Oct 15

October 15 playoff chat: Kirk’s homer turns 22

Yankees at Rangers, 5 p.m.

On the 22nd anniversary of “improbable … impossible,” here’s a link to Joe Posnanski’s post this week about 32 great calls in sports history. I’m amazed to say I was actually watching more than half of these as they aired: 32, 31, 27, 26, 24, 23 (no sound, in a bar), 22, 21, 20 (different announcer), 19, 18, 13, 12b (different announcer), 10c (different announcer), 9, 8, 5, 1.

Oct 14

Community ownership of the Dodgers: Bad idea or worst idea?

I give all due credit to Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News for raising the topic of community ownership of the Dodgers and giving it a realistic appraisal. It has generated a lot of online conversation, which you can follow at his blog, Farther Off the Wall.

Having said that, can I tell you just how much I hate this idea?  I don’t just mean that it’s unrealistic, which it is, as pretty much everyone concedes.  I mean it is really, really unappealing to me.

Don’t construe my response as an endorsement of anyone named McCourt as owner – far from it. But fan ownership to me is completely not the answer in my mind. It is the fire that has the potential to make the frying pan look comfy.

Has everyone gotten amnesia about what it’s like when a group of Dodger fans talk about what’s best for the team? Opinions, to eschew a coarser term, are like snowflakes – none are the same. Now imagine millions of them at once. The cacophony of disagreement would be deafening. And yet somehow, a person or persons hired by the fans to run the team would somehow transcend all of this and make everyone happy? I’m not buying that for a second. Yes, they would put the Dodgers’ interests over swimming pools, but the thrill would end there.

The last thing I want to do is make this a political discussion, but as an example, we do gather as a community and choose someone to run something rather near and dear to us – it’s called the city of Los Angeles. And as we can say, some things would get solved, but it’s not like all our problems go away. Given the impatience of most of the fan base in Los Angeles, the instability for the Dodgers in almost every aspect of the organization would probably be like nothing we’ve ever seen before (which is saying something in this era). In my mind, community ownership would essentially turn the Dodgers into a political football – a sport I have no interest seeing the team play.

The best hope for the Dodgers is for a responsible ownership to come in and support a responsible front office. That in itself is much easier said than done, but whatever happens, if we have stuff to complain about, at least we’d be complaining at them, not at each other. On the upside, we could end up with something like the Lakers, whom I think are fine to consider a role model in this respect – not perfect, but much better than what a few million co-owners would achieve.

My vision of community ownership brings to mind the final moments of “The Graduate,” with Ben and Elaine on the bus, having finally gotten together, and saddled with those gloomy “Now what?” expressions on their faces. And even so, I give Ben and Elaine more hope than I’d give the fans who own the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Oct 14

Hustle and flow: The mental game, John Wooden, Matt Kemp and me


One Friday in the summer of 1977, I won an award named after the legend who was born 100 years ago today. The John Wooden Basketball Camp Special Award was given to one member of each of the camp’s basketball teams who best exemplified the values of Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.


Future non-star.

I was 9 1/2 years old, heading into fifth grade, and had been dribbling a basketball (originally with two hands but more recently with one) for five years or more. But I had not made a lot of progress as far as putting the ball in the basket. I was almost unconscionably short, I’m guessing about 4-foot 4 or so, and that 10-foot hoop was still miles high in the sky. As far as playing the game, I was still trying to figure so many things out. And so that week on the campus of Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, I was quite possibly the least talented basketball player in that entire camp, or at least among them.

I think we played about five games in our little camp league that week, and our team’s coach, whom I actually don’t have any bad memories of, decided at about Game 2 that I should play safety. Yes, safety, and by that I mean, he came to the conclusion that offense was such a pointless endeavor for me that I was better off just being on defense. So he designated that I shouldn’t cross the halfcourt line when our team had the ball. He played four-on-five, while I waited for the other team to bring the ball back my way. The game looked pretty interesting from the backcourt …

And then, one time, an opposing player stole the ball. How I remember it, that kid racing (as much as 9-year-olds raced) down the left side of the outdoor court, parallel to some Cal Lutheran dormitories, with only me between him and the basket. I sped up to match him stride for stride. He drove in for his layup, and I leaped up next to him – we’re talking four, five, six inches in the air at least – and tipped the ball away. Clean, pure, perfect. My first extraordinary moment on a basketball court.

Foul!

