Sep 30

‘Fernando Nation’ to air on ESPN ’30 for 30′ on October 26


ESPNFernando Valenzuela

ESPN’s strong “30 for 30” sports documentary series finds its way to Fernandomania on October 26 with “Fernando Nation,” directed by Cruz Angeles.  Here’s the set-up, courtesy of the ESPN press release:

“ ‘The Natural’ is supposed to be a blue-eyed boy who teethed on a 36-ounce Louisville Slugger. He should run like the wind and throw boysenberries through brick. He should come from California.” – Steve Wulf, Sports Illustrated, 1981.

So how was it that a pudgy 20-year-old, Mexican, left-handed pitcher from a remote village in the Sonoran desert, unable to speak a word of English, could sell out stadiums across America and become a rock star overnight? In “Fernando Nation,” Mexican-born and Los Angeles-raised director Cruz Angeles traces the history of a community that was torn apart when Dodger Stadium was built in Chavez Ravine and then revitalized by one of the most captivating pitching phenoms baseball has ever seen. Nicknamed “El Toro” by his fans, Fernando Valenzuela ignited a fire that spread from L.A. to New York—and beyond. He vaulted himself onto the prime-time stage and proved with his signature look to the heavens and killer screwball that the American dream was not reserved for those born on U.S. soil. In this layered look at the myth and the man, Cruz Angeles recalls the euphoria around Fernando’s arrival and probes a phenomenon that transcended baseball for many Mexican-Americans. Fernando Valenzuela himself opens up to share his perspective on this very special time. Three decades later, “Fernandomania” lives.

To be clear, the tearing apart of the community in Chavez Ravine began long before Dodger Stadium entered the picture (see Chapter 11 of “100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die”).  In any case, I’m really looking forward to this special.

That Steve Wulf story, by the way, was published in March — a rare national acknowledgment of the potential Valenzuela had before his memorable 1981 season began. Here’s another excerpt: “Valenzuela was born Nov. 1, 1960 in Navojoa on the west coast of Mexico. The Dodgers know this because (Al) Campanis sent Mike Brito, the scout who signed Valenzuela, to Navojoa to pick up his birth certificate. ‘I knew nobody would believe how young he was, unless we got some proof,’ says Campanis.”

* * *

Sep 27

Ken Burns’ ‘Tenth Inning’ hits and misses at the plate


PBSPedro Martinez

My lack of anticipation for “The Tenth Inning,” Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s four-hour sequel (airing in two parts Tuesday and Wednesday on PBS) to Burns’ 1994 documentary, “Baseball,” could hardly have contrasted more to how eager I was to see the original.

That 18-hour documentary came out when Burns’ glorious “The Civil War” was still fresh in my mind, came out during the work stoppage that caved in the 1994 baseball season and, perhaps most importantly, largely featured material from the distant past. Buck O’Neil, to whom “The Tenth Inning” is dedicated, made “Baseball” worthwhile all by himself.

By contrast, I wasn’t in any hurry to relive post-1993 baseball via the Burns treatment. I didn’t feel I had enough distance. (On top of that, “Tenth” figured to be exceedingly light on Dodger content, providing a reminder of how absent Los Angeles has been from baseball relevance for most of the past two decades.)

That latter concern was certainly borne out, but I will tell you that I did enjoy “Tenth” a bit more than I expected, with Burns (along with co-writers David McMahon and Novick) showing that at times, he can still deliver the goods.

It’s true that it’s tough to be a Dodger fan watching this program. Basically, the best one can do is take in the homage to Pedro Martinez and recall the time when he was ours, or take in the homage to Dave Roberts’ World Series steal and recall the time when he was ours. Furthermore, I felt personally insulted by the documentary’s suggestion that “no Latin player, not even (Roberto) Clemente or the Dodgers’ great Mexican pitcher of the 1980s, Fernando Valenzuela, had ever before received such an outpouring of affection and admiration” as Sammy Sosa.

But I did enjoy revisiting recent baseball history – being transported back to Fernando Cabrera’s pennant-clinching hit or seeing names like Tony Gwynn celebrated once again – more than I expected.

“Tenth” also did a better job than I feared injecting nuance into the discussion of performance-enhancing drugs, a topic that permeates the four hours. Through its sources and narrator Keith “Goliath” David, “Tenth” provides a brief history of cheating in baseball, knocking down some of the holier-than-thou aspects of the debate, and explaining why, even as suspicions rose, people didn’t really want to investigate.

