Jul 16

Cardinals can’t miss against Billingsley

One night after Clayton Kershaw had a career-low in strikeouts as a starter, Chad Billingsley matched his. For the second time in his 117 career starts, Billingsley had no strikeouts, while allowing 10 hits and two walks to the 22 batters he faced.

Billingsley was charged with seven runs in the brutal outing, and the Dodgers trailed 8-2 in the fifth inning after George Sherrill gave up a homer to Yadier Molina.

Jul 16

Manny Ramirez injured again

Manny Ramirez left tonight’s Dodger game in the first inning with right calf tightness. We don’t know yet if it’s serious enough to send him back to the disabled list, but if it is, the Dodgers face an interesting roster quandary.

With Reed Johnson already on the disabled list, the Dodgers have only one other outfielder on the 40-man roster: 22-year-old AA outfielder Trayvon Robinson. For that matter, the only other available infielder on the 40-man that’s healthy is 23-year-old Ivan DeJesus, Jr. They could activate Brad Ausmus and carry three catchers, or they could purchase the contract of someone like Jay Gibbons or John Lindsey.

Hopefully, Ramirez will only be out a short time.

Jul 16

A crisis of confidence in the 2010 Dodgers


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireManny Ramirez and the Dodgers are in the chase, but who’s up for the ride?

One of the most peculiar things to me about last season was how testy many Dodger Thoughts commenters were when things were going well.

For a Dodger team that basically won its division wire-to-wire and had the best record in the National League for almost the entire year, there was an overflow of discontent last spring and summer. The gripes could be rather specific if not downright picayune, but they were constant. Criticism of Joe Torre was ongoing. The war against Matt Kemp batting eighth took on a life of its own. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.

I pleaded with the unhappy campers to smell the roses, to accept that no team was perfect and enjoy what appeared to be the best Dodger team since at least 1988 (even accounting for Manny Ramirez’s suspension). They told me not to take anything for granted, that success didn’t eliminate the need for worry.

This year, aside from the occasional game like the Sunday night meltdown against the Yankees, things are less angsty in the comments. But weirdly, that seems to speaks to a deeper dissatisfaction in Los Angeles.

It’s just a theory, but I think that in a sense almost everyone felt that last year’s Dodger team was a special team. Or at least might be. Different people absorbed and reacted to this possibility in different ways, but overall the Dodgers’ potential seemed limitless — with even a World Series title possible if they would just not screw it up. People didn’t want to see that team wasted, and that made the stakes higher.

People don’t think this year’s team is a special team. Manny Ramirez is a year older, and Kemp’s spot in the batting order is the least of anyone’s concerns about him. There’s plenty to be happy about, but the team got off to a grim start instead of a great one, and the McCourt saga has sapped that extra bounce from everyone’s step.

Even though the Phillies seem less a threat now than they did a year ago, even though the path to the National League pennant is arguably more wide open than it was a year ago, even though the Dodgers currently sit only a half-game out of a playoff spot … no one seems all that excited.

The one fella that actually seemed to galvanize some fans was John Ely. His burst onto the scene was magical, spreading the kind of fairy dust that, accompanied by a nice month of May, made the eyes of Dodger fans twinkle. But for now, midnight has struck Ely down, and few seem very confident that we’ll make it back to the ball.

I wouldn’t have been writing this piece today if Clayton Kershaw had beaten St. Louis on Thursday, because I don’t think it would have occurred to me to do so after a victory. But I don’t think a victory would have changed the underlying feeling I’m getting. The ennui that seemed to accompany the 7-1 defeat crystallized some thoughts I’ve had percolating for a while.

After 10 or 20 years when Dodgers fans were grateful just to win a single playoff game, that’s no longer enough. They want the World Series. And with but a few exceptions, they don’t think they’re gonna get it.

It’s not that Dodger fans no longer care, or no longer desire. By and large, they just don’t believe.

Jul 15

Second half starts same as the first

A six-run loss to kick off the second half for the Dodgers tonight, 7-1, mimics the six-run loss that started the first half. And Clayton Kershaw, who failed to get out of the fifth inning in his first start of the first half, had the same problem in tonight’s second-half opener.

In fact, for the first time in his LXX-start career, Kershaw struck out only one batter.

Andre Ethier’s home run was all that saved the Dodgers from a shutout.

Pitcher-in-limbo George Sherrill faced three batters and retired two.

Jul 15

Kershaw LXX: Kershawt Tub Time Machine

What a matchup we have for you tonight, sports fans. Clayton Kershaw and Chris Carpenter in caliente conditions. Lots of good hard-c sounds there.

