Feb 12

Babe Ruth and Egypt

When Egypt and Israel signed their peace treaty in 1979, my Dad explained the significance of it to me by saying that it was “like Babe Ruth dying.”

I was 11 years old.  I guess that’s how you communicated with me back then.

I’ll need a different touchstone for my kids to explain the importance of what happened this week. I’m thinking maybe, Harry Potter … (but doing something a bit less grave.  Dad could be a serious fellow sometimes.)

Feb 04

Throwback throwdown

The Dodgers will wear throwback uniforms at six 12:10 p.m., half-price-on-food-and-drink weekday games this season. You can vote on your pick at the Dodgers’ website.

The choices:

The first of the three uniform options was worn by the Dodgers exactly 100 years ago. The 1911 road uniform features fine narrow pinstripes and the BROOKLYN name displayed vertically in small capital letters down the button panel. Known as the “Superbas,” the Brooklyn team wearing this uniform played its second-to-last season in 1911 at Washington Park.

The second option is the 1931 road uniform, which was the only variety of the 1930s uniform designs to sport a block capital “B” on the front of the jersey.

The third option is the 1940s “Satin” road uniform, which is blue and features the trim and DODGERS script in white. With the advent of night baseball at Ebbets Field in the 1940s, the original uniform used a highly reflective satin fabric to be more visible under the lights.

Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has a photo of the satin uniform.

Which do you like?

Jan 31

The All-Omission-to-the-All-Time Los Angeles Dodger Import Team Team


Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesClaude Osteen had a 3.09 ERA in nearly 2,400 innings after coming to the Dodgers in the big Frank Howard trade.

It wasn’t easy picking the All-Time Los Angeles Dodgers Import Team, as you can now truly see. The following roster includes my leftovers and suggestions by Dodger Thoughts commenters. Keep in mind that players such as Maury Wills were ineligible, even if they left and came back, because I still consider them homegrown Dodgers.

I also went back and forth on whether to include international imports like Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda … this morning, I decided that I would make them eligible.

Wally Moon at first base is a bit of a stretch, but he did play some there, and it helped out with the ongoing overload of outfielders.  One of the more fascinating revelations of this exercise is how much the Dodgers have gone outside the organization for outfield help, relative to other positions. It’s remarkable how many great seasons the team has gotten from outfielder outsiders – and these lists don’t even include one-season-or-less wonders like Dick Allen, Steve Finley and Frank Robinson.

At positions like catcher and the middle infield, on the other hand, you can see the impact of having longtime homegrown solutions. It’s slim pickings for the best of the imports.

Starting lineup (8)
Brett Butler, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Manny Ramirez, LF
Wally Moon, 1B
Todd Hundley, C
Tim Wallach, 3B
Lenny Harris, 2B
Cesar Izturis, SS

Bench (7)
Rick Monday, OF
Kal Daniels, OF
Len Gabrielson, OF
Olmedo Saenz, IF
Alfredo Griffin, IF
Bill Madlock, IF
Chad Kreuter, C

Starting rotation (5)
Hideo Nomo, RHP
Derek Lowe, RHP
Claude Osteen, LHP
Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
Tim Belcher, RHP

Bullpen (5)
Takashi Saito, RHP
Ron Perranoski, LHP
Jeff Shaw, RHP
Terry Forster, LHP
Guillermo Mota, RHP

Jan 29

The All-Time Los Angeles Dodger Import Team


Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesIn his second year with the Dodgers after coming from Baltimore, Eddie Murray led the majors with a .330 batting average.

People like me take pride whenever a homegrown Dodger makes it big in Los Angeles. But for once, I thought I’d turn the spotlight on the outsiders who made it in.

Here are my choices for the All-Time Los Angeles Dodger Import Team, which I’ve decided has very durable pitching but will substitute freely with its outfield:

Starting lineup (8)
Jimmy Wynn, CF
Reggie Smith, RF
Pedro Guerrero, 3B
Gary Sheffield, LF
Eddie Murray, 1B
Jeff Kent, 2B
Rafael Furcal, SS
Tom Haller, C

Rogers Photo Archive/Getty Images
Andy Messersmith averaged 37 starts per year with a 2.51 ERA from 1973-75 after coming over from the Angels.

