Mar 28

Praising Burt Hooton

… (Chan Ho) Park made one more appearance before the Dodgers shipped him to Double-A San Antonio. There he met Burt Hooton, a pitching instructor and former Dodgers starter.

“Burt Hooton was my best friend my first two years,” said Park, who spent most of the 1995 season at Triple-A Albuquerque before breaking through with the Dodgers in ’96. “He was like an uncle to me. He cared about me, my emotions, while he was helping me learn techniques.

“One thing I told Ryu was that meeting good people is very important. I told him to try to make his pitching coach his best friend. When I got my first Major League win, I called Burt Hooton before I even called my parents. That’s how important he was to me.” …

— Ken Gurnick, MLB.com

When I ranked the top 50 Dodgers of all time a year ago for ESPNLosAngeles, Burt Hooton was 29th. But generally, you don’t hear much about him when the pantheon of great Dodgers is discussed.  Nice to see his name brought back to life, particularly in this extra, nurturing dimension.

Hooton gave the Dodgers 10 years of a 3.14 ERA and though he’s often thought of as a postseason goat thanks to one outing in Philadelphia, recovered to have a 2.79 ERA in his 10 other Dodger playoff games, including a remarkable 0.82 ERA over five 1981 postseason starts. (He was the Most Valuable Player of the 1981 National League Championship Series, pitching 14 2/3 shutout innings.) That’s some big stuff that no one ever talks about.

He managed to do this despite averaging five strikeouts per nine innings, a rate that would almost assuredly signify failure in this era. Opponents had a .659 OPS against Hooton over his 15-year career. Since 1972, Hooton has the eighth-best opponent OPS+ among all Dodger pitchers (minimum 600 innings).

Footnote: Hooton is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame and was named the No. 4 college baseball player of the 20th century by Baseball America. Here is his induction speech …

Dec 21

Chan Ho Park pitches for the kids

As I still wonder whether Vanessa Bryant will join a Dodger ownership group …

  • The Dodgers have announced their invitees to their annual January developmental minicamp, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com: pitchers Steven Ames, Michael Antonini, Rubby De La Rosa, Stephen Fife, Shawn Tolleson, Josh Wall, Allen Webster and Chris Withrow, and position players Alex Castellanos, Griff Erickson, Tim Federowicz, Tyler Henson, Alfredo Silverio, Scott Van Slyke and Matt Wallach.

    The developmental camp is as much a tutorial about off-field preparation for becoming major-leaguers as anything to do with on-field performance.

  • Prince Fielder is just there for the taking, writes Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports.
  • Jonah Keri writes at Grantland about the Yankees’ new austerity (relatively speaking).
  • Also at Grantland, Rany Jazayerli writes about how teams trading established players for prospects might be getting the short end of the stick more often than you realize.
  • How about a Grantland hat trick: Jane Leavy writes about Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe Ruth’s last surviving child.
  • Andy LaRoche has signed a minor-league deal with Cleveland.
  • Chan Ho Park has signed to pitch in his native South Korea for the first time (news via Brett Bull).

    … The Hanwha Eagles said the right-hander had signed a one-year deal worth 24 million won ($20,600).

    The Eagles had planned to pay Park 400 million won per season with a club option for another 200 million won. But the money will instead be donated to a fund for amateur baseball at Park’s request.

    The 38-year-old said he would also donate his salary for the development of youth baseball.

    “I will spend that money on something meaningful for children,” he said. …

Nov 10

O’Malley, Nomo, Park, Seidler to help run old Dodgertown in Florida

Doug Benc/Getty ImagesA view from the final Dodger Spring Training game at Holman Stadium, March 17, 2008.

Former Dodger owners Peter O’Malley and sister Terry Seidler and former pitchers Chan Ho Park and Hideo Nomo have joined forces with Minor League Baseball to operate the old Dodgertown complex now known as the Vero Beach Sports Village.

O’Malley, a candidate to buy the Dodgers themselves from Frank McCourt, will be chairman and CEO of the new enterprise, and MiLB president Pat O’Conner will be president and COO, while Craig Callan will remain in control of operations of the facility, where he has worked for 33 years.

O’Conner said the goal of the group is to use the facility “for local, domestic and international sports programs” that will attract a variety of visitors.

“This combined effort of Minor League Baseball, the O’Malley and Seidler families and members of our extended baseball family will undoubtedly have a positive impact on Vero Beach Sports Village,” O’Conner said in a statement. “Peter O’Malley and his family have a long and storied history in Vero Beach and baseball in general, both domestically and internationally.

“Chan Ho Park and Hideo Nomo provide insight from a player’s perspective, as well as enormous credibility in Asia and the Pacific Rim.”

Nomo has been bringing Japanese youth players to the U.S. for the past couple of years for competition and cultural exchange.

“Being a part of the group that will operate a facility that provides youths with resources they can use both on and off the field is extremely rewarding,” Nomo said. “Those who come to the facility can improve not only as athletes through tournaments and training, but can also develop skills to help them mature into young men and women.”

Added Park: “I have many fond memories of Dodgertown from my nine seasons playing for the Dodgers. I love it there and look forward to seeing many teams and individuals enjoy all of the unique features of the complex and take full advantage of the amenities it has to offer, as I did when I trained and played there.”

For O’Malley, it’s a return to his roots — he was director of Dodgertown from 1962-65. Seidler worked there in the 1950s as the secretary for the Dodgertown Summer Camp for Boys.

