Jul 21

Tenth Anniversary Freeze-Out

Sunday, July 21, 2002

This is where I will vent, and, if I can ever feel so comfortable, exult about the Dodgers and baseball in general.

* * *

Ten years, three kids, one puppy, 855 wins and 782 losses later (including 9-14 in the playoffs), I realize I might better have described my mission just as inhaling and exhaling – catching my breath – about the Dodgers and baseball in general, and life.

The landscape has certainly changed. This website began to fill a void in my writing life – “bad scooter searching for his groove” – now I don’t have enough time to write all I want. Life in general has only become more challenging. At the same time, when this site began there was virtually nothing like it covering the Dodgers; now there are more than I can keep track of, doing excellent work, providing a level of insight unprecedented in the history of Dodger reporting.

But overwhelmingly, I want to express that I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the invention of blogs, for the invention of the Internet, that enabled this platform for all my thoughts, baseball and otherwise. It has really helped sustain me. And I’m grateful to anyone who stopped by over the past 10 years and gave something I wrote a glance of consideration. I’m grateful for the support I’ve received, even through posts as self-serving as this one, and for the friends I’ve made through this site.

Sometimes, I wish I had channeled the past 10 years into something more majestic – a book or script that would stand the test of time. Sometimes, I wish I had just gotten away from the computer more altogether. The rest of the time, I can’t think of anything better than writing right in this spot and hanging out online with you.

Dodgers at Mets, 10:10 a.m.
Bobby Abreu, LF
Adam Kennedy, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Luis Cruz, SS
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P

Jul 20

This morning

The last thing I did this morning before walking out the door for work was hug and kiss goodbye my 4-year-old, who was singing and playing with our electric keyboard. I walked out to the car, my iPhone in hand, preparing to try out a new podcast for the 15-minute drive to work.

Got in the car, hooked in my iPhone, belted, turned on the car ignition and looked over my shoulder.

I looked. I did look.

But it was a quick look, a glance, a blurry glance.  It was a look without any intention of seeing, and in fact, I had already shifted the car into reverse and begun to lift my foot off the brake pedal when the image registered in my consciousness of my 4-year-old running over to finish saying goodbye to me.

I looked.  I did look.

And he wasn’t behind the car. He was to the side of the rear of the vehicle. I wouldn’t have hit him. But it was just way, way too close. And a different image rests in my brain.

Put the car in park, unbelted, got out, picked him up and hugged him tight in that way where you’re scolding him, yourself, and everyone and everything in the world for allowing tragedy to lurk around every corner, at any moment.

Now I’m at work.

Jun 29

Age is just a number (even if it’s the wrong number)

Mets at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Elian Herrera, 3B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
A.J. Ellis, C
James Loney, 1B
Scott Van Slyke, RF
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Aaron Harang, P

I’ve spent most of the year thinking I’m the wrong age. What does this have to do with the Dodgers and R.A. Dickey? Maybe nothing at all, but find out the scoop at Los Angeles Magazine’s CityThink blog.

May 27

Wait, wait, don’t serve me

Good on the boys in blue this weekend. They’re amazing, I tell you what. A.J. Ellis, Jerry Hairston, Chris Capuano … I see Butch and Sundance of the Houston Astros looking down the canyon and asking, “Who are those guys?”

* * *

There’s this relatively new pizzeria in Westwood, 800 Degrees, that I just find fascinating. Its calling card, essentially, is that it replicates the experience of waiting in the worst Dodger Stadium food line you’ve ever encountered, topped off by the lack of urgency or even regret over the time it takes to service a given customer.

The product, implicitly, is worth a pilgrimage of infinite time … which in reality, isn’t the case. The pizza is plenty good, but hardly lifechanging. Yet typically – if you’ve had a different experience, tell me – the line out the door is somewhere between 50 and 100 people.

