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 21

Yankee standout Phil Hughes held out of Dodger series

Chris McGrath/Getty Images
The Yankees have won 11 of Phil Hughes’ 13 starts this season.

This one’s interesting on two levels. As Ben Shpigel of the New York Times reports, Phil Hughes won’t make his scheduled start Friday at Dodger Stadium.

Level one: The Dodgers avoid facing Hughes, who has a 3.17 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings (against 93 baserunners). Opponents have a .610 OPS against Hughes this year.

Level two: Hughes isn’t hurt. New York is resting the righthander, who turns 24 Thursday, in order to limit his innings this season. Hughes has averaged 6 1/3 innings (and 105 pitches) per start, and he’s on pace to throw 193 innings this year. Last year, pitching more in relief, Hughes only threw 86 innings in the majors along with 19 1/3 in the minors.

Hughes grew up in Southern California and, after missing the Yankees’ April series in Anaheim by the luck of the rotation draw, will miss another opportunity to pitch in front of family and friends.

The Yankees might be the best team in baseball but don’t have a playoff spot locked up by any means, so it’s interesting to see them exercise this caution.

Update: Oh, almost forgot to mention whom the Dodgers will face this weekend. According to Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com, three nobodies: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and A.E. Pettitte.

“It’s definitely a disappointment,” Hughes told Matthews. “And there’s really not talking them out of it. It’s an organizational decision and that’s that. I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of when they were going to do it.”

* * *

Yet another reason for San Diego’s success this year: The Padres bullpen has allowed only 10 inherited runners to score all season, according to Stat of the Day. By comparison, George Sherrill by himself has allowed 15, and Ramon Troncoso 13.

Jun 21

Albuquerque hits two grand slams in 16-12 comeback win

Lucas May had a grand slam in the third inning, and then Michael Restovich hit another as a pinch-hitter in a six-run eighth to help the Dodgers’ AAA farm team in Albuquerque rally from a 12-9 deficit to a 16-12 victory.

Xavier Paul and J.D. Closser also homered, while Prentice Redman and Jay Gibbons each reached base four times. Jon Link pitched two shutout innings for the save.

Jun 21

Dodger Cogs and Dogs: Edition 7


Courtesy Los Angeles Dodgers/Jon SooHoo
Roberto Baly, blogger of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy, at Fenway Park.

Remember back when all the Dodger pitchers were on a roll? Good times.

