Jun 29

Trade Don Drysdale!


AP
Don Drysdale, March 1959

Fifty years ago, this was the hot trade rumor of the day, according to Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror: Don Drysdale, Gil Hodges and Duke Snider to the Yankees for Tony Kubek, Elston Howard, Ryne Duren and Johnny James. Buzzie Bavasi shot it down. (The link  also takes you to a feature on baseball stats godfather Allan Roth.)

Hodges and Snider were near the end of their careers, but Drysdale was only 23. He was coming off a 3.46 ERA in the 1959 title season, but he ran into a slump, posting a 7.11 ERA in 31 2/3 innings over seven appearances (six starts), only one of them a quality start.

Don Drysdale a Yankee. Gosh, it must’ve seemed like such a good idea to dump the kid at the time. All I need to find is one article calling him a head case or mental midget and my year will be complete.

  • Matt Kemp will return to the Dodger starting lineup tonight, Joe Torre told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Testimonials for Don Mattingly come in this article by Gideon Rubin for the Daily News from former teammate Dave Righetti and current Dodger Jeff Weaver. “There’s one thing that he’s about, and that’s hard work,” Weaver said. “He communicates well, and the guys respect him.”
  • Ten managerial candidates to consider have been conveniently offered by John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus. Mattingly is on the list, along with Alex Cora’s brother Joey, former Dodger Ron Roenicke  and one-time Dodger candidate (before Paul DePodesta was fired) Torey Luvullo.
  • Lucas May singled, doubled and homered twice for Albuquerque on Monday.
  • Carlos Monasterios has taken a walk on the rehab trail. He allowed five runs (four earned) on nine baserunners while striking out four in 3 2/3 innings. Three of the runs came on a first-inning homer. “I thought Monasterios threw the ball pretty well,” Isotopes manager Tim Wallach told Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner. “The home run he gave up in the first was probably a bit of an Albuquerque home run.”
  • James McDonald will return to the Albuquerque active roster Thursday, Jackson reports.
  • I make the case for Hong-Chih Kuo’s inclusion on the National League All-Star Team at Rob Neyer’s Sweet Spot blog at ESPN.com.
  • How do you solve a problem like George Sherrill? Ask Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Joe Posnanski is looking for your nominations for top sports books.

Update: Adrian Beltre tells Alex Speier of WEEI the story of how he became an underage signee of the Dodgers, and the fallout that ensued. (via MLB Trade Rumors)

Jun 25

Flashback to 2004: ‘Yankees Suck’ is a figure of speech

The last time the Yankees came to Dodger Stadium, six flip-floppin’ years ago, I had one child (with another on the way), a job at LACMA, and under two years of baseball blogging under my belt. I had recently joined up with All-Baseball.com, a precursor of sorts to Baseball Toaster, and we picked the final of the three Dodger-Yankee games to do the Rashomon project, in which a bunch of us covered the game from different angles.

Here’s my piece: “‘Yankees Suck’ is a figure of speech”

Continue reading

Jun 25

How Reggie Jackson might have led the Dodgers over the Yankees in the World Series


AP
Reggie Jackson played in five consecutive All-Star Games from 1971-75 and 14 in his career.

In 1973, Reggie Jackson won the American League Most Valuable Player Award. In 1974, he finished fourth in the voting (in a year he had a .391 on-base percentage, .514 slugging percentage and a league high 20 intentional walks and 166 adjusted OPS).

In 1975, two years before he would begin tormenting Los Angeles in consecutive World Series, Reggie Jackson almost became a Dodger.

That’s the tale that comes out of Dayn Perry’s new book, “Reggie Jackson.” In the winter before the ’75 season, the future Yankee by way of Baltimore first tried to engineer a deal to Los Angeles.

… Finley presented Reggie with a contract for 1975 that would pay him precisely what he made in 1974. Reggie told the media that his contract offer was “too depressing” to discuss.

He called Finley and asked to be traded. “If I can sell yhou for two million dollars,” Finley said, “I might not give you some of the money, but I’d at least send you a box of candy.”

