Dodger Thoughts

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

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Hello, World Series … goodbye, Earth

Mikey Williams/Los Angeles Dodgers

Mikey Williams/Los Angeles Dodgers

The past 100 hours since the Dodgers captured the pennant, the verifiable, officially viable National League pennant, those have been the air-conditioned portion of their fanbase’s trip to the World Series.

Feel the breeze. Luxuriate in the cool, refreshing praise from around the baseball world. Revel in the stories telling you how great you are. (Technically, it’s “how great the team you root for is,” but really, what’s the difference?) It’s climate-controlled, baby.

But come 5:09 p.m. Tuesday, we’ll open the sliding door and step right into the heat — the literal heat, yes, but even more scorching, the metaphorical heat. This week’s 100-degree temperatures are unseemly for fall, even in Los Angeles, but they’re entirely appropriate. We will be sweating this one out long after the Tuesday sun sets.

This is what we asked for. For 29 years, we begged, we pleaded for this return to this heavenly ballfield, heated by hell’s furnace.

Sitting on the edge of our seat? No, we’re just sitting on the edge — living on it, nothing to lean back on, no cushion, no backrest. Thrust into orbit and hoping, praying we don’t incinerate upon reentry. We’re on top of the world, ma, with a long way to fall.

You dreamed about this for so long. Now experience weightlessness and terror all at once.

Your team needs to win four games out of seven. There’s no prescription for how exactly that gets done. You can win those games by staking out an early lead or coming back late. You can drop one at home and win two on the road, or you can sweep at home and come home needing to sweep again. You will need 20 runs if the other team scores 19. You can bask in a single run if you hold the other team to none.

There will be moments where things go wrong, maybe too many of them at once, and the reflex will be to assume that your team screwed up — made the wrong decision, swung at the wrong pitch. Sometimes, yeah, it will be on us — who among us hasn’t scolded a child (or a parent) for their numbskull transgressions? One piece of advice: It will help you to remember that the other team is fantastic, genuinely fantastic, earning every bit of its place in this World Series, more likely than not wreaking the havoc, rather than rolling head-first past it.

I like the Dodgers’ chances. I really do. But we are explorers, on a visionquest unseen in this city in some lifetimes. Maybe, over the course of the coming years, the frightening will become familiar. But for now, there is no preparing for the extreme adventure we are about to undertake, no warding off each trembling, pulsating, head-rattling moment. It’s a sensation we can only hope will prove sensational. We are livin’ now, friends.

Schrodinger’s postseason

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Every year, each year more than the last, comes the refrain: “The Dodgers have to win the World Series this year.”

And every year I wonder, “or what?”

Not far in the future, there are books and newspapers and Baseball Reference pages imprinted with the result of the 2017 playoffs. Less than a month from now, there will have been a parade downtown with “I Love L.A.” blaring non-stop, or there won’t have been.

It won’t be because the Dodgers tried any more or any less than their best. It will be because along their best effort, they finally caught the breaks that have flown by for the past 29 seasons.

The playoffs are in Schrodinger’s box, and it’s just waiting to be unlocked.

It’s not that the Dodgers have no control over their fate. But they can only control what they can control. And they can’t control everything. No team can.

The World Series isn’t a morality play, you can’t will yourself to victory, and neither the Dodgers nor their fans are owed anything. And even if that mattered, what of it? Cleveland, Washington and Houston have all gone longer — in some cases forever — without winning a World Series. Just because the people of Los Angeles feels boundlessly deprived doesn’t mean they are.

The “We’re the Dodgers, we’re a big city, we’re a hallowed franchise, we deserve this” mentality — no one cares.

That doesn’t mean surrender. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe. The Dodgers are equipped to go all the way. They’re certainly no longer the hip pick to do it — I dare say a ton of people are on board with Arizona ending the Dodgers season sometime in the next week, let alone the Nationals, Cubs or American League champs. But there is talent and leadership and impatience and desire and more talent up and down the Dodger roster. There are mountains ready to be scaled and primal screams waiting to be unleashed.

If you’re a Dodger fan, go open-hearted and full-throated into these playoffs. Just understand that seven other fan bases can rightfully do the same.

As much as you might have dreamed of it, I don’t think there’s any fathoming what a World Series title will feel like in Los Angeles. The fans of this team haven’t gone this long without that elation since 1955. Putting aside the specific utopia of Kirk Gibson’s home run, there hasn’t been an emotional euphoria to match ’55 in more than seven decades.

