Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Don Newcombe, 1926-2019

Don Newcombe has passed away today at the age of 92. In honor of the inspiration for my book, Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Traditionhere is the entire chapter devoted to Newcombe. 

Don Newcombe

The agony. The terror. The hopelessness. The tears. The pain.

At the climax of his incredible career, these were the feelings that consumed Don Newcombe.

It’s all hard to imagine, hard to reconcile with the image that remains of the burly 6-foot-4 right-hander pitching like the side of a mountain coming at you from 60 feet, 6 inches away, or with his regal presence at Dodger Stadium in the 21st century, floating into the stands during batting practice in a suit and hat past his 90th birthday, with present-day members of the team lining up to spend time.

But Newcombe’s sublime legacy has masked the heartache that came along the way.

Surely it should have been enough, more than enough, just to endure, just to survive, as an African-American pitcher in the opening decade of Major League Baseball’s integration. The attacks and the indignities, big and small, on and off the field, could have broken Newcombe, who wasn’t the first player to sever the color line like Jackie Robinson, nor the first pitcher like Don Bankhead, but who was years younger than either — a mere 23 — when he took the stage for Brooklyn in 1949.

But on top of it all, like a fusillade of fastballs to the gut, Newcombe was repeatedly drilled during his big-league career, by fans, by the media, even by managers and teammates. Some of the damage was self-inflicted, brought on by his own behavior. Much, however, was superfluous, misguided and even cruel, judging Newcombe by his shortcomings – real or imagined – no matter how numerous his successes.

The pressure and expectations crescendoed into a collapse, a breakdown of a vulnerable soul that few understood. That he eventually recovered to give the rest of his life back to the game and its players is as important as the story that preceded.

His journey, as much as that of any pitcher in Dodger history, is profound.

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MLB, the Oscars and fear

If Major League Baseball wants to feel better about the impression it has made during an offseason quite possibly to be remembered as a countdown to a major work stoppage two years hence, it need look no farther than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which seems to be on a mission to torpedo its signature event, the Oscars.

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The Grover Cleveland Dodger All-Stars: Let’s play two terms

With Russell Martin heading back to Los Angeles for a return engagement, this seemed like as good a time as any to update the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Grover Cleveland All-Star squad, honoring those, in the spirit of the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, who have served two separate terms on the Dodgers’ major-league roster.

Matt Kemp became the latest addition in 2018, and once he plays in his first game of 2019, Martin should unseat Todd Hundley as the backup catcher.

Note: There are 26 players on the main roster (starters plus reserves) because you can carry 26 men when you play an unscheduled doubleheader and of course these players, though they wouldn’t have predicted it, will play two games with a break in the middle.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a Dodger cap

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Hi ho, it’s February. Dodger pitchers and catchers and other eager beavers are scheduled to report to Camelback Ranch in eight days. The first full squad workout comes two weeks from Tuesday.

Vibe: unsettled.

Forecast: angsty.

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Jackie Robinson, 100

By Jon Weisman

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

Jackie
From beginning to end, we root for greatness.

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If MLB owners want to bring rationality to salaries, they need to start paying young players what they’re worth

This is not a statement about what will happen. This is a statement about what should be.

If major-league baseball teams, in sincere, non-colluding fashion, intend to be more rational in what they pay players past their prime — whether we’re talking about new deals for over-30 players, or the second half of 10-year contracts for 26-year-old superstars — then they need to be more fair in what they pay players in their prime.

You cannot justify a monopoly that imposes artificial limits on superstars who peak early — paying them less than 10 percent of their worth in many cases, paying them less than 1 percent of their worth in the case of a Mike Trout — and then deny them the opportunity to recoup those lost wages on the back end.

This injustice is exacerbated by the unconscionable, sub-minimum wage that nearly every ballplayer earns in the minor leagues, especially the overwhelming majority that don’t receive massive signing bonuses out of high school or college.

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Mike Mussina, 1988

 

This piece below on Mike Mussina has previously run on Dodger Thoughts

* * *

As I heard reports that the career of New York Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, who has 215 victories and a 3.59 ERA, might be fast approaching the end — though things have been looking better lately — I went looking for a feature I wrote about the righthander in 1988, while he was a freshman at Stanford and I was a junior.

