Nov 15

What does it mean to lose a World Series?

Dodger Stadium, minutes after the end of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series

Dodger Stadium, minutes after the end of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series

Every baseball season compounds pleasure and pain with intensity. In that chemistry, all that changes is the mix. What – the older among us had to be reminded, the younger had to learn for the first time – would playing in the World Series make different?

We could imagine easily enough the euphoria of ultimate victory, and we could wonder if defeat would cause depression or devastation. But passing through that window, how would it feel? Keep in mind: It had been 29 years since the Dodgers had won a World Series, but it had been 39 years since they had lost one.

Let’s pause and remember, for a moment, how we got here. The record-setting run to the best record in baseball, cozying up to the greatest mark of all time, legitimately raising the question of whether this would be the best team ever if it won the World Series, if if if, before a 17-day impersonation of Job caused us to question the true nature of baseball good and evil. A smidgen of run-of-the-mill stability led us into the fresh thrills of the postseason.

Remember that just beating Arizona in the National League Division Series, let alone sweeping the Diamondbacks, was an achievement – many thought the first landmine would be more than sufficient to waste the Dodgers. Then Chicago, 12 months earlier a Waterloo, transformed into a wonderland. Justin Turner hit a glorious walk-off homer on the anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s. Three games later, Kiké Hernández, a semi-regular as famous in baseball for his banana costume as anything else, knocked three home runs in a single evening, and suddenly, the nearly holy grail found its way into our grasp, a demon-exorcising National League pennant, birthing our ride into the mystical land.

The unknown awaited.

Speaking for myself, little was more terrifying for Game 1 of the 2017 World Series than the drive there, bounded by my oldest son’s 3:15 p.m. release from school and the 5:09 p.m. Dodger Stadium first pitch, with 14 miles of the densest daytime Los Angeles traffic teeming in between, all of it in the 105-degree asphalt jungle that wilted the air conditioning in our 2006 Honda Odyssey. Barely was there any time between our arrival in our seats and Clayton Kershaw’s initial strike for me to focus entirely on the stress between the baselines, and with the underdog’s underdog, Chris Taylor, homering on the first pitch thrown to a Dodger World Series batter since Alfredo Griffin grounded to third in the ninth inning of Game 5 in 1988, joy took hold before tension had a chance to lay down a finger. Houston tied the game but never led, Turner hit his then-usual postseason home run, the Dodger bullpen followed its blueprint, and just like that, a 3-1 Game 1 triumph. No Gibson, no problem. Less than an hour after witnessing the final pitch from the Reserved Level, even with our car parked at the opposite end of Chavez Ravine far beyond center field, my family was home, safely, victoriously.

With Game 2, whose schizophrenic late-inning craziness needs little elaboration from me, the true experience of the 2017 World Series really began. There’s a moment in Hamilton when Thomas Jefferson comes to understand the incomprehensible reality behind a sordid scandal involving Alexander and says, softly thunderstruck, My God. As I watched Game 2 and the next four on television, those words reverberated in near non-stop echo.

All the home runs and the comebacks complete and incomplete in Game 2: My God.

Yu Darvish’s meltdown to start Game 3: My God. 

The chest-knotting tie in Game 4, unbroken until the five-run Dodger ninth: My God. 

And Game 5, the game of 4-0, 4-4, 7-4, 7-7, 8-7, 8-11, 9-11, 9-12, 12-12, 12-13 – Why do you hit like you’re running out of time? – the game in which a future first-ballot Hall of Famer stood three competent innings from sealing his postseason legacy, the game in which a 2017 Dodger team could have practically assured its place in Nirvana?

My God, and then some. Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, sings Hamilton’s complicated frenemy, Aaron Burr. It takes and it takes and it takes.

Typically, after a Dodger loss, I stew a very short time. I always believe in tomorrow. Even after Game 2, which anyone could reasonably say was a disastrous loss, my disappointment was quickly supplanted by my awe at the insanity. But Game 5 left me in a fog that shrouded and confused me beyond what I can recall feeling before.

Game 5 buried me. My hopes lay in reincarnation.

For Game 6, I was back in my car, though not on the way to Dodger Stadium. I spent the early and middle innings driving through Halloween night rush hour in Los Angeles to retrieve my daughter from her late rehearsal for the school musical and bring her home. It was with me in transit that the Dodgers withstood an enormous threat from the Astros in the top of the fifth and then rallied in the bottom of the sixth, and I exulted so quietly, with the tiniest of fist pumps, because Young Miss Weisman, now 15 years old, is at the place where she finds my devotion to this sport unnerving almost to the point of embarrassment. But home for the final two innings, I saw Joc Pederson’s homer, I savored Kenley Jansen’s domination, and as the clock neared midnight on October, I began preparing for Game 7.

For my first November baseball game, we didn’t mess around. More than an hour before the game began, I was in my seat with a hot dog. Time to take in the atmosphere and share it through Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and e-mail. It’s really the atmosphere, after all, that draws you to the game, the desire to play a part, however small in the chorus, because not even the best seats get you as close as the television.

