May 06

The original Los Angeles Dodger rookie sensation was Dick Gray

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Four players in Los Angeles Dodger history have homered four times in their first 10 career games. You’re probably quite familiar with three of them: Matt Kemp in 2006, Yasiel Puig in 2013 and Cody Bellinger, who delivered his second two-homer game of the past week Friday in the Dodgers’ 8-2 victory at San Diego.

Before them, there was Dick Gray, who not only homered four times in his first 10 games, he did so in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ first 10 games ever.

Most total bases, first 10 games, Los Angeles Dodgers

Most total bases, first 10 games, Los Angeles Dodgers

Gray was truly the original rookie supernova for the Dodgers after they moved west from Brooklyn. After the Dodgers were shut out in their West Coast debut at San Francisco on April 15, Gray delivered Los Angeles’ first home run, run and RBI in the second inning of their 13-1 victory over the Giants, part of a 3-for-6 day.

The 26-year-old third baseman also hit the first Dodger homer in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum history on April 18, then hit another the next game. By the time he hit his fourth home run in the Dodgers’ ninth game on April 27, he was batting .382/.475/.735/1.210.

Unfortunately, little went right for Gray as a Dodger after that. While making a diving stop of a Bill Mazeroski grounder April 29, Gray jammed his finger. He found himself in a 4-for-32 slump thereafter (albeit with three triples), and with the Dodgers in a six-game losing streak, was optioned along with pitchers Danny McDevitt and Roger Craig to St. Paul.

Gray returned two weeks later and had another mini-hot streak, going 9 for 18 with a homer and three doubles in his first four games, May 28-31. But over the next two months, he hit .204/.291/.381/.672, and he was sent back to St. Paul. He didn’t return for the remainder of the season.

In 1959, Gray hit .154/.241/.288/.530 in 21 games before being traded to St. Louis for Chuck Essegian (who, like Mickey Hatcher in 1988, hit one regular-season homer for the Dodgers in 1959 but two World Series homers) and Lloyd Merritt, and his big-league career ended one year later.

May 02

A long-lost moment from a crazy 1982 season

The three-way 1982 NL West race was unforgettable, but we usually hear the story from the Dodger perspective, with a touch of San Francisco. Here is a wide-ranging look from the Atlanta side, thanks to this history (written by Jason Foster for The Sporting News) of a season-long documentary being made about the team.

Included is the video above of a Dodgers-Braves controversy I had no memory of …

During a crucial game against the Dodgers, Torre went ballistic over an umpire’s decision to send a runner back to third, rather than allow him to score, after a portion of a wall in foul territory collapsed and sent fans spilling onto the field.

Torre didn’t hold back, unleashing a colorful tirade that almost certainly would get a manager ejected today, but brought no repercussions in 1982.

Diamond, listening in real time on a headset, looked to audio engineer Ken Noland with an expression that said both, “Can you believe we’re getting this?!” and “Good luck editing that.”

“We really had to bleep that out,” Diamond said with a laugh. “I remember back in the edit room, in the audio room, that took us a few days to go through that and take all the … language out.”

Do read Foster’s entire story, which among other things, introduces a surprise narrator for the documentary whom Dodger fans will appreciate.

Apr 09

What the 1959 World Series meant to Los Angeles

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From the October 17, 1959 issue of The New Yorker: 

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“To a New Yorker, observes our man — a Manhattanite of long standing — the warmth of the embrace with which Los Angeles has hugged the Dodgers to its bosom is impressive, for while Brooklyn used to hold the Dodgers in affection, Los Angeles seems to hold them almost in awe. It would be hard to imagine any Angeleno, these giddy days, referring to the team as bums. And the city’s respectful adoration does not stem merely from the circumstance that a World Series has finally been staged in this palmy setting. Rather, it appears that the Dodgers have given the land of make-believe something real to cling to. “It’s not our feelings about baseball that have us all stirred up,” one reasonably old-time settler said the other day. “It’s that this cockeyed, sprawling place has finally had a chance to become a unified city. It’s the first time Los Angeles ever had a chance to become anything.”