Once you order your food, it’s prepared right in front of you, cooked in what I gather is the oven to beat all ovens, and ready to serve fresh and hot within five minutes. There’s a rule against saving seats in the restaurant until your food arrives – a rule that gets broken by some patrons, to our judgmental annoyance – but really, it’s not an issue. There always seems to be an empty table by the time you’re ready to sit down.

But the line. It’s insane. Just insane. We’ve been there two times. (Yeah, fool us twice …) Today, I timed the wait – nearly 50 minutes from our arrival to the cash register. You’re just standing there, moving a footstep once in a blue moon. I mean, who would actually volunteer to enter this kind of trap outside of a baseball stadium or other venue where you had no other options?

The answer, apparently, is hundreds or thousands of people every day, all generally in good spirits. It’s remarkable. It must be one of those things where people see the line and just assume they must want to be a part of it.  I have to imagine that someday, more and more people will decide, with a nod to Yogi Berra, that it’s so crowded that nobody should go there anymore. But that doesn’t seem imminent.

I’m bowing out, however. Vito’s Pizza on La Cienega will remain our go-to place. It’s farther away from our house, but we can complete the round trip in the time it takes to traverse the quarter-block line on Lindbrook Avenue in the shadow of the old Mann Festival theater. My New York-born-and-bred wife, who by birthright is the authority on such matters, deems Vito’s the best pizza in Los Angeles, and I’ve never seen any reason to disagree.

May 22

Can’t explain

I can’t explain … anything that is going on.

For the past week, I have been sitting on the sidelines. Watching. Not writing.

There’s more going on right now with my compulsion to write about the Dodgers than I can articulate right now. None of it is bad. It’s just complicated. Like trying to jump on to a spinout ride, not knowing how to jump … and realizing you don’t have to jump. That maybe you’re not supposed to jump.

It has never seemed less necessary to offer my two cents. I’ve never felt less qualified. There’s nothing I’m seeing that you’re not seeing. The only thing I can tell you about the Dodgers is what I’m feeling … and you’re already feeling it.

Maybe someday, there will be a baseball team that I’ll write about again. But this is a thrill ride. Right now, I’m a passenger, just like you.

May 10

Home run

So, a couple times this week, Youngest Master Weisman, age 4, has asked me to play baseball in the backyard with him after dinner. Nearly 10 years of parenting, and it’s finally happening. 

Aside from the pleasure you can imagine I take from this, I realized just how much I still like to go play ball in the yard. Four decades has made no appreciable difference.

Apr 28

Spending the night of the L.A. riots at Dodger Stadium

Twenty years ago, I was in between. I had left my full-time sportswriter job at the Daily News in March and was headed to graduate school in Georgetown in the summer, but for the time being, I was mostly killing time with a little occasional freelance work and a lot of sitting around. I had a destination and was adrift all at once.

Not surprisingly, I spent a lot of time at Dodger Stadium that spring. The 1992 Dodgers were dismal, losing 99 games (the most by the franchise in 84 years), but they started the season 9-9 before dropping three consecutive one-run games, two in extra innings, from April 26-28. The outfield of Eric Davis, Brett Butler and Darryl Strawberry all hit the ball decently in April, and rookie Eric Karros – a surprise starter at first base – was also off to a solid start. The starting pitching, perhaps surprisingly, was the shakiest part of the roster in April.

On the afternoon of April 29, I was in front of the family room TV in my parents’ Woodland Hills house, watching the verdict announcement in the trial of the four police officers charged in the Rodney King beating case. As it was being read, in formal, almost bland, tones, I remember most of all not being sure I was understanding it correctly.

Soon, I would really realize how little grasp I had of what was happening.

My friends and I had plans to see the Dodgers play the Phillies that night, a Wednesday. I don’t believe it occurred to me not to go, other than to perhaps stay home and watch more reaction to the acquittal of the officers. We knew there was anger, we knew there were protests, but we didn’t know how they were going to unfold. Our drive to Dodger Stadium was without incident. When Reginald Denny was being dragged out of his truck, at approximately 6:45 p.m, we were inside the ballpark and insulated from most news of the outside world.

