Mar 17

Drysdale, Argentina


Courtesy of Dodger Thoughts commenter WBB
WBB photographed this “on a recent drive from Olavarría (Buenos Aires province) to Santiago de Chile. The town of Drysdale is midway between the Buenos Aires towns of Carlos Tejedor and General Villegas (birthplace of Manuel Puig, author of “Kiss of the Spider Woman”), on Ruta 226.”



View Larger Map

Mar 10

Nomar Garicaparra – Mr. +1 – retires


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Nomar Garciaparra follows through in the 10th inning, Sept. 18, 2006.

Nomar Garciaparra, whose place in Dodger lore was cemented with his game-winning home run in the 4+1 game, announced his retirement today. He is moving on to work for ESPN as a “Baseball Tonight” and game analyst.

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 12:05 p.m.
Today’s Lineup
Rafael Furcal, SS
Blake DeWitt, 2B
Andre Ethier, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
Brian Giles, DH
Reed Johnson, LF
Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B
Nick Green, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
(Vicente Padilla, P)

Continuing the theme of the day, Garciaparra had nine walkoff hits in his career and five in his three Dodger seasons — four of them in 2006. Garciaparra had another game-winning home run six days after the 4+1 game.

Rob Neyer of ESPN.com is among those with more on Garciaparra.

* * *

  • Memories of Willie Davis have dotted the Internet. Here are a selected few, provided by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Phil Gurnee of True Blue L.A., Buster Olney of ESPN.com, Neil Paine of Stat of the Day and Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle.  Also, Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Blog interviewed former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley about Davis. In addition, here’s a link to one of my favorite pieces, the 2007 SI.com column I wrote about Vin Scully in which Davis’ 31-game hitting streak played a prominent role.
  • The Dodgers’ Taiwan sojourn left behind very few infielders in Arizona, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes.
  • Ivan DeJesus, Jr. is the subject of the latest prospect profile at Memories of Kevin Malone.
  • Vin Scully Is My Homeboy documents his trip to Camelback Ranch. Love the picture with George Foster.
  • Forty years ago today, Ross Newhan of the Times celebrated the potential of the Dodgers’ young infield of “Billy Buckner, 20, Bill Grabarkewitz, 24, Bobby Valentine, 21 and Bill Russell, 21.” (via the Daily Mirror)
  • Don Mattingly had this to say to reporters about his Dodger future:
    “Everything will come off of what Joe does. I talked to the Dodgers after my first interview with Cleveland. They expressed that they wanted me to be a part of their future. Yes, the word ‘manager’ was brought up.”I like it here. I like California. Nothing definitive was said or done. … I’m not worried about money or things like that right now. I’m worried about our ballclub and soaking up as much as I can. I know where I want to go, but I have to keep my priorities straight.”
Mar 01

Must-own reading material

Here on this first day of March, I thought I might try to bulk up your reading lists.

First, if you haven’t already, please consider purchasing 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know and Do Before they Die. Other than missing Orlando Hudson’s cycle, Russell Martin’s stumbles and the latest drama surrounding Manny Ramirez and Frank and Jamie McCourt, everything’s still very much up to date and worth your reading. At a cost of barely $10 online, I really think it qualifies as a bargain.

Second, here’s a reminder to get the 2010 Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual. The first reader reviews have started to come in, and the reaction is as good as I expected, considering the first-rate content the writers and statisticians provided. (Here’s a link to some PDF excerpts.) You simply won’t find a better yearbook about the Dodgers anywhere.

Third, I got a copy of 2010 Baseball Prospectus, which offers insightful essays on all 30 teams plus detailed player capsules on roughly 1,000 major and minor-leaguers.  This book could keep you company all season, providing answers to almost any question you have about this year’s pros.

Finally, I’m most pleased to pass along the news that Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards, written by Josh Wilker, is available for pre-order. And it figures to be simply sensational.

Feb 27

Sandy Koufax brings Dodger fans the happiest of answers

All this time we had been preparing for baseball’s J.D Salinger to show up. But the moment he first appeared before us, it was Grace Kelly. With maybe a touch of Lincoln thrown in.

Grace and wisdom, in the flesh. Sandy Koufax was here on Earth (Earth being the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles), at once mortal and ethereal. He came to talk Saturday night – talk only about a meaningless game and a person who played it – and yet for as long as people had been waiting to hear him, he might as well have been revealing the secrets to the universe.

As Koufax pointed out, he is not the recluse he is made out to be. “I don’t know that I’ve dropped out of sight,” he told interviewer T.J. Simers in his slightly raspy but congenial voice. “I go to the Final Four year after year (not in disguise) – I wear a jacket and jeans. I go to golf tournaments. I’ve been to Super Bowls. I’ve been to Dodger Stadium. I go to dinner every night; I go to movies.”