“I embrace this wonderful opportunity to use this iconic facility that my family has cherished for decades to promote baseball,” O’Malley said in a statement. “Vero Beach Sports Village should always be an asset and a jewel to the citizens of Vero Beach and Indian River County, and I look forward to adding further luster to its rich history.

Though MiLB began operating the old Dodgertown facility in 2009 and events have continued to take place there, it has been in jeopardy ever since Dodger Spring Training left for Camelback Ranch in Arizona, with lots of speculation that it could eventually be sold off and converted for non-sports use.

“We know the Dodgers have a long-term spring training commitment with the community of Glendale, Arizona, and our endeavor in Vero Beach in no way impacts that relationship,” O’Malley said.

In other words, even if O’Malley ends up back with the Dodgers, don’t expect Spring Training to return to Vero Beach. Still, for fans of Dodgertown, this is welcome news.

Nov 28

In starting rotation, sometimes questions beat answers


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesFor 4 1/2 seasons, the Dodgers never knew what they were going to get in Odalis Perez.

In the wake of the Jon Garland signing, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. looked at the most commonly used starting pitchers by the Dodgers since 2000, and in the process found that the Dodgers “have had five pitchers each start 30 games in a season just twice in their 127-year franchise history (1977 and 1993), and they have only had four pitchers start 30 games eight other times.”

Good stuff, but I was interested in something else, too. Given my surprise to find our starting rotation settled on paper before the end of November, I was curious how often in recent years the Dodgers had appeared to enter the season in better shape in their starting five than they’re in right now – and how they fared in those seasons.

Looking back at the 2000s (playoff teams in bold):

  • 2010: Charlie Haeger won a beleaguered fifth starter competition. The current 2011 rotation, with Garland as the fifth starter behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly, looks better.
  • 2009: Rookies Kershaw and James McDonald looked promising on paper, but most people would probably take the 2011 quintet, with Kershaw two years older.
  • 2008: Brad Penny was coming off a 3.03 ERA in 2007, Chad Billingsley was rising and Derek Lowe in the final year of his contract, while Kuroda was untested in the U.S. and Kershaw hadn’t arrived. In fact, it was the rotating arms in the No. 5 spot (a shaky Esteban Loaiza, a green Hong-Chih Kuo) that helped hasten Kershaw’s debut.  The Dodger rotation heading into 2008 was probably better than the 2011 group – until Friday.
  • 2007: This was the year newcomers Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf (the first time around) were supposed to anchor the Dodger staff, joining Lowe, Penny and Billingsley. This was an exciting group – until Schmidt and Wolf combined for 24 starts and a 5.05 ERA.
  • 2006: Lowe, Penny … Odalis Perez (coming off a poor 2005) … Brett Tomko and Jae Seo.  A little bit of wishful thinking, here.
  • 2005: New free agent Lowe, Perez (coming off a strong 2004) and Jeff Weaver for the front three. The Dodgers knew they’d be dealing with filler at the No. 5 spot, and with Penny coming back late from his 2004 injury, they were duct-taping No. 4 as well, ultimately starting April with the likes of Elmer Dessens and Scott Erickson.
  • 2004: The Dodgers’ first playoff trip of the century began with Hideo Nomo, Perez, Weaver and Kaz Ishii – not a bad front four if you thought the 25-year-old Perez would regain his 2002 form. The other three had ERAs below 4.00 the year before. The fifth starter left in TBD status until the job was seized by Jose Lima, who had a memorable year through and into the playoffs (after having thrown 503 2/3 innings with a 6.18 ERA since 2000), while Ishii ended up struggling and Nomo fell apart.
  • 2003: Kevin Brown was coming off an injury-plagued 2002, but there was still hope for him (rightfully so) to lead a staff that also included a resurgent Nomo, Ishii and Perez (3.00 ERA in 2002). Darren Dreifort, attempting a comeback after going more than 20 months between games, got the first chance at the No. 5 start, but the Dodgers also had Andy Ashby (3.91 ERA in ’02) as a No. 6 starter. So there was depth, but also an understanding that the depth could be needed immediately.
  • 2002: Lots of new blood to join Brown and Ashby: Nomo (returning as a free agent from Boston), Perez (acquired with Brian Jordan in January’s Gary Sheffield trade) and Ishii (signing his first U.S. contract on February 28) – not to mention Omar Daal, another returning former Dodger who came in an offseason trade from Philadelphia but began the year in the bullpen. By the time Spring Training started, the staff was deep – one of the reasons second-year manager Jim Tracy experimented with converting a guy who had made 24 starts in 2001 into a reliever: Eric Gagne.
  • 2001: In his last year before becoming a free agent, Chan Ho Park was the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers, followed by Gagne, Dreifort, Ashby and – in place of Brown, who was limited by injuries – Luke Prokopec. Either Gagne or Prokopec were to be the No. 5 starters on paper, after making some waves in 2000. You might laugh now, but there was reason to think this could be a pretty decent starting rotation.
  • 2000: You had Brown, Park and Dreifort, all coming off solid 2000 seasons. Then you had Carlos Perez, who had a 7.43 ERA in 1999. And rounding out the fivesome, you had the last gasp of Orel Hershiser, who had a 4.58 ERA with the Mets at age 40 the year before. It did not go well for this rotation.

In terms of Dodger starting rotations that had proven talent in all five slots since 2000, you’d have to look at 2007 and 2002 as the leading lights, with honorable mention to 2003. Neither of these teams, of course, reached the playoffs (though the ’02 team won 92 games), while the Dodgers’ past four playoff teams all had question marks in at least one spot in the starting rotation entering the season.