Monthly archives: November 2008
Grand Canyon Dodgers
Things have changed since Vero Beach 1948.
Glendale's spring training complex for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox is on track to open in February. But the cost, originally pegged around $80.7 million, sits closer to an Arizona Republic estimate of $115 million, with an additional $40 million for nearby infrastructure.
The facility's price jump came with additions such as stone façades on buildings, pools in the clubhouses, the shape of the facility's manmade river, and rising costs such as cost of materials and code compliance issues, according to the city and builder. Of that $115 million, the teams will chip in $7.2 million. ...
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Nearly three years ago, we learned that former Dodger minor leaguer Mike Nixon had traded his glove for a spot on defense with the Arizona State football team. Nixon, now 25, last night scored one of the Sun Devils' record-tying four defensive touchdowns in a 34-9 victory over UCLA.
According to this Jeff Metcalfe story in the Republic, Nixon got a $1 million signing bonus from the Dodgers that lured him away from ... UCLA. Nixon was a third-round pick in the 2002 draft, chosen 420 players ahead of Russell Martin (as this year-old recap of the 2002 draft by Diamond Leung of the Press-Enterprise indicates).
Here's an excerpt from a 2002 Scout.com brief on Nixon:
Nixon told AZCentral.com that he made the decision to give up his football scholarship with no regrets. "I'll miss it, but I'm not going to look back at all," he said. "I made my decision. If I have a bad game, I'm not going to think maybe I should be playing football. It won't be like that."
Sometimes, regrets are for the best.
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Angel Berroa is a candidate for Oddity of the Year honors. (Thanks to Dodger Thoughts commenter D4P for the link.)
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The Perfect Post-Turkey Day Story
Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated makes the case for the hefty hurler:
The list of major league pitchers who enjoyed extended and successful careers despite carrying some excess meat on their bones is as long as those hurlers are wide. Mickey Lolich, Rick Reuschel, David Wells, Fernando Valenzuela, Sid Fernandez: None of those gents was ever called upon to pose in his Jockeys, the way Jim Palmer once did for a national ad campaign. But each pitched effectively into at least his mid-30s, and between them they accounted for 17 All-Star Game selections, 10 top 5 finishes in the Cy Young balloting, a no-hitter and a perfect game. Then there was the fellow with the 2.28 career ERA who might have been the best of them all had he not discovered early on that he was even more talented with a bat than with a ball. He was a cherubic chapnot as big as he'd become, but no waif either. Went by the nickname the Babe.
Now CC Sabathia is a free agent, and given his age (28) and his résumé, he might be the most coveted pitcher ever to hit the market. Since 2001, when he entered the majors, Sabathia ranks fourth in strikeouts, fifth in wins and eighth in innings pitched. He pitched so well after being traded in July from the Indians to the Brewershe went 11--2 with a 1.65 ERAthat he finished sixth in the NL MVP voting even though he was a National Leaguer for just half the season. Had he won the award, it would have marked the first time that one league's MVP was twice the size of the other's. (The AL MVP was Boston's diminutive second baseman Dustin Pedroia.) And the pitcher's size, some observers believe, represents a serious problem.
Sabathia is listed at 6'7" and 290 pounds, although one wonders if the scale involved in that measurement was borrowed from an especially disreputable pawn shop. He is a behemothonly 295-pound reliever Jumbo Brown, who began a 12-year career in 1925, is heavier among pitchers in big league history. Sabathia's bulk has long caused baseball pundits to question his long-term durability, and a subset of Red Sox fans has even begun to express hope that the Yankees (who two weeks ago offered him a six-year, $140 million contract, a record for a pitcher) will sign him, the Sox supporters believing that he'll either break down or eat himself into oblivion. In a recent ESPN the Magazine column in which he listed several reasons why he loves sports, noted Red Sox fan Bill Simmons wrote, "Reason No. 947: The thought of 365-pound CC Sabathia laboring through a 98° game at Yankee Stadium in 2012 with four more years and $105 million remaining on his contract. Please, God. I don't ask for much."
But the message from each of the half-dozen experts contacted for this piecea group that included doctors, academics and pitching gurus (none of whom know or have personally examined Sabathia)was uniform: Be careful what you pray for, Mr. Simmons. While signing a pitcher to a free-agent deal always represents a gamble, they concede, the odds that he'll stay healthy aren't lengthened as you move from L to XXXL. In layman's terms, one can effectively be both a pitcher and a belly-itcher. "I'm not aware of any evidence that directly correlates size with injury," says the University of Washington's Dr. Stanley Herring, who is a team physician for the Mariners and the Seahawks. "It's not just size. It's lean body mass, training, conditioning, power, strength, endurance. There are a lot of pitchers who make you want to say, 'Hey, man, put a shirt onthis isn't pretty.' But it's not just what the package looks like; it's what's inside." ...
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My daughter likes to type e-mails to me from my cellphone. Here's what she sent me Wednesday night:
11-26-08, Happy birthday :-) :-( ! Do you see the faces? They mean good news and bad news. The good news is, it's your birthday. The bad news is, you are old. Bye-bye! :-) :-(
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!
Eat, sleep and be thankful and merry!
Blindly noble, disingenuous or dumb?
"If you bring somebody in to play and pay them, pick a number, $30 million, does that seem a little weird to you?" Dodger president Jamie McCourt said to Dylan Hernandez of the Times and other reporters gathered at the Evergreen Recreation Center in East Los Angeles, where the Dodgers announced they would be building 42 more community ballfields to add to the eight they have already created. "That's what we're trying to figure out. We're really trying to see it through the eyes of our fans. We're really trying to understand, would they rather have the 50 fields?"
Well, it's certainly an interesting concept. The Dodgers could become the first professional sports franchise whose ownership and fans prioritize community service over on-field performance. Who could deny which is more important in the grand scheme of things?
Only one problem: Who's going to buy tickets to the community service?
If you're asking your fans, i.e., the people most invested in your team winning, it's pretty clear (unless you are blindly noble or dumb) what they're going to say. They're going to say you should get the best players, create a winning team, and then use the fruits of victory to help the community.
