Mar 06

Eric Gagne’s Dodger return: Welcome to the Enchanted Tiki Room

There were lots of tidbits from today’s Spring Training game, even though the Dodgers lost. But the one that might stick with people the most is Eric Gagne’s return in a Dodger uniform.

After all the reports I heard that Gagne looked starkly thinner – I was half-expecting Sally Struthers to make an appeal on his behalf – my view of him on TV was that the difference wasn’t so noticeable. Of course, when you’re dealing with baggy uniforms, who knows?

But although Gagne didn’t get hit hard, he did get hit. He didn’t have any strikeouts, and he allowed himself to get dinked and donked for two runs on three hits. None of this matters as far as what he’ll have in 2010 to offer the team or not. My only interest really was in recollecting the Gagne experience, and this certainly wasn’t it (not that I was expecting much).

And still, I was happy to see him, and happy for the reminders that floated through my head of his previous Dodger career.

Gagne told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that he was a “little off mechanically” but “felt really good physically.”

* * *

James McDonald and Jeff Weaver had frustrating spring debuts for the Dodgers, but Eric Stults and Russ Ortiz cruised in their two innings. Manny Ramirez had a single, double and walk to give him an .833 on-base percentage after two days. Blake DeWitt is 2 for 3 with two walks after a perfect two plate appearances today.

“Stults was good,” Dodger manager Joe Torre said. “I thought he mixed his pitches well. I thought he did a nice job, as did Russ Ortiz.

“(James McDonald) just wasn’t throwing strikes. Wasn’t throwing strikes with his offspeed pitch, and just didn’t look like he was locating. Even when he was throwing strikes, it didn’t look like he was throwing them in the place he wanted to throw them. He’s been fine. He’s been throwing the ball good; he’s been working on some stuff. As they say, we’ll see.”

The Dodgers are still looking for their first Spring Training triple or home run. And with rain in the forecast for Sunday’s game against the Cubs in Mesa, they might still be looking.

* * *

Who would have a copy handy of the 1966 Kansas City A’s media guide? Baseball Nerd Keith Olbermann would, and he uses it to render tall Rick Monday’s tale that he was given uniform No. 104 at Spring Training that year.

* * *

I wanted to point you to a feature I did for Variety on one of my favorite blogs – Earl Pomerantz: Just Thinking … if you haven’t been there yet, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Mar 06

Torre talks about going without lefty on bench – isn’t this unthinkable?

Dodger manager Joe Torre says he is contemplating going without a left-handed hitter on the bench, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.  I can’t believe it. I can’t believe any manager would do it. It puts your team at such a disadvantage, by allowing opponents to throw their best right-handed relievers against you at will.

But it’s true that the Dodgers have basically put themselves behind the right-handed 8-ball by signing non-southpaws Jamey Carroll, Nick Green, Ronnie Belliard and Reed Johnson this offseason. And with the latest news that Anderson won’t be ready to face live pitching for at least a week, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com – along with ongoing health concerns about Brian Giles and Doug Mientkiewicz, and the team’s reluctance to make the inexperienced Xavier Paul their lefty off the bench – the Dodgers have to at least plan for the possibility that come Opening Day, they will have no lefty options better than their righty ones.

Torre faces a problem because, as was noted when the team was signing Johnson, the Dodgers don’t have room for 12 pitchers and a lefty bench player unless a) Blake DeWitt starts the season in Albuquerque or b) the team does something it went out of its way to avoid in 2009, by making a non-shortstop the backup to Rafael Furcal. (Remember, the Dodgers kept Juan Castro as a backup basically all of last season, and that was with Mark Loretta having more shortstop experience than Jamey Carroll has.)

Even though DeWitt is off to a nice start after two Spring Training games, he’s still got a ways to go before the starting second base job is his.  But if he wins it, the Dodgers would face such a roster crunch that the next most logical choice might be to cut Belliard, rather than go without a lefty pinch-hitter. After all, Belliard (whose contract isn’t officially guaranteed yet) is really only with the team in case DeWitt needs more seasoning.

If Giles or Mientkiewicz were healthy, I’d recommend keeping them over Belliard. However, Belliard projects to be better against righties than the over-the-hill Anderson, so choosing Anderson over Belliard is a bit unsavory.

A different solution would be to go with 11 pitchers, but as I said all last year, the Dodgers really do have a pitching staff that benefits from a 12th man. Maybe someone should run the numbers, but I think the cushion the seventh reliever provides helps the team more than a sixth bench player would.

The Dodgers are going to have to bite one of these bullets, and after shooting through all the different options, the best one might be to go without a true backup shortstop. With Furcal looking much healthier this year, backup shortstop will be one of the team’s lower priorities come Opening Day. If Furcal gets hurt, I’d much rather see Carroll at shortstop at the end of a close game than see a righty batter against a tough righty reliever. Neither Green nor Chin-Lung Hu would be likely to help the team more than even Anderson would.

The question is whether Green or Hu’s defense makes either a better choice for the roster than Belliard. I do think, if DeWitt starts at second base, that’s where the choice would be.

