May 10

As Dodgers cruise in Arizona, questions about Billingsley ease


Matt Kartozian/US Presswire
Chad Billingsley zeroed in on 14 first-pitch strikes out of 23 batters faced tonight.

It was just about a wire-to-wire victory for the Dodgers tonight, who never trailed in defeating Arizona, 7-3. The amazing Andre Ethier had three more hits – part of the 17 men that reached base for Los Angeles.

In fact, it was such a good night that the most controversial moment of the game was merely this: Was a victorious Chad Billingsley taken out too soon?

Billinglsey, of course, has the millstone of not having pitched in the seventh inning of a game since July. But in his past three starts entering tonight, he had completed six innings in under 100 pitches. Even after he got hammered by Milwaukee in the first inning last week, he followed up with five shutout innings and was only at 90 pitches after six. Nevertheless, each of those past three starts Billingsley was removed from the game, either for a pinch-hitter and/or because Dodger manager Joe Torre felt he had had enough.

This, by the way, also happened during Billingsley’s maligned second half of 2009: On six occasions after the All-Star Break, Billingsley pitched six innings in under 100 pitches while allowing three earned runs or fewer. It’s not as if Billingsley hasn’t struggled since last July, but this idea that he always melts down by the sixth inning is in some ways a joke.

So anyway, Billingsley was just about cruising tonight in Arizona: five innings, 81 pitches, two hits, three walks, seven strikeouts. In the sixth, with the Dodgers leading 4-1, he allowed a walk and a double to put runners on second and third with one out. Chris Young, who accounted for the Diamondbacks’ only run with a second-inning solo homer, was up. And Torre went straight to the bullpen.

This isn’t the worst decision Torre is going to make in 2010, but it was one of the least inspiring. Billingsley, who now has a 3.47 ERA in his past four starts with 19 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings, had earned the right to try to get out of the jam with only 90 pitches under his belt.

The scenario was not unlike what Billingsley faced September 23 at Washington, during the Dodgers’ pennant drive. Billingsley had a no-hitter for 5 2/3 innings and a three-run lead with only 84 pitches thrown, then allowed a game-tying home run to Ryan Zimmerman. So yeah, it wasn’t like bad things couldn’t have happened tonight, things that would have haunted our conversations for days. But if you expect this guy to be a mainstay of your staff, you’d think you’d be a little less fearful of what could go wrong and instead more hopeful about what could go right – especially when he’s been pitching well.

In any case, if people want to get up in arms about Billingsley and the seventh inning, they’d better at least throw an angry glance in Torre’s direction.

But I will offer this as a counterpoint. If Torre made the decision to pull Billingsley in order to protect his arm for the long haul – similar to his choice to give Billingsley and other Dodger starters an extra day of rest this week by starting Ramon Ortiz on Friday – I might be able to get behind it. Torre was almost relentless in his use of Billingsley in the first half of last season, when the righthander threw at least 105 pitches in 12 consecutive games and 17 out of 19, racking up the most pitches thrown in all of baseball for the first half of ’09. It’s been my theory that Billingsley, who was only 24 at the time with one full season as a starting pitcher in the majors under his belt, simply wore down by the second half (and then had his leg injuries complicate matters). I can’t prove it, but it’s more plausible than other theories I’ve heard.

I think it’s possible that Torre, while also perhaps being a bit nervous regarding Billingsley and his reputation for suddenly allowing big innings, might also be thinking that Billingsley needs to be paced, and is actively looking for ways to limit his use in the early going. And if that’s the case, despite my being upset at Billingsley being pulled from tonight’s game, I’m all for it.  And I’m confident that if Billingsley keeps giving Torre good innings, we won’t be talking about this subject much longer.

For what it’s worth, Ramon Troncoso, who is the focus of a lot of burnout fears, has had his workload eased a bit this month. He had one outing of 27 pitches between last Wednesday and tonight’s 13-pitch ninth inning. In four appearances (none in consecutive games) over the first 10 days of May, Troncoso has thrown 71 pitches.

