Jan 13

Lederer and Blyleven meet

Rich Lederer and Bert Blyleven met in a surprise visit at a Minnesota Twins fantasy camp event Wednesday. David Dorsey of the Fort Meyers (Fla.) News-Press has the story:

… Rich Lederer, 55, had never played catch with Blyleven, had never been on a baseball field with him and so of course never had been subjected to the current Minnesota Twins broadcaster’s penchant for issuing friendly putdowns.

All of that changed Tuesday night and all day Wednesday.

“You’ve got an 18.00 ERA!” Blyleven shouted at Lederer on Wednesday morning at the Lee County Sports Complex, where Lederer got lit up while pitching in a fantasy camp game. “Hey Rich! Try to get an out, why don’t you!”

The two baseball fanatics met face-to-face for the first time in a surprise for Blyleven arranged by Minnesota Twins Fantasy Camp organizers Stan Dickman and Jay Harris.

Harris phoned Lederer last week and convinced him — an easy task — to visit Fort Myers in order to finally meet Blyleven.

The two had spoken on the phone over the years.

“It was a very nice surprise,” said Blyleven, 59, who was honored with a banquet Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn Express in south Fort Myers. That’s where Dickman asked Blyleven toward the end of the evening if he would like to meet Lederer, who then stood from the audience and approached Blyleven.

They embraced.

“There are very few times in your life when you get caught speechless,” said Dan Williams, 50, a fantasy camper from Minneapolis who witnessed their meeting. “Bert was caught speechless.” …

Technically, the two had met once before, when Lederer umpired a scout-league game that Blyleven pitched approximately 40 years ago. That doesn’t take away from what a great moment this was.

Jan 12

Winter wonderland

Baseball in January – I can always get behind that.

With the Dodgers opening their annual winter workout for minor leaguers to the press today, on the same day as baseball’s quarterly owner meetings in Arizona (with Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com giving us our Frank McCourt update) there’s plenty of linking to be done. Roberto Baly of Vin Scully is My Homeboy has not one but two posts (filled with photos and video), as does Phil Gurnee of True Blue L.A. You can also check out roundups from Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, Dylan Hernandez of the Times and Beth Harris of The Associated Press:

  • Dodger manager Don Mattingly (funny, I’m still getting used to saying that, but it kind of looks smooth right now) sent out a lot of positive energy in his meeting with reporters today, preaching resiliency and believing that players who had bad second halves can bounce back. He also didn’t pass the buck on some of what went awry last year. “Things went wrong and as a staff we might not have handled those issues. I want a positive environment. This game should be played with the excitement of a little kid. I want to create an environment where guys have a chance to play their best baseball.”
  • There was much talk about the Dodger outfield, where there don’t seem to be any more additions coming. That means, if Tony Gwynn can’t steal the center-field job, that Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul would enter the season as the primary left fielders.  Mattingly mentioned that Casey Blake could see some left-field time, but unless the Dodgers fortify third base, I can only see that happening against some lefthanded pitchers, with someone like Jamey Carroll playing third.
  • Jay Gibbons had surgery this offseason to improve his eyesight, but recently experienced blurry vision while playing winter ball in Venezuela. Dodger head trainer Stan Conte tells Jackson he isn’t worried (yet).
  • Speculation continues that Joe Torre might end up working in the commissioner’s office. Jackson has the latest.
  • Fodder pitcher Roman Colon was signed for the minors, according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America.
Jan 11

Memorials for Christina Taylor Green

The Dodgers have created a memorial fund for 9-year-old Arizona shooting victim Christina-Taylor Green and provided addresses where people can send condolences.

Green, the daughter of Dodgers national crosschecker scout John Green and granddaughter of former major league manager Dallas Green, was killed Saturday in a mass shooting at a Tucson, Ariz., mall that claimed five other lives and injured 12 more, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Condolences can be sent to greenfamily@dodgers.com or to Dodger Stadium, c/o the Green Family, 1000 Elysian Park Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90090.

Donations can be sent to a memorial fund created by John Green and his family at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, which can be accessed at www.cfsoaz.org. Donations can also be sent by mail to The Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, In Memory of Christina-Taylor Green, 2250 E. Broadway Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85719. More information can be acquired by e-mailing christinataylorgreenmemorial@cfsoaz.org or by calling (520) 545-0313.

