“My past is coming back to haunt,” Dad replied. “I remember Merullo quite vividly, epitome of good field/no hit. I’m beginning to sound like my mother.”
I hadn’t recalled Grandma Sue talking about too many old-timers beside Carl Hubbell, whom she had very specific memories of, but Dad corrected me when I said she telescoped on Hubbell.
“She was but was also able to talk knowledgeably about Ruth, Gehrig, McGraw and even Mathewson,” he said.
It got me thinking about who is the oldest ballplayer I could speak to having seen play. Since my earliest baseball memory is of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, I’d probably have to start there. Aaron was born in 1934, was 40 when I first recall seeing him and is 79 years old now.
I remember when Frank Robinson became a player-manager of the Cleveland Indians, but Robinson was more than a year younger than Aaron.
There is one guy who technically could unseat Aaron as my oldest ballplayer, though I didn’t see him outside of highlights on the news. That was Minnie Minoso (b. 1925), who came out of a 12-year retirement to play for the White Sox in 1976 and become a four-decade player. (He later became a five-decade player in 1980.)
As for the oldest Dodger I ever saw, I have to discount Robinson, who was with the Dodgers in 1972, before I began paying attention to them. Instead, I’ll happily settle for 1977 pinch-hitting playoff hero Vic Davalillo (b. 1936), followed by the one and only Manny Mota (b. 1938).
Patrick Soon-Shiong, who bought Magic Johnson’s minority stake in the Lakers last year and reportedly the richest man in Los Angeles, has been approached by at least one Dodger ownership group, reports Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
One ownership candidate who has the money is former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano, write Craig Karmin and Matthew Futterman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the Journal says “he has never attended a game at Dodger Stadium and is a lifelong New York Yankees fan.” That’ll go over well.
Jill Painter of the Daily News has a solid interview with Peter O’Malley. “First, I’m blessed with good health,” O’Malley said. “Second, the challenge. Thirdly, I do believe I can do it better than anybody else. Maybe that doesn’t sound right, but I don’t know how else to say it.
Dodger sale news combined with a reduction in prices has boosted Dodger season-ticket sales 30% compared to this time last year, writes Bill Shaikin of the Times. Season-ticket sales dropped from 27,000 four years ago to 17,000 this past season.
Related … Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports writes that the Phillies’ four-year, $44 million offer to reliever Ryan Madson might be so high that it has Major League Baseball concerned and might be slowing locking down the next collective bargaining agreement.
Might Rod Barajas’ ability to frame pitches be a reason he deserved a $4 million deal from the Pirates? Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk thinks it’s possible.
Former Dodger executive Derrick Hall of the Diamondbacks had successful surgery to remove his prostate in response to cancer.
Jim Breen of Fangraphs says that hard salary slotting for MLB draft picks would be bad for the game, and uses the Dodgers’ Zach Lee as a reason why.
Shawn Green, Brad Ausmus and Gabe Kapler have joined forces to try to guide Israel into qualification for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. “While it remains unclear if the recently retired players will take the field themselves, their involvement provides an immediate boost to Israeli baseball, which remains a niche sport in a country where soccer and basketball reign supreme,” writes The Associated Press.
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireManny Mota, fastest pinch-hitting genius on three wheels …
When the Dodgers open Cactus League action Saturday with split-squad games on the road against the Angels and Giants, the starting pitchers are scheduled to be Hiroki Kuroda and Tim Redding, respectively.
… it is precisely that — not getting the ball to leave the yard, but getting Loney’s bat into the relatively small hitting zone more quickly — that Loney and Dodgers hitting coach Jeff Pentland have been working on not only since the start of spring training, but basically since the end of last season. Loney flew to Phoenix from his home in Houston twice this winter for extra work with Pentland at the team’s Camelback Ranch facility.
“In order to hit the ball in that certain area, it’s really difficult,” Pentland said. “James probably isn’t as consistent as he needs to be at getting his bat to that spot. What he needs to do is put the bat head in a better position so we can add some sharpness to the ball. I never tell guys to swing for the fence. I want guys to hit the ball hard consistently. If they do that, there are going to be times where they catch it just right and it’s going to go out of the ballpark.”
Here’s Baseball America’s 2011 Top 100 Prospects list. Dodgers: Dee Gordon (26), Zach Lee (89), Rubby De La Rosa (90). In a related story, J.J. Cooper writes about how spectacular the 2011 Royals class of minor leaguers is, putting it atop a top 10 that also includes the 1991 and 2006 Dodgers.
Today’s edition of David Pinto’s 2006-10 PMR defensive ratings at Baseball Musings hones in on center field. The Dodgers have performed poorly there over the past five years. On an individual basis, Juan Pierre and Matt Kemp are neck-and-neck.
