May 16

Episode 3: ‘Nirvana: A state of bliss obtained through the extinction of the self’

This one’s going to be all about Vin. The result of the bottom of the ninth and the game won’t matter to me at all. Just his voice …

Milwaukee should have about a half a dozen runs, but they have two. The Dodgers should have what they’ve got.

John Axford … He’s a native of Dutch heritage on his mom’s side. He played soccer in elementary school.

Fouled that right into the mask of Jonathan Lucroy – nnnh.

Tried to time that thing and that pitch was on top of him, and he just did get a little bit of it and fouled it off.

So Kemp, blown away, strikes out for a second time. And now Uribe.

Boy he busted that thing – that was 97. He let that baby fly. Oh-and-two to Juan Uribe.

Ball one. Even that’s 97. Hard to see him throw as hard as he does and understand he had Tommy John surgery.

Big breaking ball. So Uribe follows Kemp and comes up empty-handed. Up here – down there.

Runs tough to come by. Dodgers shut out when Billingsley lost that one-hitter. Dodgers scrambled for one run yesterday and come back with one run tonight. And now the Dodgers down to their last strike.

And a high-fly ball. It’s playable. Gomez is calling all the way, and that’s it. So the Dodgers struggle and huff and puff and come up empty.

Just his voice …

Apr 23

And once more around the block for Brett Tomko …

You didn’t see him mentioned in my last post because he hasn’t gotten into a game yet, but Brett Tomko is back in the majors, with Texas. Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com has the story.

Here are some other links from the past week …

Apr 09

Thirty years later, Fernando Valenzuela’s legacy is his tenacity


Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesFernando gettin’ ready …

Today is the 30th anniversary of Fernando Valenzuela’s first start in the majors, the 2-0 Opening Day shutout that launched Fernandomania.

But I’m going to take this occasion to focus on a different start, one that I think came to define Valenzuela as much as Fernandomania did, if not more: Game 3 of the 1981 World Series.

At age 20, Valenzuela sizzled through the first eight starts of his career like no one we’d ever seen, but the story of his career was one of perseverance. In fact, even on Opening Day 1981, Valenzuela allowed baserunners in five of his first six innings, including runners on second and third with one out in the sixth inning of a 1-0 game.

But nothing captured Valenzuela’s endurance like his marathon in the ’81 Series, played before what at the time was the largest recorded attendance at Dodger Stadium, a legitimate 56,236.

Thanks to indispensable friend of Dodger Thoughts Stan Opdyke, I was able to listen to the radio broadcast of the October 23, 1981 game, with play-by-play by Vin Scully and color commentary by Sparky Anderson. It was a resplendent broadcast, full of detail to match any televised high-def TV closeup, a broadcast that really brought home how Valenzuela struggled and survived.

‘The worst’
The Dodgers had lost six consecutive World Series games, all to the Yankees, when the two teams met at Dodger Stadium on this night. Valenzuela had most recently pitched 8 2/3 innings in the Dodgers’ National League Championship Series’ clincher won by Rick Monday’s ninth-inning home run, so he wasn’t new to pressure. But keep in mind also that he was throwing in the World Series on three days’ rest. (The World Series started barely 24 hours after the NLCS ended.)

Scully was on his game well before Valenzuela, who walked leadoff hitter Willie Randolph on a ball four that was way outside and, one out later, also walked Dave Winfield. Cleanup hitter Lou Piniella hit a 6-4-3 double-play grounder which Davey Lopes turned despite the onrushing presence of Winfield, who didn’t slide. “Davey Lopes had Dave Winfield coming at him like some Redwood Tree,” Scully said, later adding, “It was as if Davey was trying to throw over the Empire State Building.”

Getty ImagesRon Cey (shown here in a later Series game) put on an offensive and defensive showcase in Game 3.

The Dodgers, who had yet to lead in the Series, finally took the upper hand in the bottom of the first. Lopes doubled, and a perfectly placed Russell bunt put runners on first and third. A struggling Dusty Baker popped out and Steve Garvey struck out, but Ron Cey drove a 2-2 fastball from the game’s other rookie starting pitcher, Dave Righetti, over the left-field wall for a 3-0 lead.

“I’ve seen him hit more good high fastballs out of the park than you’d ever want to see,” said Anderson, the former Cincinnati Reds manager who had moved on to Detroit.

Los Angeles had a chance to pad the early lead when Pedro Guerrero was hit by a pitch and Rick Monday drove him to third on a hit-and-run single, but Steve Yeager popped out.

Valenzuela had his shutout for only one more pitch. Bob Watson drilled an 0-1 offering to center. “Going in on the ball is Guerrero,” Scully said, “and it goes into the seats for a home run! That’s how hard Watson hit the ball.”

The next hitter, Rick Cerone, doubled down the left-field line directly off the railing, with Yankees manager Bob Lemon arguing for a home run. Six Yankee batters into the game, the Dodger bullpen began warming up for the first time, starting with Dave Goltz. Aurelio Rodriguez flied out, but Larry Milbourne (playing for the injured Bucky Dent) singled home Cerone to cut the Dodger lead to 3-2.

After a Righetti sacrifice, Valenzuela walked Randolph again before getting out of the second inning on a comebacker.

Righetti was faring little better. He walked Valenzuela to lead off the bottom of the second inning. Lopes bunted Valenzuela to second base, prompting Scully to ask Anderson how concerned the Dodgers should be about Valenzuela being out on the bases. Anderson didn’t seem to think there was much to worry about. Valenzuela went to third base on a Russell groundout, but stayed there when Baker popped out for the second time in two innings.

To start the third, Valenzuela kindled hopes that his worst was behind him when he struck out Winfield. “That’s the first true Valenzuela screwball I’ve seen tonight,” Scully commented. But Piniella singled. Lopes briefly saved Valenzuela with an over-the-shoulder catch of a Watson blooper, but Cerone, who narrowly missed a homer in his previous at-bat, left no doubt this time, whacking a screwball over the wall in left-center to give New York a 4-3 lead.