Reggie, stunned that Finley might trade him, went to Hawaii to fulfill his duties as host of the “Team Superstars” television show. There he met with Dodgers executive Al Campanis. Reggie told him he could be a Dodger if they met Finley’s asking price of $2 million. Campanis said it was a posssibility. Reggie then phoned Finley and told him the Dodgers were interested. “I can’t play money,” the owner said. “He explained to Reggie that unless he received a king’s ransom in talent, he couldn’t trade his best player and still manage to sell tickets. Parting with one of baseball’s biggest tars in a cash grab simply wouldn’t play with the fans. Reggie knew that, but he also knew what Finley had told him earlier. Reggie called him a liar and hung up. …

Then the story that Reggie had attempted to engineer a trade to the Dodgers made the rounds in the Oakland press. Finley confirmed the rumor and said that he’d been shocked by Reggie’s actions. He didn’t mention that he had given Reggie permission to seek out a deal, and he didn’t mention that he had discussed trading Reggie to the Philllies, Indians, Yankees, and Orioles, among other teams. When Reggie learned of Finley’s lies, he called the Oakland beat writers and told them that Finley was willing to sell him for $2 million. They went back and confronted Finley with Reggie’s version of events. He laughed it off. “The Oakland fans would run me out on a rail,” Finley said.

Shortly thereafter, Finley defeated Reggie in their arbitration hearing in Los Angeles. Reggie had oped to make $200,000 for 1975, but the arbitrator chose Finley’s figure of $140,000. Freshly embittered, Reggie went back to Arizona for Spring Training.

Having not come up with the ability to complete the trade, the Dodgers went with Willie Crawford in right field in 1975, then acquired Reggie Smith in place of Joe Ferguson and others in June 1976.

In 1975, Jackson’s final season with Oakland, he led the league with 36 home runs, in what was otherwise an off year for him. He left as a free agent, while Finley would later run afoul of baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn by trying to sell other star players like Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue.

Two seasons later, Jackson was a Yankee, and you know what happened next. Seven home runs in the 1977-78 World Series, three in one game, along with one stray hip.

But the Dodgers did have that one moment of pure wonderfulness against Jackson. Here’s how I described it in “100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die”:

Perhaps even more than the pitch, people remember the reaction: Reggie Jackson detorquing himself from a swing that almost corkscrewed him into the ground, grabbing his bat high on the barrel and violently thundering a furious curse.

David slew Goliath. Jack brought down the Giant. And Bob Welch, all 21 babyfaced years of him, struck out the Bronx Bomber on a 3-2 pitch in the ninth inning to save Game 2 of the 1978 World Series and bring on a deafening roar at Dodger Stadium.

The day the Series opened, rumors were spreading that fireballing Dodger rookie Welch had an arm problem. Nonsense, insisted Tommy Lasorda. “Bob had a soreness in his side, down along his rib cage,” he told Scott Ostler of the Los Angeles Times. “Our trainer said he’s fine.”

AP
Steve Yeager raises his fist after Bob Welch strikes out Reggie Jackson with two runners on base to end Game 2 of the ’78 Series.

Apparently. Clinging to a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth, the Dodgers sent out Terry Forster for his third inning of work. Yankee playoff hero Bucky Dent opened the inning with a single to left field and moved to second on a groundout. A walk to Paul Blair put the go-ahead run on base, signaling that Forster had passed his expiration date.

Lasorda’s do-or-die replacement had 24 career appearances, 11 in relief. The two batters he needed to get out, Thurman Munson and Jackson, had 465 career home runs – three of them hit by Jackson in the last game of the previous year’s World Series. Dodger fans at the stadium and across the country waited for the roof to cave in.

Welch fed a strike in against Munson, who hit a sinking drive to right field that Reggie Smith caught at his knees.

It was Jackson time. This wasn’t just any slugger. This was the enemy personified, a man, though well-liked in his later years, considered perhaps the most egotistical, vilifiable ballplayer in the game.

Welch began by inducing Jackson to overswing and miss. With Drysdalesque flair, he then sent in a high, tight fastball that sent Jackson spinning into the dirt.

Jackson later told Earl Gustkey of the Times that he was expecting Welch to mix in some of his good offspeed pitches, but instead came three fastballs, each of which were fouled off. Then there was a waste fastball high and outside to even the count at 2-2.

After another foul ball, another high and outside fastball brought a full count. The runners would be moving. Short of another foul, this would be it.

As everyone inhaled, in came the heat. Amped up, Jackson swung for the fences – not the Dodger Stadium fences, but the fences all the way back in New York.

Only after Jackson missed the ball and nearly wrapped the bat around himself like a golf club, only through Jackson’s rage, could Dodger fans begin to comprehend what happened.

