Jan 09

Vin Scully Bobblehead Night on August 30

In a year that is so improbable, the bobbleble has happened.

The first Vin Scully bobblehead giveaway, coming August 30, highlights this year’s highly historical set of sculpted collectables at Dodger Stadium. The full list:

Date Opponent Bobblehead
Saturday, April 28 Nationals Don Drysdale with Maury Wills
Tuesday, May 15 Diamondbacks Orel Hershiser
Tuesday, May 29 Brewers The Infield: Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey
Tuesday, June 12 Angels Mike Scioscia
Thursday, June 28 Mets Eric Karros
Saturday, July 14 Padres Tommy Lasorda with Walter Alston
Tuesday, July 31 Diamondbacks Kirk Gibson
Tuesday, August 7 Rockies Sandy Koufax
Tuesday, August 21 Giants Fernando Valenzuela
Thursday, August 30 Diamondbacks Vin Scully

Some ticket tips from the Dodgers:

… The best way for fans to collect the entire Dodger Stadium Greats Bobblehead Series, to purchase Opening Day tickets and to participate in all other 2012 promotions, is to purchase season tickets which start at $5 per ticket and $16 per ticket for Field Level seats. The collectible series is also included in a 10-game mini plan. Several 15-game mini plans that include Opening Day and two bobblehead games from the Dodger Stadium Greats Bobblehead Series are also available. The 25-game Pick ‘Em Mini Plan is another way to buy Opening Day tickets and to secure collectible bobbleheads. Mini plan pricing starts at $8 per seat.

Jan 09

De La Rosa progressing nicely in recovery

While I was parked at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, many of my online colleagues were out at Dodger Stadium for media day at the Dodgers’ Winter Development Camp. Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles was one. Some excerpts:

… Instead of making a splash now, the Dodgers will likely do what they have done the last few seasons. Try to stay competitive in the first few months of the season in order to convince ownership to expand the payroll at the trading deadline.

“I think we’re in a decent spot right now to be competitive and to make more decisions in July,” (Ned) Colletti said. “There’s rarely a postseason team that doesn’t change along the road.” …

… Elsewhere, (Don) Mattingly said that RHP Rubby De La Rosa has looked good in limited action after undergoing Tommy John surgery this summer. The Dodgers hope he can return to throwing bullpen sessions sometime in March and pitching in games by the end of July.

“I feel good. It feels strong,” De La Rosa said. “It feels like six months have passed since the operation and it’s only been three.”

But wait, there’s more …

  • Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy has video of Tommy Lasorda during batting practice telling prospect Matt Wallach to “pull the goddamned ball.”
  • Baly adds a bunch of photos in this post.
  • Brandon Lennox of True Blue L.A. has a long list of notes from the camp.
  • Dylan Hernandez of the Times leads his notebook with a Dee Gordon update, while also noting that if and when De La Rosa pitches for the Dodgers this season, it will probably be in relief, before he returns to starting in 2013.
  • Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has a full recap. Here’s a portion:

    … Also rehabbing is infielder Justin Sellers, who suffered a serious groin pull while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Sellers said he’s still not 100 percent, but he was turning double plays with expected starting shortstop Dee Gordon on Monday.

    Working in the infield was Alex Castellanos, a natural power-hitting outfielder acquired from the Cardinals in the Rafael Furcal trade. Castellanos is still primarily an outfielder, but the Dodgers are trying him at second base, which they had to fill with the signing of free agent Mark Ellis because they weren’t willing to turn the position over to Sellers or Ivan DeJesus Jr.

    Also at the camp is catcher Tim Federowicz, who was a September callup, but Colletti said he’s likely to open the season in the Minor Leagues as the Dodgers plan to start the season with A.J. Ellis starting and Matt Treanor backing up. Federowicz was the key player acquired in the Trayvon Robinson trade.

