Apr 15

Jackie, 65 years later


Below, to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day, please enjoy this reprint of Chapter 1 of 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die:

Jackie
From beginning to end, we root for greatness.

We root for our team to do well. We root for our team to create and leave lasting memories, from a dazzling defensive play in a Spring Training game to the final World Series-clinching out. With every pitch in a baseball game, we’re seeking a connection to something special, a fastball right to our nervous system.

In a world that can bring frustrations on a daily basis, we root as an investment toward bragging rights, which are not as mundane as that expression makes them sound. If our team succeeds, if our guys succeed, that’s something we can feel good about today, maybe tomorrow, maybe forever.

The pinnacle of what we can root for is Jackie Robinson.

Robinson is a seminal figure – a great player whose importance transcended his team, transcended his sport, transcended all sports. We don’t do myths anymore the way the Greeks did – too much reality confronts us in the modern age. But Robinson’s story, born in the 20th century and passed on with emphasis into the 21st, is as legendary as any to come from the sports world.

And Robinson was a Dodger. If you’re a Dodger fan, his fable belongs to you. There’s really no greater story in sports to share in. For many, particularly in 1947 when he made his major-league debut, Robinson was a reason to become a Dodger fan. For those who were born or made Dodger fans independent of Robinson, he is the reward for years of suffering and the epitome of years of success.

Robinson’s story, of course, is only pretty when spied from certain directions, focusing from the angle of what he achieved, and what that achievement represented, and the beauty and grace and power he displayed along the way. From the reverse viewpoint, the ugliness of what he endured, symbolizing the most reprehensible vein of a culture, is sickening.

Before Robinson even became a major leaguer, he was the defendant in a court martial over his Rosa Parks-like defiance of orders to sit in the back of an Army bus. His promotion to the Dodgers before the ‘47 season was predicated on his willingness to walk painstakingly along the high road when all others around him were zooming heedlessly on the low.

Even after he gained relative acceptance, even after he secured his place in the major leagues and the history books, even after he could start to talk back with honesty instead of politeness, racial indignities abounded around him. Robinson’s ascendance was a blow against discrimination, but far from the final one. He still played ball in a world more successful at achieving equality on paper than in practice. It’s important for us to remember, decades later, not to use our affinity for Robinson as cover for society’s remaining inadequacies.

Does that mean we can’t celebrate him? Hardly. For Dodger fans, there isn’t a greater piece of franchise history to rejoice in – and heaven forbid we confine our veneration of Robinson to what he symbolizes. The guy was a ballplayer. Playing nearly every position on the field over 10 seasons, Robinson had an on-base percentage of .409 and slugging percentage of .474 (132+ OPS, .310 EQA). He was an indispensible contributor to the Dodgers’ most glorious days in Brooklyn – six pennants and the franchise’s first World Series victory.

It also helps to know that some of Robinson’s moments on field were better than others, that he didn’t play with a impenetrable aura of invincibility. He rode the bench for no less an event than Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. He was human off the field, and he was human as well on it.

In the end, Robinson’s story might just be the greatest story in the game. His highlight reel – from steals of home to knocks against racism – is unmatched. In a world that’s all too real, Robinson encompasses everything there is to cheer for. If you’re a fan of another team and you hate the Dodgers, unless you have no dignity at all, your hate stops at Robinson’s feet. If your love of the Dodgers guides you home, Robinson is your North Star.

* * *

Robinson’s Retirement

One of the great myths in Dodger 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, but 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.

Apr 14

Dodgers’ walk-happy feat first since ’89

The Dodgers became the first team to end a game by receiving four consecutive walks in nearly 23 years, according to research by Bob Timmermann.

The last time it happened was May 19, 1989, when the New York Mets edged the San Francisco Giants in 10 innings.  The final pitch was thrown by future Hall of Famer Rich Gossage.

METS 10TH: Elster flied out to left; CARREON BATTED FOR MYERS;
Carreon was called out on strikes; Dykstra walked; TEUFEL BATTED
FOR JEFFERIES; Teufel walked [Dykstra to second]; GOSSAGE
REPLACED JURAK (PITCHING); OBERKFELL REPLACED LEFFERTS (PLAYING
3B); Johnson walked [Dykstra to third, Teufel to second];
Strawberry walked [Dykstra scored, Teufel to third, Johnson to
second]; 1 R, 0 H, 0 E, 3 LOB.  Giants 2, Mets 3.

* * *

Juan Uribe not only went 0 for 4 on Friday, he never touched the ball during nine innings of playing third base. No putouts, no assists, no chances, no attempted plays at third.

Apr 14

More notes from Friday’s frolic

A.J. Ellis shows the ball used for the ninth consecutive strikeout thrown by pitcher Aaron Harang. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen was apparently the latest Dodger to play with the flu, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

… Jansen has been battling a mild case of flu in recent days, which could have accounted for the velocity drop.

“I’ve been battling the flu, but that’s not an excuse at all,” Jansen said. “You still have to make good pitches and keep us in the game and try to help the team win. That is what it’s all about.”

Both manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt noticed the slight dropoff, but neither seemed alarmed by it. Honeycutt said it might have been due to the cold weather or illness. Mattingly said it might have been the difference in the eighth inning and the ninth, which almost anyone in baseball agrees is fairly huge except for the pitchers who actually pitch in those innings.

“It doesn’t feel any different,” Jansen said. “You have to treat the eighth inning just like it’s the ninth inning, just come in and get the job done.”

But catcher A.J. Ellis said Jansen did seem a bit out of sorts at the beginning of the inning, when he walked the first batter, Chris Denorfia.

“He was a little more tentative than I have seen him,” Ellis said. “But after that first batter, he was definitely locked back in. He came right back to strike out the next two batters on six straight pitches. Chase Headley is a good hitter, a three-hole hitter in the National League, and that pitch ended up over the middle of the plate.”

Jansen was trying to throw it in on Headley, but said it ran back over the middle. At any rate, the hope is that the velocity drop was a one-time thing — although he gave up a double to Yonder Alonso after Headley’s home run, Jansen still looked pretty unhittable in striking out the three batters he did. If it continues, though, it could become a source of alarm. …

Jackson also noted, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. did late Friday, the possibility of Todd Coffey going to the disabled list with a hobo knee. (That’s like a bum knee, only with a different word for bum.)

Also, bullpen coach Ken Howell is getting treatement for his diabetes, and will be replaced for the time being by organization pitching coordinator Jim Slaton.

* * *

Some more notes from Aaron Harang’s amazing night, from Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN Stats & Information:

… Three other pitchers had nine straight strikeouts in one game: Mickey Welch in 1884 (the first year in which overhand pitching was permissible), Jake Peavy in 2007 and Ricky Nolasco in 2009.

Harang tied the major-league record by recording nine strikeouts through the first three innings.

Two other players have done it, only one in the “Modern Era”:
Mickey Welch, NY Giants, August 28, 1884
Don Wilson, Houston, July 14, 1968 (G2)

Harang tied his career high with 13 strikeouts and is the first Dodgers pitcher in the last 90 seasons to have at least 13 strikeouts in a game and pitch fewer than seven innings. The last pitcher on any team to do it was Yovani Gallardo last year.

The last pitcher with exactly 13 strikeouts on Friday the 13th was Dwight Gooden on June 13, 1986 for the Mets against the Pirates.

* * *

Bryan Stow’s 13-year-old son Tyler threw out the first pitch before the Giants’ home opener, reports The Associated Press, while Bryan himself appeared on the stadium videoboard.

Giovanni Ramirez, who was mistakenly accused of beating Stow, attended his first Dodger game Tuesday, according to KCAL via the Huffington Post.

* * *

Despite what became a tumultuous hearing, federal bankruptcy court approved the sale of the Dodgers by Frank McCourt to the Guggenheim group. Bill Shaikin of the Times has all the details.

