl from Oklahoma. The Broncos won't win the national title (save your BCS catcalls for the college football page), but barring any greater excitement in this week's BCS title game between Ohio State and Florida, it is the Boise State moments, more than any others from this season, that people will relive again and again, in highlight packages on television, on the Internet and in our memories.
As for baseball, with its long, perhaps unrivaled history in sport, the challenge of carving something indelible into the history books couldn't be truer than for any other sport. We think we're rooting for our team to win a championship, but deep down, the most rewarding thing is to have a game or even a play that we're still talking about years later. It just happens that in a championship setting, where the importance of everything is magnified, the chances for great and permanent memories grow exponentially.
When a St. Louis Cardinals team that struggles during the season wins the World Series, that's a good story. But in doing so without much drama, the excitement ends with Cardinal fans. Many are still reveling in their euphoria, but everyone else is moving on.
As it came time to review highlights of the 2006 season, most passed over the Cardinals in favor of such memories as the game - cited by SI's Tom Verducci as baseball's game of the year and by others as the game of the young century - in which the Dodgers hit four consecutive home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie San Diego and a fifth homer in the 10th inning to defeat the Padres. Though it might be heretical to suggest it, I'm not sure how many fans would trade partisan interest in the 4+1 game for a World Series that generated much less excitement, that everyone else will have forgotten by May, that will never be replayed as a classic moment. (Dodger fans might be quicker to give up Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew being thrown out at the plate on the same play, though that has a certain glorious mystique all its own.)
This is not to belittle the Cardinals' accomplishment. They proved a lot of naysayers wrong in the 2006 postseason, including me, and even though they were not baseball's best team in the regular season, they played great when it counted. There is no reason that an American sports culture that celebrates March Madness runs by basketball teams from North Carolina State to George Mason should turn around and slam an October mad dash by St. Louis.
That being said, a huge part of the fun of sports is having others tip their cap to you -- and keep tipping it. And that can come with or without a title.
Ideally, a team wins it all while taking your breath away. Bill Mazeroski, Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris, Joe Carter: Those names, among others, evoke everlasting memories for anyone who witnessed their roles in history, regardless of whether they were rooting for them at the time or agnostic.
Short of hitting that winning-with-style exacta, there's a valid debate over what's more important the moment or the title. Take your pick, folks, between the Cincinnati Reds' 1975 World Series title or Carlton Fisk waving his Game 6 home run fair before his Boston Red Sox team lost Game 7. Or between having Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" or the 1951 World Series title to cherish. It's Fisk and Thomson, hands down. How many, outside of New York, even care who won the '51 Series?
Kelly Leak got thrown out at the plate, and still the Bad News Bears are our favorite misfits.
In this beboppin'-and-scatin'-all-over-the-place offseason, with team after team spending money fast as they can in pursuit of a 2007 championship, an amazing fact remains. In the past 30 years, the Florida Marlins, a top-five team for apathy or derision, have won as many World Series as any other major-league team except the New York Yankees. By the conventional standards of measuring success, Florida is among the best National League franchise since 1976.
The Marlins boast as many memories of ultimate triumph than any other NL team during that period. On top of that, one of Florida's World Series titles ended in a fashion so memorable one hardly needs to be reminded: Edgar Renteria's bottom-of-the-11th RBI single to win Game 7 of the 1997 Series. As recently as this past season, the Marlins provided baseball with an exciting group of young players, highlighted by 22-year-old Anibal Sanchez, who leapt into the spotlight with a no-hitter.
But again, though no slight is intended to any Florida fans - their diehards have all my respect - the Marlins' life story proves that World Series titles alone don't define success. Amid a run of losing seasons and general misery punctuated by fire sales, the idea of Florida as the NL's bellwether does not settle in easily. Certainly, you can argue that it's better to win the big one and lose the rest of the time than never win the big one at all, but at a minimum, it doesn't seem like a fun way to live.
Magic matters. Of course, you can't guarantee magic, any more you can guarantee finding a bottle with a genie in it. Instead, you make the moves, long-term and short-term, that give you the best chance of generating magic - often in the form of a championship, but not always.
Roger Cedeno Lives!
Can a Raul Mondesi comeback be far behind?
BALTIMORE (AP) - Roger Cedeno agreed to a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles after a 1 1/2 -season layoff.
Cedeno has a .273 career average with five teams. He was traded by the New York Mets to St. Louis in April 2004 for Wilson Delgado and released by the Cardinals in June 2005.
If added to the 40-man roster, the 32-year-old outfielder would get a one-year contract that would pay him $500,000 in the major leagues and $100,000 in the minors. He could earn an additional $400,000 in performance bonuses and would get the entire amount if he plays in 120 games and has 550 plate appearances.
I always liked Cedeno - does that make me strange? I guess he was just one of those players where I saw only the good and kept missing the bad.
The most memorable Roger Cedeno play for me was the one in which he fielded an extra-base hit in foul territory at Philly's Veterans Stadium and threw a baserunner out at third base - with the putout registered by a sprawling Mike Piazza.
Except I'm remembering wrong, apparently, according to Retrosheet. I can't find any record of Cedeno making such a play. So who/what was it? Dang it, I'm very frustrated.