“Our family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for our sweet Christina,” John Green said. “This memorial fund will ensure her legacy for the children in our community.”

A public memorial service for Christina is scheduled for Thursday at 1 p.m.

Jan 10

Dee Gordon: How close is he?

The third in a series of at least three, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Dee Gordon
Vitals:
SS, bats left, throws right, 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, turns 23 on April 22.

Summary: In 2010, Gordon’s numbers suffered as he moved into Double-A – something that isn’t uncommon among Dodger prospects, as the Southern League represses offense relative to its Single-A counterparts. Gordon’s .332 on-base percentage and .355 slugging percentage were career lows, as was his 72.6 stolen-base percentage (53 of 73). He was also charged with a career-high 37 errors, albeit in a career-high 133 games.

For comparison’s sake: Good luck finding one in recent times.  The last homegrown product considered to be a blue-chip prospect at shortstop for the Dodgers was … Jose Offerman. And Offerman made his major-league debut at age 21, despite concerns about his fielding, thanks to an OBP at Double-A and Triple-A of nearly .400. Alex Cora, a fringier prospect, reached Double-A in 1997 at age 21, OPSed .596, and reached the majors a year later in 1998, staying for good in 2000.

Mystery train: Gordon invites divided opinion, because his strengths and his flaws are so glaring. The guy can flat out run, as evidenced by his stolen base and triples totals, and there’s batting potential in the Juan Pierre sense. And though his 95 minor-league errors in 319 games are shocking, scouting reports indicate that they are the kinds of miscues can be ironed out over time; meanwhile, his range and arm are highly praised. Although his father Tom played 21 seasons in the majors, Gordon came to the game relatively late in school, encouraging some to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Others don’t see how he’ll grow into a front-line player.

How close is he? In different circumstances, 2012 might seem to be the earliest Gordon would reach the majors, with a starting job not in sight for at least another year after that. However, 2011 likely marks the end of the six-year Rafael Furcal era, and by now it’s safe to expect that that era will include at least one more trip to the disabled list for the otherwise talented Dodger shortstop. While Jamey Carroll has shown he can fill in for Furcal, a prolonged absence conceivably could compel the Dodgers to accelerate Gordon’s timetable, allowing him to reach the majors this summer.

But barring a massive developmental leap, Gordon has at least a solid year in the minors left, save a potential September callup. The Dodgers could be faced with an interesting decision a year from now. Gordon strikes me as someone whose maturation date could be July 2012 – if so, what do the Dodgers do for the first three months of next year? Rush him or find a stopgap?

There’s been some talk that Gordon might eventually move to center field because of his error-filled ways, but with his good buddy Trayvon Robinson looking like a contender, I don’t really see it happening. You just kind of have to hope that Gordon irons out his fielding woes – and if he can, the Dodgers could have their first homegrown shortstop in ages.

Did you know? The Dodgers haven’t had a homegrown five-year starter in the middle infield since Steve Sax.

Jan 09

Arizona shooting victim was daughter of Dodger scout

One of the victims of the tragic shooting in Arizona on Saturday was the daughter of Dodger scout John Green and granddaughter of former Phillies manager Dallas Green.

Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was among six people killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll, and 12 others wounded, including Arizona congressperson Gabrielle Giffords, on Saturday in a mass shooting in a Tucson mall.

“We lost a member of the Dodgers family today,” Dodger owner Frank McCourt said late last night in a statement. “The entire Dodgers organization is mourning the death of John’s daughter Christina, and will do everything we can to support John, his wife Roxana and their son Dallas in the aftermath of this senseless tragedy.  I spoke with John earlier today and expressed condolences on behalf of the entire Dodgers organization.”

Christina Taylor Green was born the day of the September 11 tragedy in 2001 and was featured in a book, “Faces of Hope,” on children who shared that birthday. According to reports, she had just been elected to the student council in her elementary school and had been invited to meet Giffords’ at her community gathering as a result. Her father told the Arizona Daily Star that she had become interested in politics from a young age. She also played second base on her Little League baseball team, the paper said.