    Colletti said he met in the Dominican with third baseman Juan Uribe. Colletti said Uribe knows he underperformed last year and understands the expectations for this year. Utilityman Jerry Hairston might share time at the position. Hairston also could see time in the outfield, especially when the Dodgers face left-handed pitching. When that happens, James Loney might be replaced at first base by left fielder Juan Rivera and Andre Ethier might give way to Jerry Sands. Mattingly said he wouldn’t call it a platoon, but one of the winter priorities was to add right-handed bats to give him more options against left-handed pitching. …

Jan 07

Our friend Mike Sharperson

Quickly on a Saturday morning …

  • Maligned for his 1992 All-Star Game selection but nevertheless a most likable player, Mike Sharperson is remembered at Lasorda’s Lair by Scott Andes, who passes along this quote:  “I first walked in (to the N.L. clubhouse) and saw all the superstars, and I’m not even close to being considered a superstar. But here I am, and I’m going to play with them. I definitely feel like a kid in a candy store. I can’t wait to take my bats around to be autographed. For me to do what I’ve done, to be selected, is going to stop a lot of critics from doubting me.”
  • Former Dodger Alex Cora is drawing offseason interest both as a player and as a coach, says Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via MLB Trade Rumors).
  • Colorado has acquired 26-year-old Chad Tracy, son of manager Jim Tracy, from Texas in exchange for Greg Reynolds, whom the Rockies took with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft ahead of Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum, among others. The first baseman had an .814 OPS for Triple-A Round Rock last season.
Jan 05

Who’ll stop the bullet points?

Still I wonder …

  • Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles passes along perhaps the greatest parable ever written: “It’s about a fox who sees a pile of moldy grapes in a dumpster behind a Cheescake Factory.”
  • In a lengthy piece for True Blue L.A., Phil Gurnee looks ahead at the 2012 Dodgers with downcast eyes: “My spider senses are all tingling disaster disaster, and try as I might, I can’t shake it.”
  • Imminent future Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin has been “working out” Dodger youngster Dee Gordon among others this winter, according to Joe Lemire of SI.com.
  • Jay Jaffe, trustworthy as they come for Hall of Fame recommendations, offers his 2012 list to date at Baseball Prospectus: Larkin, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith.
  • Former draft phenom Brien Taylor, whose career was thwarted by an off-field fight, turned 40 last week. Mike Azisa of Fangraphs looks back at the derailed success story. Sample quotes:

    “I’ve been through 28 drafts,” said Scott Boras back in 2006, “and Brien Taylor, still to this day, is the best high school pitcher I’ve seen in my life.”

    “If I’d been doing things that were stupid and didn’t make any sense, I would have felt a lot worse about it,” said Taylor in 1994, a year after the injury. “I feel that what happened with me is a family thing and I was there for my family. But I don’t feel bad about it for one day because the reason it happened is not because I was being stupid out there.”

  • At Grantland, Jonah Keri looks at “The Myth of the Small-Market Window.”
  • Earl Pomerantz tells us what happens when someone speaking French asks Jim Appel his name.
  • Finally, Alex Belth shares a story at Bronx Banter that was simply and wonderfully impressive.
Jan 04

Digging trenches for the bidding war

And on and on …

  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com and Bill Shaikin of the Times each have an update on the Dodger sale process.
  • it would be a travesty if Jeff Bagwell doesn’t make the Hall of Fame, writes David Schoenfield of ESPN.com.
  • Alex Belth, who wrote that amazing story about sportswriter George Kimball late last year, today posted an entertaining interview he did with Kimball.
  • Tyler Kepner of the New York Times writes that the Yankees are saving money this winter to make a run at Cole Hamels or Matt Cain a year from now (via Baseball Musings).
Jan 03

Haunted house

Jordan Williamson’s game-costing missed field goal for Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl is no doubt devastating for him, yet not unusual for his position, his sport or even sports in general.

Or even life. Subtract the national stage, and I have no trouble calling back my own Jordan Williamson moments in my life. I don’t think about them every day, but they are profoundly powerful considering the decades that have passed for some of them. If quietly periodic haunting still counts as haunting, as opposed to crazy no-holds-barred “American Horror Story” haunting, then call me haunted.

Sometimes you get a chance for redemption, like the time I had the chance for my first real kiss when I was 11 and choked, and sometimes you don’t, like … well, let’s just say there are a few kicks I’d like to have back.

