Nov 06

The evolving mindset of the Dodgers

J.P Hoonstra of the Daily News captures how these Ned Colletti Dodgers are not your slightly older sibling’s Ned Colletti Dodgers. Too much interesting stuff to excerpt here, so go read the whole thing.

One interesting aspect of the story is that the Dodgers’ recent focus on college pitchers comes about a decade after they seemed to succeed in bucking the arguments in Moneyball that college players were the way to go. From Dodger Thoughts, June 3, 2003 (and understand this was written with some horrible Dodger drafts still fresh in my memory):

… I’ll post again after the Dodgers make their first-round selection in today’s draft. The big question: Will they again buck the growing wisdom, racing from radical to conventional, that it is safer to take college players than high school players?

James Loney appeared to make the Dodgers look smart last year in going the old (high) school route with his stellar Rookie League season in 2002 at age 18. This year, however, Loney is batting only .252 with an OPS of .688 in the A-ball Florida State League, so although he may of course make it, it’s not going to be a cruise to the majors after all.

It’s not that college players are locks to succeed. Bubba Crosby, for example, was a college man. Scouts rated him a dubious first-round pick in 1998, and only recently has he begun to even challenge that assessment. And as a Stanford graduate, it pains me to note that ever since Mike Mussina and Jack McDowell, baseball has been littered with the carcasses of lumpy Cardinal pitchers – the latest being Jeff Austin, who tied a major league record in May by allowing home runs to the first three batters of a game.

Nevertheless, there is solid research out there for anyone to see that your odds are better if you allow colleges to help you weed out the suspect prospects. If you don’t, you’re much more likely to end up with an abysmal draft history like that of the Dodgers.

There isn’t much advantage in getting a younger guy – the point is to try to get the right guy.


Nov 06

Why Yasiel Puig’s reckless driving case has been dismissed

Holly Webb of reports on the dismissal of reckless driving and speeding charges against Dodger outfielder Yasiel Puig (link via Tony Jackson of Dodgerscribe).

… Judge David Bales presided over the case. After reading the charges, he read a letter written by the Dodgers’ Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Lon Rosen on Puig’s behalf. The letter detailed Puig’s involvement in the Los Angeles community and called him “an asset.” Rosen said that Puig was active in several charity organizations that worked with underprivileged youth in the area. The letter also said that Puig had attended charity fundraisers for an orphanage in Zambia.

After reading the letter, Judge Bales addressed the courtroom and emphasized that Puig’s case was not treated differently or specially in spite of Puig’s fame and media presence. Judge Bales said “The state of Tennessee is the prosecuting entity, I have nothing to do with it…All cases are treated the same.”

Defense Attorney Mike Little pointed out to Judge Bales that prior to this event, his client had a clean record. And although Puig did not have insurance papers with him when he was pulled over, he did have insurance at the time and brought those records to court. Attorney Little recommended community service.

After taking everything into consideration, Judge Bales decided to dismiss the case against Puig. His reasons were Puig’s lack of prior record, the fact that he currently lives out of state, and Puig’s active participation in community service activities. …

Nov 04

Garvey, John, Torre take another shot at Hall of Fame

In the ever-more-complicated process for reaching baseball’s Hall of Fame, the latest batch of previously rejected candidates includes Steve Garvey, Tommy John and Joe Torre.

Tommy Lasorda is among the 16tet that will have a say in the process.

Of the names on the list, Marvin Miller strikes me as most deserving. Craig Calcaterra has more at Hardball Talk.

Nov 01

In the middle of August

I wrote the following nearly three months ago, then decided to hold on to it for a little bit. Rather than put it in the attic, I thought I might share it with you.

It is the middle of August in 2013 as I begin writing, and there is a baseball team. For nearly two months, it has been winning every game, and that’s almost not a figure of speech. It’s somewhere in between a literary device and true reality. Eight losses in nine weeks in Major League Baseball is, essentially, winning every game.