John Green is the Dodgers’ East Coast supervisor of amateur scouting. Dallas Green pitched for eight seasons in the majors in the 1960s, then managed the Phillies to their first World Series title in 1980. He later managed the Phillies and Mets.

Dodger general manager Ned Colletti’s first job in baseball, as assistant to chief publicist Bob Ibach of the Chicago Cubs, came at the same time as Dallas Green was hired as general manager of the Cubs.

Jan 08

After the milestones

In recent days, more than eight years after our first child was born and more than two years after our third, we’ve retired the stroller and the Pack ‘n Play. Tonight, it appears, we’re done with the crib. The final moments in the high chair are nigh, leaving us only with diapers as the last vestige of little children of a certain age.

Clinging to the memories of their youngest days, clinging to our babies in a capricious world.

Jan 08

New Campy bio due out in spring

A new book on Roy Campanella is coming out in March (link via Carson Cistulli of Notgraphs). Sounds like it won’t be pure hagiography, according to the press release:

Neil Lanctot’s biography of Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella—filled with surprises—is the first life of the Dodger great in decades and the most authoritative ever published.

Born to a father of Italian descent and an African- American mother, Campanella wanted to be a ballplayer from childhood but was barred by color from the major leagues. He dropped out of school to play professional ball with the Negro Leagues’ Washington (later Baltimore) Elite Giants, where he honed his skills under Hall of Fame catcher Biz Mackey. Campy played eight years in the Negro Leagues until the major leagues integrated. Ironically, he and not Jackie Robinson might have been the player to integrate baseball, as Lanctot reveals. An early recruit to Branch Rickey’s “Great Experiment” with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Campy became the first African-American catcher in the twentieth century in the major leagues. As Lanctot discloses, Campanella and Robinson, pioneers of integration, had a contentious relationship, largely as a result of a dispute over postseason barnstorming.

Campanella was a mainstay of the great Dodger teams that consistently contended for pennants in the late 1940s and 1950s. He was a three-time MVP, an outstanding defensive catcher, and a powerful offensive threat. But on a rainy January night in 1958, all that changed. On his way home from his liquor store in Harlem, Campy lost control of his car, hit a utility pole, and was paralyzed below the neck. Lanctot reveals how Campanella’s complicated personal life (he would marry three times) played a role in the accident. Campanella would now become another sort of pioneer, learning new techniques of physical therapy under the celebrated Dr. Howard Rusk at his Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. As he gradually recovered some limited motion, Campanella inspired other athletes and physically handicapped people everywhere.

Based on interviews with dozens of people who knew Roy Campanella and diligent research into contemporary sources, Campy offers a three-dimensional portrait of this gifted athlete and remarkable man whose second life after baseball would prove as illustrious and courageous as his first.

* * *

Jan 06

Opening Day marches to March

In what figures to be a sterling matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum, the Dodgers and Giants will play a rescheduled Opening Day game at Dodger Stadium on March 31 at 5 p.m.

Of course, Kershaw has to unseat incumbent Opening Day starter Vicente Padilla to make that matchup happen.

The new date is the result of discussions that apparently included the possibility of moving Opening Day to San Francisco for theatricality’s sake (i.e., honoring the World Series champions at home). Happily, the Dodgers were not forced to oblige. ESPN will still televise the game nationally.

Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy has been monitoring this situation like no other.

* * *

  • You know the story, but Amy K. Nelson of ESPN.com retells the tale of umpire Jim Joyce after his missed perfect game call in moving detail.
  • Former Dodger Delwyn Young signed a non-roster contract with Philadelphia. Meanwhile, twice-former teammate Andy LaRoche is still out there.
  • Though I’m hardly tired of reading praise for Rich Lederer, let’s not forget Jay Jaffe’s contributions to the Hall of Fame campaign for Bert Blyleven.
  • It’s Charlie Hough Week: Evan Bladh Sr. of Opinion of Kingman’s Performance (a relatively new blog you should check out) discusses why Hough flourished as a starting pitcher only after leaving the Dodgers.
Jan 05

Could Eric Chavez help?