Here’s one excerpt:

… The settlement includes confidential provisions about how the league could treat revenue from a Dodgers-owned regional sports network, Bennett said. He declined to elaborate, but the provisions are believed to limit how much of the Dodgers’ television proceeds must be shared with other teams via revenue sharing.

Those conditions — and the ability of the mediator to enforce them regardless of what Selig might say — represented what Guggenheim attorney Michael Small called a “substantial component of the value proposition of the transaction.”

Guggenheim agreed to pay $2.15 billion — a record price for a sports franchise — to buy the Dodgers and half-ownership of the Dodger Stadium parking lots. McCourt, who did not have to sell the land under his settlement with MLB, gets to retain half-ownership.

“We really are concerned about the parking lot situation,” Lauria said.

Lauria said that Walter had pledged to MLB owners that he would not buy the Dodgers unless Guggenheim controlled 16,500 surface-level parking spaces — that is, no parking structures. Once the sale was announced, however, Lauria said Guggenheim refused to provide any details about how the joint venture to own the parking lots would work.

The Dodgers submitted some of those details under seal this week, and attorneys for the Los Angeles Times had asked Gross to compel the team to release the details publicly. The Dodgers instead withdrew the document and said they would release it at a later date, although Bennett said Friday the team’s lease for the lots would be extended from 25 years to 99 years. …

Apr 09

The 50 greatest Dodgers of all time

Who are the Dodgers’ all-time 50 greatest players? It was no easy task to determine, but for this ESPNLosAngeles.com photo gallery, I made my best effort, in honor of Dodger Stadium’s 50th anniversary.

A few other quick links:

  • Dodger Stadium’s top-50 moments also got some ESPNLosAngeles.com play, presented in reverse chronological order by former Times sportswriter Mike Downey.
  • Vin Scully shared some Dodger Stadium thoughts with Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • Similarly, Frank Howard talked to Lance Pugmire of the Times about the early days of Dodger Stadium.
Mar 19

Spanish-language Dodger telecasts coming to airwaves

Fox Sports is going to begin producing dedicated Spanish-language broadcasts of the Dodgers this season, along with the Angels and Clippers. I have some details in a story this morning at Variety.

… Time Warner Cable will air the Fox-produced games even as it moves toward its proposed Spanish-language channel dedicated primarily to the Lakers, scheduled to launch before the 2012-13 NBA season. Time Warner and Fox are primary rivals for the post-2013 cable TV rights to the Dodgers.

FSN said it would produce more than 100 Spanish-language game broadcasts this year and more than 150 in 2013, with an eye on continued growth down the road. The productions will include Spanish-language play-by-play, graphics, player interviews. Announcers and a full game schedule remain to be announced, but the first game for the Angels will be April 6 and for the Dodgers will be April 11.

There will be a handful of Clipper games in Spanish before the regular season ends April 25.

Fox is not charging distributors any additional fees for the broadcasts, but rather only requiring that they be made available on expanded digital as opposed to a paid tier. Ad sales will be the primary source of revenue. …

* * *

Dee Gordon’s potential is praised by Buster Olney at ESPN.com.

Dee Gordon asks a lot of questions, something that Barry Larkin noticed the first time he worked with the Dodgers shortstop in the offseason. Precise questions, about how you hold the glove in making a play at the second base bag, about how you make sure you hit the ball on the ground when you want to, about your mental approach.

This curiosity is part of the reason Larkin came away from his conversations with Gordon believing that the son of former relief pitcher Tom Gordon will become a good player — a really good player. “He’s got the ability to be an All-Star — and a perennial All-Star,” Larkin said over the phone Friday, from Arizona. …

* * *

  • Sportswriting legend Furman Bisher has passed away, at age 93. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where Bisher spent 59 years, has more, while Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew points to Bisher’s seminal piece on Shoeless Joe Jackson.
  • At the Daily Mirror, Mary Mallory has a long piece on original Dodger Stadium organist Bob Mitchell, whose career in music dated back to the 1920s.
  • Maury Brown takes a look at the Dodger ownership finalists at Baseball Prospectus.
  • Sandy Koufax had more trouble with Hank Aaron than any other hitter, according to this post by William Juliano at Bronx Banter. Willie Mays also gave Koufax fits.
Jan 26

Can Kershaw repeat?

At lunch Wednesday with Dodger publications director Jorge Martin, we marveled with glee not only at Clayton Kershaw’s magnificent 2011 season, but our inability, despite knowing all about how hard the job of pitching is, not to expect him to dominate every time out in 2012. Our heads tell us he might not pitch as well this year as last. Our hearts tell us he can pitch even better.

It got me to wondering how pitchers with seasons like Kershaw’s followed them up the following campaign. And the news isn’t exactly good.

Here are two charts – the first an appetizer, the second the main course:

Top 20 individual Dodger seasons since 1958

Player Year Age ERA+ ERA+ next year   Change
Koufax 1966 30 190 Retired  
Koufax 1964 28 188 160   -28
Hershiser 1985 26 171 90   -81
Brown 2000 35 169 151 * -18
Brown 2003 38 169 110 * -59
Kershaw 2011 23 163 TBD  
Sutton 1972 27 162 144   -18
Sutton 1981 35 161 112   -49
Koufax 1965 29 160 190   30
Koufax 1963 27 159 160   1
Nomo 1995 26 150 122   -28
Welch 1985 28 150 106   -44
Drysdale 1964 27 149 118   -31
Messersmith 1975 29 149 125   -24
Hershiser 1988 29 149 149   0
Hersisher 1989 30 149 88   -61
Hooton 1981 31 148 87 * -61
Penny 2007 29 147 67 * -70
Hooton 1977 27 147 130   -17
Reuss 1981 32 146 113   -33
Average   29 159 123 4 -33

* did not pitch enough innings to qualify for ERA title in following year

Top 50 individual MLB seasons since 1958, ages 21-25

Player Year Age ERA+ ERA+ next year   Change
P. Martinez 1997 25 219 163   -56
Z. Greinke 2009 25 205 100   -105
D. Chance 1964 23 198 108   -90
C. Buchholz 2010 25 187 122 * -65
V. Blue 1971 21 185 102 * -83
J. Santana 2004 25 182 155   -27
B. Saberhagen 1989 25 180 118   -62
K. Appier 1993 25 179 131   -48
M. Prior 2003 22 179 110 * -69
D. Righetti 1981 22 174 105   -69
F. Hernandez 2010 24 174 111   -63
T. Lincecum 2009 25 173 114   -59
F. Hernandez 2009 23 172 174   2
J. Peavy 2004 23 171 134   -37
J. D’Amico 2000 24 171 72 * -99
T. Lincecum 2008 24 169 173   4
J. Candelaria 1977 23 169 115   -54
R. Clemens 1986 23 169 154   -15
D. Ellsworth 1963 23 167 99   -68
K. Millwood 1999 25 167 99   -68
A. Anderson 1988 25 166 110   -56
K. Appier 1992 25 166 179   13
S. McDowell 1968 25 165 127   -38
T. Seaver 1969 24 165 143   -22
B. Webb 2003 24 165 129   -36
S. Carlton 1969 24 164 111   -53
M. Mussina 1994 25 164 145   -19
C. Kershaw 2011 23 163 TBD  
B. Sheets 2004 25 162 128   -34
G. Nolan 1972 24 162 102 * -60
T. John 1968 25 161 119   -42
S. McDowell 1965 22 161 120   -41
J. Magrane 1988 23 161 124   -37
C. Zambrano 2004 23 160 135   -25
A. Hammaker 1983 25 159 164 * 5
J. Jurrjens 2009 23 159 84 * -75
R. Halladay 2002 25 159 145   -14
M. Fidrych 1976 21 159 149 * -10
B. Zito 2002 24 158 135   -23
B. Blyleven 1973 22 158 142   -16
D. Bosman 1969 25 158 118   -40
M. Mussina 1992 23 157 100   -57
J. Guzman 1992 25 156 109   -47
R. Jones 1975 25 156 120   -36
A. Pettitte 1997 25 156 104   -52
F. Tanana 1977 23 154 99   -55
D. McLain 1968 24 154 135   -19
J. Palmer 1969 23 154 134   -20
R. Clemens 1987 24 154 141   -13
T. Glavine 1991 25 153 134   -19
Average   24 168 125 8 -43

As you can see, there’s a host of great names on these lists, including Hall of Famers and Hall of Very Gooders. Just because there’s a decline after a great season doesn’t mean that there weren’t great seasons in their future.