Jordan, you’ve got it bad right now, as bad as that mangled kick with time expiring, but while most of us can’t relate to the exact situation, we can feel it. I can, anyway. (And then there’s a fellow named Jonathan Broxton I might introduce you to …)

Jan 02

Baby New Year links

Here’s the one-two on 1/2/12 …

  • Mike Petriello of Mike Scisocia’s Tragic Illness connects the Dodgers’ lack of international spending to the likelihood that 2012 will bring their first all-U.S. starting rotation in more than 30 years.
  • No doubt the greatest Vicente Padilla story ever, from Nicaragua’s El Nuevo Diario, is passed along by Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk.
  • David Fung of Beyond the Boxscore looks at the tradeoffs the Dodgers made with their position players this offseason. Prepare to be whelmed.
  • David Schoenfield of ESPN.com looks at Hall of Fame balloting in terms of how stingy voters have been over time.
  • Farewell, Don Mueller.
Dec 27

Tim Raines for the Hall of Fame

Ronald C. Modra/Getty ImagesTim Raines

There is no player on the 2012 Hall of Fame ballot I am rooting to see elected more than Tim Raines.

Being second to Rickey Henderson is anything but a crime, but if it weren’t for Henderson, you might call Raines baseball’s ultimate table-setter in the post-segregation era — more than Lou Brock, Maury Wills or anyone else. Raines reached base 3,977 times (44th all-time) with a .385 on-base percentage over 23 years — and that’s combined with being fifth in stolen bases and second in stolen-base percentage.

Raines scores high in terms of both peak value and longevity. In Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs, Raines is the 84th-best position player in history — the 10 names immediately after his are Joe Torre, Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire, Craig Biggio, Ozzie Smith, Zack Wheat, Edgar Martinez, Lou Boudreau, Billy Williams and Pee Wee Reese.

For comparison, just to take a couple of other one-time Dodgers whom many believe should be in the Hall, Mike Piazza is 106th and Gil Hodges is 219th.

“Any time we compare Raines to a reasonable group of Hall of Famers, we always end up with the same thing: Raines is just like them,” Tom Tango wrote at the conclusion of a long analysis piece on Raines for the Hardball Times a few years ago, a piece that remains worth your time. “If you have a group of players worthy of the Hall, and an individual player compares very favorably to that group, you have a Hall-worthy player by definition. That is what Tim Raines is: the definition of a Hall of Famer. Whether Raines is compared to the best of the best leadoff hitters or the best No. 3 hitters or the best players of his era, he stands among them. And they stand in the Hall of Fame.

Dec 26

Remembering 2011: Chad Billingsley

Alex Gallardo/APChad Billingsley (48)

Presenting the final entry in the Remembering 2011 series …

The setup: Billingsley rebounded from his struggles in the second half of 2009 to post a 3.57 ERA and 109 ERA+ in 2010, with 171 strikeouts in 191 2/3 innings. In his final 14 starts of 2010, he had a 2.45 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 92 innings, averaging 6 2/3 innings per start.

Two days before the season opener, Billingsley, who was paid $6.275 million in 2011, signed a contract extension guaranteeing him $32 million from 2012-14 plus a club option for 2015 ($14 million in salary or a $3 million buyout). A few months shy of turning 27, the expectations for Billingsley were the highest they had been since the first half of 2009, when he had a 3.38 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 125 1/3 innings and made the National League All-Star team.

The closeup: After an up-and-down April highlighted by eight innings of shutout ball against St. Louis with 11 strikeouts, Billingsley was encouragingly strong in May. In six starts that month, he had a 2.63 ERA while striking out 41 in 41 innings against 52 baserunners. That included eight innings of one-hit ball against Arizona in a May 14 game that Billingsley lost on an unearned run. The righthander went into June with a 3.46 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings.

He was complimenting that performance with a potential Silver Slugger season at the plate. After netting a home run, walk and double June 5 in Cincinnati, Billingsley had a .385 on-base percentage and .565 slugging percentage for a .950 OPS. He ended up going 2 for 33 for the remainder of the season – yet that, really, was the least of his problems.

In his first three June starts, Billingsley pitched 13 2/3 innings and allowed 43 baserunners and an 11.19 ERA. As in May, he rebounded with what might have been his best four-start stretch of the year: 27 1/3 innings, 29 baserunners and a 1.32 ERA in his final appearances before the All-Star break. But even here, Billingsley’s strikeouts (6.6 per nine innings) were off, and so while he had lowered his ERA back down to 3.87, there was still reason for concern.

During the season’s second half, Billingsley had four quality starts in 13 outings. It’s indicative of his struggles that in his best post-break performance, July 24 against Washington, he still needed 31 pitches to get out of the first inning before finishing with seven innings of two-hit, 10-strikeout ball. In 11 starts after that one, Billingsley had more than five strikeouts only once.