The referee, some guy whom I’d guess was about 16, whistled me for a shooting foul. I was in utter disbelief. I cried out in protest, and was immediately warned not to argue. You didn’t argue a call at John Wooden Basketball Camp.  I shut my mouth, bitterly, crestfallen that my moment – my moment – had been taken away from me. I looked around, and I’m not sure anyone really believed that I had been robbed, because I’m not sure anyone believed I was capable of having a moment to rob.

My milli-spark of rebellion was an aberration, and it did not prevent me from receiving the Wooden Basketball Camp Special Award, the award praising me for my industriousness, cooperation, ambition and so forth. True, I wasn’t showing much confidence or competitive greatness, but I meant well. I won it, and I accepted it, took a little pride in it, put it on a wall in my bedroom at home and kept it in a box through my adulthood.

There was no mistaking, then or now, that this award was a consolation prize. Practically a booby prize. It’s not that it didn’t mean something. It was a reward for not giving up. But why would I have given up? The implicit answer was that I as a basketball player, I was that bad.

There wasn’t a person who received the John Wooden Basketball Camp Special Award who wouldn’t have traded it on sight for just being a little better naturally at actually playing basketball.

* * *

Ed Andrieski/APMatt Kemp slaps his bat after one of his 170 strikeouts in 2010.

The Dodgers’ 2010 season was defined by two kinds of players: Jamey Carroll and Matt Kemp. Carroll, the overachiever who hustled. Kemp, the underachiever who … well, we really don’t know exactly what he was doing. And that’s the reason for this story.

I am someone who has always had, almost without exception, what adults would call a good attitude toward work. Rarely in my life has my effort been questioned. This is true despite the fact that even before I became aware of it, it has been my goal to do more with less. I’m not a show-my-work guy. I just want it to be easy.

I’m practically a lifelong skier, for example, having taken my first lesson 35 years ago, when I was 7. To this day, I challenge myself, seeking out the hardest possible runs I can, but I don’t do it for the sake of the work. I do it for the sake of the accomplishment. I want to glide, always glide. I want to be a natural.

But I was not a natural, never. Skiing is my best sport, but it has taken me all 35 years to get to the level of ability I’m at today. In my 20s, trying to impress myself and more importantly, trying to impress girls, I was OK, but I wasn’t impressing anyone. I had to grind and grind away at it.

There’s a widespread assumption that Kemp has had things too easy in his athletic life, and that this year he paid a price for it. I think that’s probably both truth and fallacy there. Kemp has made athletics a daily part of his life for probably 20 years or more now, ultimately at a level of intensity that most of us can’t relate to. The idea that Kemp hasn’t worked to get to where he is today couldn’t be more ignorant.

But Kemp undoubtedly, more than anyone sitting at a computer reading this piece, is a natural at sports – even at the game of baseball at which he can sometimes seem clunky. He was a basketball star in high school. He reached the professional level in his No. 2 sport at age 21. He got Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards as presents for his 25th birthday. Generally, Kemp has probably found throughout his life that if he worked a certain amount, he would get better, and that any setbacks were temporary. You grow accustomed to that pace.

Relatively speaking, Kemp is a natural, and it’s completely understandable that he would take pride in that. I know I would. Making it look easy? Come on. How could you not feel good about that? Of course you’d find self-worth in that.

Hustle is great, but not needing to hustle, not needing to make that extra, tear-yourself-up effort, not needing to be told what to do, that can be pretty spectacular. That is a rush and a half. Who wouldn’t become addicted to it? And addictions are not something you easily shed overnight.

* * *

Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesHappy birthday, Mr. Wooden

OK, there have been times I have actually felt like a natural. Just a few. First-grade spelling: They didn’t call me Speedy Gonzales because I could run fast. Math was never a problem in elementary school. And I could rock a Mattel Electronic Football game pretty hard. It was effortless, and it felt good.

Starting in seventh grade, it started to get incrementally harder. I still had my strengths, but nothing was automatic. And as I went into high school, a philosophy evolved. It took as much effort for me to get from an F (i.e., doing nothing) to a B+ or A- in an average class, as it did for me to get from an A- to an A. In other words, the cherry on top was half the effort. The A, though it seemed so close, was like the last 1,000 “Into Thin Air” feet of the climb to the top of Everest. That was the part where you could die trying.

And so sometimes, going for the A often seemed not worth the trouble. Other times, it wasn’t by choice. I took to science like Kemp has taken to the tailing slider. After sailing along in math my whole life, calculus brought me to my knees.  I made mistakes that I couldn’t fathom, and I made mistakes that were just plain stupid.