Jackson carried his fury into the dugout and clubhouse with him, pushing first a fan on his way to the dugout and then Yankee manager Bob Lemon once inside.

The only thing that could have made the event better for Dodger fans would have been for them to have had longer to enjoy it. The Dodgers didn’t win the World Series that year; they didn’t win another game. Welch himself was the losing pitcher in Game 4, allowing a two-out, 10th-inning run in his third inning of work, and gave up a homer to Jackson in Game 6. But for a moment, the Dodgers and their fans enjoyed one of the most triumphant and exhilarating victories over the Yankees ever imaginable.

If, after revisiting those World Series memories, the thought of Reggie Jackson as a Dodger is still unimaginable, consider the event that took place hours before the Welch-Jackson strikeout. Here’s an excerpt from my chapter on Jim Gilliam, the longtime Dodger who is the only member of the organization to have his number retired without reaching baseball’s Hall of Fame:

On the afternoon of October 11, with Game 2’s first pitch hours away, baseball paused and gathered at Trinity Baptist Church to pay their respects – 2,000 strong – at Gilliam’s funeral. A memorable photo from that day shows Dodger tormentor Reggie Jackson of the Yankees standing solemnly between Lopes and Tommy Lasorda. All three delivered eulogies.

Jun 24

Vin Scully and the throne

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times’ Bats blog has a 1,700-word interview with Vin Scully that’s actually a prelude to a more formal Scully column running Friday. It’s a fun read, with some stories you’ve probably heard before and others, maybe not. Here’s the penultimate paragraph:

… I’ve been thinking recently, the Prince of Wales gave up the British throne to marry an American woman, which immediately disqualified him, and I thought, My God, if he can give up the British throne for his wife, maybe I can give up baseball. It’ll be hard. When I’m going to do it completely, I don’t know. If I had my way, I might be able to dabble and do home games, and maybe come down here. I don’t know, and I don’t know what the boss is going to say. He might say, ‘Well, you know, we really need a guy full time,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, then, you’ve made my settlement a lot easier.’ So we’ll just have to see. I really don’t know.” …

* * *

Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News went to Cooperstown and has a blog post highlighting a bunch of Dodger memorabilia at the Hall of Fame.

Jun 22

My all-time Dodgers team (for today)


AP
Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Jack Fournier and outfielder Zack Wheat, left to right, in the dugout at Ebbets Field, 1921.

ESPNLosAngeles.com has a fan poll for you to pick your all-time Dodgers team, and I’ll show you my choices to help kick things off.

I approached my picks for the team as sort of a test of myself.  I’ve studied the Dodgers long enough — wrote a book on them, after all — I didn’t want to look up any statistics. I wanted to pick a team based on my knowledge and feelings for the players. If I made any bad picks, I figure I’ll learn what my blind spots still are.

Left field
I started near the bottom of the alphabet to find my top guy.  Zack Wheat was an extraordinary player, a Hall of Famer with such talent that he was actually able to work the system long before the free agent era to get real raises. He’s the Dodgers’ all-time hit leader and, if I recall correctly, was a fine fielder to boot.

Center field
Just a few stops up the alphabet elevator from Wheat was Duke Snider, and I don’t think I need to explain his choice. I also would note that I’m trying to pick a true fielder for each position — a right fielder, center fielder and left fielder — and Snider nicely fills the middle spot.

Right field
Several players would have been suitable here, but I had to go with one of my earliest childhood favorites, Reggie Smith. His time in Los Angeles was relatively short, but he’s just my guy.

Toughest outfielders to leave off: Gary Sheffield, Tommy Davis, Willie Davis, Babe Herman, Shawn Green, Pete Reiser … really, just about all of them, with few exceptions.

Third base
Pedro Guerrero might be better suited for the outfield, but I’m glad he’s here butchering the ball in the hot corner rather than forcing me to choose between him and Wheat. Choosing Guerrero over Ron Cey is no easy task, either, but I am just too partial to Guerrero’s hitting brilliance.

Shortstop
Pee Wee Reese is a relatively easy pick for me here — in my mind, as complete a shortstop as the team has ever had in the long run.

Second base
Davey Lopes had a great Dodger career — and so, though some might not realize it, did Jeff Kent. But there’s no question that Jackie Robinson is the choice for all-time Dodger second baseman, objectively and subjectively.

First base
I didn’t think long before choosing Gil Hodges over Steve Garvey, who would be my Los Angeles pick.