But a decline following a great season for a young pitcher is common, and on average pretty significant.

So the challenge for our dear Kershaw is to buck history. This much I’ll say – if anyone can do it, if anyone can imitate Sandy Koufax (at a younger age), he can.

Jan 20

Every other team’s Most Valuable Dodger


Getty ImagesReggie Smith

Reading Evan Bladh’s recent post on Mike Piazza at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance, I got to wondering about the Mike Piazzas of every team in baseball — which players were the most valuable to both the Dodgers and another team.

So I put together this chart of what I thought might be the best. Keep in mind that I tried as hard as possible to avoid technicalities — if the player wasn’t significant to both teams, I wasn’t interested. So no Duke Snider with the Giants, no Frank Robinson. And managing didn’t count, so there’s no place for Gil Hodges or Joe Torre.

Let me know what you think — some choices were tough, but with others I might simply have had a blind spot and forgotten about a better option. Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Arizona and Cincinnati were no picnic, to name a few. If you suggest someone in the comments below who is an improvement, I’ll make the change.

Update: Changes made below thanks to some great reader suggestions. I took several of them and deliberated others before deciding to stick with what I had.

 
Arizona Steve Finley
Atlanta Dusty Baker Rafael Furcal
Baltimore Eddie Murray
Boston Reggie Smith
Chicago Cubs Bill Buckner
Chicago White Sox Tommy John
Cincinnati Kal Daniels Jeff Shaw
Cleveland Brett Butler Orel Hershiser
Colorado Pedro Astacio
Detroit Kirk Gibson
Houston Jimmy Wynn
Kansas City Tim Belcher
Los Angeles Angels Andy Messersmith
Miami Gary Sheffield
Milwaukee Greg Brock
Minnesota Ron Perranoski
New York Mets Mike Piazza
New York Yankees Al Downing
Oakland Bob Welch
Philadelphia Jay Johnstone Dolph Camilli
Pittsburgh Burleigh Grimes
San Diego Steve Garvey
San Francisco Jeff Kent
Seattle Adrian Beltre
St. Louis Joe Medwick
Tampa Bay Wilson Alvarez
Texas Charlie Hough Frank Howard
Toronto Shawn Green
Washington Pedro Martinez Mike Marshall

Here’s how my initial selections shape up by position:

1B 2B SS 3B LF CF RF C SP RP
Murray Kent Furcal Beltre Medwick Wynn Smith Piazza Hershiser Marshall
Garvey       Gibson Finley Sheffield   Grimes Perranoski
Buckner       Howard Green   John Shaw
Camilli             Messersmith Welch
Brock               Downing Alvarez
                Astacio
                Belcher
Jan 11

In left field for the Dodgers, Ted Williams …

Funny one-line intro …

  • Here’s video of John Candelaria no-hitting the Dodgers in 1976. Check out how excited color commentator Bob Gibson is alongside play-by-play man Al Michaels for the final out.
  • Manny Ramirez talked at length with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez about events of the past year and his desire to play again. It’s self-serving but take it for what you will.
  • Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner looks at how different this year’s Triple-A Isotopes will be. An excerpt:

    A total of 19 additional players who spent time in Albuquerque in 2011 became free agents after the season.

    Left-handed starter Alberto Bastardo (4-3, 5.38 ERA) has signed with the Marlins organization, which puts him in contention for a rotation spot with New Orleans.

    Closer Jon Link (2-2, 4.24, 11 saves) inked a deal with the Orioles, enabling him to potentially pitch closer to his Virginia home with Norfolk, another Triple-A team run by Isotopes owner Ken Young.

    Right-handed reliever Travis Schlichting (5-3, 7.10, four saves) will join the wide-open competition for a roster spot in cash-strapped Oakland.

    Corner infielder Corey Smith (.239, 7 HR) joined the White Sox, while utility player Eugenio Velez (.339, 31 RBI) will take his 0-for-37 skid in the Majors to the Cardinals organization.

    The free agents still looking for work include pitchers Roman Colon, Roy Corcoran and Randy Keisler, plus catcher Damaso Espino, first baseman John Lindsey and outfielders Brad Coon and Jay Gibbons.

  • For Variety, I took a look at the state of NFL, MLB and NBA sports broadcasts on mobile and digital platforms.
  • World Series MVP David Freese will risk killing all his postseason good vibes with a guest appearance on maligned ABC sitcom “Work It” on January 24, if the show isn’t canceled first.
  • Vin Scully talked to Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News about his upcoming bobblehead night. “Since I won’t be here for the 100th anniversary (of Dodger Stadium), I agreed to do the 50th,” Scully said. “Otherwise, I would be open to questions as to why I didn’t do it. It’s far easier this way.”
  • Ted Williams, 1940: “If I were a free agent and each major league club offered me identical contracts, I’d sign with the Dodgers. … I know I’d be a hero in Brooklyn.” (Link via Larry Granillo and Baseball Prospectus.)
Jan 08

Nomo, Bergen among new Shrine of the Eternals nominees


David Zalubowski/APIn the rain, Hideo Nomo faces the first batter in his September 17, 1996 no-hitter at Coors Field.

Former Dodgers Hideo Nomo, Bill Bergen and Lefty O’Doul are among the 10 first-time nominees for the Shrine of the Eternals, brought to you by the Baseball Reliquary.

Any member of the Reliquary can vote on the Shrine of the Eternals. An active membership costs $25 annually. Honorees will be announced in May, with Induction Day on July 15 in Pasadena.

Here are the 50 names on this year’s ballot (with years on ballot in parentheses) – really a wonderful list – followed by the Reilquary’s biographies of the 10 new nominees:

1. Eliot Asinof (9)
2. Gary Bell (new)
3. Bill Bergen (new)
4. Steve Bilko (new)
5. Steve Blass (3)
6. Chet Brewer (13)
7. Charlie Brown (5)
8. Jefferson Burdick (3)
9. Glenn Burke (5)
10. Bert Campaneris (new)
11. Jose Canseco (new)
12. Charles M. Conlon (11)
13. Dizzy Dean (12)
14. Bucky Dent (4)
15. Hector Espino (3)
16. Charles Faust (new)
17. Donald Fehr (2)
18. Eddie Feigner (12)
19. Lisa Fernandez (12)
20. Charlie Finley (2)
21. Rube Foster (14)
22. Jim “Mudcat” Grant (8)
23. Ernie Harwell (9)
24. Dr. Frank Jobe (10)
25. Annabelle Lee (new)
26. Effa Manley (14)
27. Conrado Marrero (3)
28. Dr. Mike Marshall (7)
29. Tug McGraw (9)
30. Fred Merkle (6)
31. Manny Mota (5)
32. Hideo Nomo (new)
33. Lefty O’Doul (new)
34. Joe Pepitone (2)
35. Phil Pote (10)
36. Vic Power (4)
37. Curtis Pride (2)
38. Dan Quisenberry (6)
39. J.R. Richard (13)
40. Annie Savoy (2)
41. Rusty Staub (7)
42. Chuck Stevens (4)
43. Toni Stone (new)
44. Luis Tiant (10)
45. Fay Vincent (11)
46. Rube Waddell (14)
47. John Montgomery Ward (6)
48. David Wells (2)
49. Wilbur Wood (2)
50. Don Zimmer (8)

GARY BELL (b. 1936)—Immortalized in the pages of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four as a charter member of the beer-pounding, beaver-shooting Seattle Pilots, the good-natured, wise-cracking Bell (inevitably nicknamed “Ding Dong”) came up with Cleveland in 1958 as a “can’t-miss” pitching prospect, part of a strong staff that eventually included Mudcat Grant, Sam McDowell, and Luis Tiant. Bell posted solid if unspectacular numbers with the Indians for a decade until a trade to the Red Sox in 1967 placed him in the midst of their “Impossible Dream” pennant-winning season. The cheerful Texan is the answer to the perennially-asked trivia question: “Who was the winning pitcher in the Pilots’ first home game?”