But if he’s not in hiding, he’s not holding press conferences either. And so the audience hungered for each and every word he spoke, like ballpark kids for drifts of cotton candy.

There were distractions – some more tolerable than others.  It was not just a night for Koufax – it was a night also for Joe Torre, whose Safe at Home Foundation (combating the damage of domestic violence) was the reason Koufax agreed to the interview. It felt at times like an intrusion when questions were directed at Torre, because we’ve all seen so much of Torre. But Torre was quite interesting, thoughtful and entertaining in his replies – providing a useful reminder of how improbable his own success has been in overcoming an abusive father.

And then of course there is Simers, who wears irreverence on his sleeve in neon, and sometimes teased Koufax, just as he did when he interviewed Vin Scully and John Wooden on this stage in 2008.

But we did get our answers. As Simers himself suggested, we did separate fact from fiction. And Koufax was happy to share with us.

We learned that although many of us have think of Koufax as gentle, particularly in contrast to his partner-in-arms Don Drysdale, we were wrong.

“It sure as hell isn’t ‘gentle,’” Koufax said of how he would describe himself, “especially playing the game. Competing to me is being the last man standing. It has nothing to do with kicking water coolers. That’s ego-massage.”

Koufax was asked about a rare incident in which he was accused of hitting a player (Lou Brock) on purpose, and when the story was related to him and it was said he told Brock he was going to hit him intentionally, Koufax said that was all wrong. He never said anything like that to Brock – before hitting him intentionally.

“If you’re gonna hit someone,” Koufax maintained, “you never tell them.”

And while choosing not to talk in detail about the frightening day that Giants pitcher Juan Marichal hit Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat, Koufax denied that the game-winning homer Willie Mays subsequently hit off him came because Koufax had become too cowed.

“Willie told me later he was sure I wouldn’t throw inside,” he said. “But that had nothing to do with it. He’s Willie Mays.”

“Nobody could hit Willie,” Koufax added. “You could throw at him all day, but you couldn’t hit him.”

Koufax spoke with similar respect for Hank Aaron. When Torre wondered aloud about the seven batters Koufax walked intentionally in 1963 when his ERA for the year was 1.88 – saying that “those seven guys must be in the Hall of Fame” – Koufax joked, “He is.”

But on this night, no one had greater stature than Koufax. In case you thought it was all hype, just a case of history rolling a snowball downhill, there was an absolutely stunning moment.

As a surprise special guest, the Dodgers flew in from Spring Training the pitcher who has drawn more comparisons to Koufax than any Dodger, Clayton Kershaw. When Kershaw came on stage, Simers had him compare the size of his hand to Koufax’s. The 6-foot-3 Kershaw held out his palm, and when Koufax’s met it, Koufax’s fingers extended jaw-droppingly farther.  Koufax has finger extension like Scully has a vocabulary.

Combined with a serene poise, you understood what made Koufax so great. He even corrected Scully’s famous description during the ninth inning of his 1965 perfect game that the Dodger Stadium mound might be the “loneliest place in the world.”

“No, I had eight people on my side, standing all around me,” Koufax recalled. “While a perfect game is important, we were in a pennant race in September. We were leading, 1-0, and we had to win.”

Koufax also found himself accompanied by another friend in that ninth inning – the knowledge that he was at the pinnacle of his talent – this time corroborating Scully, who said that the night was the only time in his six-decade career with the Dodgers that he sensed in the first inning that a pitcher had no-hit stuff.

“There are times when everything is right,” Koufax said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had better stuff or better control than I did in the final two innings of that game.”

Koufax acknowledged the years prior to the 1960s when it didn’t always come so easy. Without pointing fingers, he said he “wasn’t pitching often or pitching well … I’d go warm up in the bullpen, and I’d hear an echo” of the guy warming up in preparation to relive him.

“Really encouraging,” Koufax said.

He thought with more frequent work, he had a chance to become a better pitcher sooner. But following the 1960 season, he prepared to walk away from the game.

“I just tossed (my gear) in the garbage can and went home,” he said.

But he was back the next spring.

“First, I worked that winter and found out it wasn’t a lot of fun,” he remembers. And then he made it to Vero Beach for Spring Training in 1961, and longtime Dodger clubhouse man Nobe Kawano handed Koufax what had been in the trash.

“Nobe said, ‘I thought you might need these,’” Koufax remembered with fondness.

