“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.”
I wrote the following nearly three months ago, then decided to hold on to it for a little bit. Rather than put it in the attic, I thought I might share it with you.
It is the middle of August in 2013 as I begin writing, and there is a baseball team. For nearly two months, it has been winning every game, and that’s almost not a figure of speech. It’s somewhere in between a literary device and true reality. Eight losses in nine weeks in Major League Baseball is, essentially, winning every game.
It is a team that at once has been giving the lie to the idea that you can’t have it all, while also reminding that such feats of transcendence are precariously temporary. With every victory comes the question, “How can this possibly continue?” The question has an answer, which is that it can just keep on keepin’ on, same as it ever was, same as it ever is. But just as easily as it can continue – more easily, no doubt – it can stop.
How long, then? How long does all remain all?
That’s one mystery. In the case of this particular baseball team, if all remains all, or nearly so, for 2½ more months, and if it does, it will create an everlasting memory. What the devoted of this particular baseball team are waiting to learn is if they are having a summer fling – the wildest one of their lives, perhaps, but still a fling – or a relationship that will be theirs forever, even if future years return rocky times.
One of the lures of baseball, of investing passion into a passion you have no control over, is that little if anything can diminish a championship. No matter your present, there’s no guilt in romancing your past. Contrast that with everyday life, where if you think about your greatest year, the year you yourself had it all, there’s a gloom. It could be a sliver or a swath.
To avoid it, you’d have to be able to feel unadulterated pleasure over a time that is no longer yours, find complete solace that your best days are behind you or only speculatively ahead, that you had something and you lost it or you had it taken away from you, and that’s just fine.
People who can do that are remarkable.
I can identify two periods where I quite nearly had it all, two championship runs. One came from my earliest memories nearly through the end of grade school, growing up with a family that I loved, friends who were close and a belief that I could become whatever I wanted to become that didn’t involve being a pro athlete. Or tall. I was among the shortest in my class, and even as incompetence evolved into competence, there was never a chance. But with Vin Scully as an alternative role model, I could live with sports transcendence as a fantasy.
That period ended when I began having crushes on girls. I’m not sure there was ever a period when I didn’t like girls, but it didn’t begin to matter until fifth grade bled into sixth and I began to care whether one, and then another one, liked me back. Soon something happens inside of you and you start to envision real benefits, and it starts to matter more and more. And it was years before one really did like me back, for reasons we might be able to get into later.
By the time that did happen, I was an adult with goals. As long as those goals were unfulfilled, well, obviously having it all was out of the question, even if the other thing was falling into place. Not until after I turned 30, after some very up-and-down years in the intervening decade, did I come close to having contentment. A woman had fallen in love with me, and I with her. I was able to support her, with money saved. My relationship with my family was healthy, my family was healthy, I was healthy. And my career was in a good place. It had momentum.
That lasted … about a season. It was a championship year, a year that I’ve been chasing ever since.
In August 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers had been chasing their last championship for 25 years. The digits 1988 have a celestial feeling, any negativity washed away. It is impossible for a fan of that baseball team to feel anything but positive about that year, anything but pride, anything but love. That so many years have passed since that time is frustrating. But being a baseball fan is like being a like a little kid because it’s not your responsibility to make the joy happen. You’re waiting like a child, young as they come, depending on a parent for well-being.
Rooting for the World Series isn’t without a cost, but as much as you care, you’re a spectator. When you root for your own happiness, it’s your game.
Tonight, I’m going to my first Dodger game since Memorial Day. That’s right: I have yet to see Yasiel Puig in person, yet to enjoy the Summer of Gorge anywhere but on my TV, radio or cellphone.
This will be my fifth game of the year. When I got the tickets for my wife and me last week — and I’m not likely to go to more than one more regular-season game this year after this one — it occurred to me that this will be the fewest games I’ve attended in a Dodger season since … 1988.
Read into that what you will. I’m reading in a lot of hope.
That ’88 season began with me as a college junior, continuing through my trip to cover Stanford at the College World Series in Omaha, my summer internship at the Half Moon Bay Review & Pescadero Pebble and my late-summer job as a gofer for NBC’s Summer Olympics boxing coverage in Seoul. I saw not an inning of Orel Hershiser’s scoreless streak, and returned to the States a couple of days after my senior year began, stopping at LAX without venturing out of it.