The Dodgers should know this and, assuming they do, certainly shouldn't pretend that they don't. And by the way - it's not like you actually put it up to the fans. You went out and committed to the 50 fields without actually giving them a chance to weigh in on what was more important. Were they really trying to understand, or were they vainly trying to justify a surrender in the free agent market with a guilt trip? "Sure, we could sign Manny Ramirez - but what about the children?"
You don't need to tell us that it's a tough economy. You don't need to tell us that children are more important than Manny Ramirez. But have the courage of your convictions. If you want to take a stand against high salaries, if you want to take a stand for the kids, don't cloak it in "what the fans want," especially when you betray ignorance of what the fans want. That's not intelligent public relations.
Now, it's entirely possible that this is making too much out of one isolated quote from the Dodger team president - although certainly, that's the one from Tuesday's press conference that's going to be remembered. So let's also look at what Frank McCourt had to say:
"It's not so much what we can and can't do so much as it's affecting what's appropriate," McCourt remarked (per Diamond Leung of the Press-Enterprise). "I don't think anyone knows. I feel things are a little different. We need to review our priorities a little bit."
It's fair. You're allowed to review your priorities. But shouldn't the McCourts be worried that Dodger ticket-buyers will be doing the same? Because I assure you, there are more efficient ways for the people of Los Angeles to help their fellow citizens or ride out the New Great Depression than by funneling money through the front office at Stadium Way.
If the McCourts want to make a real statement about what's appropriate in the economy, a statement that their fans will relate to and appreciate, then build some fields and cut ticket, food, concession and parking prices. If they want fans to tighten the belt of their expectations, then they need to tighten the belt of their revenue.
Otherwise, just focus on getting the best players, and leave the morality out of it. I'll root for an austere team in austere times, but I'll have a lot more trouble embracing hypocrisy.
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By the way, Slumdog Millionaire is a wonderful movie - you should definitely try to see it.
Not surprisingly, I'm hitting this year's November 26 with about 1 percent of the angst that I had last year's. Turning 41 just isn't the same as turning 40.
True, many of the concerns are the same: the inability to live within my means (compounded, as it is for everyone else, by the overall economy), the feeling that I'm getting dumber instead of smarter, the stunted social life important parts of life in general falling through the cracks. But I have been working hard, on both the things that come easier to me and the things that come with more difficulty. I'm still spoiled, but I'm not more spoiled than I was a year ago. That might be progress.
The world is an expensive place, in just about every sense of the word "expensive." I'm getting a lot, but I've still got so many fiscal, physical and emotional bills to pay. It's so humbling.
But I'm grateful. And I've got galleys of a Dodger book to review this weekend. Happy Thanksgiving (in advance), everyone.
The Greatest Game Ever?
What was the Greatest Game Ever Played in major league baseball history the sport's equivalent to the 1958 Colts-Giants NFL championship classic? For a story he's working on, Bill Shaikin of the Times e-mailed me to ask Dodger Thoughts readers for their opinions.
First thoughts I had were Yankees-Pirates 1960 World Series Game 7 or Red Sox-Reds 1975 Game 6. However, Shaikin pointed out that there is also the issue of how big a factor social or cultural significance should play in the decision. The 1958 NFL game, for example, launched pro football as a national television obsession. What major league game had it going on, both on the field and off?
An upbeat prognosis for James Loney's power was posted by Derek Carty at The Hardball Times.
(Thanks to Dodger Thoughts reader Preston Bannard - not this guy - for the link.)
Since I didn't have time to do a full post today, allow yourself to browse through the newly posted Life photo archive - subject: Dodgers.
This photograph of Roy Campanella was taken by Robert W. Kelley in March 1959.
Billingsley Suffers Accident, Undergoes Surgery
I got a tip this afternoon from Highlands Today sports editor Brian Gjurgevich that was one of those things I couldn't believe. But it turns out it was true.
I checked with Josh Rawitch of the Dodgers, and he confirms:
We have received word that Chad Billingsley slipped (on ice) down stairs outside his house and fell in Reading, PA and suffered a spiral fracture of the fibula in his left leg. He had surgery today to put a plate in and he will be in a cast for two weeks which will allow the fracture to heal.
The surgery was performed by Dr. Paul Neuman, an orthopedic surgeon in Reading, and went as expected. By all indications, it is believed that he will be ready to throw bullpens by the beginning of Spring Training. While this obviously isn't good news, the timing of the injury is not bad given that it we do not expect it will affect his readiness for 2009.
Gjurgevich had a contact whose son was in the hospital at the same time as Billingsley.
Even with impeccable credentials, landing a GM job is extremely difficult. Assistant GMs work their way up through the ranks, and even if their resumes pass muster, they usually have to go through at least one interview, and often two or three, before getting that first GM job offer.
"I think it was a great process," Ng said of her interview with the Dodgers three years ago. "I think it gave me an entree into a owner's thinking about things that are important to them, Frank and Jamie [McCourt]. I think [owners] think about the game and the business a little bit different than we as baseball executives may. I think the job of the GM has changed so much in the last 20 years, and I think it gave me some insight into some the ancillary things you might not necessarily think are on a GM's plate but really are." ...
Ng has learned something from each stop on her career. She has seen the old-school approach, which typically relies heavily on scouting, and the newer GMs, who rely more on statistical analysis.
"I think I'm in the middle," Ng said. "I've seen first- or second-hand the benefits of both, having worked with Ron Schueler early in my career and having worked with Paul later in my career, a big proponent of statistics. I think I've come across a lot of different people who think different ways. It's nice for me because you can pick and choose what you really believe and some of the things that don't necessarily make sense. I'm right in the middle."
She's also willing to keep an open mind, another attribute which should serve her well as GM.
"Absolutely, knowledge is huge in this game," she said. "You've seen in the last 15 years the game has changed, our thought processes have changed. You have to be open-minded. I think that's one of my strengths, being able to listen to people, hearing them out, knowing after you hear the information to synthesize the information and coming up with your own judgments as far as what makes sense and what doesn't." ...
Dodger Independent Spirit Awards
We have a frontrunner in Dodger Hill. (Thanks to Blue Heaven for the link.)
Casey Willard directed and co-wrote/co-starred with Brian Petersen.