But if not …

What can we do? We’ll try to understand. We’ll agonize, pick up the pieces, call for changes. Many will demand firings, purgings, blood. All trying to make sense of a purely irrational moment in a purely irrational game.

And then we’ll start over again. We’re baseball fans. It’s what we do. Or else.

You know, I’ve been thinking …

Puig

Hi there. It’s been a while. The Dodgers appear to have been doing well. Hope you weren’t waiting for me to tell you that here. Also, I finished the draft of the book on the Dodgers I started before I left for Showtime. It’s coming out next spring, and you’ll begin hearing details about it sometime in the next few months. Believe me, I won’t be shy.

Anyway, I’m on a brief staycation and with a little free time, wanted to share some quick, you know, Dodger thoughts.

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The original Los Angeles Dodger rookie sensation was Dick Gray

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Four players in Los Angeles Dodger history have homered four times in their first 10 career games. You’re probably quite familiar with three of them: Matt Kemp in 2006, Yasiel Puig in 2013 and Cody Bellinger, who delivered his second two-homer game of the past week Friday in the Dodgers’ 8-2 victory at San Diego.

Before them, there was Dick Gray, who not only homered four times in his first 10 games, he did so in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ first 10 games ever.

Most total bases, first 10 games, Los Angeles Dodgers

Most total bases, first 10 games, Los Angeles Dodgers

Gray was truly the original rookie supernova for the Dodgers after they moved west from Brooklyn. After the Dodgers were shut out in their West Coast debut at San Francisco on April 15, Gray delivered Los Angeles’ first home run, run and RBI in the second inning of their 13-1 victory over the Giants, part of a 3-for-6 day.

The 26-year-old third baseman also hit the first Dodger homer in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum history on April 18, then hit another the next game. By the time he hit his fourth home run in the Dodgers’ ninth game on April 27, he was batting .382/.475/.735/1.210.

Unfortunately, little went right for Gray as a Dodger after that. While making a diving stop of a Bill Mazeroski grounder April 29, Gray jammed his finger. He found himself in a 4-for-32 slump thereafter (albeit with three triples), and with the Dodgers in a six-game losing streak, was optioned along with pitchers Danny McDevitt and Roger Craig to St. Paul.

Gray returned two weeks later and had another mini-hot streak, going 9 for 18 with a homer and three doubles in his first four games, May 28-31. But over the next two months, he hit .204/.291/.381/.672, and he was sent back to St. Paul. He didn’t return for the remainder of the season.

In 1959, Gray hit .154/.241/.288/.530 in 21 games before being traded to St. Louis for Chuck Essegian (who, like Mickey Hatcher in 1988, hit one regular-season homer for the Dodgers in 1959 but two World Series homers) and Lloyd Merritt, and his big-league career ended one year later.

A long-lost moment from a crazy 1982 season

The three-way 1982 NL West race was unforgettable, but we usually hear the story from the Dodger perspective, with a touch of San Francisco. Here is a wide-ranging look from the Atlanta side, thanks to this history (written by Jason Foster for The Sporting News) of a season-long documentary being made about the team.

Included is the video above of a Dodgers-Braves controversy I had no memory of …

During a crucial game against the Dodgers, Torre went ballistic over an umpire’s decision to send a runner back to third, rather than allow him to score, after a portion of a wall in foul territory collapsed and sent fans spilling onto the field.

Torre didn’t hold back, unleashing a colorful tirade that almost certainly would get a manager ejected today, but brought no repercussions in 1982.

Diamond, listening in real time on a headset, looked to audio engineer Ken Noland with an expression that said both, “Can you believe we’re getting this?!” and “Good luck editing that.”

“We really had to bleep that out,” Diamond said with a laugh. “I remember back in the edit room, in the audio room, that took us a few days to go through that and take all the … language out.”

Do read Foster’s entire story, which among other things, introduces a surprise narrator for the documentary whom Dodger fans will appreciate.

What the 1959 World Series meant to Los Angeles

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From the October 17, 1959 issue of The New Yorker: 

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“To a New Yorker, observes our man — a Manhattanite of long standing — the warmth of the embrace with which Los Angeles has hugged the Dodgers to its bosom is impressive, for while Brooklyn used to hold the Dodgers in affection, Los Angeles seems to hold them almost in awe. It would be hard to imagine any Angeleno, these giddy days, referring to the team as bums. And the city’s respectful adoration does not stem merely from the circumstance that a World Series has finally been staged in this palmy setting. Rather, it appears that the Dodgers have given the land of make-believe something real to cling to. “It’s not our feelings about baseball that have us all stirred up,” one reasonably old-time settler said the other day. “It’s that this cockeyed, sprawling place has finally had a chance to become a unified city. It’s the first time Los Angeles ever had a chance to become anything.”