By the end of August, though he was still maintaining an ERA in the low 4s, it was hard not to worry about him.

… His strikeout rate has dipped for the fourth consecutive season, from 9.01 in 2008 to 8.21 in 2009, 8.03 last year and 7.46 this season – a figure that is neither bad nor great, but the trend is kind of discouraging. In the past year, his walk rate has gone up from 3.24 to 3.84, virtually as much as his strikeout rate has gone down.

What does it all mean?

In direct contrast to his reputation, Billingsley has repeatedly shown the ability to come back from adversity. From the 2008 postseason, from his broken fibula, from his 2009 slump, Billingsley has always found a way. But this, quietly, might be his biggest challenge of all. It might require nothing more than a tweak, or it might require something much more substantial. Can he do what Kemp did?

In the history of the Dodgers, only eight pitchers have had more strikeouts before turning 28 than Billingsley, and three of them are in the Hall of Fame. Only 13 pitchers have had a better park- and era-adjusted ERA before turning 28 than Billingsley. He is, objectively, one of the best young pitchers in more than 100 years of Dodger baseball.

Another one of those is Billingsley’s teammate Clayton Kershaw, who poses a standard that Billingsley probably won’t be able to live up to. But Billingsley’s inability to match Kershaw isn’t what will make or break him. He doesn’t have to be Kershaw-good to be good.

The question is not whether Billingsley has been a good pitcher for the Dodgers up to now. The question is whether he is slipping just as he’s entering what should be his prime…

September hardly offered a positive answer for Billingsley, to the extent that we were left with the following:

  • September 2009: 5.16 ERA, 29 2/3 innings, 1.483 WHIP, 8.8 K/9
  • September 2011: 5.16 ERA, 22 2/3 innings, 1.765 WHIP, 6.0 K/9

Yep, as down as many people were on Billingsley by the end of 2009, there was even more reason to be in 2011. Finishing the year one win shy of his third consecutive 12-11 season, Billingsley had the worst ERA (4.21) and ERA+ (88) of his career, and his worst WHIP, walk and strikeout numbers since he was 22.

Coming attractions: It’s my belief that Billingsley’s problems were mainly physical last year. Whether they’re the kind that are cured by an offseason of rest, or whether this is the setup for a 2012 like Jonathan Broxton had in 2011, I don’t know. But I don’t think that this is a coincidence:

  • 8.5 K/9 in April-May
  • 7.2 K/9 in June-July
  • 5.7 K/9 in August-September

As with Andre Ethier, a comeback season from this former All-Star could make a big difference in 2012 for the Dodgers, who can’t afford another year of two stars and 23 whatevers.

Dec 21

Chan Ho Park pitches for the kids

As I still wonder whether Vanessa Bryant will join a Dodger ownership group …

  • The Dodgers have announced their invitees to their annual January developmental minicamp, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com: pitchers Steven Ames, Michael Antonini, Rubby De La Rosa, Stephen Fife, Shawn Tolleson, Josh Wall, Allen Webster and Chris Withrow, and position players Alex Castellanos, Griff Erickson, Tim Federowicz, Tyler Henson, Alfredo Silverio, Scott Van Slyke and Matt Wallach.

    The developmental camp is as much a tutorial about off-field preparation for becoming major-leaguers as anything to do with on-field performance.

  • Prince Fielder is just there for the taking, writes Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports.
  • Jonah Keri writes at Grantland about the Yankees’ new austerity (relatively speaking).
  • Also at Grantland, Rany Jazayerli writes about how teams trading established players for prospects might be getting the short end of the stick more often than you realize.
  • How about a Grantland hat trick: Jane Leavy writes about Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe Ruth’s last surviving child.
  • Andy LaRoche has signed a minor-league deal with Cleveland.
  • Chan Ho Park has signed to pitch in his native South Korea for the first time (news via Brett Bull).

    … The Hanwha Eagles said the right-hander had signed a one-year deal worth 24 million won ($20,600).

    The Eagles had planned to pay Park 400 million won per season with a club option for another 200 million won. But the money will instead be donated to a fund for amateur baseball at Park’s request.

    The 38-year-old said he would also donate his salary for the development of youth baseball.