In fact, when the game began, what I had sacrificed in favor of that atmosphere was quickly apparent. Our seats far, far down the right-field line put us in a realm filled with hope but miles from the action, and with slow-signaling home-plate umpire Mark Wegner making his strike calls on the backbeat, it seemed as if news of the game was coming by telegraph. A white sphere landed in a far-away field before we had barely inhaled the game’s first scent, and it was a double for George Springer. An Alex Bregman grounder went wide, wide of first base, Cody Bellinger threw off-balance, and like a newsreel of the war, we learned the casualty of a 1-0 Houston lead. Bregman then ran away from us, stealing third base, and then just as quickly scored on another grounder to Bellinger.

In a World Series like this one, I was quick to despair but slow to lose hope, especially when Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. allowed a leadoff double by Taylor and then began hitting nearly every other Dodger batter with a pitch. Two outs into the bottom of the first, the bases were loaded for Pederson, the afterthought when the postseason began who was now one hit from going toe-to-toe with Springer for potential World Series MVP honors.

Pederson hit the ball sharply but indiscreetly, into an inning-ending forceout. Forlornly, Los Angeles took the field behind Darvish to start the top of the second, and the third run of the game scored in slow motion, Brian McCann plodding home from third base on a wet newspaper slap from McCullers that sent the ball drifting with infernal apathy toward Dodger second baseman Logan Forsythe.

Do people remember that the Springer home run that destroyed Darvish and made the score 5-0 came on a 3-2 pitch. I’ll not soon forget the fear as Springer came up to the plate with the entire season at risk, but the first five pitches Darvish threw in that at-bat took no foothold in my mind. All was obliterated by the punishment Springer laid out on the last.

Before Game 7 began, I fully understood the case for starting Kershaw and didn’t particularly disagree with it, but nor have I ever second-guessed the decision to open the game with Darvish, who after all had successful outings in the two previous playoff rounds. As bad as Darvish looked in Game 3, it struck me as aberrative. It didn’t make sense to assume he would do worse on four days’ rest than Kershaw on two days’ rest — and since Kershaw wasn’t going to go the distance in any circumstance, why not use the experience he had picked up coming out of the bullpen in the 2016 NLCS to your advantage?

Instead, the choice will be remarked upon for years. Nearly 40 years after the last big elimination-game controversy involving a Dodger starting pitcher, Darvish became a Dave Goltz for a new era, the outsider who usurped the spotlight moment from the homegrown prodigy and pratfalled, even if Darvish was dimensionally more talented than Goltz, even if people always forget that for Fernando Valenzuela to have started the NL West tiebreaker at the end of the 1980 season, he would have been pitching on zero days’ rest.

The game still was not over. It couldn’t be, right? Not in a Series as magnificent as this one, not without Rocky landing one more flurry of punches on Apollo. In the bottom of the second, Taylor came to the plate with two runners on against the wobbly McCullers. Taylor lined the first pitch 96 mph, but as with Pederson’s 97 mph grounder in the first, it found nothing but glove. Two hard-hit balls by the Dodgers with five baserunners on, and zero to show for it.

The sad march continued. In the third inning, after a Corey Seager leadoff single, Turner was hit by a pitch for the second time — the fourth HBP of the game by McCullers. The last time a pitcher hit four batters in a game at Dodger Stadium, Orel Hershiser was discovering that his career was over. But again, no one scored.

Wounded, the crowd kept swaying, kept stomping, but the dominoes kept falling, falling faster, crashing one atop another, the tumbling interrupted only by an RBI single by 12-year Dodger veteran Andre Ethier in what many understood to be his last at-bat in baseball’s most beautiful uniform. Unlike the cyclonic Game 5, Dodger fans stood face to face with a steady wall of doom for hours before Game 7 ended.

Ethier was the final Dodger baserunner of 2017. The remaining 11 batters all made outs. The last, a grounder to second by Seager, brought a silence to Dodger Stadium unlike anything I have ever experienced at the conclusion of a major-league baseball game. Had the victors been the ALCS finalist Yankees instead of the Astros, no doubt thousands of chest-thumping Bronx Bomber fans would have taken over Chavez Ravine with their whoops. But with Houston represented so sparsely in the stands, I swear I could hear the cheers of the Astro players cut through the quiet as they swarmed the field to celebrate in the ballpark they had turned into a morgue.

IMG_9344It takes so much out of you, a baseball season, never more so than during a World Series run. If you didn’t know it before, you know it now. What does it mean to lose a World Series? It means you don’t take that exhaustion anywhere except home. You toss it in the trash if you choose. Or, you own it, and you take pride in it, you treasure it, even if it is nothing like joy, nothing like euphoria, nothing like pounding your chest and shouting to the heavens.

You think about coming so close, and your breath draws heavy and sad.

Come the next breath, you are stronger.

And we keep living anyway. We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes and if there’s a reason I’m still alive when so many have died, then I’m willing to wait for it.

Apr 02

Your guide to enjoying the 2017 Dodger season

Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

Hi, everybody!