The game wasn’t memorable. Orel Hershiser fell behind 5-0 in the fourth; the Dodgers made four errors and lost, 7-3. It would have been completely forgettable if not for one thing: the warning from the public address announcer not to take any of the southbound freeways away from Dodger Stadium. That certainly got our attention.

By the time we reached home – heading directly west – we fully understood what the deal was.  So would the Dodgers, who canceled their remaining home games that week, forcing them to play doubleheaders on July 3, July 6, July 7 and July 8. That night, I drove back to the Daily News office, an outsider there now as well as just about anywhere else. But in this pre-Internet era, I wanted to see the news coming in. Feeble as it was, that was the only way I knew how to feel connected.

During a recent conference call promoting the documentary Harvard Park, I asked Davis and Strawberry their recollections of the day. Both were in the Dodger starting lineup as the events of April 29 unfolded.

Davis:

It started out as a normal day. With any news of that magnitude, we were watching and paying close attention to the verdict. Unfortunately we had started to play when the verdict came down. And some things started to transpire that we weren’t aware of. And at the end of the game, the sheriffs came into the clubhouse (and told us) that the city was in an uproar and they kind of routed us home, as far as what freeways to take.

Going south out of South Central, the city was in a blaze. There was a lot of anger, there was a lot of hatred that was going on in the city at that particular time because of what had transpired. We actually went home and turned on the news and saw the city being in a blaze.

At that time, Darryl and myself had a store on 84th and Broadway, called All-Star Custom Interiors. The next day we got a call that the games were cancelled. And we were like, ‘Wow, this is really serious, they are canceling games.’ So, we went down to see the store and everything around it had been burned and vandalized — except our store. So it was like we had mixed emotions, because of the total chaos that was going on in the city but the upmost respect for what Darryl and myself had meant to that particular area as opposed to other areas that our store was not vandalized.

And then the time that we brought Rodney King down (to Dodger Stadium) … I had known Rodney’s attorney, and our thought was that it was a healing process and that here’s a man who was getting abused for getting beat. And when he came to Dodger Stadium, it was more of a comfort zone – from what Darryl and myself – to say, let’s try to move forward. But the response we got from some of the people at Dodger Stadium was like this guy was Charles Manson or somebody. It kind of hurt then, because of the fact that he was still being treated as an aggressor, or that he did some wrong outside of getting beat.

So I had mixed emotions about that.

It was a very tough time in South Central at that particular time. I had never been a part of a racial riot to that magnitude. I mean, I was a kid when I watched riots hit, but to actually be in the middle of that and have something to do with it, it was a very tough time – I’m just glad we got through it.

Strawberry:

Well said, E. That’s so true, because it was a very difficult time. You’re talking about two guys that grew up patrolling up these streets of South Central Los Angeles, and never saw so much hatred towards color. Just the frustration of people and the acting out over something hurt a lot of people.

I remember my brother Michael, he was (with the) LAPD at the time too, and he got his car got shot up during the riot as they rolled by. With a AK-47, he got shot up. He had a helmet on but bullets didn’t even hit him in the head, he could have been dead over the fact that the LAPD had got off this case here after being on (video) shown around America of the beating of Rodney King like he was a dog. It was just an unfortunate time for all of us to have to see that because that’s not what America’s supposed to be about.

America is supposed to be about a place of love and peace, happiness and joy and sometimes it turns out to be the opposite of that because of the color of your skin, and it shouldn’t be that way. We felt like we should have been past that, so that time of our life was very difficult to experience and looking back on it and seeing the guy.

The morning of April 30, 1992, we – those of us who slept – woke to a city on fire. The morning of April 30, 2012, we will wake to the day of new ownership of the Dodgers. The events are more coincidental than connected – even with an African-American as one of the new co-owners. Even if it’s just a coincidence, though, it seemed worth pointing out. It is strange what the calendar brings – acknowledgment of how much has changed, and misgivings over how much has not.