Big Bucks, Some Whammies
A plan for the Dodgers to sign Manny Ramirez is offered by Houston Mitchell of the Times. It involves an increase in the team's payroll, but on the other hand, if you can live without some of the other choices Mitchell makes, you can knock that payroll back down to 2008 levels.
Mitchell's post reminds us that the ability for the Dodgers to sign Ramirez (or CC Sabathia) is there. The question is more about fear: fear of shelling out the big bucks vs. fear of not doing so.
The key, I continue to believe, is making sure that the players you spend money on are worthy. Frankly, I might be more troubled by Mitchell's $2 million for Angel Berroa than his $120 million for Ramirez. If the team can't get the big fish, the best course might be to enter 2009 with a lower-budget team that might allow you some flexibility in July.
Meanwhile, in a piece for Baseball Analysts, writer and Red Sox fan Paul Anthony compares his relationship with Ramirez to Stockholm syndrome.
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From 1989-2000, though, Brown was by far one of the best pitchers in baseball. In fact, a look at some of the numbers allows him to stake claim as perhaps the fourth best in this 12-year span, behind Maddux, Clemens, and Johnson.
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Rafael Furcal's medical reports are being examined, at least by the Oakland A's, writes Michael Urban at MLB.com.
Dodgers Bump Up 40-Man Roster to 38 in Preparation for Rule 5 Draft
Just as I'm heading out the work door ...
Contracts purchased: Jesus Castillo, Victor Garate, Jamie Hoffmann, Brent Leach, Travis Schlichting
Reinstated from the 60-day disabled list: Tony Abreu, Mario Alvarez, Yhency Brazoban, Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt
The Dodger roster now has a ratio of 4.2 pitchers for every infielder.
That's Bruce Springseen's take. Here follows the Dodger press release:
GLENDALE, Ariz The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox announced today that their two-team, state-of-the-art Spring Training campus in Glendale, AZ will be named Camelback Ranch. Dodger Owner and Chairman Frank McCourt and White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf made the announcement.
"The name 'Camelback Ranch' inspires the pioneering spirit of the Dodgers' original move west in 1958 and with our relocation this spring to Arizona, that move is now complete," said McCourt. "We believe this facility will be the best in all of Major League Baseball and will provide our team with an unparalleled place to prepare year-round for championship-caliber baseball."
"Camelback Ranch in Glendale soon will be known as the crown-jewel of the Cactus League," said Reinsdorf. "Starting this spring, baseball fans will be able to enjoy a world-class complex that features the Cactus League's largest ballpark with state-of-the-art amenities and one of the most scenic environments in all of sports and entertainment."
The 141-acre site is located on Camelback Road just west of the Loop 101. The first-rate baseball facility includes more than 118,000 square feet of Major and Minor League clubhouse space, 13 full baseball fields, and three half-fields. The site will feature picturesque walking trails, landscaped grounds, and an orange grove. There will also be two ponds and a fully-stocked lake between the Dodgers and White Sox facilities.
The shared stadium, which will be the focal point of the complex, is the largest in the Cactus League with a capacity of 13,000 which includes 3,000 lawn seats, 12 luxury suites, a party deck, and a unique center field rotunda entrance. Fans will enjoy the ballpark's modern amenities and design as well as dramatic mountain views from within the park that will create one of the most inviting Spring Training atmospheres in all of baseball.
"It is my sincere hope that generations of families will create lifelong memories at Camelback Ranch," said Dodger President Jamie McCourt. "This idyllic setting only five hours by car and a one-hour flight from Los Angeles could not come at a more perfect time for Dodger fans, many of whom have waited a long time to take part in the Spring Training experience."
"Many former Chicagoans now call the Valley home," said Reinsdorf. "That large contingent of people, along with the thousands of current Chicagoans who travel to the Phoenix area during the winter months, now will have the opportunity to enjoy White Sox baseball in an incomparable sports and entertainment facility."
In addition to serving as the Spring Training home of the White Sox and Dodgers, the campus will become the home for all Dodger minor league operations throughout the year, including the team's Arizona League entry and Fall Instructional League team. The White Sox also will use Camelback Ranch in Glendale as the home for their Fall Instructional League.
Camelback Ranch will become a multi-use facility, available to host concerts, sporting events, and corporate outings, in addition to Spring Training baseball.
The 2009 Spring Training schedules will be released shortly for each team, while the joint venture offers six different season ticket options: Home Plate Club, Dugout Field Box, Baseline Field Box, Premium Infield Box, Infield Box, and Baseline Reserved, along with day-of-game Lawn seating. Fans interested in purchasing season tickets should call (623) 877-8585.
Updated photos of Camelback Ranch can be seen here.
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Update: More from Josh Rawitch at Inside the Dodgers"
I'm actually very glad that a few of you asked about ticket pricing at Camelback Ranch, as I think that it has been portrayed extremely inaccurately by the media that has written about it so far. Yes, there are seats there that cost $90 and they are the equivalent of the Dugout Club at Dodger Stadium - all inclusive with your parking, food, a promotional item, etc. But the key thing to remember is - much like the Dugout Club, there are only about 600 of them in the stadium. That's just over four percent of the ballpark.
The dropoff then goes to $30 per ticket - which means that more than 95 percent of the seats in the park are at that number or less (with some as low as $8). In fact, our head of ticketing told me yesterday that there are seats that are literally in the front row, where you can put your drink on top of the dugout, and they cost just $30. To me, that's nothing to be ashamed of - I actually think that's extremely reasonable. ...
James Loney: Try to Remember the Kind of September
On September 2, 2007, James Loney had an OPS of .824 (.361 on-base percentage, .463 slugging percentage). He OPSed 1.141 the rest of the way and finished the season at .919.
On September 2, 2008, James Loney had an OPS of .820 (.361 on-base percentage, .459 slugging percentage). He OPSed .472 the rest of the way and finished the season at .772.
What Kryptonited our September Superman? For one thing, Loney wasn't as lucky in the final month of 2008. His batting average on balls in play was .227, compared to .393 in September 2007. But Loney's bad September wasn't just about balls not finding holes. Loney had four extra base hits in September 2008, compared to 17 (including nine home runs) in September 2007. He had three walks in September 2008 compared to nine in September 2007. His power and plate discipline just seemed to vanish.
