Thursday, December 30, 2010
That is what Harmon Killebrew reports that his father told his mother when she scolded him for playing ball with his sons as they tore up the back yard sod. What a great life lesson. I cherish those moments I played ball with my kids and now grandkids.
I’m sad to read that Harmon has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I just want to wish him the best. He seems to have treated this setback with a great attitude, saying “I have begun preparing for the most difficult battle of my life,” and “I anticipate a full recovery.”
Killebrew was always known as a soft spoken man that let his bat do his talking for him. He hit 573 home runs, most of them during the pitching rich 1960’s. He holds the distinction of having hit the most homers by a right handed batter in the American League. That swing of his was aggressive and dangerous. Look at the photo above. That is one sweet short stroke. Something not said often of right handed hitters.
He was listed at 5' 11" in height, but few believed he was over 5’ 9”. Take a look at him as he and Sandy shake hands before a game in the 1965 World Series. Koufax has a good 6-7 inches on him. But many a pitcher feared the “Killer” regardless of his height, more than any power hitter in the game.
One of his teammates, Ossie Bluege put it best when he said,"He hit line drives that put the opposition in jeopardy and I don't mean infielders. I mean outfielders." And former Oriole manager Paul Richards said, “Killebrew can knock the ball out of any park, including Yellowstone.”
What few would argue about was Killebrew’s demeanor. Known as a true gentleman and honest competitior. Everyone associated with the game had the utmost respect for him. In his last season, Killebrew was a DH for the Kansas City Royals. One evening he jogged into second base after slugging a double. Umpire Ron Luciano congratulated him on his feat and as Harmon leaned towards him and asked him to repeat what he said because he couldn’t hear him, the shortstop tagged him out a few feet from the bag. An embarassed Killebrew told Luciano that he needed to pay half of the fine he was going to get when he returned to the dugout to face manager Whitey Herzog’s wrath. Luciano told him he was on his own.
Well, this time he's not on his own. As one of the most beloved sports figures in Minnesota and most respected living Hall of Famers, many a prayer will be said on Harmon Killebrew's behalf. Get well Mr. Killebrew, we're all pulling for you.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
It was bad enough last year (2009) to see not only the Dodgers falter in the NLCS for the second straight time, but then to watch the hated Yankees take it all. Now this year those failures were compounded with a Giants World Series victory. That was additional salt being poured in our open wound? And to make matters worse for me, living in the Bay Area with Giant fan step sons and Giant fans at my work place, the misery is a daily event. I can’t put 2010 in my rear view mirror fast enough. It has been the most difficult of winters.
While Christmas shopping, you couldn’t avoid the Giant paraphernalia. World Championship pennants, hats, t-shirts, jackets, posters, pictures in frames, mugs, stuffed animals, license plate frames, underwear. You name it, if they can put a World Championship logo on it or a photo of a World Series Championship trophy, it was for sale.
I can hardly blame them. This is a fan base that has gone 56 years without a world series champion. This is a franchise that never had awarded this city a title and they are enjoying it. Of course, San Francisco did it's share of vandalism and revelry that got out of hand following the championship. (Depicted in the photo below). Something not unique to San Francisco.
But back to baseball. I find it hard to believe that the Giants, with all those hall of famers over the years, never won a world championship. A lot of Dodger clubs very much inferior offensively were able to win titles and the Giants never could figure it out, until this year. I don’t care what many of the cybermetric types say. Pitching wins championships. The 2010 Giant club was made up of a group of misfits that could barely hit themselves out of a paper bag. What they had was outstanding pitching. Something those Dodger clubs of ’63, ’65 and ’66 had. It only took the Giants forty plus years to figure it out.
So, here we are December 29, 2010, 47 more days until pitchers and catchers report. Only 60 days until the first pre-season game, (which is February 26th, the earliest I have ever remembered spring training starting). I am already lining up a visit to Glendale, AZ for the week of March 20th. A brighter day is on the horizon.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
“Hello, yes I’d like to speak to Tommy Lasorda...yes, Mr. Lasorda...my name? It is Esperanza? What is yours? This call is in reference to getting my husband a meeting with him. Yes, okay...I can wait.”
The year was 1998, and I was about to celebrate my 37th birthday. Unbeknowngst to me, my wife was planning a big surprise. Little did she know that Tommy Lasorda was presently occupied as the acting General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Heck, she didn’t even know what that meant. She just knew that I liked the man.
“No, I’m not with another baseball organization. No, I’m not a fan, but my husband is, in fact, there’s not a bigger fan than him. Do I have to? Okay I’ll hold.”