BILL BERGEN (1878-1943)—Whoever first offered the canard, “I don’t care what my catcher hits; he’s in there for defense,” must have been thinking of Bill Bergen, a defensively superb dead-ball era catcher who would have been forgotten entirely if not for the fact that he holds the most dubious record in baseball history: lowest batting average ever—.170—for a player with 2500 or more at-bats; a record that makes latter-day lightweights like Ray Oyler and Mario Mendoza look like Ty Cobb.

STEVE BILKO (1928-1978)—Moon-faced first baseman who wrapped a so-so major league career around a legendary stint in the Pacific Coast League, where he paced the circuit in home runs for three consecutive seasons (1955 to 1957), and won the PCL’s Triple Crown in 1956 with a phenomenal display of slugging for the Los Angeles Angels. Astutely drafted by the expansion Angels of the American League in 1961, the extraordinarily popular Bilko made further inroads into pop culture immortality as the source for the name of the Phil Silvers’ character, Sgt. Bilko, on the actor’s television program.

BERT CAMPANERIS (b. 1942)—Speedy, durable shortstop for the Kansas City-Oakland franchise of the 1960s and ’70s whose flash and flair embodied the spirit of the Swingin’ A’s. A six-time All Star who once played all nine positions in a single game, “Campy” in his prime was arguably the best shortstop between the Luis Aparicio and Dave Concepcion eras.

JOSE CANSECO (b. 1964)—Wayward Cuban-born slugger of prodigious gifts and blasé demeanor who, with fellow “Bash Brother” Mark McGwire, led the Oakland A’s back to respectability in the late 1980s. His open admission of steroid use throughout his career, documented in several tell-all books, made him a pariah in MLB circles after his retirement.

CHARLES “VICTORY” FAUST (1880-1915)—Few baseball tales are as odd—or ultimately, sad—as the story of Charlie “Victory” Faust, a gawky stringbean of a man who in 1911 managed to convince New York Giants manager John McGraw that he, Faust, was destined to pitch the team to a World Series championship, and furthermore had the talent to jinx opposing teams (“put the whommy on ‘em,” as Casey Stengel might have said). With Faust adopted by McGraw as team mascot/good luck charm, the Giants did indeed win the 1911 series, and Faust did indeed pitch in two meaningless games. Faust faded into oblivion after the 1912 season, dying in a Washington sanitarium in 1915, until his story was resurrected a half-century later by historian Larry Ritter. (More on Faust here.)

ANNABELLE LEE (1922-2008)—The poetically named southpaw pitched with four different teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) from 1944 through 1950 and is credited with hurling the first perfect game in league history in 1944, adding a no-hitter to her credentials the following season. A Los Angeles native whose father played in the Pacific Coast League and whose nephew Bill Lee was a Red Sox legend, Annabelle Lee is part of the AAGPBL permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

HIDEO NOMO (b. 1968)—Credited with opening the door to Major League Baseball for native Japanese players, right-handed pitcher Hideo Nomo established himself as a star early in his career with the Kinetsu Buffaloes (1990-1994) before taking advantage of a contractual loophole to sign with the L.A. Dodgers. Using an exaggerated, jerky windmill motion (the genesis of his nickname “The Tornado”), Nomo became an overnight sensation in the U.S., ushering in the era of “Nomomania” while winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 1995. He became an itinerant pitcher after a few seasons with the Dodgers, and never really captured the nation’s enthusiasm again after his rookie campaign, but by then U.S. fans had other Japanese stars to cheer for—Ichiro, Matsui, Hasegawa, Matsuzaka, and many others.

LEFTY O’DOUL (1897-1969)—A man of many hats—most of them green, to match his favorite color of suit—the legacy of Francis “Lefty” O’Doul is so varied and accomplished as to defy neat description: a San Francisco native, still revered as a favorite son of the city (his sports bar is still a civic landmark), O’Doul began his big-league career as a relief pitcher, but re-emerged as a slugger after a reclamation stint in the Pacific Coast League. He terrorized NL pitchers during the late 1920s and early 1930s, won two batting titles, nearly hit .400 in 1929, and retired with the fourth-best career average of .349 in 1934. Returning to the PCL, he managed the San Francisco Seals through one of their most productive periods, mentored the young Joe DiMaggio, and established a reputation as one of the greatest hitting coaches in history. He also found time to work as a baseball ambassador to Japan, giving the professional game a leg up in that country. He is in everyone’s Hall of Fame except for the one that counts: Cooperstown.

TONI STONE (1931-1996)—Born Marcenia Lyle Alberga, Toni Stone played baseball from the moment she could walk, a standout player among local boy’s teams, American Legion squads, and black semi-pro outfits through the WWII era. Barred from play in the segregated AAGPBL, she was signed in 1953 by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League to play second base, a position recently vacated by Henry Aaron. She had her greatest thrill in baseball with the Clowns: a chance to bat against Satchel Paige. A victim of the sexism prevalent among all races during the era, her skills as an athlete were overshadowed by her value as a publicity tool, and after a stint with the fabled Kansas City Monarchs in 1954, she retired. She was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, and is memorialized in two separate permanent displays at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The thirty-nine individuals previously elected to the Shrine of the Eternals are, in alphabetical order: Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Roger Angell, Emmett Ashford, Moe Berg, Yogi Berra, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Jim Brosnan, Bill Buckner, Roberto Clemente, Steve Dalkowski, Rod Dedeaux, Jim Eisenreich, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Ted Giannoulas, Josh Gibson, Pete Gray, William “Dummy” Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill James, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Roger Maris, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, Pete Rose, Casey Stengel, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck, Jr., Maury Wills, and Kenichi Zenimura.

Nov 17

Remembering 2011 and looking beyond: Clayton Kershaw


Getty ImagesBrothers in arms …

Baseball is a team sport that honors individual accomplishments like no other, so much so that when I ask this question …

Who is more revered in Los Angeles, the 1963 and 1965 world champion Dodgers, or Sandy Koufax?

… the answer, I believe, is surely Koufax.

It’s a choice between heaven and nirvana, a hypothetical beyond the heretical, one you need not fret over. You never have to have one without the other. But while those Dodgers were angels, Koufax is a god.

So when Clayton Kershaw draws comparisons to Koufax, it is no small matter. It is a very large matter, larger in some ways than the Dodgers’ passing another year without becoming world champions, and larger certainly than Kershaw’s fate in the 2011 National League Cy Young Award balloting.

Don’t misunderstand me — Kershaw winning today’s award is a big deal, a wonderful, rip-roaring accomplishment, and yet at the same time, the celebration of his victory is about 1/1,000,000,000th of how nuts Dodger fans will go the next time they’re the last team to leave the field at the end of a season. But if Kershaw turns about to be another Koufax, a living, breathing Zeus throwing lightning bolts from his pitching Olympus, that’s going to resonate through history even more.

Koufax is a Los Angeles Dodger who is honored like no other, so much so that when I ask this question …

Is Kershaw going to be even better than Koufax?

… the answer, I believe, may cause heart palpitations across an entire Dodgers universe.

Through age 23, Kershaw has 716 1/3 innings, 745 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.173 and a
park/era-adjusted ERA, according to Baseball-Reference.com, of 135.

Through age 23, Koufax had 516 2/3 innings, 486 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.461 and a
park/era-adjusted ERA, according to Baseball-Reference.com, of 100.

At the age that Kershaw became a Cy Young Award winner, Koufax had a 4.05 ERA in 153 1/3 innings in which he walked 92. Koufax didn’t have a significantly above-average season until he was 25 and wasn’t ever mentioned on a Cy Young ballot until he won the award for the first time at age 27.

