The Giants “play as a unit, as a team, grinding out victories,” ESPN announced Dan Shulman said at the top of tonight’s broadcast of the Giants and the Dodgers, confirming my suspicions that the narrative of the nationally televised game would be the story of the bloated, underachieving team from Los Angeles against those gritty, overachieving underdogs from San Francisco.
And so it went throughout the night, despite the fact that:
• With a $141 million payroll and the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, the Giants are anything but a low-paid team of nobodies.
• The Dodgers, despite a payroll over $200 million, started an infield this fine evening of Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Dee Gordon and Luis Cruz.
I’m not looking to denigrate San Francisco. Quite the opposite. Whatever your emotions are, how can you not have respect for what the Giants have achieved in earning two World Series titles since 2010 and for their positive start to 2013?
But to say the Giants are willing their way to victory is not only the stuff of fantasy, it’s insulting to the quality of their players. They aren’t winning with smoke and mirrors. There’s actually talent there.
This is the trap everyone falls into: Only winners grind. It’s silly, and it’s obviously phony on the surface.
On Friday and Saturday, the Dodgers were tied with the Giants when the final batter of each game came up. Those last batters happened to play for San Francisco, and they each happened to hit home runs, and you have to tip your hat to them. The homers gave the Giants 100 percent of the nights’ victories. But did they give them 100 percent of the available grit? Did one swing of the bat not only vanquish the Dodgers’ chance of winning, but also eradicate everything positive one could say about their effort?
There’s no questioning the Giants’ perseverance right now, not after three straight one-run victories against their top rivals, two involving comebacks. But this was also a weekend in which the Dodgers put 18 runners on base Friday, not by accident or some drunken shenanigans, and made two significant comebacks the next two nights, even if they ultimately didn’t lead to triumph.
Saturday, the Dodgers rallied from five runs down to take the lead, then retook the lead again after they were tied. Tonight, down 4-0 in the eighth – and with the flight home practically taxiing on the runway – the Dodgers pushed three runs across, two of them driven in by the nearly immobile Adrian Gonzalez, before the tying and go-ahead runs were left on base when another gimpy player, Jerry Hairston Jr., grounded out.
San Francisco held on to win, 4-3, completing a three-game sweep and pushing the Dodgers farther behind in the NL West. No question, the Dodgers are in lousy shape right now (with their roster manipulation doing them few favors and managerial tactics drawing questions on a nightly basis). But turning that lousy shape into a team-wide personality flaw makes no sense.
Grit is not a zero-sum game.
Of course, why we’re talking about grit to this extent has me a bit confused – the stuff never got those of us without talent anywhere near the majors – but even if you believe wholeheartedly in the power of grit to win ballgames, there’s no reason to believe that grit is a winner-take-all characteristic. We all want to win, but failing is not the same as not trying.
I mean, we learn this in preschool, folks. It’s one of the building blocks of our society. Why do we forget it when the preschoolers turn pro?
Repeated from the end of the last post: I was so frustrated by Friday night’s loss, I went on a sabbatical from the Dodgers. I didn’t watch Saturday night’s game and, after reading about it this morning, was glad that I took that option. I didn’t watch tonight’s game either and was planning to learn about it tomorrow morning until my sister just told me on the phone that the Dodgers had lost. For those of you, like me, who sometimes take the outcome of the Dodgers’ games too seriously, I suggest trying a respite. I will continue with mine this week. My belief that Mattingly must go, and I know that many disagree with me, was cemented by this story in Sunday’s L.A. Times: SAN FRANCISCO – There was no anger or frustration in the voice of Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly. His team had just lost again –- on a walkoff hit, against the rival San Francisco Giants, for the second consecutive night –- and Mattingly sounded surprisingly chirpy. “In a sense, it’s encouraging, as much as you can be encouraged from a loss,” Mattingly said. “It’s as good as you can feel about a loss.”
I can’t say that I disagree with Mattingly.
It was kind of a weird moment – it was broadcast on the postgame show – but what he said was accurate, and most of all, he just seemed depressed, which I could relate to.
Yeah, that quotation looks foolish in print, but if you’d heard it live as I did (and apparently as Jon did) you knew how he said it. He was angry about the losses but encouraged about the seven-run comeback in last night’s game.
Mattingly is only a small part of the problem. The two major problems right now are (1) injuries and (2) the front office’s refusal to put injured veterans on the DL and call up minor leaguers who can hit to replace them.
Mattingly didn’t throw those two walk-off pitches, or give himself his current bench. Fire me too, because that Saturday comeback also encouraged me.
If they win it’s because they outspent the gritty Giants. If they lose it’s because they could buy talent but not heart. That’s the way the story is going to get told. We will all have to laugh about it (ideally after a string of WS victories), the same way I force myself to smile when I see yet another New York Times article about LA which includes the word “shallow.” Jon, when you write about baseball, you always tell a story that ignores the cliches. You make this sport and the people who play and follow it interesting, personal, and deeply human. Most others just fall back on cliche, and most of the time we are happy to fall with them. We’re comfortable with it. Thank goodness you are there to make us less comfortable.
