Apr 12

Revenge on Jackie Robinson Night?

For Sports on Earth, I look ahead to the next meeting between the Dodgers and the Padres in the wake of their Thursday brawl. It comes Monday, on Jackie Robinson Night.

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.
Kershaw CLII: Kershawvanhoe

Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P

Update: “Zack Greinke was examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache today in Los Angeles and underwent a CT scan on his left clavicle,” the Dodgers said in a statement. “It was determined that he should undergo surgery to place a rod in the clavicle to stabilize and align the fracture.  The surgery will be performed tomorrow by team physicians,  Drs. ElAttrache and John Itamura, at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles.  Greinke’s expected return is eight weeks.”

Shawn Tolleson has been recalled from the minors for the time being.

Apr 11

The myth of Jackie Robinson’s retirement

Chock Full O' Nuts president William Black with Jack R. Robinson

From 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die:

One of the great myths in Dodgers history is that Jackie Robinson retired rather than play for the team’s nemesis, the New York Giants, after the Dodgers traded him there, seven weeks before his 38th birthday. In fact, as numerous sources such as Arnold Rampersad’s Jackie Robinson: A Biography indicate, Robinson had already made the decision to retire and take a position as vice president of personnel relations with the small but growing Chock Full O’ Nuts food and restaurant chain. This happened on December 10, 1957. But Robinson had a preexisting contract to give Look magazine exclusive rights to his retirement story, which meant the public couldn’t hear about his news until a January 8, 1958 publication date.

The night he signed his Chocktract, on December 11, Dodger general manager Buzzie Bavasi called Robinson to tell him he had been traded to the Giants. Teammates and the public reacted with shock to the news and rallied to his defense, even though Robinson had no intention of reporting. When the truth finally came out, it was Robinson who caught the brunt of the negative reaction at the time. Over the years, however, the story evolved into the fable that Robinson chose retirement because playing for the Giants was a moral impossibility. Robinson left baseball and the Dodgers nursing grievances over how he was treated. The trade to the Giants wasn’t the last straw that drove him out, but rather an event that confirmed that the decision he had already made was well chosen.

The newly revised edition of “100 Things Dodgers” is on sale now.

Apr 09

Must-read on Jackie Robinson, by Ron Rapoport

This piece on Jackie Robinson’s final days in 1972 at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence was written by former Los Angeles Times and Daily News sportswriter Ron Rapoport. Portions ran previously in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, but anyone interested in Robinson should read it in its entirety.

Dodgers at Padres, 3:40 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Josh Beckett, P

Apr 15

Jackie, 65 years later


Below, to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day, please enjoy this reprint of Chapter 1 of 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die:

Jackie
From beginning to end, we root for greatness.

We root for our team to do well. We root for our team to create and leave lasting memories, from a dazzling defensive play in a Spring Training game to the final World Series-clinching out. With every pitch in a baseball game, we’re seeking a connection to something special, a fastball right to our nervous system.

In a world that can bring frustrations on a daily basis, we root as an investment toward bragging rights, which are not as mundane as that expression makes them sound. If our team succeeds, if our guys succeed, that’s something we can feel good about today, maybe tomorrow, maybe forever.

The pinnacle of what we can root for is Jackie Robinson.

Robinson is a seminal figure – a great player whose importance transcended his team, transcended his sport, transcended all sports. We don’t do myths anymore the way the Greeks did – too much reality confronts us in the modern age. But Robinson’s story, born in the 20th century and passed on with emphasis into the 21st, is as legendary as any to come from the sports world.

And Robinson was a Dodger. If you’re a Dodger fan, his fable belongs to you. There’s really no greater story in sports to share in. For many, particularly in 1947 when he made his major-league debut, Robinson was a reason to become a Dodger fan. For those who were born or made Dodger fans independent of Robinson, he is the reward for years of suffering and the epitome of years of success.

Robinson’s story, of course, is only pretty when spied from certain directions, focusing from the angle of what he achieved, and what that achievement represented, and the beauty and grace and power he displayed along the way. From the reverse viewpoint, the ugliness of what he endured, symbolizing the most reprehensible vein of a culture, is sickening.

Before Robinson even became a major leaguer, he was the defendant in a court martial over his Rosa Parks-like defiance of orders to sit in the back of an Army bus. His promotion to the Dodgers before the ‘47 season was predicated on his willingness to walk painstakingly along the high road when all others around him were zooming heedlessly on the low.

Even after he gained relative acceptance, even after he secured his place in the major leagues and the history books, even after he could start to talk back with honesty instead of politeness, racial indignities abounded around him. Robinson’s ascendance was a blow against discrimination, but far from the final one. He still played ball in a world more successful at achieving equality on paper than in practice. It’s important for us to remember, decades later, not to use our affinity for Robinson as cover for society’s remaining inadequacies.