By this time, Scully couldn’t avoid the reality.

“This might be the worst game I’ve ever seen Valenzuela pitch,” he said.

Batting for Valenzuela …
Valenzuela’s troubles continued with the next batter. Rodriguez reached second base on an infield single that Lopes threw into the photographers’ well. That compelled Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda to have Valenzuela walk Milbourne intentionally, so that he could use Righetti as an escape valve with a strikeout.

Still, to this point, Valenzuela had allowed 10 baserunners in three innings, surrendering the Dodgers’ early lead while throwing no fewer than 71 pitches. Said Scully of the crowd, “That wave of enthusiasm has suddenly crashed upon the shores.” Anderson, meanwhile, wondered whether New York fans might have misgivings of their own. “The Yankees, you know, have left five (runners), so they could have torn this thing wide open.”

Righetti remained wobbly. When Garvey singled on a 3-2 pitch to lead off the bottom of the fourth, George Frazier began warming up in the Yankee bullpen for the third time, and when Cey walked, Frazier was called in.

Lasorda did his best to make Frazier feel comfortable by asking Guerrero to bunt. He had three sacrifices in the 1981 regular season and hit into four double plays in the NLCS, but the idea of it still raises howls. Not surprisingly, Guerrero flailed twice and then struck out.

Scully: “That must kill you (as a manager).”

Anderson: “The bunt, I promise you Vinny, over the course of the whole season will cost you more runs than any play we do. Bad baserunning and bunting will kill more rallies than any other thing in the game.”

After Monday flied out, Lasorda made an even bolder move, pinch-hitting Mike Scioscia for Yeager in the third inning. Scioscia grounded to short, and the Dodgers remained behind by a run.

Because he was due to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning, Valenzuela was pitching to stay in the game at this point. He responded with his best inning so far that night, retiring the side on 12 pitches, though even then, he walked Winfield with two out and had to survive a Piniella liner to Baker to left.

Subsequently, a leadoff double in the top of the fifth inning by Watson caused Tom Niedenfuer to begin warming up, but two outs and another intentional walk to Milbourne later, Frazier was left to bat for himself by the same manager who would infamously hit for Tommy John in Game 6. Frazier struck out, stranding the Yankees’ seventh and eighth runners of the game.

APAurelio Rodriguez nearly did the Dodgers in at third base the same way as Graig Nettles once had.

In the bottom of the fifth, Garvey reached first on an infield single that Rodriguez (starting in place of an injured Graig Nettles) did well to keep from becoming a double. Cey walked on a 3-2 pitch. Once again, Guerrero was up with two on and no outs, but this time, the bunt was off. Guerrero hit a big chopper over Rodriguez’s head for an RBI double that tied the game.

Monday was walked intentionally to load the bases for Scioscia with none out. As lefty Rudy May came in to face the Dodger catcher, Reggie Smith came out on deck to hit for Valenuela, whose night appeared over after five innings and 95 pitches. Steve Howe was throwing in the Dodger bullpen.

Scully and Anderson agreed that Scioscia did the one thing to keep Valenzuela in the game. He grounded into a double play, driving in the go-ahead run while putting two outs on the board. With more baserunners or fewer outs, the announcers believed that Lasorda surely would have pulled Valenzuela, but with two out and a runner on third, the manager decided to stick with his pitcher. What’s interesting is that for all his struggles, Valenzuela’s walk to the batter’s box earned roars of delight from the crowd.

Valenzuela grounded to short, stranding the Dodgers’ sixth runner. But he headed into the sixth inning staked once more with a lead.  This time, could he hold it?

‘If that don’t help him, nothing will.’
If you can believe it, Valenzuela went back out on that hill and walked the first batter he faced – Randolph for a third time. Lasorda immediately came out to the mound to talk to Valenzuela. Niedenfuer and Howe were up in the bullpen. “No command of the breaking ball,” said Scully.

Valenzuela was truly at the end of his rope.

And then, Scioscia saved his pitcher again – this time, in a more positive fashion. Randolph broke for second on a steal, and Scioscia nailed him.

“That’s a big play right there for Fernando,” Anderson exclaimed. “If that don’t help him, nothing will.”

It did help him. Jerry Mumphrey struck out on three pitches, Winfield grounded to third, and Valenzuela completed his third consecutive 12-pitch inning. For the first time all night, he put up a zero while the Dodgers had the lead.

The seventh was positively svelte for Valenzuela, though not without a scare. He retired the side in order on 10 pitches, but not before the middle batter, Watson, belted one to the left-field wall, where Baker caught it. In a precursor to his famous line that capped Valenzuela’s no-hitter nine years later, Scully said of the hanging curve to Watson, “You could have hung your sombrero on that one.”

The Dodgers certainly weren’t doing much in the way of providing insurance runs. In the bottom of the seventh, Cey (who went 2 for 2 with two walks) singled to become the sixth Dodger to reach base leading off an inning. But Guerrero struck out, and just as Anderson had finished describing Derrel Thomas (batting for Monday) as someone “of limited ability who has made the most of it,” Thomas hit into a double play.

The top of the eighth featured what might have been the definitive defensive play in the nine years of the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey infield. Rodriguez and Milbourne started off the inning with singles, becoming the 15th and 16th batters to reach base off Valenzuela, compared with 21 outs. Bobby Murcer, a 35-year-old veteran, came up to pinch-hit. (Dodger nemesis Reggie Jackson was on the Yankee bench with an injury suffered running the bases in Game 2, and though it was believed he was healthy enough to bat, he did not.)

On the first pitch he saw, Murcer squared to bunt – and popped it in the air, foul. Cey came charging in … and made a remarkable diving catch, before doubling up Milbourne off first base. The Dodger Stadium crowd let out a deafening roar.