Bench (8)
Dusty Baker, OF
Kirk Gibson, OF
Manny Mota, OF
Shawn Green, OF-1B
Casey Blake, 3B-1B
Derrel Thomas, IF-OF
Mike Sharperson, IF
Rick Dempsey, C

Starting rotation (5)
Kevin Brown, RHP
Tommy John, LHP
Burt Hooton, RHP
Jerry Reuss, LHP
Andy Messersmith, RHP

Bullpen (4)
Mike Marshall, RHP
Jim Brewer, LHP
Jay Howell, RHP
Phil Regan, RHP

There were some tough choices to leave off the team. Who do you think they were, and do you think I made the right decisions?

Jan 03

Dominance

They’ve won two World Series in my lifetime and as recently as 2009 were the best in their league for the better part of a season, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Dodgers be as dominant as the Stanford football team was this season, even without a national title.

Forgive an excited alum, but it was an unbelievable year, on both sides of the ball.

So what was the most dominant Dodger team ever: 1963 or 1955? Or do you give it to a team like the 1953 Dodgers, which went 105-49 and won the National League by 13 games, only to lose in the World Series?

Dec 27

Reminiscing about baseball in the pre-Internet age

Something that never fails to make me laugh is when people get ticked off because a live Dodger game broadcast isn’t available on television or the Internet.

I understand the sense of entitlement — many of us have been conditioned to expect to be able to watch upwards of 162 Dodger games a year, not the least because many of us pay something for the privilege. So on the rare occasions when rights issues prevent access to a live broadcast, it can be a shock.

Nonetheless, I’m always taken back to a time in my younger days when it felt like a true privilege to see the Dodgers on TV.

As I recall, when I began watching baseball in the mid-1970s, you still had limited visual exposure to the Dodgers, especially in their home whites. Games from Dodger Stadium were never on, except in the postseason or maybe if there were a key game down the stretch in September. Even if the Dodgers made a rare appearance on NBC’s Saturday Game of the Week, I think hometown viewers were hampered by blackout rules at least some of the time. Part of the excitement of the Dodgers making the playoffs actually involved just getting to see them play at Dodger Stadium live on TV.

Road broadcasts were more prevalent, but even then they were largely limited to weekends, especially when the team traveled beyond San Francisco or San Diego. From Monday through Friday, the Dodgers were largely a radio event. Then it was the morning paper the next day, and then you might catch some highlights nearly 24 hours later in the short sports segment on the local news. And that was it. Coverage ended then.

Toward the late 1970s, we got ON TV, which was a pay TV service that came over-the-air at night on what was normally Channel 56, I believe. You had a set-top descrambler that would allow you to receive the ON TV feed. They had a deal to broadcast a bunch of Dodger games (team historians will recall that pay broadcasts of the Dodgers were discussed from the team’s earliest days in Los Angeles). That was kind of a transforming moment for me as a fan, the idea that a garden-variety Dodger home game could be seen in our own living room.

My dad also gave me a subscription to the Sporting News around this time. This was not only before the advent of the Internet, of course, it was before the arrival of something like USA Today. This was basically the only detailed print coverage you could get of teams besides the Dodgers during the year. There were weekly reports on each ballclub, national columns and a reprint of every boxscore. Next to listening to Vin Scully, Jerry Doggett and Ross Porter, it was the Sporting News that taught me about the rest of the contemporary baseball world.

The Sporting News also gave you the best baseball stats at the time. In the Times each Sunday, they would run batting averages, runs, hits, homers and RBI for hitters (with a minimum number of plate appearances) and equivalent basic stats for pitchers, but in and only in the Sporting News would you get much more detailed stats, and get them for every single player.

I owed my dad yet another thanks at that time, by the way — when I began going to sleepaway summer camp for five weeks at a time each summer, he would send me the Times sports section to help me keep tabs on the team. Otherwise, I’d have hardly had a clue. I do remember one postcard my Dad sent me talking about Dave Parker’s throwing arm on display at the All-Star game.

That’s the way it was. Barely more than a generation ago, following the Dodgers took effort. It took, dare I say, a little moxie. Some of the means to an end are really products of their time. In the 1980s, there was a phone number — I want to say (900) 976-1313, even though it’s been about 30 years — that you would pay 50 cents to call just to get scores, and I remember us using it when we were on vacation. Otherwise, it could have been days before we’d know the result of the game.

ESPN rose during the 1980s, but I didn’t have it until about 1989. When I went away to college in ’85, I still mostly relied on the next day’s San Francisco Chronicle or San Jose Mercury News and their two-sentence recaps in the league roundups to get Dodger results, although I did come to have the option of going into the Stanford Daily offices once I started working there and accessing wire service recaps of games directly.