If the Dodgers do the heretofore unthinkable and keep an all-righty bench, I’d bet the house it doesn’t last more than two weeks. A team should have more than one left-handed hitter on the bench. Having none, strategically, is just a nightmare.

Mar 06

McCourt meets the press and presses the flesh

Dodger owner Frank McCourt spoke with a group of reporters today. Michael Becker of the Press-Enterprise has the transcript; it doesn’t appear he said anything of note. (In case you missed it, here’s a link to the Dodger Thoughts interview with him.)

ESPN the Magazine’s Molly Knight said that when McCourt was mingling earlier with fans at Camelback Ranch, they offered him nothing but kindness. No boos rang out. Y’all missed your chance …

In case you were wondering, I had almost no reaction to Friday night’s news from Bill Shaikin of the Times that the McCourts are spending an estimated $19 million on divorce-related legal fees. It’s a ridiculous amount of money, but I don’t assume that any money they’re spending on lawyers would go into the team.

Mar 06

Dodgers await results of Russell Martin MRI

Soreness in his lower right abdomen drove Dodger catcher Russell Martin to an MRI exam today. As Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports (emphasis mine):

Martin was scheduled to be examined by Dodgers team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, but no results were expected until late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Martin, a former All-Star, had felt pain in his stomach for a few days but didn’t tell club officials until Saturday because he didn’t think it was anything to worry about.

“Evidently, it couldn’t have been too bad the first few days,” Torre said. “He just felt it was part of the normal spring training discomfort.” …

Jackson, by the way, also has a story on Make-a-Wish Dodger Chris Ramirez.

Mar 06

More than a game …

Lots of emotional moments going on …

White Sox at Dodgers,
12:05 p.m.

Today’s Lineup
Rafael Furcal, SS
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Manny Ramirez, DH
James Loney, 1B
Casey Blake, 3B
Ronnie Belliard, 2B
Xavier Paul, LF
Brad Ausmus, C
(Eric Stults, P)
  • The Make-a-Wish foundation brought 17-year-old San Bruno resident Chris Ramirez, who has an inoperable brain tumor, to Camelback Ranch for a special day. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has the story.
  • Cardinals reliever Trever Miller – ever so briefly a Dodger 10 years ago – ran a 10K Friday morning before Spring Training workouts began in honor of his 5-year-old daughter, Grace, who was born “born prematurely with an extremely rare chromosomal disorder that left her with two holes in her heart and numerous developmental problems,” writes Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  • Tonight is the Ante Up for Autism fundraiser in Arizona, hosted by Matt Kemp and his agent, former Dodger Dave Stewart.
  • Approximately 1,500 people attended the funeral of Mater Dei High School softball star Brianne Matthews, who committed suicide Feb. 25. Melissa Rohlin of the Times writes about it.
  • Friday in the Angels clubhouse, bronze statues were presented to pitcher Jered Weaver and Rookie League manager Tom Kotchman, winners of the first annual Nick Adenhart pitcher of the year and Preston Gomez minor-league manager of the year awards, writes Mike DiGiovanna of the Times.

Elsewhere …

  • Good reports from the keystone: Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com on Blake DeWitt; Dylan Hernandez of the Times on Rafael Furcal.
  • It doesn’t look like fans will have to worry about Kemp batting eighth again. Joe Torre told The Associated Press that he thinks Kemp can thrive in the No. 2 spot. “I think that second spot has changed its personality a lot,” Torre said. “Years ago when you had Pee Wee Reese hitting second, his job was to move the runner and stuff. Now you want to move the runner all the way around to score.”
Mar 04

Notes for a Spring Training afternoon

In inscrutable order …

  • I’m continuing to follow the rehab progress of Arizona pitcher Brandon Webb closely, partly because he’s on a division rival, partly because I imagined a scenario where Webb might have become a Dodger. Anyway, Webb described himself as “stagnant,” according to The Associated Press, but it’s better for him than having an actual setback.
  • One contender made it through this year’s version of Dodger Idol. Ricky Rivas of El Paso Texas, who pitched for El Paso in independent ball last year, was signed to a minor-league contract after showing his skills at the Dodgers’ annual open tryout. Tommy Lasorda, Logan White and DeJon Watson were among those judging.
  • To encourage carpooling, the Dodgers’ AAA affiliate in Albuquerque grants free parking to cars containing at least four people. Fees of $5 for other cars — which apparently is an increase — will go “directly toward improvements to the entire Sports Complex area … “
  • Buried in this story by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com about Garret Anderson’s impact on the bench is a note that backup shortstop candidate Nick Green is playing “without limitations” despite offseason back surgery.
  • While Brian Giles looks increasingly retirement-bound, Doug Mientkiewicz reasserted that he thinks his shoulder problems shouldn’t prevent him from playing, according to Gurnick.
  • Orel Hershiser has joined ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast team, working with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan.
  • Speaking of Dodger greats: Ramon Martinez — the beloved one — is at Camelback Ranch as an instructor. See for yourself.
  • This Baseball Prospectus piece by Shawn Hoffman corroborates my view that the nasty payroll projections contained in a recent court filing by Jamie McCourt are nothing to be concerned about. “Unless they’re all on some kind of psychoactive drug cocktail, or possibly preparing for the next round of MLB collusion, there’s no way those projections are anything but a sales tool, pitching an investor on what they think he’ll want to hear,” Hoffman writes.
  • Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone looks at minor league prospects with high strikeout totals and doesn’t find much that would make one feel good about the future of Dodger farmhand Kyle Russell.
  • Fifty years ago today, according to the Daily Mirror, the Dodgers were all excited about pitching prospect Phil Ortega (Filimeno Coronado Ortega for long).
Mar 04