Does that mean we can’t celebrate him? Hardly. For Dodger fans, there isn’t a greater piece of franchise history to rejoice in – and heaven forbid we confine our veneration of Robinson to what he symbolizes. The guy was a ballplayer. Playing nearly every position on the field over 10 seasons, Robinson had an on-base percentage of .409 and slugging percentage of .474 (132+ OPS, .310 EQA). He was an indispensible contributor to the Dodgers’ most glorious days in Brooklyn – six pennants and the franchise’s first World Series victory.

It also helps to know that some of Robinson’s moments on field were better than others, that he didn’t play with a impenetrable aura of invincibility. He rode the bench for no less an event than Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. He was human off the field, and he was human as well on it.

In the end, Robinson’s story might just be the greatest story in the game. His highlight reel – from steals of home to knocks against racism – is unmatched. In a world that’s all too real, Robinson encompasses everything there is to cheer for. If you’re a fan of another team and you hate the Dodgers, unless you have no dignity at all, your hate stops at Robinson’s feet. If your love of the Dodgers guides you home, Robinson is your North Star.

* * *

Robinson’s Retirement

One of the great myths in Dodger history is that Jackie Robinson retired rather than play for the team’s nemesis, the New York Giants, after the Dodgers traded him there, seven weeks before his 38th birthday. In fact, as numerous sources such as Arnold Rampersad’s Jackie Robinson: A Biography indicate, Robinson had already made the decision to retire and take a position as vice president of personnel relations with the small but growing Chock Full O’ Nuts food and restaurant chain. This happened on December 10, 1957. But Robinson had a preexisting contract to give Look magazine exclusive rights to his retirement story, which meant the public couldn’t hear about his news until a January 8, 1958 publication date.

The night he signed his Chocktract, on December 11, Dodger general manager Buzzie Bavasi called Robinson to tell him he had been traded to the Giants. Teammates and the public reacted with shock to the news and rallied to his defense, even though Robinson had no intention of reporting. When the truth finally came out, it was Robinson who caught the brunt of the negative reaction at the time. Over the years, however, the story evolved into the fable that Robinson chose retirement because playing for the Giants was a moral impossibility. Robinson left baseball and the Dodgers nursing grievances over how he was treated, but the trade to the Giants wasn’t the last straw that drove him out, but rather an event that confirmed that the decision he had already made was well chosen.

Mar 29

Report: Rachel Robinson to join Dodger board of directors

From Josh Kosman of the New York Post:

… The Jackie Robinson Foundation, created by Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, in 1973, is a partner in the Magic Johnson-Guggenheim Partners group that this week announced a record-setting $2.3 billion deal to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, The Post has learned.

In addition, Rachel Robinson will sit on the Dodgers board of directors. The not-for-profit foundation is in talks with the group about getting an equity stake in the storied franchise, sources said.

“Magic thought about Robinson a lot,” one source familiar with the bidding group said last night.

Johnson was honored by the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 2002, the source noted, and it was then that he got to know Rachel. …

… Johnson’s group has quietly been working with the Robinson Foundation for months as part of the buying group. But because the foundation works closely with Major League Baseball, it stayed in the shadows so there would be no fallout if Magic’s bid came up short, a source said. …

* * *

Does the NFL have a future at Dodger Stadium? Sam Farmer of the Times examines the possibilities.

Mar 01

Dodgers’ offense quiet in 2-1 loss

Spring Training, Day 4

Highlights:

  • Jerry Sands homered for the Dodgers in the seventh inning.
  • Chad Billingsley pitched three innings of shutout ball, no walks, three hits, three strikeouts.

Lowlights:

  • Nine innings, three baserunners on offense, two errors on defense.
  • Tony Gwynn Jr. struck out twice and made an error in left field.
  • Four consecutive Dodgers relievers — Wilkin De La Rosa, Jon Huber, Roman Colon and Oscar Villarreal — each walked two batters (in a combined four innings).

Sidelights:

  • Gwynn is featured by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

    … Gwynn had a career-high 393 at-bats and scored 59 runs with the Padres (in 2009). He also posted a .350 on-base percentage to go with that .270 average, and it looked as if the Padres had their center fielder for the foreseeable future.But everything changed for Gwynn in 2010.

    After a decent start, he had a miserable May in which he batted .145. He spent most of the rest of the summer trying to rebound, but a broken bone in his right hand landed him on an operating table. By the time he was ready to play in mid-September, the Padres were in hot pursuit of a division title, and they couldn’t take any chances on a surgically repaired outfielder who they weren’t sure could help the cause. Also by that time, Gwynn’s famous father had been diagnosed with cancer of the parotid, something that wouldn’t be made public for months but that Gwynn’s teammates were aware of.