If Eric Chavez can perform better in a January 20 workout than, say, Chien-Ming Wang in a parking lot, the Dodgers might have a new part-time third baseman.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported the scheduled workout:

Chavez has been working out at the Athletes’ Performance center in Arizona five days a week and he said that after three-plus years of injury problems, he is feeling good, he’s taking grounders at third and his problematic right shoulder, operated on twice, is much better.

“The throwing has been unreal,” he said in a text. “I need to see live pitching to judge the hitting accurately, but things look good.”

Chavez probably would be signed to a non-guaranteed deal, given his history, but the Dodgers are believed to have strong interest if his health checks out OK. Chavez has stated a preference for playing in Southern California, and he has spoken to Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and is impressed with him.

Chavez OPSed over .800 against righties every year from 2000-2006, which would make him an enticing platoon partner for Casey Blake, but he hasn’t had even a semi-productive season since 2007.

* * *

On the occasion of his 63rd birthday, here’s a great recap of Dodger senior player development advisor Charlie Hough’s career at Big League Stew:

… He’s the only pitcher ever with both 400 relief appearances and 400 starts. He was drafted as a third baseman, but his first minor league manager, Tommy Lasorda, decided to convert him to the mound. (“You might as well pitch. You can’t do anything else,” Lasorda told him.)

Hough learned the knuckler from a coach named Goldie Holt, and the Dodgers hired the 47-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm to help him master it. Wilhelm continued to pitch for two more seasons, retiring two weeks before his 50th birthday.

Hough was the last knuckleballer in the All-Star game before Tim Wakefield’s charity appearance in 2009. And Hough’s performance in the 1986 Midsummer Classic was legendary. He allowed a leadoff double to the Giants’ Chris Brown, then struck out the next two batters — except that Hough’s catcher, Rich Gedman of the Red Sox, failed to catch either of the third strikes, which meant that Brown scored the National League’s first run on a strikeout-wild pitch followed by a strikeout-passed ball. He is still the all-time leading winner in the history of the Texas Rangers, one of the best Hawaiian-born players and one of Reggie Jackson’s three victims in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. …

* * *

Via Baseball Musings, pitcher Dirk Hayhurst has a message for youth coaches that’s a good read.

* * *

Phil Wallace offers his picks for the 10 best and 10 most disappointing Dodger acquisitions of the past 25 years at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence.

* * *

I can’t say good night without offering a parting salute to Mike Schneider, my Variety colleague who is leaving this month to head the Los Angeles bureau of TV Guide. Mike is simply one of the best, brightest and most fun people I have ever worked with, and though we’ll march on without him, the office just won’t be the same. But I’m wishing him the best of luck on an opportunity I know he’s so excited about, and thinking now I’ll definitely have to make time for a Great Los Angeles Walk.

Jan 05

Trayvon Robinson: How close is he?

The second in a series of at least two, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Trayvon Robinson
Vitals:
CF, switch-hitter, throws right, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, turned 23 on September 1.

Summary: Last year, at age 22, Robinson had a robust .404 on-base percentage to go with a .438 slugging percentage, nine home runs and 38 steals in 53 attempts for Double-A Chattanooga. The year before, in the more power-friendly environment of Single-A Inland Empire, Robinson had a .375/.500 with 15 homers and 43 steals in 61 attempts.

For comparison’s sake: Xavier Paul, considered a borderline contender to start in left in 2011, had a .366/.429 with 11 homers and 17 steals in 26 attempts in Double-A at age 22 in 2007. Paul reached the majors for the first time in mid-2009. And of course, by now you know how quickly Matt Kemp made it to the majors from AA.

Eye on excitement: Not only has Robinson shown speed, occasional power and the ability to hold down a fairly key defensive position, he’s making keen strides with his batting eye. His walk rate and walk/strikeout ratio has improved every year since 2007 according to Fangraphs, and as Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus just wrote, Robinson “turned into a walking machine after the All-Star break, drawing 32 free passes against just 117 at-bats as part of a .308/.464/.453 batting line.”

Sobering: Robinson struck out 125 times in Single-A in 2009 and 125 times in Double-A in 2010.