Older is not better for bench players

We all know about the great, the wonderful, the tremendous Manny Mota. But generally, do aging reserves have a history of success with the Los Angeles Dodgers?

To try to answer the question, I decided to look at the batting numbers for Dodgers since 1958 who were at least 35 years old. (I chose players with between 20 and 400 plate appearances, then removed most of the players who were basically starters that got hurt or were part of a midseason acquisition.) At first I was only going to look at pinch-hitting numbers, but then I realized that except for someone like Mota, a key component of a good bench player includes how well they perform in spot starts.

Of the 89 players on this list, 20 of them (22.4 percent) had at least a league-average adjusted OPS of 100. Mota accounts for three of those 20 seasons, as does Rick Monday. (Sidebar: Is Monday, who OPSed .854 primarily as a reserve in 841 plate appearances from 1980-83, the greatest bench player in Los Angeles Dodger history?) Only 30 (33.7 percent) of the 89 even managed an OPS+ of 90.

Some of these older guys who didn’t produce are catchers or defensive specialists who never were expected to hit much in the first place. Nevertheless, the over-35 bench club is strewn with names of guys who had past hitting success (Jim Eisenreich, I’m looking at you) but were in such decline that not even their veteran moxie could save them.

Even Mota had some unimpressive 35-and-up seasons. Because many of these players don’t get a lot of at-bats, their performances can fluctuate quite a bit year to year. It’s not as if older players are doomed to failure, but there’s clearly nothing about being a veteran that guarantees bench success.

And that makes sense, despite the baseball cliches that would suggest otherwise. After all, there’s a reason these guys lose their starting jobs in the first place — and usually, that reason is related to offense more than defense.

There are some names in the below-average portion of this chart that are actually part of Dodger lore: Vic Davalillo in 1977, Jay Johnstone in 1981, Mark Loretta last October — players who by virtue of a single at-bat put a positive stamp on disappointing seasons. That doesn’t change the fact that overall, veteran benchmen have been more forgettable than memorable.

You can still argue for keeping a Garret Anderson over a Xavier Paul. Maybe the Dodgers will get more long-term value out of Paul if he plays every day in Albuquerque until he’s needed. Maybe there’s a matchup in a key September or October game that Anderson will use his experience to take advantage of. Maybe Anderson’s numbers will improve if his at-bats are rationed.

On the other hand, Paul is 25 years old, entering his prime, superior on defense and already performing at a level on offense that projects better in 2010 than Anderson does. It’s not clear at all that it benefits the Dodgers to hand Anderson a job that he would be earning solely through his resume.