Comparisons are never perfect — Jane Leavy’s Koufax biography is one of several sources that describes manager Walter Alston’s ambivalence about using the young Koufax, leaving open the possibility that Alston hampered Koufax’s early development. And surely, there’s no guarantee that even though Kershaw is better than Koufax was at age 23, he’ll still be better from ages 26-30, when Koufax, at the height of his astonishment, pitched 1,377 innings, struck out 1,444 with an ERA+ of 167.

Who knows if Kershaw will ever reach a World Series, let alone pitch in four of them with a 0.95 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 57 innings, including back-to-back shutouts with 10 strikeouts apiece with only two days in between?

But in the race across time between Koufax and Kershaw, Koufax is the tortoise, and Kershaw is the hare, except that he’s a hare with a head on his shoulders, not to mention better medical.

Scouts told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com all the different ways Kershaw can still improve. “That change[up] is still a work in progress,” one scout said. “The curveball has a chance to be really good. I had his fastball from 89 [mph] all the way up to 96. So I don’t think he is where he is going to be yet, not anywhere near it.”

Koufax won three Cy Young Awards and finished in third place for another. Already, Kershaw is more than a quarter of the way there. He’s 23, and should remain a Dodger past Koufax’s age of retirement, 30. Kershaw is the kind of pitcher who people will make pilgrimages to see for decades after he has left the playing field, who can carry a franchise’s legacy even if the franchise itself is too weak to build upon its own.

It could all go haywire in an instant, so easily that when I ask this question …

Can Kershaw do it over the long haul?

… the answer, I believe, is let’s see. Yes, please, let’s see.

* * *

We saw this coming. Looking ahead to the 2011 season in February, we could say the following:

… He’s not a Fernando or a Sandy. Not even a Piazza or (for that brief, baggage-heavy moment) a Manny. He’s not a “Bulldog” or a “Game Over.”

He’s still a plain old guy with two plain old names, with a humble personality to match — a wolf in sheepish clothing.

If you say Clayton Kershaw is the best player on the Dodgers, you won’t necessarily get an argument, but you might get a shrug. With disappointment still dripping from the team’s 2010 season, “best player on the Dodgers” won’t earn you much more than a patronizing pat on the head, maybe an extra juice box after practice. For now, anyway.

Sometimes it happens practically overnight, the way it seemed to with Fernando Valenzuela and Mike Piazza. Other times — more often, really — it’s years in the making, as with Sandy Koufax, Orel Hershiser and Eric Gagne.

Either way, there’s an explosion within reach for Kershaw — oh, you better believe there is. He turns 23 on March 19, and soon after, he might turn Dodger Stadium back into a place where fans are racing through the crowds for their seats, the way they did for those transcendent heroes of the recent or distant past, for no other reason than to drool over his next pitch or exult in his supremacy. …

Kershaw’s 2010 season had been very, very good — a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 204 1/3 innings — so good that if he had regressed in 2011, he still could have had a very good season. Despite shutting out San Francisco over seven innings on Opening Day, Kershaw’s first month of 2011 looked like it would fall into that groove. Even with 41 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings, inconsistency left him holding a 3.52 ERA at the end of April.

May was our first sign that something really special was within reach. He started six games and allowed eight runs, pitching 40 2/3 innings with a 1.77 ERA and 46 strikeouts, finishing the month with a two-hit, 10-strikeout shutout of Florida in which neither hit was a hard one.

But June started with two absolutely carking games. (Note: “Carking” is both archaic and a bit inaccurate, but it sounds exactly like the word I want.) On June 4 at Cincinnati, Kershaw had faced the minimum number of batters in the sixth inning, only to have things slip away for six runs over the next two innings. Five days later, Kershaw virtually repeated himself in Colorado. His ERA zipped back up to 3.44, and “learning experience” again elbowed its way into the picture.

Now here’s where things really get fun.

Over his final 19 starts of the year, Kershaw allowed only 24 earned runs. He pitched 141 2/3 innings with 146 strikeouts and a 1.52 ERA. Opponents had a .236 on-base percentage and .285 slugging percentage.

Over his final nine starts of the year, Kershaw allowed only seven earned runs. He pitched 65 2/3 innings with 64 strikeouts and a 0.96 ERA. Opponents had a .225 on-base percentage and .274 slugging percentage.

There were pitches he would have liked to have had back, but not many, not many at all.

He pitched another two-hit shutout June 20. He need only eight pitches for a perfect fifth inning with a strikeout in the All-Star Game. He struck out 12 in eight shutout innings on July 20 to beat Tim Lincecum for the second time in 2011, struck out nine in eight innings while allowing only an unearned run to beat Lincecum again Sept. 9, then earned his fourth win over Lincecum (and 20th of the season) on Sept. 20 by allowing one earned run in 7 1/3 innings.

With a triumphant final outing against San Diego on Sept. 25, Kershaw (21-50 ended his year with a league-leading 248 strikeouts, 0.977 WHIP and 2.28 ERA and an adjusted ERA of 163 that was a hair behind Roy Halladay’s 164.

Should Halladay, who pitched home games in a more challenging park, have won the Cy Young? If you think so, I won’t try to dissuade you. I’ll just relax with this.

Halladay, 34, is a true Hall of Fame candidate, practically the gold standard for pitching over the past four seasons with by far the best adjusted ERA during that span. When Halladay was 23, he allowed 80 earned runs in 67 2/3 innings for a 10.64 ERA.

It was a close call for who should be called the best pitcher in the NL today. But one, just one, is so amazing at such a young age, that when I ask this question …

What pitcher in baseball would you most like to have right now?

… only one answer should come to your mind: Clayton Edward Kershaw.

Nov 15

Kemp: The Dodgers’ all-time leader in … ?

How high will Matt Kemp rise on the Dodgers’ all-time leaderboards during his eight-year contract?

Home runs
Leader:
Duke Snider, 389
Kemp: 20th with 128, trails by 261, or 32.6 per year

RBI
Leader:
Duke Snider, 1,271
Kemp: 29th with 457, trails by 824, or 103 per year

Hits:
Leader:
Zack Wheat, 2,804
Kemp: 38th with 840, trails by 1,964, or 245.5 per year

Stolen bases:
Leader:
Maury Wills, 490
Kemp: 15th with 144, trails by 346, or 43.3 per year

Runs:
Leader:
Pee Wee Reese, 1,338
Kemp: 31st with 464, trails by 874, or 109.25 per year

Doubles
Leader:
Zack Wheat, 464
Kemp: 37th with 140, trails by 324, or 43 per year

Total bases:
Leader:
Zack Wheat, 4,003
Kemp: 36th with 1,420, trails by 2,583, or 322.9 per year

Strikeouts
Leader:
Duke Snider, 1,123
Kemp: eighth with 740, trails by 383, or 47.9 per year

Plate appearances
Leader: Zack Wheat, 9,720
Kemp: 44th with 3,158, trails by 6,562, or 820.3 per year

Wins above replacement
Leader:
Pee Wee Reese, 66.7
Kemp: 21.7, trails by 45, or 5.6 per year

Power-speed number: 2(HRxSB)/(HR+SB)
Leader:
Willie Davis, 211.0
Kemp: eighth with 135.5, trails by 75.5, or 9.4 per year

Kemp’s looking like the most power-fast swingiest ballplayer in Dodger history to me.

Nov 08

A long wait rewarded: The 1981 Dodgers


Jon Weisman/ESPNLosAngeles.comRon Cey signs an autograph near a replica of the 1981 World Series trophy Saturday.

The 1980s might be considered the last glory days for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But for Dodger fans at the start of that decade, those were desperate times.

It had been 15 seasons since the Dodgers had won World Series title, their longest drought since Next Year first came in 1955. They had suffered through three near-misses, each arguably more agonizing than the last, in their 1974, 1977 and 1978 Fall Classic falls.