6/21 . 6/10 . 5/24 . 5/13 . 5/3 . 4/19 . 4/12 . Player Comment
1 2 3 5 6 10 20 Clayton Kershaw 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Tossup between him and Kuroda.
2 3 2 2 2 3 1 Hiroki Kuroda Has held opposition to three earned runs or less in 12 of 14 starts.
3 1 1 1 1 2 11 Andre Ethier Faced with the fact that he’s a non-contributor since May 14.
4 10 14 9 7 8 4 Rafael Furcal At the top of his game before father’s tragic death.
5 12 5 3 4 4 9 Manny Ramirez Snaps out of his slump just as several Dodgers enter one.
6 4 11 10 5 6 13 Jonathan Broxton One batter faced in past eight days.
7 8 16 18 NR NR NR Hong-Chih Kuo Wowed ‘em in Fenway.
8 13 10 6 8 9 24 James Loney I kind of get excited when he’s up now. That stopped being the case last year.
9 9 4 4 3 1 5 Matt Kemp Everyone has a theory about his struggles, but who’s got the answer?
10 6 8 11 12 12 10 Chad Billingsley That was an ill-timed injury, but hopefully it’s being nipped in the bud.
11 5 7 8 26 NR NR John Ely The big test is coming: Can he keep the ball in the park?
12 11 9 16 11 7 6 Casey Blake .551 OPS, one extra-base hit in 49 June plate appearances.
13 14 12 12 15 14 14 Blake DeWitt HBP won’t keep him out of any games, according to Tony Jackson.
14 15 6 7 10 5 2 Russell Martin OBP is 99 points above batting average, thanks to team-high 31 walks.
15 16 13 17 18 21 18 Jamey Carroll A walking machine whose .385 OBP leads Dodger position players.
16 18 21 22 21 17 15 Jeff Weaver Guy has really created a second career for himself as reliever.
17 17 25 24 NR NR NR Ronald Belisario Six straight scoreless appearances before Saturday.
18 7 18 14 16 18 21 Carlos Monasterios It doesn’t need to be a serious injury to be an injury.
19 21 19 13 14 13 7 Ronnie Belliard Has highest OPS (.747) of Dodger reserves.
20 20 20 20 17 20 8 Reed Johnson In 43 plate appearances since May 17, 16 for 40 (.400) with two walks, two doubles.
21 22 15 19 19 NR NR Xavier Paul Anderson’s hot streak has him waiting for the next injury.
22 19 17 15 9 11 12 Ramon Troncoso Just needs the shoulder surgery to seal Cory Wade Award.
23 24 NR NR NR NR NR Travis Schlichting Scoreless streak at 7 2/3 innings now.
24 23 NR NR NR NR NR Justin Miller Struck out seven of 13 batters faced in three shutout innings on roadtrip.
25 25 22 23 20 15 25 Vicente Padilla Encouraging comeback start spoiled by sixth-inning HR on Saturday.
26 26 23 25 22 19 19 A.J. Ellis Would like to see him get his second career two-hit game.
27 27 29 29 28 25 NR Jon Link If Haeger blows up again, we might see him arrive on the roster shuttle this weekend.
28 28 24 26 24 23 23 Brad Ausmus Taking batting practice but a long ways from returning, says Ken Gurnick.
29 NR NR NR NR NR NR Chin-Lung Hu An infinitely good hitter and fielder for the Dodgers this season.
30 33 32 32 30 22 16 Garret Anderson In past eight games, 8 for 18 (.444) with homer and three doubles.
31 29 26 21 23 24 17 Ramon Ortiz Twenty different batters had 1.000 OBP against him this year.
32 30 27 27 NR NR NR Nick Green Entered game in ninth inning and flied out in first at-bat for Toronto on Sunday.
33 35 NR NR NR NR NR Scott Elbert Hope things get better, Scott.
34 31 28 28 27 26 26 George Sherrill Four straight scoreless appearances (thanks in part to Miller bailing him out after leadoff triple Sunday).
35 32 30 30 29 27 22 Russ Ortiz Had a 0.25 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings with San Jose in 1996.
36 34 31 31 25 16 3 Charlie Haeger Pitched much better Sunday, but still walked four in six innings.
Jun 20

Your 2010-11 offseason headlines today

Dodgers look for pitcher to replace free agent Kuroda
36-year-old priced himself out of range with standout campaign

Matt Kemp vows to focus on fundamentals in repairing five-tool kit

Casey Blake returning, but Dodgers seek more production at third

Something disturbing about a McCourt or two

Who will fill the Manny Ramirez void?

L.A. reports numerous cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome
2011 Dodger interleague schedule released

First crack in the core: Broxton enters final season before free agency

Despite Kershaw, Dodger World Series hopes are dimming

* * *

What can you say? This weekend in Boston, the Dodgers hit when they couldn’t pitch and pitched when they couldn’t hit, getting swept with tonight’s 2-0 loss. Andre Ethier went 0 for 12. The team has lost seven out of nine, its worst stretch since April, dropping Los Angeles into third place in the National League West.

Kemp and Ethier will rebound – look at what Ramirez has been doing lately as a guide. But watching Kuroda, who went seven innings and arguably allowed only one earned run in another outstanding 2010 performance, made me think how much I’ll miss him after this season. And this is not a campaign to re-sign him, because just like Randy Wolf and Derek Lowe before him, Kuroda’s next contract after Dodger success might not make any sense. But I’ve just really enjoyed having him on the team.

The sweep in Boston is pretty insignificant – a moment in a 162-game season. None of the recent losses to American League teams tell us much about the Dodgers’ ability to win the NL, and I think we all pretty much would have agreed before Friday that the Dodgers would be the underdog in any World Series if they got that far. But after this season, win or lose, the Dodgers are going to have a great many questions. They might find answers for some of them, but there’s a level of uncertainty that makes me really want to see this year’s team step up.

Jun 20

Dodgers juggle starting rotation again

The Dodgers will do the emergency starter thing on Thursday instead of Saturday, Joe Torre told reporters today. Vicente Padilla’s Thursday start has been pushed to Friday, Hiroki Kuroda’s Friday start to Saturday.