I was fortunate enough to cover the Cardinal’s College World Series championship in Omaha, Nebraska for The Stanford Daily that June — during a week which found Mussina and I both taking final exams (same time, different tests) in a small Holiday Inn or Marriott conference room. But the first time I sat down with the future Oriole and Yankee was in his dorm room two months earlier.

The following article ran in the Daily on April 14, 1988. I thought it would be fun to revisit it here, a meeting between a young ballplayer and a young (and somewhat boosterish) writer …

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Celebrating 20 years of So Weird (and of dating my wife)

This won’t be a big deal to many people — certainly not in comparison to something like the recent anniversary celebration of The Sopranos — but today marks the 20th anniversary of the night that the Disney Channel show So Weird premiered.

It’s a doubly major milestone for me, because it was the biggest break in what was then my screenwriting career — I wrote four episodes and shared credit on a fifth — but the premiere party on Sunset Boulevard was also the first official date for me and my future wife.

Last summer, I talked about those experiences and more when I did an episode of The So Weird Podcast. I never posted that here, but today’s a good day for it. It’s a fun listen if a) you were a So Weird fan or b) are interested in the career experiences of the Jason Grabowski of screenwriters.

So Weird, I truly believe, deserves a more popular legacy than it has gotten. I mean, it’s certainly not The Sopranos, but it was a Disney Channel show with uncommon depth, willing to take on real life issues but in an imaginative, non-Afterschool Special way. It remains one of the greatest work experiences of my career, one that I’m forever grateful for even if it was relatively short-lived. (Fortunately, my marriage continues to be renewed season after season.) And, aside from the technology changes since the pre-Y2K era, I think it holds up. (Same.)

I even got to write an episode set largely on a ballfield, which remains near and dear to my heart. I’ll put it up against The Sandlot anyday …

Anyway, there’s no way you’ve read this far if you didn’t like me and/or the show, so if you have, join me in an anniversary toast …

Life as a Lost Angeles Rams fan

For all my devotion to the Dodgers, my sports fandom was ignited by the Rams.

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Podcast: My dad talks about life as a sports fan in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s

So, maybe Episode 4 is a little early for a very special episode of the Word to the Weisman podcast, but we’ve got one.

For the newest installment, I interviewed my father, Wally Weisman, specifically about his experiences growing up as a sports fan in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. My dad was born in Chicago in 1935 and became a huge sports fan almost immediately — then moved to Los Angeles in 1951 and had to adapt to a West Coast sports scene that was still in the early stages of development — no Dodgers, no Lakers, and a Rams team that itself was relatively new.

He shared some great stories from as early as 1940 all the way to when I was born in 1967, including a couple of interesting ones outside the world of sports. It’s obviously personal, but I think many of you will find it interesting. It’s not every day that you hear someone talk first-hand about Sid Luckman and Bronko Nagurski, or seeing the Bears play at Wrigley Field, or seeing the Globetrotters play the Minneapolis Lakers when the games really meant something. And a number of his recollections impressed me — for example, knowing that his hero, Stan Musial, absolutely destroyed Dodger pitching at Ebbets Field.

As a bonus, and in keeping with the family theme, Episode 4 debuts the new Word to the Weisman podcast theme song, “Citrus Skies,” from lamekids, with the music composed and performed by my 14-year-old son — known in these parts as Young Master Weisman. You can find lamekids’ music at several spots including YouTube, Spotify and more.

Listen below, or click here to listen on iTunes, Google Play or SpotifyI also recommend you subscribe to the podcast, so you know the moment a new episode is available — especially helpful now, since I don’t have a set schedule.

Buzzsprout

If you enjoyed this or would like to hear other interviews from me, please let me know in the comments below, or reach out to me @jonweisman on Twitter. Thanks!

My favorite Dodger Thoughts stories of 2018

Hi everyone. I didn’t have a regular posting schedule on Dodger Thoughts this year, so I thought I might recap my highlights from the year. Thanks for reading!