Player OPS+ PA Year Age HR OBP SLG OPS
Rick Monday 194 156 1981 35 11 .423 .608 1.031
Manny Mota 176 50 1977 39 1 .521 .500 1.021
Duke Snider 149 196 1962 35 5 .418 .481 .899
Rick Monday 140 254 1982 36 11 .372 .481 .852
Olmedo Saenz 132 204 2006 35 11 .363 .564 .927
Jose Morales 131 34 1982 37 1 .382 .433 .816
Rick Dempsey 129 198 1988 38 7 .338 .455 .793
Ken Boyer 123 243 1968 37 6 .317 .403 .720
Jose Morales 121 54 1983 38 3 .296 .509 .806
Chad Kreuter 116 271 2000 35 6 .416 .410 .827
Doug Mientkiewicz 115 20 2009 35 0 .400 .389 .789
Mitch Webster 114 93 1994 35 4 .344 .464 .808
Manny Mota 110 47 1979 41 0 .400 .357 .757
Rick Monday 109 208 1983 37 6 .351 .399 .750
Manny Mota 106 60 1976 38 0 .367 .346 .713
Jeff Reboulet 105 253 2001 37 3 .367 .397 .764
Kevin Elster 104 259 2000 35 14 .341 .455 .796
Trent Hubbard 102 120 1999 35 1 .387 .390 .777
Vic Davalillo 102 81 1978 41 1 .333 .390 .723
Robin Ventura 100 127 2003 35 5 .331 .422 .753
Player OPS+ PA Year Age HR OBP SLG OPS
Gary Carter 98 280 1991 37 6 .323 .375 .698
Willie Randolph 98 113 1990 35 1 .364 .344 .707
Chad Kreuter 97 234 2001 36 6 .355 .377 .732
Enos Cabell 96 208 1985 35 0 .340 .349 .689
Jerry Grote 96 83 1978 35 0 .354 .343 .697
Manny Mota 96 37 1978 40 0 .361 .333 .694
Brett Butler 95 178 1995 38 0 .368 .336 .703
Bill Mueller 94 126 2006 35 3 .357 .402 .759
Chad Kreuter 94 108 2002 37 2 .333 .379 .712
Brad Ausmus 93 107 2009 40 1 .343 .368 .712
Pee Wee Reese 87 181 1958 39 4 .337 .381 .718
Robin Ventura 86 175 2004 36 5 .337 .362 .699
Bill Russell 85 298 1984 35 0 .329 .321 .649
Manny Mota 85 72 1974 36 0 .328 .316 .644
Sandy Alomar 84 62 2006 40 0 .323 .403 .726
Manny Mota 84 59 1975 37 0 .357 .286 .643
Bill Russell 83 192 1985 36 0 .333 .308 .641
Reggie Smith 83 44 1981 36 1 .318 .314 .632
Boog Powell 83 53 1977 35 0 .415 .244 .659
Otis Nixon 82 191 1997 38 1 .323 .349 .671
Rick Dempsey 81 183 1989 39 4 .319 .305 .623
Player OPS+ PA Year Age HR OBP SLG OPS
Devon White 79 168 2000 37 4 .310 .386 .696
Vic Davalillo 79 48 1977 40 0 .313 .354 .667
Ron Coomer 78 137 2003 36 4 .299 .368 .667
Jay Johnstone 77 90 1981 35 3 .267 .349 .616
Juan Castro 76 121 2009 37 1 .311 .339 .650
Gil Hodges 76 245 1961 37 8 .313 .372 .685
Gil Hodges 76 231 1960 36 8 .291 .371 .661
Geronimo Berroa 74 35 2000 35 0 .343 .323 .665
Al Oliver 74 85 1985 38 0 .294 .316 .611
Carl Furillo 74 103 1959 37 0 .333 .333 .667
Bill Russell 73 242 1986 37 0 .302 .301 .603
Rick Monday 73 57 1984 38 1 .309 .298 .607
Steve Yeager 72 221 1984 35 4 .295 .310 .605
Jim Gilliam 71 273 1966 37 1 .315 .268 .583
Rickey Henderson 70 84 2003 44 2 .321 .306 .627
Wally Moon 69 104 1965 35 1 .304 .270 .574
Gary Bennett 68 23 2008 36 1 .261 .381 .642
Tim Wallach 68 175 1996 38 4 .286 .333 .619
Rick Dempsey 68 151 1990 40 2 .318 .281 .599
Vic Davalillo 68 29 1979 42 0 .310 .296 .607
Elmer Valo 68 115 1958 37 1 .322 .317 .639
Brett Butler 66 145 1996 39 0 .313 .290 .603
Davey Lopes 66 243 1981 36 5 .289 .285 .574
Olmedo Saenz 65 132 2007 36 4 .295 .345 .641
Cesar Cedeno 65 87 1986 35 0 .294 .282 .576
Mark Belanger 63 57 1982 38 0 .309 .260 .569
Bill Madlock 62 69 1987 36 3 .265 .344 .609
Mark Loretta 60 204 2009 37 0 .309 .276 .585
Jose Valentin 60 184 2005 35 2 .326 .265 .591
Player OPS+ PA Year Age HR OBP SLG OPS
Mark Sweeney 55 34 2007 37 0 .294 .303 .597
Jeff Reboulet 55 58 2002 38 0 .291 .271 .562
Chris Donnels 54 101 2001 35 3 .277 .295 .573
Phil Garner 54 151 1987 38 2 .299 .270 .569
Ken Boyer 49 36 1969 38 0 .250 .265 .515
Shawn Gilbert 47 23 2000 35 1 .227 .350 .577
Jim Leyritz 47 68 2000 36 1 .294 .267 .561
Mitch Webster 46 63 1995 36 1 .246 .286 .532
Irv Noren 46 26 1960 35 1 .231 .320 .551
Steve Yeager 43 131 1985 36 0 .246 .256 .502
Mike Lieberthal 41 82 2007 35 0 .280 .260 .540
Jim Eisenreich 39 140 1998 39 0 .266 .244 .510
Mickey Hatcher 39 141 1990 35 0 .248 .250 .498
Chris Cannizzaro 35 25 1973 35 0 .280 .190 .470
Brent Mayne 29 113 2004 36 0 .286 .188 .473
Mark Sweeney 13 108 2008 38 0 .250 .163 .413
Jose Morales 3 20 1984 39 0 .200 .158 .358
Maury Wills 3 152 1972 39 0 .190 .167 .357
Milt Thompson -3 57 1996 37 0 .211 .137 .348

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/4/2010.

Mar 03

Dodgers sign Garret Anderson to minor-league deal

In a move one can’t help but interpret, at least in part, as a vote of no confidence in the health of Brian Giles and Doug Mientkiewicz, the Dodgers have signed local hero Garret Anderson to a minor-league deal, the team announced tonight.