To make room for Manny Ramirez’s return from the disabled list, Reed Johnson was placed on the disabled list with back trouble, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Johnson last played on July 8, so he would presumably be eligible to come off the disabled list July 24. Xavier Paul and Garret Anderson get to co-exist for a little while longer.

If the Dodgers make it through tonight’s game without any injuries, it will be the second day all season that they have had a healthy top-eight starting position players, top-four starting pitchers and top-two relievers (Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo) at the same time all season. The only other time was June 28 in San Francisco, the day Chad Billingsley was activated from the DL and the day before Ramirez hurt himself in the first inning.

* * *

  • James McDonald is the scheduled starter for Albuquerque on Friday, so if he’s scratched from that start or only works for a couple innings, we should have our biggest hint yet about whether he’ll be called up to start for the Dodgers on Monday.
  • The U.S. Postal service is releasing a Negro Leagues baseball series of stamps.

* * *

Update: George Sherrill talked to David Lassen of the Press-Enterprise. Sherrill confirmed that he was placed on waivers and said he wasn’t sure what would happen next.

… ” If I go down and I’m doing OK, then I’m just kind of stuck. If I go down and look like I’ve figured it out, I could still be stuck, because you go down, and say the club rattles off like eight in a row. George who, you know?

“So you’ve got to make sure every T is crossed, I guess, and make sure everything is right for the club but also everything is right for me and and my family.”

If he clears waivers, Sherrill will have the choice of accepting a minor-league assignment, refusing it, or declaring himself a free agent. Only in the last scenario would he forfeit the remainder of this year’s $4.5 million salary.

“I’ve got to talk to my agent and just make sure what’s what and see what options we do have,” Sherrill said. “… I don’t really fully understand it. That’s kind of why you sort of have an agent, to protect us on stuff that we have no idea what’s happening. So it’s just a matter of talking to him and ironing everything out and having him talk to them and see what’s what.” …

Jul 15

Gird your loins, NL Westerners … gird your loins

ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer rounded up a series of team-by-team second-half previews for the National League. I contributed one, but it’s probably more interesting to read the others from the National League West and see that each of the teams has something to worry about.

Also, Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness gives his first-half grades to the Dodgers.

* * *

For those of you who didn’t enjoy watching LeBronarama, aka “The Decision,” you might enjoy this.

Jul 14

Reports: Sherrill could be headed off active roster via waivers

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
This guy allowed two runs with the Dodgers last year.

It hasn’t been confirmed on the record, but it is being widely reported (first by Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse, then by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com among others) that the Dodgers have place George Sherrill on outright (i.e., irrevocable) waivers.

That could mean that Sherrill (and his remaining 2010 salary) will either be claimed by another team, Sherrill will accept an assignment from the Dodgers to the minor leagues or Sherrill will elect to become a free agent. He has not necessarily thrown his last pitch for the team. We’ll know the answer within three days of the start of his placement on waivers. Jackson’s story has more details.

* * *

  • Phil Wallace wrote a really nice piece at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence, rebutting Bill Plaschke’s lionizing of Angel Stadium over Dodger Stadium in the Times.
  • The first half of Albuquerque’s season is reviewed and second half previewed by Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner.
  • Jamey Carroll talked defense with Dingers (link via Memories of Kevin Malone, which had several to choose from).
  • Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has an update on scheduling issues with the new, expanded Pac-12.
Jul 14

The Old Spice Guy wins going away


A significant part of my past two days has been spent watching the brilliant marathon project by the folks behind Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign: approximately 200 YouTube videos that responded to individual tweets on Twitter — from celebrities and unknowns alike — all turned around inside of a couple of hours. I thought some of you might enjoy reading about the story behind the campaign if you have seen it or learning about it if you haven’t. For sustained comic brilliance, it’s one of the great achievements of the year.

No problem posting this here, because the star of the campaign, Isaiah Mustafa, is wearing a Dodger T-shirt in this interview on G4 — and because of his character’s ongoing dalliance with Alyssa Milano.

Jul 14

Behind the scenes with the McCourts


Carlos Delgado/APJamie and Frank McCourt, Sept. 25, 2008

ESPN The Magazine reporter Molly Knight has devoted a fair part of her year to some investigative reporting on Frank and Jamie McCourt. Here is the published product of her efforts, which I suspect only scratches the surface of what she learned.

Knight was kind enough to take a break from the McCourt whirlwind to talk to Dodger Thoughts about the pair and their legal showdown:

Math quiz: How many hours did you spend reporting this story?

I couldn’t even begin to count. I’m sure I spent at least 60 hours talking with their lawyers alone.