“Innocence is beautiful, sometimes,” Martinez says memorably.

And though Barry Bonds’ story was somewhat sadly tiresome, the set-up wasn’t: a focus on Bonds’ father Bobby and how his troubled career shaped Barry, yielding the person who would stare unabashedly into the face of the disgust directed toward him:

“Boo me! Cheer me!” Bonds exclaims at a press conference. “Those that are gonna cheer me are gonna cheer me; those that are gonna boo me are gonna boo me. So what. But they’re still gonna come see the show. … Dodger Stadium is the best show that I go to in all my life in baseball. They say ‘Barry sucks!’ louder than anybody out there. And you know what, you’ll see me in left field (encouraging them), because you know what, you’ve got to have some serious talent to have 53,000 people say ‘You suck.’ I’m proud of that.”

There are moments when “Tenth” goes beyond the obvious to tell its stories, and those moments are pretty great.

However, particularly in the second part, there are also extended stretches in which the storytelling fails to reach any kind of height, stretches in which the storytelling is completely conventional, no more special than a run-of-the-mill sports documentary that gets thrown together without such fanfare. Because of this, I think that “The Tenth Inning” will be appreciated more by the casual fan than the dedicated fan (and, of course, enjoyed much more by fans of the teams depicted than the teams ignored).

“As its flaws become apparent, (baseball) actually gains depth and humanity, even as it loses its fairy-tale, mythic qualities,” says sportswriter Thomas Boswell, who quietly emerges as perhaps the best on-screen voice of the documentary. Burns and his team get this concept, and I’m glad. The tone to the conclusion of 240-minute endeavor couldn’t be more appropriate. I just wish “The Tenth Inning” had pursued more off-the-beaten path stories, stories like Buck O’Neil and Bobby Bonds, than spending so much time on the more familiar recent history that feels like it’s been sitting on a warming tray.

Sep 25

Did you see Jackie Robinson bunt that ball?


Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty ImagesJackie Robinson

While poking around the Dodgers’ all-time seasonal sacrifice hit leaders Friday to come up with the tidbit on Clayton Kershaw, I noticed that Jackie Robinson had the bold-face total of 28 in his rookie year, 1947. (I mentioned this in the comments section, but felt it trivially interesting enough for a separate post.)

Times were different then, obviously, but I still found it rather stunning. This was a year in which Robinson hit .297 with 74 walks and 48 extra-base hits and led the National League in stolen bases. He grounded into five double plays in 590 at-bats. There probably weren’t many hitters for whom the sacrifice was more of a waste than Robinson. Yet there he was, squaring up more than anyone around.

In fact, in a 15-game stretch from August 10-23, during which Robinson OPSed .998, someone thought it’d be a good idea for him to sacrifice bunt eight times. My way of putting that in perspective: Robinson had more sacrifice hits in those two weeks than Rickey Henderson had in 1,746 games from 1981-93.

It was a long time ago, but I wonder if there was anyone who noticed Robinson was red-hot at the plate and wondered when they were going to stop making him give himself up.

* * *

My favorite part of Arash Markazi’s ESPNLosAngeles.com column on Manny Ramirez’s return to Southern California:

Dodgers organist Nancy Bea Hefley and her husband, Bill, drove down to Anaheim to catch up with Ramirez and (Juan) Pierre, before leaving for their home in northern Nevada prior to the opening pitch.

“When Manny arrived, the team wasn’t doing anything and he just brought a spark,” said Hefley, who gave Ramirez and Pierre a big hug each in the visitor’s dugout. “He brought a spark to the team in the dugout and on the field and made it very exciting.” …

* * *

Shades of Randy Wolf: Ted Lilly should clearly be offered salary arbitration after this season, though he will probably turn said offer down, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.

Petriello also passes along this note from Mark Whicker of the Register that outfield prospect Jerry Sands will experiment at third base in the Arizona Fall League. Whicker’s main point in his column is that the Dodgers shouldn’t give up on their homegrown core, despite this year’s frustrations.

Sep 18

‘Ball Four’ at 40 celebration in Burbank 

Today, the Baseball Reliquary is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” with six hours of events at the Burbank Central Library.

Bouton, Tommy Davis and others will be on two panels taking place, beginning at 11 a.m. Baseball Reliquary executive director Terry Cannon recommends you arrive at 10:30 a.m., and notes that posted parking time limits are being waived at “a small lot which adjoins the library, and a larger lot across the street on Glenoaks and Olive (entrance on Olive).”