I graduated from high school with a 3.5 or 3.6 grade-point average. I probably ranked about 40th out of 130 or so kids in the rather intense environment that was my senior class, better than some, worse than others. I had a lower GPA than my older brother or sister had (though who knows what my grade-point average on balls in play was).

I did have excellent SAT scores, but as the applications were going out, I was warned by our college counselor that I had the wrong combination of strengths. If your SAT scores were in a lower percentile than your GPA, that meant you made the extra effort to place above your station. You were a worker. You had character. High SATs and a lower GPA, however, meant you were lazy. Which, in my case, was not wholly true but partially so.

What did that make me? Did it make me a bad person, to be good but not great? That as hard as I tried, I consciously risked falling short of my goals because I couldn’t or wouldn’t make myself try harder?  Should I be booed? Should I have my ethic questioned?

Ah, but it’s different, right? There’s no comparison between high school classes and major-league baseball. I wasn’t getting paid, first thousands and then millions like Kemp (though I was getting paid, in a sense, by my parents’ investment in my future). I was just a boy. Kemp is a man. I was in school; Kemp is a professional.

I’m going to argue that it’s not so different. As much as your circumstances change, there is a core part of you that remains young and in the midst of development. I am 42 years old, but that’s a chronological age. Or to put it another way, it’s an average of all the ages I feel. Sure, there’s some 42-year-old in me, but part of me still feels 9, and part of me feels about 75.

I approach life a certain way. I want to be better, and I’ll grind at it, but there’s a limit to what I’ll do. I work very hard, I feel, but I can’t emphasize that limit enough. And that limit can change on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. There always has and always will be a part of me that wants to do nothing more than smell the roses, whether those roses are Saturday morning cartoons as a kid or a nice long walk in the twilight as a grown-up. I like the work I do, but I don’t like to work. I accept the process and can even enjoy the journey, but the result is a big part of my reward. I always want my life to be easier; I always want things to go right the first time.

And so that limit of how hard I’m willing to work is a moving target. I suspect that’s true for many of us.

Knowing what to do is not the same as being able or willing to do it. It’s a hard lesson to learn that the effort that you’re comfortable with is not always enough. It’s a lesson that might make you rebel. Matt Kemp and I can’t be the only ones who wrestle with that. Being paid a lot of money might alter the personal battlefield, but it doesn’t eliminate it.

* * *

While on his postseason vacation in Europe with Rihanna, a short break before his offseason workouts begin, Kemp’s baseball mind is probably is at one of two places. He’s thinking that he has overcome hurdles before, and so there’s no reason to think he won’t overcome them again. Or he’s thinking that okay, that philosophy has worked in the past, but this time he really has to find another gear. He is going to have grind even harder than before, and that’s what he’s gonna show us next year.

Or he’s thinking both of the above. He will have to grind, but he will succeed. Because he believes.

I don’t know if it’s one, the other or both. However, I don’t imagine Kemp not caring about improving. There’s too much for him to gain – more money, more glory, more victory – not to care.

But let’s consider the alternative.

There is conflicting scuttlebutt about Kemp. You hear that he does work, very hard. You also hear that he’s not a good listener, that when it comes to instruction or coaching, he’s a mixed bag. People wonder where his head is at a given moment.

Alex Gallardo/AP
Mr. Inspiration, Jamey Carroll, is listed at 170 pounds, the lightest weight on the 2010 Dodger roster.

These are not contradictory reports. Far from it. The beef with Kemp is with his mental game, but that grievance contains an implicit assumption that only a fool, or worse, a scumbag, would operate at less than full mental capacity. That oversimplifies things to a remarkable degree, practically the equivalent of hammering Jamey Carroll because he isn’t bigger and stronger.

The mental game can be hard. For some, it can be unconquerable. The mental game is not a free throw. Carroll is better at it than Kemp, but Carroll is more than 10 years older than Kemp. Carroll didn’t even break into the big leagues until he was two years older than Kemp (who has played in 626 games) is now. Carroll had to hustle more than most, had to think more than most, or he’d simply never have made it in the show, much less stuck around.

Kemp now has to step up his mental game to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season. Anyone, including Kemp, can see this. But people think it’s a matter of flipping a switch, and that’s simply not true. You don’t power the mental game by flipping a switch. You power it by being the hamster that grinds on the wheel all day long, all so that you might get one extra drop of water.

Everyone is asking the same thing of Kemp – to work twice as hard in order to become, instead of better than 99.9998 percent of the people in the world at his sport, better than 99.9999 percent.