So much of this case hinges on the post-nup agreement to give the real estate to Jamie and the Dodgers to Frank. What can we say for certain about its validity, and what is legitimately unresolved about it?

That it exists is the only certainty. Right now Frank and Jamie are arguing about the schedules on the back after the signature page. Schedule A is Frank’s take; schedule B is Jamie’s haul. Unfortunately for Frank, his lawyer Larry Silverstein sent a draft to Jamie via e-mail about a week before it was executed that said Frank’s take (on schedule A) excluded the Dodgers. Frank’s lawyer Stephen Susman told me that was just a typo and that it was fixed before she signed it. Yikes.

Then on March 30 – the day before they signed the marital property agreement (MPA) in Boston – Silverstein sent an e-mail to Jamie without the schedules attached. You start to get the feeling why she says she was confused.

There are six copies of the marital property agreement for some reason. Jamie signed all six in Boston. Frank signed three in Boston and three two weeks later in L.A. Those documents have been in a vault in a law office for the past six years. They were flown to Long Beach yesterday (via private plane, I’m sure) to be examined by forensic scientists. The copies Frank signed in Boston were determined not to have been tampered with. Meaning they proved that Jamie signed over the Dodgers. The copies Frank signed in L.A., however, did not have the original schedule A that was present when Jamie signed them. What I think may have happened is Silverstein realized the typo’d version not giving Frank the Dodgers had accidentally been stapled to three of them and switched them out. This could come back to kill Frank.

After spending five minutes with Jamie you can’t convince me this is a woman who would knowingly sign away the Dodgers. She wants the spotlight like Dodgers fans want Cliff Lee. Plus she’s a shrewd businesswoman. I don’t see a scenario in which she knowingly gave that up. I also don’t know that I buy Frank tricked her. I think the likeliest scenario (if she did in fact sign the MPA giving away the Dodgers) is that the family had so much to do before going to L.A. – so many papers to sign and things to pack – that she didn’t read it all the way through. I mean, when you have a stack of things on your desk to sign and you are moving cross-country the next day do you take the time to sit down and read every word? I know I wouldn’t. She may not have known she was signing away the team, but if she did sign it she’s pretty much toast. A contract is a contract.

Considering how much the McCourts borrowed, why didn’t it occur to them to maybe rein in personal expenses just a little?

They live in a different world than we do, is the best answer to that. Frank has spent his adult life borrowing Peter to pay Paul. The only thing that changed is he got his hands on some better collateral. I think they were riding the gravy train knowing that when the TV rights came up in 2013 they’d become rich beyond their wildest dreams. I also think they desperately wanted to be part of L.A.’s high society. Trouble is out here you have to be a movie star to be A-List. No one cared until this divorce hit.

Is Frank really running out of money, or is this just a shell game?

It’s not so much that he’s running out of money as it is he has no liquidity. There was a great memo I saw from Frank’s money manager in 2008 describing his “love/hate” relationship with cash. “Love to have it, hate to have it lying around.” I believe he is having a hard time paying her because he doesn’t believe in putting money in his checking account.

Was Jamie’s role with the Dodgers unclear from the start, or did it just turn out that way after she and Frank started having problems?

It was unclear from the start. I talked to a guy who was responsible for writing her bio in the media guide before the 2005 season, and he said they did it 27 or 28 times. They’d send it to her for approval and she’d send it back, etc. She was definitely very involved – probably even more so than Frank – and that might have pissed a lot of people off because they thought she gummed up the works by interjecting herself into the most random things. Another thing I heard from a few people – which didn’t make the story – is that she never bothered to learn the names of stadium employees she interacted with every day, from the security guards to the people who brought her drinks in her luxury box.

The PR department pleaded with her to take care of the people closest to her, because if you don’t do that you’re likely to get sniped. I think that’s what you’re seeing now in the press with both of them. Jamie acted a bit like Marie Antoinette (if these Dodgers employees are to be believed), and Frank created too many enemies by firing longtime Dodgers execs at will. I think that was their biggest mistake more than anything else they’ve done. They’ve created too many enemies to contain this PR nightmare. It wasn’t that hard to get people to talk.

What was her biggest impact on the organization?

I still have no idea. Oh, maybe the hiring of Ned Colletti. I’ve heard stories that she became close friends with Jeff Kent after he volunteered to help domestic violence victims as part of her WIN Initiative. Both she and Frank respected Kent’s willingness to serve the community. Jeff mentioned Ned Colletti to Jamie because he knew they were looking for a GM. Jamie suggested it to Frank. Ned killed in his interview because he didn’t ask how much money he’d have to play with. A few former execs told me all this, so take it with a grain of salt. But it starts to make sense that Kent was responsible for Colletti when you see the contract extension he was rewarded with after Colletti got there.