It’s me, alive and well. I’m two months into my job at Showtime, which means I’m two months removed from blogging about the Dodgers. (That blogging time has been rededicated to working on my upcoming Dodger-themed book, details of which will be revealed in the coming months.)

After covering the Dodgers on a daily basis for most of the past 15 years, I haven’t minded a break from the grind. But I will say that whenever I see a shot of a beautiful baseball diamond, at Camelback Ranch or at Dodger Stadium, I sigh a little bit. It’s possible that I’ve missed the ballpark more than I’ve missed the games.

I’ve got a good feeling about this year’s Dodgers, who are both deep and talented. That’s not to say they don’t have weaknesses, or that the Cubs have gone away, but the Dodgers probably have as good a chance to go the World Series — and win — as they’ve had in the post-1988 era.

As the headline shows, the main reason for this post was to provide a quick guide to enjoying the 2017 Dodger season. So let’s get to it …

1) The Dodgers will lose at least 60 games this year. Probably a bit more. Some of those losses will be in a row. You know those losses are coming. Don’t freak out about them.

2) Great players will have terrible games. Good players will have terrible months. That’s baseball. That’s allowed. Again, big picture.

3) When you focus on the Dodgers’ problems, don’t forget that other teams have problems as well. For example, the Giants begin the season with Matt Cain as their No. 5 starter. The Cubs’ starting rotation includes 38-year-old John Lackey and the injury-prone Brett Anderson, with nothing like the pitching depth the Dodgers have behind them. Those two guys could have great seasons, and the Cubs also have the organizational depth to make a trade. But it’s not like the Dodgers’ rivals have nothing to worry about.

4) This Dodger team not only has the potential National League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player award winners, it’s got talent up and down the roster — the best in baseball, according to Fangraphs. And, it’s a likable bunch, led by a manager who could be here for 20 years or more. Savor that.

5) At the end of each day, it’s a game. No, really, it is. We all want to win, but if you’re angry for more than a minute after it’s over, you’re doing baseball wrong. Have fun! (And don’t be obnoxious on Twitter and Facebook …)

Happy 2017!

P.S. Celebrate Opening Day by buying my book — the one I’ve already written — 100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. About 98 of them are still alive and well!

Mar 30

Marching toward April

Feeling Opening Day excitement and the writing bug late on a Saturday …

• I’m reasonably excited about this year’s Dodger team, but part of that is a perverse excitement about just how bad on offense that left side of the infield might be, at least while Hanley Ramirez is out. That makes the decision to go with Justin Sellers fun for kicks, however dubious. Still, I have always liked the idea of emphasizing defense where offense isn’t an option.

• It only just now occurred to me that I was in the stands last year at the game in which Sellers was hurt and the one in which Dee Gordon was hurt.

• Do you realize this will no doubt be the fourth consecutive year that Kenley Jansen isn’t the Opening Day closer but eventually moves into that role?

• One thing I don’t miss about baseball season is the whining whenever a save gets blown, as if it should never happen. Heaven knows, though, it will happen.

• Carl Crawford has me excited. Truly didn’t think he’d be ready this fast, but this is the one case where I’m allowing myself to be swept away by past success and heady Spring Training numbers.

• I think lingering effects of his labrum injury will keep Matt Kemp below 25 home runs this year, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive.

• At first, I thought that with no true right-handed outfielder in reserve, the Dodgers would need to keep Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier spaced out in their lineup, or lefty relievers will just crush the team. But Gonzalez has had success against left-handers, so that helps. It’s still not necessarily a bad idea to insert a right-hander between them, though – as long as it’s a decent one.

• My initial plan for any free writing time that emerged this spring was that I would spend it offline on a long-term project. I did begin work on that project early this month, but with baseball season starting, I’m wavering. What might happen is a mix, where I post on Dodger Thoughts not infrequently, but not comprehensively. The risk is feeling like I’m doing both things halfway.

• Another intervening factor in my life is that Youngest Master Weisman, now 5, is six days away from his first T-ball season, and he is raring to go. (His team: the Tigers.) After playing with a pretend ball inside the house several times, we made it out to the park for the first time, and he was knocking balls through the infield and reaching the grass. Also in the past day, I’ve begun trying to teach him how to scoop balls on defense. It’s crazy.

• Older brother Young Master Weisman, now 8 1/2, took a few swings, but piano is his game. He’s composing his own material for his May recital performance. Young Miss Weisman, a whopping 10 1/2, is also wonderful on the keys.

Mar 28

Reasons to watch

The times of the year in spring and fall when first-run TV and Major League Baseball intersect the most are tough for me. (I do love my shows.) I almost never watch nighttime exhibition baseball as a result, particularly when my DVR is bubbling.

But I checked on the Dodger game after dinner tonight, almost for no other reason other than to acknowledge the team was back in Southern California, and not only was it scoreless in the fifth, which was kind of interesting, but the Dodgers hadn’t allowed a baserunner, which was very interesting.

It whetted my appetite for baseball. My curiosity.