It is a team that at once has been giving the lie to the idea that you can’t have it all, while also reminding that such feats of transcendence are precariously temporary. With every victory comes the question, “How can this possibly continue?” The question has an answer, which is that it can just keep on keepin’ on, same as it ever was, same as it ever is. But just as easily as it can continue – more easily, no doubt – it can stop.

How long, then? How long does all remain all?

That’s one mystery. In the case of this particular baseball team, if all remains all, or nearly so, for 2½ more months, and if it does, it will create an everlasting memory. What the devoted of this particular baseball team are waiting to learn is if they are having a summer fling – the wildest one of their lives, perhaps, but still a fling – or a relationship that will be theirs forever, even if future years return rocky times.

One of the lures of baseball, of investing passion into a passion you have no control over, is that little if anything can diminish a championship. No matter your present, there’s no guilt in romancing your past. Contrast that with everyday life, where if you think about your greatest year, the year you yourself had it all, there’s a gloom. It could be a sliver or a swath.

To avoid it, you’d have to be able to feel unadulterated pleasure over a time that is no longer yours, find complete solace that your best days are behind you or only speculatively ahead, that you had something and you lost it or you had it taken away from you, and that’s just fine.

People who can do that are remarkable.

I can identify two periods where I quite nearly had it all, two championship runs. One came from my earliest memories nearly through the end of grade school, growing up with a family that I loved, friends who were close and a belief that I could become whatever I wanted to become that didn’t involve being a pro athlete. Or tall. I was among the shortest in my class, and even as incompetence evolved into competence, there was never a chance. But with Vin Scully as an alternative role model, I could live with sports transcendence as a fantasy.

That period ended when I began having crushes on girls. I’m not sure there was ever a period when I didn’t like girls, but it didn’t begin to matter until fifth grade bled into sixth and I began to care whether one, and then another one, liked me back. Soon something happens inside of you and you start to envision real benefits, and it starts to matter more and more. And it was years before one really did like me back, for reasons we might be able to get into later.

By the time that did happen, I was an adult with goals. As long as those goals were unfulfilled, well, obviously having it all was out of the question, even if the other thing was falling into place. Not until after I turned 30, after some very up-and-down years in the intervening decade, did I come close to having contentment. A woman had fallen in love with me, and I with her. I was able to support her, with money saved. My relationship with my family was healthy, my family was healthy, I was healthy. And my career was in a good place. It had momentum.

That lasted … about a season. It was a championship year, a year that I’ve been chasing ever since.

In August 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers had been chasing their last championship for 25 years. The digits 1988 have a celestial feeling, any negativity washed away. It is impossible for a fan of that baseball team to feel anything but positive about that year, anything but pride, anything but love. That so many years have passed since that time is frustrating. But being a baseball fan is like being a like a little kid because it’s not your responsibility to make the joy happen. You’re waiting like a child, young as they come, depending on a parent for well-being.

Rooting for the World Series isn’t without a cost, but as much as you care, you’re a spectator. When you root for your own happiness, it’s your game.

Oct 28

Who’s the oldest major-leaguer you saw play?

I passed along to my father Al Yellon’s article at Bleeding Cubbie Blue on Lennie Merullo, the last living Cub to play in a World Series (an event, as I’ve mentioned many times, that Dad attended as a 10-year-old in 1945).

“My past is coming back to haunt,” Dad replied. “I remember Merullo quite vividly, epitome of good field/no hit. I’m beginning to sound like my mother.”

I hadn’t recalled Grandma Sue talking about too many old-timers beside Carl Hubbell, whom she had very specific memories of, but Dad corrected me when I said she telescoped on Hubbell.

“She was but was also able to talk knowledgeably about Ruth, Gehrig, McGraw and even Mathewson,” he said.

It got me thinking about who is the oldest ballplayer I could speak to having seen play. Since my earliest baseball memory is of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, I’d probably have to start there. Aaron was born in 1934, was 40 when I first recall seeing him and is 79 years old now.

I remember when Frank Robinson became a player-manager of the Cleveland Indians, but Robinson was more than a year younger than Aaron.