Between these extremes lies the present-day James Loney, the one who has a career .833 OPS (114 OPS+) in more than 1,000 plate appearances before his 25th birthday. Like many hitters, he's streaky, and there's no doubt that 2008 overall ended up being a step back for him. His slugging percentage dropped more than 100 points, his homers dropped despite nearly 300 extra plate appearances, and his rate of grounding into double plays more than doubled (particularly early in the season: 18 of his 25 GIDP in 2008 came by the end of June).
I don't have a magic bullet not for lack of searching - to kill the uncertainty over what went wrong. His line-drive, groundball and flyball percentages remained fairly consistent from year to year, as did his ratio of plate appearances vs. right-handed pitching. I don't know what pitches he was having trouble with. All I know is that for the first five months of 2008, despite playing every day in the major leagues for the first time in his career, Loney was pretty much as productive as he had been in the same period the year before. Each of the past two Septembers were aberrations.
Given his youth, his reputedly high marks for work ethic and an offseason to reflect on the previous year, I'm betting Loney resumes an upward trajectory in 2009.
Mike Mussina, 1988
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As I heard reports that the career of New York Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, who has 215 victories and a 3.59 ERA, might be fast approaching the end - though things have been looking better lately - I went looking for a feature I wrote about the righthander in 1988, while he was a freshman at Stanford and I was a junior.
I was fortunate enough to cover the Cardinal's College World Series championship in Omaha, Nebraska for The Stanford Daily that June - during a week which found Mussina and I both taking final exams (same time, different tests) in a small Holiday Inn or Marriott conference room. But the first time I sat down with the future Oriole and Yankee was in his dorm room two months earlier.
The following article ran in the Daily on April 14, 1988. I thought it would be fun to revisit it here, a meeting between a young ballplayer and a young (and somewhat boosterish) writer ...
It's no joke - Mussina is ready to playNot exactly Jim Murray, I know. But I still turned pro the next year.
As for Mussina, he completed his degree in economics at Stanford in three years, and was drafted after his junior year - again by Baltimore - in the first round. He reached the majors at age 22 and had an 18-5, 2.54 ERA All-Star season at age 23.
Holes in the Bucket
For an interview with a rival general manager, check out Jesse Spector of the New York Daily News querying Arizona's Josh Byrnes. Byrnes is trumping what his team has, rather than what it lacks:
On whether the type of moves the Diamondbacks will try to make require patience for the rest of the market. We've probably been a little more patient than usual. Usually, we've entered offseasons with maybe a few more needs, maybe a few more chips to play in order to fill those needs. A lot of what we've done trying to create roster stability, that's the good news -- we've still got (Steven) Drew, (Chris) Young, (Justin) Upton, (Conor) Jackson, Reynolds all 26 and under as core players. We've got (Brandon) Webb, (Dan) Haren, (Doug) Davis, (Max) Scherzer in the starting rotation. So we have been active, but we have a lowish number of holes we're trying to fill. We've also been trying to be patient and wait to see if some value comes to us, whether it's a trade or free agency. ...
While some of this is just a matter of keeping your sunny side up in public, the fact remains that the majority of the holes that a team has to fill are a) done at a low cost and b) a crapshoot. You're always hoping you end up with a Takashi Saito or Joe Beimel in the bullpen, but overpaying (or overstressing, especially in November) won't guarantee it.
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Another Dodger prospect report: This one comes from Baseball-Intellect and includes video.
True Blue L.A. is letting its readers vote on the Dodgers' top prospects. The top 10 is done, but they're not stopping there.
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Here's a review by Sam Thielman in Variety of Back Back Back, an off-Broadway baseball play that isn't about Chris Berman.
Once again, Itamar Moses has changed the names to protect the guilty. In the writer's fun, structurally clever baseball dramedy "Back Back Back," the offending parties are Raul, Kent and Adam -- proxies for admitted steroid promoter Jose Canseco, accused steroid user Mark McGwire and supposed steroid abstainer Walt Weiss, the Oakland Athletics' three consecutive rookies of the year from 1986-88. Although Moses tries for (and fails at) a lot of pseudo-intellectual dazzle about tradition, history and morality, his real interest is the bounds of friendship, and that's where his play shines. ...
The museum's sweet spot is an extensive Dodgers collection that fills a room in the nondescript building not far from Staples Center.
Visitors can gawk at a champagne bottle, glass and handful of infield dirt that select guests were given on the day Ebbets Field opened for big league play. There is an original Ebbets Field turnstile, musical instruments from the Brooklyn Dodgers' fabled marching band, a few grandstand seats and even the logo of the demolition company that knocked the old ballpark down.
Former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley has described the collection as "the best that I know of."
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I'm remembering Sarah Gilfillan today.
Last Call at Vero Beach
Dodger Thoughts reader Andrew Zicklin e-mailed last week following the final Dodger fantasy camp at Dodgertown in Vero.
Sixty-two players, including two women, spent the week with Tommy Davis, Maury Wills, Joe Pignatano, Rick Monday, Steve Yeager, Bill Russell, Jerry Reuss and Carl Erskine. Also along as instructors and coaches were John Shoemaker, Craig (Nacho) Bjornson, Garey (Chicken) Ingram, Marty Reed, Glenn Dishman and Casey Deskins.
It shows what kind of tradition and respect the Dodgers and the camp have when the guys that have moved on to other teams - Bjornson, Reed and Ingram - come back to hang with us campers.
The week started off rainy, games cancelled, so we were able to take advantage of the time and listen to the coaches talk about their specialties. Sunday, it was Yeager and Piggy on catching and Tommy Davis on hitting. Monday, we had Reuss and Erskine on pitching, Tuesday, Wills on baserunning.
We did get the games in, though: doubleheader on Monday, doubleheader on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we played nine innings, plus two innings in the camper/instructor game at Holman Field, which always ends with Jimmy Erskine, who has Down syndrome, hitting a ball pitched by Carl and running the bases. Then another nine on Thursday. You can see the stats and participants at www.ladabc.com.
The evenings were spent with Monday and Reuss recapping the season and taking questions, Carl and Piggy with conference calls by Duke Snider and Ralph Branca talking about the Brooklyn days, and an evening with Bruce Froemming, who umpires games throughout camp and ran the kangaroo court, which Branca used to do.