In the seventh inning, I paused to pay attention to a Juan Uribe at-bat, which is like pausing to pay attention to a fallen leaf. Uribe has had … not the worst spring, and I entertained myself with the thought that I would spot something different about him.  I didn’t, but I did get to see him get his second hit in three at-bats tonight, a broken-bat single off Mark Lowe, that pitcher the Dodgers released earlier this week.

Later in the inning, there was a mini-version of one of those just-when-you-think-you’ve-seen-everything moments, something Vin Scully might remark upon if the stakes were higher. Uribe was on second base with two out, and Tim Federowicz hit a soft single into left field. In a 0-0 exhibition game, I figured Uribe would be waved home to try to score and hardly minded, but given that he was rounding third as the left fielder was reaching the ball, I also figured he would be thrown out easily – and that’s without factoring in that the left fielder was superman Mike Trout.

But Uribe was safe. Easily. He was running in mud, but he was safe.  Maybe he was saving himself for the regular season, but Trout just put nothing on his throw. Welcome back, unpredictability.

And then in the next inning, Matt Kemp hit an opposite-field RBI triple. Giddy.

I like having reasons to watch. I like being reminded that I have reasons to watch. I admit, there are moments that I think this game has nothing left to offer me, at least relative to what the rest of the world can. But baseball keeps putting up a fight. It’s relentless.

Oct 16

A bit of thinking out loud on an October night

The Remembering 2011 series is a byproduct of my not wanting to do a final Dodger Cogs and Dogs rankings for 2011, because after Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, the whole exercise just seemed too tedious. Instead, I decided it would be more interesting to reflect on every player individually, be it Kemp and Kershaw or Eugenio Velez and Lance Cormier. In the past, I’ve dispensed with year-in-review reflections in one massive effort, such as last year’s online baseball cards, but this time I’m just kind of going all in. Hope you’re finding the posts worthwhile.

I’ve ducked in and out of the baseball playoffs. With the Dodgers eliminated and with no particular dog left in the postseason fight, it’s been a time for me to exhale as far as watching games on a nightly basis, but I do keep aware of what’s going on, and certainly there’s been enough drama where I’m going, “Man, what am I missing?” And I race to find a TV or radio. But again, the compensation for not having your team in the playoffs is the relief you get from not stressing over the outcome.

I’ve been trying to watch as much Stanford football as I can each weekend, since the Andrew Luck-led Cardinal is the best Stanford gridiron group in my lifetime and then some. It’s quite a change from watching the Dodgers – Stanford has won its past nine games by at least 25 points, and there I am, totally enjoying it – yet seeing all the flaws.  The team has given up zero points in the first quarter this season and only a total of six in six third quarters, yet I still see weakness in the defense that has me concerned for the Oregon game in November. The Dodgers should be so flawed.

I even made plans to watch a regular-season NFL game for the first time in ages. I got curious about San Francisco-Detroit because of them being two upstart teams, one of them coached by Stanford’s recent leader Jim Harbaugh. It was kind of fun, but at the same time, overflowing with penalties. Ultimately, I went to a family lunch at the end of the first half, and then, instead of watching the second half on my DVR, decided I shouldn’t sit on my butt any longer and worked on cleaning out the garage. It wasn’t until after dinner that I learned that Harbaugh is still Harbaugh.

Lunch today included Grandma Sue, who has passed the halfway point between 101 and 102. She is in a wheelchair, can’t hear anymore and doesn’t know who everyone is – only a few people closest to her seem able to converse with her. But she looked lovely, and she just keeps pushing along. At Jerry’s Deli, ate 1 1/2 hot dogs and some eggs – quite a meal.

My kids, as usual, have been alternately vexing and dazzling. And, predictably I suppose, in some ways it has gotten easier, but in some ways it has gotten harder.  It was around this time, with my youngest at 3 1/2 and my oldest at 9, that I thought there might be a window of relative ease – no toddlers or teenagers – but it hasn’t quite played out that way. Still Crazytown. But I hug ’em every night.

My blogging at Variety suffered for a two-month stretch as I focused on Emmy and Fall TV Preview duties, but I’ve recently been making a concerted effort to post every weekday. Hope you’ll check it out. At the same time, it’s also time for me to get knee-deep into the film scene as we rev up for Oscar season. The best picture I’ve seen since “Moneyball” was “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” an intense drama starring Elizabeth Olsen.  I still definitely spend too much of my time in front of screens – TV, movie, computer.

St. Louis center fielder John Jay just made a wild catch in center field with two out in the bottom of the ninth at Milwaukee.  That would have been a heck of a final out.

It’s so quiet on the Dodger front. I looked back at my posts from the past two non-playoff Octobers – 2010 and 2007 – and even though the Dodgers were sidelined, it seemed newsier. This month, other than some McCourtroom droppings, it’s really just been a waiting game for things to happen. I’m not complaining, but I do occasionally imagine a tumbleweed blowing from first base to third in Dodger Stadium some mornings.

Let me know how your offseason is going. No detail is too mundane tonight …

Jun 27

My journey

… In about the mid-1990s, after it became clear how awful the DeShields-Pedro Martinez trade was, I started to conjecture that the Dodgers really could become the Cubs – that a journey to 100 years of mediocrity can begin with a single step. Subsequently, I started to think that I might be following the same path. I’m a published writer, and people (some of them, anyway) have enjoyed my work. But I don’t feel like I really made it to the champagne celebration in the locker room.