Valenzuela then came within a pitch of walking Randolph for a fourth time, before the future Dodger hit a difficult ground ball to Cey. It would have been an infield single – if Rodriguez had held back at second base. But he came close enough to third for Cey to tag him directly.

Scully simply marveled.

“I tell you what (Valenzuela) is doing – a high-wire act in a windstorm,” he said.

El Toro
When Scioscia singled to start the bottom of the eighth (yes, another leadoff hitter aboard), Valenzuela took his bat up to home plate. He had now been nursing a one-run lead for three innings, and had thrown 131 pitches in the game. And thanks to Scioscia’s lack of speed, Valenzuela would spend the rest of the eighth inning standing at first base after bunting into a force play.

Lopes struck out and Russell popped out, and Valenzuela quickly prepared for his final inning on the mound. Dave Stewart joined Howe in the bullpen – by this time, it seemed the only pitcher that hadn’t gotten ready to relieve for the Dodgers was Lasorda himself.

Six Yankees had reached base at least twice against Valenzuela. Mumphrey, the only position player who hadn’t reached at all, grounded to Lopes on a 2-2 pitch. Two outs to go.

Winfield, whose World Series lack of performance would become the stuff of Steinbrennerian legend, hit a high drive to right-center field. Thomas and Guerrero converged, and Guerrero made the catch.  One out to go.

Piniella came to bat. “Garvey on the line at first,” Scully said, “Cey on the line at third, and the ballgame on the line.”

Tempting fate one last time, Valenzuela fell behind in the count, 2-0. A called strike, and then a foul.

George Rose/Getty ImagesHero.

Valenzuela wound up and threw his 146th pitch of the October evening.

“Fastball – got him swinging!” Scully exclaimed.

Scully immediately recognized and conveyed what the night meant.

“This was not the best Fernando game. It was his finest.”

Valenzuela, this game showed, was in it for the long haul.  He pitched in the majors until 1997, and tales of him going back to pitch in Mexico have been recorded to this very year. El Toro was simply as tough as they come.

Mar 16

Nighttime links

The tough news out of Spring Training today was the latest with former Dodger minor league manager Luis Salazar, who had to have his eye surgically removed as he battles to recover from the line drive that hit him last week.

Mar 14

Jay Gibbons to have eye exams

The straightforward news of the day is that, as expected, Carlos Monasterios was optioned to the minors (while Wilkin De La Rosa was also reassigned to minor-league camp). But an issue that has been developing under the radar is the condition of Jay Gibbons.

Gibbons has two singles and a walk in 23 plate appearances this spring, a .221 OPS that by itself would be disappointing but also too small of a sample to really worry about. However, Dodger manager Don Mattingly told reporters today that Gibbons is having problems with depth perception and is going to miss the next couple of days of play for some extended testing on his eyes.

Mattingly said that so far, Gibbons has tried both contact lenses and glasses and neither has done the trick, so they’re trying to go back to find some contacts that will work.

With fellow left-handed hitter Tony Gwynn Jr. at least doing an imitation of a good outfielder (.387 on-base percentage, 6 for 6 on steals, quality defense), the Dodgers might well turn to a Gwynn-Marcus Thames platoon in the early going, with Gibbons serving as the fifth outfielder and as a backup first baseman — assuming his roster spot itself isn’t in jeopardy or that a trip to the disabled list doesn’t come.

It’s a tough break for Gibbons, who has had such a long journey back to the bigs.

The Dodger infield remains in flux as well, with Casey Blake now scheduled for an MRI, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports. The Dodgers remain optimistic, but we could see more lineups with Juan Uribe at third base and Jamey Carroll at second.

* * *

An article by Vin Scully — Inside the Dodgers passes it on. Read it with his voice in your head …

… One of the temptations we have today is like the song of the Lorelei, wrecking you on the rocks. So much is provided to you with statistics and information that you run the risk of looking down when a play is taking place. So you really have to be careful about that. Every game has somewhat of a story, an individual or maybe both of the pitchers. Someone is doing something that adds to the story. And then, of course, you can’t go overly dramatic in fourth game of the season with 158 games to go. But everything seems to fall into place in terms of the schedule, the game, where you are, the history of the teams. And they can get dull. Let’s face it – there are some games when nothing happens. And then it’s up to you to come up with a story or a historical aticidote to add a little spice to the telecast. …

* * *

Dodgers at Rangers, 1:05 p.m.

Mar 07

Vin Scully will stick to radio on Opening Day

Often when the Dodgers head into the national TV spotlight, such as the playoffs, the question comes up: Why not pass the microphone to Vin Scully?  Even for an inning, we know that there are tons of people across the country who would enjoy hearing him broadcast, and the world could certainly survive for three or six outs without the usual ESPN, Fox or Turner crew.

Kirby Lee/US PresswireVin Scully reacts after throwing out the first pitch before the 2009 Opening Day game against the Giants.

Anyway, I asked an ESPN spokesperson to find out if such a move was being considered for the network’s Opening Day broadcast of the Dodgers against the Giants, and the answer was no. In general, it seemed like a longshot, and in particular, I was told, ESPN is focusing on introducing its new Sunday Night Baseball broadcasting team of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine, all of whom will be handling the March 31 game.

I have no idea if Scully is even willing to lend himself to the national broadcast, but I still think it’s a good idea at some point, and hopefully sooner than later. In any case, Scully will be heard on the radio on Opening Day this year.

* * *

By the way, some of you might remember when the Dodgers were accused of standing in the way (not without justification) of ESPN moving that Opening Day game from Los Angeles to San Francisco, so that the network could broadcast the Giants’ banner-raising celebration as part of the whole show. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle now reports that Giants players had just as much of a part in saying no as the Dodgers.

… The schedule called for a four-game opening series in Los Angeles. ESPN wanted to move the first game to AT&T Park on March 31. The teams then would have flown to Los Angeles and played the final three.

“The schedule didn’t seem like everything would work out right,” Giants union representative Matt Cain said. “It’s a short flight, but that’s a lot of traveling so early.”