Quick and dirty conclusion: Jerry Sands, 27 days younger than Robinson, soared to the forefront among Dodger prospects last season, but it’s Robinson who not only might get the first call this year, he also might have the brighter future. Threatening to add a discerning batting eye to his other tools, Robinson is close to becoming the complete package.

Having completed a season and change in Double-A, Robinson should start the season in Albuquerque, and based on the patterns we’ve seen in recent years, a midseason promotion to the majors is a distinct possibility, especially if his walk rate continues to blossom. Dodger manager Don Mattingly described his satisfaction with Robinson during the Arizona Fall League in this interview with Jason Grey of ESPN.com. Though Mattingly said that Robinson would ideally spend all of 2011 in the minors to develop further, Los Angeles should get a taste of him by September, unless he stalls out or a veteran blocks him the way the acquisition of Manny Ramirez helped block Paul in late 2008.

And so although the Dodgers seem to have only two legitimate starting outfielders today, by season’s end, they might have two more ready from the farm system – or at least two a shade better than Paul.

Did you know? Robinson is the only player the Dodgers have ever drafted from Crenshaw High School? The Dodgers picked him in the 10th round in 2005, 25 years after the last Crenshaw grad to make the majors was taken: Darryl Strawberry.

Jan 04

Pedal to the Lederer

Hopefully, we’ll learn Wednesday that Bert Blyleven has been elected to the Hall of Fame, capping what has to be the most effective grassroots campaigns for Cooperstown ever.

I’m speaking of the one led by Baseball Analysts blogger Rich Lederer, my former All-Baseball.com blogging colleague. Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com has a nice profile of Lederer. Here’s the start of it:

Rich Lederer is an investment manager. Stock and bond portfolios are his thing. He is the president and chief investment officer of Lederer & Associates Investment Counsel in Long Beach, Calif.

But Lederer loved batting averages long before calculating his first P/E ratio. He is a baseball guy. His father, the late George Lederer, covered the Los Angeles Dodgers for the Long Beach Independent-Press-Telegram through their first 11 seasons on the West Coast.

Lederer has since taken up the family business — as a hobby. In 2003, he founded a baseball blog, now called BaseballAnalysts.com. He writes at night, after his real job is done. The website hasn’t made him rich or famous. Yet, his words may soon resonate through the game’s most hallowed corridors.

If Bert Blyleven is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, he will have Rich Lederer to thank.

Well . . . I suppose Blyleven should first thank his right arm — the one that produced 287 wins (more than Jim Palmer), 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all-time) and 60 shutouts (ninth all-time).

After that, the gratitude goes to Lederer’s noggin.

Blyleven has climbed steadily in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting since the founding of Lederer’s website. Blyleven, who polled below 30 percent on his first six times on the ballot, reached 74.2 percent last year. That did not happen by accident. …


* * *

Jan 04

The Hall of I Was There

It’s Tuesday. People have decided to stick with the work thing …

  • The Platoon Advantage has a fun (and lengthy) rundown of players who could have become eligible for the Hall of Fame this year but didn’t make the ballot. Former Dodgers include Terry Adams, Wilson Alvarez, James Baldwin, Roger Cedeno, Dave Hansen, Jose Offerman, Antonio Osuna, Paul Quantrill and Ismael Valdez. “Easy to forget now: Valdez (then spelled Valdes) looked like a potential Hall of Famer at age 25, by which point he’d already made 150 career starts with 61 wins and a 3.38 ERA (113 ERA+).”
  • Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has a meaty look at the Dodgers’ top prospects. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness compared Goldstein’s list with John Sickels’ recently published roundup at Minor League Ball.
  • Trayvon Robinson and Dee Gordon are having fun on Twitter, writes Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone.
  • Great picture of Clayton Kershaw dancing in Africa passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Meanwhile, Baly got a phone call from Steve Sax.
  • Two things I’ve felt for a while are articulated by Dan Rosenheck at the New York Times: Kevin Brown’s seven-year contract didn’t turn out poorly for the Dodgers, and Brown has better Hall of Fame credentials than many people believe. Rob Neyer echoes the points at ESPN.com.
  • Josh Wilker writes about Jose Canseco at Cardboard Gods.
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?