May 2009

Unwinding in the Windy City

For all the beauty and history of Wrigley Field … it really has a lot in common with the much-maligned Candlestick Park in San Francisco.  Wrigley always looks like a the Midwest’s biggest beer garden when you see the shirtless fans basking in the bleacher sun.  But when you look at other parts of the ballpark you can usually find people shivering.  At Wrigley you can always identify the veteran fans.  They’re the ones that dress in layers … and bring a blanket.

Maybe I’m the last of a dying breed, but I still love the sound of an organ at the ballpark.  I hope the organ never gets phased out completely.  Would that make me a Vital Organist?  I had a chance to chat with Gary Pressey the long-time organist at Wrigley and all he wanted to talk about was Dodger organist Nancy Bea and what a treasure she is.  Agreed.

I asked former Cub Juan Pierre if he ever took the EL train to and from Wrigley.  He laughed and said the only way you would ever consider riding the train after a game is if you went 4-4 and the Cubs won … and were on an 8-game winning streak.  Other than that, Cub fans would make it a long ride.  For a team that hasn’t won the World Series in over 100 years their fans always have lofty expectations. 

Chalk this one up to crazy things you learn at the ballpark.  Friday the origin of former Brooklyn Dodger player and manager Casey Stengel’s name came up in a pre-game conversation.  I had no idea.  Charles Dillon Stengel was born in Kansas City, MO.  Thus the nickname KC…that eventually morphed into Casey.  Who knew?

Speaking of former managers and names, many-time Yankee manager Billy Martin was born Alfred Manuel Martin, but his Italian mother always called him “Bello”, handsome in Italian … and that’s how he became Billy.

And speaking of former Yankees, for years Joe Dimaggio insisted that he be introduced as “the greatest living ballplayer”.  I always thought that was odd (and not accurate).  Anyway, with Joe D. and Ted Williams (arguably the greatest hitter ever) both passing away in the last ten years … no one has been anointed as the new “greatest living player”.  My guess is that you’d have to give the nod to either Willie Mays or Hank Aaron.  But the real question is, who is next in line?  Hopefully Mays and Aaron live forever … but if they don’t … of the next generation … who will inherit the title of “greatest living player”? 
 
With virtually all of the recent generation of players under the Steroid Cloud (fairly or unfairly) that brings some interesting names into the discussion.  Does Sandy Koufax get some votes?  What about 70’s stars like Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench or Reggie Jackson?  It’s an arbitrary title … but an interesting debate nonetheless.
 
While looking up Joe DiMaggio’s numbers on Baseball-reference.com … the closest career comparables that the web-site lists to DiMaggio’s production are Vladimir Guerrero and Larry Walker.  In the top eight are Moises Alou and Ellis Burks.  I realize that DiMaggio missed three years in his prime to military service, but its still surprising to see those names in the same conversation.
 
That’s it for today.  How about another winning streak for the Dodgers?

A round of golf

Spent yesterday exploring Trump National Golf Club at the Dodgers Dream Foundation Charity Golf Invitational.  Our five-some headed up by Ken Smith didn’t win the thing … but we had a blast.  The course is tricked out and tough, with pin placements that were worthy of a Masters Sunday.  But I guess it wasn’t that hard for Ken Landreaux’s group.  They finished 17-under to come in first.  Mixed into that score was a hole-in-one … one of two aces posted on the day.  Hard to believe, but true.

A couple of thoughts from the day:  My partner Steve Lyons can talk the talk and walk the walk.  He’s a world-class chirper … but he can swing the sticks.  He’s got an impressive game.  I’m starting to think that he is just a real good athlete.  If there is anything on the line, I won’t even play him in darts.

A who’s who of Dodger legends showed up.  Billy Ashley (he can crush the ball), Rudy Law (no one has more fun), Eric Karros (a handshake like a vise grip), Bobby Castillo (he promised to teach me the screwball), Rick Monday (surprisingly plays right-handed), Bill Russell, Bob Welch, Fernando Valenzuela and a bunch more.