Feeney said the collective bargaining agreement allows for one-game series in two instances: rainout makeups and Opening Day. The Dodgers did not like the idea of moving the opener to San Francisco, logistically but also on principle.

“They really didn’t want it,” Feeney said, “but Major League Baseball could have told the Dodgers, if the players approved, it was going to happen.” …

Link via Bill Shaikin of the Times. And since we’re on the subject of the Dodgers and the Giants, here’s an on-target “Honeymooners” clip passed along by Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven.

* * *

Signing Cliff Lee gave the Phillies a great starting rotation, but it did not ward off the injury bug. Not only has Philadelphia lost Dominic Brown (who was slated to replace Jayson Werth in right field) to a broken hand, but star second baseman Chase Utley has a worrisome right knee.

Top alternatives for the Phillies at the keystone sack include ex-Dodgers Wilson Valdez and Delwyn Young, writes Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News.

Feb 04

Feel-good Friday

Health is this morning’s lead topic …

  • Injury prevention continues to offer potential as the next Moneyball (i.e., exploiting the undervalued) frontier. Will Carroll writes about the topic for SI.com (link via new SB Nation national baseball editor Rob Neyer, who has his own comment).
  • Neyer also links to Corey Hawkins’ new Baseball Injury Tool, a website that I suspect a lot of us will soon find indispensable.
  • Jim McLennan of AZ Snakepit studies the importance of starting pitching depth, noting among other things that even the most stable rotation in the National League, San Francisco’s, needed 19 starts outside of its main five pitchers.
  • Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News has completed his massive project, “The Tao of Vin Scully”: 21 sportscasters discussing what makes the Dodger legend great.
  • Before we leave the Daily News, I have to pass along Kevin Modesti’s “Where Are They Now” story on “Family Affair” boy Johnny Whitaker.
  • The ups and downs of James Loney’s professional career, dating back to draft day in 2002 (goodness), are reviewed by John Sickels at Minor League Ball.
  • David Young and I have had All-Something fever lately.  His latest at True Blue L.A.: The Los Angeles Dodgers All-Short Stuff Team.
  • Here’s a retrospective of the Dodgers’ Burt Shotton era, courtesy of Steven Booth and the Hardball Times.
  • The inimitable player/author/speaker Dirk Hayhurst offers his “Ten Commandments of Social Networking as a professional athlete” (via David Pinto’s Baseball Musings).
  • Baseball co-blogger David Newhan is lacin’ ‘em up again, signing a minor-league deal with the San Diego Padres.
  • If I could have had just half of Dee Gordon’s Thursday, I’d have been happy: “I swear I just had the best nap ever! My body is feeling it from these intense workouts!”
  • Update: Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com looks at the Dodger infield heading into the coming season.
Jan 19

Ken Levine, Ron Fairly to be part of Seattle’s post-Niehaus radio crew

As we all know, replacing a legendary broadcaster isn’t easy — and certainly won’t be for the Dodgers on that sad, hopefully far-off day after Vin Scully has called his last game for the team.

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk subscribes to the theory that maybe a rotating set of broadcasters is better in the immediate aftermath of a legend’s departure, rather than asking one person to bear the burden of walking in his microphonesteps.  So do the Seattle Mariners, who will rotate five men through their radio booth at various times in 2011, their first year without the late Dave Niehaus.

One of those men will be KABC AM 790 Dodger Talk co-host Ken Levine, who returns to Seattle, where he did play-by-play in the 1990s. Levine says that it’s not clear whether his new part of the rotation means he is bidding a complete farewell to the Dodgers, so we’ll see what happens there. But congrats nonetheless.

Former Dodger Ron Fairly is also among the radio crew. And on the TV side, former Dodger Mike Blowers returns as a color commentator.

* * *

  • Former Dodger coaches Roy Hartsfield and Carroll Barringer have passed away in recent days, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs has a dim view of any sort of platoon between Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames, mainly because of Gibbons.
  • Though it’s primarily a story involving the Padres, Geoff Young’s piece at the Hardball Times about how collusion in the 1986-87 offseason affected Tim Raines includes the tidbit that the Dodgers didn’t sign a 27-year-old Raines to a three-year deal worth a total of $4.5 million because they were “satisfied with Ken Landreaux.” Landreaux then got 37 more hits in his major-league career.
  • File this site for future reference: MLB Trade Trees.  (link via Beyond the Box Score).
  • At 9 a.m. Sunday, CBS Sports Spectacular is scheduled to air a tape-delayed broadcast of Saturday’s supercross event at Dodger Stadium.
Dec 23

The 33 theses revisited

A year ago, I posted these 33 theses on the doors of Dodger Thoughts.  Let’s see how they have held up …