Maybe that’s disingenuous; maybe it’s only fair to look at Kemp in the context of his peers, among whom he ranked poorly in 2010, at least by Fangraphs’ estimation. The point is, everyone is expecting Kemp to be humble about a career that, until a few months ago, he has had every reason to take pride in. That might require more than an overnight adjustment. It might require trying harder, and then thinking you’ve got it, and then realizing you don’t, and then having to search – sincerely search – for new levels within yourself that aren’t immediately apparent.

Kemp, who has averaged more than 20 homers a year with a .285 batting average, who has had Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honors, two playoff appearances, a past income of more than $5 million and a guaranteed 2011 income of nearly $7 million, who came back and improved after disappointing finishes to his 2006 and 2008 seasons, is being told that’s not enough, not nearly. He’s being told that if he doesn’t improve in 2011, he will be a great disappointment, and if there’s any question about his effort, it will be nothing less than shameful.

And here I sit, having worked hard to get where I am but with plenty farther I could go, having consciously and constantly holding myself back. Kemp is considered a mental misfit even though he’s a grown man under constant instruction, while no one questions my dedication to writing even though all I’m subjected to is the occasional edit, and I haven’t taken a writing class in 15 years. Kemp is sliced and diced for his Rihanna romance, even if the sincerity of it – no matter what the future holds – should no longer be in doubt, while I refuse any job that would require travel or night work that would take me away from my wife and kids, even if it would bring in more money, more glory, more victory.

If Kemp were to say to himself – and I personally don’t think for a moment he is saying this to himself – “I have money, I have love, I have a good job and I have my health, and I have this all just by being who I already am, and even though I’m no longer the best, that’s all I need,” no one would think for a moment that this was a legitimate perspective, even though outside the world of competitive sports, it most certainly is. In sports, there’s no greater sin than unrealized potential. And yet in life, in real life, letting some of your potential go at a certain point can actually be a gift to yourself and your loved ones.

* * *

But let’s say you accept your flaws. You’re humbled. You’re trying to get better. You aren’t getting there.

You don’t necessarily decide when it’s going to click.

In ninth-grade history, I had a teacher I was really struggling with. He had a very strong, upper-crust personality and was not afraid to mock you. I simply did not get him, and I felt that whatever I was learning — and I was learning something — I was learning despite him.

Tests in the class typically consisted of a short-answer portion (60 points) and then an essay (40 points). One time, mid-essay, I found myself in deep trouble. I had started with a thesis paragraph that I couldn’t really support. I can’t really recall what it was or why I went with it, although I guess it was basically the argument I thought the teacher would have made or what he wanted to see. But I just couldn’t see it through.

I crossed out the paragraph and started over, arguing the opposite. (Hello, George Costanza.)  I was running out of time but I whipped through it. It wasn’t effortless – I had to think about what I was writing – but the thoughts did follow, one after another. Nevertheless, I didn’t turn in the exam with any confidence.

When I got it back, my teacher had given me 45 points for the 40-point essay portion, and written the following words: “Weisman, I have challenged you, and you have come alive!”

Sounds hokey for sure, but you don’t forget something like that. And not to go all “Dead Poets Society” on you, but I came to realize that the teacher – all 23 years old of him – had come to this class at the start of the school year and found many of us in a stupor before it had even started, and he was trying to shake us out of it. He wasn’t trying to impose himself on us. He was trying to draw something out of us. That’s not something that you necessarily can understand right away. Arguably, it could be even harder to realize when you’re older. I know, despite my best intentions, I don’t love criticism, however constructive.

This moment in ninth grade was a turning point for my life as a writer, as a thinker and as a doer, but there was no straight path to it. I needed to get somewhere, and I got to it, but it couldn’t have been more roundabout. It involved a clash and reconciliation of determined instruction with determined independence. It involved a personal evolution on its own timetable that no one could control.  Though it was largely a mental issue, it wasn’t an issue of effort or desire or choice. Not by themselves, anyway.

And all this leads to is the next challenge, and the next. For a decade in my 20s and 30s, I would pursue the goal of writing for primetime shows and fall short. Today, I have several different paths I pursue, but I’m honestly not sure where I should channel all my energies. Sometimes, I think I’m doing my best; other times I’m not so sure. There is still doubt. Which one of me is right?

* * *

I imagine two types of reactions to this piece. (Maybe more, but these two will be among them.)