I’m very happy these days – I have a wonderful wife and a wonderful baby, and you won’t catch me regretting the choices I made that allowed those things to happen. But I do have frustrations, and those frustrations, I’ve come to realize, are played out each time the Dodgers do something. Anything. I’m not just talking about the 162 games; I’m talking about the offseason trades and the decisions to replace the dirt warning track with rubber and the removal of the sandwich station on the Club level of Dodger Stadium. I was raised in an easier time, where things were more often right than wrong, and I haven’t shed my addiction to that time. I want things with the Dodgers to be right. That, essentially, is the genesis of this website – to deal with that want.

I think what it is, is that when I was younger, the games were more fun. They were carefree. Now, they do seem to mean more to me. They carry this weight. And now, it’s been so long since the Dodgers have been a winner, I can’t imagine anymore what it will be like to celebrate that. I hope I enjoy the glory, if it ever comes, as much as I’ve suffered the pain. I think maybe I will.

– Dodger Thoughts, March 12, 2003

Lorenzo Charles died, and that was by far the worst news I heard all day.

I poked my thumb on a fork in the dishwasher, and that was by far the most pain I felt all day. I slammed my hand down on the counter and cursed.

But the angriest I got over the McCourt news today was when my web browser crashed while pages were loading.

This afternoon, I found myself wondering why I can get angry at so many things, so many little things – “Why won’t this page load?! It’s a computer! It’s all 0s and 1s!” – and yet I can remain unflappably calm over the way Frank McCourt treats the team I grew up loving.

It’s not because I don’t care. I couldn’t write for this website if I didn’t care.

Sometime over the eight years since I wrote the post excerpted above, Dodger games went back to the way they were. They went back to being carefree, to being an escape. I suffer every loss, yearn for every win, but even with a losing team, the games are a release for me again. They don’t carry weight. I channel my frustration elsewhere.

So much of the frustration and anger in my life is about unmet expectations. The computer should work. I should be able to do the dishes without maiming myself. March Madness God should not die at age 47. The biggest one of all: I’m not the person I want to be.

But Frank McCourt has no way left to disappoint me, because I have zero faith in the man to do the right thing. I have no expectations of him.

This is a particularly personal view that I don’t necessarily expect anyone else to share, so please don’t get the idea that I’m telling any of you not to be angry. You have every right. I’m just talking about me here.

I think part of my problem in life has been that I’ve not always been cynical enough, which is why I’m so easily disappointed. But McCourt is like a shot of cynicism straight into my veins. In some ways, it’s a relief. McCourt might own the Dodgers, but he doesn’t own me.

The Dodgers are my Odyssey, and to paraphrase Roberto Baly, Vin Scully is my Homer. Safe at home or mired on the seas, the Dodgers are a story, an endless fable that I see in the making, and so, so instructive.

The way I react to each chapter in this epic is the way I wish I reacted to the rest of my life. Suffer with dignity, accept limitations, believe that the next good moment is around the corner. I don’t want to have to become a cynic to survive my remaining time in this world, but if I can ever learn to take the bad with the good in my everyday life, like I do with the Dodgers, I’ll be the better man for it.

Don’t surrender. Be a dreamer, not a demander. It might not be what you need, but it’s what I need.

Apr 06

Dodgers’ third loss in four games points out frailties

Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesRockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez robs Rafael Furcal of a potential game-tying double in the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ 7-5 loss to Colorado.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, though I don’t by any means rule out the Dodgers making a run for a division title, my feelings about this year’s team are about as pessimistic as I’ve ever had since I began Dodger Thoughts. The reason: Not only does the pitching have to meet high expectations for the team to succeed, but the offense and defense both have to exceed expectations. Los Angeles just looks too slight a horse to bet the big money on.

Today’s 7-5 loss to Colorado was but one game, one that will be forgotten as soon as the next one begins (two long nights from now), but it does illustrate my point. The great pitching faltered, as will happen, and the offense, despite home runs by James Loney and Rod Barajas and a triple by Casey Blake in his season debut, couldn’t make up the difference. Bad timing? Sure, and for that matter, the Dodgers nearly pulled the game out in the ninth inning. But over the course of 2011, I don’t foresee the Dodger offense exceeding expectations more often than the Dodger pitching falls short of them.

We heard a lot of talk about execution and aggressiveness in Spring Training, which is all well and good — being anti-execution is like being anti-breathing. But I tend to think that any team that is relying on execution to save its season is a team that doesn’t have enough talent to succeed.

The Dodgers next head to San Diego’s spacious Petco Park, where the pitching should flourish, to play a team that most of us feel will finish beneath the Dodgers in the standings. After that is a trip to San Francisco, to play a team that just lost three of four games to Los Angeles. So for all I know, the Dodgers will be back in first place in a week’s time, showing renewed signs of contendability. But this remains a prove-it-to-me Dodger team, one that perhaps will be looking for players like Rubby De La Rosa or Jerry Sands to save it.