    “I will spend that money on something meaningful for children,” he said. …

Dec 21

Debt of a salesman

The bid book designed to detail what potential Dodger owners are actually buying has been sent out, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times. Some details:

… The Dodgers generated about $240 million in revenue last season, according to the book. That figure would be essentially even with 2006 and down 17% from a record $289 million in 2008, according to records filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. The Dodgers’ revenue has declined every year since then.

The Dodgers turned a profit of about $2 million last season, but before debt payments that almost assuredly turned that small profit into a double-digit loss. The Dodgers’ profit before debt service dropped about $27 million from the 2010 season.

The Dodgers’ debt exceeds $599 million, according to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court testimony of the investment banker leading the sale on behalf of McCourt, the outgoing owner.

The bid book also reminds prospective owners of an annual $14-million payment the Dodgers must provide as rent at Dodger Stadium to another McCourt entity not included in the sale and says that figure is scheduled to increase as soon as 2015.

Also, Forbes has more on the bid book revelations. Meanwhile, Dodger creditors are concerned about the potential liability in the Bryan Stow lawsuit against the franchise, writes Shaikin.

Dec 21

Covering the Bill Conlin case

Most of you have probably heard by now that longtime columnist Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News is alleged to have molested four children in the 1970s, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. From ESPN.com news services:

… The four alleged victims told the Inquirer they were molested by Conlin in the 1970s, when they were between the ages of 7 and 12. The Inquirer reported that prosecutors took statements from the four last year but could not act on the allegations because they are beyond the statute of limitations. The law in New Jersey does not allow for cases to be prosecuted that occurred and were not reported prior to 1996.

… Conlin, who is 77, retired from the Daily News on Tuesday. His attorney, George Bochetto, issued a statement to the Inquirer, saying: “Mr. Conlin is obviously floored by these accusations, which supposedly happened 40 years ago. He has engaged me to do everything possible to bring the facts forward to vindicate his name.”

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk discusses how the Baseball Writers Association of America found it important to reiterate that Conlin’s 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award is not affected, without acknowledging the gravity of the charges, and how some of the BBWAA members felt that was, as Andy Martino of the New York Daily News wrote, a “tone-deaf” statement, regardless of the ultimate outcome of the case.

Here’s what Philadelphia Daily News editor Larry Platt wrote:

… I first found out the Inquirer was working on a piece about Bill Monday. I read a draft of the piece this afternoon. It bears repeating all the necessary caveats, of course: at present, these are allegations. Bill has not been proven guilty or even charged with anything.

That said, I have to say the story made my stomach turn. I can’t shake the disgust and rage I felt after reading the allegations in the piece, nor can I stop thinking about the victims.

I have known Bill Conlin since 1990, and before that, I knew him as a legendary voice on the page. I simply do not know how to reconcile what I’ve read with the man I know. I spoke to him today. He offered to retire and I immediately accepted. I knew I’d never be comfortable running his byline again.

For a long time today, we struggled with how to best acknowledge this story without knowing the facts or reporting on it ourselves. It is a strange and sad time in the newsroom, and we will do our best to cover this as if it were any other high-profile figure in Philadelphia. But of course it is not just another high-profile figure in Philadelphia.

Conlin has been synonymous with this paper for five decades, and to pretend that we know how to approach a story like this is to insult your intelligence. All I can promise you is that we will attempt to be as thorough and fair as we can possibly be – not just to the facts of the story – but also to you, our readers. And that means being as open and transparent as we can be.

Since this is such uncharted territory, I don’t know precisely what that will look like. I do know this: This is a tragedy. It’s tragic for the victims, for Conlin’s family, for the family of the Daily News, but also for the familial relationship we have with our readers. Like me, you’ve grown up with and trusted Conlin’s bellowing voice. Now that trust is compromised by horrific allegations.

When I spoke with my stunned staff today, I found myself uncharacteristically at a loss for words. But then the reporters and editors among us started speaking up. They wanted to report this story. It was, for me, an oddly inspiring moment.

They reminded me: This is what we do. We hold people accountable, and we’ve done that with everyone from mayors to Jerry Sandusky. Now we just may have to do it with one of our own.

Update: Via Hardball Talk, here’s a new statement from the BBWAA:

“We were shocked and saddened to learn of the allegations involving Bill Conlin and we extend our sympathies to everyone involved. This is a matter far more serious than baseball and, at this point, a matter best left to the proper authorities.”

– Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times
BBWAA President
Dec. 21, 2011