Apr 13

Kershaw LIII: Kershawme Opener


John Cordes/Icon SMI
Andre Ethier blasted two homers and drove in four runs in the Dodgers’ home opener a year ago today.

They were overshadowed by Orlando Hudson producing the first Dodger cycle in 39 years, but there were plenty of heroes that made last year’s Dodger opener a laugher in the best kind of way for the fans. Every Dodger starter had at least one hit, Andre Ethier homered twice, Chad Billingsley scattered four singles and a double over seven innings while striking out 11 – heck, even Will Ohman pitched a shutout inning. All against the Giants. The good times rolled on through April’s record streak of consecutive home victories to start a season.

Things are a bit cloudier a year later, with the Dodgers 3 1/2 games behind the Giants in the National League West before the home crowd has even seen a regular-season pitch. But Monday’s gray skies have cleared up, just as Albert Peterson predicted. Let’s go have some fun!

* * *

  • Joe Torre-managed teams have won 12 consecutive home openers, notes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. Stephen has more Dodger home opener details here.
  • In the comments of that thread, BHSportsGuy lists the 15 Dodger pitchers credited with a win since Clayton Kershaw’s last on July 18.
  • Via Twitter, Stephen points to a nice feature by Tom Krasovic on Dick Enberg, reborn as a Padres play-by-play announcer. Related: Rob Neyer of ESPN.com heard Enberg say that he tried to write a screenplay about legendary spy/catcher Moe Berg.
  • Memories of Kevin Malone took a close look at the Dodger defense.
  • Padres pitcher Chris Young went on the disabled list, where he’ll find Arizona catcher Miguel Montero and might soon be joined by Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Juan Castro is the Phillies’ current replacement for Rollins.
  • Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods gets some nice Huffington Post exposure in writing about the anniversary of Mark Fidrych’s death and the connection with his childhood.
  • Blue Heaven passes along a March 6, 1948 letter from Branch Rickey to Walter O’Malley (written from Spring Training at Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican Republic) calling for a trade of Eddie Stanky “even if we were getting nothing for him at all,” to create  an opening in the Brooklyn infield. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Stanky was traded within 24 hours with a player to be named later to the Boston Braves for a player to be named later, Bama Rowell, Ray Sanders and $40,000. (A month later, the Dodgers completed the trade by selling Sanders back to Boston for $60,000.)
  • Four-hit nights for Dodger minor leaguers on Monday: Xavier Paul had three singles and a homer for Albuquerque, Dee Gordon had three doubles, a single and an error for Chattanooga and Jerry Sands had two doubles and two singles for Great Lakes. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus writes that after an 0-for-6 start in AA, Gordon has six hits (including four doubles) in his past seven at-bats.
  • Isotopes reliever Brent Leach is having a Sherrill of a time in his first two games of the year.
  • Matt Hiserman, son of Times assistant sports editor Mike Hiserman and a college pitcher for the University of San Francisco, has come back inside of two months from a liner to the head that landed him in intensive care for four days, writes Eric Sondheimer of the Times.
  • The crackdown on Dodger Stadium pregame tailgating was scheduled to begin at dawn in Elysian Park, according to Zach Behrens of LAist (via L.A. Observed, which also points to a David Kipen piece talking about the origins of the Dodgers’ “LA” logo.).
  • How much of a difference does payroll make in baseball? Tom Tango writes at TMI: “If you spend at the league average (Payroll Index = 100 percent), your chance of making the playoffs is 27 percent. If you spend at double the league average (Payroll Index = 200 percent), your chances are 77 percent. And if you spend at half the league average, your chances dwindle to almost 0.”
  • Bob Timmermann wrote movingly about his grandmother, Ella Kimberling, for L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence.
  • Quick entertainment notes from my day job: 1) Definitive details on Conan O’Brien’s move to TBS, 2) DirecTV will broadcast all five seasons of “The Wire” commercial-free, 3) Three major new hits (“The Good Wife,” “Modern Family” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” premiered within 25 hours of each other.
  • Leaving you with this: Brian Akin of Dear (Tommy) John Letters is thinking of hanging up his blog if he has to hang up his spikes. While I certainly hope he signs with another team, reading his latest post will serve as a reminder that no matter what, he should keep writing.
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.”