Chad Billingsley and Randy Wolf headed their groups.   I’m told that Randy just picked up the game but he’s going to be good pretty soon.  His swing looked smooth.  It’s my belief that pitchers are better golfers than hitters.    I don’t know why that is.  Actually taking it a step further … pitchers, hockey players and place-kickers seem to be at the top of the golfing heap.    Rick Rhoden, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux are all elite golfers.  Maybe it’s all the time between starts.  Glavine also has the benefit of being a former high-level hockey player.  I wonder if he can place-kick?

On the subject of pitcher/golfers I’m reminded of one of the most stunning athletic feats I’ve ever witnessed.   Ten years ago this summer I played a round of golf with former Chicago White Sox and Cub pitcher Greg Hibbard.  Hibby was a couple of years removed from his playing days and had taken up golf to try and fill the athletic void.  We played a course in Sioux Falls, SD and Hibby shot an even-par round of 72 … without a birdie or eagle!  He parred all 18 holes.  It was amazing.  He really didn’t have too many makeable birdie looks.  He just drove the ball straight (and short), hit the green (anywhere) and two-putted.  Amazing consistency.   I should have learned something that day … but I didn’t.

Mail Bag from Psycho

When I started this blog along with Eric, I said that I would occasionally check in and maybe answer a question or two about what YOU have written in response to my posts. Today is the day. In case it is unclear what the question/statement was – you may have to refer back to the actual post to put an answer with a question, but if I answered yours, you know who you are.

 

MY FIRST POST:

Thanks to “fmontez” for giving us all a usable definition for what a “yellowhammer” is. (which is a nasty overhand curve ball that will buckle your knees)
The one we came up with in between innings in Houston had to do with new uniforms during the Civil War and was convoluted and boring.
Just for a point of reference, Randy Wolf has a pretty good yellowhammer at times.

32and53fan” wanted to know what happens to a guy if he gets called up and down two or three times a year.

He’s on his own. The team is responsible to pay for a hotel for 3 days after a call up and the player is expected to work out the terms of the lease he may have signed in “AAA”. If that player has a family he is also responsible for travel, lodging and all expenses that will be incurred moving and feeding them. And it all starts over again if he gets sent back down.
Glamorous, huh?

Nachotaco“–Said he liked my hair.

The hair is gone. Girlfriend likes it longer, I like it shorter. Got tired of taking too long make it look presentable.

32and53fan” – wondered about Matt Kemp and a 6th tool in baseball.

Excellent comments on the 6th tool in baseball.
The 5 tools are; hitting, hitting with power, running, fielding, and arm strength. 5 tool players don’t come around all that often.

You used the words “baseball brain” when you were referring to Kemp.  How about we call it “instincts”? I love the concept of a 6th tool and a great player has to have them all. Don’t be too hard on Kemp though—the only way to develop that 6th tool is repetition. Seeing every play over and over and over…

 

OFF DAY POST:

Oldbrooklynfan” – said, “isn’t 0 for 4 an off day?
“touché”

Jeanie m” — Thanked me for helping her carry her camera lenses up the stairs in Houston when the elevator broke down.
 
My Mom taught me to at least try to be a gentleman.

“Jerry@graphicyte” – doesn’t sympathize with the Dodger schedule.

Relax. I was simply pointing out how many days in a row these guys have to play. And the reason they are “paid VERY well” is because they are the best in the world at what they do. So yes, they do have a few months off at the end of the season, but you, most likely have every weekend off—I hope you don’t miss that opportunity to kiss the wife and kids….

Though I will not spend time on this page to answer personal requests, sorry to “Erika” for dropping your jacket. Hope you got the autograph OK.

MANNY POST:

Wallymoonman”  — wanted to know what “Tinkle Guy” meant.

The “Tinkle Guy” is what I like to call Matt Kemp because he is so talented and fun to watch. He still has some learning to do but I see a guy who is trying to get better every day. So I just figure you should not get caught “tinkling” while he is at the plate because you may miss something amazing….

Chillicat” – thinks I have a big ego.

Indeed you have been spoiled for 60 years listening to the greatest broadcaster of all time, Vin Scully. Think of how amazing it is that the most popular Dodger EVER is somebody that never actually PLAYED for the Dodgers!

But in case you missed it, I was hired to be an analyst. It is very much my job to tell you what I think, predict what may happen and tell you what should have happened during the game. Maybe you’re a bit confused because Vin is a play-by-play announcer and works alone, he does not analyze the game because that isn’t his job.

I believe that in our lives we all strive to become the best at something—-anything. For the last 40 years I have dedicated and devoted my life to the game of baseball and it is the one area of my life where I’m very confident and proud to call myself an expert. Ego? Maybe a wee bit.

I’m sure that there are many fans that agree with your opinion of me— I am energetic, passionate, and won’t miss an opportunity to have fun during a broadcast. That’s not for everybody, but I will continue to try to evoke opinions out of Dodger fans with my observations, comments, and opportunities to teach the game as they come up.

Oddly, I didn’t know that the Dodgers were such fierce rivals with the Red Sox, White Sox and Expos — the teams I played for.

Believe it or not, this has been my favorite response of all that I’ve read. I believe the only way to get better at what you do is if somebody points out what you’re doing wrong so you can correct it. Your comments and criticisms will never be deleted from this blog.

Dodgerdope“–
Thanks for having my back!

That’s it. Go Dodgers!

 

Thoughts on a successful weekend

As good as Clayton Kershaw was on Sunday in Miami, Joe Torre had to be sweating bullets.  How do you take out your prized 21-year-old when he has a no-hitter going?  Kershaw throwing 108 pitches in the first seven innings …. An average of 15 pitches an inning.  If he keeps his no-hitter alive … do you keep Kershaw in for could have been a 138-pitch complete game?  

Going back to the 2006 Draft …. Kershaw right now is clearly the third best player from that draft class in the big leagues.    Evan Longoria (3rd overall pick) and Tim Lincecum (10th) are ahead of Kershaw.  Maybe you can make the argument that Joba Chamberlain (41st) is in the conversation.  But that’s it.  The big difference?  The Dodgers drafted Kershaw out of Highland Park HS in Dallas while Longoria, Lincecum and Chamberlain were drafted after college careers.  As you probably know, high school picks are always a riskier proposition than college players with at least three years more playing experience.  The Dodgers did their due diligence, took a chance and right now, things looking great.

Just asking, but is there another team in baseball that has two young pitchers (25 and younger) that have higher ceilings than Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw? 

It’s really early … exceedingly early. But could Kershaw and Billingsley be a “poor man’s” version of Koufax and Drysdale?  Kershaw and Koufax … electric lefties with big fastballs and dynamic curves.  Billingsley and Drysdale … bulldog righties with moving fastballs and championship-level stamina.

On a side note, I just polished off Jon Weisman’s 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.  If there is a more erudite fan than Weisman I’d love to meet them.   I think Weisman is in Manny Mota territory as a unique Dodger treasure.

The Marlins are moving into a new retractable-roof stadium in 2012.  I hope that solves their attendance problems.  I’m not sold that it will.

And yes, I’m the one who spent 20 minutes of my life researching how many Eric’s have played for the Dodgers (Eric Milton makes 9).   But it was Dodger PR maven Josh Rawitch who came up with the number of Juan’s in Dodger history (5) Forty percent of the Juan’s (Pierre and Castro) in the line-up Sunday.

Too bad there haven’t been 10 Eric’s.  Eric Stuckenschneider, a Dodger farmhand in the 90’s.  If he had made it to the big leagues he would’ve had the longest name in MLB history.  Stuckenschneider and his 16 letters stalling at Triple-A Albuquerque in 1998.  He would’ve put Jarrod Saltalamacchia to shame.

And finally, shake hands with Juan Pierre at your own risk.  He’s scalding hot.  Eight hits in the last 22 innings that the Dodgers played in Miami.   Good for him and good for the Dodgers.

Handing the reins back to the greatest that ever lived.   Thanks for reading.

— Eric Collins

Random Road Trip Thoughts…

Tuesday night’s Dodger loss here in Philadelphia got me thinking:

In the first inning, Orlando Hudson’s knocks in the first run of the game with an RBI single to right.  Hudson is then thrown out at second.  The putout goes 9-2-6-4-7.  92647 is the zip code for Huntington Beach.  Hudson is taking over at second base for Jeff Kent.  Kent played high school baseball at Edison HS in Huntington Beach.  There’s got to be something connected there.