Koufax also noted that as a bonus baby who earned more the moment he signed his first contract then some Dodger regulars earned all year, he faced resentment from his teammates in his younger days. There were two exceptions: pitching coach Joe Becker, and Jackie Robinson. In particular, Koufax said that Gil Hodges “didn’t want to have much to do with me.”

“I got a $14,000 bonus, and I was 19 years old,” Koufax said. “I was invited to every poker game. … (but) I wasn’t really welcome in that clubhouse.

“Jackie and Joe Becker were two guys who really went out of their way to try to make it okay. … But after I won my first game, Gil and his wife Joan became as good friends as I ever had.”

The real turning point, according to Koufax, came when Hodges, near the end of his great career as a Dodger first baseman, was managing the Dodgers in a split-squad game. The Dodgers were short on pitchers, and Hodges put a finger in Koufax’s chest and said, “You’re going eight innings today.”

On the trip to the game, Koufax and his roommate, catcher Norm Sherry, had the conversation that prompted Koufax to try not to throw so hard. Koufax said he walked three in the first inning, but got out of it and pitched no-hit ball for those eight innings. The legend was about to be born.

From 1962 to 1966, Koufax pitched 1,377 innings with a 1.95 ERA and 1,444 strikeouts. He started 176 games and completed 100. But he said that the cascade of arm trouble that would ultimately end his career at age 30 originated not on the mound, but as a baserunner, when he landed on his elbow while diving back into second base on a missed bunt by Junior Gilliam.

He didn’t think anything of it at first, but after his next start, his arm filled with fluid “and stayed that way all of 1964.” The Dodgers talked about giving him extra rest during the 1965 season, but it never happened. Instead of pitching every fifth day, he was pitching every fourth day, and then every third day. He won Game 7 of the 1965 World Series on two days’ rest, throwing 132 pitches in a three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout.

Ignoring the irony that the ’65 season was nearly Koufax’s last, Simers used the story to mock today’s pitchers who think a “quality start” is six innings. And Koufax didn’t argue at first, saying that in his mind, “a quality start is shaking hands with the catcher.”

But in the next moment, Koufax indicated he understood the modern approach.

“I think longevity plays a big part in (pitch counts),” he said. “I don’t blame ‘em.”

Back then, Koufax pointed out, it was different.

“You didn’t win, you didn’t get a raise,” he said.

Memorably, Koufax and Drysdale held out before the 1966 season for more money, with no leverage other than early retirement. But Koufax said it was easier for him, because he had already decided to hang ‘em up by the end of ’66, and so at most he was risking one year of his career. Drysdale was risking much more. Ultimately, the players came to terms, and Koufax finished his Dodger career with a 27-9, 1.73 season, before holding that final press conference.

In front of what might have been the largest crowd to hear him speak until tonight, a stoic Koufax announced his farewell.

“There was emotion. I wasn’t happy about it. But there’s no crying in baseball,” he concluded with a laugh.

Koufax laughed plenty on this night – he seemed utterly at peace with himself and his place on the stage, literally and metaphorically. This was not an uncomfortable person. This was not a recluse. This was a happy man.

“My grandfather just felt time was the most important asset you had,” Koufax said. “As you get older, I’ve developed the habit: Spend your money foolishly and your time wisely.”

Sandy Koufax has a considerable legacy, but to it we can add this: Sandy Koufax loves life.

Feb 07

Super Bowl XLIV, Mattel football, Elroy Face and Jose Gonzalez chat

Please feel free to chat about the Super Bowl in this all-purpose thread. In honor of the occasion, my first and probably last game review:

LED Football for iPhone

A replica of the greatest game ever, Mattel Handheld Electronic Football.

Cons: Lack of true button sensibility, defense didn’t behave exactly as I remembered, one-quarter instead of four-quarter capability, team always takes over on its own 20 rather than where the other team left the ball.

Pros: It’s a replica of the greatest game ever, Mattel Handheld Electronic Football.

* * *

Pete Townshend is performing at halftime with Roger Daltrey, and it’s time to face the Face. Elroy Face, that other minor-leaguer the Dodgers let go the Pirates in the 1950s, was interviewed by David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus.  It’s a good read.

On the other hand, Dodger fans of my vintage will probably be disappointed by this documentary: The Extraordinary Ordinary Life of Jose Gonzalez.

Feb 04

New Dodger annual headed to print

I’m pleased to announce that the first Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual, edited by yours truly and featuring many writers familiar to Dodger Thoughts readers, will be shipping this month and is available for pre-order.

