Feb 16

Farewell, Gary Carter

Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher who spent 1991 with the Dodgers, passed away from brain cancer at the too-young age of 57.

Carter was the subject of one of my earliest posts at Dodger Thoughts: January 7, 2003.

I’ll get back to the 2003 Dodgers soon, but I am cutting in to comment on the two players elected to the Hall of Fame today – both ex-Dodgers – Eddie Murray and Gary Carter.

Both are completely deserving, although Carter had to wait until his fifth year of eligibility. Carter is at a level just below Mike Piazza as a hitter, and since Piazza will retire as the greatest hitting catcher of all time, that’s saying something. And Carter was much better defensively. Murray played at a high level of excellence for close to 20 years. The Dodgers acquired Murray toward the end of his career, not too differently from their newest first baseman, Fred McGriff. McGriff is a Hall of Fame candidate but is a level below Murray.

I covered about two dozen major league baseball games as a reporter, and only three at Dodger Stadium. But one of my most memorable experiences involved Murray and Carter. To put it in context, Murray retired with a terrible reputation with the media; Carter retired on quite different terms.

I had patiently waited 30 minutes in the Dodger locker room before a game to interview Carter and had just begun to interview him when Murray directed me to leave the locker room. There is a rule that reporters have to leave the locker room x minutes before the game starts. I had never seen this rule enforced until Murray tried to. Carter, realizing how long I had waited and knowing I wasn’t asking a lot, let me finish the interview.

The rule is there for a reason, and I don’t begrudge its existence. I will easily give Murray the benefit of the doubt that he was probably doing what he thought was right for the team. At the same time, I was doing my job in a professional manner and it would have been nice if he had tried to work something out with me instead of trying to kick me out, no questions asked.

I am confident that no doubt some unfair and/or inappropriate things were written about Murray during his career. However, I also tend to believe that he was similarly flawed in his dealings with reporters, and that whatever was written about him in Baltimore or anywhere else, he deserves some responsibility for his reputation as a curmudgeon with the media.

The postscript to this is that today Ken Daley, the Dodgers’ main beat reporter for the Daily News, wrote an article very critical of Carter, based on incidents that occurred the same year:

Daley implies that he didn’t vote for Carter for the Hall of Fame for these reasons. I think the moral of the story is that unless you have a situation like Pete Rose or Joe Jackson, it’s best to judge HoF candidates on their on-the-field merits as much as possible.

All my best wishes to Carter’s friends and family.

Feb 08

Scully wants to keep working


Above: Vin Scully talks in 2008 about meeting John Wooden.

Vin Scully has an interview in the March issue of Golf Digest (for now, I believe, it’s available only in print). Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed links and excerpts:

Some people die twice: once when they retire, and again when they actually pass away. Fear of the first one is a big incentive for me to keep working. Players, writers, people who work at the ballpark and front office, when I quit I know I’ll never see them again. I’ve never been the type to come to the ballpark and hang out; I’ve gone to one game in the last 60 years that I wasn’t working. I keep working because I don’t want to lose my friends.

It’s an interesting passage, particularly for “when I quit I know I’ll never see them again,” since this would be up to Scully to a large extent. One could easily envision the kind of pilgrimages that John Wooden was the centerpiece of.

Roderick also notes this Scully quip about having bad teeth through the years: “if I were to write my autobiography — which I will never do, by the way — I would title it, ‘My Life in Dentistry.’”

Scully’s first Spring Training broadcast appearance will be March 17. Eric Stephen of breaks down the Dodger exhibition broadcast schedule at True Blue L.A.

Elsewhere …

  • TMZ has posted audio of a 911 call reporting James Loney’s freeway crash in November. No matter the legal disposition of the case, if you were there, it sounds like it must have been utterly frightening.
  • The Dodgers signed 37-year-old Jamey Wright to a minor-league deal. Wright hasn’t been a starting pticher since 2007, but his past season-and-a-half out of the Seattle bullpen was passable in a Mike MacDougal sense. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com tweeted that Wright can opt out of his contract in late March.
  • Former Dodger shortstop Bill Russell can be seen with former Yankee counterpart Bucky Dent in this commercial (posted by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy), airing at 1981 World Series time, for Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. Dent sounds a little like a grown-up Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
  • Baly had a pleasant surprise when he went to the Dodger caravan Tuesday — he was there to see Clayton Kershaw as Kershaw’s new contract with the Dodgers was being announced.
  • Daily News writer Tom Hoffarth is auctioning an autographed copy of Kershaw’s book, “Arise,” at eBay, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to support Friends of St. Lawrence – Watts Youth Center, which empowers the children and families of Watts through educational, advocacy, and enrichment programs.
  • David Schoenfield of ESPN’s Sweet Spot looks at historical comparables for Kershaw. It starts on a downbeat note but gets more whammo after that. Schoenfield also invites you to an over-under game on Kershaw’s 2012 ERA here.
  • Evan Bladh passes along the story of Brooklyn Dodger batboy Charlie DiGiovanna at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance.
  • “What happened to the spitball?” Jonah Keri asks (and answers) at Grantland.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: Mike Scioscia and Gary Carter together at Spring Training, February 1991.
  • Aaron Miles, who waited until this time last year to sign with the Dodgers, is waiting even longer for a 2012 contract this time around.
  • Not every baseball parking story has Frank McCourt’s name attached. “Fans of the New York Yankees may soon have to pay as much as $55 to park at Yankee Stadium thanks to the poor planning by New York City, the Yankees and a private firm that is running low on cash,” writes Rob Iracane at Big League Stew.
Sep 20

Lee’s surge complicates road to Cy Young for Kershaw


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireClayton Kershaw is set to finish his season with starts tonight and then Sunday in San Diego.

How heated is the National League Cy Young competition? The top four candidates — Roy Halladay, Ian Kennedy, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee (in alphabetical order) — have a combined September ERA of 1.46.

Kennedy continued his late bid for recognition by pitching eight innings of one-hit ball with 12 strikeouts in a 1-0 victory for Arizona, which built its lead to 5 1/2 games in the NL West, while Halladay gave up a sliver of ground by allowing four runs in a 4-3 Phillies loss to St. Louis.

Kershaw and Lee — both red-hot of late, both scheduled to start tonight — have the opportunity to affirm themselves as the two top finalists for the award. In particular, if Kershaw bests Tim Lincecum for a fourth time in 2011 tonight, that’s going to be memorable.

For the first time, I’m starting to think that Halladay and Lee being teammates could hurt the award chances of both. Up until very recently, I’ve felt that the award was Halladay’s to lose, given that he pitches for the best team in the NL and that he’s pitched so well — his numbers are virtually equal to Kershaw’s (see chart below), with a slightly lower strikeout rate but better control, and higher wins above replacement.

However, Lee’s amazing stretch run —a 0.56 ERA in 64 2/3 innings since August 1 — has helped him catch up to the leaders and throw more confusion into the race. If you’re a voter who wants to honor the Phillies in some way with this award (given that the MVP race doesn’t really offer that opportunity), whom do you pick?

Now, if you watched “Modern Family” win bunches of Emmys on Sunday despite multiple nominations in those categories, you learned that teammates don’t always bring each other down. Still, as much as Lee presents another rival to Kershaw, he could also aid the Dodger by stealing votes from Halladay.

Voters who treasure wins may lean toward Kennedy, who certainly has been no slouch. But if Kershaw ends up with 20 wins himself, I think you can remove that category as a path to Kennedy leapfrogging the Dodger lefty.

In fact, much has been made lately of Kershaw possibly winning the pitcher’s triple crown: wins, ERA and strikeouts. My guess is that if he does, he will collect the Cy Young (though for me, the win totals are essentially irrelevant).

But let’s put it this way: If Kershaw doesn’t finish first in the balloting, there will be no crime. Halladay and Lee have been every bit as fierce as Kershaw. It’s been a superb year for all of them.

Top National League Cy Young Award candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

IP W-L ERA Sept. ERA ERA+ WAR (B-R.com) WAR (Fangraphs) WHIP K/9 K/BB
Roy Halladay 227 2/3 18-6 2.41 2.03 160 7.1 8.0 1.045 8.58 6.38
Cole Hamels 206 14-9 2.80 4.18 138 5.1 5.0 0.981 8.13 4.54
Ian Kennedy 216 20-4 2.88 1.88 137 5.3 4.9 1.083 8.08 3.66
Clayton Kershaw 218 2/3 19-5 2.30 0.90 161 6.4 6.8 0.983 9.71 4.63
Cliff Lee 219 2/3 16-7 2.38 0.72 162 6.7 6.5 1.015 9.14 5.31

* * *

  • By the way, this caught me by surprise, but Kershaw is no longer leading the NL in strikeouts per nine innings. Zack Greinke of Milwaukee is on top.
  • Chad Moriyama has a mammoth analysis of James Loney that you need to read, in which Moriyama analyzes both Loney’s stats and his swing. Conclusions:

    … What fans want to hear is that Loney has simply flipped a switch and will now pull 35% of balls and put up an OPS near .900 going forward. While I wish my analysis could guarantee that, it’s simply not a feasible conclusion to reach.

    What is clear though is that Loney has changed his approach and swing over the last two months in a way that has drastically affected his hit distribution and production. As such, the possibility does exist that his numbers could improve significantly in 2012 if the changes he has made carry over on a consistent basis.

    That said, all of my findings are subject to the usual sample size critiques, which is precisely why nothing about this is a sure thing. However, I have shown that Loney’s change under Hansen has absolutely happened, and looking at the free agent list at first base for 2012, unless the Dodgers can get Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, or Lance Berkman, I’d rather give Loney another shot if he comes at a reasonable salary (4-6 million?) even though I had previously preferred signing Carlos Pena (probably more expensive).

    When talking about baseball players, hope is part of what makes the game so fun to follow, but it can also be a dangerous thing, especially when that hope is invested in a 27-year-old first baseman with a .749 OPS/103 OPS+ over four full seasons. Still though, as of now, I’m more willing to take a chance on Loney than ever before.

  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has a really nice feature centering on A.J. Ellis that will only make you root for him more.
  • Dylan Hernandez of the Times looks at the increasingly favorable comparisons of Kershaw with Sandy Koufax.
  • Jonathan Broxton had his elbow surgery Monday, with “a bone spur and associated loose bodies” being removed.
  • Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com has an update on ailing catcher Gary Garter.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors compiles the $100 million free agent contracts in baseball history.
  • David Pinto of Baseball Musings reminds us that batting order is less about stats and more about egos.
  • Patrick Dubuque at Notgraphs has a fun essay on the impulse for a fielder to throw his glove at a ball.