Apr 02

Your guide to enjoying the 2017 Dodger season

Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

Hi, everybody!

It’s me, alive and well. I’m two months into my job at Showtime, which means I’m two months removed from blogging about the Dodgers. (That blogging time has been rededicated to working on my upcoming Dodger-themed book, details of which will be revealed in the coming months.)

After covering the Dodgers on a daily basis for most of the past 15 years, I haven’t minded a break from the grind. But I will say that whenever I see a shot of a beautiful baseball diamond, at Camelback Ranch or at Dodger Stadium, I sigh a little bit. It’s possible that I’ve missed the ballpark more than I’ve missed the games.

I’ve got a good feeling about this year’s Dodgers, who are both deep and talented. That’s not to say they don’t have weaknesses, or that the Cubs have gone away, but the Dodgers probably have as good a chance to go the World Series — and win — as they’ve had in the post-1988 era.

As the headline shows, the main reason for this post was to provide a quick guide to enjoying the 2017 Dodger season. So let’s get to it …

1) The Dodgers will lose at least 60 games this year. Probably a bit more. Some of those losses will be in a row. You know those losses are coming. Don’t freak out about them.

2) Great players will have terrible games. Good players will have terrible months. That’s baseball. That’s allowed. Again, big picture.

3) When you focus on the Dodgers’ problems, don’t forget that other teams have problems as well. For example, the Giants begin the season with Matt Cain as their No. 5 starter. The Cubs’ starting rotation includes 38-year-old John Lackey and the injury-prone Brett Anderson, with nothing like the pitching depth the Dodgers have behind them. Those two guys could have great seasons, and the Cubs also have the organizational depth to make a trade. But it’s not like the Dodgers’ rivals have nothing to worry about.

4) This Dodger team not only has the potential National League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player award winners, it’s got talent up and down the roster — the best in baseball, according to Fangraphs. And, it’s a likable bunch, led by a manager who could be here for 20 years or more. Savor that.

5) At the end of each day, it’s a game. No, really, it is. We all want to win, but if you’re angry for more than a minute after it’s over, you’re doing baseball wrong. Have fun! (And don’t be obnoxious on Twitter and Facebook …)

Happy 2017!

P.S. Celebrate Opening Day by buying my book — the one I’ve already written — 100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. About 98 of them are still alive and well!

Feb 26

Wrapping up the films of 2016 on Oscar Sunday

Loving

By Jon Weisman

It was a full sprint at the finish line, but even in a busy year in which I only saw a baker’s dozen of live-action movies, I did manage to get to all nine Oscar nominees for best picture. That’s the first time that’s happened since I left Variety.

I’m glad I did. Usually, there’s at least one nominee in the bunch that I find inexplicable, if not horrible. But I had positive feelings about every nominee, all the way to Hacksaw Ridge, which I had been avoiding until it became the final unseen nominee on my list. The initial plotting in Hacksaw is somewhat by the numbers, but it’s a powerful story and it more than does its job of making you feel both the horrors and heroism of war.

Still, my favorite movie of the year is La La Land, and I’m not dissuaded by the backlash that complained about its supposed superficiality or the quality of the singing. The film resonates with me today, months after having seen it, and is more complex than many of its critics give it credit for. I don’t buy the argument that you have to have Broadway voices to make a musical sing. In many people’s eyes, the best picture race has come down to La La Land vs. Moonlight, and I don’t begrudge those hoping Moonlight takes the big prize. But as much as I appreciated the latter, La La Land is triumphant for me. Of course, I’m someone who was also happy with The Artist and The King’s Speech, which from every story that I’ve read about them over the past few years, you’re not allowed to like at all.

The most underrated movie of the year for me is Loving, whose omission from the Oscar picture nominations is hardest for me to understand. It’s an important story, the execution of that story is essentially flawless, and it’s the kind of story that should fit into the Academy’s wheelhouse. In a year of big stories told intimately, Loving was the best of any that I saw. Jeff Nichols, who also wrote and directed Mud and Take Shelter, deserved better. The Lobster is another movie that was worthy of best picture consideration, though it’s far easier to understand why it didn’t get a foothold with the Academy beyond an original screenplay nomination.