By the way, how is it I have no recollection of this game?
Wednesday, July 7, 1993
What's even stranger is that two days later, I was at this game:
SFG 472 000 002 - 15 23 0
And the next night, I was here.
SDP 010 000 010 - 2 6 0
About a month shy of moving back from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles (my most life-changing decision before getting married), I decided to take a driving tour of the Northeast. I remember nearly passing out while reading Portnoy's Complaint on a park bench in Philadelphia in 100-plus-degree heat, before going to the ballpark and seeing the Giants take a 13-0 lead.
Then, instead of spending the night in a motel like I planned, I actually slept in my '85 Scirocco at a very well-lit truck stop on the way to Montreal. I arrived in Canada in the morning, checked into a hotel, napped, then drove to Stade Olympique, where I sat with a wonderfully energetic Montreal crowd to see ... and you don't hear these words too often anymore ... a young Jeff Fassero.
And after that, I was on my way to Maine, where the story gets even more interesting ... but I'm saving that.
This Stuff Matters to Me
So I hope the Dodgers mean business. From Bill Shaikin of the Times:
If you don't have to wait as long to buy a Dodger dog or find a parking space next season, the Dodgers will consider its modest stadium improvement program a success. ...
The Dodgers will take the initial steps to resolve complaints from fans who miss part of the game because of long lines at concession stands and chronic congestion in parking lots. "We want to eliminate as much of the hassle as possible," McCourt said.
The Dodgers are working on plans to improve traffic flow into and out of the parking lot, McCourt said, without offering details. He also said the Dodgers would open large merchandise stores in tents adjacent to the outfield pavilions, enabling the team to offer more items for sale. As a result, he said, the Dodgers can convert some merchandise stands within the stadium into additional concession stands.
I know it doesn't matter to everyone, but I think the lines have long been nonsensical on a number of levels, and they demand correction.
As for the traffic flow, I hope it improves, though I have found over the past couple of years that the more proactive the organization has been, the worse the flow has gotten - principally in terms of limiting routes out of the numbered parking lots toward the freeways.
In any event, I'm willing to hope.
Meanwhile, Shaikin adds:
The team also is completing a two-year project to repair the stadium foundation, a prelude to renovation and expansion of all concourse areas. That work could include a promenade near the pavilions, replacing the merchandise tents with a permanent gathering place where fans could beat traffic by arriving early to eat, drink and shop.
Previously on Dodger Thoughts:
Fly, Robins, Fly
Fifty years ago today, the Dodgers purchased a 44-passenger airplane to become the first major-league team to own their own air transport, hot-air balloons excluded.
Fifty-two years ago today, Walter O'Malley invited Vin Scully to lunch.
Details at Walteromalley.com.
In other Thursday morning tidbits:
By the way, how many N.L. West players will slug .500 or better this year? The answer may be, to quote Pete Puma, "Oh, three or four."
How could it be a bad thing to let Vin Scully, Dave Niehaus and Jon Miller vote for the Hall of Fame? Actually, Scully already does vote on the veterans committee, so how could it hurt to add him to the first round as well?
Another possibility would be to include some Society for American Baseball Research members. One of the reasons Blyleven has risen in the vote totals is the strong advocacy of stat analysts for him. We're obviously listening to their arguments, so why not let them vote directly? I'm not saying we should open it up to the entire membership, but perhaps SABR could pick an electoral college of members to be given ballots each year based on achievements in research and scholarship.
Look, the BBWAA is filled with passionate writers who cherish their votes and agonize over them each winter. But that doesn't mean our group is infallible. Hell, the BBWAA just voted NOT to allow Internet writers into the organization, apparently preferring to wait and see whether this Internet thing catches on first, or perhaps just wait until there are no longer any newspapers in existence (ESPN.com writers such as myself, Jayson Stark, Jerry Crasnick and Buster Olney receive Hall votes as lifetime members from our tenures at newspapers -- otherwise, we'd be ineligible). And some BBWAA voters are columnists and editors who rarely -- if ever -- attend games because they don't like baseball very much. Yet they vote on the game's ultimate honor.
If the Hall of Fame gives the vote to them, there's no reason it can't give the ballot to some broadcasters and statheads. The Hall of Fame is just beginning to deal with some tough issues surrounding steroid suspects such as Mark McGwire. I'd like to get as much range of opinion on these candidates and this issue as possible.
The question really isn't whether baseball writers are doing a good job with their Hall of Fame vote. The question is whether we could do an even better job if the voting base was expanded to include other knowledgeable, passionate voters. And the answer is, yes, it would.
Yeah, I'd be pretty quick to hand Rich Lederer, Rob Neyer and Jay Jaffe ballots, just for starters.
The Opening Day 2006 Dodger Starting Lineup
Boy the way Bill Mueller played(Actually, there is a legitimate version of the song with Dodgers in the lyrics.)
New Year's Night Open Chat
We can say it: Pitchers and catchers report ... next month!
New Year at the Jam
Some new posts over the weekend at Screen Jam - mostly movie-oriented, though any entertainment chat is welcome.
Strange and Mysterious Doings Underfoot
Jon Weisman's outlet
for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Jon's other site:
Thank You For Not ...
1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity