Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Piazza's Induction Should Be As a Dodger

As Baseball Writers Association Voters submit their ballots for 2013 Hall of Fame Inductions this month.  We are looking at a number of fantastic first time players on the ballot and a lot of uneasiness that involves players that played during the Steroid era.  There is a lot of anticipation regarding this years vote, and many of those voting have already identified the greatest hitting catcher of all time, Mike Piazza, as a probable first ballot Hall of Famer.  I couldn’t agree with their assessment more. 

So it’s time for some controversy.  Time to tick off a lot of Mets fans.  I imagine that if he ever got around to reading this, Mike Piazza himself wouldn’t be happy about it either, but the fact is that Mike Piazza’s best years were as a Dodger.   For that reason I believe that Piazza should go into the Hall of Fame in a Dodger hat.

(photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

For some reason the team identification of the inducted player is important to fans.   I’m caught up in the controversy too.  Piazza was the face of the Dodgers from 1993 to 1997 and few Dodger players had such a dominant run while with the team. Nary a Met fan paid any attention to him at that time.  I know because I remember arguing with several of them back in a 1996 AOL message board that Piazza was heads and tails better than Todd Hundley.  It was insane.  There simply was no way to get through to the dozen or so that attacked my position.  I will give Met fans this though, they are certainly passionate and opinionated.

I have no problem with Met fans.  They might have the most emotional fans out there and I won’t argue that Dodger fans are more passionate because we aren’t.   I sympathize with them.  It would not be fun having to share a market with the Yankees and having to put up with that arrogant fan base.  They know their baseball and they genuinely care.   

It’s a franchise that has had some magic moments and amazing players.  Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack were quite a tandem in the 70’s.  Nolan Ryan should have never got away from them.  The ’69 team was for the ages.  The ’73 “gotta believe” bunch caught lightning in a bottle and came within a whisker of winning it all.  The mid to late 80’s teams were better than what they accomplished and should have taken another title or two. 

It’s easy to admit that their fans are more passionate than ours.  The proof is in the pudding by simply looking at Citi Field at the time the first pitch is thrown.  Many are more knowledgeable too if they allow their team loyalty to not cloud their reasoning.

So with that, I argue to all those Mets fans that they look at facts in an impartial and fair manner.  If they do so they’ll have to admit that Piazza’s career was better as a Dodger than as a Met.

As a Dodger: .331 BA, .394 OBP, .572 SLG., .966 OPS
As a Met: .296 BA, .373 OBP, .544 SLG, .917 OPS

Piazza was the hard luck loser in two batting title chases.  1995 when he batted .346 and was aced out by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn’s .368.  Again in 1996 falling short to Gwynn’s .353 again and behind Coors enhanced Ellis Burks. Then in 1997, Piazza’s best season, Mike hit an amazing .362 (a Dodger record) only to find that Gwynn bested that mark at .372 and Rockie Larry Walker’s .366.  Piazza’s home park had to have cost him several points each of these years.

A comparison of the Dodgers vs. Mets numbers are eye opening.  Hit hit a full 35 points higher as a Dodger, with a near .400 on base percentage.  Even the sabermetric numbers favor Piazza’s Dodger years with Mike’s Offensive Wins Above Replacement stats leading the league in  ’97 and ranking second in ’95.  He never once ranked in the top five as a Met.  

As a Dodger: An All Star 6 out of 6 seasons.  All Star MVP (1996).  MVP runner up twice, 4th place once, 6th place once.  Silver Slugger in all 6 seasons.

As a Met: An All Star 7 of 8 seasons. The MVP vote: 3rd place once, no higher than 7th in voting in any other year.  Silver Slugger 5 of 8 seasons.

There is little doubt that Piazza’s peak seasons at ages 25 through 28 are the reasons his numbers are better as a Dodger.  In ’95, Piazza finished 4th in the MVP vote behind Larkin, Bichette,and Greg Maddux, collecting 3 first place votes.  The following two years are the seasons that Piazza should have won the award but circumstances didn’t fall in his favor. In ’96 he lost out to unanimous winner Ken Caminiti who had superior numbers, but we later were to find out that he was a massive performance enhancing drug user, so much so that it eventually destroyed his career and life.  In ’97 Larry Walker took home the hardware, again having superior numbers that were enhanced by the light air and bandbox known as Coors Field.  As a Met, Piazza’s third place finish in 2001 was behind Kent and Bonds at San Francisco.  ’01 was easily Piazza’s best year as a Met.

As a Dodger Piazza averaged 30 homers, 94 RBI, 74 Runs, 149 hits,  and 47 BB per season.   As a Met he averaged 28 homers, 82 RBI, 67 Runs, 129  hits and 53 BB per season.

A little recognized measure in the career of Mike Piazza had to do with his defensive abilities behind the plate.  Known mainly as a defensive liability, it should be noted in Piazza’s rookie year with the Dodgers, he did lead the league with 59 runners thrown out caught stealing, throwing out 35.3% of attempted base stealers.  His range factor was first in the league in both ’93 and ’95, something that deteriorated significantly during Piazza’s career with the Mets.  It should be noted in defense of those that favor Piazza’s Mets career that he led the league in fielding percentage in 2000, his third year in New York.

Piazza took pride in handling pitching staffs and calling games.  One of his finest achievements took place on the defensive end as he caught Hideo Nomo’s remarkable no-hitter on a raining Colorado night, September 17, 1996.  This was a game that many consider one of the greatest no-hitters ever thrown in the high altitude and pre-humidor Coors Field.  He also caught Ramon Martinez’ no-hitter on July 14, 1995.

As a Dodger, during the six seasons that Piazza handled the pitching staff, the Dodger team ERA was 1st in the league once, 2nd-twice and 3rd once.  All this during the amazing run of the Atlanta Braves staff of Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine and sometimes Avery.  With the Mets, Piazza’s handling of the staff was noteworthy too, but the team ERA never ranked higher than third in the league.

Those that argue in favor of Piazza’s Mets years will repeatedly mention the year 2000 when the Mets won the National League Pennant, only to be defeated in the World Series to the Yankees in 5 games.  It’s a good argument but it’s important to note that the Mets were by no means a dominant team during the Piazza years.  In fact, they never won a division championship while he was there and they qualified for the playoffs twice as the Wild Card (’99 and ’00).  It should be noted that as a Dodger, Piazza won a Division championship in 1995 and in the strike shortened ’94 season, his team was leading the west when the season stopped.  In '96  his Dodgers finished tied with San Diego for first (losing the division on head to head tiebreaker). There is not a marginal difference here.  Not enough to make a significant difference in my view.

Tommy Lasorda and Mike Piazza, 1997 (photo courtesy of Tommy Lasorda's MLB blog, by Jon Soo Hoo)

Mike’s departure from the Dodgers was ugly, and so much so that Piazza carried a grudge against the organization that continues to this day.  That isn’t really fair when you consider that the unpopular Fox regime traded Piazza away in what was probably the most unpopular trade in team history,  (additionally, nobody remains with the Dodger club that was involved in that trade)  The fans hated the deal.  Piazza returned to L.A. as a visiting Met to a crowd that gave him a standing ovation when he stepped to the plate for the first time, and second and third time that day. 

 In 2001, Piazza's emotional homers in the "healing game" following the 9/11 attacks put him forever in NYC lore as a true hero, and the city completely embraced him as their own after that.  It was an emotional attachment that I believe ties the greatest hitting catcher of all time to the Mets.  But I contend that the emotional ties to the Dodgers should be at least equal, probably because the young man never would have been a ball player had Tommy Lasorda not stepped forward and insisted that the Dodgers take a flyer on him.

The 1,027th player taken in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft, who learned to catch in the minors and in the Dominican with Ralph Avila.  He was groomed through the Dodger organization.  He became a star as a Dodger.  He was loved by a fanbase hungry for a genuine home grown star.  Kids in the 90s idolized this player.  I'll never forget that long conversation I had with my son, who was 9 years old at the time, trying to explain that stupid trade that Chase Carey stepped in and made over Fred Claire's head.  Mike should have been signed to a lifetime deal.  

Jon Soo Hoo's famous photo of Piazza departing the Dodger Stadium parking lot, with the giant mural of him in the background.  He had just been traded to the Florida Marlins.

Piazza was the player that the Dodgers marketed the team around in the mid 90s.  He was groomed to be a Dodger from day one by his father’s boyhood friend Tom Lasorda.  Piazza was a true Dodger and it’s a crime that he was dealt away when circumstances should have been completely different had a competent regime not stepped in and taken ownership of the team.

This is the year the Dodger management needs to step forward and really extend an olive branch to Piazza.  Have a Mike Piazza day at the ball park.  Give out a bobblehead in his likeness that I am convinced will be as popular as the Koufax and Scully ones this past year.   Do what needs to be done to get him back into the fold.  Donate to his charity.  Bring the Italian team to L.A. to train.  I don't know.  Whatever it takes, do it.  Have Magic Johnson do his magic to heal the wound.

So that’s my piece.  Piazza as a Dodger inducted in the Hall. If you want to really resolve this dispute, he goes in with a plaque depicting him like this though.

We all know that's a Dodger Chest protector and helmet.

Friday, December 28, 2012

OK, Go Ahead, Sign Wilson

When Brian Wilson was non-tendered by the only organization he’s known, the San Francisco Giants, it was a popular topic on the blogs to see his name dangled as a possible signee by the Dodgers.  Frankly, I didn’t put much credence to the rumors because at the time the Dodger bullpen appeared stacked.  Brandon League had just signed a hefty deal.  Kenley Jansen had a fine season, as did Ronald Belisario and aside from those three there was the emergence of Paco Rodriguez, and a starting staff of seven, meaning that someone would be going to long relief.

Brian Wilson in 2010 Dodger Stadium action (photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Now as time passes, that Dodger bully, that seemed to be loaded is showing some question marks. 

Belisario was booted off his Venezuelan Winter League team for not reporting on time after a requested leave of absence for personal reasons.  When he returned, the team G.M. released him.  Belisario said there was a communication problem and misunderstanding.  What the truth is we really don’t know.  All we can do is compare Belisario’s recent antics to his past history, and that isn’t encouraging.  He has a history of alcoholism, drug abuse and unexcused absences. This time he couldn’t report on time to the team on the doorstep of his home.  Has he returned to his old ways again?

Kenley Jansen had open heart surgery to correct a blockage problem and hopefully resolve the recurrent irregular heart beat issue he has had for a few years.  Though medical staffs are encouraged that this procedure will take care of the problem, the Dodgers must be proceeding with caution.  That issue isn’t only career threatening, it’s life threatening.

Brandon League has little experience as a full time closer, and now he has been thrust into the role with the team with the highest payroll and expectations in the league.  Is he up to the task in this high pressure situation and if he fails do the Dodgers need another backup plan?  League’s stuff was electric in September, but we also saw a slumping reliever when he first came over from Seattle.  I like League’s makeup, but a proven closer he is not.

Javy Guerra was inconsistent last year after an amazing rookie season in 2011.  By season’s end he was having difficulty getting back on the major league roster and he finished the year on the D.L.  Guerra seems to be a fourth or fifth option as a closer now.  Scott Elbert went down with injury and is now seen mostly as a Loogie that comes in for one or two batters.  Matt Guerrier is signed to a big money contract, but was probably the reliever we had the least amount of confidence in when he returned to the roster for the playoff stretch run in September.  He gave up some crucial runs at critical times in the pennant race last season.  The organization appears to not be convinced in the abilities of Shawn Tolleson, as his name has been repeatedly dangled out in trade talks.

Then the Dodgers let Randy Choate leave to St. Louis, so he’s history.   As valuable as Jamey Wright was to the ball club last year, both on the mound and in the clubhouse, he hasn’t been re-signed.

So, with all these question marks, I say.  Why not Brian Wilson?  I know the concept is tough to stomach.  The clowning, the post game celebrations, the orange and black images, the weird outfits off the field and bizarre interviews, the associations with celebrities like Charlie Sheen right at the time Sheen was having a complete media meltdown.  You either hate him or love him because he is definitely a character.  It’s really unbelievable to fathom the man in Dodger blue but there are a few things going in the favor of him joining the club at Camelback Ranch.

First off, Wilson wants to be here.  He’s got an axe to grind with his old organization since the Giants didn’t tender him a contract and he wants to prove them wrong.  He feels that he gave a lot to them and that that he deserved more respect and a chance to return from injury again.  Though I can’t fault the Giant administration for the non-tender situation with Wilson due to his injury history, facts are facts.  Wilson feels slighted.  With what team could he really hurt the Giant brass?  The Dodgers, of course.

Second, Wilson lives in the southland and deep down I believe that he thinks that his public persona and antics will play well in Los Angeles.  He has shown a desire to expand into other pursuits in the entertainment industry.  I  imagine that would be acting or a reality TV series.  Wilson loves to appear on national television talk shows and he has regularly appeared on the Jim Rome radio and TV shows.  A Los Angeles based team would fit perfectly for him.

Third,  Wilson is a smart man and he knows that the Dodgers are the biggest spenders in the game.  Becoming the closer on this star studded team will play well to point # 2 and upset the executives from the team in point number 1  He knows the National League West and could serve valuably to any ball club in the division.

Wilson, believe it or not, is a team leader.  He thrives on emotion.  In 2011, he called out injured Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez for not being with the club during his rehab process.  Sanchez, an Arizona resident, didn’t even show up to the Giants dugout when San Francisco was in town to play the D-Backs.  That didn’t set well with Wilson who called up his teammate and told him to get his butt over to the stadium, something that he did real quick after their conversation.

Wilson callled out teammate former Freddy Sanchez in 2011 for not being with his team during his rehab. process.

Wilson still has a few months to go on the injury rehabilitation and won’t hit the one year mark from TJ surgery until mid April.  Seeing him at 100% won’t probably happen until mid-season, but he’d make quite a contribution during the pennant stretch run late in the season.  I say pull the trigger on this deal.  Offer him an incentive laden contract.   I’m over the anti-Giant bias.  Wilson could contribute valuably.  Hopefully the beard schtick will be a thing of the past and he can establish a re-birth and new routine in Dodger blue.  This is one former Giant signing that I would endorse completely.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Umpire Documentary - Thumbs Up

I highly recommend the MLB Network’s one hour special “The Third Team: All Access 2012 World Series.”  It chronicles the 6 umpires that were selected to work the 2012 World Series.  The documentary gives the fans a different perspective of the game, that of the umpires.  It is an interesting hour of television.

I walked away from it with a different opinion of a few of the umpires that were profiled.  One was Dan Iosoggna who I believe has improved dramatically over the years as an official.  During his first year in the league, he ejected Eric Gagne in a game in Montreal that was a complete over-reaction from a young ump that was trying to establish himself in the league.  Today, I think he might be one of the better umpires in the game and it was nice to see him justly rewarded with his first World Series.

Iosoggna made the best call in the series in game number 2 while working home plate.  The play at the plate where Prince Fielder was cut down by a sweeping Posey tag from behind was a great call.  In real time, Fielder looked out from me to you, but it turns out that Iosoggna got the call right.  

The banter between players, managers and umpires was an interesting thing to watch as the Series unfolded.  I won’t give away much more of the show, but I highly recommend it.  The program will replay on Sunday the 30th and and Tuesday, Jan. 1st, both at 4:00 PM PST.  Set your DVRs.   Any negatives?  Yeah, the Giants won the World Series.  Not much that can be done about that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ryan Freel Tragedy: Something MLB Must Look At

Ryan Freel in action at Dodger Stadium (photo by Kirby Lee/USA Today)

On July 27, 2005 I sat down and watched Reds second baseman Ryan Freel almost singlehandedly defeat the Dodgers 7-6.  It was a 3 for 4 night for the leadoff man and he stole 5 bases off hapless Dodger catcher Jayson Phillips.  I remember thinking that I wished that the Dodgers had a player that hustled and was a gritty as Freel.  He made a diving catch going into the stands that would lead most highlight reels these days.

Listed as 5’10” and 185 lbs. in baseball-reference.com, very few believe that he was that large in stature.  Pete Rose raved about Freel saying that he reminded him of himself.  Many Reds fans are now coming forward to express how much they loved watching him play.   It is with great sadness that we now read of Freel’s death at age 36,  of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  He left a wife and three young daughters.

As time passes, we find out more of the demons Freel had been facing.  He endured an injury plagued career and based on the performance cited above, that doesn’t surprise me.  Ryan played the game all out, always giving a 100% effort with almost a reckless abandon.  He is reported to have suffered ten on-field concussions due to those efforts.  In Baltimore, it is written today that the last image of him on a baseball diamond was a half conscious Freel being assisted off the field at Fenway Park in April, 2009.  He had been hit in the head with an errant pick-off throw.  That was the end of the baseball injuries on the major League level for Freel, that one resulting in a trip to the D.L., then the minors and eventually out of baseball.

By age 34 Ryan was meandering in the Independent Leagues, trying unsuccessfully to work his way back to the majors.  After the Reds traded him to Baltimore before the 2009 season, Freel’s career fell of the map due to injuries.  Head trauma is what did him in, both in baseball and in life.  

Cincinnati Enquirer file photo

I’m not sure if we’ll ever know the full story of what happened to Ryan Freel, but his death is a concern and something that should be looked at with concern.  Is the head trauma that he suffered on the baseball diamond a direct impact that caused his death?  How many concussions did he suffer?  Could anything have been done to help him in his moment of despair?  In this year where the suicide of Junior Seau is still fresh in our minds, I’m hoping that something can be done to prevent this from happening again.  

As I researched this article, I came across the a USA Today Article that addressed the problem of concussions in baseball, and found it tragic that the center of the story discussed Ryan Freel.  Author Jorge L. Ortiz wrote the following (bold face added) :

"Within a three-week stretch, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ryan Freel sustained a concussion that forced him onto the disabled list and Los Angeles Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman suffered one that sent him to the hospital.
Neither plays the position most susceptible to head injuries.
Their cases highlight that concussions are not merely the purview of football and hockey, or even of catchers, who are most vulnerable in baseball. In response, clubs have made strides in how to manage these injuries, even in the last few months.
Freel, knocked unconscious in an outfield collision with Norris Hopper on May 28, was cleared Friday to do light workouts. However, he won't be allowed to play again until he's free of symptoms — at rest and during exertion — and his results come out normal in the ImPACT test, a tool more than half the MLB clubs have acquired this season to help determine when concussed players can return to play.
In the recent past those decisions were made based on less scientific data, possibly to a player's detriment.
"It's getting out there as a real medical problem, whereas years ago it was treated as, 'Oh, the guy's got a little bell-ringer headache. Give him a week's rest and then go back,' " says Dr. John Brannan, a head and spine specialist in Cincinnati who is treating Freel. " 'With a second one, give him three weeks and go back. Third one, oh, he's done for the season.'
"These were all very old-school recommendations on how you treat these things."
Concussions — traumatic injuries to the brain that result in chemical changes — are far more common in contact sports."

Speaking of the contact sports, the NFL has taken precautions against head injury.  Trainers are pulling players out of games and ensuring that they heal up completely before returning to that game that is extremely susceptible to head hits.  Though baseball isn’t close to the consistent  head trauma injuries that football experiences, the problem exists.  Recent studies that show an inordinate amount of football players suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease have researchers admitting that Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is brought on my frequent head trauma.  

Those studies, exposed by Bernie Goldberg on HBO’s Real Sports in 2010, identified that Lou Gehrig himself is said to have suffered what his staff documented as six serious head injuries in his playing career, one so severe that his head was so swollen that he had to wear babe Ruth’s hat because his cap size wouldn’t fit over his head.  The fact that Gehrig didn’t sit out and properly heal is said to have directly resulted in the disease that now carries his name.  Now we see a rash of suicides that are coming from professional athletes that are known to have suffered a number of head injuries.  

Freel steals second base against the Dodgers, 2008 (file photo/Cincinnati Enquirer)

Ryan Freel suffered from memory impairment, headaches and head/neck injuries during his major league career.  He also is reported to have attention deficit disorder and successfully beaten an alcohol abuse problem earlier in his career.  We don’t know what  Ryan was feeling in his last days and what set things in motion for him to take his life, but those who played with him found him to be as loving a friend as he was a fierce competitor on the field.  

Red’s beat writer John Fay reports that there was a side to Freel that many didn’t see.  Aside from the fun-loving, joking and vibrant Ryan, he had a sullen side.  “We used to joke that his mood depended on the medication.  Those gags don’t seem so funny now,” says Fay.  Fay hints that he believes that the head injuries caused Freel to be more subdued.  Fay's article LINKED HERE

Redszone.com has initiated a fundraiser in the memory of Ryan Freel.  Asking for donations to the American Society for Suicide Prevention (Cincinnati Branch).  LINKED HERE

My hope is that MLB takes a closer look at the Ryan Freel situation and takes action with regard to head trauma and proper player recovery, to avoid this in the future.  There is no easy solution to this problem, but it needs to be addressed.  The USA Today article from 2007 shows that MLB teams looked at this problem in the short term, but now that we are seeing long term effects, there needs to be more done.  

In 2007, Freel was quoted in the Ortiz USA Today article that dizziness had weakened him and he had suffered from nausea for days after the injury, but that he wasn't going to let up.  He played the game one way, and that was all out.  His words haunt us today now that we know he is dead, five years later by his own hand.:

"I'm still going to be aggressive.  I'm sure I'll think about it, but as far as getting out there, I don't feel any fear of something like this happening again."

So sad.  My condolences to the Freel family who’s Holiday season was shattered by tragedy.

Ryan Paul Freel, 1976-2012 
(Cincinnati Enquirer file photo)

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Very Merry Dodger Christmas

It never fails.  Christmas comes around and I always seem to get something Dodger related.    Since our grandkids came into town from Sacramento today, we opened gifts a day early, as they had to leave by the afternoon.  This time, my son’s girlfriend bought me a Dodger Cap that’ll be broken in in time for me to attend some Spring Training games.  It never get’s old.  This is my 51st Christmas on this earth and I still love getting the “blue” gifts.

Christmas, 1970 had to be the most special one though.  In our “one TV” household and with 7 siblings and two parents to compete with, winning out and being allowed to watch a Dodger game was often a losing proposition for my brother and I as we'd be outnumbered.  That previous summer had been particularly difficult as I was forced to often listen to most televised games.  If you remember, back in that era, there were no home games televised and usually the only road games on TV were the San Francisco games televised from Candlestick Park.

A Dodger game on TV was a real event for this nine-year old.  I often faced disappointment as I’d retreat to my room and listed to a transistor radio to Jerry Doggett, (as Vin was calling the majority of TV innings).  “You can listen to it on the radio,” they’d say, an argument that was difficult to refute.  My father must have noticed this oingoing problem, because he came up with a solution to this dilemma.

A six inch Panasonic.  It lasted from 1970 until the cable TV ear in my household.

That solution came on Christmas morning as a little black and white Panasonic TV, antenna, rabbit ears and all, that had a screen that was probably 6 inches at most.  I remember the strange square package under the tree for me that year because my dad wrapped it with the sports section as wrapping paper.  I think it might have been the greatest gift that I ever received and was something that got more use than can be imagined.  

I had a television in my room.  It came with a set of rules, but I didn’t care.  I was going to be watching the games without all the contention that it involved and in my bedroom on top of that.  I could hardly contain myself until Spring Training rolled around and the first Spring games were televised.

Christmas 1970 will always have a special meaning to me for that reason.  It was one of those moments that will stay with me. My dad waiting anxiously for me to open that gift.  The gift of Dodger television, black and white and watched all over, again and again and again.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2 Years Now, A Look Back

It all started on May 14, 1978.  A beat writer that would later become the successor to Yankees legendary Public Address announcer Bob Shepard, by the name of Paul Olden, asked a simple question to 2nd year Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda.  Cubs’ slugger Dave Kingman had just dismantled the Dodger pitching staff with three homers and 8 RBI’s in a 10-7 Chicago win at Dodger Stadium.  “What was you opinion of Kingman’s performance?” he asked.

I pose with Dave Kingman, June, 2011

Two years ago I started this blogging endeavor in remembrance of Tommy’s responsive tirade and haven’t look back.  

There are very few regrets and a lot of amazing experiences as a result.  I’ve made dozens of new friends in the process and have a deep seated respect for bloggers and beat writers alike.  So with over 115,000 readers and 518 posts (an average of a new post every day and a half), I recall with fondness some of the events that resulted from this blog:

(please feel free to click on the yellow colored links provided that take you back to some of those past articles).

*Became acquainted with dozens of bloggers and persons I highly respect.  Some in person, others through correspondence.  Roberto Baly, Jon Weisman, Ron Cervenka, Eric Stephen, Howard Cole, Ken Steinhorn, Dustin Nosler, Emma Amaya and others.

*Interviewed such Dodger icons as Billy Delury, Sweet Lou Johnson,  Mike Marshall (outfielder) and Walter O'Malley's grandson, Tom Seidler  who spoke of what it was like to grow up in the O'Malley family.

*Was reached out and contacted by relatives of Dodger subjects that I wrote about, such as the son of Brooklyn Dodger bat boy Charlie "The Brow" DiGiovanna (Greg), Jim Brewer’s son (Scott) and Monty Basgall's nephew, Bill.

*Forged a semi-partnership with ThinkBlueLA.com’s Ron Cervenka and in the process, a top quality friendship.

*Met bloggers of other teams such as the Mets and Twins (Michael Busch at ClassicMinnesotaTwins.com) who commented on a post or two of mine and and proceeded to engage in healthy back and forth banter.

*Spent a day with blog followers at the 1st ever Dodger Blogger Softball Tournament  in February, 2012.  (and we even won a game).

*Worked the blogger’s spot at Dodger Stadium with the opportunity to venture into the Dodger locker room and conduct interviews.
My wife Esperanza, sporting the Opinion of Kingman's Performance Softball jersey, at our participation in the February, 2012 1st ever Dodger blogger's softball tournament.

*Attended two “Bloggers Nights” at Dodger Stadium.

*Researched Dodger history on such topics of Sandy Amoros (part one and part two), Charlie Hough, both Mike Marshalls (the '74 Cy Young Award winner), and the All Star outfielder) and some distant but not forgotten Dodgers such as Jim Brewer, Manny Mota, Ken McMullen, Doug Rau, Ron Cey, Vic Davilillo, Wes Parker, and more.  

*Research for blog pieces allowed me to discover that there is awesome archival footage of Jackie Robinson in his last days.  And of Duke Snider and Sal Maglie.

There’s so much more that I’m sure I  am failing to mention.  It has been an amazing two years.   There are days when I have no idea what I’m going to write about and then a reader's comment or tweet triggers a memory or sparks an idea and the post flows. 

We’ve seen the team go through bankruptcy, a Dodger divorce, bidding wars for club ownership and the eventual ownership turnover.  We’ve watched the Dodger organization go from “cash strapped” to being the biggest spenders in the game.

There has been roster turnovers, Bryan Stowe, Giant Championships, blockbuster trades, Stadium Renovations.  What will 2013 bring?  I'm guessing a lot of topics of Dodger interest.  Let's hope a Dodger Pennant or World Series Championship is one of them.

I want to express a heartfelt thank you to all OKP blog readers and commenters.  Have a Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year and Happy holiday season!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Who saw this coming?

Associated Press, 12/19/2012 07:48 PST
“Arizona hired Steve Sax as its first base coach. Sax, 52, was a five-time All-Star second baseman. He's been a motivational speaker since his playing days. Sax and Arizona manager Kirk Gibson were teammates on the Los Angeles Dodgers.”

Was there even a hint that Steve Sax wanted back in baseball?  He had been quite active on the motivational Speaking/financial planning circuit and from what I could tell he was quite successful at it.  He even was promoting a book last year when he hit the circuit.  This announcement came out of nowhere and had to be something that stemmed out of Gibson and Sax’s teammate relationship while they were Dodgers together.

I never even considered Sax as being coaching material.  I don’t think the organization ever considered him to be the level of ball player that was considered to be real baseball savvy, but maybe I’m wrong.  Mickey Hatcher was the ultimate example of the type of player that you’d never take too seriously, yet he has now had a 20+ year career in the coaching ranks.

Apparently Sax has made attempts to get his name out there and try to get back in baseball.  “I’ve been thinking about this for a number of years,” he said during a Diamondbacks conference call with the media yesterday.  So he went a few steps further and started shopping his name.  Sax distributed resume’s to all MLB teams and then made the rounds at the Nashville winter meetings in order to land a job.  It was there that the D-Backs first met with him and expressed some interest.  A few interviews later and he had the job. 

Image from SteveSaxSpeaks.com

Arizona had a vacancy, firing former Rockie and Dodger Eric Young after the season ended.  Though Brett Butler has been a very successful Triple A manager for the organization in Reno having won a PCL Championship, they still opted to hire Sax for the Major League position over him.

Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers has stated that an area where the team needs to improve is in the base running and base stealing department, something he expects Sax to contribute significantly.  

I must admit that Butler could have competently served in that capacity and other areas as well since he has the field manager experience now.  While it is surprising that Sax comes in with no coaching experience and landed the major league job, I will give him this.  He is one tenacious individual who gets what he wants after setting a goal.  Maybe his business acumen has served him well.  He’s a man that markets himself well and apparently he impressed the Arizona Diamondbacks brass well enough to hand him a Major League coaching job without any past experience.  Kudos to Steve and good luck !  (Just not too much of it).

I would suspect that Butler is a bit miffed at being passed over after having put in some valuable work with the D-Backs organization.  I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to move on, but that is pure speculation on my part.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pet Peeve...The Way Today's Uniforms are Worn

Call me a product of the 60’s and 70’s.  Perhaps I'm just and crotchety old man that refuses to accept change. Maybe my fashion sense is out of whack,  (Actually, I think the latter statement is quite true because my wife says I couldn’t color coordinate what I wear if my life depended on it).  But I’ve got to tell you, the way ball players wear their uniforms today just kind of drives me nuts.  When they put on the old uniforms on nostalgic throwback days, and wear them in the 2010’s fashion, they look just plain crazy.

First off, the loose fitting, baggy style that is en vogue these days, just doesn’t work when players don the old uniforms for a day.  As ugly as some of those 70s and 80s uniforms were, they look even uglier when their are oversized and baggy.  Let me explain though pictures.

These Padres Throwbacks from the 80s were described as the "Taco Bell" uniforms by Steve Garvey.  The brown and yellow things were about as ugly a color combination as could be coordinated, but at least in Garvey's era, the players wore shirts that were actually the correct size to give them the look of slow-pitch softball players.   I never thought i'd say this, but a player like the Garv actually looked good in those duds (as shown in this 1984 World Series photo with Alan Trammel wearing the classic Tigers home uniform), when compared to modern players that put those things on in the 2000s "baggy style" sported by Brian Giles and Kevin Kouzmanoff in 2008.

Then there are the pants.  For some reason, about 15 years ago baseball pants styles started to cover the sanitary socks and stirrups.  As the years passed, the pant style got low and lower to the point that today, ofter we see players tucking the bottom of their pants legs underneath the bottom of their shoe and tucked un under a cleat or two.   Frankly I think the look is ridiculous.  Others may think it's a new chic look.  Take a look at this Phillies throwback look with Jimmy Rollins and then compare it to the look of Steve Carlton wearing the powder blue road uniforms from the late 70s.

Here you have the full stirrup look.  Even with the fairly unattractive light blue uniform, the traditional look remained.

There was a time when baggy looked good, but it was a natural baggy style, not a manufactured look for style purposes that exist today.  The old baggy style - wool flannel uniforms certainly weren't made for comfort , but players from the era claim that they weren't overly uncomfortable as wool fabric breaths naturally unlike the modern poly fibers that are used.  It is said that the flannels soaked up sweat like a sponge and on a hot summer day could pick up substantial weight due to that factor.  Today's uniforms are light weight material and made for comfort and maximum  athletic advantage.

Spider Jorgenson, Pee Wee Reese, Eddie Stanky and Jackie Robinson pose in 1947 at Brooklyn wearing the wool flannel  home jerseys.  Note the socks worn low, the style for the day with only a sliver of the sanitary whites showing.
Dodger 70's infield in their tight polyester duds.  High and tight stirrups on the sock category.
Baggier 2004 Dodger infield edition, (with Shawn Green even).
The modern baggy style has taken "oversize" to a new level as Prince Fielder has got to be wearing an XXXXXL size.  It can't be easy to make that physique look slimmer.  There are advantages to this style as inside pitches often find the flaps of such oversized jerseys or pants legs, resulting on free first base passes via the HBP.

Oh yeah, then there are the hats.  I simply don't get this look.  Off center with the flat brim.  Add Juan Pierre and Justin Upton to the list of guys that like this look along with CC Sabathia.

With the uncurved brim, turned sideways look, my son's Junior College baseball coach would make them run laps if he caught his players wearing their hats in this fashion, and still, some players tried to get away with doing it anyway.  We all remember George Sherrill wearing that uncurved brim with the Dodgers.  Known as the "Brim Reaper,"  the look didn't do anything for me, but at least he'd center the thing on his head.

The Andy Pettite curved brim lowered to eye level was one of the most intimidating looks in the game.  He used that fashion statement to his advantage and looked cool in the process, concealing his brow and parts of the eyes.  Hitters won't admit it, but he must have used this look to his advantage on the way to a stellar pitching career with numerous post season wins.

My question is "What next?"  Baseball fashion has been all over the map.  From Baggy flannels to rainbow polyester, high socks to no socks,  short pants to long pants.  Well, there has always  "Turn Ahead the Clock Days" that MLB tried at various ball parks in 1999.

Is this the look of the future?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Crawford's Return By Opening Day...Not Sure If That's Realistic

Jim Bowden of SIRIUS Radio tweeted the following today after his interview with Stan Kasten: 

"Stan Kasten President of the Dodgers told us that they expect Carl Crawford to be healthy and in the opening day lineup based on reports."

Now I’m no doctor and I wasn’t much of a student when it came to the sciences that related to the human body, but what I am reading about Tommy John surgery recoveries for position players seems to indicate that expecting Crawford back by opening day would be a very quick return,  (I do remember in high school I had a biology teacher that had no cartilage in his nose, and he’d amuse his students by flattening his nose like a pancake and then popping it out again.  A memory that still haunts me 35 years later).  The point I was going to make is that Stan Kasten is telling people that they expect Carl Crawford to be starting in left field on opening day.  To that I’m wondering if the Dodgers might be pushing things a bit.

(photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Back in August when the Red Sox were contemplating when to have Crawford receive the Tommy John procedure, the Boston press corps was investigating the recovery time for him.  A number of pieces were written on the subject, with most experts claiming that recovery time for a position player would run between 6 to 9 months.  Crawford’s former teammate, shortstop Mike Aviles,  went through the process when he was a Kansas City Royal and had this to say:

“At around 7 and 1/2 months I was playing in spring training games, and that was kind of rare.  I still wasn’t able to play shortstop, but I was able to play second because my throws just didn’t have the extra carry that I needed.  I felt fully healed once the season started, but you could still feel as the months went on that your arm continued to get stronger.  I would say right aroung the year mark is when I felt completely, fully back to normal.”  (source: to Aviles Article LINKED HERE)

Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington stated on the week of Crawford’s surgery what the Boston brass speculated the recovery time would be saying “it is shorter than a pitcher, up to nine months, but players have come back sooner than that in a couple of cases.”

It sounds to me like Mr. Kasten is being extremely optimistic in Crawford’s case as he’s expecting his recovery to be a special case where the player responds extraordinarily fast.  I understand the eagerness the organization has to put all he pieces of the puzzle together soon, but I question the prudence of rushing a player back from Tommy John surgery, even if it is a position player.  Crawford’s surgery took place on August 25th, 2012.  In the case of Aviles that is cited above, the infielder wasn’t 100% until a year after surgery.  That will be almost September for Crawford.   Here are the key dates coming up and how they pertain to the Carl Crawford time table:

February 12, 2013-Spring Training Report date for pitchers, catchers and injured players -  4 months and 3 weeks after surgery.
February 24th-Spring Training Games Begin - 2 days short of 5 months after surgery

April 1st-Opening Day Against the Giants - 6 months and one week after surgery.

May 10th-The Dodgers will be 35 games into the season when Crawford reaches the 7 1/2 month date from surgery, which was when comparable player, Aviles, was able to start limited action in Spring Training games.

(photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

I think you’re getting my point.  It’s not realistic to expect Crawford to be back at an effective level until late June or July.  Opening day seems to be a near impossibility.  It's important to remember that he'll need to get some game action in.  Most likely he won’t see much of that in Spring Training.  He’d probably need a lengthy minor league rehab assignment to get back into playing shape and his timing back.

The optimism is great, but let’s get real folks.  Carl Crawford should probably be returning in June and not be real effective until after the All Star break.  I hope to be wrong, but history with other players with this same injury and medical procedure says otherwise.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sheff the Agent?

AP Photo 2001
Gary Sheffield is now an sports agent.  Having established Sheffield Management Group in 2011,  Sheff thinks he’s ready to represent clients before the heavy hitting baseball administrators.  He already has done so to a limited extent.  If there is one thing that Sheffield has always had, it was an opinion.  On this newest venture, he holds back no punches as he always has.  He seriously believes that he can excel in the business.

If there’s one thing Gary Sheffield can’t stand, it’s a liar.  If he perceives you were dishonest to him, you were dead to him.  We saw it in his years as a Dodger.  Bob Daly?  Sheffield says Daly said he’d make him a Dodger for life.  It didn’t happen soon enough so Sheff demanded out.  Scott Boras?  According to Sheffield, he promised Charles Johnson a lucrative $30 million deal and it didn’t happen, and he promised to work out a trade for him out of L.A., that didn’t happen fast enough...so Sheffield fired him.  Patience has never been a strong suite with Gary.  Neither has toeing the line with authority figures.

Sheffield always played with a chip on his shoulder and emotional anger.  Some pinpoint it back to Little League.  As a Little League World Series finalist from a Tampa league (that lost to Taiwan in the finals), Gary was booted off a youth league team at age 13 for missing a practice as he instead attended his uncle Dwight Gooden’s High School game.  His coach kicked him off the team for the absence and then later arranged for the entire league to not let him play for them, essentially blackballing the youngster from playing the game he loved.  It was Sheffield’s first experience with collusion and he couldn’t play for an entire year.  The incident made him seethe inside as he knew that he was the best player in the region and some coach with authority could wield so much power over him.  He took that anger and used it to make him a better player he believes.  I don’t think that it ever let up after that.

While playing A ball at Stockton, an immature Sheffield made a wild throw from shortstop that the air mailed into the stands.  His manager believed he did it on purpose to show him up.  Many agree that was the case.  An ensuing tirade took place on the field with Sheff being removed from the game in mid-inning.  It was an ugly event, and even though Sheffield’s manager, Dave Machemer, later apologized to the 18 year old after the game, the rumors spread and the writing was on the wall.  Sheffield was identified as a malcontent and a player that purposefully tanked games.

The rumors of sabotaging game(s) followed him into the majors and Sheffield claims that it was falsely spread that he had done the same at the major league level, which was simply untrue.  In the majors, only Ernest Riles would approach the kid and help him.  The rest of the Brewers team did not talk to him or even attempt to befriend him.  Is it any wonder that Sheffield demanded a trade?

One thing was certain though. Gary Sheffield had remarkable talent.  That leg kick and quick bat was an amazing thing to watch.  Some simply said it was natural talent, and to some extent that was true, but there were very few players that worked harder to hone their craft than Sheffield.  As a Padre, he came within one week of winning the first Triple Crown in the N.L in over 50 years.  As a Marlin, he was instrumental in leading that club to their first World Series Title in 1997.  He was 28 years old and 10 years had gone by since he made his major league debut.  He was a past batting champion, he had led the league in On Base Percentage, he had driven in as many as 120 runs in a year and had OPS seasons over 1.000 on two different occasions.  Gary Sheffield was known as a top tier talent and amongst the top 5 players in the game.

No wonder he was bitter when within six months that World Championship team in Florida was completely dismantled and he was being pressured to accept a trade to Los Angeles.  Sheffield was happy in Florida and that trade was going to cost him money (due to California income taxes).  He told them “no” initially.  He felt disrespected and again “lied” to.  Credit Fred Claire, a man that the Fox Dodgers had undermined in making that trade, who stepped forwarded and calmed Sheff down, negotiating a restructured deal that wouldn’t cost Sheffield money.

Considering that sports agents are the negotiators.  The guys that are supposed to keep their emotions in check and take the lead when it comes to coming to terms with teams in contract matters.  I find that Sheffield as a player may have been the worst ever at doing that.  We know he left the Brewers unceremoniously, also the Dodgers, Yankees and Tigers later in his career.  

Never known as much of a teammate during his career.  This usually happened because Sheffield didn’t refrain from speaking his mind and letting the world know that he was more valuable and deserved to be paid more than some of his teammates.  As a Dodger, his jealousy over contracts of other players on the team got the better of him.  He criticized the contracts of Karros and Dreifert and said he was more valuable.  There was no doubt that he was, but the timing of the contracts had pushed them ahead of the superstar and his time was coming, but again, a lack of patience got the better of him.  When Gary demanded to get a deal to make him a Dodger for life and it didn’t pan out quick enough, he essentially forced the Dodgers to trade him, leaving the team in a lurch and forcing them to acquire an inferior package of Brian Jordan, Odalis Perez and Andrew Brown in exchange.