The 1980 Dodgers had arguably the most dramatic season yet of that era, winning three games on the final three days of the regular season before falling in a 163rd game against Houston still painful for those who remember it.

Even their hot start in ’81, when the Dodgers won 29 of their first 40 games, was clouded by — yes, this resonates today — off-field issues. A labor crisis was brewing, the sport’s biggest yet. Would the Dodgers, potentially the best team in baseball, even be able to finish their season?

Some Dodger fans today – especially the younger ones – don’t think of the 1981 World Series title much, or at least they take it for granted. The 1988 title is the one on everyone’s frontal lobe: Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and friends giving the franchise its last taste of October glory. It’s the team that the desperate fans of today call back to.

The 1981 team, though, is the team that for which the desperate fans of the last generation give thanks.

Saturday in City of Industry, more than 20 members of the 1981 World Series team, along with manager Tommy Lasorda gathered, for a memorabilia signing event that certainly was a money-making function at its core, but also a time for appreciation. Hundreds of fans had lined up, some just as dawn was breaking, for the chance to spend a few minutes here, a few minutes there with a team that will never be forgotten but too often gets overshadowed.

Jon Weisman/ESPNLosAngeles.comDusty Baker smiles for the cameras at the ’81 team reunion.

As much fun as it was to have a personal encounter with the heroes of ’81, I would say I found the most pleasure in seeing them reunite with each other. During my longest interview, a warm, 15-minute chat with Dusty Baker, the highlight was nothing between me and him as much as when Bill Russell arrived and Baker got up to hug him, the pair having not seen each other in years. Baker was still smiling when he sat back down.

“You look at some of the guys that are in the Hall of Fame that never got to the World Series,” said catcher Steve Yeager, co-1981 World Series MVP with Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero. “Ernie Banks comes to mind – that was such a great player who never had the experience of getting to the World Series let alone win one, so it means a lot to each and every one of us.”

Baker said in his interview that he didn’t feel extra pressure to win a World Series in 1981, but others indicated otherwise.

“That was always in the back of our minds,” said outfielder Ken Landreaux, “that it’s been a while since we won a World Series.”

Added then-outfielder and now-broadcaster Rick Monday: “We had a chance to get rid of the great bitter taste that lingered for a number of years. When we went to Spring Training in 1981, you could look around the locker room and see this was a club that was probably not going to be together as a whole next year or the following year, because we had a lot of younger players that were coming up.

“One of the things a lot of people forget about, and I tried to find a copy of it. … (In) the winter of ’81, Tommy Lasorda sent us all a letter, all the players. And basically in that letter, he challenged us and encouraged us, and he said, ‘Look, you’ve gotta be ready to go.’ ”

That resonated even more for the older players. A new generation of Dodgers was transitioning in – Guerrero, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, Greg Brock, Mike Marshall – some having arrived, others on the cusp. The window for the 1970s crew was shutting.

“I know we were desperate because a lot of us, (we) were not necessarily at the end of our careers, but we were approaching that area, and there was an influx of younger talent,” Monday said. “There was an immediacy of wanting to get things done and get things done in a hurry.

“We got off to a terrific start obviously, and then the strike came into being, and that changed everyone’s viewpoint of what was happening.”

Though the aftermath of the strike, which shut down baseball between June 12 and August 9, turned out to have the effect of guaranteeing the Dodgers a playoff berth, thanks to the one-time institution of the split-season format, it also created a disheartening possibility that the magic would be lost.

It’s obviously quite different from the ownership crisis that has dogged the Dodgers the past two seasons, but the effect was similar in one respect – unpleasant off-field issues taking a bite out of the Dodgers’ World Series hopes.

“(The strike) was always on your mind,” Baker said. “You never thought it was gonna happen, and then once it happened we were all in shock. I remember we were all in St. Louis – we had to get our own way home.

“After that I kept working out, the team kept working out, then guys started dropping out (because) it didn’t look like were going to go back to work. But I couldn’t imagine baseball not finishing the season, similar to basketball right now … because there’s a lot being lost by both sides.”

After baseball resumed, the Dodgers meandered through their second half, going 27-26. Though the games didn’t count for them, they raised doubts about whether they were postseason-ready.

And then, of course, each postseason series involved the slaying of those doubts. Down 2-0 in the first National League Division Series against the Astros, with one run in their first 20 innings, the Dodgers came back and won. Down 2-0 in the NL Championship Series against Montreal, the same thing, capped by Monday’s ninth-inning Game 5 blast.

When they lost the first two games against the Yankees, Dodger fans should have been used to it by now. But speaking for myself, then not quite 14 years old, you could run from despair but you couldn’t hide.

Monday, however, said the Dodgers themselves weren’t phased.

“It was a club that was just goofy enough or shortsighted enough,” he said, “we didn’t think, ‘Oh geez, now we don’t have a chance.’ We were just crazy enough because we had to do the same thing in Montreal and Houston.”

Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesKen Landreaux celebrates after catching the last ball of the 1981 World Series.

Four games later, the final out of the 1981 World Series landed in the center-field glove of Landreaux.

“I still have it,” he said. “I almost threw it in the stands when I was running in to jump in the dogpile, but I held onto it.”

Were it not for the extraordinary moments in 1988, that would have been the last World Series-clinching out in Dodger history.

Those who gathered Saturday are eager to see those 1980s teams become more forgotten, in a manner of speaking – to see them replaced by a new set of champions. With new ownership poised to arrive in Los Angeles, there’s new hope.

“I think we did as a group a really doing good job of carrying the flag and living up to the tradition and history of the Dodgers, and I look forward to the day our organization can return to that spotlight,” Cey said. “It’s a treasured franchise in Major League Baseball, and we need to get back on top.”

Cey said the new owners need to be prepared to do “whatever it takes” to restore the Dodgers. Baker added that it was that kind of mentality at the top of the organization that reduced the pressure he felt going into 1981.

“Every year that we left for Spring Training, we knew that we’d be close to the top some place,” Baker said. “That’s a great feeling of a good organization and a team. When the season starts, you may not win or win it all, but you know you’re in the hunt and have a chance to do it. That’s all you can ask for.”

Thirty years later, you might even have a little kid who never saw you play live, line up to pay homage.

“I really wanted to come here,” said 11-year-old Erik Mawk of Atascadero, “because there was so much history being champions and how they defeated the Yankees while being the underdog.

“It was a great, inspiring story.”

Sep 18

September 18, 2006: Here comes the end of the world


Jeff Lewis/APThere’s home, Nomar. There’s home.

For the five years since it took place, I’ve had this vision of the 4+1 game.

September 18, 2006. I replay the game in my head, a game that, unfathomably, stood toe-to-toe with the R.J. Reynolds game in 1983 as the greatest game in Dodger Stadium history, and I hear The Who’s “Had Enough” as the soundtrack.

As the 2006 baseball season bore down on its finish, the Dodgers were in a vexing battle with the San Diego Padres for first place in the National League West. An 11-5 pasting by the Padres knocked Los Angeles into last place on May 5. The Dodgers staggered back and reached first barely a month later, but in a tight division, San Diego drove them back to last with a 7-6, 11-inning victory July 24.

It was that kind of year. When the first day of August dawned, the Dodgers were still on the bottom looking up. Just 10 days later, Kenny Lofton’s walkoff RBI single beat Colorado, and the Dodgers were atop the NL West looking down.

And there in first place they stayed, until September 17, when Padres pinch-hitter Termel Sledge’s RBI single in the ninth inning broke a 1-1 tie, leading to Jonathan Broxton’s first career loss in the majors. The Dodgers had handed first place back to San Diego again.

And so when I think of September 18, 2006, I hear Roger Daltrey singing, practically shouting …

I’ve had enough of bein’ nice
I’ve had enough of right and wrong
I’ve had enough of tryin’ to love my brother …

* * *

It was an unusual night – a Monday finale of a four-game series. “Here we go ahead for the final time,” Vin Scully said at the start of the local cable broadcast, “the Dodgers desperate for a win. … If it feels like a playoff or postseason game, that of course is the aim of each team.”