She was calling from work, and her coworkers couldn’t believe the hutspa of this 5 ft. 105 lb. firecracker I had as a wife. Living deep within Giant territory, she didn’t care. She loved me and wanted to give me the biggest surprise of my adult life. A meeting with the P.T. Barnum of Dodgerdom, Tommy the Great.
“I have to talk to whom? Miss what? Okay, why can’t I talk to Mr. Lasorda? I can wait, I have no problem with that. Who is she? Okay, well if his personal assistant is the best you can do, I guess I can settle for that.
So she set it up. A meeting with Tommy. A pre-game quick meeting on my birthday. Over the next week or so, she became quick friends with Tommy’s right hand lady. Why? Because she’s the type of person that you either love or hate. A true type A personality. A woman that gets what she wants, who fears nobody, has never been embarrassed in her entire life. The wonderful woman that I fell in love with who to this day defends me and backs me in all that I do.
“Ok, then it’s set, we’ll meet at the entrance to the press box on August 27th. Game against the Expos. Now you are sure we’ll get to meet him, he’s not gonna just blow us off. Any chance he can take my husband into the locker room? Yeah, I didn’t think so, but you can’t blame me for trying. Well, I look forward to meeting you too. And thank you for helping me with the tickets, and you said they are in good seats. Field level, eight rows behind the dugout? Are those good seats?”
Espe knows as much about the game as I do crotcheting, which is nothing. But man, did she swing some sweet ducats for two consecutive games. The second game being Mike Piazza’s first return to L.A. as a visiting New York Met. The meeting with Tommy was fantastic, but it was obvious that he was smitten with me wife and her spunk.
“It’s nice to meet you too Tommy. By the way, this is my husband, Evan. He is your biggest fan ever. He has a book for you to sign. You wouldn’t mind posing for some pictures would you.”
I was dumbstruck and fumbled for words. Eventually after Espe broke the ice I was able to have a somewhat coherent conversation with the man. No, I didn’t tell him that I thought it was idiotic that he dealt away Konerko for Shaw, though I thought about it at the time, I don’t think that would have gone over too good. He signed my Artful Dodger book and told my wife that she reminded him of some of the beautiful women he had seen while playing in Latin American Winter Leagues. It was obvious he could care less about me. I didn’t care, I was too busy eyeing that world series ring on his finger.
“So Tommy, we can comeback tomorrow with prints of these pictures so that you can sign them right? Same place, same time? Okay, well don’t disappoint me Tommy. I don’t like to be disappointed. Well it was a pleasure meeting you too. Thank you for showing up.”
He was there and he signed everything. No one would dare stand up my wife and possibly have to face her wrath. Not even the Artful Dodger himself.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
This roster really isn’t as bad as everyone thinks. And that’s a good thing, because no one will pick the Dodgers to win anything in 2011, and they’ll sneak up and win the division. This is not 2003 redux as so many suggest. This Dodger club has some offensive pop and is so much better offensively than the ’03 punchless version. So here is my thinking, and bare with me now, because in the end, I believe it makes sense.
2010 was an aberration. The season’s disappointing results came from an accumulation of things going wrong that just snowballed. 2010 is history now. I place the bulk of the blame on: Torre and his coaching staff and Ned Colletti and his trade deadline panic moves and big mouth. I’ll talk about the former and cover the latter on another day.
The Impact of Joe Torre
Joe Torre had issues. He carried grudges and his ego forced him to make bad choices. In one afternoon he destroyed Jonathan Broxton in an attempt to take a meaningless series against the Yankees. Why? Because it was against the team he still wished he was managing and it was on a national stage. He wanted it bad. So badly that Torre risked ruining his closer in an effort to win one meaningless game in June. Broxton threw over 50 pitches in that disastrous 9th and nobody was even up in the pen to relieve him. After that game, he was never the same. If that outing didn’t break him physically, it definitely broke him mentally. Take a look at the splits in Broxton’s stats.
Before the June 30th game vs. Yankees:
Games IP ER ERA SO BB SO/BB Ratio W L Sv
33 32.2 3 0.84 48 5 9.6 3 0 16
After the June 30th game:
Games IP ER ERA SO BB SO/BB Ratio W L Sv
31 29.2 25 7.58 30 18 1.67 2 6 6
We are looking at stats from the best closer in the majors pre-June 30th. He was absolutely lights out between March 30 and June 30th. Broxton completely lost it following that outing. Whether it be a physical issue or mental, only he knows and perhaps the Dodger medical staff. But Torre is to blame.