There is one guy who technically could unseat Aaron as my oldest ballplayer, though I didn’t see him outside of highlights on the news. That was Minnie Minoso (b. 1925), who came out of a 12-year retirement to play for the White Sox in 1976 and become a four-decade player. (He later became a five-decade player in 1980.)

As for the oldest Dodger I ever saw, I have to discount Robinson, who was with the Dodgers in 1972, before I began paying attention to them. Instead, I’ll happily settle for 1977 pinch-hitting playoff hero Vic Davalillo (b. 1936), followed by the one and only Manny Mota (b. 1938).


Oct 26

Optimism Prime

Twice within 10 minutes at the market today, fellow shoppers saw me in my Dodgers cap and volunteered cheerful expressions of hope for next season. That’s never happened to me before.

Oct 25

Don Mattingly, Trey Hillman, Sue Falsone and our ignorance

Well, folks, we sure got a humbling wakeup call about our understanding of the Dodgers this week.

For starters, all season long, everyone — and I mean everyone that wrote, commented, tweeted or otherwise published a word about the 2013 Dodgers — attributed in-game strategic decisions wholly to manager Don Mattingly. Then, this week, all of a sudden there was Trey Hillman.

Sure, the bench coach had been there all along, been there for three years, but he had walked the Dodger planet in almost complete anonymity, save for taking over after a rare Mattingly ejection. Hardly a word was uttered about his role with the team until Monday, when he was fired for whatever advice he did or didn’t give, day after day, to Mattingly. Even today, no one seems entirely clear what that counsel was or wasn’t.

Mattingly was the guy in the driver’s seat, of course. The in-game buck stopped with him. But now we’re told that the bench coach played a much more significant role with the Dodgers than anyone realized. There was this nearly invisible x factor that reminds all of us that as much as we think we know everything that’s going on with the team, we still operate in large pockets of complete ignorance.

On top of that, a new mystery about what exactly the Dodger clubhouse was like in 2013 emerged Monday, via the infamous Mattingly-Ned Colletti press conference. I made the point, on Twitter I believe, that this seemed to be the most peaceful Dodger clubhouse in my memory — certainly in my time doing Dodger Thoughts. Outside of roughly 24 hours worth of quickly defused tension between Mattingly and Andre Ethier and whatever wrassling might have been going on with Yasiel Puig, there was no hint of conflict reported by the media.

But on Monday, Mattingly opened a small window into what may actually be a large world of in-house second-guessing and authority-undermining, the extent of which still isn’t clear. Whatever it is, it was not a part of the published story of the 2013 Dodgers until after the 2013 Dodgers were history.

Part of what made Monday’s awkward press conference so shocking is that the organization has seemed so amazingly united this year. Even when Mattingly’s job was in jeopardy in May/June, the manager displayed a rather remarkable level of poise and understanding. Mattingly, in a fashion I’ve seen other managers make little use of, accepted the blame for the team’s last-place start and hardly hid behind the injuries. Even the incident with Ethier has always struck me as more about getting the team more focused than anything else, which is why I think the team moved on from it so quickly. From May 25:

… while I think Andre Ethier was clearly in mind as Mattingly spoke about what it takes to win and all that, I don’t think Mattingly was singling out Ethier.  I think he was making an example of Ethier, which is an entirely different thing.

Take note of this. The Dodgers put out their Wednesday lineup. Ethier isn’t in it. Reporters ask why. Mattingly doesn’t directly answer the question, instead delivering his rugged sermon about what he expects from every member of his squad. It’s clear that Ethier is falling short of this standard. But it’s also clear that Ethier is not the only one falling short of the standard (in Mattingly’s mind), and I don’t know why people didn’t see this. …

Ultimately, Mattingly seemed at peace with the responsibility of being the fall guy. But clearly, he was wrestling with other feelings that emerged this week, and even more clearly, not everyone was on the same page when Monday’s press conference was called. Perhaps rather than the epilogue of the 2013 season, what Monday brought us was the first page of the book on the 2014 Dodgers.