Update: My Variety colleague Andrew Barker, who says April 29, 1992 was the first major-league game he ever attended, points out that Strawberry (and then Davis) batted in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and a chance to tie the score, but made out.

Apr 26

Please let my dad keep his foul ball

My father will soon be 77 years old. He has been going to baseball games since the 1940s. He saw the Cubs play in their last World Series when he was 10.

He has never gotten a foul ball at a game. Not once. And he still really, really wants to.

My fear is that one of these days, he’ll get one. But there will be a kid somewhere in the vicinity, and the surrounding crowd will angrily demand that my father give it up to the little moppet.

No, no, no.  A thousand million times no.

I have three kids. I want every moment of their lives to be special. But there is no way that my kids, let alone some stranger’s kids, deserve that foul ball, that keepsake of a lifetime of attending baseball games, more than my father.

In my mind, the appeal of getting a foul ball was centered in the fact that you got the ball. If it’s handed to you, I’m not sure what makes that ball special anymore. I’m not saying that a game-used ball wouldn’t have appeal to a kid, but I don’t know where the idea grew that a kid was more deserving.

And above all, just because you get older doesn’t mean you stop being a little boy inside, especially when it comes to being a baseball fan.

All you people who are aghast at the selfishness of a grownup who would keep a foul ball rather than hand it to a child need to do a serious rethink. If someone who has never gotten a foul ball wants to keep it, and you intimidate him into doing otherwise, you’re the cruel ones.

Apr 07

Remembering Grandma

We had a nice gathering at my aunt’s house tonight to celebrate the life of my grandmother on what would have been her 102nd birthday. Her three children, six of her eight grandchildren and 10 of her 12 great-grandchildren were on hand with other relatives in what was a very light-hearted night, the centerpiece of which became a post-dinner exchange of stories about her.

There’s one Grandma Sue story I don’t think I’ve shared before. A baseball fan who would talk more than once about how wonderful she thought Carl Hubbell was, she went to Dodger games with us into her 90s, though admittedly her view of the team was much more impressionistic and easy-going than mine. In the 1990s, she was very surprised to hear me criticize Eric Karros, who was having a rough time and not delivering, I felt, when it counted. Sure enough, at the next game we attended together, Karros went something like 9 for 9, and she grabbed my arm and laughed with each and every hit.

Several people tonight made the point that Grandma Sue was decidedly unsentimental, though that would seem to imply she didn’t cherish moments like those – but that’s not really what they mean. Rather, as my cousin Debbie put it, she was born completely lacking the self-pity gene (much unlike her seventh grandchild). She didn’t wallow in hardships, but not because she had embraced some self-help philosophy – it simply never would have occurred to her to do anything but move forward. My grandfather, Aaron, died in 1994, ending their marriage at 64 years. Grandma Sue laid him to rest, and then went on to have some of the richest years of her life.

Once, roughly around that time, she noticed I was depressed and asked why. I said it was because a girl had broken up with me, and Grandma Sue simply replied with matter-of-fact demanor, “Oh, well, you’ll meet someone else.” No pep talk, and moreover, no sympathy. At the time, it infuriated me, and to be perfectly honest, it discouraged me from ever again being all that open with her – but not from loving and respecting her. How I’ve envied her ability to just accept and move on.

Tonight, Grandma would have told us not to spend an extra minute in mourning. But what we were reminded of this evening is that we’ll never meet anyone else like her. So as easy as she might make it to take her advice, it’s hard to want to follow it.

Mar 26

Sue Weisman, 1910-2012

My grandmother, Sue Weisman, whom some of you have gotten to know here over the years, has passed away. She was 101.

Grandma Sue’s 102nd birthday would have been a week from Saturday, and as frail as she became in the past year or so, you never quite believed she wouldn’t roll right into through that milestone and many more. She was indomitable. I’m not sure I’ve ever known a woman who was more self-possessed.