Joe Torre is a great interview and very accommodating and communicative with the media, (and believe me, he never saw a camera or a celebrity that he didn’t like). But he doesn’t communicate well with his players. Case in point was his failure to resolve issues with Matt Kemp. I was perplexed that he didn’t sit down with Kemp and talk out the problem he had with Schaeffer over his lack of hustle? That he had to force Kemp to come to him on his knees to his office to kiss his World Series rings and beg to be put back in the lineup? The communication was so bad between Torre, his coaching staff and Kemp that Dave Stewart had to go to the press and complain about it. To Kemp’s credit, he took the high road and admitted some blame on his part. But come on! It never should have got to that point. Give me a break!
Torre failed to communicate with Orlando Hudson in the previous year and let him rot on the bench while Belliard finished the season at second base. Granted, Belliard had the hot bat, but Hudson was no slouch either. And when Hudson pinch homered in the game 5 of the NLCS in Philadelphia, there was a prime chance to keep Hudson in the lineup with a double switch and Torre didn’t do it, in the most crucial game of the year, Hudson had just cracked a clutch pinch homer and he simply removed him from the game! It was ridiculous, Belliard cost the club dearly in the playoffs when he was unable properly field his position with zero range and his inability to field popups between second base and right field that were routine for Hudson all season long.
There was so much more. I could go on and on about Torre and his failures as a field general. (Burning out bullpens, failures to double switch at crucial times, going with over-the-hill vets and not giving the young guys shots, etc). So it is a positive step that the egomaniac is gone. And with that, I predict, that the poor years that solid starters Kemp, Ethier, and Loney had will be gone as well. If those three are to recover even half of the production that they lost between 2009 and 2010, the club easily improves by 5-6 games.
Pitching Staff can compete with anyone
The pitching staff is better, no doubt. Let the national wonks rave about the Phillies, Giants, Cardinals and Brewers starting pitching. The Dodger staff holds its own with five 10 game winners all with ERAs under 4.00. Kershaw is about to come into his own and battle for a Cy Young Award this coming year. Umpires are starting to give him pitches on the black as he gains a more favorable reputation with them, and that will be crucial as his BB/K ratio improves. Billingsley is back and both he and Kershaw as a one-two punch can win between 35-40 games alone.
The remaining starters are no slouches either. Kuroda returns from his best statistical year. Lilly benefits from the Dodger Stadium air that tends to keep fly balls in the yard and Garland, as a fifth starter is a solid innings eater that has always performed well at Chavez Ravine. And then if anything goes wrong with the top five, we’ve got Soap Bubble Padilla in the bully who can return to a starter’s role.
The bullpen doesn’t concern me provided that Broxton is healthy. And that is the one question I have going into the off season. Was he hurt in the last 3 months of the season. Velocity was definitely down and his pitch selection was very questionable. But with Kuo and Jansen back, those two can close out the late innings. Guerrier is a nice set up man pick up. With the starting staff, it should be rare to see the bullpen used prior to the 7th inning. The addition of Padilla to the pen should be interesting. Soap Bubble can bring it when necessary. Is he a potential part time closer?
Filling the holes from within the 40 man roster
Many say that the Dodgers have a deep hole and third base, left field and in the number 2 spot in the batting order. They claim that they should pay to return Beltre to the fold. I’d love to see Adrian back in blue, but it ‘aint gonna happen. He’s a Boras client and they’d need to break the bank to lock him up. But losing out on Beltre may not be so bad after all. I truly believe that the pieces are in place right now. Here is my solution:
1-Start Uribe at third base. He’s got some sock. He fields the position, perhaps not as solidly as Blake, but he isn’t a mess out there.
2-Move Casey Blake to left field to platoon with Gibbons. Blake faces the lefties and Gibbons the righties. Blake is in his last year of his contract and can be a stop gap in left until we pick up a free agent or Trayvon Robinson is ready for the show. Between Gibbons and Blake, that is probably 25 dingers from the corner outfield position, which will do the trick.
3-Give Ivan DeJesus Jr. a true shot to be the starting second baseman and bat number 2 in the order. DeJesus has a respectable OBP in the minors. He recently lit it up in the AZ fall league, he has speed and a good eye and second base is his best position. And if he isn’t quite ready for the bigs, then 2010 team MVP Jamie Carroll can step in and start at second base.
There it is. Problems solved. Power bat at third base. Power bats in LF. Good OBP bat, steady glove and number two hitter at second base.
The winning roster is in place. That club improves the Dodgers win total by 10-12 games.