    “It just so happened that two days after I broke my hand, I found out my dad had cancer,” Gwynn said. “It’s one of those things you think can’t happen to you until it happens. … I was hurting, but it’s not something I’m never going to use as an excuse for my performance. It’s just a part of life, and this is my job.”

    Gwynn went hitless in 11 at-bats the rest of the way. The division title never came, and the Padres non-tendered him after the season. His father appears to be doing well in his battle and has returned on a limited basis to his job as the baseball coach at San Diego State University.

    The Dodgers signed Gwynn for $650,000, a bargain compared to what the Padres probably would have paid him if they had gone to arbitration. Gwynn’s hand is healthy now, and he worked this winter to regain his batting stroke, sorting out his mechanical issues and his approach with hitting coach Jeff Pentland. …

  • Will Carroll’s Team Health Reports are now hosted at SI.com, and you can check out the Dodgers writeup here. Billingsley finally graduates to a green light, but I would ignore the comment about Gordon being a potential replacement for Casey Blake at third base.
  • In the wake of Garret Anderson’s retirement, Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com shares this important reminder: “You just can’t tell how much someone cares.”
  • Here are a couple of stories about Jackie Robinson’s 1945 tryout with the Boston Red Sox, from The Governor’s Sox (via Baseball Think Factory) and Jackie with the Monarchs. Very much worth your time.


Sep 25

Did you see Jackie Robinson bunt that ball?


Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty ImagesJackie Robinson

While poking around the Dodgers’ all-time seasonal sacrifice hit leaders Friday to come up with the tidbit on Clayton Kershaw, I noticed that Jackie Robinson had the bold-face total of 28 in his rookie year, 1947. (I mentioned this in the comments section, but felt it trivially interesting enough for a separate post.)

Times were different then, obviously, but I still found it rather stunning. This was a year in which Robinson hit .297 with 74 walks and 48 extra-base hits and led the National League in stolen bases. He grounded into five double plays in 590 at-bats. There probably weren’t many hitters for whom the sacrifice was more of a waste than Robinson. Yet there he was, squaring up more than anyone around.

In fact, in a 15-game stretch from August 10-23, during which Robinson OPSed .998, someone thought it’d be a good idea for him to sacrifice bunt eight times. My way of putting that in perspective: Robinson had more sacrifice hits in those two weeks than Rickey Henderson had in 1,746 games from 1981-93.

It was a long time ago, but I wonder if there was anyone who noticed Robinson was red-hot at the plate and wondered when they were going to stop making him give himself up.

* * *

My favorite part of Arash Markazi’s ESPNLosAngeles.com column on Manny Ramirez’s return to Southern California:

Dodgers organist Nancy Bea Hefley and her husband, Bill, drove down to Anaheim to catch up with Ramirez and (Juan) Pierre, before leaving for their home in northern Nevada prior to the opening pitch.

“When Manny arrived, the team wasn’t doing anything and he just brought a spark,” said Hefley, who gave Ramirez and Pierre a big hug each in the visitor’s dugout. “He brought a spark to the team in the dugout and on the field and made it very exciting.” …

* * *

Shades of Randy Wolf: Ted Lilly should clearly be offered salary arbitration after this season, though he will probably turn said offer down, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.

Petriello also passes along this note from Mark Whicker of the Register that outfield prospect Jerry Sands will experiment at third base in the Arizona Fall League. Whicker’s main point in his column is that the Dodgers shouldn’t give up on their homegrown core, despite this year’s frustrations.

Apr 11

Relief disbelief: Same old song with a few new lines


Keith Srakocic/AP
George Sherrill’s bad outing against Pittsburgh on Opening Day was mere prelude to Saturday’s Florida fright night.

George Sherrill should be able to get three outs before he gives up three runs. And inevitably, there was going to be a do-or-die situation this season when he would need to do that. Just as Vicente Padilla shouldn’t give up four runs on nine baserunners in 4 1/3 innings, Sherrill needs to do better if the Dodgers are going avoid trouble.

But Padilla and Sherrill’s failings are basically heat-of-the-battle failings, whereas Joe Torre’s use of Jonathan Broxton this week is the equivalent of filling the bubbles in your SAT exam with Crayola burnt orange. (Assuming they still use bubbles.)

We’ve said it before and we hate to say it again – so this is going to be brief. If you can’t afford to allow a run – as was the case when the Dodgers played extra innings in Pittsburgh on Wednesday – you use the pitcher least likely to allow a run. Only after that pitcher has been used do you turn to others. And certainly, you don’t worry about saving your best pitcher for a situation in which you can allow a run and still win.