I had been at Dodger Stadium for Tim Leary’s pinch-hitting heroics, but otherwise my Dodger attendance that year was forcibly rare. I saw all the playoffs on TV in the vicinity of Palo Alto. I saw Mike Scioscia’s home run from the Stanford Daily newsroom, Kirk Gibson’s diving daytime catch and Jay Howell’s pine tar while ditching classes, Gibson’s homer off Eckersley with friends who were mainly rooting for Oakland, and the final out on my own little TV in my senior suite.
It wasn’t a lifetime ago, but it kind of feels that way. By the same token, my last Dodger game in May — itself a bright spot countering a dreary start, in case you’ve forgotten — feels about half a lifetime ago. The team’s winning percentage when I’ve gone this year (3-1, .750) is still higher than it’s been in my absence (37-27, .578). Still, though my absence didn’t quite coincide with the surge, the Dodgers have gone 57-27 (.679) since I last attended. More than half the season has gone by.
If the Dodgers make the playoffs, this will be the first postseason for which my family doesn’t have tickets since 1981 (though I did attend an NLCS loss that year). So I might be watching those games on TV as well, even sneaking views from the newsroom where I work. If that’s what it takes …
How low can they go?
The Dodgers’ current .417 winning percentage would be their worst over a full season since 1992, their second-worst since 1944.
Though it’s possible I’m just repressing it, I can’t recall ever expecting a Dodger team to be bad. There have been plenty of times when I wouldn’t have predicted them to win a title, and I was sufficiently skeptical this year, but a truly terrible record always takes me by surprise. That’s one difference I think Dodger fans – even cynical ones – have with fans in Pittsburgh or Kansas City. If you’re predicting horror in a given year, you’re probably in the minority.
The Dodgers won 86 games last year and didn’t hurt themselves in the offseason. Sure, there were weaknesses headed into 2013, but here are the 10 most prominent players the Dodgers shed from 2012: James Loney, Shane Victorino, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu, Matt Treanor, Adam Kennedy, Joe Blanton, Nathan Eovaldi, Jamey Wright and Josh Lindblom. Be honest: How could you have expected those departures would put the Dodgers on their current 68-win pace?
That’s right: 68-94.
Here’s one for you: Forget about the playoffs for a moment. Forget about .500. The Dodgers need to play .450 ball over their remaining 90 games to reach 70 wins. Will they do it?
Yes, there have been injuries – Chad Billingsley and Matt Kemp most prominently – but nearly every year has injuries. Team chemistry? The manager? People raise those red flags every time the Dodgers start losing, but are we to believe that this team really has the worst set of intangibles in two decades? You thought the Davey Johnson-Gary Sheffield-Kevin Brown teams were doing a revival of Hair? That Jim Tracy and Paul DePodesta were Romeo and Juliet?
Mediocrity comes with the territory in the post-1988 era. But true awfulness has been a rare thing.
With apologies to the 99-loss season in 1992, the worst stretch of Dodger baseball in my lifetime has probably been 1986-87. That’s the only time since the 1960s that the Dodgers have had back-to-back losing seasons – identical 73-89 campaigns. I know how it began: Pedro Guerrero’s gruesome Spring Training slide into third base – but my memories of 1987, beyond the implosion of Al Campanis, are almost non-existent. Guerrero came back with a vengeance (.416 on-base percentage, .539 slugging), and Orel Hershiser and Bob Welch was steady, but the rest of the team was essentially as incompetent as this year’s.
The core of that awful team won a division title in 1985 and a World Series in 1988. Tommy Lasorda managed every year.
I don’t know when the losing is going to end for this current brand of Big Blue Wrecked Crew. I do know that in Los Angeles, things tend to reverse course in a hurry, good to bad, bad to good. We’ve really seen it all in the past 25 years – all except for a World Series.
Perhaps it will come in a year when we least expect it.
… When I was young the Boston Celtics used to coast through the season with a 50-32 sort of record, far behind the best mark in the league which might in a given season belong to Philadelphia or Los Angeles or whoever. But come playoff time, the Celtics would crush those teams with no apparent ease but considerable regularity. When Bill Russell retired he attributed this to the fact that during the season the Celtics, knowing that they could make the playoffs, would take care to develop their sixth and seventh and eighth players, as well as being careful to decentralize the offense, not relying on any one or two or three scorers to put the points on the board. And then come playoff time, the Celtics would have more weapons than their opponents. Russell could fight Chamberlain to a standoff and the Celtics would win because the rest of their roster was ready to contribute, whereas the reliance on the big man would have gradually weakened the rest of the roster.