Add another 2-3 games to the win total due to the addition of Davey Lopes and Tim Wallach to the coaching staff. This might be the most valuable move of the off-season. Lopes has already reached out to Kemp to take him under his wing. Hopefully he can reduce the base running blunders. Get Kemp to focus and keep his head in the game. Put that 5-tool guy back on track to his MVP potential. Lopes had the Phillies leading the league in Stolen base % for 3 consecutive seasons, just improvements in that area and getting the guys to advance from 1st to 3rd and 2nd to home on singles could be vital to 2011 Dodger success. Wallach has shown an ability to reach his young players as the Albuquerque manager. He is a someone they won't hesitate to reach out to.
I see this group winning 92 games and taking the West for the 3rd time in the last 4 seasons.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Merry Christmas everyone! Hopefully you’ve all enjoyed a wonderful day.
I have followed dodgerblues.com for as long as the sight has been in existence. It has probably been at least 8-9 years now. I get a kick out of it. Yes, I know the off-color humor gets out of hand. But I laugh at the satire and the irreverance. There is something appealing about laughing at the foibles of this baseball franchise. I take some comfort in knowing that there are baseball clubs that are even worse off than the Dodgers, but then after perusing dodgerblues.com, I sometimes wonder who they are.
Several years ago, the creator of Dodgerblues.com sent out a request for photos of Dodger related material because due to copyright laws and the negative nature of his site, the Dodgers had threatened to file suit against him if he used licensed photos without permission. So I sent him a photo that I took of my son at phone bill Park in Frisco, as he attempted to get an autograph of Terry Mulholland.
Now you are probably asking the question, “why would anyone ever want an autograph of Terry Mulholland?" You know what? I have no idea. I mean, that guy out and out sucked as a Dodger. In 2001-2002 he put up an ERA of 5.83 and 7.31. The amazing thing is that Dan Evans, probably the best GM we’ve had since Campanis still had his wits intact, was able to trade him to Cleveland for Paul Shuey, a fairly decent player.
All I know is that he was there, and I took the picture. Dodgerblues took it, and used it, even if my kid’s head was partially obstructing Mulholland. The dodgerblues.com guy told me, “thanks, I think...and by the way, if your kid was really trying to get an autograph from Mulholland, you might want to get him into some counseling real soon.”
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Dee Gordon Puerto Rican League offensive stats:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB
33 144 26 52 4 6 1 13 71 5 15 8
CS OBP SLG AVG OPS
7 .396 .493 .361 .889
It looks like the kid is arriving. There has been talk over the years of converting him to play CF, but he has yet to play an inning there in three minor league seasons. The quality of competition in the Puerto Rican League is coming back since a restructuring of the league 2 years ago. Those stats have meaning. 144 ABs show a significant level of appearances. Gordon is 3rd in the batting title race. He leads the league runs scored, and he’s second in hits, total bases, and slugging percentage.
I can’t wait to see what Davey Lopes can do to improve this kid on the base paths. With 73 stolen bases at Single A Great Lakes and another 51 SBs in AA Chattanooga, tutoring from Lopes should help him with his pitcher reads and cut down on his caught stealing ratio. I see no internet reports on his fielding, which has always been a concern with 37 errors at short this past minor league season. Scouts report that many errors are what I call “errors of enthusiasm,” which occur because he gets to balls that many others don’t due to his speed.
Perhaps he’ll be ready to slide into shortstop in L.A. when Furcal becomes a free agent in 2012. Now, Ned just needs to keep the kid in the organization at the trade deadline and not trade him for an rent-a-player type such as Octavio Dotel.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
It was a prized possession of my brother, Taylor. He ordered it from Louisville Slugger, special order. It probably cost him about $30 which was a lot for a bat in 1974, and considering that his after school job at a local Hacienda Heights deli paid him about $1.65 and hour, he made a lot of sandwiches in order to pay for that stick.
A cone handled bat. That was so cool. No knob. You could take your hands down to the nub. To the very end of it. No need to choke up. Yes, I know. We’ve seen hundreds of these bats today, but back in the 70s, you went to a Sporting Goods store and all the bats had handles with bulky knobs forcing you to choke up a smidge. And they were models only of the stars of the day. Bench, Mays, Robinson, Jackson, Rose, Stargell. You’d never see a model of an obscure Dodger pinch hitter at the Conlin Bros. Sporting Goods in Whittier. So Taylor ordered the bat. And it arrived in the mail thru much fan fare at our humble abode.