1) Yeah, you make some good (if long-winded) points.
2) What kind of pathetic apology for mediocrity is this?

Let me reiterate that I don’t believe that Kemp is actively choosing mediocrity. Nor am I trying to suggest that mediocrity is a worthy end, in and of itself.

Barry Gutierrez/AP
Kemp smiles after teammate Casey Blake’s solo homer in the ninth inning September 28.

I am asking people to understand that stepping up one’s effort is a process, and it’s not an easy process. There really is no such thing as an overnight success. Asking more of yourself than you’re used to giving is — in and of itself — a challenge. More than a challenge, it’s a mystery.

There’s always a limit. There’s always something that holds us back, some level of relaxation we preserve for ourselves, whether it’s money, pleasure, sleep, blissful ignorance or what have you. And the questions, for Kemp or anyone else, are twofold: Where do you want to be on that scale, and how much control you have over that desire?

In the coming year, we’ll see what Kemp is made of at age 26. We’ll see how much he steps up his mental game. It’s silly to assume that he won’t develop at all, but if he doesn’t develop as much as people like me hope, there are all kinds of reasons why. They’re not excuses. They’re reasons.

None of us know how Kemp will respond to the challenge. I’m not sure Kemp even knows. Plus, his performance in 2011 won’t necessarily be an accurate reflection of his work ethic. He could coast, and improve based on just natural development. He could bust his butt, and slide farther back. People will cheer if he does well, boo if he does poorly, draw conclusions based on whatever they see fit.

As I approach the 4,000-word mark on this essay, I guess all I’m really trying to say about turning on hustle and smarts is this: Living up to the standard that John Wooden set … it’s just not that simple.

Oct 13

Scott Elbert looking for relief, in more ways than one

If it seems I’ve been publishing a lot about a pitcher who got two batters out with the Dodgers in all of 2010, it’s because I find Scott Elbert’s derailment one of the bigger stories of the year. But with his appearance in the Arizona Fall League, it was inevitable he’d start to shed some light on his situation, and both Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com and Ken Gurnick of MLB.com talked to him.

Here’s a Jackson excerpt:

… After (Tuesday’s) game, Elbert was asked about the reason for his absence this summer, when he was gone for about a month. He didn’t offer much in the way of clarification.

“It was just some personal issues I had to attend to,” he said. “I can tell you right now, it had nothing to do with baseball. It was just a lot of personal stuff I had to take care of, and that’s about it.” …

But he appears to have hit a sort of reset button on his career. He credited Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and assistant GM Logan White, who heads the scouting department and was responsible for drafting and signing Elbert, with being supportive during his ordeal.

Although Elbert’s first AFL appearance on Tuesday was a mixed bag when it came to the results, he said his shoulder felt strong.

“It was just nice to be back out there,” he said. “We have been on a consistent schedule with [Dodgers trainer] Stan [Conte] and the minor league physical therapist, and I have been going in every day and trying to get it right.”

Elbert said he is hoping to receive an invitation to big league spring training, which is automatic if he stays on the 40-man roster this winter. Although he was a starter at Albuquerque this year before his departure, all indications are that the Dodgers now view him as a reliever, and given the bullpen issues the team had this year, that could bode well for Elbert in his effort to secure a spot on the Opening Day roster.

“To be honest, I would like to be a reliever,” he said. “If that is going to be my job, then that is what I will prepare for. … I don’t ever think [starting] is out of the question, but I have always been known as a high pitch-count guy, and if I’m able to bring that down and go deeper into games, maybe I can be a starter again. Nothing is ever out of the question in this game.” …

Oct 13

Time to end Dodger Stadium’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’

No, this is not a call to give up on the future of the Dodgers. But it is an emphatic statement that it’s time for Dodger Stadium to bid farewell to its two-season-old tradition of playing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the middle of the eighth inning.

Putting aside my own subjective feelings about the Journey song, it has always been a mixed blessing at best, given the fact that singer Steve Perry is an avowed Giants fan. San Francisco began using the song itself as its own anthem, and now that the Giants are in the National League Championship Series, it’s going to get even more exposure as a San Francisco treat.

It’s true that “Don’t Stop Believin’” has energized the crowd at Dodger Stadium — not to mention the life of Jameson Moss — but are really to believe that it’s the only song that can do the job? There’s no reason for this song to have dueling citizenship.

Moss and David Hasselhoff did a memorable air duet of “Don’t Stop Believin’” at the Dodgers’ season finale Oct. 3.  We should let the song go on a high note.  Let San Francisco have it. We can do better.