She was born in New York into a childhood, the sixth of eight siblings, that eventually found her family in the thick of the Prohibition-defying liquor trade. She moved to Chicago, married at age 20, into a world where the shadow of Capone hovered over her young household’s livelihood. She, her husband Aaron and my father, aunt and uncle moved to Los Angeles in 1951, first renting a house from the Mankiewicz family that was the home of the actual Rosebud from Citizen Kane. And in this city she stayed, becoming a founding volunteer for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to whom she provided services for approximately half a century, indulging her limitless love of art.

She played catch with me in our backyard in her 60s, and encouraged me in every way.

She cherished her family. And we all thought the world of her.

Mar 23

Going where the wind takes you, being who you are

So I was debating what to do with the rest of my night.

My mood is fine this evening, so that’s not an issue. It’s more an issue of direction.

I spent a full day at my day job at the end of a full week, came home and made my kids a decidedly mediocre dinner, then spent a couple of hours working on a lengthy freelance piece for ESPNLosAngeles.com. It’s 9 p.m. I haven’t written about the Dodgers on this site today, not about their 17-4 victory over the White Sox that was filled with interesting subplots, nor about their simultaneous 2-0 loss to the Royals that was desperate for them, nor about, as Bill Shaikin of the Times reports, the narrowing of the Dodger ownership chase to three groups.

It’s not for lack of anything to say that I’m passing on the Dodgers. It’s not for lack of belief in the value of my own work in general. But tonight, I find I’m not as motivated to write about the Dodgers for the sake of informing my readers as I am to perpetuate an image of myself as someone who doesn’t get beat at the Dodger blogging game. And the thing is, that image is false to at least some extent, if not entirely. There are Dodger bloggers who do better work than me covering the Dodgers on any given day, and today would be one of those days. I knew, as I contemplated writing about today’s events, that would be the case.

So is there value in doing work if it’s not the best? Is it important for this vocation that I have cared so much about that I don’t surrender its original reason for being? Or does it make more sense to shift gears when I’m not going to bring my A game or even my B game, and do the one thing no one else can do (lucky for them): Write about what’s on my mind?

Some people enjoy anything I write. I love those people, but they’re not the ones I’m worried about. Some people don’t read other Dodger blogs besides this one, a fact I take some small pride in, and so my failing to give them more information about today’s Dodger events gives me some small amount of shame. Then again, some people are only interested in my particular personal spin on any event, baseball or otherwise, and so a post like this, rambling as it is, will have more meaning.

It’s 9:27 now.  I’ve spent the past half hour on a question that might or might not have been a waste of your time, but one that crops up for me periodically. What’s the best use of my time? Sticking to the blueprint, tearing it up, or doing neither and simply grabbing a slice of cake and a spot on the couch?

This much I’ll say: At the end of a long work week, I feel more rejuvenated right now then I think I would have felt knocking out bullet points about Dee Gordon, Matt Kemp, Jerry Hairston Jr., Zach Lee and even the Green family, on this important day in memory of Christina-Taylor. As pointless as it might have been to put these thoughts into words, it doesn’t feel pointless to me. Sometimes, as with my Phil Dunphy piece, it really just feels good to get some stuff out.

I’m publishing this now, having given it a quick edit, and will be walking away from the computer to the cake and the couch, feeling okay about my effort but thinking about that little girl in Arizona, the same age as my own little girl is now.

Mar 01

Fangraphs fun and frolic

Fangraphs’ Carson Cistulli interviewed me for a podcast that is ostensibly and eventually about the Dodgers, but uses as its foundation my recent existential crisis post centered on my relationship with Phil Dunphy.

The conversation runs more lighthearted than that particular piece of writing did, and I found it very enjoyable, but if you can’t stomach any more first-world problems, you can give it a pass. Otherwise, dig in!

Feb 22

C is for California

My kids have a new book, C is for California, from WestWinds Press. Twenty-six pages, starting with “A is for Alcatraz,” “B is for Beach” and “C is for Cinco de Mayo.” How many of the remaining pages can you name?

Warning: “V is for Central Valley.”