Apr 09

Is indecision a problem in managing a team? I don’t know …


Kyle Terada/US Presswire
Joe Torre

As much as I might procrastinate, I never turn in work late. But when it comes to difficult decisions, sometimes I’ll take those past the expiration date — in other words, by the time I make the decision, it won’t matter what I’ve decided.

Simple example: There’s a sale on something I might want to buy, but by the time I decide to go for it, the sale is over. Or there’s a story I might want to write, but by the time I commit to requesting interviews, someone else has gotten there first.

I got to wondering how much major-league managers (or for that matter, general managers) share this trait. We talk a lot about in-game strategy when it comes to managing; I’ve still got a diatribe at the ready about Joe Torre’s use of Jonathan Broxton in Pittsburgh this week. But today I’m thinking out loud about how many wins might come from decisiveness, how many losses might result from the lack of it.

Should the Dodgers be more decisive by this point about whether James McDonald is a starting pitcher or a relief pitcher? Should they have been less decisive a few years back about turning Jonathan Broxton into a reliever instead of a starter?

If you’re unsure about a roster decision, do you just put it off? To paraphrase Branch Rickey, is it better to get rid of a player a month too soon than a month too late?

Blake DeWitt (a subject of discussion in this morning’s comments) –went back-and-forth between the majors and minors last year, is it time to commit to him staying in the majors in 2010?

I’m not attempting to answer these questions today. Perhaps some of these kinds of decisions should be made sooner, others later. It’s obviously important to make the right decision, but how important is when you make that decision? Is timing an underrated skill in management?

As a postscript, Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy points to one decision Torre has been putting off — how long to stay with the Dodgers — and wonders if Torre has any inclination to flee the McCourt mess for the Mets mess.

* * *

Eri Yoshida, the 18-year-old female knuckleballer from Japan, is coming to California to pitch:

(Yoshida) signed with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League. The team said she will report to spring training next month. …

Yoshida will be the first female to pitch for a pro team in the United States since Ila Borders retired more than 10 years ago, the team said. …

“We are really looking forward to having Eri as a member of the Chico Outlaws this season,” team president Mike Marshall said. …

Yes, that’s former Dodger outfielder Mike Marshall speaking.

The 5-foot, 114-pound Yoshida became Japan’s first female pro baseball player last year when she pitched for the Kobe Cruise 9 in the Kansai Independent League.

She was 0-2 in 11 appearances with a 4.03 ERA, giving up seven runs in 10 2-3 innings. …

The Outlaws open on the road on May 21 in Tijuana and return for their home opener on May 26th.

* * *

Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods can be heard in an NPR interview Saturday.

Mar 27

Big and low tea leaves

Joe Torre quotes to reporters this morning:

“Blake and Ethier are going to Las Vegas. Ellis and DeWitt will both be there too. We’ll make a statement on second base in a few days. DeWitt couldn’t have done anymore that is within his control, he’s done everything he possibly could have done and come through with high marks.

“Physically guys are ready, mentally it’s tough to remind yourself these games are important. We still have decisions to make not just at second base but the pitching staff as well.

“Haeger could go five or six today, we’re not concerned about building up his endurance. He’s done a good job and handled everything we’ve thrown at him. He can dominate a game when that thing’s working. He talked with Charlie Hough about how to pitch in certain environments. Florida should be fine, he said he enjoys pitching indoors too.

“We’ve got to figure out our starters and figure it out from there. You have Sherrill, Broxton, and Troncoso. Kuo is a question mark, he probably won’t be ready for the season. We’ve got a lot of options.  Sherrill is looking at some video for those who are wondering. They thought he was doing some mechanical stuff that he doesn’t normally do.