Jayson Werth steals four bases in the game including three in the 7th inning.  Werth played 191 games with the Dodgers in 2004-2005.  He steals a grand total of 15 bases in those 191 games.  That’s one steal every 12.7 games.  Since Tuesday’s game didn’t have a bottom half of a 9th … Werth averages a steal every two innings against the Dodgers.

Maybe even more amazing than Werth’s legwork is the steal by Ryan Howard.  Howard piggybacking on the back-end of a double-steal in the fourth.  Coming into the game Howard has 2 steals in 598 career games.  Howard was first called up to the big leagues in 2004 and makes it until 2007 before he steals his first base.  Before the 2007 steal, only 4 non-pitchers in the history of baseball have more career plate appearances than Howard without a swipe … three of them are catchers.

Potential history to be made by Shane Victorino in this series.  The former Dodger farmhand is just one home run away from tying Benny Agbayani for the 2nd most home runs by anyone born in the state of Hawaii.  Victorino has 38 career homers.  Mike Lum is tops in Hawaii homers with 90.
 
Former Dodgers who lead the states where they were born in homers include Eric Karros (New Jersey 284), Gil Hodges (Indiana 370), Kirk Gibson (Michigan 255), Todd Hundley (202 Virginia), and Mike Devereaux (Wyoming 105).

The American soft pretzel may have been invented in Philadelphia … but it hasn’t been perfected here.  Had a couple of them today.  Maybe I’m missing something?  

Jamie Moyer, the Phillies Wednesday starting pitcher, is a year and a month older that Clayton Kershaw and Xavier Paul … if you add Kershaw and Paul’s ages together.

Time to pick up a book and stop thinking about baseball for a while … my brain is turning to mush.

Until next time ….

On Manny

How does a team go from breaking a major league record—-13 straight home victories, a record that has stood since the days of the players wearing those “Flintstone” three fingered gloves……to sadness?

The news of Manny’s suspension hit the Dodgers and all our fans right out of left field, so to speak. And it wasn’t anger, or fear or even disappointment that I felt—after the shock. It was sadness.

Let’s say right up front that what Manny did is a big no-no it the world of pro sports. And the only person that has to live with those consequences is Manny, himself.

How will he be perceived? His career numbers, his legacy and place in the game—-the Hall of Fame. Is it all gone except the money?

I’m not mad. I’m not disappointed, because I’ve come to realize that this is a very common “mistake” that many players have made. And I will stand and cheer loudly on July 3rd when Manny steps into the batters box again for the first time after the suspension.

But now, I’m just sad.

Maybe it’s because I work for the Dodgers or because I got the chance to watch Manny play everyday and hang out with him occasionally, but like many of you, I love the guy. I like the enthusiasm he brought to the entire team. I like his carefree attitude combined with fierce concentration at the plate. I like that he got paid 25 million dollars to play the game but acted like he was 12 years old all day long.

In less than a year, Manny did things that Dodger fans had never seen before. He was finally a player that brought the kind of excitement when he came up to bat that had been reserved for Cardinal fans watching McGwire and Pujols. Or Giants fans with Bonds.

There hasn’t been a hitter to come close to compare to him in Dodger Blue since Piazza.
I’ve even heard the whispers that in this short period of time, Manny may be the most popular Dodger…..dare I say….ever!

Let me be sad. I know you all are too. We’re gonna miss him.

But only for one day, because there are 49 more games that have to be played without Manny and nothing will change that. And the team that is still on the field, led by O-Dog and Raffy, and the emerging stars that are “The Tinkle Guy” (Kemp), Loney, Ethier and Russell have learned how to play hard and have fun at the same time.

Billingsley is on the mound tonight. Your Ace is supposed to get a big win after a loss. Sure he’s pitched in playoff games but this will be one of the biggest starts of his career because tonight he’s going to be asked to go out there and begin the healing process….and make the sadness go away.

— Steve Lyons