All fines go to the Jimmy Fund, which helps families with special needs children. This tradition was started by a former camper who was moved by Jimmy Erskine's story. The campers raised about $5,000 for the fund this week.
Of course after dinner, the campers and instructors all headed over to the clubhouse bar, where we proceeded to self-medicate, seeking relief from the sore hamstrings, quads, knees and shoulders that we incurred during the day.
It was a bittersweet week. ... As far as I know, there is no other camp where the campers and instructors eat, drink and even dress in the clubhouse locker room together, and no other camp of a team that has relocated has kept the tradition of their former and current home so interconnected and strong as the Brooklyn and LA teams have.
A chapter has definitely ended.
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Two primary situations cause me to yell at my kids.
The first is fear of them getting hurt. Saturday, for example, while my wife worked, I took advantage of an invitation to a Staples Center suite and brought my kids there. The Clippers happened to be playing, but that wasn't why I was going. The reasons were to spend time with the friend who invited me, and to be in a confined space where I could patrol all three of my children.
Except you realize once you get there that the space isn't entirely confined. The Plexiglas in front of the suite is so low, a dachshund could see over it. That consterned me throughout the game, which I was hardly able to pay any attention to, though for the most part the kids were good.
Then, in the fourth quarter, while I held the baby, while my daughter gabbed with her schoolmate, my 4-year-old stood on the ledge to the right of the second row of seats, with a smile. And I could read his mind. He was going to try to jump and land on the ledge right in front of the first row of the suite, fronted only by that low window of Plexiglas. And if he didn't stick the landing, if he stumbled forward, he was going to tumble right out of the suite down to the level below.
I yelled his name. I screamed, "No! No! NO!!!" He took off in the air, and he landed on his two feet.
I practically dropped the baby - I laid him down with such haste that his head knocked against the base of a chair. I scrambled over the seats and grabbed my elder son before he got any other ideas.
I lectured him, sternly, emotionally, angrily, almost tearfully but most of all, hopelessly. I lectured him that he had to listen, that the word "No" was a no-holds-barred stop sign that he had to obey. It's a lecture that I've given him on a different scale hundreds of times now, over matters much less perilous, precisely because I wanted him to make sure he listened to me when it really mattered.
It doesn't work. I keep doing it, but it doesn't work. I don't remember ignoring my father hardly ever in my lifetime, but my son does it a number of times each day. After I finished with him, exasperated, I went to the back of the suite, trying to collect myself - and kicked a cabinet. (Even at a Clipper game, where exasperation is par for the course, this gets noticed.)
The frustration is getting to me. I know he's only 4. I know. I'm trying to do what the books and the sage and my head all tell me, with timeouts and 1-2-3 and not getting emotional. But this kid nearly leaped out of a suite without a net; before that he nearly rode his trike into a street. He's a wonderful boy, but he's got a mind of his own and then some. He has to have what he wants and do what he wants to do. And the fear that it churns inside me makes me lose it and yell at him, because nothing is working and I don't want him to end up in the hospital or worse.
The second reason I yell at my kids is out of impatience. If the previous scenario can at least in part be excused as selfless concern, this second situation is more selfish. Yes, I want the kids to brush their teeth the first time I ask, so that they get to bed on time and get enough sleep for the next school day, but I also want them to do it so that I can get to the things I need to do - like Dodger Thoughts, for example.
If I surrender to the kids, if I turn off the clock and just let the pace dictate the pace, it makes a huge difference. If I do all that, I relax. But it's not automatic. The baby is up by 6 a.m., and with that I'm on the clock, either at home or at work, until my 6-year-old daughter turns out her light at 8 or 8:15 p.m. That doesn't leave me much time to attend to the rest of my life. The pressure builds, and I have to make a conscious decision how to deal with it. Sometimes, it's hard to convince myself to surrender. One day it can feel so easy, and the next it feels so difficult.
Either way, I've already yelled at my kids more than my parents ever yelled at me. In that respect, I'm 180 degrees from the dad I want to be. I can't tell you how ashamed I am of this. I want these kids to be good people, but I have to be more willing to let them make more mistakes. I'm too demanding, too proactive, too protective, too paranoid. I need to toughen up, by letting go.
Over the past few years, I think I've already achieved this with the Dodgers. It takes the extreme to make me angry. I offer my opinion, I react, but mostly it's live and let live, hoping for the best, often settling for something less. Before I started this website, I think Dodger lows got to me more than the highs. Now, it's the reverse. The good moments truly elate me, the bad stuff goes away.
It's not a coincidence that since 2002, the year that Dodger Thoughts and my first child were both born, my kids became the real pennant race. But I have to accept that winning and losing are both inevitable. I don't want to be the brat kicking dirt at the umpire. I want to be the guy who accepts defeat with grace and calm and looks straight ahead to the next game.
One of My Favorite Commercials Ever
Much has been made of the dozen-plus free-agent departures from the Dodgers, but what do the Dodgers need?
With those additions - and I'm not talking about signing multiple superstars like Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia at once - the Dodgers could feel comfortable with the roster entering the 2009 season, and then make further adjustments upon seeing how things shake out after the first month or three. Most of those who left the Dodgers in the past month don't matter.
Johnson to Los Angeles: Will It Finally Happen?
Some rose as he walked off the mound, while others waited until he approached the top step of the dugout at Dodger Stadium.
But by the time Ismael Valdes reached his destination, they had come together to thank him.
After all, it may have been the fans' final opportunity.
The pitcher received a standing ovation Sunday afternoon from a crowd of 41,306 when he was removed in the eighth inning of a 6-5 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
Now, the clock starts for Valdes.
He is among the players the Dodgers are attempting to trade for Seattle Mariner pitcher Randy Johnson, and Valdes' career in Los Angeles may have ended because of his strong effort against the Reds. ...
- Ross Newhan in the Times, June 1, 1998
* * *
Yep, Randy Johnson-to-the-Dodgers talk is more than 10 years old now. Pre-Y2K, pre-RJ4K (in Ks). But not since that time has the talk had more weight than it does now, with Johnson having parted ways with Arizona and become a free agent.