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If I were limited to a top five, it would be La La Land, Loving, Moonlight, Lion and Arrival. Lion was a satisfying movie experience from start to finish. Arrival began slowly for me but finished strong, leaving a deep impression.

Heading into Manchester by the Sea, I expected I was about to see the year’s best picture winner. And while it was well done — with Michelle Williams’ performance stealing the show — it was a movie that I was done with about as soon as I walked out of the theater. At the time, I was watching the final season of AMC’s Rectify, which had the quiet lead character with a troubled past like Manchester but was doing it much more compellingly, week after week, and Manchester suffered by comparison. It deserves its best picture nomination, but not the Oscar.

I have no complaints about the film adaptation of Fences other than what happens with Denzel Washington, my pick to win best actor, in the final stretch. I know that’s part of the point of the story (and it gives supporting-actress favorite Viola Davis one last moment to show she wasn’t a supporting actress), but it just seemed to leave a hole in the production where a punch should have been. Hell or High Water was strong — a Bonnie and Clyde for the post-recession era — and with Manchester, Lobster, Fences and Hacksaw, it takes a spot in my top 10 ahead of Hidden Figures, which also has a great story but presents it in a clumsier fashion than some of the others. In particular, the story of Octavia Spencer’s character, who is treated as a glorified administrator for virtually the entire film when she was so much more, really seems to get short shrift.

The two other live-action movies I saw were also completely entertaining. Florence Foster Jenkins was a good watch — as old hat as it is for Meryl Streep to get an Oscar nomination, it doesn’t come by accident. Meanwhile, Simon Helberg and Hugh Grant are also really terrific and help make the film a winner. And I’ll also throw some positive support behind Eddie the Eagle, which we saw on something of a lark early in 2016. The movie knows what it is — it doesn’t try to make itself into something grand, but it also isn’t stupid. If you catch this one on the small screen, I’ll bet you enjoy it.

I’m not nearly as positive on the animated films from 2016 I saw this year. While not as good as top animated films of past years, Moana is the best of this year’s bunch, by several degrees, and yet the broad consensus is that it will lose best animated feature to Zootopia, which was forgettable. Kubo and the Two Strings had a good story, but the anglicized voice acting significantly undermined it. Finding Dory, Trolls and The Angry Birds Movie did little more for me than pass the time with my kids.

Dec 06

Root Beer reviews: AJ Stephans

IMG_2519While many root beers strive to make a bold statement, sometimes to the point of being the blue-tuxedoed uncle at your best friend’s wedding, AJ Stephans is daring only in its restraint. It dials back the sweetness and doesn’t linger, living extremely in the moment, not like a brash teenage snowboarder but rather a delicate piccolo artist inhaling each note, otherwise rapidly forgotten. Lack of edge prevents it from reaching the top tier, but unpretentiousness prevents it from sinking to the bottom.

Sampling date: December 1, 2015

Ingredients: Pure carbonated water, cane sugar, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, citric acid, sodium benzoate

Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 175 calories, 0 grams fat, 44 grams sugar, 30 milligrams sodium, 0 grams protein

Headquarters: Orange, Massachusetts

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer
4) Sparky’s Root Beer
5) AJ Stephans Root Beer
6) River City Root Beer
7) Cool Mountain Root Beer
8) Rat Bastard Root Beer 

Dec 04

Root beer reviews: Sparky’s

Sparky IMG_2499After a short 39-month hiatus, I’m pleased to return with the seventh in my series of root beer reviews.

Sparky’s Fresh Draft Root Beer is a line-drive base hit, nothing unconventional, nothing that would bring a crowd to its feet, but neither a routine grounder to the right side for an out. Its engine revs at the outset of each sip, coasting into a pinching sweetness that is more cocky than coy.

