Dodger Thoughts

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

Category: History (Page 1 of 33)

Brothers in Arms excerpt: The underrated Claude Osteen

Today is the 80th birthday of Claude Osteen — a pitcher not nearly enough Dodger fans of today know about. To celebrate, here’s his chapter from Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition …

By the 1960s, Dodger pitching development was revving like a Mustang, and it wasn’t thanks only to Drysdale and Koufax. To illustrate: of the 1,610 games Los Angeles played during the decade, 83 percent were started by pitchers originally signed by the Dodgers. Of the eight Los Angeles pitchers to start at least 50 games in the ’60s, seven were homegrown.

Claude Osteen was the standout, in more ways than one.

Ambling in the shadow of three Hall of Fame teammates and not exactly a household name to 21st-century fans, Osteen has to be one of the more underrated pitchers in Dodger history. With 26.3 wins above replacement in nine seasons for Los Angeles, Osteen ranked 15th among the franchise’s great arms and eighth in Los Angeles. Osteen’s 100 complete games tie him for 12th on the all-time Dodger list, and as for shutouts, only his three Hall of Fame contemporaries plus Nap Rucker had more as a Dodger than Osteen’s 34.

“We took a lot of pride in finishing the job,” Osteen says. “I took a lot of pride in throwing shutouts—it’s probably one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Osteen played an enormous role in capturing the Dodgers’ final World Series title of the ’60s, provided a stabilizing bridge to the pennant-winning Dodger teams of the 1970s and extended the Dodger tradition to a later generation as pitching coach from 1999 to 2000. Though it all began for Osteen elsewhere, he nearly had roots as a Dodger as well.

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1981 World Series MVP Award Presentation: The wrong Steve

Mike Littwin/Los Angeles Times

It was weird enough, after the Dodgers won the 1981 title, when they split the World Series Most Valuable Player Award among three players.

It became weirder still when Bob Uecker and MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn included the wrong man, Steve Garvey, in the award presentation. It was Steve Yeager, not Garvey, who had been voted the winner alongside Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero.

Howard Rosenberg/Los Angeles Times

Garvey expressed heartfelt gratitude for the award that he wouldn’t get to keep. Yeager, hovering in the background at the outset, eventually got to the microphone, though he is never named as a tri-MVP winner. Guerrero got a big hug from Al Campanis, but no chance to speak at all. 

Enjoy the presentation above, in all its awkward glory.

Most obscure but memorable Opening Day starters for the Dodgers, 1989-2019


For no particular occasion …

In honor of Mike Ramsey (1987), here are the most memorable Opening Day starters for the Dodgers since they last won a World Series:

Trenidad Hubbard, CF (1998)
Blake DeWitt, 2B (2010)
Olmedo Saenz, 1B (2006)
Juan Rivera, LF (2012)
Jason Phillips, C (2005)
Juan Encarnacion, RF (2004)
Luis Cruz, 3B (2013)
Justin Sellers, SS (2013)
Vicente Padilla, P (2010)

Visiting the Hall of Fame
Part 2: On to Los Angeles

As I mentioned a couple days ago, on July 14 I made my second visit to Cooperstown, and first as an adult. I took tons of pictures, and couldn’t help wanting to share some with you. Today, here is a set of shots focusing on the Dodgers, dating from their move to Los Angeles. 

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Visiting the Hall of Fame
Part 1: Brooklyn memories

It was a Cooperstown Surprise.

Last weekend brought me to the wilds of New York for family reasons, on a trip that had been planned for months but near the last minute unexpectedly left me with a free day. Staying only 90 minutes from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I rose at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, on four hours sleep after having traveled all Saturday from home, and made the drive to a little slice of baseball heaven. 

At age 51, this was my second trip to the Hall — my first came when I was 14. People have asked me if the Hall seemed different, but so much time has passed that the biggest compare and contrast I can make is doing the trip with my dad vs. doing it solo. 

That said, another major difference was having a cellphone, as opposed to only memories that would fade over time. I took more than 200 photos, and with this year’s annual induction ceremony only days away, there seems to be no better time for me to share some of them with you (with apologies for the quality). I’m going to divide them into multiple posts, starting with this one centered on the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

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The ones from longest ago

Looking back at some old birthdays on this Memorial Day …

  • The oldest Ram I saw play in person: Charlie Cowan (June 19, 1938)
  • The oldest MLB player I know I ever saw play in person: Vic Davalillo (July 31, 1936)
  • The oldest Laker I saw play on TV: Elgin Baylor (September 16, 1934)
  • The oldest MLB player I know I saw play on TV: Hank Aaron (February 5, 1934)
  • The oldest athlete I know I saw play on TV: George Blanda (September 17, 1927)
  • The oldest athlete I know I saw play in person: Marques Haynes (March 10, 1926)
  • The oldest athlete I might have seen play, but I can’t remember if I was at a game when he actually pitched: Hoyt Wilhelm (July 26, 1922)

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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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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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.

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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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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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!

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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The Hall of Nearly Great: Reggie Smith


The Hall of Nearly Great, a collection of essays about memorable major-league players who weren’t considered worth of the Hall of Fame, came out in 2012. I contributed the following chapter about Reggie Smith. 

As an adult, maybe even as a teenager, you see the complete arc of a major-leaguer’s career. You’re there for the beginning – or, depending on your level of dedication, the pre-beginning: the minors, the run-up to the draft, college or high-school ball.

But when you’re a kid, you encounter ballplayers in media res. They arrive in your consciousness fully formed. Past is the opposite of prologue – past is epilogue.

Reggie Smith landed in my world in the middle of the 1976 season, the first full season that, at age 8, I became invested in the Los Angeles Dodgers as a fan. Speaking of fully formed: He joined a team that had that infield: Steve Garvey at first base, Davey Lopes at second, Bill Russell at short, Ron Cey at third. These were the people in our neighborhood.

Smith dropped in out of nowhere, by way of St. Louis. What was supposed to happen? It couldn’t have been that he would become the favorite player in the lineup for a kid fan birthed on Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey. That he would be the gateway to a life of challenging the conventional wisdom of who was most valuable.

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