Johnson offered to take a 50-percent paycut in order to stay with the team that he has spent eight of his 21 seasons with, but not even that was enough to persuade the Diamondbacks. While this might send up Jason Schmidt-like warning signals (if Arizona doesn't want him, maybe there's something wrong with him), a Los Angeles homecoming for the USC graduate still seems sensible enough.
Though his career seemed all but over - if not in 2007, when he made only 10 starts, then midway through 2008, when his ERA was 5.23 - he recovered to end 2008 with 184 innings, a 117 ERA+ and 173 strikeouts. His ERA in the second half of the season was 2.41. A short-term deal for Johnson could be just right for the Dodgers. Even if he doesn't pitch a full season, he would allow someone like Eric Stults to be a spot starter instead of a full-fledged member of the rotation.
What would it take to sign Johnson? According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Johnson earned $10 million in base salary in 2008, though Arizona owes him $8.5 million in bonus payments. Johnson won't offer the Dodgers the same discount that he offered Arizona, but he could slot in probably for no more than the $9 million Brad Penny would have earned had he stayed in town, and perhaps a good deal less.
Johnson's days of exceptional pitching are over - he's no substitute for CC Sabathia - but it seems reasonable that he could replace the retired Greg Maddux. Of course, Johnson still is just one option.
* * *
Josh Wilker has a great piece on ex-Dodger Billy North at Cardboard Gods. Here's the opening:
It must have seemed like it was going to be a blooping basehit, beyond the reach of infielder and outfielder alike. Dick Allen, in the midst of the last of his many MVP-caliber seasons, had been running from second base on the play, and from what I've read Dick Allen was not just a one-dimensional mangler of pitches but an intelligent player who knew the whole game well. He must have sized up the fluttering wounded quail off the bat of White Sox teammate Brian Downing and been convinced that it would touch down safely in the outfield grass. He must have set his mind on roaring across home plate with the tying run.
Is there anything more exciting than speed? As the ball arced down toward the outfield grass, Oakland A's centerfielder Billy North suddenly appeared like a flash of heat lightning. This is how I imagine it happened. One moment no one is there and an eyeblink later Billy North is a green and yellow bolt catching the ball off his white shoetops. His momentum carries him forward, toward the second base bag, and I imagine that he thought about making the throw to the infielder waiting there to double off Dick Allen. Maybe North even cocked his arm to throw. But then North must have seen that Dick Allen had no chance to beat the centerfielder to the bag. (A sign of Allen's lack of fleetness came later in the game, when he was pinch run for by Tony Muser, who stole all of 14 bases in his nine-year career.) Billy North hung onto the ball and kept running. With speed like that, speed so transcendent it must have felt exactly like joy, why stop? The outfielder transformed himself into an infielder and stomped on the bag, ending the inning and preserving the lead with what has to be one of the more unusual unassisted double plays ever recorded.
Must have felt pretty good to be Billy North that day. ...
* * *
"Dodgers" and "monorail" in the same sentence? Tell me more ....
Lasorda vs. Snider: For the Kids
"He couldn't be more wrong if he thinks the Dodger future is dim. We've got more bright young prospects in the organization than ever before. ...
"Remember these names ... Ted Sizemore, Billy Buckner, Steve Garvey and Bob Valentine. They're all eventually going to be tremendous hits in Los Angeles. ...
"Duke's got to be a little goofy. If we really were short on young talent, who do you think would share the blame. Up until a couple of months ago, Snider was one of our top scouts."
Quake Quake Quake, Quake Quake Quake, Quake Your Booty
Thursday is a major earthquake preparedness day in Southern California: The Great Southern California Shakeout. Here's a video to get you alarmed/psyched for it:
Consider this yet another wakeup call for you and me. I've got my share of earthquake supplies, but you know, I don't go the whole nine yards. Don't keep anything in the trunk of my car, for example - it's all in the house, where it isn't guaranteed to help. And I don't have no 15 gallons of water on call (three gallons for each member of the family). It's just one of those things where a guy like me needs to suck it up and understand that to do it right, you got to do it all right.
We Should All Be So Insulted
Let me start by saying that I don't really expect Manny Ramirez to end up being a Dodger next season, mainly because I'm not convinced they'll launch their offer into the stratospheric heights and lengths it will probably take to get him.
Even so, the labeling of the Dodgers' opening offer as an insult has grown tiresome.
There's no way, short of a contract that would have been insulting in its excessiveness, that Ramirez is going to sign with the Dodgers before agent Scott Boras hears offers from other teams. It does the Dodgers no good to come to Boras with their top offer when he's simply going to take it to other franchises and ask them to beat it. Whether you want Ramirez or not, for the Dodgers to offer him and Boras what they want would be a plain mistake.
Think about it this way:
Now, this leaves out the details like option years, fringe benefits and of course, what X, Y and Z are. But this is pretty basic stuff. Boras might ultimately get a team that will go for more than four years/$Y million, but there's no guarantee - so for the Dodgers to start negotiating at that level would be just plain dumb.
There's a reason that teams and free agents don't normally negotiate in public, and this is why. Negotiations aren't pretty, and they are particularly unbecoming in the early stages. Judging the opening stages of a negotiation is like judging Cinderella based on the look of her stepsisters.
I'm not sure why the Dodgers have broken tradition to leak their contract offer to Ramirez. It may be, as the speculation insists, for the public relations value, but as almost anyone can see - and could anticipate - that value has mostly been negative. The Dodger fans who want Ramirez want him now, and would never feel comforted by a contract offer well below agent Boras' opening demands.
That doesn't mean the current offer - if it's true - is a bad starting point. In a negotiation, no matter how much you might want a player, you have to show backbone, and you have to be willing to walk away.
* * *
Postscript: Ramirez fared decently in David Pinto's defensive ratings for left fielders, finishing just below average - neck-and-neck with Matt Holliday and well ahead of Jason Bay and Pat Burrell.
"Manny actually did better than Jason in 2008," Pinto writes. "I'm going to need to break down the two by team to see how much the parks might have made a difference. Bay certainly looked better than Manny watching him play for the Red Sox."
Go With the Spirit
Union 76's association with the Dodgers was strong - for decades they advertised in the circle high above the Dodger Stadium scoreboards, and they also operated the gas station in the ballpark parking lot. As often as these commercials aired, extolling the virtues of gas with spirit (theirs was the David Eckstein of gas), the Union 76 gang seemed like part of the Dodger family.