Sampling date: November 30, 2015

Ingredients: Carbonated filtered water, pure cane sugar, honey, natural and imitation flavorings, spices, sodium benzoate to preserve freshness, phosphoric acid and caramel color

Nutritional information: Not provided

Headquarters: Pacific Grove, California

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer
4) Sparky’s Root Beer
5) River City Root Beer
6) Cool Mountain Root Beer
7) Rat Bastard Root Beer

Feb 27

My favorite films of 2013

Well, this puts a period on the sentence that was my last big paragraph of filmgoing for a while.

Now that I’m working for the Dodgers, my years of going to movies by the bushel will take a break. I saw nearly 60 of 2013’s films, but that number is going to come crashing down in 2014.

So for perhaps the last time for a while, here is my annual ranking of the films, using the system I designed long ago.

As I’ve said before, it’s a system that is decidedly personal, because film is decidedly personal.  I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “best” film, but only a “favorite” film, because what we bring to a film and what we desire from it is so idiosyncratic.  Here’s the boilerplate explanation:

Ambition (1-7): How much the film is taking on, in subject matter and in filming challenges?

Quality (1-10): As objective as I can be, how well do I think the film succeeds in achieving its ambitions?

Emotional resonance (1-13): How much did the film affect me personally. This category gets the most weight because it’s the most important – I’d rather see a flawed film that touches me than a technically perfect but emotionally stultifying picture.

Two last quick points: I wouldn’t get caught up in single-point distinctions – those don’t amount to a significant difference between films. I could tinker with the grades every time I revisit the list.

If you want to look back, here are four past charts: my favorite films of 201220112010 and 2006.

I will say this – I’m less enchanted with my system than I have been in the past. I don’t tend to award much variance in ambition, and I’m having more trouble distinguishing between objective quality and emotional resonance. But this isn’t the time I’m going to change things up, so here we go …