Catcher
Cheating a little here: I very well should be picking Roy Campanella, but it’s clear that places for the guys I watched play are rare on this team. Mike Piazza was the greatest hitting catcher I ever saw, for any team. Part of this pick is a protest that he was ever traded.

Starting pitchers
Tough stuff here — about as tough as the outfield.  Reinforcing my Piazza pick is my partiality for ye olde Brooklyne players. I almost indulged myself with stingy Jeff Pfeffer, but the nagging reality that his ERA took advantage of his era made me reconsider in favor of the more memorable Burleigh Grimes, whose book chapter I really enjoyed writing. I then added Dazzy Vance, a late bloomer but probably a more defensible choice than either of those two. Then after obviously adding Sandy Koufax, I debated Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser before settling on the Bulldog. While Drysdale and Sutton are Hall of Famers, and Valenzuela the one that evokes the most passion in me, right now I just can’t picture Hershiser doing anything but shutting his opponents down. Tomorrow, I’d probably pick someone different.

Closer
An embarrassment of riches here, but I have to go with Eric Gagne. I sure do have a soft spot for Takashi Saito, though.

Manager
Walter Alston won the Dodgers’ first two World Series titles, arguably their two most important: the long-awaited Brooklyn championship in 1955, and the one that galvanized the fan base in Los Angeles in 1959 after a poor first season — a title that ranks with 1988 on the improbability scale. Alston then added two others. He had his own disappointments, and his teams didn’t have much to show after Koufax retired, but I still consider him an underrated manager. In somewhat similar fashion, Tommy Lasorda had great success early on, punctuated later by an unforgettable title in ’88. At times I have underrated him as a manager, but I’m not going to go so far as to choose him over Alston. Either, frankly, would be a fine pick. Had Leo Durocher stayed longer with the Dodgers, maybe he’d be the one.

Jun 07

Dodgers making one-run history

The Dodgers’ past seven victories have been by one run, the longest such streak in baseball since Cleveland did the same from July 22-August 5, 1998. If the Dodgers’ next victory is by one run, it will tie the franchise record of eight last matched by the 1961 Dodgers from May 17-May 29.

Since 1900, the major-league record for consecutive victories by one run was set by the 1942 Phillies, from May 10 to June 3. Philadelphia went 42-109 that season.

Thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau for researching this for me.

Jun 02

The 28-out perfect game

Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game with two out in the ninth inning tonight because of a blown call at first base. Alex Belth’s reaction at Bronx Banter suits me perfectly.

Cabrera raised his arms as soon as he threw the ball and the runner was out. But Jim Joyce called him safe. He blew the call. Right in front of him. Blew it. Trevor Crowe grounded out for the 28th and final out.

I felt sick to my stomach watching it on TV. It was like getting kicked in the gut or lower. The fans in Detroit booed. It seemed like half of the Tigers team had to be restrained from jumping Joyce whose professional life may never be the same after one blown call. From what little I know about umpires, they take their mistakes to heart, so I can only assume this is the worst night of Jim Joyce’s life (and I feel for him as I imagine nobody feels worse about this than he does).

After the game, Joyce told reporters, “I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce said. “I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay.”

Joyce’s mistake surely spoiled the best night of Galarraga’s life, but instead of letting this sickening feeling overshadow Galarraga’s brilliance, let’s just flip it—this was a wonderful feat. Joyce’s mistake only allowed Galarraga to accomplish something even more unique than a perfect game. A 28-out perfecto.

No matter what the record books say, this was perfection by Galarraga, plus one. An untimely mistake by Jim Joyce can’t spoil what we all saw and know to be true.

At the Hardball Times, Josh Fisher is part of the Million Fan March calling for expansion of instant replay in baseball.

Update: Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk looks at the pros and cons of Bud Selig overturning Joyce’s call and retroactively making the perfect game official.

May 22

Can John Ely keep it going?


Jeff Gross/ALLSPORT
Luke Prokopec is fifth all time in major-league innings pitched by an Australian native.

Nine years ago, at the age of 23, Luke Prokopec began the 2001 season with the following three starts:

Date IP H R ER BB SO ERA
4/6 7.67 4 1 1 0 7 1.17
4/21 6.00 6 2 2 0 5 3.00
4/27 7.00 6 3 3 0 5 3.86
Total 20.67 16 6 6 0 17 2.61

Prokopec was a sight for sore eyes in a starting rotation that at the start of 2001, except for Kevin Brown, was a mixed bag, with Eric Gagne and Darren Dreifort each posting April ERAs of around 5.00.