As for head trainer Sue Falsone’s departure (once more, the Variety term “ankling” seems useful here), it was celebrated by numerous fans who weren’t in thrall to her or her pioneering position in the guys’ club. But our ignorance about the impact of her presence or absence could hardly be higher.

Few inside the organization, and fewer still outside of it, have any idea how Falsone, Stan Conte or anyone on the Dodger medical staff improved or diminished the team’s overall health — that is, on the injuries they actually might have had any influence upon. There was undeniable inevitability of injuries to middle-age players like Chris Capuano, Carl Crawford or Mark Ellis, while putting mishaps like Zack Greinke’s broken collarbone on the staff’s plate is particularly ludicrous. Logically, the only question is not whether the 2013 medical staff wasn’t good, but whether anyone could do better. That’s a much different way of framing things than assuming they were actually contributing to the Dodger injury problems, which I’ve seen some fans posit.

Look, I’m not above questioning things that the Dodgers do, from player transactions to bunting decisions to the presence of in-stadium pregame hosts. Not only is that part of following the team, but sometimes, I think outsiders really do know better. But be wary of having too swollen a head about this stuff. There’s lots going on beneath the surface that we don’t know about until much, much later.

Oct 21

Don Mattingly channels Charlie Dressen

The Dodger managerial career of Walter Alston began when he was hired in the 1953-54 offseason on the first of 23 one-year contracts to replace Charlie Dressen, who had legendarily requested a multiyear deal after winning the National League pennant with 105 victories but was then shown the door.

Judging by tweets from today’s (by numerous accounts) tensely uncomfortable Dodger press conference involving Don Mattingly and Ned Colletti, Mattingly was unhappy that it was so easy to view him as a lame duck and is testing the same path.

Put another way, Mattingly may have decided to sacrifice his current managerial job to move his future to the next base.

Third-base coach Tim Wallach, by the way, is considered a top MLB managerial candidate by several observers. So aside from looking outside the organization, there remains at least one in-house alternative, should Mattingly and the Dodgers part ways.

Oct 21

Dodgers havana field day with Cuban talent, reportedly signing Alexander Guerrero

Likely settling one of their major questions for 2014, the Dodgers appear to have signed — after more than one false start — infielder Alexander Guerrero to a four-year deal worth at least $28 million, according to Jesse Sanchez of

The 26-year-old Guerrero, who defected from Cuba earlier this year and can earn an additional $4 million in incentives, is a good bet to play second base and figures to be a step up offensively over Mark Ellis, according to Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. Ellis, who has a $5.75 million club option or a $1 million buyout, has probably played his last game as a Dodger, though he could conceivably return on a lower salary as a backup and mentor to Guerrero.

Oct 19

Three top questions for the 2014 Dodgers

As we look to the future, in no particular order:

1) What happens to half the infield? Juan Uribe is a free agent, while Mark Ellis has a $5.75 million club option or a $1 million buyout. Signing a major bat for second base might make it more comfortable for the Dodgers to bring back Uribe (at a paycut) for his defense. If not Robinson Cano, then Alexander Guerrero? If not Guerrero, then whom?

2) What happens with the outfielders? You say it’s one too many, but the medical reports indicate otherwise. Remember the illusion of this year’s starting pitcher surplus. There’s little reason to give one away on a salary dump, and little more reason to think the Dodgers can get top value for any of those they would even consider trading before they prove themselves healthy. So whither the quartet? Does minor-leaguer Joc Pederson step into a major-league role or become trade bait?

3) What happens with the starting pitching? Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu are locks, but what about the other spots? Ricky Nolasco and Edinson Volquez will likely be free agents, and Chris Capuano will be bought out for $1 million. Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett will be coming back from major injuries. If past patterns are any indication, the earliest arrival for Zack Lee from the minors will be May. That’s a lot of gray area in next year’s rotation. Bet the over on David Price trade rumors.