2013 A O ER T Comment
Blue Is the Warmest Color 3.5 9.5 10.5 23.5 Loved the deep, patient exploration of the arc of a relationship – it at once had an intimate and epic feel.
Gravity* 5 8.5 10 23.5 No film mixes cinematic and spiritual ambition better this year. A thriller in more ways than one.
Short Term 12 4 9.5 10 23.5 Spot-on great storytelling of both a character and a place.
Much Ado About Nothing 4 8.5 10.5 23 A movie that I found easy to cherish – a loving and lovable homage with its own originality.
12 Years a Slave* 4.5 9 9 22.5 Unassailable in its worth and inner integrity. I can’t explain why at times I felt numb. “Roots” had more impact.
Her 4 8.5 10 22.5 Takes what could have been a sitcom story and turns it into something extraordinary and moving.
Saving Mr. Banks 4 8.5 10 22.5 Strong movie throughout, and the stuff about the flawed fathers got to me.
Captain Phillips 4 8.5 8.5 22 Intense. Hanks builds to some phenomenal moments. Somali parts well-played.
Dallas Buyers Club* 4 9 9 22 Legitimately strong story that should transcend qualms about who the protagonist is. Leto is amazing in it.
The Way Way Back 4 8.5 9 22 Touching and sincere.
August: Osage County* 4 8.5 9 21.5 Adeptly juggles numerous stories and got at the true contradictions of family life and love. Underrated at Toronto.
Mud 3.5 9 9 21.5 Really engrossing story, superbly acted by the kids. Troubled somewhat by the ending.
The Past 4 9 8.5 21.5 Another complex multi-person relationship drama. Tough but good.
The Place Beyond the Pines 3.5 9 8 21.5 Very strong, though Mendes’ character would have benefited from more development.
All Is Lost 4 8 9 21 Taut and nearly silent, but the main question was, why wasn’t their cursing in every minute?
Inside Llewyn Davis 4 8 9 21 A good personal journey movie, that maybe stops short of the knockout punch its ending should have.
Frozen 4 8 8.5 20.5 Definitely more depth than advertised, but also strong in humor and music. Didn’t quite get why secret had to be a secret.
The Wolf of Wall Street 4 8.5 8 20.5 As a comedy, very ambitious with some great moments, but also lagged for me in places.
What Maisie Wants 4 7.5 7.5 20.5 A rough story to tell but it works.
The Iceman 3 9 8 20 Rock solid, with Michael Shannon giving dominant performance.
Blue Jasmine 4 7.5 8 19.5 Hits some great notes – liked even if I didn’t love.
Despicable Me 2 3.5 8 8 19.5 Worked very well – I think I liked it more than the original.
Enough Said 3.5 7.5 8.5 19.5 Loved the exploration of a mature relationship, just wish big reveal hadn’t been so delayed and sitcommy. I miss Gandolfini.
Prisoners 4 8.5 7 19.5 Strong, gritty movie, a little slow-paced in first half but pays off.
Stories We Tell 3.5 8 8 19.5 A really interesting film if a bit rough around the edges.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby* 4 7 8.5 19.5 Liked the material overall and the two-part experiment, but not convinced it wouldn’t be better as one piece.
Fruitvale Station 3.5 7.5 8 19 Narrowly focused but important and heartbreaking.
How I Live Now* 4 7 8 19 The quest is a weird one, but it’s a beguiling fantasy.
Labor Day* 3.5 7.5 8 19 Liked this maybe more than I should – kind of a indie-spirit Hallmark movie.
The Armstrong Lie 3.5 8.5 7 19 The crazy denial comes to life.
The Short Game 3 8 8 19 Funny to see this at around the same time as “Bad Words.”
42 3 7.5 8 18.5 Liked the acting more than the script – mostly a paint-by-numbers telling of a great story.
Nebraska 3 8 7.5 18.5 Might be selling short its ambition, but though I enjoyed it, not sure what it adds up to.
Philomena 3 8 7.5 18.5 Pretty intimate and well-told story.
The Spectacular Now 3.5 8 8 18.5 Touching. Liked that drinking was key element but not central. Shailene Woodley too adorable to be an outcast, though.
Admission 3.5 6.5 8 18 Underrated – didn’t all ring true, but hard not to notice the attempt.
Bad Words* 3 7 8 18 At times profane for the sake of it, but among the most fun films of the year.
Can a Song Save a Life* 4 7 7 18 The joy of making music. Even its darkness is kind of bright. Tremendously likeable.
Casting By 3 8 7 18 Nice piece of work on an area that deserves attention.
In a World … 3 8 7 18 Fun story and a nice showcase for Lake Bell.
Picture Day 3.5 7.5 7 18 Tatiana Maslany expectedly adorable, and it was an interesting (and slightly strange) ride.
The Invisible Woman 3 8 7 18 Solid period piece, with Fiennes beguiling as Dickens.
To the Wonder 3.5 6.5 8 18 Eloquent, beautiful love story sandbagged by inexplicable lack of attention to Affleck’s character.
Out of the Furnace 3.5 7 7 17.5 More true grit, a la Prisoners, which perhaps was better because its antagonist was better.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler 4 6 7 17 Worthy subject and occasionally moving but far too on the nose in places.
Night Moves* 3.5 7 6.5 17 Low, low-key film struggles toward the end after it all goes down.
Rush* 4 7 6 17 Beautifully shot with good lead performances, but fairly conventional storytelling for a sports film.
The Croods 3 7 7 17 Ends on a good note but kind of tedious in the midsection.
Turbo 3 7 7 17 No great leap but a likable enough tale.
American Hustle 3.5 7 6 16.5 I’m probably being harsh on it, but was not involved in the story until the final hour, and it didn’t stick with me after.
Austenland 3.5 6.5 6 16 Points for the ambiguity in the love story, points against for its clumsiness.
Oz the Great and Powerful 4 5.5 5 15.5 Uninvolving script and really questionable casting.
Monsters University 3 7 5 15 Harmless but pointless for me.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone 3 5 6 14 Gross miscalculations about Carell, Carrey and Wilde characters undermined what might’ve been a really good comedy.
Spring Breakers 3.5 5 5 13.5 Certainly not your typical Spring Break movie, certainly stylish, but did not make me care at all. This year’s emperor with no clothes.
Planes 3 5 4 13 A sorrowful rehash of past aspirational animations.
Before Midnight 3 5.5 4 12.5 Pretentious as ever in the first half, hardly groundbreaking in the big fight in the second. The love for these films remains mystifying.
Dom Hemingway* 3 4 3 10 Aside from a couple good moments, thought this was pretty much flatulent.
You Are Here* 3 3.5 3.5 10 Matthew Weiner’s feature was the biggest disappointment of the year.