By the time I graduated, began working in newspapers and paying for cable myself, I could pretty much stay abreast of everything. Or at least, I thought I could. None of it was like what the Internet offers today. As late as 1992-93, when I was in grad school in Washington, D.C., if there was a late West Coast game, I could only follow the action with the ESPN ticker scoreline on the bottom of the screen. I think I received my first e-mail and browsed my first Web page in 1994, only eight years before the birth of Dodger Thoughts. And portability — getting live updates on demand, on the go — came even later.  There was a little pocket-sized gadget on the market that I had that would give you score updates, and then I got my first cellphone shortly after 9/11, in 2001. Not even a decade ago.

Today, I’m a slave to the onslaught. Sneaking looks at my cellphone for game updates, browsing tiny Web type like an addict, voraciously reading every posting about the Dodgers that I can find online. It’s a ridiculous bounty. And yes, I can get frustrated when I have to wait painful extra seconds for the latest pitch. But in the end, I just have to laugh. We have it good — a little too good, maybe.

Dec 22

There are bacon ads, and then there are bacon ads

I’m now listening to the Friday, October 3, 1980 Dodgers-Astros game, thanks (again) to Stan from Tacoma. After the first inning came this epic from Vin Scully:

So what’s new? Not bacon. Bacon is almost as ancient as time itself. It was mentioned by Aesop in the sixth century B.C. It was a staple in medieval Europe. And in Norman England, bacon was so universally accepted, it was sometimes used as money. And monastery monks awarded bacon to husbands for not quarreling with their wives. Indeed, bacon is no Johnny-come-lately. Through the years, it has survived the competition of thousands of new products, and the bacon bin continues to be a popular spot in our modern supermarkets. One reason is the quick energy it survives, and another its matchless flavor. Which brings up the most flavorsome bacon of all: Farmer John. For this is a bacon with a sweet, savory goodness from hush-hush secrets in the curing, plus a much heartier Western flavor from Farmer John’s old-time Western way of doing the smoking. No other bacon like it — if you haven’t tried it, why delay any longer? The next time you shop, take home the bacon from Farmer John.

* * *

I continue to be impressed with Jerry Doggett’s work in this climactic series of 1980. With Scully on TV most of the time, much of the radio duties fell to Doggett, and he is rather superb. He is mixing in great background details but never letting them get in the way of keeping you abreast of the action, and his enthusiasm hits just the right note. Here’s a sample:

Here’s a breaking ball, ball two, two and nothing. Two and oh the count, and Cabell backs out of the batter’s box. Cabell lives in Anaheim Hills in the offseason. Some of the Dodgers live in Anaheim Hills: Jerry Reuss, Rick Monday. Reuss lives in the hills, and Monday is in Yorba Linda. The 2-0 pitch to Cabell: high for a ball, ball three. Enos needed a ride to the ballpark, and so he called up Reuss, says, “How ’bout a lift?” So Reuss, Monday and Cabell came to the ballpark together. But out there now, they don’t see eye to eye. (laughing) I wonder if they’re going to ride him home. If the Astros win, I don’t think the Dodgers are gonna want to wait that long for him. If they lose, Enos is welcome to the lift. There’s a foul, back out of play — he’s swinging on three-and-oh.

Doggett is kind of a forgotten figure in Dodger broadcasting these days, and I don’t recall him being in such good form in his final games, but he really was strong here and deserves to be remembered fondly.

In the game itself, the Dodgers got off to a rough start. Davey Lopes threw away a grounder from Astros leadoff hitter Joe Morgan in the first inning, leading to Don Sutton (the National League’s ERA leader) having to pitch out of a bases-loaded jam. Then after the Dodgers went down in order in the bottom of the first, Houston pitcher Ken Forsch delivered an RBI single to put the Astros up, 1-0. Doggett immediately recalled that Forsch and Nolan Ryan had hurt the Dodgers with the bat earlier in the year: Forsch had been 3 for 9 with three RBI against Los Angeles going into the at-bat, and Ryan hit a three-run homer on April 12, his first game at the plate in eight years.

* * *

Some pitchers get multiple looks, and some don’t. From May 15-July 24, 2009, Brent Leach had a 3.38 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. Then his next five batters reached base and four scored, and he hasn’t seen the majors since. After a dalliance with starting pitching in the minors last season, Leach has been officially designated for assignment by the Dodgers, with news reports saying that he will play in Japan next season.

Leach’s departure clears a spot on the 40-man roster for Matt Guerrier. That leaves Hong-Chih Kuo and Scott Elbert as the only lefty relievers with major-league experience currently on the 40-man. Of course, we’ll start to see more non-roster invitees on minor-league contracts in the coming weeks.

* * *

Is it true that the Minnesota Vikings’ legendary Jim Marshall survived being trapped during a blizzard by burning his money? According to Brian Cronin at the Fabulous Forum, yes.

* * *

Happy holidays from Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers!

Dec 19

October 4, 1980: Saturday showdown at the Stadium


Getty ImagesJerry Reuss pitched 10 complete games in 29 starts for the Dodgers in 1980.

When the Dodgers were attempting to rally from three games behind Houston with three games to play on the final weekend of the 1980 regular season, I was on my school’s eighth-grade retreat at world-famous Camp Ta Ta Pochon.

I listened to the final innings of the Friday comeback victory with my transistor radio and an earphone while we were watching the rather odd youth movie, “Bless the Beasts and the Children.” And I listened to the final innings of Sunday’s dramatic triumph surrounded by classmates on the bus ride home.

But I had never heard a moment of the Saturday game until this week, when I was granted the privilege thanks to a cassette package mailed to me by longtime Dodger Thoughts friend and commenter Stan from Tacoma.  The Saturday game is the least discussed of the four games the Dodgers played against Houston to end the season, but it was a minor gem in its own right – an utterly taut affair from start to finish.

Jerry Reuss started for the Dodgers against future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan of the Astros. A high-profile free-agent signing, Ryan was in his first season in the NL since being traded from the Mets to Angels in December 1971. At age 33, Ryan had gotten his 3,000th career strikeout midway through 1980. His ERA in 1980 was a stylish 3.35, though given the advantages of pitching in the Astrodome, this was arguably a down year for the Express.

Reuss had come to the Dodgers before the 1979 season and been something of a disappointment, though his 7-14 record belied his 3.54 ERA. In any case, he began the 1980 season in the bullpen, before emerging as one of the team’s top starters: a 2.51 ERA and an National League-leading six shutouts, including his June 27 no-hitter at San Francisco.

Even with those credentials, Reuss was under the microscope of Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. Just two batters into the game, after Reuss walked Houston leadoff hitter Joe Morgan on a 3-2 pitch and then gave up a single to Enos Cabell, Dodger radio announcer Jerry Doggett saw that Rick Sutcliffe – banished to relief after winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1979 – had gotten up in the bullpen.

But Reuss bounced back. He got Dodger nemesis Jose Cruz to pop to shortstop Derrel Thomas, and then Cesar Cedeno hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Sutcliffe sat down and never rose again, as Reuss went on to retire nine batters in a row.

The Dodgers struck first in the bottom of the second inning. Steve Garvey, who entered the game needing four hits for 200 on the season, notched a single on a blooper that Morgan normally would have caught. (Both second basemen were ailing: Morgan had strained his knee in Friday’s game, while Davey Lopes had a severely strained neck. Neither finished the Friday or Saturday games.)  One out later, Pedro Guerrero, the Dodgers’ center fielder, singled Garvey to second base.  Ryan struck out Joe Ferguson, but facing Thomas, the Dodger utilityman who had become the team’s starting shortstop in place of an injured Bill Russell, dropped a single the opposite way into left field to score Garvey for a 1-0 Dodger lead.

The Dodgers caught a break to score their first run; the Astros caught one to score theirs. With one out in the top of the fourth, Cruz hit one to center that Guerrero lost in the smoggy sky (Doggett and Vin Scully both commented on how ugly the air was this day). Cruz stole second, went to third on a Cedeno grounder and then scored on a single to center by Art Howe to tie the game.

Getty Images
With three hits against Nolan Ryan, Steve Garvey was on a .412/.452/.647 hot streak over his past 17 games.

The next run of the game was no gift.  Garvey started the bottom of the fourth with a no-doubter blast, his 26th homer of the season – giving him, as Scully noted, at least one home run against every NL team this season.  Garvey would later single in the sixth inning for his 199th hit of the season and ninth in 18 at-bats against Ryan. “If you can go 9 for 18 against a million-dollar pitcher, that’s like owning a condominium, isn’t it?” said an admiring Scully. “Garvey is undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters to wear a Dodger uniform,” added Doggett when he returned to the mic for the final three innings. “Undoubtedly.”

The score remained 2-1 entering the seventh inning, thanks in large part to huge defensive plays by Los Angeles. In the fifth, the aching Lopes managed to snag a line drive off Morgan’s bat and turn it into an inning-ending double play. And with one on and none out in the sixth, Thomas took a carom off Reuss’ glove and converted it into a 1-6-3 twin killing.  Then Guerrero, still struggling with the October sky, struggled with a Cedeno fly but managed to catch up to it to end the top of the sixth.