Oct 12

Scott Elbert returns to the mound

Scott Elbert returned to competitive action today, pitching an inning in relief today for Phoenix in the Arizona Fall League. The Desert Dogs lost to Mesa, 8-3. (Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com will have a writeup later today.)

Elbert walked his first batter, who came around to score on a single and sacrifice fly. He threw 19 pitches, 12 for strikes.

Jon Link started for the Desert Dogs and allowed a run in three innings (51 pitches). Justin Miller (the young prospect, not the older, tattooed veteran then was tagged for five runs in two-third of an inning, forcing manager Don Mattingly into a pitching change.

Ivan De Jesus, Jr. and Trayvon Robinson each had a hit. Former Dodger prospect Andrew Lambo singled twice and scored two runs for Mesa.

* * *

  • Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness published a detailed proposal for addressing the Dodgers’ pitching concerns amid all the usual (and unusual) constraints.
  • Baseball America reports on the Dodgers’ signing of minor-leaguer Brant Stickel, making him the lone University of Calgary Dino in professional baseball. The school’s website has more details.
  • Who are the hardest-throwing free-agent relievers? Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has a list.
Oct 12

Arizona Fall League: Opening Day

The Arizona Fall League throws out its first pitch of 2010 today, and Dodger fans might pay it a little more mind than usual. Not only is this Don Mattingly’s first official gig at the helm of a baseball team, the Phoenix Desert Dogs, but there are a couple of key players to watch:

1) The Dodgers’ minor-league hitter of the year, Jerry Sands, will be tested out at third base.

2) The Dodgers’ minor-league mystery of the year, Scott Elbert, will be tested out on the mound.

Other organization members on the Desert Dogs of Phoenix (or is it the Dogs of Phoenix Desert) are Javy Guerra, Jon Link, Justin Miller the Younger, Matt Wallach, Ivan DeJesus, Jr. and Trayvon Robinson. A few of these guys will be competing for major-league jobs in 2011.

Phoenix has its first game against Mesa at 12:35 p.m.

* * *

  • Logan White will interview for the Mets’ vacant general manager slot, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Jackson adds the following about surprising rumors in recent days that the Dodgers were pushing White out the door.

    … As recently as 10 days ago, rumors surfaced that White, whose current contract is set to expire at the end of this month, was on the verge of being fired by the Dodgers. White told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Oct. 1 that he was aware of those rumors but hadn’t been told anything official and that he planned to continue working as usual until he was told not to.

    “I’m still working,” White said at the time. “I haven’t been told anything [different]. There is a lot of innuendo and rumor out there, and I hate to even address some of those because they are so ridiculous.”

    Those rumors appear to have been the result of confusing White with another Southern California amateur-scouting chief. The Los Angeles Angels had fired their scouting director, Eddie Bane, along with three of his scouts, on Sept. 29. Multiple sources said Monday the Dodgers have every intention of re-signing White and keeping him around in his present role if he isn’t hired as a GM by another club. …

  • Vin Scully Is My Homeboy passes along these interviews by reporter Maria Serrao with Scully himself.
  • Friend of the Dodger Thoughts family Daniel Paul has passed along this link to some Dodger caps his son Harry designed. Click the link and rate the cap.
Oct 11

This, I like

Sunday’s three-error man Brooks Conrad got a standing ovation today during batting practice from Atlanta Braves fans, reports Jeff Fletcher of AOL Fanhouse. Adds Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk:

… Braves fans, as I have said on numerous occasion, are not the best fans in the world. They have to be cajoled to show up. They have to be cajoled into cheering. In some ways they’re worse than fair weather fans because they don’t even show up in fair weather unless it’s seen as the fashionable thing to do. And don’t even get me started on the Chop. Dear GOD I hate the Chop.

But they’re decent people for the most part. They don’t boo guys. That might offend a lot of you because, hey, sometimes people need booin’, but it fits my temperament just fine. They generally understand that athletes are human beings with their own lives and stresses and concerns. It’s hard to get amped up for a Braves game in that environment, but it’s nice to know that the person sitting next to you is probably a decent human being.

See, there is an alternative to booing. And ask yourself, if Conrad makes it into tonight’s game, is he more or less likely to screw up now that he knows his fan base has his back?

Giants at Braves, 4:37 p.m.