Thesis Result Comment
1) Frank McCourt will prevail in the courts against Jamie McCourt and retain ownership of the Dodgers. No Failed to anticipate the Great Adverb Dispute.
2) Rather then sell the team, McCourt will take on a minority partner to improve his cash flow. TBD It might not be quite that simple.
3) The incentive for the minority partner will be the Dodgers’ ability to make a profit, with potential for greater revenue from development of the Dodger Stadium property. TBD This plus the TV contract.
4) The project to turn the area behind center field into a gathering place of restaurants, shops and a Dodger museum will begin by 2015. TBD I sure was looking ahead, wasn’t I?
5) The Dodgers will earn enough money over the coming decade to remain competitive, though they will never spend like the Yankees or Red Sox. TBD Fans are probably pessimistic about this one, but we’ll see.
6) The Dodgers will sign a veteran with an unexciting name to take the No. 4 spot in the 2010 starting rotation, completing their offseason in much the same manner they would have even if the McCourts weren’t divorcing. Yes Hello, Vicente Padilla.
7) Observers will decry the state of Dodger starting pitching entering the season, even though it will probably match up well with every team in the National League West except San Francisco. (Arizona’s No. 4 starter: Ian Kennedy?) No San Diego ruined this prediction for me.
8) The focus will be on what the Dodgers didn’t do, ignoring how thin the pitching market was and how little their division rivals have improved themselves. Yes This was a safe one.
9) Spring training will come as a relief, as the conversation returns to baseball and, despite all that has happened, the sight of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw roaming the field becomes too intoxicating to resist. Yes Spring Training was relatively enjoyable this year.
10) Exhibition performances will excessively color people’s views of the coming season, even though Val Pascucci’s .429 batting average in March 2009 failed to carry over into the regular season. Yes This at least applied to the Dodgers themselves, vis a vis Les Ortizables.
11) Sportswriters will blast the Dodgers for not acquiring a big name, then criticize every move Manny Ramirez makes while knocking the Dodgers for all the money spilling out to Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre and Jason Schmidt. Kind of Not all sportswriters, but certainly some I can think of.
12) People will be intrigued with how Russell Martin explains that this will be the season everything will be OK for him. No “Intrigued” seems strong in retrospect, plus Martin got hurt in March.
13) Chad Billingsley will gamely turn the other cheek as reporters and fans insultingly question his manhood. Then he’ll go out and throw bullets. Yes He wasn’t red-hot to start the season, but ultimately this came true.
14) The Dodgers will not get off to as hot a start in 2010 as they did in 2009, when they were 10-3 and 21-8. Yes To say the least …
15) The Dodger community will be on edge, as it becomes clear to all that 2010, like most years, will be a season-long challenge. Yes To say the least …
16) Jokes about portable concession stands will grow old fast, yet continue to be told. No This died down more quickly than I expected.
17) Lines at Dodger Stadium food stands will remain long anyway. Yes No change here.
18) Nevertheless, the Dodgers will remain in the thick of the National League West race into May, when the McCourt case launches in the courts. Yes/no Dodgers had the best record in the NL at one point, but the trial was delayed.
19) The free-for-all between the McCourts’ lawyers will be annoying beyond belief. Yes All those fun revelations and accusations …
20) Kershaw, Kemp or Andre Ethier will suffer a setback, while Martin, James Loney or Rafael Furcal will experience a rebirth. Yes Setback for Kemp, rebirth for Furcal (until he got hurt, but I’m counting it).
21) Ramirez will have his ups and downs but will regain some of the fans he lost in the final months of 2009. No I could probably prove this true on a technicality, but I won’t try to push this one through.
22) There won’t be as much Dodger walk-off magic in 2010 as there was in 2009. Yes There was some moments early on, but they didn’t carry on.
23) Forced to rely on the farm system for pitching depth, the Dodgers will benefit from some precocious performances. Yes John Ely, Carlos Monasterios and Kenley Jansen, among others, did some good for the team.
24) “Don’t Stop Believin’” will be gone, but “God Bless America” will return. No/yes Oh well.
25) With the dust from the courtroom settled, the Dodgers will make a trading deadline deal. No/yes Deals came while dust was still swirling.
26) The biggest moment of the year will be when Vin Scully announces his plans for 2011. Yes You can argue with me, but I’m counting this one.
27) With almost nowhere to go but down after two National League Championship Series appearances, 2010 will almost surely end as a disappointment for the Dodgers. Yes This had a chance to be wrong in summertime, but in the end it was right.
28) The Phillies will not win the NL title, because it looks too much like they should. Yes That’s the way it goes …
29) The Dodgers will have more reason to be nervous after the 2010 season, when the team has to replace Ramirez and Hiroki Kuroda while giving even bigger pay raises to the homegrown talent — even those who had subpar years. Yes Even though Kuroda and others are back, if we’re talking about how most people felt at the end of the 2010 season, there was more nervousness and pessimism than 2009.
30) Minor league pitchers Aaron Miller, Chris Withrow and John Ely will come to the rescue, sooner or later, either by becoming major-league ready or major-league trading chips. No Given the way Ely ended the season, it’s hard to tally this one in the Yes column.
31) The Dodgers will have enough talent to stay competitive, but not enough to make them prohibitive favorites. Yes I’ll probably get some heckles on this one, but if the 2010 Giants could win, I’m not ruling out the 2011 Dodgers.
32) The Dodgers will continue to be good enough to keep all but the most reactionary fans hooked, yet weak enough to keep all but the most tolerant fans unsatisfied. Yes Accurate, no?
33) Fans will start to pay attention to the ticking clock that is the end of the 2012 season, when Martin, Loney, Kemp, Ethier and Billingsley are scheduled to become eligible for free agency. No I’m not sure enough people are worried about this.
Total 19-7-7 What does this mean? I have no idea.
Dec 22

There are bacon ads, and then there are bacon ads

I’m now listening to the Friday, October 3, 1980 Dodgers-Astros game, thanks (again) to Stan from Tacoma. After the first inning came this epic from Vin Scully:

So what’s new? Not bacon. Bacon is almost as ancient as time itself. It was mentioned by Aesop in the sixth century B.C. It was a staple in medieval Europe. And in Norman England, bacon was so universally accepted, it was sometimes used as money. And monastery monks awarded bacon to husbands for not quarreling with their wives. Indeed, bacon is no Johnny-come-lately. Through the years, it has survived the competition of thousands of new products, and the bacon bin continues to be a popular spot in our modern supermarkets. One reason is the quick energy it survives, and another its matchless flavor. Which brings up the most flavorsome bacon of all: Farmer John. For this is a bacon with a sweet, savory goodness from hush-hush secrets in the curing, plus a much heartier Western flavor from Farmer John’s old-time Western way of doing the smoking. No other bacon like it — if you haven’t tried it, why delay any longer? The next time you shop, take home the bacon from Farmer John.