According to Jesse Wolfersberger of Fangraphs, no starting pitcher in baseball allowed fewer homers than expected in 2010 than Chad Billingsley.
Hank Aaron appears on tonight’s “Late Show with David Letterman.” Here’s a clip.
At today’s Hollywood Radio and Television Society panel, writes my Variety colleague Stuart Levine, Showtime president David Nevins said that “it’s not a God-given right” for viewers to be able to watch sports for free and called the transition of high-profile events to cable a “very natural and obvious evolution.”
Lead (or lede, if you’re on the inside) of the day goes to my former Stanford Daily colleague Eric Young, writing for the San Francisco Business Times:
The Warren Commission took 300 days to turn in its probe of the Kennedy shooting.It took the 9/11 Commission 603 days to publish a report after the Twin Towers attack.
It has been 695 days — and counting — since baseball commissioner Bud Selig appointed a three-person group to study whether the Oakland A’s can relocate in the East Bay. …
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRafael Furcal shows how close John Ely was to a good night Monday.
During one of Stanford’s unexceptional football seasons when I was there, the offense had become so frustratingly predictable that the student section began yelling out “Volpe up the middle” on first and second down before the plays were run. Almost invariably, we were right. Not surprisingly, defenses adjusted quickly. It wasn’t exactly sabotage on our part – we were just trying to encourage change. They told us during freshman orientation to question authority, after all.
Anyway, that all came unpleasantly back to mind Monday at Dodger Stadium, when Florida relentlessly went up the middle on the John Ely, knocking him out in the third inning of a 6-5 victory over the Dodgers. If you look at the game’s hit chart (click on “Field Controls” and then “Away Hits”), you’ll see that eight of the Marlins’ 10 hits went between the 385 and 395 markers, five to straightaway center. A potential inning-ending double-play ball in the first went off Ely himself, leading to the second run of the opening frame. Then in the third inning, the first four Florida batters all singled up the middle, three of them scoring to boost the Marlins’ lead to 6-1. A diving Rafael Furcal stopped one of the balls and almost turned an amazing double play that inning as well, but it was not to be. Ely’s night ended when he allowed a single to opposing pitcher Nate Robertson … to center field.
This is not to completely exonerate Ely for his performance, but I came away feeling the rookie righthander mostly did what he was supposed to do. He threw strikes (25 balls to 18 batters), walked only one and struck out three in his 2 2/3 innings. Clearly, Florida was able to hit the ball hard enough to cause problems, but a small amount of luck would have made a big difference. You’d rather have a pitcher that didn’t need luck to win, but I still feel encouraged that the Dodgers have a guy in Ely who at least will take advantage of it.
“It’s still not going to keep him from pressing,” Dodger manager Joe Torre told Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles.com. “He’s still young, and it’s still new to him. He may not be able to restore order as quickly as someone who has been down that road a time or two, but that’s how you gain your experience. Trial and error.”
More tangibly, the Dodgers had just enough good performances in this one to turn what might have been a rout into a heartbreaker. Jeff Weaver and Ronald Belisario were fairly remarkable in relief of Ely, combining for 6 1/3 innings of one-hit, one-walk shutout ball (with Weaver stranding two runners inherited from Ely). Weaver threw 50 pitches in his 3 1/3 innings, while Belisario completed his career-high three innings in only 26 pitches.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers rallied, scoring a run in the third before the running-out-of-words-to-describe-how-hot-he-is Furcal hit a two-run homer to cut the deficit to 6-4. A double by James Loney to drive in Andre Ethier (2 for 3 with a walk) in the eighth drew the Dodgers within a run. However, the team went down in order in the ninth, with Garret Anderson missing a potential leadoff double as a pinch-hitter because Florida was guarding the lines. You should’ve gone up the middle, Garret – that was the winning strategy Monday.
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Manny Mota was interviewed by David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus. Much of it is focused on Mota’s arrival in the States and the beginning of his career.
When you think back to being a kid, who were the stars that meant the most to you? They weren’t actually all stars, were they?
The heroes of my youth, the people in sports and culture who affected me, influenced me and changed me … it’s no April Fool’s joke, but no one in their right or wrong mind would have the same group. A mix of legends and larks – some off the wall, some on – all making for good stories.
Some were special for obvious reasons, some only because they arrived in my consciousness at just the right time, just when I needed someone to emulate, or celebrate, or maybe just smile about. They arrived just when I was ready to love them. And I think I do love them. I don’t think I’d be writing about them today if I didn’t love them.
