Dodger Thoughts

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

Author: Jon Weisman (Page 1 of 368)

Classic Kershaw

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I was 40 years old when Clayton Kershaw first pitched for the Dodgers. He was 20. Brand, spanking new. Back then, he was a perfect toy for my midlife Dodger fan crisis.

Now, there are newer, flashier cars, and he doesn’t run quite like he used to, but he’ll always be my favorite. Classic.

We’re a generation apart, but I feel like we’re growing old together. And I think there’s going to come a day when I look back and think of him as the greatest pitcher of my youth.

Cody Bellinger has not been lucky

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon Weisman/Dodger Thoughts

Cody Bellinger’s absolutely incredible 2019 start has been covered from many different angles, and I don’t intend to repeat any of it here. I just want to add one thread to the tapestry.

It’s been years since I’ve cared about batting average, except when someone is batting .400. That number will always have magic for me. I’m more impressed, just as one example, by Bellinger’s .500 on-base percentage, which takes us beyond magic into Narnia territory.

Nevertheless, it’s Bellinger’s .420 batting average through the Dodgers’ first 30 games that I’m addressing today.

Normally, when someone is batting .400 or better, you assume he’s been lucky. That’s something you would suspect intuitively even before the analytical revolution began earlier this century. When Rod Carew, George Brett or Tony Gwynn chased .400 in my younger days, it reflected their greatness, of course, but also the understanding that they were catching a certain amount of breaks at the right time.

Right now, Cody Bellinger is earning every bit of his .420 batting average. According to Statcast, his expected batting average (xBA), which measures the likelihood that a batted ball will become a hit, is .428. His .420 is arguably underselling his performance this season.

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Come Back to the Five and Dime, Eugenio Vélez, Eugenio Vélez

You might be aware that Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is closing in on the record for most consecutive hitless at-bats in the majors. If you’re a Dodger fan, you might be even more aware of who holds that record: Eugenio Vélez, whose 0-for-37 2011 season with Los Angeles enabled him to set an MLB record with 46 straight hitless at-bats.

But what you might not realize is that Vélez’s streak never ended. It is still active. In fact, so is Vélez. This past winter, he came to the plate 19 times for Aguilas de Mexicali, capping his seventh straight year in professional baseball since he last took a major-league at-bat.

On top of everything else, Vélez is still only 36 years old, turning 37 on May 16. He is a mere three years older than Davis. There’s still life in him yet.

So Davis may break this record. But as far as I’m concerned, this duel ain’t over.

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Brothers in Arms now available as an audiobook!

Exciting news, everyone! Today is Clayton Kershaw’s birthday … which is the perfect release date for the audiobook version of Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition. The talented James Patrick Cronin reads my words out loud.

Order the audiobook today at Audible.com using the link tinyurl.com/dodgerpitchers-audible! Or order through Amazon, where you can continue to purchase print or digital copies as well!

For more information on the audiobook, go to Blackstone Library — and also visit the Brothers in Arms category here at Dodger Thoughts.

If you enjoy or enjoyed Brothers in Arms in any format, please leave a review at Amazon. Thank you.

How John Wooden’s arrival at UCLA was covered

April 13, 1948: The Times speculates that John Wooden will be hired by UCLA.

* * *

April 21, 1948 : The Times reports that the Wooden hiring is official.

* * *

Bonus – March 20, 1932: The <i>Times</i> praises Wooden after he is named an All-American.

Baseball is not a kids game

So many times in my life, I’ve heard how Major League Baseball players should be happy they’re getting paid to play a kids game.

Baseball is not a kids game. Baseball is a game, that kids happen to play, that can be unspeakably joyous, but that is almost punishingly adult.

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You don’t win friends with salad dressing

Monday, I ordered a salad for lunch, because I wanted to eat something healthy.

I know when I do this, there are choices. I can ask for light dressing or dressing on the side, in order to combat the otherwise nearly inevitable flooding. That’s what most civilized people are forced to do.

Every so often, however, I test the better angels of my nature and order a salad without any specifics on the dressing, to see if a place can achieve what should be a simple equilibrium on its own. Monday was another try. Sure enough, the salad came with so much dressing that not only was each piece within just soaked, there was a thin liquid layer at the bottom of the To Go container. (Carry-out places should be particularly wary of this issue.)

But why do I have to do this? Why do stores and restaurants err so often on the side of too much, when you can’t remove dressing, instead of too little, when you can always add dressing?

While slurping my leafy lunch, I put a poll on Twitter: For salad orders where you don’t give instructions on the dressing, which is more common?

  • Too much dressing
  • Not enough dressing

I expect the results to rally America into solving this problem in the food services industry once and for all. Instead came this abomination …

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The possibility of a comeback by Austin Barnes

In 2018, Austin Barnes had a .409 OBP through May 21, but .278 thereafter.
(Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

All along, 2019 was supposed to be the season of Austin Barnes. The year that Yasmani Grandal would leave the Dodgers as a free agent was perfectly timed for Barnes to complete his journey from the minors to the major-league bench and finally the starting lineup of a title contender.

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One last look at Bryce Harper before moving on

Funnily enough, it was just about 13 years ago.

When the Dodgers signed 29-year-old speedy singles hitter Juan Pierre to a five-year, $44 million contract in November 2006, I was upset. Pierre couldn’t have been a nicer human being, and down the road, in the wake of Manny Ramirez’s 2009 suspension, he became a redeemed folk hero not entirely unlike Juan Uribe.

From the day Pierre signed, however, the contract seemed like a waste of Dodger payroll at a time that Dodger payroll was precious. Given that he didn’t walk, throw, hit for power or succeed on enough on his stolen-base attempts, Pierre did not bring the Dodgers closer to ending their two-decade World Series drought.

Over time, especially since the end of the McCourt era, less and less has angered me since. I’ve changed, and the Dodgers have changed. This front office’s thinking aligns much better with mine, plus there is more money to spend. I also have realized that most things in baseball just aren’t worth getting that riled up about.

So when the news came Thursday that the Dodgers’ final interest in Bryce Harper had fallen short of a deal, I was pretty deeply disappointed, but I wasn’t angry. I’m willing to see what happens. It puts much more pressure on players like A.J. Pollock, Joc Pederson and Alex Verdugo, but I’m hopeful. I’m curious.

Still, though signing Harper might have turned badly for the Dodgers, I believe it was worth the risk.

Let’s address three common misconceptions about Harper and long-term contracts.

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Bookin’

Warning: Personal, non-Dodger content ahead.

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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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