* * *

I continue to be impressed with Jerry Doggett’s work in this climactic series of 1980. With Scully on TV most of the time, much of the radio duties fell to Doggett, and he is rather superb. He is mixing in great background details but never letting them get in the way of keeping you abreast of the action, and his enthusiasm hits just the right note. Here’s a sample:

Here’s a breaking ball, ball two, two and nothing. Two and oh the count, and Cabell backs out of the batter’s box. Cabell lives in Anaheim Hills in the offseason. Some of the Dodgers live in Anaheim Hills: Jerry Reuss, Rick Monday. Reuss lives in the hills, and Monday is in Yorba Linda. The 2-0 pitch to Cabell: high for a ball, ball three. Enos needed a ride to the ballpark, and so he called up Reuss, says, “How ’bout a lift?” So Reuss, Monday and Cabell came to the ballpark together. But out there now, they don’t see eye to eye. (laughing) I wonder if they’re going to ride him home. If the Astros win, I don’t think the Dodgers are gonna want to wait that long for him. If they lose, Enos is welcome to the lift. There’s a foul, back out of play — he’s swinging on three-and-oh.

Doggett is kind of a forgotten figure in Dodger broadcasting these days, and I don’t recall him being in such good form in his final games, but he really was strong here and deserves to be remembered fondly.

In the game itself, the Dodgers got off to a rough start. Davey Lopes threw away a grounder from Astros leadoff hitter Joe Morgan in the first inning, leading to Don Sutton (the National League’s ERA leader) having to pitch out of a bases-loaded jam. Then after the Dodgers went down in order in the bottom of the first, Houston pitcher Ken Forsch delivered an RBI single to put the Astros up, 1-0. Doggett immediately recalled that Forsch and Nolan Ryan had hurt the Dodgers with the bat earlier in the year: Forsch had been 3 for 9 with three RBI against Los Angeles going into the at-bat, and Ryan hit a three-run homer on April 12, his first game at the plate in eight years.

* * *

Some pitchers get multiple looks, and some don’t. From May 15-July 24, 2009, Brent Leach had a 3.38 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. Then his next five batters reached base and four scored, and he hasn’t seen the majors since. After a dalliance with starting pitching in the minors last season, Leach has been officially designated for assignment by the Dodgers, with news reports saying that he will play in Japan next season.

Leach’s departure clears a spot on the 40-man roster for Matt Guerrier. That leaves Hong-Chih Kuo and Scott Elbert as the only lefty relievers with major-league experience currently on the 40-man. Of course, we’ll start to see more non-roster invitees on minor-league contracts in the coming weeks.

* * *

Is it true that the Minnesota Vikings’ legendary Jim Marshall survived being trapped during a blizzard by burning his money? According to Brian Cronin at the Fabulous Forum, yes.

* * *

Happy holidays from Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers!

Dec 19

October 4, 1980: Saturday showdown at the Stadium


Getty ImagesJerry Reuss pitched 10 complete games in 29 starts for the Dodgers in 1980.

When the Dodgers were attempting to rally from three games behind Houston with three games to play on the final weekend of the 1980 regular season, I was on my school’s eighth-grade retreat at world-famous Camp Ta Ta Pochon.

I listened to the final innings of the Friday comeback victory with my transistor radio and an earphone while we were watching the rather odd youth movie, “Bless the Beasts and the Children.” And I listened to the final innings of Sunday’s dramatic triumph surrounded by classmates on the bus ride home.

But I had never heard a moment of the Saturday game until this week, when I was granted the privilege thanks to a cassette package mailed to me by longtime Dodger Thoughts friend and commenter Stan from Tacoma.  The Saturday game is the least discussed of the four games the Dodgers played against Houston to end the season, but it was a minor gem in its own right – an utterly taut affair from start to finish.

Jerry Reuss started for the Dodgers against future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan of the Astros. A high-profile free-agent signing, Ryan was in his first season in the NL since being traded from the Mets to Angels in December 1971. At age 33, Ryan had gotten his 3,000th career strikeout midway through 1980. His ERA in 1980 was a stylish 3.35, though given the advantages of pitching in the Astrodome, this was arguably a down year for the Express.

Reuss had come to the Dodgers before the 1979 season and been something of a disappointment, though his 7-14 record belied his 3.54 ERA. In any case, he began the 1980 season in the bullpen, before emerging as one of the team’s top starters: a 2.51 ERA and an National League-leading six shutouts, including his June 27 no-hitter at San Francisco.

Even with those credentials, Reuss was under the microscope of Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. Just two batters into the game, after Reuss walked Houston leadoff hitter Joe Morgan on a 3-2 pitch and then gave up a single to Enos Cabell, Dodger radio announcer Jerry Doggett saw that Rick Sutcliffe – banished to relief after winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1979 – had gotten up in the bullpen.

But Reuss bounced back. He got Dodger nemesis Jose Cruz to pop to shortstop Derrel Thomas, and then Cesar Cedeno hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Sutcliffe sat down and never rose again, as Reuss went on to retire nine batters in a row.

The Dodgers struck first in the bottom of the second inning. Steve Garvey, who entered the game needing four hits for 200 on the season, notched a single on a blooper that Morgan normally would have caught. (Both second basemen were ailing: Morgan had strained his knee in Friday’s game, while Davey Lopes had a severely strained neck. Neither finished the Friday or Saturday games.)  One out later, Pedro Guerrero, the Dodgers’ center fielder, singled Garvey to second base.  Ryan struck out Joe Ferguson, but facing Thomas, the Dodger utilityman who had become the team’s starting shortstop in place of an injured Bill Russell, dropped a single the opposite way into left field to score Garvey for a 1-0 Dodger lead.

The Dodgers caught a break to score their first run; the Astros caught one to score theirs. With one out in the top of the fourth, Cruz hit one to center that Guerrero lost in the smoggy sky (Doggett and Vin Scully both commented on how ugly the air was this day). Cruz stole second, went to third on a Cedeno grounder and then scored on a single to center by Art Howe to tie the game.

Getty Images
With three hits against Nolan Ryan, Steve Garvey was on a .412/.452/.647 hot streak over his past 17 games.