The annual, which will also be available on local newsstands at the start of March, offers 128 ad-free pages devoted to the Dodgers, including a review of the 2009 season, a thorough series of player profiles and articles previewing the coming year, a 25-page section on the farm system and another 25 pages of historical features.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Amid Turmoil, Hope (2010 season preview), by Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone
  • So Close, Again (2009 season in review), by Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • Manny Be Good? (What to expect from Ramirez in 2010), by Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus
  • Disorder In McCourt (an analysis of the impact of the McCourts’ divorce) by Joshua Fisher of Dodger Divorce
  • State Of The Stadium, by Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • One Out Away (Jonathan Broxton looks to recover from another disappointing finish), by Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness
  • Critical Campaigns (James Loney and Russell Martin), by Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness
  • The Collected Colletti (a Q&A), by Josh Suchon of KABC AM 790
  • Aces Are Wild Cards (The last word on No. 1 starters), by Eric Enders, baseball historian
  • Prospect Park (Top 20 prospects in the Dodger farm system), by Dodger prospect expert Richard Bostan
  • Individually Packaged (how the Dodgers develop young arms), by Josh Suchon of KABC AM 790
  • No Minor Hopes (life in AAA), by Albuquerque Isotopes play-by-play announcer Robert Portnoy
  • One In A Trillion (a Vin Scully retrospective), by Dodger team historian Mark Langill
  • Unsung Heroes (key contributions from unexpected sources), by Bob Timmermann of The Griddle and One Through Forty-Two or Forty-Three
  • Sweep And Low (the end of the 1980 season), by Dodger Thoughts commenter BHSportsGuy
  • The Great Dividers (the 20 most controversial Dodgers of the 2000s), by Jon Weisman
Petriello also wrote the bulk of the player profiles, along with BHSportsGuy and another Dodger Thoughts commenter, CraigUnderdog.
If you enjoy this site (and maybe even if you don’t), you won’t want to be without this annual.
* * *
A great wrapup of the Dodgers’ caravan stop at my go-to fried chicken place, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, can be found at Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
Feb 04

El Camino Real alum gets minor-league shot with Dodgers

Three quick notes:

  • Will Savage, a 25-year-old El Camino Real High grad who had a 2.94 ERA in 125 1/3 innings (but only 3.5 strikeouts per nine innings) last season for Wichita in the independent American Association, signed a contract with the Dodgers and will get an opportunity to pitch in the minors for the organization, according to Our Sports Central. Savage, who was in the Phillies’ organization through 2008 after going to College of the Canyons and Oklahoma, pitched a no-hitter in June.
  • Jamie McCourt got $1.4 million in temporary spousal support, reports Bill Shaikin of The Times. Joshua Fisher discusses it at Dodger Divorce.
  • Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Blog passes along a great Jackie Robinson story.
Feb 02

When are you?

Transported in time, transported to happiness?

If you were to be time-shifted to any year in Dodger history, when would you pick?

Two conditions: 1) You wouldn’t know if you would ever come back to the present. 2) You wouldn’t have access to any gambling venues. You’d be lost on your Dodger island.

Would you go, knowing what had already happened, away from your family and friends and present-day life, just to experience it?

Feb 01

The year after 2009

The year after Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey first made the playoffs in 1974, the Dodgers finished 20 games out of first place.

The year after the Dodgers lost two consecutive World Series in 1977-78, they were in last place at the All-Star break.

The disappointing 1975 and 1979 seasons came with nary a cloud over Chavez Ravine to match the jejune gloom that fans today feel over Dodger ownership in the wake of Frank and Jamie McCourt’s divorce. Back in the 1970s, the leadership baton was successfully passed from Walter O’Malley to son Peter, with the widespread approval of the Dodger community – assuming that community even noticed the change, amid the stable ticket prices and cheap Double-Bagger peanuts.

Don Sutton turned 30 five days before Opening Day 1975. Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey, Steve Yeager, Bill Buckner, Andy Messersmith, and Doug Rau all were younger. The team was in its prime, but the Cincinnati Reds, whose biggest offseason acquisition was John Vuckovich (and his eight 1975 hits), fired up the Big Red Machine and annihilated rest of the National League West.

There would be a big lesson here about the dangers of standing pat – if the Reds hadn’t stood pat themselves. In other words, 1975 is a bad omen for the 2010 Dodgers – unless the 2009 Dodgers are the 1974 Reds.

Before you think me completely crazy, understand that I realize Russell Martin isn’t Johnny Bench, James Loney isn’t Tony Perez, Casey Blake isn’t Pete Rose and no combination of Blake DeWitt, Ronnie Belliard and Jamey Carroll could ever flap Joe Morgan’s elbow. But the point is that the coming Dodger season could go well or poorly – and whichever way it goes, it will probably have much less to do with Divorce Court than people believe.