Like Garvey, Ryan was also on a quest for 200 – in fact, both of them entered the seventh inning at 199. In Ryan’s case, it was strikeouts, and he got his 200th on the second-to-last batter he faced.  The victim was Reuss, who went down after failing to sacrifice Joe Ferguson to second base.

Both teams went down in order in the eighth, Reuss easily navigating pinch-hitters Terry Puhl (the Astros’ leading home-run hitter in 1980 with the grand total of 13) and Jeffrey Leonard, while reliever Frank LaCorte held off Garvey’s final Saturday bid for his 200th hit. Reuss’ strikeout of Puhl was his seventh of the game, a season high.

That brought us to the ninth, with the crowd audibly willing the Dodgers to hold on.  By this time, the Dodgers had made three defensive replacements: Jack Perconte for Lopes at second base, Rudy Law for Dusty Baker (also hurting) in left field and Mickey Hatcher for Rick Monday in right field.  Those replacements proved meaningful both for what they didn’t and didn’t do.

First, Perconte made a nice play on a Cabell grounder to get the first out.

Then, Guerrero, again getting a late read, put the crowd in suspense before making yet another last-instant catch. The Dodgers were one out away from victory, but under 24 hours before, the same had been true of the Astros.

Up came Cedeno, who had been having a most unlucky day. This time, the luck turned – he hit a blooper that Perconte couldn’t reach, keeping the Astros alive. Art Howe then hit another blooper to center that Guerrero, playing deep to prevent an extra-base hit, had no chance at. Suddenly, the tying run was at third base for Houston.

With soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Steve Howe warming up in the bullpen, Dodger pitching coach Red Adams visited Reuss at the mound.  But there was no hook.  According to Reuss on the postgame show, Adams simply told him, “Just relax.”

Doggett, I should say at this point, was about the best I have ever heard him – totally on his game in describing the game and setting the scene.  “What excitement – what a series!” he said over the roaring crowd. The batter was Gary Woods, who had gotten the start over Puhl against the left-handed Reuss but had struck out three times. Finally making contact, he hit one to Perconte, in the thick of the fray in this, only his 14th major-league game. Perconte tossed to Garvey, and the Dodgers had stayed alive for one more day.

Reuss thanked the fans on the postgame show with Ross Porter. “I’ve heard it in other places, but not this many, this loud,” Reuss said. Porter asked Reuss about the fact that he was starting on three days’ rest. “I never gave it a thought until someone said something about it, and then I said, ‘What the heck.’ ”

Garvey also thanked the fans, and said how much he enjoyed the pressure situations. And then, as Porter thanked him for the interview, Garvey said, “Hi to Cyndy and the girls.”

Those fans listening on the radio who were geared up for hearing Scully do Sunday’s big game were in for a surprise. Here are his closing words for the day:

“Well, friends, it has been a magnificent day, a great weekend and a most exciting season, and of course  tomorrow the Dodgers and the Astros this time put it all on the line. All of the pressure had been on the Dodgers, but now it will be equally shared amongst the Astros, because they suddenly find themselves in a must-win situation. It’s Burt Hooton and Vern Ruhle. And I have a confession to make – I won’t be here, unfortunately, as my schedule has me doing a football game down in Anaheim. And my mind, and my eyes and all of my senses will be in Anaheim, but boy, will my heart ever be here at Dodger Stadium. Hope you’ll be here. Hope you’ll find out about tomorrow, and then if it be so, why it’ll be my pleasure to be talking to you again on Monday. So we’ll see. But right now, that’ll do it for today, from Dodger Stadium, as the Dodgers nip the Astros, 2-1.

The Rams would beat the 49ers, 48-26, and then we’d see Vin on Monday. I’d have that transistor radio with me at school.

Dec 14

Did you know …


Ed Kolenovsky/AP
Nolan Ryan pitching his record-breaking fifth career no-hitter.

… that when Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan no-hit the Dodgers on September 26, 1981, he had been winless in his past 11 starts against Los Angeles? After hanging on for a victory against the Dodgers on June 23, 1968, Ryan was 0-7 with the Mets and Astros against the Dodgers. In that stretch, he had a 3.79 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings. After the no-hitter, Ryan racked up 10 more wins against the Dodgers in 25 starts.

Just a little random trivia to brighten your day …

Dec 12

Wes Parker’s magical 1970


Jim Kerlin/APWes Parker

In 1970, a guy who hit 10 home runs for a team that finished 14 1/2 games out of first place finished fifth in the National League Most Valuable Player race.

It’s not the most shocking thing in history, but it did surprise me to see.

Wes Parker batted .319 with 111 RBI and a league-high 47 doubles. The RBI total was impressive, though it only tied him for eighth in the NL (it was also 63 percent higher than his previous career best). In batting average, he was fifth. Parker did have that excellent fielding reputation – he won the fourth of six consecutive Gold Gloves in 1970, a year that, as you know, he also hit for the cycle.

That was enough to earn Parker recognition as the No. 5 player in the league – behind only Johnny Bench, Billy Williams, Tony Perez and Bob Gibson, and ahead of such players as Pete Rose, who batted .316 with 15 homers for the pennant-winning Cincinnati Reds, 1969 MVP Willie McCovey (.289 with 39 homers and 126 RBI), Hank Aaron (.298, 38, 118) and Joe Torre (.325, 21, 100).

It’s a little curious, isn’t it?

Dec 02

The Toy Cannon looks back


Louis Requena/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesJimmy Wynn played 11 seasons in Houston before coming to the Dodgers.

Former Dodger Jimmy Wynn recently came out with his autobiography. David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus has a good interview with him. Some excerpts:

DL: In the book, you talk about how the South wasn’t yet fully integrated when you were in the minor leagues.

JW: That’s so true. There were certain areas in Florida and the Florida State League where I played my first professional season [in 1962]… there were certain places in Florida that didn’t cotton to a black ballplayer playing in a white sport. Of course at that time, you know, I was called all kinds of names. I’m just fortunate that I wasn’t prejudiced at that time—and I’m not prejudiced now—and I was very fortunate that my father taught me the etiquette of being who you are and staying with that concept. I’ve lived with that concept for years and years now, and I’ve never deviated from that.

One of the things about the different name-callings that happened in Florida was that I had two great managers. One was Hershell Freeman, who did everything possible to make sure that I wasn’t hurt from the name-calling. He defended me a great deal. The other was Johnny Vander Meer, who everybody knows about because of the two no-hitters back-to-back. I had two great guys who I respected a great deal, and they were more or less like father figures to me. …

DL: In the book, you say that you lost the 1967 home-run crown to “the greatest legitimate career home-run hitter of all time.”

JW: Yeah, so to speak. I lost it and Hank [Aaron] and I became really good friends, mainly because of what he said to me. He called me and told me that he was going to sit out the last game of the season, and him and I would be the co-home-run champions of the National League. I said that I would love that, but that something was going to happen. And it did. I think the commissioner of baseball found out that Hank was going to sit out the last game and he didn’t want him to, and he called Hank and told him he had to play. Consequently, Hank played and hit two home runs, and I didn’t, and he became the home-run champion. He said that Jimmy Wynn should be the home-run hitting champion, because of the Astrodome. That made me feel good. It was nice for me to be No. 2, because of all the great home-run hitters at that particular time. …

DL: How did a man your size hit a baseball so far?

JW: I drank a lot of milk.

* * *

Jamie Moyer is 20 years younger than Jimmy Wynn, though you could be forgiven for thinking they once played against each other. Moyer recently had Tommy John surgery, with the hope of returning to the majors in 2012 and pitching at age 49. I made a joke the other day that his fastball might clock in with the same two digits, but truth be told, I’m past the point of doubting Moyer’s longevity.  I’d love to see him pitch at 50.

* * *

  • Baseball-Reference.com is hosting a vote on the expansion committee candidates for the Hall of Fame. Cast your ballot.
  • The Dodgers would have made the playoffs in 2000 and 2002 if MLB had instituted a second wild-card team sooner, writes David Brown of Big League Stew. The 1997 Dodgers, in theory, would have needed a tiebreaker game with the Mets.
Nov 28

In starting rotation, sometimes questions beat answers


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesFor 4 1/2 seasons, the Dodgers never knew what they were going to get in Odalis Perez.

In the wake of the Jon Garland signing, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. looked at the most commonly used starting pitchers by the Dodgers since 2000, and in the process found that the Dodgers “have had five pitchers each start 30 games in a season just twice in their 127-year franchise history (1977 and 1993), and they have only had four pitchers start 30 games eight other times.”

Good stuff, but I was interested in something else, too. Given my surprise to find our starting rotation settled on paper before the end of November, I was curious how often in recent years the Dodgers had appeared to enter the season in better shape in their starting five than they’re in right now – and how they fared in those seasons.

Looking back at the 2000s (playoff teams in bold):

  • 2010: Charlie Haeger won a beleaguered fifth starter competition. The current 2011 rotation, with Garland as the fifth starter behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly, looks better.
  • 2009: Rookies Kershaw and James McDonald looked promising on paper, but most people would probably take the 2011 quintet, with Kershaw two years older.
  • 2008: Brad Penny was coming off a 3.03 ERA in 2007, Chad Billingsley was rising and Derek Lowe in the final year of his contract, while Kuroda was untested in the U.S. and Kershaw hadn’t arrived. In fact, it was the rotating arms in the No. 5 spot (a shaky Esteban Loaiza, a green Hong-Chih Kuo) that helped hasten Kershaw’s debut.  The Dodger rotation heading into 2008 was probably better than the 2011 group – until Friday.
  • 2007: This was the year newcomers Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf (the first time around) were supposed to anchor the Dodger staff, joining Lowe, Penny and Billingsley. This was an exciting group – until Schmidt and Wolf combined for 24 starts and a 5.05 ERA.
  • 2006: Lowe, Penny … Odalis Perez (coming off a poor 2005) … Brett Tomko and Jae Seo.  A little bit of wishful thinking, here.
  • 2005: New free agent Lowe, Perez (coming off a strong 2004) and Jeff Weaver for the front three. The Dodgers knew they’d be dealing with filler at the No. 5 spot, and with Penny coming back late from his 2004 injury, they were duct-taping No. 4 as well, ultimately starting April with the likes of Elmer Dessens and Scott Erickson.
  • 2004: The Dodgers’ first playoff trip of the century began with Hideo Nomo, Perez, Weaver and Kaz Ishii – not a bad front four if you thought the 25-year-old Perez would regain his 2002 form. The other three had ERAs below 4.00 the year before. The fifth starter left in TBD status until the job was seized by Jose Lima, who had a memorable year through and into the playoffs (after having thrown 503 2/3 innings with a 6.18 ERA since 2000), while Ishii ended up struggling and Nomo fell apart.
  • 2003: Kevin Brown was coming off an injury-plagued 2002, but there was still hope for him (rightfully so) to lead a staff that also included a resurgent Nomo, Ishii and Perez (3.00 ERA in 2002). Darren Dreifort, attempting a comeback after going more than 20 months between games, got the first chance at the No. 5 start, but the Dodgers also had Andy Ashby (3.91 ERA in ’02) as a No. 6 starter. So there was depth, but also an understanding that the depth could be needed immediately.
  • 2002: Lots of new blood to join Brown and Ashby: Nomo (returning as a free agent from Boston), Perez (acquired with Brian Jordan in January’s Gary Sheffield trade) and Ishii (signing his first U.S. contract on February 28) – not to mention Omar Daal, another returning former Dodger who came in an offseason trade from Philadelphia but began the year in the bullpen. By the time Spring Training started, the staff was deep – one of the reasons second-year manager Jim Tracy experimented with converting a guy who had made 24 starts in 2001 into a reliever: Eric Gagne.
  • 2001: In his last year before becoming a free agent, Chan Ho Park was the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers, followed by Gagne, Dreifort, Ashby and – in place of Brown, who was limited by injuries – Luke Prokopec. Either Gagne or Prokopec were to be the No. 5 starters on paper, after making some waves in 2000. You might laugh now, but there was reason to think this could be a pretty decent starting rotation.
  • 2000: You had Brown, Park and Dreifort, all coming off solid 2000 seasons. Then you had Carlos Perez, who had a 7.43 ERA in 1999. And rounding out the fivesome, you had the last gasp of Orel Hershiser, who had a 4.58 ERA with the Mets at age 40 the year before. It did not go well for this rotation.

In terms of Dodger starting rotations that had proven talent in all five slots since 2000, you’d have to look at 2007 and 2002 as the leading lights, with honorable mention to 2003. Neither of these teams, of course, reached the playoffs (though the ’02 team won 92 games), while the Dodgers’ past four playoff teams all had question marks in at least one spot in the starting rotation entering the season.

Nov 15

Falling in (and out) of love


Ken Levine/Getty ImagesHome plate umpire Charlie Reliford approves as Dodger rookie Eric Karros slides home safely past catcher Mike LaValliere of the Pirates on May 24, 1992, one day after becoming a hero.

On the night of May 23, 1992, Dodger rookie Eric Karros came up to bat as a pinch-hitter. The situation: two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, Dodgers trailing Pittsburgh by two runs, sitting in last place at 15-22, and me unemployed and preparing to move away from my Los Angeles hometown while still nursing a breakup with my girlfriend. Could he bring some hope to my broken heart?

As baseball player and baseball fan, Karros and I were made for each other. We were born three weeks and two days apart. He was a product of the farm system, and I had long been partial to products of the farm system. A last-minute addition to the Opening Day roster, it was nice just to have Karros on the team, but he was still only getting partial playing time at first base while the Dodgers tried to mine some remaining value out of Kal Daniels and Todd Benzinger.

He was part of the future of a struggling Dodger team whose future was much in doubt. He was also the batter who could give me relief from the deep funk I had descended into. I desperately wanted him to succeed.

Karros extended Pirates reliever Stan Belinda to a full count, and then launched one to deep left-center … deep … back … gone! The fourth home run of his young career, giving the Dodgers a comeback victory. I jumped out of my head in joy. I was so happy, I wrote what I believe is the only piece of fan mail to an athlete. At age 24, I was thanking Karros for his home run and telling him how deeply important it was to me.

A more sober head prevailed in the morning, and I never sent the letter. But I was firmly in the Karros camp – he was one of my guys.

Given that Karros ended up hitting 266 more home runs for Los Angeles to become the Dodgers’ all-time leading home run hitter since moving west, you might have expected it was an eternal romance between Karros and me. But it didn’t work out that way.

As the decade progressed, he was an up and down player. In my memory, many of Karros’ homers came when the game wasn’t on the line. His power numbers hid a poor on-base percentage. He would start slow and then tell the fans they shouldn’t be bothered. Irrational or not, he wasn’t the player I wanted him to be.

The final straw for me was an incident in 1997 when he called out Ismael Valdes in the Dodger locker room and the two fought. The press (which I wasn’t a part of at the time) took Karros’ side, something I suspected was because the press couldn’t be bothered to get quotes from anyone who didn’t speak English as a first language. It motivated me to write another letter, this time to the Times, and this one I sent. I’m not sure who I was madder at, the press or Karros – I was just mad. Maybe Valdes was at fault, but no one was even trying to tell the whole story.

The residual damage to my feelings toward Karros was serious. Five years after I had fallen in love with him, I had fallen out.  The romance was over, and nothing he did, not even a relatively awesome 1999 season (.362 on-base percentage, .550 slugging) could change it.  A running joke in my family was that Grandma Sue always liked Eric Karros, and whenever she went to a game with us, I would say how lousy he was – and then he would go 4 for 4 with a homer. I actually owe Karros some thanks for giving Grandma such pleasure and the two of us such fond memories.

But still, we fell out of love. It happens.

It actually hasn’t happened for me for the current group of homegrown Dodgers. Maybe I’m different, or maybe the circumstances are.  I still have fond thoughts of Russell Martin, though he hasn’t been much of anything for a couple of years and who will likely be wearing a different uniform next season. Chad Billingsley struggled in 2009, and I stuck by him, just as I’m sticking by Jonathan Broxton. James Loney is producing worse numbers as a first baseman than Karros, but I’m hanging in there even if it means going down with the ship (a ship that might be traded within the next year). Even the mysterious Matt Kemp is, for me, a case of “Stand by your man.”

For that matter – not to give the impression that I’m nothing more than a softie – I don’t seem to have too many hard feelings about Karros anymore.  I remember the good times …

Fans have their own breaking points, though, and for many, they have already been breached. That’s part of what makes this offseason tense: tight relationships in a tenuous state. It’s always sad when love goes south, especially when you’re a hopeless romantic and it’s the ballplayer next door.

Nov 11

Third base: The cold corner


John McDonough/Icon SMIRaul Mondesi

Last time the Dodgers won a Gold Glove at the following positions:

C – Russell Martin, 2007
1B – Steve Garvey, 1977
2B – Orlando Hudson, 2009
SS – Cesar Izturis, 2004
3B – None
OF – Matt Kemp, 2009
OF – Steve Finley, 2004
OF – Raul Mondesi, 1997
P – Greg Maddux, 2008

The timing wasn’t right for Ron Cey or Adrian Beltre to win Gold Gloves for the Dodgers …

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  • The history of Bill Russell as Dodger manager gets a long look back at the Hardball Times from Steven Booth, who is searching for parallels (and coming up with mixed results) with Don Mattingly’s nascent tenure in the hot seat.
  • Sam Miller of the Orange County Register questions a system that makes relievers 35 percent of Type A free agents.

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All my best wishes and thanks to the nation’s veterans on this day …