Mar 24

Dodger Thoughts revives the Hollywood Stars Game

Getty ImagesSofia Vergara has never faced Bill Murray in an official game – yet.

Apropos of nothing …

I got to thinking the other day about the demise of the Dodgers’ Hollywood Stars game, which actually began fading in importance in my childhood – I’ve never once seen it in person – but has truly crashed on the rocks in the current era. But once upon a time, it was a big deal. In a way, with the Lakers having become the gathering nexus of stars and sports, I’m surprised they haven’t made a celebrity game a tradition.

Anyway, it’s kind of a frivolous topic, but I decided to have some fun trying to come up with rosters that would make me want to come to the game – a lineup that would put some sizzle and some stakes back into the Hollywood Stars game. Here are the ground rules:

  • Each team should have breadth across the decades, dating back at least to players born in the 1950s.
  • Each starting lineup should have at least three women.
  • Each starting lineup should have at least five players who you have reason to believe can half-decently hit, throw and catch.
  • As many players who can both play the game and play to the crowd as possible.
  • There should be one or two players on each team from foreign lands who are inept at baseball but charmingly so.
  • Oh, and the winning team gets $10 million to donate to its favorite charity. The losing team gets $5 million. Don’t worry – I’ve got it covered.

Here are my opening suggestions:

Sandys
Manager: Eli Wallach
Coach: Don Rickles
Captain: Sandy Koufax

Starting lineup
Miranda Cosgrove, C
Kobe Bryant, LF
Jon Hamm, SS
Tom Hanks, 3B
John Kraskinski, RF
Bill Murray, P
Reese Witherspoon, CF
Idris Elba, 1B
Emily Blunt, 2B

Bench
Jeff Bridges, P
Robert Redford, OF
Marisa Tomei, P
Nick Offerman, C
Ron Howard, IF
Danica McKellar, OF
Betty White, PH

Fernandos
Manager: Clint Eastwood
Coach: Ernest Borgnine
Captain: Fernando Valenzuela

Starting lineup
Alyssa Milano, 2B
Blake Griffin, CF
Bryan Cranston, P
Jimmy Kimmel, SS
Sofia Vergara, RF
Brad Pitt, 3B
Louie C.K., C (and for scorekeeping purposes, he should strike out in his first at-bat)
Tom Selleck, 1B
Amy Poelher, LF

Bench:
Will Smith, IF-OF
Anne Hathaway, OF
Zach Galifianakis, C
Mark Harmon, P
Adrianne Palicki, P
Selena Gomez, IF-OF
Mickey Rooney, PH

Broadcaster: Vin Scully

OK, now time for your suggestions. Which players did I miss? Whom would you add, and whom would you cut?

Sep 12

The race wasn’t over in July

As the July 31 trading deadline approached, there was a case that the Dodgers should become sellers instead of buyers. But that case rested on what was best for the franchise long-term, not on the idea that the team had no shot of making the playoffs in 2010.

While some began pronouncing the 2010 Dodger season dead with two months to go, while I was ridiculed at times for suggesting that a three-game series in July with the Padres wasn’t a must-win, what we’ve seen again – as we’ve seen more than once in recent seasons – is that a single-digit deficit in the standings doesn’t bury a team if a third of the season is remaining.

Sure, few foresaw that the National League West-leading Padres would lose as many as 10 games in a row, but it was hardly out of the question that they would come back to earth in some fashion – say, 11 losses in 15 games or something like that. If you’re trailing but you can sniff the pennant race, you don’t need to hold your nose.

The Dodgers were seven games out the morning they traded for Ted Lilly. Insurmountable? Well, San Francisco was six games out of first place as late as August 28, and they have been playing for first place in San Diego this weekend.

Colorado was 11 games out of first place as late as August 22. The Rockies are now only 2 1/2 games out with three weeks to go.

The Padres may well prevail, but they are sweating.

With any meaningful combination of wins on and off the field over the past six weeks, the Dodgers would be in the thick of the playoff hunt today. That didn’t happen, and I suppose some people would say they knew all along it wouldn’t, but if all the wheels hadn’t come off at once, the Dodgers would still be playing important baseball. While this doesn’t tell the whole story, the 2010 Dodgers had a better record on July 31 than the playoff teams of 2008 and 2006. It wasn’t over, not at all.

The Dodgers would be better off today if they had gone into seller mode, and I would have understood it if they had – in fact, as I’ve said many times, part of me has always wished they would start an offseason in summertime. But I still think many fans are too quick to give up on a team. It’s sort of telling, really, how many people can’t wait to abandon hope.

Sep 02

Unthinkable or thinkable: A Joe Torre-Derek Jeter reunion in Los Angeles?

This is not a rumor I’m starting.  There is no evidence that this is being discussed or will ever happen. Everything I’ve heard is that the Yankee will finish his career as a Yankee.

But that sort of talk has been wrong in the past. And so I submit to you that there are far more outlandish possibilities than Joe Torre returning as Dodger manager next season and successfully recommending that the team sign free agent infielder Derek Jeter.