Anderson, 38 this June, had a .705 OPS last season (86 OPS+) and was almost equally bad against right-handed pitchers as he was against lefties.  But the team might just be determined to have a veteran at least start the season as the team’s lead lefty pinch-hitter, rather than Xavier Paul, whose bat could certainly match what Anderson did last season.

Perhaps the thinking is also that Anderson might do better with more rest than he has ever had in his career – he has been a regular since 1995.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts: Superman, Then and Now

* * *

Updates:

  • Arizona signed 22-year-old right fielder Justin Upton to a six-year, $51.25 million contract. Upton is nearly three years younger than Matt Kemp and has one fewer year of service time, and had a .301 EQA (or, as Baseball Prospectus now wants us to call it, True Average) compared to Kemp’s .304.
  • The importance of Clayton Kershaw’s slider is the subject of a Jay Jaffe post at ESPN.com’s new pay-blog, TMI. “Kershaw’s numbers, since he introduced the pitch in early-June, are eye-popping,” Jaffe writes. “They stand with the elite hurlers in the majors, with the caveat that his age limited his workload.”
  • Scheduled Dodger pitchers for Spring Training Opening Day on Friday: Vicente Padilla, Ramon Ortiz, Charlie Haeger, Luis Ayala, Scott Dohmann and Jon Link.
  • An all-encompassing MLB batted-ball location chart is now available at Katron.org (link via True Blue L.A. and Dodger Divorce).
  • Following their disappointing 2009 seasons, Dodger catcher Russell Martin put on chunks of weight, while Cubs catcher Geovany Soto took them off. Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports explores their criss-cross paths.
  • Lefty reliever Brent Leach is trying to get through a sore groin muscle, Gurnick reports. Leach has been playing catch on flat ground but has stayed off the mound in recent days.
  • Minor leaguers had their per diem raised to $25 from $20, and Rob Neyer of ESPN.com is unimpressed by the largesse – and even less impressed with the efforts organizations make to encourage healthy eating among their prospects.
  • Forty years ago today, Ross Newhan of the Times began his feature (passed along by Keith Thursby at the Daily Mirror) on Bobby Valentine with this opening: “He might have become the second O.J. Simpson.”
  • The Dodgers’ annual open tryout for all unaffiliated men and women 18 and over takes place Thursday at Camelback Ranch. Hope your visa’s in order!
  • Is the future of baseball bats knobless? Read and decide for yourself.
  • Manny Mota (via Gurnick) is trying to draw attention to the Haiti relief efforts of former major-leaguer Neifi Perez and his merengue-performing brother Rubby.
Mar 03

Ronald Belisario trouble: Much ado about almost nothing

It bothers me that the Dodgers seem more upset about relief pitcher Ronald Belisario’s current visa problems than they were about his arrest for driving under the influence last summer.

I understand that with the DUI still awaiting adjudication, there’s a presumption of innocence for Belisario, who pleaded not guilty. So my point is not that the Dodgers should have immediately disciplined Belisario for the arrest.

Rather, it seems to me if you’re going to cut the guy some slack for something that serious, you should do the same for his visa issues.

Yeah, Belisario messed up with his paperwork – for the second year in a row.  It stinks. But it happened. Yet, even as manager Joe Torre tells Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that the situation is now out of Belisario’s hands and at the mercy of the U.S. government, general manager Ned Colletti is still in a snit.

“While he is sitting in Venezuela, other people are here trying to make the club,” Colletti said. “Maybe one of them will take food off his table.”

Forgive me for thinking Colletti is sounding a little like Inspector Javert.

Meanwhile, all this talk about the Dodgers losing Belisario to waivers continues to be overblown, as I suggested a week ago. Jackson reports that the Dodgers can “suspend Belisario without pay and require him to stay behind in extended spring training.” So Belisario can be punished more than amply for his sins, without the Dodgers losing him forever.

Odds remain that Belisario won’t miss any more regular season time because of his visa problems in 2010 than he missed when he went on the disabled list in 2009 – for an injury that some would argue happened because of the Dodgers’ irresponsibility in their use of him. The Dodgers, as Colletti suggests, have plenty of candidates to replace Belisario in the short-term – it’s not as if his visa problems will make or break their season.

The attention to this issue, it seems to me, is the result of having not enough things to complain about. The McCourts aren’t a presence in Arizona right now, and the silly furor over Manny Ramirez last week has died down. It’s almost like people are having too good a time – so by all means, let’s make an example of Belisario.

And I know I’m asking too much, but I just wish the attention were centered on an issue that might actually mean something.

Mar 03

Ready to greet the day

(Expanding on a previous thought.)

Each Dodger season that ends shy of a World Series title brings disappointment. And then, relief.

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted by the end of the baseball season. I welcome the break. I welcome having my nights and weekends back for other things.

Deep into winter, I start to wonder whether the next year of baseball will bring the same passion for me as the previous one. I find I’m not missing the game all that much. And when I start to think about how much time I spend devoted to the game, I sort of shake my head. The McCourt soap opera didn’t exactly help in this respect.

But the thing that has happened for me every other year happened again. Something clicked. I started thinking about sunny days and green grass and my favorite players roaming before me. Baseball started to feel right again.

The fatigue and frustration from the end of the 2009 season have peeled away from me like a layer of skin. There are still reminders, but I’m not sitting with head in hands over Jonathan Broxton’s last pitch to Jimmy Rollins. I’m ready to take the bad with the good.

But I couldn’t do it without that break. Waking up from the break is like waking up from a good night’s sleep. And man, do I appreciate a good night’s sleep.

Mar 02

The B Sharps: Dodgers to play baseball game with umpires and rules and stuff

In the decidedly unofficial but welcome opener of Spring Training, the Dodgers take on the White Sox in a seven-inning scrimmage.

Dodgers vs. White Sox, 10 a.m.
Trayvon Robinson, CF
Ivan DeJesus, Jr. SS
Russ Mitchell, 3B
Michael Restovich, DH
John Lindsey, 1B
Brian Barton, RF
Prentice Redman, LF
Chin-Lung Hu, 2B
Lucas May, C
(Eric Stults, P)

No expected Opening Day starters are in today’s lineup, but it’s still baseball. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com is tweeting from Camelback Ranch.

To get you in the right spirit, here’s this: Dodger minor leaguer Brian Akin writes a great post about being a lowly minor-leaguer in a big-league Spring Training game at Dear (Tommy) John Letters.

But wait, there’s more:

  • Burt Hooton’s wife Ginger told Dodger Thoughts commenter Hollywood Joe in an e-mail that Hooton has a clean bill of health after battling lymphoma.
  • Fifty years ago today, the talk at Spring Training was about whether Gil Hodges would move to third base to make room for Frank Howard at first base, notes Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror. (That, and the fact that Elvis Presley was coming home from the Army and resuming his relationship with 16-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu.) Hodges started five games at third and 41 at first in 1960 — but Howard spent the majority of the year in right field, and Norm Larker was the most frequent first baseman.
  • “Eric (Stults) knows he’s certainly capable of pitching at this level,” Dodgers manager Joe Torre told Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Blog. “He’s pitched playoff games for this ball club, he’s done well for us. The only thing is the consistency of it, and I think that’s what he’s trying to corral right now. … We’re certainly taking a long look at what he has to offer.”
  • Despite beginning the year with 15 of their first 21 games on the road, the Dodgers have one of the easiest schedules to open the season, writes Buster Olney of ESPN.com, thanks to 10 games against the Pirates and Nationals. I think I’d argue that for the Dodgers to have all those road games in April — all on the East Coast — still makes it a challenging opening month for the team.
  • Hong-Chih Kuo is profiled at the Times by Dylan Hernandez, who focuses on the latest of Kuo’s many comebacks.  A really nice piece.
  • Clayton Kershaw is analyzed by guest poster Tripon at True Blue L.A. using a relatively new statistic, true Earned Run Average.
  • Although you’d think it goes without saying that it wasn’t all about offense when it comes to steroid use, this post by Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk reminds us that pitchers used steroids too. Former Dodger Matt Herges talks about how he thinks steroids helped him.
  • Davey Lopes’ effect as a coach on team baserunning is explored by Bill Baer in a guest column for Baseball Prospectus.
  • Catcher Ronny Paulino, whose ejection prompted the argument that led to former Dodger Jose Offerman’s lifetime ban from the Dominican Winter League, told his version of what happened to Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post (via Baseball Think Factory).
  • Something for both Cal and Stanford fans: Mike Montgomery is the first men’s basketball coach to win Pac-10 titles with two different schools, writes Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. Wilner suggests that Montgomery is the fourth-greatest coach in the conference (and its predecessors) since the 1950s, behind John Wooden, Pete Newell and Lute Olson.
Mar 02

Manny is (theoretically) going to Taiwan

This morning, the Dodgers announced their “expected roster” for their March 10 trip to Taiwan, and Manny Ramirez is on it. The caveat is that the roster still might change in the next several days.

Hong-Chih Kuo, Charlie Haeger, Eric Stults, Josh Lindblom, Ronnie Belliard, James Loney and Xavier Paul are also making a go of it.

Pitchers (15): RHP Mario Alvarez, LHP Alberto Bastardo, RHP Robert Boothe, RHP Jesus Castillo, RHP Hyang-Nam Choi, RHP John Ely, RHP Francisco Felix, RHP Charlie Haeger, RHP Kenley Jansen, LHP Hong-Chih Kuo, RHP Josh Lindblom, RHP Jon Link, LHP Juan Perez, LHP Eric Stults and RHP Josh Towers.

Catchers (4): J.D. Closser, Gabriel Gutierrez, Lucas May, Jesse Mier

Infielders (8): Ronnie Belliard, Angel Berroa, Jamey Carroll, Chin-lung Hu, John Lindsey, James Loney, Russ Mitchell and Ramon Nivar

Outfielders (6): Brian Barton, Xavier Paul, Manny Ramirez, Prentice Redman, Michael Restovich, Trayvon Robinson

Coaches: Manager Joe Torre, first base coach John Shoemaker, third base coach Lorenzo Bundy, pitching coach Jim Slaton, hitting coach/bench coach Tim Wallach and bullpen catcher Mike Borzello.