Here is a tribute to some of those who, for different reasons, made a lifelong impression on me as a kid growing up in Los Angeles:
Happy Hairston: In 1972, my final year of living in the first house I knew, the Lakers were having a little bit of a winning streak. For the first time that I can recall, I played basketball with my older brother in the driveway. I was 4 going on 5; he was 8 going on 9. We would pretend to be the Lakers, and he would be Gail Goodrich and tell me that I was Happy Hairston. Even at that young age, I had the sense that I was getting the second-fiddle player – something told me that a basketball player named Happy couldn’t be that good, and might even be a dwarf. But he wasn’t bad, and most importantly, he was my guy. My first sports identity.
George Long/WireImage/Getty Images
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Kent McCord: My earliest “What do you want to be when you grow up” was a policeman. Then, I decided I wanted to be a TV star. Then I saw Adam-12, and I realized I could become both. Even at such a young age, I learned the names of the actors. Kent McCord wins in a tossup over Martin Milner. (It’s funny how times change – my 7 1/2-year-old daughter still hasn’t seen a primetime show because of all the kiddie options available to her, but I was soaking them up on my own TV before my fifth birthday.)
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Hank Aaron: On vacation at the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, when I wasn’t riding horses, avoiding cactii, wearing a bolo tie (John Wooden got it from me) and getting covered in dust, I was chalking up the earliest baseball memory that sticks with me to this day: being in front of a TV set with a bunch of other dude ranchers when Henry Louis Aaron hit his 715th home run. I don’t remember it well – it’s more of a still frame shot in my mind – and deep down, I fear my sister will read this and tell me I’ve got the details all wrong, but all I know is I’ve been seeing that scene in my memory forever. (Below is Vin Scully’s marvelous call.)
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Dr. George Fischbeck: Lots of different things work into this one. At the end of a field trip to a museum early in grade school, I came home with a book, “The World of Weather and Climate.” Around the same time, I started going beyond the comic section of the newspaper and into the weather page. And then there was night after night of watching Channel 7 Eyewitness News on our 5-inch black-and-white kitchen TV, with Jerry Dunphy, Christine Lund, Fast Eddie Alexander, Stu Nahan … and Dr. George, the Captain Kangaroo of weathermen. My brother, sister and I even wrote a song one December, “We Wish You a Merry Fischbeck.” Not only did he introduce me to barometric pressure, he also hosted Saturday night, pre-prime-time half-hour shows, including one burned into my brain that introduced me to the Hindenberg. Oh, the humidity! TV cop had been replaced in my ambitions. I was going to be a TV weatherman.
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James Harris: I just liked him at first because he was good. He was the quarterback the night I truly became a sports fan – August 9, 1975, a preseason 35-7 slaughter by the Rams over the Cowboys at the Coliseum, where for the first time I was truly captivated by the game in front of me. (And they say exhibitions don’t matter!) That I later learned that Harris was a relative pioneer as a black quarterback only enhanced my childhood passion for him. I even had a brief fascination with Grambling. I went from weather to sports, and almost never left.
Nate Fine/Getty Images
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Lawrence McCutcheon: Lawrence of Los Angeles. I still have the T-shirt I wore 35 years ago – I even had my 5-year-old son try it on … carefully … a few weeks back. One 1,000-yard season after another. The first great player that I discovered for myself. O.J. Simpson and Franco Harris were more famous, but they weren’t mine. Lawrence was my first Pedro Guerrero – an underappreciated heavy-hitter.
Martin Mills/Getty Images
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Spider Sabich: Later immortalized (if I may use the term ironically) in news and then on “Saturday Night Live” as the skier who was “accidentally shot” by Claudine Longet, Sabich was in a ski film that we watched during our beginner days at June Mountain in the mid-’70s. A race announcer said that Sabich had broken his neck. Then there was a pause. And then, the announcer said – as if he needed time to think about it – that Sabich would be unable to continue racing that day. My brother and I thought that pause was just hysterical. Poor Spider.
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Manny Mota: This one really needs no explanation. Suffice it to say, Mota might have been my first sports folk hero.
Diamond Images/Getty Images
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Bob Cousy: The sports books I read as a kid had a profound effect on me. I checked a Cousy biography out of the school library, not really knowing anything about him – honestly, I’m not sure I had even heard of him. I might have just checked it out because there was a basketball player on the cover. Reading about the hours and hours of practice he put in as a schoolboy, I got my first introduction to the idea of working at becoming a great athlete – up to that point, I think I assumed sports heroes were born great. For a brief time, I allowed myself to believe that if I worked at it, I could become great – and though that turned out not to be true, I can’t say that ethic has hurt me.