On the surface it’s a strange move, because the Dodgers have an off day July 1, five days after Saturday. So by starting someone – either Charlie Haeger or Claudio Vargas, Torre hinted – on Thursday, they’d have to use that person two times instead of once.

What this hopefully means is that the Dodgers are confident that Chad Billingsley will come off the disabled list in time to start June 29 at San Francisco. Nevertheless, it pushes Hiroki Kuroda out of the San Francisco series, which seems a downer to me.

Here’s how things now shape up. Of course, this remains subject to change.

Monday: off day
Tuesday: Clayton Kershaw
Wednesday: John Ely
Thursday: Charlie Haeger or Claudio Vargas
Friday: Vicente Padilla
Saturday: Hiroki Kuroda
Sunday, June 27: Clayton Kershaw
Monday, June 28: John Ely
Tuesday, June 29: Chad Billingsley
Wednesday, June 30: Vicente Padilla
Thursday, July 1: off

Jun 20

Revenge of the beleaguered

Look who’s off the mat: Charlie Haeger threw six shutout innings for Albuquerque today. Josh Lindblom followed with two shutout innings in relief.

Also of note: Kiko Calero has not been scored upon in six innings since joining the organization. The 35-year-old had a 1.95 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 60 innings for Florida last year and a 3.24 ERA in his career. He made his major-league debut at age 28.

Jun 20

Just make Saturday’s game a bullpen game


Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Opponents have a .282 on-base percentage and .321 slugging percentage against Jeff Weaver this season. Since returning to the Dodgers in 2009, his home ERA is 2.68.

The Dodger rotation after today’s game in Boston:

Monday: off
Tuesday: Clayton Kershaw
Wednesday: John Ely
Thursday: Vicente Padilla
Friday: Hiroki Kuroda
Saturday: ???

Those question marks shouldn’t be filled by a pitcher who isn’t major-league ready, just because he’s a “starting pitcher.”

Right now, the best solution for the Dodgers might just be to start Jeff Weaver even if he can only go for two or three innings, and then follow him with a bevy of relievers. And then make a roster move the following day to help rebuild the bullpen if necessary.

Jun 20

The Jonathan Broxton lament


Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Jonathan Broxton (shown earlier this month) has not allowed any runs or inherited runs to score in 25 of 30 appearances in 2010.

I like Andre Ethier. Like him a lot. I like Jonathan Broxton a lot, too.

I don’t like that Andre Ethier is allowed to fail, but Jonathan Broxton isn’t. Or maybe that’s the wrong way to put it – maybe it’s just that Broxton’s excellence is taken for granted in a way Ethier’s isn’t.

Because of Ethier’s history of walkoff success, no one holds it against him when he doesn’t come through in the clutch – which, quite frankly, is often. Part of that is the nature of hitting, which is very difficult.

Nevertheless, it’s something that when Ethier walks off with a victory, the fans build statues in his honor, and when Broxton walks off the mound with a Dodger victory, people shrug. That includes the past two postseasons. In his 11 appearances, Broxton did his job nine times.

Oh, but he didn’t do it 11 times.

In Game 4 of the 2009 National League Championship Series, Broxton entered the game in the same situation he entered Saturday’s game against Boston: runners on first and second, two out. And he got the out.

Then, after having had four consecutive scoreless appearances against the Cardinals and Phillies in the playoffs, he gave up the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. But does anyone remember what happened in the top of the ninth, with Rafael Furcal on third base and two out against Phillies reliever Brad Lidge?

Ethier struck out.

But I suppose some Dodger fans would rather have had Lidge on Saturday. After all, he did win a World Series once.

Here’s Broxton’s game log for this year before Saturday. I mean, it’s incredible. Those of you who can only focus on Broxton’s failures, you’re missing a heck of a show.

Jun 20

A sad Father’s Day for Rafael Furcal

Rafael Furcal’s father Silvino passed away Sunday, three weeks after internal damage suffered from being kicked in the chest by a horse, reports Enrique Rojas of ESPNdeportes.com. So sorry to hear this news.