*Seen at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival

Dec 09

The next big move – going to work for the Blue

Any of you who have been reading Dodger Thoughts for some length of time have by now grown accustomed to change, whether it’s personal to me (my three children have been born since I launched the site 11 1/2 years ago) or the site changing hosts no fewer than five times.

Maybe this is the biggest change of all.

I have left my full-time job at Variety to join the Dodgers themselves as director of digital and print content.

I will be writing plenty over there, as part of an overall series of duties that involves managing and producing content for the Dodgers’ publications and website.

As you can imagine, it’s an opportunity that was too intriguing and exciting for me to pass up, which is why I’m willing to give up the longest job I’ve ever held, a position at Variety that has brought me more great memories than I can begin to mention and placed me among a group of colleagues that have been such a pleasure to be with.

It’s also why I’m willing to put Dodger Thoughts in storage – though again, this isn’t exactly as newsworthy as it might have been, before I essentially took a vacation during the 2012-13 offseason, to focus on an extremely busy awards season for Variety. I did find a rebirth on Dodger Thoughts during the 2013 baseball season, but it was always in competition with the other directions I’ve been pulled in.

So while it would be premature to get into specifics about my new duties with the Dodgers, I can say that one of the greatest appeals for me is that for the first time, writing about the Dodgers will move from avocation to vocation, from hobby to primary activity.

I’ll feel safe using Vin Scully (my new colleague!) as my role model. I’ll consider it my job, as an employee of the Dodgers, to inform and to entertain, in service of the organization. You can be sure I’ll be taking that responsibility very seriously. But don’t worry – we’ll have plenty of fun along the way. There’ll be no shortage of insights or stories, great and small.

As always, thanks for your support, whether it’s been for 11 minutes or 11 years (you know who you are). I’ll be working fast to get up to speed in my new office at Chavez Ravine, and I’ll certainly tell people here when I start to have something to show you there. In the meantime:

• Since this move puts the Dodger Thoughts community in flux, reader Linkmeister has once again invited people to come hang out at his blog, Elysian Fields.
• In addition, please follow me on Twitter at @jonweisman for updates.

Thanks again!

Nov 17

Pies, nuts and O’Malleys

So much in Los Angeles changes fast. Treasure the good things that don’t.

“Hello, Doris!” goes the chorus of regulars at the Original Farmers Market, when they stop by to see Doris Perez, who has been there as long as they know. …

… On a recent Saturday morning, after flipping on the lights and tying a black apron over her crisp white shirt, the 78-year-old, who has 4 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, set to work arranging the jams, knickknacks and nut butters in precise stacks and V-patterns on almost every inch of countertop.

“Top of the morning!” said a kind-looking man in a khaki windbreaker just as she was finishing up.

“And the rest of the day to you!” she chimed back to Peter O’Malley.

The former Dodgers owner, old-fashioned and courtly, likes to stop in to see Perez as his father, Walter, did before him. (Walter was partial to Du-par’s chicken pies, she says: “He used to buy them by the dozen.”) …

Nina Lelyveld in the Times, “Dishing up cheer for 50 years at Farmers Market”

Nov 15

The ‘Wallflower Syndrome’ Award Goes to ‘Short Term 12’

A year ago, I published a couple of pieces for Variety on what I called “The Wallflower Syndrome,” named in honor of 2012’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and describing films that weren’t getting the awards consideration they deserved, in large part because they didn’t have the right pedigree, or they simply weren’t loud enough to grab people’s attention.

Wallflower Syndrome plagues Oscars

More musings about the Oscars and the Wallflower Syndrome

This year, I’m making “Short Term 12” winner of my just-formed 2013 Wallflower Syndrome Award. It’s a wonderful movie, with an absolutely superb performance from Brie Larson, that really should be seen and considered with the best film work of the year.