Murph (played by longtime character actor Richard X. Slattery), was the avuncular gas station operator. Nick (George DiCenzo) was the goofy but well-meaning No. 2. Jill (Jean Rasey) was the girl next door, if you lived next door to an up-and-coming, Pam Beesley-like mechanic.
The fourth member of the troupe was at one point played by Larry Wilcox, until he got cast alongside Erik Estrada in a little masterpiece we like to call CHiPs. I used to think he and Jill would end up getting married (Jill had a fairly active dating life). After Wilcox left, the producers followed television tradition by bringing in a previously unmentioned relative, Murph Jr.
Murph's 76 will always be a part of my Dodger memories.
Here's a very special one ...
* * *
I'd like to wish our country's veterans a good day. I know I've been remiss in expressing such sentiments in the past, but I do truly appreciate their service for us.
Mad Dodgers and Englishmen
I'm envisioning a big finish for the hot, sweaty marathoners at Dodger Stadium, followed by a twilight ballgame. Alas, the Dodgers are on the road that day ... in Colorado, where perhaps they'll be playing their own Memorial Day Marathon.
Farewell, Preacher Roe
CC Sabathia hadn't made a start on three days' rest in seven years until this past September 20. That was the first of four consecutive times he did so at the close of the Brewers' season. After throwing 99 pitches on September 16, he threw 105 on the 20th, 108 on September 24, 122 (spread over nine innings) on September 28, and then in the playoffs, 98 pitches in only 3 2/3 innings October 2. That last start is the only hint that fatigue might have caught up with Sabathia.
In the regular season, Sabathia broke the 120-pitch mark five times, never in consecutive starts. His high was 130 pitches on on August 18, and he had five days off after that game. This link shows Sabathia's career game log, organized by most pitches thrown.
Sabathia's only other career start on three days' rest came on October 7, 2001. After cruising through 59 pitches in only five innings on October 3, Sabathia threw 71 on October 7. Sabathia was 20 at the time, capping a rookie season in which he posted an adjusted ERA of 102 in 180 1/3 innings. By comparison, 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw had an adjusted ERA of 100 in 107 2/3 major-league innings for the Dodgers in 2008 (he also threw 61 2/3 innings in the minors with a 1.91 ERA).
Though he carried a significant workload at age 20 and his innings count increased by 16 percent the following season to 210, Sabathia didn't surpass that total until he was 27 (in 2007).
The Risk-Reward of CC, Manny or Neither
In the past six years, 42 major-league pitchers have averaged at least 150 innings a season with a league-average adjusted ERA (100). Only 10 of those have managed pitch at least 150 innings with a 100 ERA+ in five of six individual seasons during that time, and just four - Johan Santana, Brandon Webb, Carlos Zambrano and CC Sabathia (all of them currently under the age of 30) - have done so in all six.
Put simply, if you sign a free-agent pitcher to a six-year contract, you can pretty much guarantee that at least one of those seasons will be a disappointment. No pitcher above the age of 30 since 2003 has avoided a season that was a clunker in some way. That doesn't mean you can't give a pitcher such a long-term deal. It just means you need to be prepared for it. It means you need to budget dead weight into your payroll, or just accept that that year, your team is going to be struggling.
Given the inherent risk in signing Sabathia, who will be seeking a contract of about six years, how concerned should the Dodgers be that Manny Ramirez will not perform at the tail end of his next contract, however long it is? Since the team should be confident that Ramirez will produce in the early years, is there any reason to let the semi-inevitable crash deter the Dodgers from signing him when it's just like signing a premier pitcher in his prime? If he makes the team an automatic World Series contender in the near future, is there any reason not to accept that down the road he might turn into a sunk cost?
These are questions that I'm currently mulling. I can see arguments for pursuing Sabathia, Ramirez or neither. I say this knowing that Manny will never have a full season like the two months he had with the Dodgers in 2008.
But one thing I feel confident about is that I'm not afraid of the risk if the Dodgers and their fans prepare for it. I'm not afraid of a rebuilding year, whether it's in 2013 or 2009. I just want there to be a plan. I am fine with the Dodgers telling me that they're going to sign one of the best players in the game and that if he doesn't perform, the team will suffer that year.
Ten months ago, I thought Andruw Jones would help the Dodgers in 2008, so you don't have to listen to me. Jones offers a cautionary tale when it comes to Ramirez, just as Jason Schmidt or any number of pitchers offer a warning when it comes to Sabathia, or on a lesser scale, Ben Sheets or whomever. On the other hand, I do think the Dodgers do have a solid enough core that in the years Ramirez or Sabathia stay healthy, those could be fantastic years for Los Angeles.
If you don't make the giant free-agent plunge, what do you do? Obviously, you stay away from the Juan Pierres and Brett Tomkos. You need to be sure that the players you pursue are true contributors, otherwise you're just throwing money away. As far as I'm concerned, the Pierre signing is still a bigger mistake than the Jones signing, because Pierre had no potential to boost the team. None. I'll accept any well-
Boras: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Manny
Tony Jackson of the Daily News has posted the long transcript of an interview that Scott Boras gave XM Satellite's Chuck Wilson today.
For those of you who usually make it to Dodger Stadium, how much do you think the struggling economy will affect your spending plans on Dodger tickets next season, if at all?
Dodgers Decline Penny's Option
The Dodgers have paid Brad Penny $2 million for the right to avoid paying him another $7 million. They have declined their contract option on Penny for the 2009 season, according to Tony Jackson of the Daily News.
The question remains how interested the Dodgers should be in signing Penny at a lesser price. In his Dodger career, Penny had a 4.07 ERA in 678 2/3 innings, striking out 6.1 batters while allowing less than one homer per nine innings. As recently as 2007, Penny posted an ERA of 3.03 and pitched in his second consecutive All-Star game. He is only 30 years old. His poor 2008 can largely be explained away by injury. But will Penny recover?
Here's the take of Dodger Thoughts commenter 68elcamino427:
The muscles in the back of his shoulder are shot. Velocity with no control. He had plenty of time off this season to see if time would heal.