  • Chris Withrow pitched a seven-inning shutout, striking out 10 while allowing five baserunners, for Chattanooga on Saturday.
  • Nice interview of Dodger communications VP Josh Rawitch by Caleb Bacon of LAist.
  • Here’s a season preview of the Dodgers’ farm team at Ogden, provided by the town’s Standard-Examiner. Garret Gould and Leon Landry are among the team’s players. And don’t forget Pedro Guerrero of San Pedro De Macoris.
Jun 19

Vicente

Carlos Monasterios was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a recurring split nail and blister issue.

Jun 18

Oh, Manny … that would have been something


Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Manny Ramirez is rendered powerless by the final pitch of the game.

Down 10-3 after five innings, the Dodgers actually found themselves not only they poised to send the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning at Fenway Park on Friday, but a tying run in the person of Manny Ramirez.

With two on and one out and Ramirez on deck, eyeing a grand slam that would tie the game at 10-10, a highlight that would have rivaled or even surpassed 2009′s Bobbleslam for radioactivity, the Dodgers suffered a blow when Andre Ethier’s hard grounder was turned into an out by Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youklis.

And then Ramirez, who had made good contact his first three times up this evening, was frozen on a 2-2 slider from Boston reliever Daniel Bard, taking a called game-ending strike that sealed the Dodgers 10-6 defeat.

The end delighted the Fenway Park crowd, which all in all treated Ramirez fairly enough. Maybe more than half booed, but there were plenty of cheers and no significant viciousness.

As badly as Carlos Monasterios pitched today – and he was fooling next to no one, allowing eight hits and in four innings, including two home runs (one by David Ortiz to deadest center, one off the top of the Green Monster by J.D. Drew that was approved via instant replay) – the Dodgers still had chances to wrestle this game away. After rallying from an initial 3-0 deficit to tie the game, Monasterios finally got the hook when he gave up the go-ahead run on a single, walk and double to start the bottom of the fifth.

Ramon Troncoso relieved Monasterios, and everything that has gone wrong for Troncoso this season seemed to crystallize in his five-batter outing. Darnell McDonald singled in two runs, and then Adrian Beltre slugged a two-run homer from his knees. Jason Varitek then doubled and Mike Cameron singled before Troncoso hit Daniel Nava with a 2-2 pitch.

Two so-called productive outs off Travis Schlichting scored the remaining Troncoso baserunners, inflating the beleaguered reliever’s ERA to 5.81 this season. The Dodgers are certainly revisiting some starting pitching worries this week – Ned Colletti is definitely targeting an acquisition at the trade deadline, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com – but Troncoso is a nagging concern. Worse ideas than giving him 15 days of time off continue to occur to me.

But like I said, there were bright spots for the Dodgers – Matt Kemp’s triple to right-center on a 2-for-5 night being one of them. Garret Anderson had a home run in the ninth inning. And the team continued to battle. Aside from the ninth inning, the team’s best look at the game after the Red Sox’ seven-run fifth inning came immediately thereafter, when they scored two runs with none out in the sixth. But Anderson and Jamey Carroll struck out, and Kemp grounded out.

The one player who didn’t reach base for the Dodgers on Friday: Ethier, who went 0 for 5.

* * *

Kemp thinks he has solved his basestealing problems, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

“I saw that I was raising up instead of leaning toward the next base,” said Kemp. “You wouldn’t think that raising up would get you out of whack, but it did. And I need to get bigger leads. I know I’m better than this.

“I ain’t going to lie — I know you’re not supposed to think like this, but you get caught nine times, you start wondering if you shouldn’t go. I’ve got to get back to stealing bags and get into scoring position for Andre [Ethier] and Manny [Ramirez]. I haven’t even tried to steal third base. I’ve got to be aggressive.”

Jun 18

And speaking of reunions …

Tom Szczerbowski/US Presswire Adrian Beltre and J.D. Drew led the Dodgers in home runs in 2004 and 2006, respectively.

Today in Boston, the Dodgers say a rare hello to former Boys in Blue Adrian Beltre and J.D. Drew.

Moving from Seattle’s pitcher-friendly ballpark Safeco Field to Fenway Park has revitalized Beltre offensively. The third baseman, now 31, has a .374 on-base percentage and .574 slugging percentage, his best numbers since he left the Dodgers. I’m not sure ballpark adjustments entirely account for his improvement from .304/.379 with the Mariners last season.

In six career games against the Dodgers, Beltre is 8 for 24 with two doubles, a homer, three walks and one strikeout. Beltre was 3 for 21 with three walks and a homer for the Dodgers against Boston.

Drew, 34, has declined so far this year, his OPS falling from .914 in 2009 to .807 while starting 60 of 68 games in right field. This weekend marks the first time he faces the Dodgers since opting out of his contract. Something tells me that Drew would get booed if he ever returned in a visiting uniform to Dodger Stadium, a shame considering his .905 OPS for Los Angeles.

* * *

  • Carlos Monasterios won’t be the least experienced starting pitcher in Fenway Park tonight. Fellow Venezuelan Felix Doubront, 22, is making his first major-league start. The lefthander’s ERA with AAA Pawtucket was 1.08, though he never reached the six-inning mark in any of his four starts. He struck out 16 in 16 2/3 innings against 22 baserunners. For AA Portland, Doubront had a 2.51 ERA in 43 innings spread over eight starts.
  • From the Dodger press notes: “Monasterios has now outlasted all Rule 5 draft picks for the Dodgers other than D.J. Houlton (2005). Since 1981, the Dodgers have drafted just nine players in the Rule 5 draft and only four made the Opening Day roster – Houlton, Monasterios, Frank Lankford (1998) and Jose Antonio Nunez (2001). Both Lankford and Nunez were returned to their previous teams in May. Houlton stayed on the roster all season.”
  • Nick Green has signed a minor-league contract with Toronto, according to the team (via MLB Trade Rumors).
  • A barnburner in Albuquerque on Thursday, with the Isotopes falling, 15-12 in 11 innings after rallying from an eight-run deficit. Claudio Vargas pitched an effective three innings in his return to the Dodger organization, but then the roof caved in on Cody White, who allowed 10 runs in four innings. Lucas May had a single, double and one of four Albuquerque home runs, raising his OPS to .830. Russ Mitchell hit his fourth homer in his past four games.
  • Kyle Russell doubled but also wore the platinum sombrero in Chatanooga’s 14-2 win. Russell has struck out 19 times in 36 AA at-bats. Dee Gordon reached base four times for the Lookouts, raising his OPS to .951 in his past 10 games. Kenley Jansen continues his fast track up the Dodger system since he converted to relief pitching from catching; he has 24 strikeouts and a 1.17 ERA against 18 baserunners in 15 1/3 AA innings.
  • Ethan Martin pitched six innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts for Inland Empire.
  • Collectibles from Pedro Guerrero’s magic June 1985 are on auction, writes Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven. They were obtained directly from Guerrero.
  • Here’s a Dodger divorce update from Dodger Divorce.
  • Why do some teams avoid giving physicals to players they’re going to acquire, wonders Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk.
  • Why do managers bat reserve players in the same batting slot as the starters they’re replacing, regardless of whether that makes sense, wonders Joe Pawlikowski of Fangraphs.
  • Jerry Seinfeld and Keith Hernandez will reunite in the Mets broadcast booth next week.
  • Davey Lopes was interviewed by David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus. The big news to come out of the interview was that Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has been playing with a bum knee, but I’m linking it for the moment Lopes talks about the day he stole five bases against the Cardinals and how he kicks himself for not getting seven.
  • We know how great Sandy Koufax’s 1966 was. At this stage of the season, it was even greater.
  • Beyond the Box Score has a neat graph of Wins Above Replacement for the first round of the 2006 (Clayton Kershaw) draft.
  • The San Diego Padres pitching gets a long look from Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.
Jun 18

Manny Ramirez, the pinata that keeps on giving, returns to Boston


Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Manny Ramirez has a .430 on-base percentage and .585 slugging percentage as a Dodger. His OPS with the team is higher than it was with the Red Sox.

Think back to what the expectations were that summer day in 2008 when the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Manny Ramirez. Think back to the fears.

That’s the standard Ramirez had to meet to be a success. And by that standard, that’s exactly what Ramirez has been.