The Dodgers are scheduled for three games in Taiwan, March 12-14, with the trip ending three weeks before Opening Day. In 2008, the Asia trip ended two weeks before Opening Day.

Mar 01

Must-own reading material

Here on this first day of March, I thought I might try to bulk up your reading lists.

First, if you haven’t already, please consider purchasing 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know and Do Before they Die. Other than missing Orlando Hudson’s cycle, Russell Martin’s stumbles and the latest drama surrounding Manny Ramirez and Frank and Jamie McCourt, everything’s still very much up to date and worth your reading. At a cost of barely $10 online, I really think it qualifies as a bargain.

Second, here’s a reminder to get the 2010 Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual. The first reader reviews have started to come in, and the reaction is as good as I expected, considering the first-rate content the writers and statisticians provided. (Here’s a link to some PDF excerpts.) You simply won’t find a better yearbook about the Dodgers anywhere.

Third, I got a copy of 2010 Baseball Prospectus, which offers insightful essays on all 30 teams plus detailed player capsules on roughly 1,000 major and minor-leaguers.  This book could keep you company all season, providing answers to almost any question you have about this year’s pros.

Finally, I’m most pleased to pass along the news that Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards, written by Josh Wilker, is available for pre-order. And it figures to be simply sensational.

Feb 27

Sandy Koufax brings Dodger fans the happiest of answers

All this time we had been preparing for baseball’s J.D Salinger to show up. But the moment he first appeared before us, it was Grace Kelly. With maybe a touch of Lincoln thrown in.

Grace and wisdom, in the flesh. Sandy Koufax was here on Earth (Earth being the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles), at once mortal and ethereal. He came to talk Saturday night – talk only about a meaningless game and a person who played it – and yet for as long as people had been waiting to hear him, he might as well have been revealing the secrets to the universe.

As Koufax pointed out, he is not the recluse he is made out to be. “I don’t know that I’ve dropped out of sight,” he told interviewer T.J. Simers in his slightly raspy but congenial voice. “I go to the Final Four year after year (not in disguise) – I wear a jacket and jeans. I go to golf tournaments. I’ve been to Super Bowls. I’ve been to Dodger Stadium. I go to dinner every night; I go to movies.”

But if he’s not in hiding, he’s not holding press conferences either. And so the audience hungered for each and every word he spoke, like ballpark kids for drifts of cotton candy.

There were distractions – some more tolerable than others.  It was not just a night for Koufax – it was a night also for Joe Torre, whose Safe at Home Foundation (combating the damage of domestic violence) was the reason Koufax agreed to the interview. It felt at times like an intrusion when questions were directed at Torre, because we’ve all seen so much of Torre. But Torre was quite interesting, thoughtful and entertaining in his replies – providing a useful reminder of how improbable his own success has been in overcoming an abusive father.

And then of course there is Simers, who wears irreverence on his sleeve in neon, and sometimes teased Koufax, just as he did when he interviewed Vin Scully and John Wooden on this stage in 2008.

But we did get our answers. As Simers himself suggested, we did separate fact from fiction. And Koufax was happy to share with us.

We learned that although many of us have think of Koufax as gentle, particularly in contrast to his partner-in-arms Don Drysdale, we were wrong.

“It sure as hell isn’t ‘gentle,’” Koufax said of how he would describe himself, “especially playing the game. Competing to me is being the last man standing. It has nothing to do with kicking water coolers. That’s ego-massage.”

Koufax was asked about a rare incident in which he was accused of hitting a player (Lou Brock) on purpose, and when the story was related to him and it was said he told Brock he was going to hit him intentionally, Koufax said that was all wrong. He never said anything like that to Brock – before hitting him intentionally.

“If you’re gonna hit someone,” Koufax maintained, “you never tell them.”

And while choosing not to talk in detail about the frightening day that Giants pitcher Juan Marichal hit Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat, Koufax denied that the game-winning homer Willie Mays subsequently hit off him came because Koufax had become too cowed.

“Willie told me later he was sure I wouldn’t throw inside,” he said. “But that had nothing to do with it. He’s Willie Mays.”

“Nobody could hit Willie,” Koufax added. “You could throw at him all day, but you couldn’t hit him.”

Koufax spoke with similar respect for Hank Aaron. When Torre wondered aloud about the seven batters Koufax walked intentionally in 1963 when his ERA for the year was 1.88 – saying that “those seven guys must be in the Hall of Fame” – Koufax joked, “He is.”

But on this night, no one had greater stature than Koufax. In case you thought it was all hype, just a case of history rolling a snowball downhill, there was an absolutely stunning moment.

As a surprise special guest, the Dodgers flew in from Spring Training the pitcher who has drawn more comparisons to Koufax than any Dodger, Clayton Kershaw. When Kershaw came on stage, Simers had him compare the size of his hand to Koufax’s. The 6-foot-3 Kershaw held out his palm, and when Koufax’s met it, Koufax’s fingers extended jaw-droppingly farther.  Koufax has finger extension like Scully has a vocabulary.