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The Superstars: It was an exhibition … but you couldn’t have told me it didn’t matter. The Superstars on ABC in the mid-’70s were huge to my brother and me. We would watch religiously and stage elaborate recreations. Just thinking of the Obstacle Course makes me sigh … I mean, this was even bigger to me than Battle of the Network Stars.
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Reggie Smith: Garvey, Lopes, Cey and Russell should maybe be on this list, but again, the underappreciated tend to win out for me. And on those 1970s Dodger teams, Smith was underappreciated. I used to think “cool” meant the Fonz and the Sweathogs. Then I realized “cool” meant Reggie Smith. The Yankees could have their Reg-gie, Reg-gie – I liked ours.
Michael Zagaris/Getty Images
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Lynn Swann: In the first Super Bowl I can remember watching live on TV, my life was forever changed by Swann’s tip-to-himself catch of a Terry Bradshaw bomb in a key moment of the Steelers’ victory over the Cowboys. No other football play in my life did I reenact more.
Slick Watts and Curly Neal: For reasons that I can’t explain, if you were a bald basketball player with incredible skills, you had me transfixed.
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Don Chaney: I couldn’t shoot when I first started in grade-school pickup games. My first summer at John Wooden Basketball Camp, when I was 9, my coach actually had me stay in the backcourt while our team was on offense. Thank goodness for the Lakers acquiring Chaney, which introduced to me the concept of the defensive specialist. Now that was something I could aspire to. Now that blocked shot I had at basketball camp on a one-on-one fast break wasn’t just a random event – it was the start of something big. Of course I was fooling myself just as much, but you can still credit most of my understanding that there was more to basketball than scoring to Don Chaney.
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Franz Klammer: “Into the bear turn!” To this day, Klammer winning the gold at Innsbruck is the greatest ski run I’ve ever seen.
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Wes Unseld: One day I decided either I needed a new favorite basketball player, or I wanted to adopt someone who wasn’t a Laker – I forget which, but either way it was just for fun. So I took the boxscores of that morning’s sports section, closed my eyes and stuck a finger down on the name Unseld. I can’t remember the point total next to it, but it probably said 2. And the next day, maybe it said 5. At first, I was disappointed that I had landed on someone who didn’t even score as much as Happy Hairston, but eventually I learned what a great defender and rebounder he was. Wes Unseld was all right in my book.
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Abraham Lincoln: Okay, it’s not exactly profound to include Lincoln, but he makes the list because his geared-for-kids biography was a primary example of the right book making someone larger than life accessible to me. I can’t tell you how many times I re-read that book. It three-dimensionalized him.
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Magic Johnson: Another of my favorite sports stories from kidhood comes from John Wooden Basketball Camp. Each session, Wooden would hold a Q&A with the campers. In the summer of ’79, shortly after the NBA draft, one of the campers asked Wooden which new first-round draft pick would be better for the Lakers: Brad Holland or Earvin Johnson. Wooden avoided the easy choice – Holland, the UCLA graduate – and went out on a limb to choose Magic. And then Magic hugged Kareem, and everyone in Los Angeles had a new best friend.
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Pedro Guerrero: I can remember when Guerrero played second base for the Dodgers. That’s how solid my Guerrero cred is. I can tell you how he batted .625 in his first season. I can explain to you the Bill James argument for why he should have been the 1981 World Series MVP – by himself – and tell you all about the glorious summer of 1985. I will stand no aspersions cast at Pedro Guerrero.
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Ken Coleman: The Red Sox announcer wrote a book, “So You Think You Want to Be a Sportscaster.” As it happens, I did think I wanted to be a sportscaster. And I read Coleman’s book inside and out, up, down and sideways, and began trying to broadcast games in my bedroom. And then I turned to writing.
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Steven Bochco: Along with Michael Kozoll, Bochco was the man behind “Hill Street Blues,” the television love of my life. Turned onto it by my brother, I watched it every Thursday, rooting for it to survive its terrible ratings. When my brother went off to college in 1981, I recorded every episode, watched them, then watched them again in late-night marathons with my brother on winter and spring vacations. But strangely, it never occurred to me as a kid to write for television as a grownup, and I think you can blame my overall obsession with sports for that. I spent more time dreaming of making a leaping catch at the wall or a turnaround three-pointer at the buzzer than writing for the greatest show of my generation.
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R.J. Reynolds: Hmm, I think I’ve said a thing or two about R.J. in the past.
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Vin Scully: Around the time I realized I was never going to be a pro athlete, there was Vinny to give my life purpose. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel that to this day, he exists as a role model, as well as the greatest broadcasting voice I’ll ever know.
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.