Click the links above for more details – could be a tremendous way to spend your Saturday.

Sep 15

Tonight’s feature presentation: Obscure but memorable cleanup hitters

Jay Gibbons is batting cleanup tonight for the third time as a Dodger. That would not have seemed likely a month ago, but Gibbons is far from the most unlikely Dodger cleanup hitter of the past seven seasons. Who’s your favorite from this list?

Dodger cleanup hitters since 2004
2010:
James Loney (50 games), Matt Kemp (43), Manny Ramirez (41), Casey Blake (7), Jay Gibbons (3), Andre Ethier (2).

2009: Blake (43), Ethier (42), Kemp (27), Ramirez (26), Loney (21), Russell Martin (3).

2008: Jeff Kent (74), Loney (28), Ramirez (25), Martin (18), Blake (8), Ethier (3), Nomar Garciaparra (3), Andruw Jones (2), Mark Sweeney (1).

2007: Kent (132), Luis Gonzalez (20), Loney (6), Martin (1), Mike Lieberthal (1), Olmedo Saenz (1), Shea Hillenbrand (1)

2006: J.D. Drew (83), Kent (59), Saenz (7), Ethier (5), Garciaparra (3), Kemp (2), Loney (1), Joel Guzman (1), Ricky Ledee (1).

2005: Kent (110), Saenz (26), Ledee (10), Jason Phillips (8), Jose Cruz, Jr. (3), Jayson Werth (2), Hee-Seop Choi (1), Mike Edwards (1), Milton Bradley (1).

2004: Adrian Beltre (92), Shawn Green (63), Milton Bradley (3), Saenz (2), Juan Encarnacion (1), Robin Ventura (1).

* * *

Al LaMacchia, the 1940s major-leaguer who became a scout for six decades thereafter, finishing up with the Dodgers, has passed away at the age of 89.

Bill Plaschke of the Times shone a light on LaMacchia when he talked about the scout’s recommendation that the Dodgers acquire Andre Ethier — a column that (and I certainly mean no disrespect to LaMacchia) inspired this response from Fire Joe Morgan.

My most sincere condolences to LaMacchia’s family and friends.

* * *

Today is the 30th anniversary of Fernando Valenzuela’s major-league debut, notes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. The Dodgers will pay tribute to the occasion on Sunday’s game.

Sep 14

Kershaw LXXXI: Kershawctupus

Let me introduce you to a really cool website, CriticalPast.com (which I found via Baseball Think Factory). It offers all kinds of historic film footage — here’s a link to what comes up under a Dodgers search. For example: a quick newsreel peek at the Dodgers during Spring Training, 1953. I’ve also gotten lost looking up various old pieces of Los Angeles history.

* * *

Dodger manager Joe Torre, who has indicated he wanted to play the most competitive Dodger lineup in remaining games against contenders, chose lefty-hitting Jay Gibbons at first base over lefty-hitting James Loney against lefty San Francisco pitcher Barry Zito. Loney is 2 for 26 with no walks in his career against Zito. Gibbons is 3 for 15 with a double and two walks.

Using this criteria, Torre ran out of options somewhat quickly.

* * *

Late add: the 2011 tentative Dodger schedule. Season opener on April Fool’s Day at home against the Giants. It’s the first Friday opener for the Dodgers in 32 years, Tony Jackson writes – changes things up, but I kind of don’t mind it.

Sep 11

A Happier 9/11

It has been seven years since this piece was first published: September 11, 2003. A lot has happened since then – including a very happy September 18, 2006. 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.

Continue reading

Sep 09

Pagliacci’s team

The analogy doesn’t quite work, but the above was the best I could come up with for the latest result. Los Angeles got a rare first-inning lead on Andre Ethier’s two-run homer, but gave it up for good on a three-run homer by Houston third baseman Chris Johnson in the sixth inning. The Dodgers lost their sixth straight game and fell to 69-72.

Only four Dodger teams have finished below .500 since 1988. According to my research on Baseball-Reference.com, no Dodger team has ever entered September with a winning record and finished the season with a losing record.

Aug 25

Classic 1965 Sandy Koufax interview

Sandy Koufax was Sports Illustrated’s 1965 Sportsman of the Year. Dodger Thoughts friend Stan from Tacoma passes along the massive interview Koufax did for the issue, which begins thusly:

Sandy, what’s the difference between the way you manage your life and the way anybody else would manage his?