Example - Grab onto a fixed object with your arm at the release point. Pull back with the tips of your fingers and feel the muscles that are flexing around the perimiter of the outside of your shoulder.
Isolate the index finger, middle finger, ring finger and thumb.
When a pitcher is throwing the ball at 92 mph, the 5.9 ounce ball has the equivalent weight of about 59 pounds because of the force that is being created by the speed of the hand attached to the ball. Pushing the ball and generating force is not the issue for Penny - he can still generate 94 mph. The issue is that he is unable to exert enough force with the muscles in the back of his shoulder to fine-tune his control around the edges of the strike zone.
This is why I feel the the $7 million "bargain" is more like lighting the money on fire by giving it to Penny.
Pretty persuasive stuff - although I don't know how sure we are that "the muscles in the back of his shoulder are shot." Penny's longest stretch between appearances last season was 54 days. That might not be enough time to consign Penny to the dustheap. It's hard for me to give up on a pitcher after one injury-plagued season, especially one who, despite a declining strikeout rate, had been effective more often than not.
There's a price that I would willingly pay for Penny's return. However, I suspect that price probably wouldn't be what Penny or his agent would expect, because I don't know how much better is Penny likely to be than a journeyman pitcher over the course of an entire season.
The Dodgers' current starting rotation is Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Clayton Kershaw, James McDonald and, unless Hong-Chih Kuo or Scott Elbert come out of the bullpen or Jason Schmidt out of unlimber limbo, Eric Stults. Although I think the talent is there, and that Stults is underrated as a back-of-the-rotation candidate, the team needs more depth. Penny is an option that should be considered - one option of many.
Hey, Maybe the Dodgers Could Field the Ball
In a bit of a turnabout, the 2008 Dodgers ranked in baseball's top 10 in defense based on one measure, David Pinto's tongue-twisting Probabilistic Model of Range at Baseball Musings.
Basically, for each fieldable (non-inside-the-park home runs) ball put in play, six parameters are used to determine how difficult it was to field the ball. A probability of turning the ball into an out is calculated, and those probabilities are summed. That gives us expected batted balls turned into outs. We turn that into a predicted DER (defensive efficiency record), compare that to the actual DER and calculate a ranking. ...
Note that a team can post a poor DER during the season, but do well in this model if the balls put into play were extremely difficult to field. ...
Basically, Pinto's system finds that the Dodgers performed better than expected on the balls in play against them. The Mets, for example, had a higher DER, but mainly as a result of an easier group of balls to field.
Over the coming weeks, Pinto will break down individual performances so that we can see where the strengths of the Dodger defense were under his system.
Martin Has Staying Power
Dodger general manager Ned Colletti has quashed the nonsensical rumors that the Dodgers were looking to trade Russell Martin, putting an end to a theoretical conversation that went something like this:
"Martin tends to slump in the second half of the season."
In the Dodger Thoughts world view, no one is ever off the trading table. You could have the best player in the world, but if there's a deal that somehow improves your team, go ahead and make it.
But the idea that the Dodgers would actively seek to unload a catcher whose only problem would appear to be, frankly, that he hasn't been able to sit still ... this just never made any sense.
* * *
As for Martin's need to rest ... I'll take this opportunity to question the conventional wisdom. Even three seasons into his career, we still don't really know what Martin's rest needs are.
In 2007, Martin's highest OPS for a month came in the dog days of August.
In 2008, a well-rested Martin had about 80 plate appearances in a month of Spring Training, skipped the China trip - then began the season 3 for 29.
It's true that Martin only hit three home runs in the second half of the 2008 season. But second-half slumps aren't limited to everyday catchers. They happen to ballplayers of every ilk.
If I were the Dodgers, yes, in 2009 I'd make an effort to rest Martin more in the first half of the season. It seems like a logical path. But I'd keep in mind that there's no guarantee this will make Martin a more effective player. The damage the rest does to his productive first halves, in terms of time missed, could outweigh the gains it provides to his second halves.
All I'm saying is that we just don't know. Let's feel free to form hypotheses. Let's keep gathering information. And we'll go from there.
Boras: Maddux Likely To Retire
Scott Boras told Joel Sherman of the New York Post (via FoxSports.com) that Greg Maddux has all but decided to rest on his considerable laurels.
"He hasn't made a final decision, but for now it is doubtful he will play (any longer)," Boras said at the GM Meetings. "As it stands now, he is not going to play."
Many of us (though perhaps not Rick Honeycutt) wonder: Will Maddux be the Dodgers' pitching coach someday?
Nonpartisan Election Chat
This thread will be dedicated to nonpartisan news and discussion of Election Day. We've done this once or twice before and it went mostly without incident. My approach toward allowing or deleting comments might be somewhat malleable, but here is the main rule: No cheering nor booing in the press box nor in the stands. I don't want to know whom you're rooting for or against. But obviously, I know that this election is on the mind of many in this community, and I hope that I can provide a calm place for chatting about it.
All regular Dodger Thoughts discussion should continue in the most active thread. As of this writing, that's the thread below this one.
Here's a topic to kick things off: I'm still upset that voters-by-mail don't get "I voted" stickers.
Rain Is Wet, Until It Dries
The idea of a neutral-site World Series has gained momentum like, well, like a bad idea rolling downhill. This weekend, Bob Timmermann offered an opposing viewpoint at The Griddle that I support.
My own thoughts? With a sound policy on rain (or snow) delays, there's no need at all to move to a neutral site. Don't want to play in the rain? Then don't play in the rain. Wait until the rain stops. The problem in the 2008 World Series wasn't with Philadelphia, it was with the various people determined to try to ignore the inevitable.
Does it really matter that Game 5 finished two days later than intended? If your choice is finishing the World Series on time or letting fans see their teams in their hometowns, do we really need to think hard about which is more important?
If baseball were to make a move toward a neutral-site World Series without doing anything to ensure games start and finish earlier so that more people can enjoy them, that would strike a new blow for disingenuousness.
* * *
Jamey Newberg (via Baseball Musings) writes about the success of Greg Maddux's older brother, ex-Dodger Mike Maddux, as a pitching coach. Mike is bound for Texas. Food-for-thought for those interested in the Dodgers retaining Greg as a player-coach.
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity