Apr 05

Time to play ‘Win, Lose or Guffaw’: 2010 Dodgers Opening Day chat


Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Rafael Furcal singled to start the 2009 season.

It’s 181 days until the final day of the 2010 regular season October 3, and it never ceases to amaze me that the Dodgers’ fate on only 20 of those days – the difference between, say, a 95-win season and a 75-win season – will be the difference between happiness and desolation. And 20 days is a generous estimate – for all we know, it could come down to just one.

But you don’t get to find out in advance which 20 days it will be, and so we buckle up for another wild ride into the unknown. There is mystery, intrigue, thrills and not a small amount of comedy awaiting Dodger fans this season. Here’s hoping it’s once again a ride everyone can enjoy.

And of course, I look forward to spending the season with you all here. If you’re having trouble commenting, e-mail me.

* * *

  • What did those schedulers know that we didn’t? While it pours outside my window, weather today in Pittsburgh, according to The Associated Press, is supposed to be lovely with a chance of glorious.
  • Dodgers vice president of communications Josh Rawitch passed along these pregame thoughts from Joe Torre:
    –Manny Ramirez has been very consistent with his balance, and Torre thinks he’s going to be good offensively.
    –Russell Martin has been hitting up the middle and to right the past 10 days – that, combined with his 6-for-12 history against Pirates starter Zach Duke accounts for his batting second today, and then they’ll see where it goes from there.
    –Chad Billingsley needs to regain his confidence. Sigh.
  • Ramon Troncoso and his wife had a baby girl Sunday, so he won’t be with the Dodgers until Tuesday.
  • Baseball Analysts hosted a series of extended season preview interviews in a series called “Stakeholders.” Among the participants: Joe Posnanski, Aaron Gleeman, Cliff Corcoran, Dave Cameron, Jonah Keri, Bernie Miklasz and yours truly.
  • The average Opening Day player salary has dropped 17 percent in a year. USA Today has updated its salary database to include 2010 salaries; here’s their summary of the Dodger payroll. (Keep in mind that USA Today has its own way of factoring in deferred money.)
  • Some tidbits from the Dodger press notes: 1) The last time the Dodgers opened a season in Pittsburgh was the year of their first World Series title, 1955; 2) The Dodgers are 26-26 on Opening Day since moving to Los Angeles; 3) The five Dodger reserves have 60 years of major league experience; 4) Today marks the first time the Dodgers have had seven players from the previous year’s Opening Day lineup since 1986-87, and the first time they were at the same position since 1978-79. (In 1979, of course, the Dodgers followed two consecutive National League West titles with a sub-.500 season.)

Update: USA Today with a major correction: Rather than a 17% drop in salary, the paper is now reporting a 1% increase.

Apr 04

NL West race shapes up as Rockies-Dodgers dogfight


US Presswire
Ubaldo Jimenez, 26, is coming off a banner 2009 season for the Rockies, while Jeff Francis is back on the disabled list after a setback in his attempt to return to game action for the first time since September 12, 2008.

First, here are the 25-man Opening Day rosters (along with a few names of players lurking underneath) for the five National League West teams, followed by some thoughts on the division.

Arizona Colorado Los Angeles San Diego San Francisco
SP Dan Haren Ubaldo Jimenez Clayton Kershaw Chris Young Tim Lincecum
SP Edwin Jackson Aaron Cook Chad Billingsley Jon Garland Matt Cain
SP Ian Kennedy Jorge De La Rosa Hiroki Kuroda Kevin Correia Barry Zito
SP Rodrigo Lopez Jason Hammel Vicente Padilla Clayton Richard Jonathan Sanchez
SP/RP Jordan Norberto Greg Smith Charlie Haeger Mat Latos Todd Wellemeyer
RP Chad Qualls Franklin Morales Jonathan Broxton Heath Bell Brian Wilson
RP Juan Gutierrez Rafael Betancourt George Sherrill Mike Adams Jeremy Affeldt
RP Bob Howry Manuel Corpas Ramon Troncoso Luke Gregerson Sergio Romo
RP Aaron Heilman Matt Daley Jeff Weaver Edward Mujica Guillermo Mota
RP Esmerling Vasquez Matt Belisle Carlos Monasterios Tim Stauffer Dan Runzler
RP Leo Rosales Randy Flores Ramon Ortiz Sean Gallagher Brandon Medders
RP Blaine Boyer Esmil Rogers Russ Ortiz Cesar Ramos Waldis Joaquin
Bench Chris Snyder Miguel Olivo Brad Ausmus Yorvit Torrealba Eli Whiteside
Bench Gerardo Parra Melvin Mora Jamey Carroll Jerry Hairston, Jr. Nate Schierholtz
Bench Rusty Ryal Ryan Spilborghs Ronnie Belliard Scott Hairston Andres Torres
Bench Tony Abreu Jason Giambi Garret Anderson Matt Stairs Travis Ishikawa
Bench Augie Ojeda Seth Smith Reed Johnson Oscar Salazar Eugenio Velez
C Miguel Montero Chris Iannetta Russell Martin Nick Hundley Bengie Molina
1B Adam LaRoche Todd Helton James Loney Adrian Gonzalez Aubrey Huff
2B Kelly Johnson Clint Barmes Blake DeWitt David Eckstein Juan Uribe
SS Stephen Drew Troy Tulowitzki Rafael Furcal Everth Cabrera Edgar Renteria
3B Mark Reynolds Ian Stewart Casey Blake Chase Headley Pablo Sandoval
LF Conor Jackson Carlos Gonzalez Manny Ramirez Kyle Blanks Mark DeRosa
CF Chris Young Dexter Fowler Matt Kemp Tony Gwynn, Jr. Aaron Rowand
RF Justin Upton Brad Hawpe Andre Ethier Will Venable John Bowker
DL/Minors Brandon Webb Huston Street Hong-Chih Kuo Joe Thatcher Freddy Sanchez
DL/Minors Clay Zavada Jeff Francis Ronald Belisario* Adam Russell Fred Lewis
DL/Minors Billy Buckner Greg Reynolds James McDonald Chris Stewart Emmanuel Burriss
DL/Minors Ryan Roberts Taylor Buchholz Xavier Paul Wade LeBlanc Madison Bumgarner
DL/Minors Zach Kroenke Eric Young, Jr. Scott Elbert Chris Denorfia Buster Posey

When compelled to do so by ESPN.com, I picked the Dodgers to win the NL West, but not with any conviction. I definitely respect the talent in Colorado – shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, for one, has become an MVP candidate at age 25 – and feel that, at a minimum, the difference between the two teams is small enough at this point that either team makes sense as a favorite.

In my darker moments, I can envision an everything-goes-wrong scenario for the Dodgers that condemns them to a repeat of the 2005 nightmare. (Yes, I can get that dark.) But you could dream up doomsday scenarios for any team.

The return of Colorado pitcher Jeff Francis to the disabled list this weekend was yet another reminder that McCourts or not, just because the Dodgers have problems doesn’t mean other teams won’t have them too. Colorado begins the coming season without its top reliever (Huston Street) and someone who was formerly their top starter. The Rockies obviously aren’t dependent on Francis, whose last good year was 2007 and who sat out in 2009 when Colorado won 92 games. But his absence is another sign that the Rockies won’t be immune to depth issues. Both the Dodgers and Rockies have the talent to win the NL West, but both need things to go right.

By comparison, however, Arizona, San Diego and San Francisco need many more things to go right.

A year ago at this time, it was easy to find predictions that the Giants would finish in last place because of their poor hitting, but I didn’t see such a dire result happening with the strong pitching they had. Now, San Francisco is, for those who don’t believe in Colorado, a trendy pick to win the division. Considering the Giants have hardly improved their offense in the past 12 months, I’m not seeing this happening either. The Giants surely have the ability to stay in almost any game they play – although the strength of a rotation that has the once-great Barry Zito and the inconsistent Jonathan Sanchez has probably been overrated by those who judge entire pitching staffs by their aces – but San Francisco still lacks a lineup that makes me think they can score sufficiently. I might even rather suffer through the indignity of Vicente Padilla as an Opening Day starter than get worked up over the John Bowker vs. Nate Schierholz Spring Training battle to start in right field for San Francisco. You have to love Pablo Sandoval and pay a healthy respect to some of the others (including minor-league catcher Buster Posey), but this still looks like a third-place team on paper.

Ed Andrieski/AP
Edwin Jackson had a 5.45 ERA in the final two months of 2009.

The Diamondbacks are led by the one player who might make Matt Kemp fans jealous – 22-year-old rightfielder Justin Upton – but the state of Arizona’s starting pitching should make Dodger supporters feel more secure about theirs. After Dan Haren, Arizona has Edwin Jackson (a sentimental favorite of mine whose 2009 second-half resembled Chad Billingsley’s), Ian Kennedy (6.03 career ERA in 59 2/3 career innings) and Rodrigo Lopez (5.49 ERA in 298 1/3 innings since 2006) – before they even get to figuring out who will fill out their rotation. A first-rate second-half comeback from Brandon Webb could turbo-boost the Diamondbacks, but it’s hardly anything to feel certain about. Though there are some great players in Arizona, I see a team as likely to return to last place as it is to ascend to first.

San Diego is a fairly universal choice for last place, and though it’s not set in stone, I don’t see enough in the organization right now to be the one to make the case otherwise. I’ll just expect that no matter where they are in the standings, they’ll give the Dodgers problems.

Anything can happen in 2010, but if Fate doesn’t get crazy, there’s a two-team race in the NL West between the Dodgers and Rockies. Neither team should feel insecure or overconfident; both should gear up for a wall-to-wall battle.

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 03

Don’t be jonesing for failure

Danny Moloshok/AP
At age 25, Chad Billingsley has a career ERA of 3.55. His adjusted ERA of 119 is fifth in Los Angeles Dodger history among starting pitchers with 500 or more innings.

When the Dodgers gave Juan Pierre millions of dollars over my proverbial dead body, I didn’t actively seek out immediate justification for my ill feelings. You never once caught me using any Pierre at-bat or game or even any month as proof that the signing was a mistake.

Good players have bad games; bad players have good games. Everyone knows this – no matter how often some people ignore it. Using a moment or series of moments as evidence that the Dodgers blew it with Pierre would have been wrong. Pierre’s signing was a mistake because over the life of his contract, he wasn’t going to be worth the cost. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t have hot streaks that made him look like the biggest bargain on earth. But the big picture is what matters.

Without a doubt, there have always been some Dodgers for whom fans seem to lie in wait for them to stumble, just so they can point out how awful they are. Pierre, for some, was certainly one. So was Hee Seop Choi and J.D. Drew. On the current Dodger team, the choice villains are Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton.

The people who have it in for Billingsley and Broxton have an unfailing ability to dismiss all the good they do and make mountains of the bad. Broxton was by many criteria the best closer in the National League last year, but each blown save he had wasn’t merely disappointing, it was unforgivable. No matter how good he was, he was worthless.

Billingsley is an even tougher sell these days because his struggles extended for about three months last year. Never mind that that period still constitutes a sliver of his career, never mind that the previous time Billingsley struggled, in the 2008 National League Championship Series, he came back to become an All-Star pitcher in the first half of 2009, building on the considerably excellent performance he has given since he broke into the big leagues. There are people out there who only see the negative. And there are people out there who, once they form that negative opinion about a player, only want to see the negative – just so they can be proven right.

Case in point: Entering the third inning of today’s game, Billingsley had a 1.84 ERA this exhibition season. It didn’t mean much to me, because no Spring Training stats mean much to me. You can bet that it also didn’t mean much to those who have complained about Billingsley since last fall. But when Billingsley ran into trouble and gave up six runs in the third inning, suddenly across the Internet and Twitter you could find people shouting out about the latest proof of how awful he is.

I’m not happy when Billingsley gives up runs. I was crushed each time in both the 2008 and 2009 NLCS when Broxton gave up the big hits to the Phillies. But perfection is not an achievable standard, and one’s state of mind in the heat of the moment is not a basis for evaluating a player.

If you’re skeptical about Billingsley or Broxton or anyone else, you obviously don’t need me to tell you you’re entitled to your opinion. But don’t get caught up in that game of  “Gotcha!” Don’t take one moment and try to tell me that’s all I need to know about a player – especially if that moment is in the minority of events. Just ask yourself how you’d feel if you were only judged at your extreme worst.

On a similar note, if you want to make an argument that the Dodger starting rotation lacks depth, please, please take a moment to compare the Dodgers’ rotation with other rotations. Don’t point out all the potential problems with the Dodgers while ignoring how threadbare things are in Arizona with Brandon Webb out, or the fact that just because Barry Zito was once an All-Star doesn’t mean he’s still one. The Dodgers might not have the best starting rotation in the NL West, but the distance from No. 1 is slim at best if you actually look at the entire rotations, rather than just making a judgment based on the most famous pitchers from each team.

Guaranteed, there will be some good players who get off to bad starts in 2010. There’s nothing like the beginning of a new season to skew one’s perception. But it’s a loooong season.  Try to keep a cool head.

* * *

Carlos Monatsterios’ place on the 25-man roster was made public today, while all signs pointed to Russ Ortiz getting the final spot on the team, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, who also reported that left-handed hitting second baseman Blake DeWitt would get the Opening Day start Monday at Pittsburgh even with the Pirates starting southpaw Zach Duke.

Also, A.J. Ellis was optioned to Albuquerque, confirming that Russell Martin and Brad Ausmus would be starting the season as the team’s active catchers.

Apr 03

Dodgers’ Opening Day roster almost set

With Jeff Weaver, Ramon Ortiz and Garret Anderson added to the Opening Day roster Friday, the Dodgers have 23 of their 25.

Starting pitchers (5): Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, Charlie Haeger

Relief pitchers (5): Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso, Jeff Weaver, Ramon Ortiz

Starting lineup (8): Russell Martin, James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier

Bench (5): Jamey Carroll, Ronnie Belliard, Brad Ausmus, Reed Johnson, Garret Anderson

Carlos Monasterios is all but a lock for a sixth bullpen spot, bringing the team to 24.

A.J. Ellis would sub in for either Martin or Ausmus should a last-minute health issue flare up, but otherwise is headed to Albuquerque, where Chin-Lung Hu (who made an ugly error to allow the winning run to score in Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Angels) and Xavier Paul will be among his teammates.

Luis Ayala and Justin Miller were sent to the minors Friday.

Barring a last-minute recovery by Hong-Chih Kuo, that leaves pitcher Russ Ortiz and infielder-turned-utility man Nick Green contending for the title of Mr. Irrevelant – the 25th man that no one actually wants to see in a game. (I’d be pretty happy to see Kuo on the roster, even if he’s only pitching once every week to 10 days, over Ortiz or Green.)

Normally, you’d expect a Joe Torre-managed Dodger team to go with at least 12 pitchers. But Torre seems curious about the possibility of knuckleballer Haeger serving as the seventh reliever in between starts, so it’s plausible that Ortiz would start the season in the minors. The Dodgers would then go with 11 pitchers until Ronald Belisario or Kuo were ready to be activated.

On the other hand, today’s start of Carroll at shortstop indicates that Torre is still entertaining the possibility of him being Rafael Furcal’s backup at that position.

In any case, I think we have to face up to the fact that Ortiz will be in a Dodger uniform at some point this season. I had predicted that he would be this year’s Shawn Estes, but he’s looking more like this year’s Weaver or Eric Milton.

For comparison, here are the changes (that we can be reasonably sure of) from the 2009 Opening Day roster:

Starting pitchers: Padilla and Haeger replace Randy Wolf and James McDonald.

Relief pitchers: Sherrill, Weaver, Ramon Ortiz and Monasterios replace Kuo, Guillermo Mota, Will Ohman and Cory Wade.

Starting lineup: DeWitt replaces Orlando Hudson.

Bench: Johnson, Anderson, Carroll and Belliard replace Juan Pierre, Mark Loretta, Doug Mientkiewicz and DeWitt.

Two members of the 2009 Opening Day bullpen, Wade and Ohman, ended up being non-factors for 2010 before April was done.

Apr 02

Garret Anderson in left, like he never left


Jeff Chiu/AP
Garret Anderson

Wouldn’t it be dramatic if Garret Anderson suddenly announced his retirement tonight, in front of those Angels fans? No?

* * *

  • What other Rule 5 draftees besides Carlos Monasterios look like they’ll stick with their new teams? Matt Eddy of Baseball America has the short list.
  • It’s About the Money, Stupid busts myths about human growth hormone (HGH).  (via Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk).
  • Umpires Ed Montague, Randy Marsh, Rick Reed and Charlie Reliford have retired, David Pinto of Baseball Musings notes.
Apr 01

Blake DeWitt, Charlie Haeger officially win starting jobs


Mark Duncan/AP, Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Blake DeWitt and Charlie Haeger combined to appear in 37 games for the 2009 Dodgers.

The Dodgers just broke bottles of champagne on the broadsides of Blake DeWitt and Charlie Haeger, with Joe Torre officially announcing they have been named the team’s starting second baseman and No. 5 starting pitcher.

“Blake DeWitt is our second baseman,” Torre told reporters before tonight’s exhibition. “Over the long haul, DeWitt needs to play everyday. Belliard and Carroll can play against left-handers … so we have flexibility. If someone gets hot, we’ll find a spot for them.

“We initially pulled the April Fools’ Day prank on Blake. We told him he was going down, but we didn’t keep him there long. He was joyed, relieved. That’s as emotional as I’ve seen him in a long time.

“Haeger will be our fifth starter. He can pitch out of the bullpen before that. His versatility is a plus. We’ll give him a shot.”

The Dodgers sent Josh Towers to Albuquerque, but as of this writing didn’t confirm what the back of the bullpen will look like.

The question is, did Torre and the Dodgers wait until today to give DeWitt the job just so they could do the April Fools’ Day gag? Maybe the Jamey Carroll and Ronnie Belliard signings were done just to beef up the joke!

Apr 01

Arizona could be waiting a long time for Brandon Webb

San Gabriel Valley News/Zuma Press/Icon SMI
The entire 2009 season for Brandon Webb (seen here at Camelback Ranch last March) consisted of four innings pitched and six runs allowed April 6.

Brandon Webb’s 2010 is starting to look more and more like Jason Schmidt’s 2008 or 2009.

Jack Magruder of FoxSportsArizona.com reports that Webb isn’t expected back from his 2009 surgery until at least May, and that it wouldn’t be surprising if he were still recovering into August.

Because they don’t need a fifth starter until April 17, the Diamondbacks will open the season with four.

More National League injury woes: Joe Blanton, Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero will all begin the 2010 season on the disabled list.

* * *

  • The most in-depth profile of Manny Ramirez this year comes from Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • The Dodgers released Brian Barton from the organization, and R.J. Anderson of Fangraphs writes about what a shame that is.
  • Memories of Kevin Malone posted its latest Dodger prospect rankings.
  • UCLA’s baseball team, now 21-0, puts its undefeated season on the line tonight against … Stanford! Game time at Jackie Robinson Stadium is 6 p.m.
  • I don’t know what it is, but every year or so Sons of Steve Garvey all but corners the market on interesting content. Juan Pierre’s Tragic Awesomeness isn’t far behind from a columnist’s perspective.
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.)

* * *

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.

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * *

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.

* * *

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

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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

* * *

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.

Mar 31

You thought Jason Repko battled injuries? You have no idea …


Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Jason Repko

One of the highlights of the Maple Street Press 2010 Dodgers Annual was the feature by Albuquerque Isotopes broadcaster Robert Portnoy on cup-of-coffee men Jason Repko and Mitch Jones. In particular, you really come to understand how brutal the injuries were that Repko faced early in his professional career. They sapped his greatest potential away.

Just for starters in 2000: right hamstring blown out, two tendons torn away from the bone in his right leg, stress fracture in his back. As Portnoy writes:

… While the hamstring healed, the back did not. Repko wore a form-fitting brace for eight weeks, immobilizing him from his armpits to his hips. Still considered the number four Dodger prospect entering 2001, Repko played in constant pain and batted just .220 over 88 games at Low A Wilmington.

After the season, doctors told him the fracture remained in the L-5 vertebrae. Then they told him something shocking: Break the same vertebrae on the other side.

“They told me it was putting stress on the other side,” Repko said. “They said, ‘If you can handle playing with it, dive hard and slide hard and see if you can get it on the other side — it’ll be easier to fix.’”

In the Instructional League that fall, Repko did just that, fracturing the other side rounding third base. The options were spinal fusion, which would hurt rotation and flexibility, or a return to the brade, with promise of better results. Opting for the brace, Repko healed well, and he has learned to manage a resulting condition known as spondylothesis.

“The vertebrae will slip forward and the back will go into spasm, because there is more flexibility in there,” Repko said. “I can’t lie on my stomach and I don’t slide head first much anymore, but I’ve only had two or three spasms the last three years.” …

The guy didn’t have what it took to stick in the majors for the Dodgers, but he truly battled. Today, more than 10 years after the Dodgers drafted him, he heads off on waivers.

* * *

  • Dodgers assistant general manager of amateur and international scouting Logan White has certainly opened up in the past couple of weeks. Following the recent two-part series on Baseball Prospectus, White talks at length with Mark Timmons of L.A. Dodger Talk. It’s a great interview, full of insights and really needs to be read by all Dodger fans.
  • The McCourt ownership trial has been set to start August 30, placing it right in the stretch run of the 2010 season. I have to admit, for the time being I’ve had my fill of the innuendo and speculation, and don’t have much to say about it.
  • George Sherrill is taking a week off from game action to try to iron out some mechanical issues, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com — so expectations about him at the start of the regular season should be guarded.
  • Blake DeWitt is the subject of a feature by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Mar 30

Dodgers expected to say ‘Sayonara’ to the underappreciated Eric Stults


Cary Edmondson/US Presswire
Eric Stults was banished from the Dodger starting rotation in 2008 despite a 3.18 ERA.

Whenever you think of players who were judged for what they weren’t instead of what they were, you can think of Eric Stults, whose eight years in the Dodger organization were poised to end today with an expected sale to a Japanese team. (Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more details).

Stults didn’t have overwhelming stuff, and he couldn’t put together a string of lengthy starts. In his 24-start major-league career, beginning with his first appearance in September 2006, Stults never had three consecutive appearances of at least six innings.

But in Stults’ defense, the Dodgers never gave him much time to develop any kind of consistency. Until 2009, the most major-league starts he ever made in a single month was three. The worst instance of this was in 2008, when a 28-year-old Stults came into Colorado with a 2.67 ERA over five starts, averaging six innings per start. But given an 11-0 lead, Stults couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning. In Colorado. With that one ill-fated game, Stults didn’t make another appearance in a Dodger uniform for more than two months. Does that make any sense at all?

Last year, Stults got his most consistent usage with the Dodgers, and he responded with a 3.82 ERA over seven consecutive starts, averaging 5 1/3 innings — more than adequate for the Dodger rotation at that point. But in that seventh start, he hurt his thumb diving on a fielding play. He and the Dodgers then made the mistake of having him pitch with his bad hand in Colorado, where he gave up four runs in 4 1/3 innings. Another bad outing followed, and Stults was moved to the disabled list. He only made one more appearance for the Dodgers the rest of the season.

Stults is replaceable. But it’s disheartening the way the Dodgers treated his good starts as a fluke while simultaneously praying for fluke good starts in others. None of the remaining candidates for the Dodgers’ fifth rotation spot have the credentials from recent years that Stults has.

In the second game of his career, Stults threw six innings of one-run ball at Shea Stadium in a key September game. He shut down the Rockies on two runs over seven innings while striking out nine in 2007. He shut out the White Sox in 2008 and the Giants in 2009. Whatever his shortcomings, that’s the guy I’ll remember.

Mar 29

Torre: Dodgers likely to start season with 11 pitchers

Joe Torre told reporters today that the Dodgers would probably start the season with 11 pitchers and then go to 12. That would allow the team to keep Blake DeWitt as a starting second baseman and Nick Green as backup shortstop.

“I’ll let you know the fifth starter in L.A.,” Torre said. “It’s not because I’m unsure, but because we’ve got work to do with the other guys. We’re looking at 11 pitchers now to start. I think we’re still determining who the 11 will be. I think 12 will be the number for most of the year. We’re going to need a fifth starter four times in April.”

As I’ve written before, I don’t agree with the need to keep Green but I’m far from surprised by it, because the Dodgers essentially did the same thing last year in saving a spot for Juan Castro almost the entire season.

I also suspect that the decision to go with 11  pitchers is a response to the probability of both Ronald Belsiario and Hong-Chih Kuo missing Opening Day. The competition for the bullpen isn’t quite as tight.

At this point, I would bet heavily on these 10 pitchers being on the Opening Day roster: Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, Charlie Haeger, Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso, Carlos Monasterios and Ramon Ortiz. The remaining competition, I believe, is for the 11th spot.

* * *

  • Hiroki Kuroda had a breezy seven innings in a minor-league game today, allowing one run (a solo homer) on two hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in 91 pitches. Russell Martin, looking more and more like the Opening Day catcher, caught all seven innings.
  • Josh Lindblom won the 2010 Jim and Dearie Mulvey Award for being the top rookie at Spring Training.
  • It’s a Dodger Divorce day, with Josh Fisher providing numerous updates on today’s spousal support hearing.
  • Mike Petriello has a fun wrap-up of his trip to Camelback Ranch at Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Of the 19 pitchers in baseball last year who had RBIs after the seventh inning, according to Stat of the Day, four were Dodgers. Can you name them?
  • If you haven’t already, be sure to make your 2010 Dodgers prediction in the thread below.
Mar 29

Looking back on 2010: The Dodger Thoughts reader predictions thread

For the fifth year in a row, I’m asking Dodger Thoughts readers to summarize the upcoming season before it happens.

The Dodgers went xx-xx in 2010 because ______________.

(And, yes, if you need an extra x, take it.)

Last year, we had a dead-on prediction from the second person offering one.  Here’s Dodger Thoughts reader KG16 on March 30: “Always the optimist when it comes to sports, I’ll say the Dodgers have a breakout season and finish 95-67, and good enough for home field through the NL playoffs.”

The rest of his comment was not quite as accurate – “I’ll also predict that the NL gets home field in the World Series because of All Star game home runs by Manny and Russ, along with three shutout innings to start the game by Billingsley and a perfect seventh by Kershaw.” – but forgivable under the circumstances.

Also picking a 95-67 record was commenter Unlazy4sports.

Several people picked a breakout season for Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, but no one had “50-game suspension for Manny Ramirez” in the pool. More than a few talked about midseason acquisition Roy Halladay …