I thought of that when I noticed a pattern in the Dodger playing time in the second half of the season. Three of the four first-half champions were veteran teams, near the point of having to start getting some new names in the lineup. But only the Dodgers seemed to realize that, with a spot guaranteed, they might as well start developing some more weapons. All of the Dodger regulars, with no exceptions, batted fewer times in the second half of the season than in the first. The team did play four more games in the first half, but that’s not the cause of it; all eight regulars batted more times per team-game in the first half than the second. The extra at-bats were absorbed by Derrel Thomas, Rick Monday, Reggie Smith, Steve Yeager, Steve Sax, Candy Maldonado and Mike Marshall, who all batted more times in the second half, despite the four fewer games, than they had in the first. The Dodgers also took the opportunity to take a look at Tom Niedenfuer and Dave Stewart and Alejandro Pena, pitchers who figure to help them sometime later.
Then you look over the score sheets of the Dodger victory that led them over the World, and you see Monday’s home run, Yeager everywhere, Derrel Thomas tracking balls down on the track, Niedenfuer shutting people down, Jay Johnstone hitting a key home run. I can’t remember a World Championship that was won with so much help from the bench. Lasorda’s a conservative manager, not really a very interesting manager in substance. But I think you have to give him some real credit here. …
James was in his ascendance at this time – this was his first Abstract that had a formal publisher. The year before, I ordered a copy of the 1981 Abstract from a small ad in The Sporting News, and it came with a hand-designed cover and essentially was photocopied and bound. Reading James at this time was like Clayton Kershaw pitch — you practically salivated over every insight with excitement and no small amount of awe.
Reading the passage above three decades later, I can’t avoid having some amount of skepticism. I don’t necessarily doubt the Dodgers used their bench more than other teams did that year, but a) they might simply have had a more talented bench (I mean, those are some good names up there) and b), I question whether their use of the bench was as revolutionary or as James asserts.
But like I said, James was Kershaw. So I am tempted to take it as gospel. And certainly, a similar formula helped propel the 1988 Dodgers to their title. The bottom line is, much like with a bullpen, you need a good bench to win, though it might not be something you plan.
You no doubt recall the story of the final game of the 1981 World Series in broad strokes. Tommy John gets removed for a pinch-hitter after four innings, and the Dodgers score eight runs off the New York bullpen, five of them driven home by Pedro Guerrero. George Frazier took his third loss in four games.
But here are five bits of trivia you might have misplaced:
1) Steve Howe entered the game with an 8-1 lead … and got a save. He replaced Burt Hooton with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the sixth inning, gave up an RBI single, then allowed only a single and a walk over the final 3 2/3 innings and 54 pitches. Only Baltimore’s Sammy Stewart, pitching in the 1983 American League Championship Series, has had a longer postseason save since.
In his previous outing, four days earlier, Howe went three innings and 33 pitches, and got the Game 4 win.
2) Ron Cey, who went 2 for 3 and shared series MVP honors with Guerrero and Steve Yeager, went out for a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the sixth. Derrel Thomas replaced Cey at the plate and hit an RBI groundout. Cey had been hit in the head by a pitch three days earlier, in Game 5.
3) Ken Landreaux, who caught the final out, didn’t start. He entered the game in the bottom of the sixth as well.
4) Landreaux wouldn’t have caught the final out, except that Davey Lopes made an error on a Reggie Jackson grounder (capping a nine-pitch at-bat) on what could have been the last play of the game to keep the Yankees’ slim hopes alive. Mickey Owen, however, this wasn’t.
5) Longtime nemesis Jackson went 0 for 5. In fact, Nos. 3-5 hitters Dave Winfield, Jackson and Bob Watson combined to go 0 for 14.
Our good friend Alex Belth of Bronx Banter posts a 1992 GQ story by Peter Richmond on Tommy Lasorda and Tommy Lasorda Jr. It’s quite a piece of writing, especially in the light of recent events.
Remember — the “100 Things Dodgers” booksigning is Saturday in Pasadena.
Nick Punto, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Skip Schumaker, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Josh Beckett, P
Carl Crawford was a late scratch with tightness in his right hamstring.
MLB pitchers with 1,000 strikeouts at age 25
Kershaw CLIII: Kershawrgo
Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Andre Ethier, RF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Skip Schumaker, CF
Nick Punto, 3B
Justin Sellers, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P
From 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die:
One of the great myths in Dodgers history is that Jackie Robinson retired rather than play for the team’s nemesis, the New York Giants, after the Dodgers traded him there, seven weeks before his 38th birthday. In fact, as numerous sources such as Arnold Rampersad’s Jackie Robinson: A Biography indicate, Robinson had already made the decision to retire and take a position as vice president of personnel relations with the small but growing Chock Full O’ Nuts food and restaurant chain. This happened on December 10, 1957. But Robinson had a preexisting contract to give Look magazine exclusive rights to his retirement story, which meant the public couldn’t hear about his news until a January 8, 1958 publication date.