Oct 18

What a ride, what a ride

Oh, I had big dreams about this Dodger team today.

And what fueled those dreams was how resilient the 2013 Dodgers were and the heights they were able to reach. The truly fun Dodger teams are the ones you can never count out – the teams that could make comebacks something you not only hoped for, but nearly expected.

Moving from last place to first in such spectacular fashion this summer, peaking with that 42-8 run that made time travel seem possible, had the effect of a Cupid’s arrow in my baseball-toughened heart. There would be no easy surrender. It was what allowed me to believe as the final wave of injuries swallowed up Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez, what allowed me to believe as the Dodgers faced three consecutive winner-take-all games.

That, and the proof from 1988 that the improbable could come to life.

To say the least, tonight’s season finale, a 9-0 loss in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, did not do those dreams justice. Clayton Kershaw was on one end of the universe, and Michael Wacha was on the other. I was so prepared for a virtual repeat of Game 2’s vice grip on my nerves, but my vision just evaporated.

One of baseball’s eternal questions is whether it’s better to go down in bitterly close defeat or with a giant thud. I think this time, I’ll take the thud. But as time passes, it all blends together anyway, becoming yet another tally on our endless journey through the desert.

This has been the Dodgers’ biggest step in the past 25 years, but we still wonder how many more we’ll have to take.

I liked this team. I liked these guys, without exception. I would list them all, but I would just be listing the entire roster. (OK, I don’t really get Brian Wilson, but he sure joined in without a hitch.) This was as easy a Dodger team to root for as any.

However much you might be hurting, think of them. But also, feel free to revel in your community of fellow fans. Man, that conversation about which organization was superior or which fans were better was as dumb as it gets.

This was a different kind of year blogging about the team for me. I stayed on hiatus almost the entire offseason and didn’t even decide to resume more regular efforts until the day before the regular season began. And even then, my work was less dedicated than it had been, as I repeatedly questioned how much time I should devote to it. I felt a bit like an old man at the blogging game. I felt I could still reach some heights, but I was picking my spots. I took my rest.

As the season went on, however, these 2013 Dodgers energized me. They were in my head, and they got much more out of me than I would have expected. They reminded me that in some ways, this still feels like my calling.

We’ll see what happens next.

For those who came back around, thanks for reading. And let’s get these guys healthy and plug those holes and go get that World Series next year.

Oct 18

In standout seven innings, Wacha walks all over Dodgers

If it’s any consolation to Clayton Kershaw in the short term, it does not appear there was any besting Michael Wacha tonight.

While Kershaw unraveled, allowing four runs in the third inning and three more in the fifth in his worst performance in 15 months, Wacha dominated Los Angeles for the second time in the National League Championship Series.

Wacha, the youngblood compared with Kershaw, faced only two batters over the minimum in allowing no runs and three baserunners in seven shutout innings, needing only 95 pitches in the process. Only one Dodger advanced past first base and none past second before Wacha was removed with St. Louis comfortably ahead, 9-0, as this post was being written.

Tonight was ugly, but also numbing. Nothing about it eases the pain of how close the Dodgers came to winning Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS. Nothing short of an absolute, unconscious miracle in the final minutes.

Oct 18

What happened in a disastrous Dodger third inning

The Dodgers and their fans weren’t having a nightmare. It really happened.

In the third inning of tonight’s National League Championship Series Game 6, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw got in a jam he couldn’t dig out of. Here’s what went wrong:

Kershaw had a stressful second inning, when he gave up a single to first-time postseason starter Shane Robinson, who previously hurt the Dodgers with a pinch-hit homer in Game 4. Kershaw threw two wild pitches to allow Robinson to advance to third, and only struck out No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma on a 3-2 fastball that was above the strike zone.

Carpenter with the wood
With one out after retiring opposing pitcher Michael Wacha, Kershaw could not put Matt Carpenter away. The Cardinal second baseman took ball one, then fouled off seven pitches in a row. It’s the ability to put away a hitter that helps separate Kershaw from other pitchers, but it was nowhere to be found in this at-bat. After ball two arrived, Carpenter fouled off another pitch, then drilled a no-doubt double to right field on the 11th pitch of the at-bat.