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!

Wrapping up the films of 2016 on Oscar Sunday

Loving

By Jon Weisman

It was a full sprint at the finish line, but even in a busy year in which I only saw a baker’s dozen of live-action movies, I did manage to get to all nine Oscar nominees for best picture. That’s the first time that’s happened since I left Variety.

I’m glad I did. Usually, there’s at least one nominee in the bunch that I find inexplicable, if not horrible. But I had positive feelings about every nominee, all the way to Hacksaw Ridge, which I had been avoiding until it became the final unseen nominee on my list. The initial plotting in Hacksaw is somewhat by the numbers, but it’s a powerful story and it more than does its job of making you feel both the horrors and heroism of war.

Still, my favorite movie of the year is La La Land, and I’m not dissuaded by the backlash that complained about its supposed superficiality or the quality of the singing. The film resonates with me today, months after having seen it, and is more complex than many of its critics give it credit for. I don’t buy the argument that you have to have Broadway voices to make a musical sing. In many people’s eyes, the best picture race has come down to La La Land vs. Moonlight, and I don’t begrudge those hoping Moonlight takes the big prize. But as much as I appreciated the latter, La La Land is triumphant for me. Of course, I’m someone who was also happy with The Artist and The King’s Speech, which from every story that I’ve read about them over the past few years, you’re not allowed to like at all.

The most underrated movie of the year for me is Loving, whose omission from the Oscar picture nominations is hardest for me to understand. It’s an important story, the execution of that story is essentially flawless, and it’s the kind of story that should fit into the Academy’s wheelhouse. In a year of big stories told intimately, Loving was the best of any that I saw. Jeff Nichols, who also wrote and directed Mud and Take Shelter, deserved better. The Lobster is another movie that was worthy of best picture consideration, though it’s far easier to understand why it didn’t get a foothold with the Academy beyond an original screenplay nomination.

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 2.08.30 PM

If I were limited to a top five, it would be La La Land, Loving, Moonlight, Lion and Arrival. Lion was a satisfying movie experience from start to finish. Arrival began slowly for me but finished strong, leaving a deep impression.

Heading into Manchester by the Sea, I expected I was about to see the year’s best picture winner. And while it was well done — with Michelle Williams’ performance stealing the show — it was a movie that I was done with about as soon as I walked out of the theater. At the time, I was watching the final season of AMC’s Rectify, which had the quiet lead character with a troubled past like Manchester but was doing it much more compellingly, week after week, and Manchester suffered by comparison. It deserves its best picture nomination, but not the Oscar.

I have no complaints about the film adaptation of Fences other than what happens with Denzel Washington, my pick to win best actor, in the final stretch. I know that’s part of the point of the story (and it gives supporting-actress favorite Viola Davis one last moment to show she wasn’t a supporting actress), but it just seemed to leave a hole in the production where a punch should have been. Hell or High Water was strong — a Bonnie and Clyde for the post-recession era — and with Manchester, Lobster, Fences and Hacksaw, it takes a spot in my top 10 ahead of Hidden Figures, which also has a great story but presents it in a clumsier fashion than some of the others. In particular, the story of Octavia Spencer’s character, who is treated as a glorified administrator for virtually the entire film when she was so much more, really seems to get short shrift.

The two other live-action movies I saw were also completely entertaining. Florence Foster Jenkins was a good watch — as old hat as it is for Meryl Streep to get an Oscar nomination, it doesn’t come by accident. Meanwhile, Simon Helberg and Hugh Grant are also really terrific and help make the film a winner. And I’ll also throw some positive support behind Eddie the Eagle, which we saw on something of a lark early in 2016. The movie knows what it is — it doesn’t try to make itself into something grand, but it also isn’t stupid. If you catch this one on the small screen, I’ll bet you enjoy it.

I’m not nearly as positive on the animated films from 2016 I saw this year. While not as good as top animated films of past years, Moana is the best of this year’s bunch, by several degrees, and yet the broad consensus is that it will lose best animated feature to Zootopia, which was forgettable. Kubo and the Two Strings had a good story, but the anglicized voice acting significantly undermined it. Finding Dory, Trolls and The Angry Birds Movie did little more for me than pass the time with my kids.