“I had a talk with Doug Mientkiewicz yesterday and told him it doesn’t look like he’ll make the team with Anderson around. I told him I’d love to have him around, but he’ll take a day to think about his options. He was understanding of the decision, he likes being here but he wants to be in the big leagues.”

Mar 21

Eric Stults gives doubters an opening, Eric Gagne gives them closure

Eric Stults has pitched in nine innings this month (including Taiwan), if I’m not mistaken. Eight of those innings have been good; one of them has been bad. For his first three innings today, Stults was near-perfect.

Perhaps Stults isn’t meant to be the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter in April, and perhaps that’s justified. But if that’s the decision, I hope it’s not because of a single bad fourth inning on March 21. I hope the Dodgers have better reasons than that. Because it ain’t as if the next guy is gonna be perfect …

  • Game Over is truly over: Eric Gagne’s request for his unconditional release by the Dodgers has been granted. Adios, monsieur.
  • Joe Torre called off contract extension talks between himself and the Dodgers, citing a few reasons, including the idea that they were a “distraction,” according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. I can certainly understand his hesitancy to commit to work beyond the expiration of his contract at the end of this year, but I don’t see how the uncertainty concerning the Dodgers’ post-2010 managerial situation will be any less distracting, Don Mattingly or not.
  • The amazing UCLA baseball team is now 16-0. Eric Sondheimer of the Times notes that the Bruins outscored Oral Roberts 41-7 in a three-game sweep.
  • Sorry, folks, but Dodger Stadium simply won’t be ready for the 1961 season. “You gather that Florida is sufficiently far enough away from the scene of delayed action to keep (Walter) O’Malley from blowing his top,” wrote Times sports editor Paul Zimmerman, “but just barely.”
  • My advice regarding Russell Martin: When Martin and the Dodgers agree that he is absolutely, positively recovered enough from his injury to play in a game … tack on an extra week off right then.
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.

Feb 20

It’s the first day of the rest of your Spring Training

On your mark, get set … go!

  • Eric Gagne is slimmer, regretful and realistic on the first day of Spring Training, according to Tony Jackson of ESPN.com/LA. Gagne told T.J. Simers of the Times that he used human growth hormone during “part” of his dominant stretch with the Dodgers.
  • Jackson also has continued discussion of Joe Torre’s plan to return as Dodger manager in 2011, although from what I can tell there were no new news developments on an official level. We did learn that Don Mattingly will manage the Dodgers who stay in Arizona when part of the team goes to Taiwan. Sorry, Tommy.
  • Gagne has borrowed his old No. 38 back from Ramon Troncoso, at least for the exhibition run. “He made that number for the Dodgers,” Troncoso told Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. Sorry, Lance Rautzhan.
  • Ronald Belisario had a season so nice after arriving late to Spring Training because of visa problems, he’s trying it twice.
  • Why did Casey Blake shave his beard? The same reason all men do – because of a bad duck hunt.
  • The Dodgers are marketing the June 25-27 series against the Yankees as “The Rivalry Renewed,” and Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy, who saw 10 billboards in one Sunset Blvd. mile, doesn’t approve.
  • Jordan Hershiser, the 6-foot-8! USC sophomore pitcher who was born during Dad’s record consecutive shutout innings streak, is the subject of another VSIMH post.
  • Matt Kemp’s 1,072.4% salary raise from 2009 to 2010 was second only to Tim Lincecum, notes The Associated Press.
  • On first glance, I thought this McCourt organizational flow chart at Dodger Divorce was a parody, but apparently it’s the real deal, at least in the eyes of Jamie McCourt’s legal team.
  • Russell Martin is definitely trying a bulk solution to his hitting problems, adding 25 pounds to his own backstop, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • Arte Moreno believes that the Angels’ name migration from Anaheim to Los Angeles has fulfilled his hopes for increased revenue, writes Mike DiGiovanna of The Times.