Wood bats were chic back then. Sure, aluminum bats were in use, but there was nothing better than the sweet crack of ash on a weathered and tarnished used baseball. We’d play ball at the local elementary school, a defacto baseball/over the line game that we had conjured up to adjust to limited players and closed fields. My dad had taught us an over-the-line game that involved running the bases that forced athelticsim and speed out of the players. It went like this:
Any ball hit past the line between 2nd and 3rd had to be run out. The fielder needed to retrieve the ball and throw it past the line before the batter/runner arrived to first base. This required hustle and cat like fielding reflexes. You could hit a solid single to left field, but if the left fielder got the ball back in past the line before the batter reached first base, it was an out. As a result, all my buddies were quick out of the batters box and there was never a lack of hustle.
Taylor’s Mota model bat became a quick favorite of everyone and it miraculously survived 3 seasons of punishment and battering as the most popular stick in the bunch. My brother is 4 years ahead of me in age, and he went off to college and then a church mission to Australia. Back home, we just kept playing ball. And then it happened.
During a pickup game during the summer of ’77, Alan, a fine player with a lot of sock, ripped a home run way out to deep left. When I retuned in from the field he pulled me aside. “Hey Ev, the Mota bat just died a hero,” he said. “What?! You’re kidding, right?” But, no he wasn’t. A nice hairline crack was there, from the point of contact, through the trademark and all the way through the barrel. “I can nail it back together I think,” he said.
Nailing it back together didn’t work. I wrote my bro and broke him the bad news. To this day I have searched for a Mota Model Louisville slugger many times. Ebay searches and online auctions have come up empty. I have thought of writing Mota personally to ask if he has a personal stash of bats and if he’d be willing to sell me one. But I’ve never got around to it. Fact is, I wouldn’t even know how to ask him.
Taylor is 53 years old now, but I can’t help thinking that if I could just get him a Mota bat and surprise him with it for Christmas or on his birthday, that would be the gift of a lifetime. Maybe one day.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Tommy Lasorda is the best. Colorful, benevolent, profane, opinionated, egotistical, encouraging, proud, patriotic, loyal, vengeful, humorous, emotional, devoted, humble. Look up all the adjectives...Tommy carries some of those traits somewhere in that humongous personality of his. Something about him always I admired. Perhaps it was his upbringing in Norristown, PA, where he lived a hard life and went after his baseball dream and achieved it. Maybe it was the work ethic that his parents instilled in him. Similar to what my folks did. Maybe it was his patriotism to his country. Or that he was a Boy Scout like me. Perhaps it was because his mom made him a home cooked meal every night and that his family was united and sat down and broke bread every night...just like I experienced.
A lot about him I found appealing. Much of his dark side, I didn’t approve of, but I recognized his imperfections. And I probably have far more than he. Perhaps I am a bit jealous of his spunk, fortitude and appeal. i wish I had his charisma. I wish I could get up and light up a room at a moments notice and that I had the public speaking charm and skills that he has. I mean seriously, how many of us could be called on to give the eulogy at a funeral of a man you barely knew? Well Tommy did...and then brought down the house in the process.
I have met him casually about a dozen times. I had a personal appointment with him once. If he were to run into me on the street, he wouldn’t know me from Adam. That doesn’t matter to me. I was able to have a good ten minute conversation with him once, and he was extremely polite and giving of his time. I’ve seen him moody and irritable and I’ve seen him very polite and generous. As a field manager, I disagreed with a lot of his decision making, but I give him his props for some of the gut instinct decisions that he made during his career that turned out right. (Mike Davis swinging away on a 3-0 count in game 5 of the '88 World Series was pure genious).
So anyway. As a lifelong Dodger fan whose first baseball memory was watching on TV the Roseboro-Marichal incident at Candlestick as a 4 year old boy, later witnessing much of the ’74 pennant winning season first hand as a Cannon Country Left Field Pvilion attendee to the right of Ms. Francis Friedman, as the winning recipient of the “Truest of the Blue” essay contest prize in ’99, to my present day followings of the Dodgers from afar in the middle of Giant country, I start this blog. My opinions and musings about the Dodgers past and present and my life in general as it pertains to my little corner of the world.
Why the blog title? Well, as an attention getter I suppose. Jim Healy ran the Lasorda clip regarding Kingman’s 3 home run day in ’78 against the blue over and over again. We always got a chuckle out of it. I’m sure that Tommy isn’t proud of that moment of his life, but then again, I think deep down...he probably laughs about it too in private.
So welcome to OpionofKingmansPerformance.blogsspot.com
I hope this blog turns out to be a regular stop to many a Dodger fan and baseball fan in general.