The next run of the game was no gift.  Garvey started the bottom of the fourth with a no-doubter blast, his 26th homer of the season – giving him, as Scully noted, at least one home run against every NL team this season.  Garvey would later single in the sixth inning for his 199th hit of the season and ninth in 18 at-bats against Ryan. “If you can go 9 for 18 against a million-dollar pitcher, that’s like owning a condominium, isn’t it?” said an admiring Scully. “Garvey is undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters to wear a Dodger uniform,” added Doggett when he returned to the mic for the final three innings. “Undoubtedly.”

The score remained 2-1 entering the seventh inning, thanks in large part to huge defensive plays by Los Angeles. In the fifth, the aching Lopes managed to snag a line drive off Morgan’s bat and turn it into an inning-ending double play. And with one on and none out in the sixth, Thomas took a carom off Reuss’ glove and converted it into a 1-6-3 twin killing.  Then Guerrero, still struggling with the October sky, struggled with a Cedeno fly but managed to catch up to it to end the top of the sixth.

Like Garvey, Ryan was also on a quest for 200 – in fact, both of them entered the seventh inning at 199. In Ryan’s case, it was strikeouts, and he got his 200th on the second-to-last batter he faced.  The victim was Reuss, who went down after failing to sacrifice Joe Ferguson to second base.

Both teams went down in order in the eighth, Reuss easily navigating pinch-hitters Terry Puhl (the Astros’ leading home-run hitter in 1980 with the grand total of 13) and Jeffrey Leonard, while reliever Frank LaCorte held off Garvey’s final Saturday bid for his 200th hit. Reuss’ strikeout of Puhl was his seventh of the game, a season high.

That brought us to the ninth, with the crowd audibly willing the Dodgers to hold on.  By this time, the Dodgers had made three defensive replacements: Jack Perconte for Lopes at second base, Rudy Law for Dusty Baker (also hurting) in left field and Mickey Hatcher for Rick Monday in right field.  Those replacements proved meaningful both for what they didn’t and didn’t do.

First, Perconte made a nice play on a Cabell grounder to get the first out.

Then, Guerrero, again getting a late read, put the crowd in suspense before making yet another last-instant catch. The Dodgers were one out away from victory, but under 24 hours before, the same had been true of the Astros.

Up came Cedeno, who had been having a most unlucky day. This time, the luck turned – he hit a blooper that Perconte couldn’t reach, keeping the Astros alive. Art Howe then hit another blooper to center that Guerrero, playing deep to prevent an extra-base hit, had no chance at. Suddenly, the tying run was at third base for Houston.

With soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Steve Howe warming up in the bullpen, Dodger pitching coach Red Adams visited Reuss at the mound.  But there was no hook.  According to Reuss on the postgame show, Adams simply told him, “Just relax.”

Doggett, I should say at this point, was about the best I have ever heard him – totally on his game in describing the game and setting the scene.  “What excitement – what a series!” he said over the roaring crowd. The batter was Gary Woods, who had gotten the start over Puhl against the left-handed Reuss but had struck out three times. Finally making contact, he hit one to Perconte, in the thick of the fray in this, only his 14th major-league game. Perconte tossed to Garvey, and the Dodgers had stayed alive for one more day.

Reuss thanked the fans on the postgame show with Ross Porter. “I’ve heard it in other places, but not this many, this loud,” Reuss said. Porter asked Reuss about the fact that he was starting on three days’ rest. “I never gave it a thought until someone said something about it, and then I said, ‘What the heck.’ ”

Garvey also thanked the fans, and said how much he enjoyed the pressure situations. And then, as Porter thanked him for the interview, Garvey said, “Hi to Cyndy and the girls.”

Those fans listening on the radio who were geared up for hearing Scully do Sunday’s big game were in for a surprise. Here are his closing words for the day:

“Well, friends, it has been a magnificent day, a great weekend and a most exciting season, and of course  tomorrow the Dodgers and the Astros this time put it all on the line. All of the pressure had been on the Dodgers, but now it will be equally shared amongst the Astros, because they suddenly find themselves in a must-win situation. It’s Burt Hooton and Vern Ruhle. And I have a confession to make – I won’t be here, unfortunately, as my schedule has me doing a football game down in Anaheim. And my mind, and my eyes and all of my senses will be in Anaheim, but boy, will my heart ever be here at Dodger Stadium. Hope you’ll be here. Hope you’ll find out about tomorrow, and then if it be so, why it’ll be my pleasure to be talking to you again on Monday. So we’ll see. But right now, that’ll do it for today, from Dodger Stadium, as the Dodgers nip the Astros, 2-1.

The Rams would beat the 49ers, 48-26, and then we’d see Vin on Monday. I’d have that transistor radio with me at school.

Oct 12

Arizona Fall League: Opening Day

The Arizona Fall League throws out its first pitch of 2010 today, and Dodger fans might pay it a little more mind than usual. Not only is this Don Mattingly’s first official gig at the helm of a baseball team, the Phoenix Desert Dogs, but there are a couple of key players to watch:

1) The Dodgers’ minor-league hitter of the year, Jerry Sands, will be tested out at third base.

2) The Dodgers’ minor-league mystery of the year, Scott Elbert, will be tested out on the mound.

Other organization members on the Desert Dogs of Phoenix (or is it the Dogs of Phoenix Desert) are Javy Guerra, Jon Link, Justin Miller the Younger, Matt Wallach, Ivan DeJesus, Jr. and Trayvon Robinson. A few of these guys will be competing for major-league jobs in 2011.

Phoenix has its first game against Mesa at 12:35 p.m.

* * *

  • Logan White will interview for the Mets’ vacant general manager slot, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Jackson adds the following about surprising rumors in recent days that the Dodgers were pushing White out the door.

    … As recently as 10 days ago, rumors surfaced that White, whose current contract is set to expire at the end of this month, was on the verge of being fired by the Dodgers. White told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Oct. 1 that he was aware of those rumors but hadn’t been told anything official and that he planned to continue working as usual until he was told not to.