–I don’t do anything different. I do the things that most people do. There are times when I feel like I have an obligation not to do certain things because I’m preparing myself to pitch. But other than that my life is about as normal as I can keep it.

Yes, but you have this reputation for being awfully hard on yourself.

–Maybe I am. I know sometimes people’ll say, “Well, you’ve done everything possible, what’re you gonna do next? You can’t pitch a better ball game.” And I say to myself, “Well, why not? Why can’t I do more, why can’t I do a better job?” There’s nothing to stop me — except the hitters. You can always try to pitch a better ball game, the best you possibly can.

Sandy, I’ve seen you after you’ve pitched and you sit at your locker and you look like World War II. At this stage of your career isn’t there any tendency on your part to jake it a little, not to put out quite so much?

–I can’t. I can’t. Sometimes you get enough runs and you try to take it easy and all of a sudden you’re in trouble.

Yes, but you go out there and work like a guy who’s expecting to be cut right after the game.

–You’ve got to put out on every pitch. How do you know what the other pitcher’s going to do? He’s out there trying to get your team out, too. People say, doesn’t it make you a better pitcher because your team doesn’t score runs, doesn’t that make you bear down? Well, the Dodgers score more runs than people think, but even if your ball club scores a lot of runs I don’t think you can take the attitude that you can give up two or three runs and still win. You’ve got to say to yourself, “I don’t know how many I’m gonna get, but if I can keep the other side from scoring any I have a lot better chance.” So you put out on every pitch. …

* * *

  • The disappointing Dodgers’ worst 34-game stretch this season has been 13-21. That’s the exact record that the Los Angeles Sparks rode into the WNBA playoffs that start tonight.
  • Gregg Found and Matt Willis of ESPN.comdelve into Hiroki Kuroda’s near-historic 0-for-40 season at the plate.
  • Did you know Takashi Saito can’t see a catcher giving signs with his fingers at night? Mark Bowman of MLB.com has details (via Hardball Talk).
  • Jim Thome, who had four singles in 17 plate appearances as a Dodger a year ago, is having one of the best age-39 seasons in baseball history, according to Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk.
  • Check out friend of Dodger Thoughts BHsportsguy’s Dodger-related homage to Allan Malamud at True Blue L.A.
  • Colorado rallied from a 10-1 deficit today to defeat Atlanta, 12-10, sweeping the Braves in a three-game series. And San Francisco rallied from a 10-1 deficit as well — the Giants were tied with the Reds in the ninth, 11-11.
Aug 24

Pitchers in the outfield

Ryan Howard was ejected in the 15th inning of tonight’s Phillies-Astros game, forcing Philadelphia to use pitcher Roy Oswalt in left field.

From 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die:

Suspended Animation
Lest it be forgotten, the Dodgers also tried to burn the midnight oil one time in Chicago – but that was back when Wrigley Field had no midnight oil to burn. On August 16, 1982, the Dodgers and Cubs played 17 innings of a 1-1 tie before umpires suspended the game due to darkness. It resumed the following day with the Dodgers winning 2-1 in 21 innings.

“The guys who had already been in the game were cheering the other guys on,” Rick Monday told Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times. “Someone made the observation that it was like a Pony League game. We were going, ‘Hey batter, batter, batter!’ all the way to ‘Pitcher’s got a rubber arm!’ Yeah, we were a little nuts.”

So was the Dodgers defense. Fernando Valenzuela logged time in the outfield after Ron Cey’s ejection in the 20th inning left the team one player short. But in the top of the 21st, Steve Sax scored on a sacrifice fly that saw umpire Eric Gregg raise his arm to call out before switching to the safe sign midway through. Bob Welch entered the game in the bottom of the 21st as, of all things, a defensive replacement for Valenzuela, and Jerry Reuss finished his fourth inning of shutout ball to win in relief — just before throwing five innings in the regularly scheduled game, a 7-4 Dodger victory, to grab that decision as well.

Aug 18

Clayton at 18


Ben Platt/Los Angeles DodgersLogan White and Clayton Kershaw, June 2006
Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw’s first Dodger mugshot

As mentioned on Dodger Thoughts on Tuesday, first-round draft pick Zach Lee will make his first appearance at Dodger Stadium before tonight’s game. Here are some photos from the day 18-year-old Clayton Kershaw made his Dodger Stadium debut, in June 2006.