The night he signed his Chocktract, on December 11, Dodger general manager Buzzie Bavasi called Robinson to tell him he had been traded to the Giants. Teammates and the public reacted with shock to the news and rallied to his defense, even though Robinson had no intention of reporting. When the truth finally came out, it was Robinson who caught the brunt of the negative reaction at the time. Over the years, however, the story evolved into the fable that Robinson chose retirement because playing for the Giants was a moral impossibility. Robinson left baseball and the Dodgers nursing grievances over how he was treated. The trade to the Giants wasn’t the last straw that drove him out, but rather an event that confirmed that the decision he had already made was well chosen.
The newly revised edition of “100 Things Dodgers” is on sale now.
I wrote about the new Jackie Robinson film “42” for Sports on Earth. Ultimately, I enjoyed the experience even as I was disappointed by it.
For an even saltier take on the movie, here’s Scott Foundas’ review for Variety.
This piece on Jackie Robinson’s final days in 1972 at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence was written by former Los Angeles Times and Daily News sportswriter Ron Rapoport. Portions ran previously in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, but anyone interested in Robinson should read it in its entirety.
Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Josh Beckett, P
“Burt Hooton was my best friend my first two years,” said Park, who spent most of the 1995 season at Triple-A Albuquerque before breaking through with the Dodgers in ’96. “He was like an uncle to me. He cared about me, my emotions, while he was helping me learn techniques.
“One thing I told Ryu was that meeting good people is very important. I told him to try to make his pitching coach his best friend. When I got my first Major League win, I called Burt Hooton before I even called my parents. That’s how important he was to me.” …
— Ken Gurnick, MLB.com
When I ranked the top 50 Dodgers of all time a year ago for ESPNLosAngeles, Burt Hooton was 29th. But generally, you don’t hear much about him when the pantheon of great Dodgers is discussed. Nice to see his name brought back to life, particularly in this extra, nurturing dimension.
Hooton gave the Dodgers 10 years of a 3.14 ERA and though he’s often thought of as a postseason goat thanks to one outing in Philadelphia, recovered to have a 2.79 ERA in his 10 other Dodger playoff games, including a remarkable 0.82 ERA over five 1981 postseason starts. (He was the Most Valuable Player of the 1981 National League Championship Series, pitching 14 2/3 shutout innings.) That’s some big stuff that no one ever talks about.
He managed to do this despite averaging five strikeouts per nine innings, a rate that would almost assuredly signify failure in this era. Opponents had a .659 OPS against Hooton over his 15-year career. Since 1972, Hooton has the eighth-best opponent OPS+ among all Dodger pitchers (minimum 600 innings).
Footnote: Hooton is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame and was named the No. 4 college baseball player of the 20th century by Baseball America. Here is his induction speech …
Thanks to this Lyle Spencer interview with Vin Scully on MLB.com, we learn that the night Scully broadcast the Dodgers’ 1955 Game 7 World Series win, he went on a date with future “Sesame Street” creator Joan Ganz Cooney.
… “After the third out, Johnny Podres having shut them out, I was taken in a car to the Lexington Hotel with some other Dodgers people,” Scully said. “I had a date, and I left the group to get my car and go pick her up. We drove over to Brooklyn for the party at the Bossert Hotel.
“It was like V-J Day and V-E Day rolled into one when we came out of the tunnel. There were thousands of people on the sidewalks leading to the hotel. There were policemen, and parking attendants who took your car about a block from the hotel. Walking down that street to the hotel, that was an unforgettable scene.”
Young Vin really knew how to impress a date.
“Her name was Joan Ganz,” Scully said. “She was from Arizona. I’m pretty sure she later became the creator of ‘Sesame Street.’ You can check on that. We liked each other and stayed in touch, but it never got serious. I haven’t told this story, but what the heck. That was a long time ago.”
An internet check confirmed Scully’s recollection of the future of Ms. Ganz, a publicist in New York City when they met. In 1966, Joan Ganz Cooney oversaw and directed the creation of “Sesame Street,” which premiered in 1969. As the first executive director for Children’s Television Workshop, she was among the groundbreaking female executives in American television.