“If they win it’s because they outspent the gritty Giants. If they lose it’s because they could buy talent but not heart.”
This is it exactly. It’s hard not to find that irritating. There’s no winning.
I agree — but in all honesty, that’s how I’ve felt about the Yankees in the past.
Jeffrey Thomas III
Well said. Reading reactions elsewhere, especially from SF routing acquaintances, just makes me more angry. Coming here to read Jon’s reactions always seems to calm me down, and put things in perspective.
Jon, wonderful summary of a lousy weekend for Dodger fans in SF. People like Bruce Jenkins a longtime SF Chronicle writer, but someone who wrote for the Santa Monica Evening Outlook and knew Jim Murrary, may come up with some line like, “all that cold hard cash spent by the Dodgers have given them a cold hearted shallow team!……It wil get better, but unless I hear about a trade that got shot down at the last moment, the upper management answer to the on field injuries was horrible.
It’s a lazy narrative that not only ignores facts like the Saturday comeback, or how some of these Dodgers got hurt, but that goes back in some ways to Curt Schilling and Joe Morgan ripping into Manny. It’s a corporate storyline. But it’s also not going to change until LA wins some of these, preferably in the fall. Then John Kruk will fall all over himself.
I’ll bet he already falls all over himself. Somehow he doesn’t strike me as “nifty on his feet…”
Just a small point, 16 is only 23% more than 13, not 33%
But 4 is 33% more than 3.
so true Jon. pleased w/my decision to stop watching TV broadcast not because of game itself but ESPN analysis made me lose appetite. I expect this kind of nonsensical blather from the lunkheaded Kruk but Orel and Dan seemed to have caught the fever. I made cruder analogies last night about their love fest but will spare you. ;)
Orel did make a reference to “us”, which I think was to the Dodgers. He is still one of us :)
Hah. I missed that! I generally like Orel as announcer, though there are times he’s done that “I have to overcompensate for worries about biased by being unduly hard on my former team” thing, a few times. Kruk in the booth has a terrible affect on everyone.
This is a problem that has bothered me since the new owners took over and started spending. To some extent, the frustrating national media storyline is correct. I’ve disrespected the Yankees for years because, as I’ve told my Yankee fan friends, when you outspend everyone else by a huge margin you SHOULD win and you should be embarrassed when you lose. So now we’re in that position and as a Dodger fan, I’m not pleased. There’s no winning from this position. I don’t know that there’s any going back from a ridiculous payroll to a merely very high payroll, but I wish we could.
“I don’t know that there’s any going back from a ridiculous payroll to a merely very high payroll, but I wish we could.” — Stan Kasten has said that is the very thing the Dodgers aim to do, actually. The new ownership goal is clearly not to have this bloated a payroll for very long, and I think the hope, the plan, is to build more through international scouting and drafting than through nothing but FA $. It will still be a combination of all things but I expect within 2 years, even with the Kershaw extension, that they will be moving costs down to merely very expensive, rather than ludicrous speed. ;)
Well said, Jon. We had anything but our best lineup out there, and we came close to winning each game. I am not panicking yet
A few Monday Notes:
1. As we were watching the game last night, my wife asks me, “Do these announcers not like the Dodgers?”
(loaded question on the history of some national announcers and their disdain for LA… from the Dodgers to the Lakers. Gotta love listening Tommy Heinsohn announcing Lakers/Celtics games on CBS as a kid. It made me ask the same question of my parents.)
2. If managers can get fired for too many losses and GM’s can get fired for too many bad players, would it not follow that trainers can get fired for too many nonsensical, injuries due to poor conditioning?
(I said it the other night, but I have to take issue with both the number, as well as, the nature of the injuries on this Dodger ball club so far in 2013. Pulled hammy’s, strained groins, etc. can surely happen. And, some of the blame has to fall on the players. But, I’m picturing guys coming into Spring Training a few pounds lighter and more flexible after an off season where they can just concentrate on mending themselves and getting into shape. I’m sorry, but there is a balance between strength training and flexibility training…and, your training staff is not just hired to deal with injuries….it is also hired to ‘prevent’ injuries……. To me, having this many guys pull up lame with these types of injuries, and in April, is just ridiculous… it can’t be just bad luck. … IMHO)
BTW – Jon Weisman…. loved your posting.
When I think of the term willing your way to victory I don’t think about a team of playing better than everyone thought rather a team so superior that they have their will with anyone. I don’t see SF in that light. But they do play as a cohesive unit (IMHO). And it certainly doesn’t help when we help them out: 0 for 13 with RISP on Friday, two blown leads on Sat, Ethier deciding to play RF without a glove yesterday. In other words we are not a cohesive unit right now! But we are gritty :)
Who was the last team to win by basically outspending everyone and acquiring anyone they wanted. The 1997 Marlins come to mind. But were they vilified for winning? Maybe the 2005 Red Socks?