Update your Dodger Insider email notifications

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Hi, everybody! Hopefully you’re aware that in November, Dodger Insider (and every other official MLB blog) switched blogging platforms from WordPress to Medium.

While the URLs for the blog has not changed — dodgers.mlblogs.com, dodgers.com/insider and dodgerinsider.com all work — we know many of you learn of new stories via email updates. In order to continue receiving new blog notifications, you will need to create a Medium account.

To do so:

  • Step 1: Visit Dodger Insider and click on the follow button just below the masthead. 

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  • Step 2: Choose from one of the sign-up options.

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  • Step 3: Here’s how it looks if you use your email address: 

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  • Step 4: A link will be e-mailed to you. (It should come quickly, but please allow a few minutes for it to arrive.)

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  • Step 5: Open the e-mail and click on the link within to create your account. 

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  • Step 6: Fill in the “Full Name” and “Username” boxes and click on “Create account” to complete the process. 

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  • You should now be following Dodger Insider and receiving e-mail notifications. 

If you have any questions, leave a comment here or on a Dodger Insider post at Medium. Otherwise, come on over!

— Jon Weisman

Video: Who was the most underrated Dodger in 2016?

[wpvideo zmh5Z8cE]

By Jon Weisman

Late in October on Twitter, I asked folks whom they would pick for the most underrated Dodger of 2016.

It was a doubly subjective exercise, integrating not only your own perception of Dodger players but your belief in how others feel as well.

From the dozen or so nominees, I picked out the four with the most mentions and put them in a decidedly unscientific poll, narrowly won by Joe Blanton.

Blanton was a fine choice, but my own vote went to Joc Pederson. In this video (edited and produced for Dodger Insider by Julian Gooden) I explain why. Enjoy …

Seager, Roberts, Maeda finalists for top MLB awards

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

Corey Seager is a finalist for both the National League Rookie of the Year Award and the NL Most Valuable Player Award, MLB and the Baseball Writers Association of America have announced.

Kenta Maeda is also one of the three NL Rookie of the Year finalists, while Dave Roberts is in the final countdown for NL Manager of the Year.

With Max Scherzer of the Nationals and Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester of the Cubs announced as finalists for the NL Cy Young, Clayton Kershaw’s streak of five consecutive top-three finishes has ended — though Kershaw still led NL pitchers in WAR despite being limited to 149 innings.

The winner of the NL Rookie of the Year Award will be announced November 14, followed by NL Manager of the Year on November 15, NL Cy Young on November 16 and NL MVP on November 17.

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What the Dodgers’ qualifying offers to Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner mean

Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, who became free agents at the end of the 2016 season, have received qualifying offers from the Dodgers.

Accepting a qualifying offer before the deadline of 2 p.m. November 14 guarantees the player a one-year contract for the 2017 season at $17.2 million. If declined, the Dodgers are still free to negotiate with the player, but would receive draft-pick compensation if either signs elsewhere.

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Dodgers trade Carlos Ruiz for reliever Vidal Nuño

Elsa/Getty Images

Elsa/Getty Images

By Jon Weisman

Vidal Nuño, a 29-year-old left-handed reliever, has been acquired from Seattle by the Dodgers in exchange for catcher Carlos Ruiz.

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Willie Calhoun MVP of AFL Fall Stars Game

By Jon Weisman

Dodger second-base prospect Willie Calhoun went 3 for 3 with a home run to win Most Valuable Player honors and lead the West team to a 12-4 victory over the East at the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game tonight.

Calhoun, who turned 22 Friday, singled and scored in a four-run second inning, hit an RBI single in a four-run third inning and knocked a two-run homer in the fifth. In 2016 with Double-A Tulsa, Calhoun hit 27 homers and 25 doubles in 503 at-bats and slugged .469.

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Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect, added a two-run homer in the sixth. The left-handed swinger hit his off 6-foot-7 southpaw Jared Miller, an Arizona Diamondbacks farmhand.

Dodger Stadium waits for spring

By Jon Weisman

If we had somehow forgotten, Wednesday’s World Series finale between the Cubs and Indians, an instant classic that will be revisited for generations to come, reminded us of why we invest in a team not only over the course of a season, but of seasons.

Today, on the first day of the rest of our offseason, Dodger Stadium killed us with its kindness, with its beauty, with its perfect backdrop for one day more of baseball, if baseball could only just oblige.

For now, our days and nights turn to other things. So the ballpark waits, patiently, for next year to arrive.

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