A Presidential Medal of Freedom award winner in 1995, Ganz Cooney was elected in 1989 to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, and three years later was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Her date that memorable October night in 1955 also is a Hall of Famer, of the Cooperstown variety. …
Just to put the Yankees’ hand-wringing over Alex Rodriguez in perspective, imagine if the Dodgers’ contract with Manny Ramirez still had two years to run.
There are some early signs that the Dodgers’ negotiations involving Manny Ramirez, who almost single-handedly lifted the storied franchise to the postseason, will not necessarily go smoothly. Ramirez is believed to be seeking a six-year deal for as much as $25 million per year, and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is said to be skeptical that the competition will be keen for the controversial but ultra-productive superstar he acquired for virtually nothing a minute before the trade deadline.
Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, declined to name a target price in an interview with SI.com on Wednesday. That $150 million total price tag is an estimate based on Boras’ use of the word “iconic” to describe the 36-year-old Ramirez, combined with Ramirez’s own constant mention of a “six-year deal” during frequent media interviews this postseason. Another factor is the reminders from those close to Manny that the 10-year deal Alex Rodriguez signed last year calls for him to be paid his regular $30 million salary from ages 38-42.
Ramirez apparently isn’t kidding with his occasional hints about a six-year deal. If that sounds like a stretch, the Dodgers will have to consider the alternative, which is to present a Manny-less team the year after the hitting savant saved them in the regular season, then carried them in October.
“He pays for himself. You’ve got a free player with Manny,” Boras said. “He’s an iconic player who’s changed the face and fortunes of the franchise.” …
… In other words, Boras is not offering apologies or discounts related to the unprofessional way in which Ramirez forced his way out of Boston. In true no-retreat, no-surrender Boras style, he is strongly hinting that he wants a six-year contract for Ramirez at top-of-the-market dollars.
“All I will tell you is, name me the player in recent times that has had the kind of season [Ramirez] has had this season and postseason,” Boras said yesterday during a conversation that lasted more than an hour.
“Put that together with two [championship] rings on his fingers, and the history he has, and that he is two years younger than Bonds when [Bonds] was a free agent. Bonds signed a five-year contract [for $90 million after the 2001 season] at 38 [he turned 38 midway through the first year of the deal] and got paid until he was 42.
“If Bonds gets five years at 38, what does Manny get at 36? If A-Rod gets paid to 42 [on his 10-year deal with the Yankees], why not Manny? He doesn’t take a backseat to him.” …
In the end, it might just be a confidence booster for 2013, but for the first time, I get the feeling the Dodgers are thinking about trying to get some starts out of Rubby De La Rosa in September.
While it’s still a ways from taking a major-league mound in September, De La Rosa pitched a season-high four innings Saturday for Rancho Cucamonga, allowing no runs on two hits and a walk with two strikeouts.
In four minor-league outings since his comeback from Tommy John surgery began, De La Rosa has thrown 12 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts, allowing five hits and three walks. At a minimum, De La Rosa might soon to be primed to help the bullpen in September.
Last year in the majors, De La Rosa had a 3.88 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings as a starter, while allowing a run in five innings with five strikeouts as a reliever.
* * *
In shorter-term relief news, Scott Elbert – who struck out all six batters he faced in his two minor-league rehab outings – was activated from the disabled list in the next day or so. The Dodgers sent Elian Herrera, who was 1 for 3 while mostly idling on the bench behind Hanley Ramirez and Luis Cruz since his recall, to the minors. Herrera would have played even less had Matt Kemp not been ejected Thursday.
That move lengthens the Dodger bullpen and shrinks the bench (at least for now), and kept the team from having to choose between sending Javy Guerra or Shawn Tolleson to the minors. Each was wild last night, each has allowed two inherited runners to score this month, but neither has been scored upon since late July.
For my part, I think Ronald Belisario would benefit from a two-week “elbow soreness” vacation. Matt Guerrier also pitched a shutout inning in the Rancho Cucamonga game, by the way.
* * *
We were trying to figure out how unusual Saturday’s no-singles game was, and Diane Firstman of Value Over Replacement Grit came up with the answer – and it’s a doozy.
The Dodgers and Braves combined for nine hits without any singles. The previous major-league record was four.
It was the sixth game in MLB history with no singles, including the Sandy Koufax perfect game against Bob Hendley’s one-hitter in 1965.
The biggest play of Saturday’s game was A.J. Ellis catching a foul tip, writes Ron Cervenka of Think Blue L.A.