Combined with a serene poise, you understood what made Koufax so great. He even corrected Scully’s famous description during the ninth inning of his 1965 perfect game that the Dodger Stadium mound might be the “loneliest place in the world.”

“No, I had eight people on my side, standing all around me,” Koufax recalled. “While a perfect game is important, we were in a pennant race in September. We were leading, 1-0, and we had to win.”

Koufax also found himself accompanied by another friend in that ninth inning – the knowledge that he was at the pinnacle of his talent – this time corroborating Scully, who said that the night was the only time in his six-decade career with the Dodgers that he sensed in the first inning that a pitcher had no-hit stuff.

“There are times when everything is right,” Koufax said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had better stuff or better control than I did in the final two innings of that game.”

Koufax acknowledged the years prior to the 1960s when it didn’t always come so easy. Without pointing fingers, he said he “wasn’t pitching often or pitching well … I’d go warm up in the bullpen, and I’d hear an echo” of the guy warming up in preparation to relive him.

“Really encouraging,” Koufax said.

He thought with more frequent work, he had a chance to become a better pitcher sooner. But following the 1960 season, he prepared to walk away from the game.

“I just tossed (my gear) in the garbage can and went home,” he said.

But he was back the next spring.

“First, I worked that winter and found out it wasn’t a lot of fun,” he remembers. And then he made it to Vero Beach for Spring Training in 1961, and longtime Dodger clubhouse man Nobe Kawano handed Koufax what had been in the trash.

“Nobe said, ‘I thought you might need these,’” Koufax remembered with fondness.

Koufax also noted that as a bonus baby who earned more the moment he signed his first contract then some Dodger regulars earned all year, he faced resentment from his teammates in his younger days. There were two exceptions: pitching coach Joe Becker, and Jackie Robinson. In particular, Koufax said that Gil Hodges “didn’t want to have much to do with me.”

“I got a $14,000 bonus, and I was 19 years old,” Koufax said. “I was invited to every poker game. … (but) I wasn’t really welcome in that clubhouse.

“Jackie and Joe Becker were two guys who really went out of their way to try to make it okay. … But after I won my first game, Gil and his wife Joan became as good friends as I ever had.”

The real turning point, according to Koufax, came when Hodges, near the end of his great career as a Dodger first baseman, was managing the Dodgers in a split-squad game. The Dodgers were short on pitchers, and Hodges put a finger in Koufax’s chest and said, “You’re going eight innings today.”

On the trip to the game, Koufax and his roommate, catcher Norm Sherry, had the conversation that prompted Koufax to try not to throw so hard. Koufax said he walked three in the first inning, but got out of it and pitched no-hit ball for those eight innings. The legend was about to be born.

From 1962 to 1966, Koufax pitched 1,377 innings with a 1.95 ERA and 1,444 strikeouts. He started 176 games and completed 100. But he said that the cascade of arm trouble that would ultimately end his career at age 30 originated not on the mound, but as a baserunner, when he landed on his elbow while diving back into second base on a missed bunt by Junior Gilliam.

He didn’t think anything of it at first, but after his next start, his arm filled with fluid “and stayed that way all of 1964.” The Dodgers talked about giving him extra rest during the 1965 season, but it never happened. Instead of pitching every fifth day, he was pitching every fourth day, and then every third day. He won Game 7 of the 1965 World Series on two days’ rest, throwing 132 pitches in a three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout.

Ignoring the irony that the ’65 season was nearly Koufax’s last, Simers used the story to mock today’s pitchers who think a “quality start” is six innings. And Koufax didn’t argue at first, saying that in his mind, “a quality start is shaking hands with the catcher.”

But in the next moment, Koufax indicated he understood the modern approach.

“I think longevity plays a big part in (pitch counts),” he said. “I don’t blame ‘em.”

Back then, Koufax pointed out, it was different.

“You didn’t win, you didn’t get a raise,” he said.

Memorably, Koufax and Drysdale held out before the 1966 season for more money, with no leverage other than early retirement. But Koufax said it was easier for him, because he had already decided to hang ‘em up by the end of ’66, and so at most he was risking one year of his career. Drysdale was risking much more. Ultimately, the players came to terms, and Koufax finished his Dodger career with a 27-9, 1.73 season, before holding that final press conference.

In front of what might have been the largest crowd to hear him speak until tonight, a stoic Koufax announced his farewell.

“There was emotion. I wasn’t happy about it. But there’s no crying in baseball,” he concluded with a laugh.

Koufax laughed plenty on this night – he seemed utterly at peace with himself and his place on the stage, literally and metaphorically. This was not an uncomfortable person. This was not a recluse. This was a happy man.

“My grandfather just felt time was the most important asset you had,” Koufax said. “As you get older, I’ve developed the habit: Spend your money foolishly and your time wisely.”

Sandy Koufax has a considerable legacy, but to it we can add this: Sandy Koufax loves life.