Sep 02

The 2010 Dodgers and the reinvention of lying

White lies, little and giant, have always been part of baseball — even the creation of the game is rooted in myth. But I can’t remember a year since I’ve been following the Dodgers that seems as defined by misinformation as 2010.

The tone was set last fall by Frank and Jamie McCourt as they prepared to do battle for ownership of the franchise, with the he said/she said battle positions flowering during numerous public revelations this year, leaving us with the bouquet of stinkweed at the trial that began this week. I’m not saying that someone’s been trying to pull a lot of wool over someone’s eyes, but lambs across the country are shivering in 90-degree heat.

It hasn’t only been the McCourts. Matt Kemp is held out of the starting lineup for days at a time, and the explanations richochet like bumper cars. He’s tired, he needs to get his head together, he’s in a battle with a coach, he needs to go talk to Joe Torre, Joe Torre needs to talk to him.

Manny Ramirez is finally ready to play after a painfully long absence, and yet he’s not playing. It’s matchups against the pitcher, it’s the square footage of the opposing outfield, it’s Torre playing a hunch, it’s to protect Ramirez for his waiver sendoff to the American League, it’s Ramirez’s own pigheadedness.

And then there are the media columnists who will bend and even break the truth to suit the stories they are determined to write, heedless of the facts.

This all comes on top of the game’s typical lies, such as a player hiding an injury (often to the detriment of the team), that are so familiar and yet so tedious.

It has bred a cynicism so rampant in many of us that even when a Dodger executive of unimpugned integrity like Logan White said in June with complete honesty that he drafted Zach Lee with the full intention of trying to sign him, few believed him — and most of the few who did simply believed he was lying to himself.

Baseball in general, and the Dodgers in particular, don’t necessarily owe us the truth, and I understand little white lies will always be part of the game. Baseball is a business, a culture and a family, and in all three fib to protect themselves. But this year, the cumulative effect of the lying has had a punishing effect. Last week, when Ramirez missed his final four chances to start after reaching base in his final four plate appearances as a starter, I rolled my eyes so much that they bowled a 270. It would be a bit much to pull the “have you no decency” card, but surely there doesn’t need to be such contempt for the truth to operate a baseball team in Los Angeles.

The grievances of Dodger fans are many, perhaps too many and perhaps sometimes too petty. But the feeling is almost unshakable that the Dodger organization has gone too far in insulting the intelligence of the fans. If our expectations are sometimes too high, that doesn’t mean the Dodger players, coaches, manager, executives and ownership don’t need to aim higher. In the end, winning is all that matters, but integrity goes a long way toward soothing the spirit when you’re losing.

Let’s put it this way: If you as an organization choose to espouse the heart and hustle and grit and gristle of players like Scott Podsednik and Jamey Carroll, then maybe you need to apply those values to your own, you know, values. Character in a baseball team is defined by more than how fast you run down the line. You’re telling me character matters, yet you’re not acting like it.

Aug 16

The good or bad of it

The good or bad of it, as I see it, is this:

If the Dodgers win their upcoming series against Colorado and Cincinnati as part of a 6-1 week, while Philadelphia and San Francisco (who play each other starting Tuesday) beat each other up as part of .500 weeks, the Dodgers might only be three or four games behind in the National League wild card race with six weeks to go.

That’s not all likely to happen – I’m not remotely suggesting it will happen – but it’s not so unlikely.

If it does happen, that means the Dodgers are firmly in the playoff hunt, even if the odds remain against them.

It doesn’t mean the Dodgers are a good team, let alone a playoff team. But you don’t need to be a good team to have a good week. And, rightly or wrongly, a good week can change your outlook significantly.

Jul 18

Defeated

One of the constant refrains I hear this year, whether it’s tied in with the McCourt debacle or the 22 years since the last World Series title or whatever, is that Dodger fans deserve better. And I get that, I totally do.

I just come at things from a different place. I don’t feel like I deserve better with the Dodgers. Big media market, big tradition, big talent base – I don’t care. That doesn’t matter to me.

As someone who was never anything but a Dodger fan, I was born on third base, as they say – but I don’t think I hit a triple. I think I got lucky. I was born into Jackie Robinson’s franchise. I was born with Vin Scully as my broadcaster. The Yankees, the Red Sox – I don’t care. I can’t imagine a better team to root for than Jackie and Vin’s team.

A game like today’s, and I don’t feel cheated. I feel, that makes sense. The McCourts, the bullpen collapses – they’re plot points in a drama that otherwise would be very nice but very sterile. Very tidy. Life isn’t tidy. That’s why it makes sense.

I’m not saying that’s right. I totally get why other people feel differently.

And it doesn’t mean I don’t feel disappointment. God, do I.

I just really don’t feel I’m owed anything. And it could be another 50 years without a World Series title (it really well could be), and I don’t think that will change. Some of you feel you’re owed, and that’s fine. I don’t feel it. I feel we’ve been given gifts, and expecting, demanding more is nonsensical.

I won’t stop being disappointed if there’s nothing under the tree this year, but I don’t blame Santa for passing us by.