However, Prokopec, who walked the leadoff batter in start No. 4 after having faced 78 batters in a row without a free pass, didn’t last the year in the rotation, finishing the season with a 4.61 ERA in 22 starts. That December, newly installed Dodger general manager Dan Evans made the rather prescient decision to trade Prokopec and minor leaguer Chad Ricketts to Toronto for Cesar Izturis and Paul Quantrill.

This trade was personally memorable for me because it was the first time I had ever recognized that it might be a good idea to trade a pitcher who had promise but didn’t have great strikeout totals – Prokopec was at 5.9 per nine innings. If I recall correctly, there were those who felt the Dodgers should have traded Gagne, who was 25 with a 4.75 ERA.

As it turned out, the following season was miserable for Prokopec, who had a 6.78 ERA and battled serious arm trouble. He made his last major-league appearance August 23 of that year.

So yeah, I went there. I’m telling the cautionary tale, that just because a young pitcher rips off three starts without walking anyone and looks like he can make the baseball do his bidding, doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed a bright future.

Having gotten that out of the way, let me just say that I couldn’t be more excited about John Ely’s next start, coming today in the Dodger Stadium shadows before a Fox audience. I hope in a matter of hours, the whole nation is catching Elymania.

* * *

Rafael Furcal had a good day in an extended Spring Training game today, Joe Torre told reporters, and is on track to be activated Sunday or Tuesday.

Torre added that Andre Ethier has begun hitting off a tee and is progressing.

The Dodgers don’t need to start their fifth starter again until Saturday, but might do so Friday to give Hiroki Kuroda an extra day off. Monday’s off day is the Dodgers’ last before a stretch of 17 games in a row heading into June 10.

May 06

It could be 1979 all over again


Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Second baseman Davey Lopes hit 28 homers in 1979 and stole 44 bases (in 48 attempts), all for a team that lost 83 games.

More stark stats: No Los Angeles Dodger team that started the season 11-16 or worse after 27 games has finished above .500, notes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. That got me thinking about the Dodgers’ 1979 team again.

From Dodger Thoughts, February 1 (my first day at ESPN):

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

The 1979 Dodgers, who seemed to have everything going for them entering the season except the departure of Tommy John, lost 31 of 41 games leading into the All-Star Game, digging themselves a hole so deep that not even a league-leading 43 victories after the break could save them. …

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

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

May 05

You traded Bob Welch for what?


Getty Images
The Dodgers traded 31-year-old Bob Welch (pictured above in 1983) after a 1987 season in which he had a 3.22 ERA and 196 strikeouts in 251 2/3 innings.

Former Dodger general manager Fred Claire was interviewed at length by Albert Lyu of FullCountPitch.com about how the 1988 World Series championship Dodgers were constructed. It’s a good read – including news that the Dodgers had seriously contemplated a Pedro Guerrero-for-Kirk Gibson trade before Gibson became a free agent.

I can’t help wondering what the reaction would have been on Dodger Thoughts to the news that Bob Welch and two relievers had been sent away for Alfredo Griffin, Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco.

  • Joe Torre told reporters today Charlie Haeger would start for the Dodgers on Saturday. Carlos Monasterios is in the bullpen for now. When Jeff Weaver is activated, John Ely might be optioned to the minors no matter how well he does in his start Thursday.
  • Torre said that Manny Ramirez would be activated from the disabled list Saturday.
  • Doug Mientkiewicz signed a minor-league contract with Florida, according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America.
  • If you have a 3D TV and subscribe to DirecTV, your first chance to see a live major-league game in 3D at home is now looking like the Yankees at Mariners on July 10, according to Stuart Levine of Variety.
  • Ernie Harwell’s passing Tuesday means this is a good time to see, if you haven’t, Elizabeth Merrill’s ESPN.com piece on Harwell saying goodbye.
Apr 14

Stating the obvious, but …


Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Casey Blake (shown homering Tuesday) has a .476 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage so far this season.

… everyone knows that the pitching will improve and the offense will cool down, right?

No matter what happens, “Follow the Dodgers!” (Thanks, Blue Heaven.)

Apr 05

Palate cleanser: Hit leaders who wore the Dodger uniform

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Hall of Famer Eddie Murray had 483 hits as a Dodger, 184 in 1990 when he led the majors in batting average.