Oct 10

Despite reports, Wallach’s Dodger future still uncertain

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports on the latest with Tim Wallach, the Dodgers’ AAA manager at Albuquerque. The bottom line is this: Wallach has a contract in place that puts him on the Dodger coaching staff next year – either as bench coach or third-base coach (but not as hitting coach) – if he isn’t hired to manage other team. But there are hints that Wallach hasn’t stopped looking for a managerial job.

… Reached on his cell phone Sunday, Wallach declined to confirm or deny that he has signed such a contract and declined to comment at all on the matter, referring all questions to Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. Colletti, who has been tight-lipped about the process of filling new manager Don Mattingly’s first coaching staff, didn’t immediately return a voice mail from ESPNLosAngeles.com.

There still is no guarantee, however, that Wallach will remain with the organization. He has made no secret of his desire to manage in the majors, and at least one team has asked the Dodgers for permission to interview him for its managerial vacancy. Such permission is customarily granted in baseball whenever an individual has a chance to interview for a job that would be viewed as a promotion from his current position.

There presently are eight major league clubs with managerial vacancies. Wallach, who spent much of his playing career with the old Montreal Expos, was thought to be a leading candidate in Toronto, where Cito Gaston is retiring. But the Toronto Sun reported last week that Wallach is no longer under consideration by the Blue Jays. …

Perhaps we’ll find out soon that Wallach has committed to the Dodgers for 2011, but for now, with no official word from anyone involved, this is not case closed.

Oct 09

A long look back at Hideo Nomo


David Zalubowski/APWith raindrops falling, Hideo Nomo winds up to pitch to Rockies leadoff batter Eric Young on September 17, 1996, unaware that 27 outs later, he would have a Coors Field no-hitter. Nomo pitched from the stretch after the first inning to combat the wet mound.

Robert Whiting, author of You Gotta Have Wa, is writing a detailed four-part series for the Japan Times on the impact Hideo Nomo had on baseball on both sides of the Pacific.  So far, part one and part two have been published, and they are very good reads.

Here’s a sample:

… The Prime Minister of Japan hailed him as a national treasure. It was a remarkable turnaround, given that only months earlier, Nomo had been criticized heavily for deserting his team and his country. Ironically, Nomo received far more attention as a major leaguer than he ever had playing for the lowly Pacific League’s Kintetsu Buffaloes, who toiled before sparse crowds and hardly ever appeared on nationwide television.

One could even credit Nomo for helping to repair U.S.-Japan relations, which had been in tatters because of trade disputes.

Not so long before Nomo had arrived in America, the relationship was at a 40-year low. The speaker of the Japanese parliament had labeled Americans “uneducated and illiterate,” while American congressmen had been railing at Japan over “unfair trade practices” and its fanatical corporate warriors.

A group of U.S. congressmen had even smashed a Japanese car to pieces on the Capitol lawn. But the love affair of MLB fans with Nomo helped to dissipate the acrimony between the two countries.

Nomo was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time Asia and the subject of more than one TV documentary.

The New York Times noted with approval a shift in the mood in Japan. “Nomo’s arrival in MLB,” wrote that prestigious newspaper, “signifies that the Japanese penchant for closed door exclusivity is receding.”

The Asahi Shimbun called Nomo’s success a “catharsis” for Japanese who were weary of the constant carping of the U.S. government over trade.

Nomo’s appearance in the 1995 All-Star Game in Arlington, Texas, was an historically significant moment, coming as it did almost exactly a half-century after the end of the Pacific War between Japan and the United States, and no one watching could escape its significance. A player from Japan had emerged to reignite the national pastime in a way that perhaps no native-born American could have, given the bitter emotions that remained over the strike.

He brought back all the feelings that baseball players used to inspire. He was modest, humble, shy, hardworking and a joy to watch on the field. That last sentence could have been used to describe a Christy Mathewson, Lou Gehrig or a Joe DiMaggio. It made Americans and Japanese stop and contemplate baseball’s role in cross-cultural relations. …

Of course, not all was sweetness and light. Occasionally, nationalism and even prejudice reared its ugly head. …

(Thanks to Brett Bull for the tip.)

* * *

Vin Scully Is My Homeboy passed along video of an old Hollywood Stars Night at Dodger Stadium from the 1960s, starting with a combo of Walter Alston and Phyllis Diller, followed by Milton Berle, Dean Martin, Mickey Rooney, Annette Funicello, Billy Barty and more. See if Nancy Sinatra’s boots are made for walking to first base …

Oct 08

Texas Rangers: Now there’s a postseason drought

It really didn’t dawn on me until recently that the Texas Rangers have never won a postseason series. In fact, dating back to their original days as the (then-new) Washington Senators in 1961, the organization’s all-time record in postseason games was 1-9.