Also, here’s a linkto what Dodger Thoughts had to say about Kershaw the day he was drafted.

Aug 10

Gibbons a new hero as Dodgers romp, 15-9


Barbara Johnston/US PresswireJay Gibbons hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning to give the Dodgers an 11-5 lead.

Newest Dodger (at least for one more day) Jay Gibbons became the Dodgers’ all-time leader in OPS – minimum five career plate appearances with the team – going 3 for 4 with a home run in the Dodgers’ unusually bloated 15-9 victory over Philadelphia tonight.

Gibbons’ OPS of 2.200 (three singles and a homer in five trips to the plate) breaks the record of 1.467 previously held by Pat Diesel of the 1902 Brooklyn squad and Orlando Mercado, who had two singles and a double in five at-bats at the end of the 1987 season, which I never knew about because I was traveling through Europe. Ah, those were the days.

Well, to quote Natalie Merchant, these are days, as well. Andre Ethier had three singles, a double, a walk and was hit by a pitch tonight, becoming the first Dodger to reach base six times in a game since Russell Martin on April 25, 2008. Before that, the last Dodger to do it was Shawn Green during his four-homer game in 2002. The feat has been achieved 22 times in Los Angeles Dodger history.

Casey Blake also homered as the Dodgers reached base 25 times in all, scoring a season-high in runs and giving them 23 in their past two games. Perhaps we can say they emerged from their slump: The Dodgers have broken the five-run barrier four times in their past eight games. On the other hand, tonight’s pitching …. we won’t get into that.

* * *

Rafael Furcal, already sidelined for eight days with back issues, finally submitted to spending at least the next week on the disabled list, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Juan Castro is expected to be Wednesday’s newest Dodger – his third sojourn with the team.

Jul 05

An intentional post about intentional walks

Twice-former Dodger reliever Guillermo Mota, now with the Giants, walked four batters intentionally Sunday, the most by a pitcher in a game since 1998.

Baseball-Reference.com lists 49 pitchers with at least four IBB in a game, dating back to approximately 1952. Their teams are 3-45-1 in those games.

Another Giant, Mike McCormick, in the year he became the first to win the National League Cy Young Award after Sandy Koufax retired, apparently holds the record for most intentional walks in a game with six. Two came in the first inning, and two came in the 11th.

Don Drysdale, Ron Perranoski and Larry Sherry each walked four batters intentionally in a game for the Dodgers, all in the 1960s, all in losses, all before Walter Alston basically abandoned the intentional walk.

The last Dodger to walk three batters intentionally in a game was Derek Lowe in 2008. They were his only walks of the game, and Lowe didn’t allow any runs. But the Dodgers lost in 11 innings, 1-0.

Jul 04

Hong-Chih Kuo: a heartstopping six strikeouts in Dodger victory


Rick Scuteri/APLeft-handed batters are now 0 for 30 with 16 strikeouts against Hong-Chih Kuo this season.

Hong-Chih Kuo is an equal-opportunity heart-attack giver – to his fans and his opponents.

Joe Torre let Kuo throw two innings today, his most since September 1, 2008, and 32 pitches, his most since July 21 of that year. And as his pitch count rose, I felt a tingling in my left arm as I thought of Kuo’s fragile elbow.

But what an elbow. Kuo struck out six batters in those two innings, making a statement to those who didn’t support him for this year’s All-Star team and serving as the linchpin on the mound for the Dodgers in their 3-1 victory today over Arizona.

Kuo’s mastery was part of a closeout by the Dodger pitchers today, which struck out eight of the final 10 batters they faced.

Starting pitcher Chad Billingsley did what the Dodgers have asked him to do. He threw strikes and toughened up with runners on base. Billingsley allowed one run over six innings, striking out eight, and had only 35 balls called among the 26 batters he faced. His pitch count ran up to 111 in six innings because Arizona did walk twice and rap six hits off him, including a booming RBI triple by Mark Reynolds that gave the Diamondbacks a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning. But Billingsley struck out the next three batters and slammed the door on Arizona thereafter.

That meant the Dodgers were able to tie things up on Rafael Furcal’s double and Andre Ethier’s single in the sixth inning, and then take the lead on Matt Kemp’s two-run homer with Furcal aboard in the eighth. Kemp has an OPS of over 1.000 and four home runs in his past 12 games.

Jonathan Broxton got the Dodgers’ 15th and 16th strikeouts in his perfect ninth inning, his first save opportunity since June 9.