This guy was seen by many as a cancer in the clubhouse and as a cancer to more than one organization.  Others simply said he was misunderstood.  He buddied up with Barry Bonds and worked out with the Giants star at AT & T Park in the off-season while he was a Dodger.  He tried steroids and was on the Mitchell report.  He testified in the BALCO scandal and cooperated with investigating authorities, owning up that he was a known steroid user.  

There have to be some that believe that there can’t be a worst example of someone to represent you in negotiations than Gary Sheffield.  So when Gary Sheffield states that “I know the game, and I know for sure that my client is better than this guy, this guy and this guy you have on your roster, so sign him.” (source: Jack Dickey's Sports on Earth article that is linked at the end of this post)  It seriously makes me wonder about his negotiating skills.  This is a different Sheffield though.  This is a changed man some say.  The erratic and emotional roller coaster that made up much of his career is over.

Gary Sheffield lived a turbulent life, as he worked his way through four organizations.  By his own admission, his personal life was anything but secure.  He fathered four children from four different mothers.  He was nearly killed one night in the off season in 1995 having been shot in the shoulder on a violent Tampa street in the early morning hours.  It was a botched robbery attempt.   Bad luck? Sure it was, but driving a $100,000 car through the mean streets of Tampa after midnight wasn’t the wisest move to make.  

Several baseball organizations saw him as a malcontent and the story about him sabotaging a game when he was 18 years old never seemed to go away.  He still was one of the highest paid players in the game, as he should have been.  But it wasn’t until age 31 when his marriage to his wife Deleon, (a grounded and determined woman of faith), that Sheffield started to settle and mature. He moved on to five more organizations before his career ended with lifetime numbers of 509 homers and 2,689 hits, but the turbulance of his youth was gone.

Jason Grilli, currently pitching for the Pirates, had approached Sheffield for help after being out of the game for a year following a knee injury in 2010.  Sheff stepped up and negotiated him a contract.  He figured that he knew the game and he had inside contacts, his success on the behalf of Grilli, his former teammate, convinced him to create the management group.  He now represents a handful of minor leaguers aside from Grilli.

Most guys coming to Sheffield are reported to be players that have left the game and want back in.  One such player is reported to be knuckleballer Josh Banks, now in the Orioles organization.  That deal reportedly went down with Sheffield pulling up at the Orioles Spring Training complex in his Bentley, a quick meeting with Dan Douquette and Banks grabbing a locker within an hour.  That’s what a Major League reputation does for you.

But can a player representative that admits that he doesn’t watch the game and doesn’t particularly like it be an affective agent?  “I pay baseball no attention,” he told Jack Dickey of Sportsonearth.com in October of this year.**  “I couldn’t tell you one teams roster.  I don’t watch baseball now because it’s boring.”  The thing is though, Sheffield is quick to recognize facets about the game that others don’t know, claiming that the drug testing program is a joke and that he knew Bartolo Colon was juicing once he heard he was traveling to Latin America for a “blood spinning” procedure.  

He carries his opinions strongly still but claims that the players he represents are those in which he truly believes will excel because of their talent.  Former Tiger teammate Grilli he believes in.  Guys like B.J. Upton (who he doesn’t represent) he claims have tons of talent that isn’t reaching full potential.  He believes that there are too many inferior Japanese players and Latin American players in the game and that black and white players are under-represented.  One thing for certain, his words still bring controversy as they did when he played.  How that will play out when intense player negotiations of one of his premier clients occurs, only time will tell.

Some question Sheffield's seriousness in all of this as he has stated that he wants no more than 30 clients.  Gary, who is engaged in a few business pursuits, such as an elite Niacaraguan Cigar and Vitamin Water, has also expressed interest in entering sports-talk/television, but not if he has to travel too far.  For him, St. Petersburg was “too far.”  He lives in Tampa.

**Note:  Much of the source material for this piece came from an excellent article written by Jack Dickey of Sports on Earth (www.SportsonEarth.com).  He's an amazing writer and I highly recommend his work.  Dickey's Oct. 23, 2012 Sheffield article is linked HERE

On MLB’s televison’s Hot Stove today, Harold Reynold and Matt Vasgersian conducted an interview with Sheffeild over the phone and there was this interesting exchange that related to the Dodgers Matt Kemp

Harold Reynolds: "Hey Gary, one thing that is interesting too about you is that you’ve always been a guy that would give advice.  I’m sure players still come to you today.  'Can you come work with me in the cage? Can you tell me what I’m doing?  Am I out in front?  Am I behind?' When you watch a ball game and you’re waiting for players after a game.  They’re coming to talk to you.  Is that a conflict of interest now that you’re an agent officially?  Or do you still have players saying to you ‘Sheff, what happened?  I thought we were gonna hit this winter?’"

Gary Sheffield: "No, I mean it’s funny you're saying that.  I just got a call from Matt Kemp the other day.  He called me and just asked for advice and I gave him advice on just business stuff.  And he’s like ‘Thanks big bro, I knew you’d come through for me.’ And, I’m always open to players that are willing to listen and guys that are willing to learn because like I said before, when I was a young player, I was always the youngest on the team and sometimes I had people that I could go to and sometimes I didn’t.  I always made it a vow that I’d be always be there for those players."

Matt Vasgergian:  "Hey wait a minute Sheff.  You’re talking to Matt Kemp?  You’re messing with one of Stew’s guys.  That’s Dave Stewart’s guy."

Sheffield: (laughing) "No, no, no, no. It’s nothing like that."

Vasgergian:  "You know I did want to ask you about Stew though because Dave Stewart who went from a terrific playing career to being an agent.  He made this move.  Have you talked with Stew and visited with him about how he went about the transition? "

Sheffield: "Oh, Absolutely.  Me and Stew talk all the time.  I talked about joining his company at first, but he’s all the way out on the West Coast.  You never know when it may come to that point, but I felt like Sheffield Management could make it out on its own.  We’re standing tall..."