Three players who had begun Sunday’s game on the bench were in the Monday starting lineups. The fellow batting cleanup for San Diego was familiar – his name was Mike Piazza, slugging .500 in his first season in San Diego after 7 1/2 in New York and in his final season in the National League.

For the Dodgers, the two big changes were these: Rookie outfielder Andre Ethier was rested in favor of new acquisition Marlon Anderson, and returning to play after missing two games with a strained quad was Nomar Garciaparra, who had talked manager Grady Little into starting him. At the time, you had to know their numbers or their looks to know who these guys were – this was part of the brief era in which the Dodgers wore no names on the back of their jerseys.

On the mound, who knew what to expect? Brad Penny had earned a start in that summer’s All-Star game, striking out Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz in the first inning, but had been inconsistent ever since, posting a 5.81 ERA. In his past two starts, he had lost 7-0 to the Mets and won 6-0 against the Cubs. On the other side, Jake Peavy had been dominating the Dodgers as usual (two runs allowed in 14 previous innings that year), but his overall season ERA was a modest 4.17.

Jeff Lewis/APRussell Martin tries to settle down Brad Penny in the midst of San Diego’s four-run first inning.

With fans still pouring in to the ballpark, Penny retired the first two hitters, Dave Roberts and Brian Giles, before Adrian Gonzalez lined a 3-1 pitch into center field, bringing Piazza to bat.

“In recent games against the Dodgers, Mike looked like he was pressing,” Scully said as Piazza worked the count full. “He was trying to pull pitches that were down and away.” Almost on cue, we saw vintage Piazza, hammering the 3-2 pitch, driving it five feet below the top of the center-field wall on the fly, for an RBI double. The game was on: 1-0 Padres.

Penny walked Russell Branyan, bringing a visit to the mound from Rick Honeycutt and a visit to the plate from Mike Cameron, whom Scully pointed out had hit five home runs against the Dodgers so far in 2006. On the first pitch after Honeycutt returned to the dugout, Cameron shot the ball off the short wall in right field for a standup triple, driving in two runs (Nos. 14 and 15 vs. Los Angeles that year) to make the score 3-0.

“The Dodgers in a huge hole,” Scully said. Down in the Dodger bullpen, Aaron Sele began to warm up – not for the first time this night. Not by a longshot.

Nor was the hole finished being dug. Geoff Blum hit an 0-2 pitch to right field to drive in Cameron for a 4-0 lead, before Josh Barfield flied out to finally end the inning.

But the Dodgers wasted no time trying to rally. Rafael Furcal bunted for a single, and Lofton’s hit sent him to second. Garciaparra hit into a 6-4-3 double play, but ever-irascible Jeff Kent doubled to deep center field, driving home Furcal to get Los Angeles on the scoreboard. Peavy limited the damage to one run, but as he walked off the mound, he and Dodger first-base coach Mariano Duncan began shouting at each other.

I’ve had enough of bein’ good
And doin’ everything like I’m told I should
If you need a lover, you’d better find another …

* * *

The Dodgers pulled closer. After Penny struck out three in the second inning, Anderson – the August 31 discard from the Washington Nationals who had made surprising contributions in Los Angeles – hit a one-out solo home run. And after Russell Martin threw out Cameron trying to steal to end a two-out Padre threat in the top of the third, Furcal hit a solo homer of his own to dead center field.

“A mighty man is he,” Scully said of Furcal, who hit 15 home runs that year. “And you want to talk about a team trying to bounce back.”

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJeff Kent, shown here against the Padres in August, went 4 for 5 with three extra-base hits.

Before the inning was over, Kent hit his second double in as many at-bats, once more to center field, a ball at the wall that Cameron leaped for but came up empty. “Standing hands on hips, trying to figure out how he missed it,” Scully observed.

J.D. Drew entered the box next, and he sliced a breaking ball left up in the zone by Peavy for a ground-rule double to left field to tie the game, bringing the crowd to its feet. In fact, Martin then almost put the Dodgers ahead right there, but Peavy speared the first-pitch line drive off his bat.

The score was 4-4 after three innings. Not once over the next four innings was a team retired in order, but not once did a team score.

Each missed a tremendous opportunity. In the top of the fifth, after another Gonzalez single, Penny walked Piazza and Branyan to load the bases with two out, but Cameron flied to right. In the bottom of the sixth, Anderson singled, Wilson Betemit walked and pinch-hitter Oscar Robles loaded the sacks with none out when he sacrificed and reached first on a fielder’s choice. But Furcal hit into a forceout at home, and then Lofton grounded into a 1-2-3 double play.

By the eighth inning, the starting pitchers were long gone. And so was any remnant of sanity in this game. The attendance was announced. Five years ago tonight, the Dodgers drew a legitimate 55,831 fans. Five years ago tonight, the Dodgers registered their highest ticket sales for a Monday game ever, capping a record for a four-game series: 219,124.

Broxton entered the game in the eighth inning. Scully commented that after Sunday’s loss, Broxton had said wasn’t nervous, but he was worried he had been tipping his pitches. “Jon was just 22 in the middle of June when he made the jump from Jacksonville, and now he has the key role as the set-up man.” It was his fifth game in seven days; he had thrown 88 pitches since the previous Tuesday, and was about to throw 22 more.

Things soon turned grim. With one out, Blum walked, and Barfield drove one to right-center field that Drew couldn’t get. Lofton overran the carom, Martin dropped the throw home, the go-ahead run scored and Barfield ended up on third base. Pinch-hitter Todd Walker then hit a flare over the drawn-in infield to give San Diego a two-run lead.

Roberts struck out (a career-high fourth for the former Dodger outfielder), but Walker went to second on a steal and third on a wild pitch. Giles then sent Drew to the right-field wall, which he banged into while making the inning-ending catch.

Not once had the Dodgers led, but not once had they failed to score in an inning in which they trailed. Sure enough, off reliever Scott Linebrink, Anderson drove one down the right-field line, running through a stop sign to reach third base with a triple, and Betemit lined an 0-2 pitch up the middle. Just like that, the lead had been reduced to one.

“Boy is this a game, huh?” Scully marveled. “Wow. And this crowd loving every moment of it. It’s been a roller-coaster ride from depression to euphoria and all the stops in between.

“Boy, it’s not Monday night here. It is Mardi Gras night. It is New Year’s Eve night.”

With two out, Lofton doubled with two out to send pinch-runner Julio Lugo to third base. Tying run was 90 feet away, go-ahead run one base behind him.

But Garciaparra struck out. You could practically fit the goat’s horns for him.

Life is for the living
Takers never giving …

* * *

Takashi Saito, the 36-year-old first-year major-leaguer from Japan, was asked by the Dodgers to protect the one-run deficit. There was little reason to expect he wouldn’t: In 70 innings, emerging in the spring in the wake of Eric Gagne’s last gasp as a Dodger, Saito had a 1.93 ERA and 93 strikeouts against 63 baserunners in 70 innings.

The importance of keeping the Padres close was clear, as Scully noted. “They’ve won 26 games by one run,” he said, “and one of the big reasons is warming up in the bullpen. Yep, it’s Trevor time.”

But Gonzalez led off the ninth with his third single of the game, and Manny Alexander (Piazza had exited the game for a pinch-runner in the seventh) bunted him to scoring position. Up came Josh Bard, the Padres’ lesser-known catcher but one who had an .869 OPS, even better than Piazza at that moment.

On a night filled with long fly balls, Bard drove what appeared to be the capper of the night, to deep center. Lofton went back. He leaped. His glove went over the fence; the ball banged off his wrist and back onto the field, while an uncertain Gonzalez advanced only to third. “Goaltending,” remarked Scully as he watched the replay.

Saito walked Cameron intentionally in the hopes of forcing an inning-ending double play, but his next pitch to Blum went to the backstop, and the Padres doubled their lead. Then Blum hit a sacrifice fly, and San Diego led by three in the ninth. Scully practically threw the white flag.