Beltran’s belt and run
Kershaw fell behind 2-1 in the count to Carlos Beltran, then gave up a solid single to right field that scored the game’s first run. Yasiel Puig’s off-balance throw was dropped in the middle of the diamond by Adrian Gonzalez, eliminating any chance the Dodgers had of throwing Beltran out trying to advance to second base.

Letting them off the hook
Kershaw’s next five pitches were strikes – three to fan Matt Holliday (the final one looking) and then two more to Yadier Molina, to put him within a strike of escaping the inning down by only a run. But the next two pitches missed badly, and then Kershaw came in with a hanging, shoulder-high pitch that Molina lashed up the middle for the second run of the game.

Freese framed
David Freese came to the plate with Kershaw having thrown 27 pitches in the inning already. The first pitch was strike-worthy but called a ball, the second was way high and the third was fouled off. The next pitch stayed up and was grounded between Kershaw’s legs and up the middle to put runners on first and second.

Squeeze play
Matt Adams, 3 for 20 in the NLCS, swung and missed at a 1-1 pitch, and once again Kershaw was one strike away from escaping with reasonable damage. But then, the 1-2 pitch just missed – Kershaw wanted that one – the 2-2 pitch was a bit outside and the 3-2 pitch was a hair low, angering Kershaw even more. Home plate Greg Gibson certainly did Kershaw no favors in this at-bat.

The big blow
Robinson took a called first strike that was no worse than the two key balls called for Adams. But the next pitch – the 39th of the inning – was a fastball in the middle of the plate that drove home two runs and emphatically made the bottom of the third a disaster for Kershaw and the Dodgers.  Puig’s throw home was wild, allowing the runners to advance to second and third, but the damage was already done.

The merciful end
Kozma was walked intentionally, bringing the inning’s leadoff hitter, Wacha, back to the plate. By this time, no hitter could be considered an easy one for Kershaw. Wacha took ball one, then fouled off three pitches before taking a called third strike on the 48th pitch from Kershaw in the bottom of the third.

Heaven will wait
The TBS announcers were like wild animals in on the kill going after Puig for his two shaky throws, and though he didn’t help the Dodgers, neither play really mattered on a night that Kershaw, at the worst possible moment, just didn’t have it. Robinson, in his first start of the series, beat the upcoming Cy Young winner in consecutive innings. Carpenter had the at-bat of the game in putting Kershaw on the ropes. Molina came off the hook after being behind 0-2 in the count.

You can blame Adams’ walk on the umpire if that makes you feel better, but the bottom line is that Kershaw had three other chances to minimize the damage against him in the bottom of the third, and he couldn’t convert any of them. He couldn’t catch a break, but except for Holliday, he didn’t make his own breaks either.

It was an inning that was in such contrast to Kershaw’s performance this year and our expectations for him tonight. But our hero was human.



Oct 18

National League Championship Series Game 6 chat

For the Dodgers’ first official Game 6 since October 11, 1988, I’m quivering. At least 52 batters will come to the plate tonight, and any one of them could decide the fate of the evening .. and beyond. We could be witnesses to history, or infamy.

And that’s just tonight.

World Series tickets go on sale Saturday, unless they don’t. Hanley Ramirez’s absence from the starting lineup will hurt the Dodgers, unless it doesn’t. Winter is coming, unless it’s not.

I can’t help think that all these games are tests of fortune, not of strength. The line between greatness and mediocrity, between glory and ignominy, is way too thin for us to invest so much meaning into.

And yet, we do. How good will it feel if we keep this going? No words.

Dodgers at Cardinals, 5:37 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Andre Ethier, CF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Nick Punto, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P

Update: Hanley Ramirez is a last-minute insertion into the starting lineup, batting fourth. Yasiel Puig drops below Ethier to sixth and pushes down Juan Uribe and A.J. Ellis.