Most major-league hits by anyone who has ever played for the Dodgers in a major-league game:

3,255 Eddie Murray
3,152 Paul Waner
3,055 Rickey Henderson
2,943 Frank Robinson
2,884 Zack Wheat
2,715 Bill Buckner
2,689 Gary Sheffield
2,665 Max Carey
2,605 Rabbit Maranville
2,599 Steve Garvey
2,591 Luis Gonzalez
2,561 Willie Davis
2,524 Heine Manush
2,502 Garret Anderson
2,496 Manny Ramirez
2,490 Fred McGriff
2,471 Joe Medwick
2,461 Jeff Kent
2,428 Kenny Lofton
2,375 Brett Butler

Garret Anderson has sneaked ahead of Manny Ramirez, however briefly.

Apr 04

Dodger Opening Day lineups, 2003-2010

2010
S Rafael Furcal, SS
R Russell Martin, C
L Andre Ethier, RF
R Manny Ramirez, LF
R Matt Kemp, CF
L James Loney, 1B
R Casey Blake, 3B
L Blake DeWitt, 2B
R Vicente Padilla, P

2009 (W, 4-1)
S Rafael Furcal, SS
S Orlando Hudson, 2B
R Manny Ramirez, LF
L Andre Ethier, RF
R Russell Martin, C
L James Loney, 1B
R Matt Kemp, CF
R Casey Blake, 3B
R Hiroki Kuroda, P

2008 (W, 5-0)
S Rafael Furcal, SS
L Andre Ethier, LF
R Matt Kemp, RF
R Jeff Kent, 2B
R Andruw Jones, CF
R Russell Martin, C
L James Loney, 1B
L Blake DeWitt, 3B
R Brad Penny, P

2007 (L, 7-1)
Juan Pierre, CF
Russell Martin, C
Nomar Garciaparra, 1B
Jeff Kent, 2B
Luis Gonzalez, LF
Wilson Betemit, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
Ramon Martinez, SS
Derek Lowe, P

2006 (L, 11-10)
Rafael Furcal, SS
Jose Cruz, Jr., LF
J.D. Drew, RF
Jeff Kent, 2B
Olmedo Saenz, 1B
Bill Mueller, 3B
Sandy Alomar, Jr., C
Jason Repko, CF
Derek Lowe, P

2005 (L, 4-2)
Cesar Izturis, SS
Hee Seop Choi, 1B
J.D. Drew, RF
Jeff Kent, 2B
Milton Bradley, CF
Jose Valentin, 3B
Ricky Ledee, LF
Jason Phillips, C
Derek Lowe, P

2004 (L, 8-2)
Dave Roberts, LF
Cesar Izturis, SS
Milton Bradley, CF
Shawn Green, 1B
Paul LoDuca, C
Juan Encarnacion, RF
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Alex Cora, 2B
Hideo Nomo, P

2003 (W, 8-0)
Dave Roberts, CF
Paul LoDuca, C
Shawn Green, RF
Brian Jordan, LF
Fred McGriff, 1B
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Jolbert Cabrera, 2B
Cesar Izturis, SS
Hideo Nomo, P

Apr 01

The heroes of my youth

When you think back to being a kid, who were the stars that meant the most to you? They weren’t actually all stars, were they?

The heroes of my youth, the people in sports and culture who affected me, influenced me and changed me … it’s no April Fool’s joke, but no one in their right or wrong mind would have the same group.  A mix of legends and larks – some off the wall, some on – all making for good stories.

Some were special for obvious reasons, some only because they arrived in my consciousness at just the right time, just when I needed someone to emulate, or celebrate, or maybe just smile about. They arrived just when I was ready to love them. And I think I do love them. I don’t think I’d be writing about them today if I didn’t love them.

Here is a tribute to some of those who, for different reasons, made a lifelong impression on me as a kid growing up in Los Angeles:

Happy Hairston: In 1972, my final year of living in the first house I knew, the Lakers were having a little bit of a winning streak. For the first time that I can recall, I played basketball with my older brother in the driveway. I was 4 going on 5; he was 8 going on 9. We would pretend to be the Lakers, and he would be Gail Goodrich and tell me that I was Happy Hairston. Even at that young age, I had the sense that I was getting the second-fiddle player – something told me that a basketball player named Happy couldn’t be that good, and might even be a dwarf. But he wasn’t bad, and most importantly, he was my guy. My first sports identity.