As Ramirez was leaving the Boston Red Sox, the shout could be heard from coast to coast: “GOOD RIDDANCE!” He was 36 years old, objectively past his athletic prime and subjectively a cancer. For a Dodgers team saddled with its own nightmare in Andruw Jones (without the benefit of that nightmare having led the team to any World Series titles just a few years before), for a Dodgers team spinning its wheels with a 54-54 record, Ramirez was a calculated risk, potentially a waste of time and potentially a disaster. But instead of relying on the sub-.700 OPS Juan Pierre and Delwyn Young to fill out their outfield, the Dodgers gave up their third baseman of the future, Andy LaRoche, and first-round draft choice Bryan Morris, in the hopes that Ramirez would provide a jolt and not an electrocution.

That trade, in and of itself, can only be seen right now as a complete success. A spectacular one. Ramirez put together one of the most pyrotechnic hitting performances in Dodger history – an on-base percentage of .489 and slugging percentage of .743, 17 homers in 53 games – to lead the Dodgers to the National League Championship Series for the first time in 20 years. LaRoche, endorsed in this space repeatedly as the real deal, has fallen into a utility role with the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates at age 26, while the 23-year-old Morris is in the minors trying to come back from arm trouble. Both are young enough to change the scorecard, but I’m not sure anyone’s expecting the scales of that trade ever to be balanced.

If Ramirez’s accomplishments then seem tainted by his 2009 suspension now, the stain would only be darker on the Red Sox’s titles.

Then came the 2008-09 offseason, with the Dodgers talking Ramirez agent Scott Boras down from his histrionic expectation of a six-year megadeal – a request blindly endorsed by many in the media – to a two-year contract (including Ramirez’s option for the second year). Through May 6, 2009, the performance remained stratospheric: Ramirez on-based .492 and slugged .641. Then came his 50-game suspension.

That Ramirez broke the rules was distasteful. That he missed 50-plus games in his age-37 season is simply something anyone could see was possible. It was part of the risk; it was part of the reason that Ramirez and Boras got a contract that was only a third as long as they wanted. The May suspension and then a July hand injury accelerated Ramirez’s decline. The out-of-this-world player from late 2008 had left this world in 2009. By Ramirez standards, he was down.

Ben Liebenberg/US Presswire
Ramirez has a .622 slugging percentage in June.

Funny thing, though. By Dodger standards, he was still nothing less than great.  For the year, Ramirez had a .418 on-base percentage and .531 slugging percentage in 104 games. His adjusted OPS of 155 was the highest by a Dodger (minimum 100 games) since Adrian Beltre in 2004.

Because Juan Pierre played above his own head for the month of May and pieces of April and August, Ramirez was considered a flop. Countless wanted him benched, claiming Pierre was the team’s MVP. Yet Ramirez was, quite simply, the better player. (His Wins Above Replacement figure of 2.6, according to Fangraphs, was nearly 50 percent higher than Pierre’s 1.8.) Ramirez did more to boost the Dodgers to their second consecutive NLCS appearance.  Of course, Pierre gets more respect for his character, but tellingly, you don’t hear Pierre’s name mentioned in Los Angeles anymore, not with his OPS down to .588 this season in Chicago. No one’s busting Frank McCourt’s chops for failing to sign Gandhi and Mother Teresa to multiyear contracts.

This season, Ramirez has been inconsistent. He’s looked feeble in the outfield. He’s also been withdrawn from the media – a fact that seems to matter greatly to the media and not at all to anyone else. And yet, as he heads to Boston for the first time since his acrimonious departure, look where his numbers are: .386 on-base percentage, .517 slugging. Of late he has heated up, with an OPS of nearly 1.000 in June. The Manny Ramirez who will be cascaded with boos this weekend is a Manny Ramirez who is still one of the bigger offensive cogs in baseball.

Amid all the concerns swirling around Dodger ownership today, it’s quaint now to look at Ramirez’s $45 million price tag and debate whether the McCourts were overspending. You can look at the list of 2008-09 free agents and find a better way to spend $45 million – if you look long and hard enough. Mostly, what you’ll find is a host of players who, with a lot less grief, have done noticeably worse than the war-torn Ramirez.

If you compare Ramirez to the player he was in September 2008, if you hold him to a standard so unreasonable only he could have set it, then he’s a disappointment. But if you compare him to the player he was in July 2008, the player many people reasonably feared he might become in 2009 and 2010 – in other words, if you make a sane comparison – he still looks rather remarkable. Ramirez has few to blame but himself for becoming a fan and media pinata, but those smashing might pause for a moment to note all the candy that has been pouring out of it.