What was the most surprising thing you learned that you can talk about?

Besides the fact that Jamie Enterprises is 500 feet from where Frank now lives? Gosh. Um. Probably that they don’t hate each other and they’re both sad. They went to the homecoming dance together freshman year at Georgetown. Jamie told me she was ready to be with him forever until she died. That was sad. She is sad. He is sad. I asked her why they can’t just get together over a beer and put this behind them. She told me to ask Frank. Frank wouldn’t talk to me.

How shocked would we be by some of the stuff you can’t talk about?

I don’t think any of you would be shocked by anything anymore. I think your gag reflexes have been stretched.

At this point, do you expect the parties to settle?

Yeah, I do. I think the pressure to settle rises as the trial date gets closer. In addition to this being a PR nightmare, Frank has so much more to lose financially than Jamie at this point. They’re looking at staples and wondering if that MPA should be thrown out. If that happens he will be living a nightmare. I don’t think he can take that risk. If I’m Frank I pay her off with a backloaded deal. She can collect when the TV rights transfer to Frank in 2013.

Why do you think they didn’t settle this sooner, before more damage was done?

You’re asking me why Frank and Jamie are Frank and Jamie. I don’t think their split has anything to do with Jeff Fuller. I think Frank was tired of the figurative (and maybe literal) Project Jamie that was running wild on the Dodgers’ dime. I think he was annoyed that his wife considered herself the face of the Dodgers instead of, say, Andre Ethier. Eventually he’d had enough. But where he screwed up was in treating Jamie like just another adversary. This is a guy who Jamie alleges sued his own father-in-law because he didn’t want to pay him back. The man loves a lawsuit. And it’s worked out quite nicely for him, hasn’t it? He was in litigation for 17 years over a parking lot he parlayed into a baseball team. The trouble is this is the mother of his children. It doesn’t help public perception that he is a nice person.

If this goes all the way through trial, what do you think will be the ruling?

I have no idea, and neither does Frank, which is why he can’t take the risk of it going to trial. There is a chance that even if the MPA is found valid that the judge will rip it up because it’s patently unfair. (He can do that.) Jamie is the underdog, but if I’m Frank I don’t want to take any chances.

Who do you think will own the Dodgers next year? What’s going to happen to this franchise?

Frank McCourt. I think he’ll settle to get Jamie out of his hair. The franchise will probably be OK eventually. If they get back to investing in the draft and in the Latin American market, then they’ll have the prospects to trade for deadline rentals that will complement the team’s already fantastic core. At this point I think the success of the team has more to do with the performance of Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw than of Stephen Susman and David Boies. I know Dodgers fans are sick of the McCourts, but there is no guarantee that a new owner would be any better. There is no owner’s manual, and no law that says the Dodgers’ owner must spend $140 million on payroll. It will be interesting to see if Frank ups the ante when more revenue starts rolling in with the TV stuff, though. That has certainly bankrolled the Yankees’ run.

Jul 13

CSI: McCourt – If the staple’s legit, you must submit?

Frank McCourt’s camp claimed a significant victory today in his battle royale with Jamie McCourt, with two sets of forensic scientists stating that a post-nup agreement that purports to give him control of the Dodgers is legitimate, reports Molly Knight of ESPN The Magazine. But surprise – Camp Jamie said, “Not so fast.”

… The agreement was extracted from a vault at the Boston law firm of Bingham McCutchen and examined by scientists from each team in Los Angeles on Tuesday.Jamie McCourt’s lawyers content that there are six different copies of the document, and tests show that three of them — signed at a different time than the other three, the lawyers said — did not include Schedule A when Jamie McCourt signed them. Schedule A lists the assets Frank McCourt claims he is entitled to — including the Dodgers.

Susman said the scientists found the document contained the original staple from 2004. In addition, an imprint of Jamie McCourt’s signature was determined to exist on the page that names Frank as sole owner — a potentially devastating blow to Jamie’s chances of being given half the team in the divorce settlement.

“We’ve got the same staple and her signature on something she claims she never signed,” says (McCourt lawyer Stephen) Susman. “Which proves all along she was not telling the truth.”

Jamie McCourt’s lawyers contend that because Larry Silverstein, the lawyer who drafted the document, has testified that he went over it with Jamie, he may have gone over a different version than the one signed by Frank McCourt. …

Frank McCourt still has other hurdles he must clear to walk away with the team after this goes to trial on Aug. 30, including Judge Scott Gordon’s right to throw the marital property agreement out on the basis of its fairness: The Dodgers are estimated to be worth nearly $800 million, and the team will be worth much more than that when it regains broadcasting rights from Fox in 2013.