On one level, it was coincidental that Torre’s use of Broxton this week led to us talking about his absence from Saturday’s game. It required a specific flow of events from Opening Day on. On the other hand, we do see this from Dodger managers, including Torre’s recent predecessors, all too often. If Sherrill had been used Saturday after a proper use of Broxton in previous days, people would have been talking about Sherrill overnight a lot more than Torre.

Do not save your best reliever for a save situation in an extra-inning game on the road.

  • One other oddity regarding Saturday and the bullpen: Torre told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that Ramon Troncoso, who was pitched a perfect eighth inning but was pulled after giving up a leadoff single in the ninth, “is basically a one-inning guy.” I realize that bullpen roles have changed with Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario out, but especially when he hadn’t pitched the day before and with Broxton out, since when is Troncoso a one-inning guy? The guy made his reputation with his ability to go multiple frames. Troncoso needed only seven pitches to get out of the eighth inning, then had thrown six pitches in the ninth when he came out of the game.
  • The botched squeeze in the second inning Saturday (that resulted in a bases-loaded, one-out situation imploding) was even crazier than it appeared. As many surmised, Vicente Padilla missed the suicide squeeze sign that resulted in Casey Blake getting tagged out between third and home. But from what Torre told reporters this morning, it appears that Torre himself wanted to take the squeeze off after having initially called for it – but that he gave the second sign too late for third-base coach Larry Bowa to see. So Bowa and Blake incorrectly, though understandably, thought the squeeze was still on – while Padilla, apparently, was oblivious to all of this. Torre indicated that he puts signs on and takes them off all the time.
  • Manny Ramirez had his 2,500th career hit Saturday, while Rafael Furcal had his 1,500th. Furcal has a .480 on-base percentage this season and is tied for the major-league lead in doubles.
  • Ian Kennedy is the scheduled starter for Arizona against Clayton Kershaw in Tuesday’s home opener, followed by Rodrigo Lopez against Chad Billingsley on Wednesday and Dan Haren against Hiroki Kuroda on Thursday.
  • LeeAnn Rimes will sing the national anthem Tuesday.
  • Josh Lindblom was hit hard in his first 2010 start for Albuquerque – needing 77 pitches to get through three innings that saw him give up eight hits, two walks and three runs while striking out one.
  • John Lindsey, the 33-year-old minor-league lifer still looking for his first major-league action, is 7 for 13 with three doubles in his first three games for the Isotopes. Lindsey would need a few injuries to right-handed hitting Dodgers before he’d have a shot at a cup of coffee.
  • James Adkins, a 2007 first-round pick, allowed five runs in three innings of relief in his first 2010 outing for AA Chattanooga.
  • Ethan Martin’s Inland Empire season debut was a different story: five innings, no runs, three singles, no walks, one hit batter, nine strikeouts.
  • Allen Webster allowed one run over five innings (six baserunners, four strikeouts) in his ’10 Great Lakes debut.
  • Dixie Walker, the Brooklyn Dodger long remembered for starting a petition against Jackie Robinson joining the team, is revisited today by Harvey Araton of the New York Times (via Inside the Dodgers). The article’s main point seems to be that Walker was remorseful and not the racist he’s been accused of being:

    … Though (Maury) Allen and Susan Walker suggest in the book that her father did not initiate the anti-Robinson petition, Roger Kahn, in his 2002 book, “The Era,” wrote that Walker told him in 1976 that he had.

    Kahn quoted Walker saying: “I organized that petition in 1947, not because I had anything against Robinson personally or against Negroes generally. I had a wholesale business in Birmingham and people told me I’d lose my business if I played ball with a black man.”

    In a telephone interview, Kahn said his conversation with Walker took place when Walker was the hitting coach for the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

    “He invited me out for a glass of wine — somewhat shocking in that Budweiser world,” Kahn said. “We talked for a while, and then he got to the point: the petition and his letter to Rickey. He called it the stupidest thing he’d ever done and if I ever had a chance to please write that he was very sorry.”

    Calling the Walker he met “a lovely, courtly man,” Kahn said that the assumption should not be made that all early opposition to Robinson was based on core discrimination and not confusion or fear.

    “Ballplayers depended on off-season work back then,” he said. “When I was covering the Dodgers, Gil Hodges sold Buicks on Flatbush Avenue. Now, if you’re Derek Jeter and you have a wholesale hardware business, you can say, ‘So what?’ ”

    Rachel Robinson’s response in the same article: “If you’re asking about forgiveness based on the context of the time, I can’t say I worry about the view of them at this time. Maybe they learned better or changed, but at the time, they had a chance to move forward from segregation and chose the opposite. They had an impact.”