George Long/WireImage/Getty Images

* * *

Kent McCord: My earliest “What do you want to be when you grow up” was a policeman. Then, I decided I wanted to be a TV star. Then I saw Adam-12, and I realized I could become both. Even at such a young age, I learned the names of the actors. Kent McCord wins in a tossup over Martin Milner.  (It’s funny how times change – my 7 1/2-year-old daughter still hasn’t seen a primetime show because of all the kiddie options available to her, but I was soaking them up on my own TV before my fifth birthday.)

* * *

Hank Aaron: On vacation at the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, when I wasn’t riding horses, avoiding cactii, wearing a bolo tie (John Wooden got it from me) and getting covered in dust, I was chalking up the earliest baseball memory that sticks with me to this day: being in front of a TV set with a bunch of other dude ranchers when Henry Louis Aaron hit his 715th home run. I don’t remember it well – it’s more of a still frame shot in my mind – and deep down, I fear my sister will read this and tell me I’ve got the details all wrong, but all I know is I’ve been seeing that scene in my memory forever. (Below is Vin Scully’s marvelous call.)

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Dr. George Fischbeck: Lots of different things work into this one. At the end of a field trip to a museum early in grade school, I came home with a book, “The World of Weather and Climate.” Around the same time, I started going beyond the comic section of the newspaper and into the weather page. And then there was night after night of watching Channel 7 Eyewitness News on our 5-inch black-and-white kitchen TV, with Jerry Dunphy, Christine Lund, Fast Eddie Alexander, Stu Nahan … and Dr. George, the Captain Kangaroo of weathermen. My brother, sister and I even wrote a song one December, “We Wish You a Merry Fischbeck.” Not only did he introduce me to barometric pressure, he also hosted Saturday night, pre-prime-time half-hour shows, including one burned into my brain that introduced me to the Hindenberg. Oh, the humidity! TV cop had been replaced in my ambitions. I was going to be a TV weatherman.

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James Harris: I just liked him at first because he was good. He was the quarterback the night I truly became a sports fan – August 9, 1975, a preseason 35-7 slaughter by the Rams over the Cowboys at the Coliseum, where for the first time I was truly captivated by the game in front of me. (And they say exhibitions don’t matter!) That I later learned that Harris was a relative pioneer as a black quarterback only enhanced my childhood passion for him. I even had a brief fascination with Grambling. I went from weather to sports, and almost never left.

Nate Fine/Getty Images

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Lawrence McCutcheon: Lawrence of Los Angeles. I still have the T-shirt I wore 35 years ago – I even had my 5-year-old son try it on … carefully … a few weeks back. One 1,000-yard season after another. The first great player that I discovered for myself. O.J. Simpson and Franco Harris were more famous, but they weren’t mine. Lawrence was my first Pedro Guerrero – an underappreciated heavy-hitter.

Martin Mills/Getty Images

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Spider Sabich: Later immortalized (if I may use the term ironically) in news and then on “Saturday Night Live” as the skier who was “accidentally shot” by Claudine Longet, Sabich was in a ski film that we watched during our beginner days at June Mountain in the mid-’70s.  A race announcer said that Sabich had broken his neck. Then there was a pause.  And then, the announcer said – as if he needed time to think about it – that Sabich would be unable to continue racing that day. My brother and I thought that pause was just hysterical. Poor Spider.

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Manny Mota: This one really needs no explanation. Suffice it to say, Mota might have been my first sports folk hero.

Diamond Images/Getty Images

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Bob Cousy: The sports books I read as a kid had a profound effect on me. I checked a Cousy biography out of the school library, not really knowing anything about him – honestly, I’m not sure I had even heard of him. I might have just checked it out because there was a basketball player on the cover. Reading about the hours and hours of practice he put in as a schoolboy, I got my first introduction to the idea of working at becoming a great athlete – up to that point, I think I assumed sports heroes were born great. For a brief time, I allowed myself to believe that if I worked at it, I could become great – and though that turned out not to be true, I can’t say that ethic has hurt me.

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The Superstars: It was an exhibition … but you couldn’t have told me it didn’t matter. The Superstars on ABC in the mid-’70s were huge to my brother and me. We would watch religiously and stage elaborate recreations. Just thinking of the Obstacle Course makes me sigh … I mean, this was even bigger to me than Battle of the Network Stars.