    “I’m still working,” White said at the time. “I haven’t been told anything [different]. There is a lot of innuendo and rumor out there, and I hate to even address some of those because they are so ridiculous.”

    Those rumors appear to have been the result of confusing White with another Southern California amateur-scouting chief. The Los Angeles Angels had fired their scouting director, Eddie Bane, along with three of his scouts, on Sept. 29. Multiple sources said Monday the Dodgers have every intention of re-signing White and keeping him around in his present role if he isn’t hired as a GM by another club. …

  • Vin Scully Is My Homeboy passes along these interviews by reporter Maria Serrao with Scully himself.
  • Friend of the Dodger Thoughts family Daniel Paul has passed along this link to some Dodger caps his son Harry designed. Click the link and rate the cap.
Sep 16

Report: O’Malley says McCourt ownership needs to sell

Former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley, who has publicly been almost completely silent on the current ownership issues with the team, told Bill Shaikin of the Times that he believes the team should have new ownership.

He said he is not interested in returning to ownership but would be willing to smooth the transition for potential new owners on what he called a “short-term” basis.

“For many years, the Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious institutions in our city and throughout professional sports,” O’Malley said. “Sadly, that is not the case today.”

McCourt responded through a statement from his spokesman, Steve Sugerman.

“Frank has made it abundantly clear he is the long-term owner of the Dodgers,” Sugerman said, “and he looks forward to the day when his four boys own and operate the team.” …

* * *

Dodger coach Bob Schaefer had some weirdly noteworthy comments today in an interview with Jim Bowden on XM radio. Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has details.

One of them was a no-comment on Matt Kemp that was followed by a comment that indicates there is no love lost there. Another reportedly had Schaefer saying that Don Mattingly had turned down “managerial positions” to stay in Los Angeles, but I’m wondering if Schaefer really meant or said “managerial interviews.”

Also, it’s one thing for me to say the Dodgers have issues for next season, but it’s a bit unusual for a coach to say the team “will have to pull a rabbit out of the hat” to contend. Presumably, Schaefer has already plotted his own exit from the organization.

Schaefer said he doesn’t think Joe Torre will manage the Dodgers next season, but that he will stay in the game in some capacity. However, Torre told reporters that

* * *

  • David Brown has a barrel-of-fun interview with Vin Scully at Yahoo! Sports’ Big League Stew.
  • Russ Mitchell is the only Dodger since 1920 to start a game at first, third and the outfield in his first season, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • One of my earliest memories as a baseball fan is reading in Baseball Digest about Rennie Stennett’s 1975 7-for-7 game, in which Pittsburgh shut out Chicago, 22-0. Chris Jaffe recalls the event in The Hardball Times.
  • Howard “Howie” Levine, the longtime Grant High School boys basketball coach whom I first met more than 20 years ago as a Daily News sportswriter, has worked as a Dodger Stadium usher for 38 years. On Tuesday, the night that the Dodgers honor their employees of 25 years or more, Levine will sing the National Anthem.
Aug 24

42 years young, 82 years young

The thing I’ve realized, and this relates to Vin Scully, is that getting older doesn’t necessarily make you feel old. It just makes you have less time left to feel young as young as you always have.

And yes, in some ways I feel old, as I’m sure Scully does. But you know, in some ways I felt old when I was 5. And meanwhile, I continue to marvel at how many ways I feel like a pup.

Vin Scully is a grownup with a lot of kid in him. That 8-year-old that fell in love with sportscasting while camped out underneath his family’s big radio in the 1930s is still with us, and for that I’m thankful.

* * *

Dusty Baker might be holding off on signing his contract extension as manager of the Reds in order to keep himself alive as a candidate to replace Joe Torre with the Dodgers, write The Associated Press and Vincent Bonsignore of the Daily News.

The possibility surprises me because of the acrimonious way Baker left the Dodgers nearly three decades ago, but I guess, after all, that was three decades ago. In fact, Baker told Bonsignore he was interested in the job before Torre got hired, although of course the transition from Grady Little to Torre was practically a simultaneous move.

Baker, who has a reputation for riding his pitchers hard, being in charge of Clayton Kershaw or Zach Lee would inspire some interesting amounts of panic.

* * *

Did you know about Hong-Chih Kuo’s workout regimen? From Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

His daily therapy regimen is legendary among any who’ve witnessed it, starting at 12:30 p.m. for a 7:10 night game.

“I wish you guys could see what he puts himself through,” said (Dodgers trainer Stan) Conte. “He’s in constant motion until 11 at night — ice, heat, ultrasound, message, stretch, flex, leg work, working all the time just to pitch an inning.”

* * *

Courtesy of Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers
Andre Ethier stretches during the Bark in the Park promotion prior to Saturday’s Dodger game.
  • SI.com has a new photo montage of Scully up.
  • Talk of Andre Ethier winning the National League Triple Crown has long since faded, but Joey Votto and Albert Pujols still have very good chances, writes Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts. It’s been 73 years since Joe Medwick won the last NL Triple Crown.
  • Bob Timmermann discusses “The L.A. Times vs. Matt Kemp” at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence.
  • Two interesting posts on the final games of Hall of Fame managers, here and here, come from The Platoon Advantage (via Hardball Talk).
  • Big ol’ David Ortiz tripled for the 11th consecutive season Sunday, writes Drew Silva of Hardball Talk. Ortiz is one of three players in the AL to do this, according to Brian McPherson of the Providence Journal.
  • Former Dodger Wilson Betemit has revived his career with Kansas City, to the tune of a .984 OPS, though his future remains uncertain, writes Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.
  • Maligned All-Star Omar Infante has also been getting the last laugh with a hot streak, writes Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk.
  • Canines cavorting at Dodger Stadium seems to have gone well, according to Chris Erskine of the Times. Hard to deny after seeing the photo above.