The Thirty Years War (January 24)

Baseball Toaster: A quick but fond remembrance (February 2)

***NEW BOOK ALERT***
Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition
 (February 5)

Bringing back the Miracle
on Ice — and on VCRs
 (February 11)

So, what am I doing? (February 14)

Lindsey Jacobellis: ‘I could be upset, but where is that going to get me?’ (February 16)

Why I stand proudly against the serial comma (February 17)

No … just, no … (February 27)

Andre Ethier waits at the gate (February 27)

Dodgers’ division dominance comes with plenty of drama (March 8)

Best kids shows of the 2000s: A semi-comprehensive list (March 13)

The real tragedy of the Dodgers’ 1951 collapse (March 22)

Hyun-Jin Ryu’s comeback unique in Dodger history (April 17)

What Seager’s lost season signifies for the 2018 Dodgers (April 30)

Presenting the heart-stopping, game-dropping, low-flying, win-defying, mental-lapsing, season-collapsing, legendary 2005 Los Angeles Dodgers (May 14)

Eying trades, the 2018 Dodgers are at once NL favorites and World Series underdogs (July 14)

The better angels of our Twitter (July 16)

Baseball has its day in the son (July 21)

After wielding attire iron at Dodgers, it’s Joe Simpson who should be embarrassed (July 28)

The worst play in baseball: The walkoff balk (August 4)

Street cleaning seems bogus, right? (August 7)

Would you have fired Tommy Lasorda before the 1981 season? (August 23)

Why baseball defies your expectations (September 3)

Clayton Kershaw and the value beyond a World Series (September 20)

Thoughts about John Smoltz, in five parts (October 24)

The Dodgers, Dave Roberts and the human element (November 7)

The Hall of Fame, the Dodgers and the Harold Baines effect (December 12)

Yasiel Puig leaves behind Dodger memories like none before him (December 21)

A writer’s happy journey sideways in 2018 (December 31)

Wishing you the best for 2019 …

A writer’s happy journey sideways in 2018

My favorite piece that I wrote this year was “Baseball has its day in the son,” the story of how my 10-year-old developed a new interest in following baseball in unlikely circumstances.

“A modest thing, but thine own,” as Vin Scully liked to say. I felt I adapted a uniquely personal moment into a story that could be meaningful to total strangers, while keeping the true feeling intact.

Aside from the happy memories of the moment itself, it was a story that energized me, making me believe that a non-fiction, non-baseball book I had been sketching, one that I alluded to 10 months ago, could actually work, not in the sense of being any kind of bestseller, but simply in the hopes of being something to someone.

As much as the Dodgers are part of my soul, they have never been the only part. Amid all the pleasure I enjoyed from the publication of Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition, I have been wanting to stretch myself as a writer. The piece about my son, along with several others like it in my history at Dodger Thoughts that revolved around life more than baseball, convinced me that I wasn’t crazy to write a sustained narrative devoted to what was right in front of me.

Less than a month later, those plans were on the shelf.

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Yasiel Puig leaves behind Dodger memories like none before him

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Was there a more entertaining Dodger than Yasiel Puig?

There are many plots and subplots to today’s trade news, some with vital implications for the future of the team, that I will leave to others, because I find all I can think about right now is the Wild Horse’s final gallop in Los Angeles.

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Interview: The true no-spin zone with knuckleballer Charlie Hough

Hey, guess what — the third installment of the Word to the Weisman podcast is already up! Following in the footsteps of Carl Erskine and Burt Hooton is my interview of Charlie Hough, the knuckleballing great who pitched professionally from 1966 to 1994.

Because there was only a couple of pages worth of space for Hough in Brothers in Arms, there are memories galore in this conversation that didn’t make it into the book, including his journey from position player to knuckleballer, comparing and contrasting Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda, and his thoughts on several Dodger pitchers from across the decades. Hough’s career in baseball as a player, coach and instructor covers roughly 50 years, so trust me, it’s great to hear from him.

Listen below, or click here to listen on iTunes. You can also listen on SpotifyI also recommend you subscribe to the podcast, so you know the moment a new episode is available — especially helpful now, since I don’t have a set schedule.

If you enjoyed this or would like to hear other interviews from me, please let me know in the comments below, or reach out to me @jonweisman on Twitter. Thanks!

Listen on Google Play Music

The Hall of Fame, the Dodgers and the Harold Baines effect

So now Fernando Valenzuela has to get in. So now Gil Hodges has to get in. So now Orel Hershiser has to get in. So now Steve Garvey has to get in. So now …

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