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Reggie Smith: Garvey, Lopes, Cey and Russell should maybe be on this list, but again, the underappreciated tend to win out for me. And on those 1970s Dodger teams, Smith was underappreciated. I used to think “cool” meant the Fonz and the Sweathogs. Then I realized “cool” meant Reggie Smith. The Yankees could have their Reg-gie, Reg-gie – I liked ours.

Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

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Lynn Swann: In the first Super Bowl I can remember watching live on TV, my life was forever changed by Swann’s tip-to-himself catch of a Terry Bradshaw bomb in a key moment of the Steelers’ victory over the Cowboys. No other football play in my life did I reenact more.

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Ron LeFlore: The roots of this story go to LeVar Burton’s portrayal of LeFlore in “One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story,” a TV movie. A baseball player who came … from jail? Rock my world.

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Slick Watts and Curly Neal: For reasons that I can’t explain, if you were a bald basketball player with incredible skills, you had me transfixed.

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Don Chaney: I couldn’t shoot when I first started in grade-school pickup games. My first summer at John Wooden Basketball Camp, when I was 9, my coach actually had me stay in the backcourt while our team was on offense. Thank goodness for the Lakers acquiring Chaney, which introduced to me the concept of the defensive specialist. Now that was something I could aspire to. Now that blocked shot I had at basketball camp on a one-on-one fast break wasn’t just a random event – it was the start of something big. Of course I was fooling myself just as much, but you can still credit most of my understanding that there was more to basketball than scoring to Don Chaney.

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Franz Klammer: “Into the bear turn!” To this day, Klammer winning the gold at Innsbruck is the greatest ski run I’ve ever seen.

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Wes Unseld: One day I decided either I needed a new favorite basketball player, or I wanted to adopt someone who wasn’t a Laker – I forget which, but either way it was just for fun. So I took the boxscores of that morning’s sports section, closed my eyes and stuck a finger down on the name Unseld. I can’t remember the point total next to it, but it probably said 2. And the next day, maybe it said 5. At first, I was disappointed that I had landed on someone who didn’t even score as much as Happy Hairston, but eventually I learned what a great defender and rebounder he was. Wes Unseld was all right in my book.

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Abraham Lincoln: Okay, it’s not exactly profound to include Lincoln, but he makes the list because his geared-for-kids biography was a primary example of the right book making someone larger than life accessible to me. I can’t tell you how many times I re-read that book. It three-dimensionalized him.

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Magic Johnson: Another of my favorite sports stories from kidhood comes from John Wooden Basketball Camp. Each session, Wooden would hold a Q&A with the campers. In the summer of ’79, shortly after the NBA draft, one of the campers asked Wooden which new first-round draft pick would be better for the Lakers: Brad Holland or Earvin Johnson. Wooden avoided the easy choice – Holland, the UCLA graduate – and went out on a limb to choose Magic. And then Magic hugged Kareem, and everyone in Los Angeles had a new best friend.

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Pedro Guerrero: I can remember when Guerrero played second base for the Dodgers. That’s how solid my Guerrero cred is. I can tell you how he batted .625 in his first season. I can explain to you the Bill James argument for why he should have been the 1981 World Series MVP – by himself – and tell you all about the glorious summer of 1985. I will stand no aspersions cast at Pedro Guerrero.

AP

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Ken Coleman: The Red Sox announcer wrote a book, “So You Think You Want to Be a Sportscaster.” As it happens, I did think I wanted to be a sportscaster. And I read Coleman’s book inside and out, up, down and sideways, and began trying to broadcast games in my bedroom. And then I turned to writing.

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Steven Bochco: Along with Michael Kozoll, Bochco was the man behind “Hill Street Blues,” the television love of my life. Turned onto it by my brother, I watched it every Thursday, rooting for it to survive its terrible ratings. When my brother went off to college in 1981, I recorded every episode, watched them, then watched them again in late-night marathons with my brother on winter and spring vacations. But strangely, it never occurred to me as a kid to write for television as a grownup, and I think you can blame my overall obsession with sports for that. I spent more time dreaming of making a leaping catch at the wall or a turnaround three-pointer at the buzzer than writing for the greatest show of my generation.

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R.J. Reynolds: Hmm, I think I’ve said a thing or two about R.J. in the past.

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Vin Scully: Around the time I realized I was never going to be a pro athlete, there was Vinny to give my life purpose. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel that to this day, he exists as a role model, as well as the greatest broadcasting voice I’ll ever know.