And then there’s this.

I’m not going to defend Jonathan Broxton today. From what I saw, he should have pitched better.

But this. People look at what he does and then they say he doesn’t have a killer instinct or a heart or a brain or whatever other option “The Wizard of Oz” offers. They say it about Chad Billingsley, or Matt Kemp. They’ve said it about guys long gone, and they’ll say it about guys yet to come. And maybe they’re right. I don’t think they’re right – this ultimate judgment that boils down to “all winners have heart, all losers lack heart” – but maybe they’re right.

I think part of the reason I get so bothered is that when they say those things, I feel they might as well be saying it about me. Because I am no different than Broxton, Billingsley or Kemp. I have my good points and my bad points. And in particular, in my life, I have been lacking in grace under pressure. Rising to the occasion is not so easy for me.

It’s my hope that my family, friends and colleagues see the good that I do alongside my failings. Because if I’m judged only on my failings, I’m done for.

I think people are spoiled. But I’m spoiled, too. Just in different ways. So who am I to criticize?

In fact, I don’t even like this ending, but I don’t have the heart or the backbone to change it. So there you go.

Jul 16

A crisis of confidence in the 2010 Dodgers


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireManny Ramirez and the Dodgers are in the chase, but who’s up for the ride?

One of the most peculiar things to me about last season was how testy many Dodger Thoughts commenters were when things were going well.

For a Dodger team that basically won its division wire-to-wire and had the best record in the National League for almost the entire year, there was an overflow of discontent last spring and summer. The gripes could be rather specific if not downright picayune, but they were constant. Criticism of Joe Torre was ongoing. The war against Matt Kemp batting eighth took on a life of its own. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.

I pleaded with the unhappy campers to smell the roses, to accept that no team was perfect and enjoy what appeared to be the best Dodger team since at least 1988 (even accounting for Manny Ramirez’s suspension). They told me not to take anything for granted, that success didn’t eliminate the need for worry.

This year, aside from the occasional game like the Sunday night meltdown against the Yankees, things are less angsty in the comments. But weirdly, that seems to speaks to a deeper dissatisfaction in Los Angeles.

It’s just a theory, but I think that in a sense almost everyone felt that last year’s Dodger team was a special team. Or at least might be. Different people absorbed and reacted to this possibility in different ways, but overall the Dodgers’ potential seemed limitless — with even a World Series title possible if they would just not screw it up. People didn’t want to see that team wasted, and that made the stakes higher.

People don’t think this year’s team is a special team. Manny Ramirez is a year older, and Kemp’s spot in the batting order is the least of anyone’s concerns about him. There’s plenty to be happy about, but the team got off to a grim start instead of a great one, and the McCourt saga has sapped that extra bounce from everyone’s step.

Even though the Phillies seem less a threat now than they did a year ago, even though the path to the National League pennant is arguably more wide open than it was a year ago, even though the Dodgers currently sit only a half-game out of a playoff spot … no one seems all that excited.

The one fella that actually seemed to galvanize some fans was John Ely. His burst onto the scene was magical, spreading the kind of fairy dust that, accompanied by a nice month of May, made the eyes of Dodger fans twinkle. But for now, midnight has struck Ely down, and few seem very confident that we’ll make it back to the ball.

I wouldn’t have been writing this piece today if Clayton Kershaw had beaten St. Louis on Thursday, because I don’t think it would have occurred to me to do so after a victory. But I don’t think a victory would have changed the underlying feeling I’m getting. The ennui that seemed to accompany the 7-1 defeat crystallized some thoughts I’ve had percolating for a while.

After 10 or 20 years when Dodgers fans were grateful just to win a single playoff game, that’s no longer enough. They want the World Series. And with but a few exceptions, they don’t think they’re gonna get it.

It’s not that Dodger fans no longer care, or no longer desire. By and large, they just don’t believe.

May 03

Play ball …

My wife gave me the most extraordinary anniversary present. It was a 96-page, hardcover photo album (with accompanying text) celebrating our courtship and first 10 years of marriage and nearly eight years as parents. For a guy who finds self-pity less than a hop, skip and jump away, it was like being handed my very own “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The words she wrote were obviously sentimental and loving, but they didn’t hide the struggles we’ve had or the disappointments we have encountered. Sometimes we make bad choices; sometimes we aren’t good enough. Sometimes we do everything right, but it just isn’t meant to be. Marriage isn’t one World Series championship after another, and within it there are frustrations large and small.

But in the most mundane moments can come the most diabolically precious memories.

When I paged through that photo album and saw so many dagger-to-my-heart images piled on top of each other, I was staggered. And it was amazing how many of them occurred on the most uneventful days, days that had no meaning other than bringing smiles to our faces then, and now, and in the future. It’s a book of tear-dropped happiness, not a book of triumphs.

When we’re up against it, when the dreams and peace of mind are deferred, we have to remind ourselves (some days I’m better than this than others) that the little things add up. It isn’t done fairly, and the calculus isn’t comprehensible. But we have to remember. I have to remember. Otherwise, when the time comes, I’ll go straight into missing them without having appreciated them.