“And the Dodgers will have to collect themselves and go after Pittsburgh,” he said. “It has been a Friday night and a Saturday night combined emotionally, but now it’s starting to feel like Monday.”

It’s not as if the Padres got greedy after that, but you could argue they suffered from an embarrassment of riches. After Barfield singled to drive in Cameron and give San Diego a 9-5 lead, Scully glanced back at the Padres bullpen, looking to see if Trevor Hoffman was still getting loose.

“We said it was Trevor time, but maybe not,” Scully reported. “Nope, it’s Jon Adkins now. That figured.”

Jack Cust made the third out of the top of the ninth. The Dodgers trailed by four runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Up to that point, Adkins had allowed one home run in 51 1/3 innings in 2006.

“The Dodgers are asked to do what they did (before), but they’ve run out of innings,” waxed Scully.

Here comes the end
Here comes the end of the world …

* * *

Francis Specker/APJ.D. Drew follows through, bringing the Dodgers within two.

And then, a symphony …

Kent conducts a 1-0 pitch to center field, over Cameron, and out of the park.

“So Adkins is rudely treated,” Scully says. “Two pitches, one run.”

Drew, strumming the strings on a 2-1 pitch …

“And another drive to deep right center, and that is gone! Whoa, was that hit!” exults Scully.

“What is that line? Do not go gentle into that good night. The Dodgers have decided they’re not going to go into that night without howling and kicking.”

Hoffman is quickly rushed into the game. “He has been absolutely magnificent against everybody, but especially against the Dodgers,” Scully says, adding that Hoffman’s last blown save against the Dodgers was in April 2001.

Francis Specker/APMartin hits it a ton, bringing the Dodgers within one.

Hofman throws his first pitch.

“And a drive to left center by Martin,” calls Scully. “That ball is carrying into the seats! Three straight home runs!”

Bedlam at Dodger Stadium, bedlam like it’s the ninth inning on September 11, 1983. But the Dodgers, as Scully reminds us, “are still a buck short.”

Francis Specker/APMarlon Anderson lets it fly, and the Dodgers are tied.

Anderson is the next batter. He has four hits and needs a double to hit for the cycle.

Hoffman throws his second pitch. Anderson swings. Immediately after his follow-through, he jolts out of the box …

“And another drive to right center …”

… two arms thrusting in the air …

“Believe it or not, four consecutive home runs! And the Dodgers have tied it up again!”

As Martin practically had to be restrained in the dugout from running onto the field, Anderson raced around the bases, leaping into his high five at home plate before sprinting to the dugout, where he disappeared under a white and blue volcano.

It was the first time since 1964 that a team had hit four consecutive home runs, and the first time it had ever been done in the ninth inning, let alone to erase a four-run deficit. (The six homers in nine innings were also the most by the Dodgers since they hit eight in the Shawn Green game in May 2002.)

“Can you believe this inning?” exclaimed Scully, still agog. “Can you believe this game? … It is an unbelievable game.”

Before the cheering had even begun to subside, Lugo swung at his first pitch – still only the third pitch Hoffman had thrown in the game – and hit it on a trajectory to right-center that, for an instant, made the fans double-take. But it landed in Cameron’s glove. Ethier, batting for Saito, blooped out.

In the Dodgers’ last chance to win in nine innings, Furcal, 2 for 5 with a home run already, tattooed one himself, taking Giles to the warning track to right field before it was caught.

“Well, wouldn’t you know this was gonna go extra innings?” Scully said. “No, I don’t think you did when it was 9-5 in the ninth.

“This crowd is beside itself with joy. You can come down the wall now.”

* * *

With their top relievers already used, the Dodgers turned the guy that had warmed up for the first time back in the first inning, Aaron Sele. One of general manager Ned Colletti’s ongoing reclamation projects on the mound, Sele had joined the Dodger starting rotation in May and had a 2.91 ERA in 65 innings before the All-Star break. After a couple of poor July starts, soon followed by the acquisition of Greg Maddux, Sele ended up spending most of his second half in the bullpen (the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter that September, you might be surprised to remember, was Hong-Chih Kuo). Sele’s ERA had risen to 4.35, and he had pitched three total innings in the past two weeks.

But with the score 9-9, the Dodgers went to Sele over the other available options in the September Dodger bullpen: Giovanni Carrara, Elmer Dessens, Tim Hamulack and Eric Stults.

Sele retired Roberts (0 for 6) on a fly to center, but Giles doubled on a sharp hit down the left-field line past Lugo. Gonzalez, who had been tormenting the Dodgers all night – then again, who hadn’t – was walked intentionally.

Paul McAnulty, pinch-hitting for Alexander, killed a Sele pitch that Lofton caught at the wall. “That ball had a chance to go out but just died at the last minute,” Scully said. “There is a light breeze, but barely a zephyr.”

Sele dodged that bullet, but couldn’t avoid the next. Bard singled to right field, and Giles came home from second to score and once again give the Padres the lead.

Threatening to once again put the Dodgers down by four, Sele walked Cameron, who became the 23rd Padre to reach base. With no room to put anyone else, Sele, on the Dodgers’ 200th pitch of the game, induced an inning-ending fly to right.

“Boy, you talk about the anguish of a fan,” Scully said. “There’s a lot of it, but they’ll remember this game for a while.”

Padres 10, Dodgers 9, heading into the bottom of the 10th.

Rudy Seanez, who had pitched for the Dodgers in 1994 and 1995 (and would do so again in 2007), was the Padres’ 23rd player of the game and seventh pitcher, chosen ahead of relievers Scott Cassidy, Brian Sweeney and Mike Thompson. Nearing his 38th birthday. Seanez had struck out 52 in 51 innings combined with Boston and San Diego, but he had walked 29 and allowed seven home runs.

His first pitch to Lofton was a called strike, but his next two missed the zone. Strike two came on a check swing, but the next pitch was high and the one after that was inside, “and the Dodgers have a rabbit as the tying run,” Scully said as Lofton dropped his bat and headed to first base.

To the plate came Garciaparra.

Low and outside for ball one. Fastball for a strike. Low and outside for ball two. Inside for ball three.

Francis Specker/APNomar, hero.

On the 376th pitch of the night of September 18, 2006 …

“And a high fly ball to left field – it is a-way out and gone! The Dodgers win it, 11-10! Ha ha ha – unbelievable!”

The end of the world.

“I forgot to tell you,” Scully said after watching the celebration at home plate. “The Dodgers are in first place.”

* * *

Jeff Lewis/APGarciaparra celebrates on behalf of Dodger fans around the ballpark – and televisions and computers.

To this point, I haven’t quoted from the Dodger Thoughts game thread from the night of September 18, 2006. But while any one of us would rather have been in the ballpark, the online experience is not one I’ll forget.

You can see some of the highlights here, or you can go back to the original thread and re-experience from start to finish. But there’s only one way to finish this remembrance, and that’s with this classic:

2006-09-18 22:40:43
604. Xeifrank
Gameday seems to be broke. It keeps on saying every Dodger hitter is hitting a home run. Major software bug or something.
vr, Xei

Sep 11

A Happier 9/11

It has been eight years since this piece was first published: September 11, 2003. A lot has happened since then – including a very happy September 18, 2006 that some would say surpassed what happened on this day in 1983. But this game will always remain special, and I hope you don’t mind me continuing to remember it on this date.

* * *

Twenty years ago today, Dodger Stadium hosted its greatest game.

It began swathed in bright blue skies and triple-digit temperatures. When it ended, 228 crazy brilliant minutes later, shadows palmed most of the playing field, and every Dodger fan who witnessed the spectacle found themselves near joyous collapse.

The game was between the Dodgers of Steve Sax and Pedro Guerrero, of Greg Brock and Mike Marshall … and the Braves of Dale Murphy, of Bruce Benedict, of Brad Komminsk.

In the end, however, it came down to one man. A rookie named R.J. Reynolds.

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