Relative to the rest of the current NL, the Dodgers have considerable strengths in other areas, most notably the outfield and the bullpen. They’re a 95-win team that has retained about 75 percent of its talent, and the three principal losses – Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson and Juan Pierre – figure to decline this year anyway, while a good portion of the team’s core has a chance to improve and Manny Ramirez has a good chance to avoid a 50-game suspension.

And contrary to what seems to be popular opinion in Los Angeles, the other NL contenders haven’t blown past the Dodgers, divorce or not. The league champion Phillies got Roy Halladay, though they gave up Cliff Lee to get him. They get to be the favorites, though not by any wide margin. No other team in the NL had an offseason that should make any Dodger fan nervous. Arizona might get a bounce-back season from Brandon Webb and added several players (at a cost), but has a 25-game gap to make up on Los Angeles. Milwaukee picked up Wolf and Doug Davis, but saw several players depart. And so on …

NL Team 2009 W-L Notable 2010 arrivals Notable 2010 departures
Dodgers 95-67 Jamey Carroll, Nick Green, Justin Miller Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson, Juan Pierre
Philadelphia 93-69 Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco Cliff Lee, Pedro Feliz, Pedro Martinez
Colorado 92-70 Miguel Olivo, Tim Redding Yorvit Torrealba, Jason Marquis
St. Louis 91-71 Brad Penny, Ruben Gotay Joel Pineiro, Rick Ankiel, Khalil Greene
San Francisco 88-74 Aubrey Huff, Mark DeRosa Ryan Garko, Bobby Howry, Justin Miller
Florida 87-75 Jose Veras, Derrick Turnbow Nick Johnson, Ross Gload, Jeremy Hermida
Atlanta 86-76 Melky Cabrera, Troy Glaus, Billy Wagner Javier Vazquez, Adam LaRoche, Rafael Soriano
Chicago 83-78 Marlon Byrd, Xavier Nady Milton Bradley, Rich Harden
Milwaukee 80-82 Randy Wolf, Doug Davis Mike Cameron, Felipe Lopez, J.J. Hardy
Cincinnati 78-84 Orlando Cabrera, Aroldis Chapman Kip Wells, Willy Taveras
San Diego 75-87 Jon Garland, Scott Hairston, Jerry Hairston, Jr. Kevin Kouzmanoff, Edgar Gonzalez, Henry Blanco
Houston 74-88 Brett Myers, Pedro Feliz Miguel Tejada, Jose Valverde
New York 70-92 Jason Bay, Kelvim Escobar Carlos Delgado, Gary Sheffield
Arizona 70-92 Edwin Jackson, Bobby Howry, Adam LaRoche Max Scherzer, Chad Tracy
Pittsburgh 62-99 Akinori Iwamura, Ryan Church, D.J. Carrasco Matt Capps, Jesse Chavez
Washington 59-103 Jason Marquis, Ivan Rodriguez, Brian Bruney Livan Hernandez, Josh Bard

The 2010 season could go either way. The Dodgers have the talent to contend for a chance to upset the American League champion in the World Series (we’ll get to the team’s inferiority to the Yankees and Red Sox another day). They are also, like every other team including the Phillies, vulnerable to key injuries or prolonged slumps that could send them tumbling.

The 1979 Dodgers, who seemed to have everything going for them entering the season except the departure of Tommy John, lost 31 of 41 games leading into the All-Star Game, digging themselves a hole so deep that not even a league-leading 43 victories after the break could save them. And younger fans will certainly remember what happened to the Dodgers from 2004 to 2005.

On the other hand, the Dodgers rose from a heartbreaking season’s end in 1980 to a World Series title in 1981 not because of any outside acquisitions, but on the precociousness of Fernando Valenuzela and Pedro Guerrero. And though the Dodgers benefited from Kirk Gibson falling into their laps in 1988, they also had to overcome the loss of a key starting pitcher, Bob Welch.

If the Dodgers falter, it will undoubtedly be seen through the prism of the McCourts’ divorce, with everyone pointing out how the Dodgers didn’t get the reinforcements they needed. But not getting enough reinforcements is a historical pattern for the Dodgers. No Dodger team, in Brooklyn or Los Angeles, has ever made the postseason three years in a row. None. The 2010 Dodgers have a chance to be the first (not to mention a chance to be the first to win a World Series in 22 years). Their season will ride a thin line between ecstasy and disappointment.

There probably aren’t any Dodger followers, including myself, that don’t wish the team had more talent entering the 2010 season, that don’t wonder if an opportunity to get over the top is being squandered. You always want your odds to be the best they can be. But they never are.