If the team is able to establish a television station akin to the Yankees’ YES Network, it could potentially generate billions of dollars in revenue. The homes Jamie McCourt would walk away with would be worth around $100 million. …

Oh by the way — there’s more. Frank McCourt claimed in court today that his personal liquidity is down to $600,000 and that he borrowed money from his brother to make his latest monthly $650,000 spousal support payment to Jamie. (But, of course, we’re told that the Dodgers’ finances are not entwined with those of McCourt.)

Read the full story here.

Jul 13

Count it for Broxton and the NL: 3-1


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJonathan Broxton and Brian McCann shake on it.

Coast to coast, Jonathan Broxton naysayers revved their engines as he came out to save for the National League against the American League in tonight’s All-Star game.

And coast to coast Broxton silenced them, at least until the fall.

Whether Broxton truly stripped away any of the cynics’ ammunition in preserving the NL’s 3-1 victory – the NL’s first victory since 1996 – is doubtful. If the Dodgers are fortunate enough to play in October, the doubters will surely return, because past success has never slowed the cynics before.

But considering the alternative, Team Broxton will take it.

“It felt awesome,” a smiling Broxton told Fox’s Eric Karros after the game.

Employed as closer by the manager who profited from Broxton’s twin NLCS disappointments, Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel, Broxton raised the stakes with his first pitch, lined to right field by David Ortiz. That brought up former Dodger Adrian Beltre, in his first All-Star game. Broxton blew Beltre away on three fastballs between 97 and 99 miles per hour.

Broxton then started John Buck off with three balls that missed, followed by two fastballs for strikes. Buck hit the next pitch as a blooper to right, and it looked like the NL would be victimized by their maligned outfield defense. But Marlon Byrd fielded the ball on a bounce and quickly and alertly fired to Rafael Furcal covering second base for a 9-6 forceout – a huge play that wiped out what would have been an unlucky hit.

Ian Kinsler then hit a high fly to center field, which Chris Young of Arizona gloved for the final out. And Broxton could wear the All-Star S across his big chest.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Hong-Chih Kuo

Short of a blown save for Broxton, a Kuworst-case scenario seemed to be ripening for Dodger fans midgame, when Hong-Chih Kuo walked the leadoff American League batter in the fifth inning, made a throwing error that put runners at first and third and then surrendered a deep sacrifice fly that scored the game’s first run.

But Brian McCann provided the relief (if sadly reminding us that we used to think Russell Martin was a better-hitting catcher not too long ago) with a bases-clearing double in the seventh inning, taking Kuo off the hook.

McCann also relieved himself, if you will, from an earlier disappointment. In the top of the fifth, Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier (1 for 2) had a chance to be a hero when he lined a single to right field with David Wright on second base. But the ball was hit too hard for Wright to be sent home. Corey Hart struck out, and McCann then flied out to strand the two runners.

Kuo faced four batters and retired two, throwing 18 pitches. Furcal walked in his only plate appearance, before getting in position to complete the key play of the game in the ninth.

Jul 13

Andre Ethier and the proving ground


Kirby Lee/US PresswireAndre Ethier has earned the right to smile.

I think Andre Ethier has some of me in him.

I have high expectations of myself. I have a sense of pride in my abilities, but at the same time, frustration when I am not equal to the task before me. I get angry when I fail, and then the questioning of my self-worth revives.

I want people to know that I know that my failings are unacceptable, and sometimes there isn’t a graceful way to do that. If I know that I’m making my best effort, if I know I’m capable of better, and if the people around me know these things, then this shouldn’t be a problem.

But sometimes, I just feel like I have to keep proving myself — to myself and to others. And that’s when the frustration comes out for everyone to see.

I’m glad that Ethier is having his moment in the sun today — and surely hope that it isn’t clouded by playing out of position in center field. I hope that he can revel in this honor, because the next proving ground is just around the corner.

Congratulations, Andre.

* * *

National League at American League, 5:00 p.m.

Jul 13

Dodgers to sell some Field Level seats at $5 for kids

The Dodgers announced today that for remaining home games this season, fans can buy Loge and Field Level seats for kids 14-and-under for $5 with each adult ticket purchase. (The fine print is this: Availability begins two hours prior to game time, maximum of two $5 tickets per customer.)

So, if you time it right, you can pay $130 for your Field Level MVP seat or $35 for your garden-variety Loge seat and then $5 for your kid’s seat. More details here.