Do Rangers fans ever sit around thinking about 1994 and wonder what might have been?

Meanwhile, it’s a National League day today, with everyone watching to see whether the Phillies and Giants will allow their opponents to score.

Update: Brandon Phillips, who made the final out of the Roy Halladay no-hitter Wednesday, homered off Roy Oswalt to lead off today’s Game 2.

Reds at Phillies, 3:07 p.m.

Braves at Giants, 6:37 p.m.

Oct 08

Dodgers make a (not-so?) noteworthy change at the top

Dodgers president Dennis Mannion has ankled the team, with Frank McCourt taking over his duties. (The story was first reported by Dylan Hernandez of the Times.) General manager Ned Colletti, who had been reporting to Mannion, will now be the sort to report to McCourt, unless the tort forces McCourt to abort; he dare not snort or hide in a fort, but must find port or he will be mort.

Sorry … don’t know what happened there.

There’s going to be some hand-wringing about McCourt (re)taking a bigger role in the team, but I don’t know that this makes much of a difference to the Dodgers on the field or in the front office. It’s the same administration either way, especially since Mannion had reported to McCourt anyway. I am curious about how much time Mannion had left on his contract, though.

Mannion’s legacy will include revenue-generating marketing endeavors like Mannywood but also one of the most ill-considered comments by a Dodger executive (Non-McCourt Division) in recent memory when he discussed player acquisition in the same context as acquiring portable concession stands. The tone-deafness of the comment was more noteworthy than the substance, but it was indicative of something that I’m not sure Dodger fans will miss.

For fun, here’s an Associated Press story from March 2009 about the promotions of Mannion and Jamie McCourt.

… “Jamie has done an outstanding job of assembling a talented management team, fostering a positive culture, and building a first-class business operation,” Frank McCourt said.

As CEO, Jamie McCourt will oversee the strategic direction and decisions of the organization, focusing on the development of relationships throughout the Dodgers community and Major League Baseball, and with corporate partners and public officials.

“It allows me to promote a strategic mind-set and build long-term relationships that strengthen our brand,” Jamie McCourt said. “The most important of those relationships is with our fans. So I will invest even more heavily in how we connect with them in every imaginable way.” …

* * *

  • Rafael Furcal makes too much money and gets hurt too often to be a viable trade candidate, but nonetheless, it is worth noting that he now must approve any trade the Dodgers might attempt. Furcal is a five-and-10 player (10 years in the majors, five with the same team), notes Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors, giving him a full no-trade clause.
  • Are you ready for 2011? The Dodgers’ Spring Training schedule is out. Opening Day is February 26 against the Angels, followed by the Camelback Ranch opener the following afternoon.
  • Former Dodger Dave Roberts, recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has been named the Padres’ first-base coach. He had recently been a special assistant in the baseball operations department.
  • As Reds manager Dusty Baker watched Brandon Phillips make the final out in Roy Halladay’s no-hitter Wednesday, he could recall making the final out himself in Nolan Ryan’s record-setting fifth no-hitter in 1981, writes Kevin Baxter of the Times.
  • One of my pet peeves in reading and talking about baseball is how little agreement there is about what a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5 starter means. Bryan Smith of Fangraphs delves into the topic.
  • No worries, Roberto.
Oct 07

Hall’s kitchen

Roy Halladay’s no-hitter is still percolating inside me, resonating in many different ways. Here’s just a sample:

This magical year for Halladay has come 15 years after he was drafted. I can still clearly remember Halladay, in his second major-league start in 1998, coming within an out of a no-hitter (that would have been a perfect game if not for a Toronto error).

Two years later, in 2000,  he pitched 67 2/3 innings and gave up 80 runs.

By the end of the decade, Halladay was long established as an elite pitcher, but from a team standpoint, it was all for naught. Not a single postseason appearance, and no guarantee at age 32 that one would ever come.

Today, he is on top of the baseball world.

Tomorrow – who knows?

And the funniest thing about this roller-coaster ride? If you’re anything like me, you feel like you go through these kinds of ups and downs on an hourly basis.

Don’t get too high or too low is the advice. But sometimes I just wonder, how can you not?  I’m not made of stone, man.

Congrats again to Halladay …

Rangers at Rays, 11:37 a.m.

Yankees at Twins, 3:07 p.m.

Braves at Giants, 6:37 p.m.