In just about every non-NFL pro sport, teams will try to spend a lot of money to acquire the best talent. The NBA and NHL have some salary restrictions to make it more difficult, but it can still be done, as you can see with the Miami Heat. Although the NBA makes it easier to do that since you can create an extremely good team with one extraordinarily good player. One extraordinarily good player in baseball can get you the 1958 version of Ernie Banks.
The trend in baseball now is going to be fewer big name free agents coming on the market who can make a difference. Teams are buying out the prime years of players early and only letting players walk if the salaries are too out of whack or they think they’re done (see the case of Texas v. Hamilton, Josh).
The Yankees have been extremely good at focusing on just which free agents they want to sign. They know what hole they need and go after that player hard. (Mussina, Sabathia, Teixeira, for example). But the Yankees also make mistakes, such as the Alex Rodriguez contract extension.
For years, Giants fans thought Brian Sabean was an idiot for handing out big contracts to veterans. Then the Giants won two World Series. He’s apparently not an idiot any more. But he pretty much operates the same way, helped out now by a farm system that has produced several superstars like Posey, Cain, and Bumgarner. But they also pay Barry Zito a ton of money.
And when they do win I don’t think they are criticized as having bought their title. Though they are criticized before the season starts because of their lavish FA spending.
Saying that the Dodgers training staff is at fault for the injuries is also one of the most idiotic things I’ve heard. The Dodgers have an older team. They are more likely to get hurt. And how is the training staff supposed to prevent things like Carlos Quentin tackling Zack Greinke. Or Adrian Gonzalez running into an umpire?
And does anyone know how well the training staff keeps others from being injured? Or getting ready to play with some minor injury that they can overcome?
You might as well fire the meteorologist at your local TV station if you get caught out in the rain.
“You might as well fire the meteorologist at your local TV station if you get caught out in the rain.” Great line.
Are “Weathermen” at TV stations really meteorologists? In California they were usually stand-up comics who couldn’t make it in show biz. Or good looking girls who could read well…
I don’t think that it is idiotic to raise a question about the training regimen of the Dodgers and how Stan Conte and his staff operate. I would like to know more about what that crew does and doesn’t do, what it suggests and how the players are held accountable (perhaps not at all) for the shapes they are in when spring training starts. Until I know more, and I doubt that such information is easily available, I will reserve judgment. Whatever the causation, the Dodgers have suffered a high number of injuries of all kinds over the last few years, not just the unforeseen ones visited upon Greinke and Gonzalez.
If you can find a pattern in those injuries, that is unique, let me know. I do think the Dodgers are guilty of rushing players back sometimes – just like I think the players are guilty of not disclosing their own problems. But I don’t see any evidence that this training staff does not know how to get players in the best possible physical condition. It’s a grueling sport.
What is it you imagine the trainers aren’t doing?
Rushing players, and what’s up with the injections of platelets they give pitchers. No other team does that. Few other teams have the problems with starters the dodgers have. Also, when did the dodgers start fielding the 2nd oldest team in the majors? Only the Yanks have more old veterans!
Thanks. I needed this.
There is a difference between trying and actually DOING and the dodgers are, as usual, unable to make the necessary hits no win a game in extra innings against decent teams. lets just put the payroll aside for a moment and look at the makeup of this team. No one in that locker room seems to be leading them in any positive direction. Kemp the so-called “leader” has lost the ability to do any type of production since the surgery. Ethier is not doing much of late (no surprise there). Dont even get me started with Cruz…. the bullpen is shaky at best, especially with League or Belisario on the mound. Our bench production is laughable. lets just face the facts, the team as a whole just doesnt have the heart to win close games or to even hold a comfortable lead consistently or when it matters most. Yes we have players hurt but so does everyone else in the league and they’re able to come out with a W. And for mattingly to say that he feels better going out than when he was going in the giant series is just asinine. WE WERE ONLY A GAME UNDER 500 NOT WE ARE 4 UNDER!!!! Are you kidding me!? If anything this series told me everything I needed to know about this club and its not good… How many losing streaks do the dodgers need to realize this club is just not able to win baseball games? Whats he going to say when the season is over? “We may be under 500 and missed the playoffs by 15 games but I feel good about how we finished the season”? C’mon SON!!!!
here’s the issue. Dodgers score 3 runs in the 8th and all the sudden everyone in their dugout is smiling, laughing, having a great time. But then they lose and look confused. You don’t bare hand balls off the wall (Dre), toss the ball to third (crawford) or just look like you could care less (kemp). If Dodgers gonna win we gotta look and act like it. That’s why the national broadcasters talk so much crap. Dodgers spent all that money and yet act like they’re supposed to get handed a WS ring. I think a lot of the blame goes on Grienke. Putting the Dodgers’ season on the line for personal issues with some guy. I can’t see that Cain guy calling out Kemp at the plate. Team above individual. We need a leader!
This is what I love about your writing, Jon. You constantly remind us that there really is more to baseball (and by extension to life) then who’s the winner and who’s the loser. I, for one, really needed to hear this after this frustrating, frustrating, baseball weekend.
You are one POSITIVE guy, Jon, and I’m so glad you’re blogging again.