I’m Back

An offseason with not much to talk about (other than Manny) plus a busy last couple of months equals no blog updates since November.  My problem is that I tend to prefer writing long articles and long articles take time to construct, proof-read, etc.  So I am going to take a different approach this year.  I’m going to try writing shorter articles on a more frequent basis.

As far as 2009 is concerned, on the field there hasn’t been a whole lot to talk about. The Dodgers are winning. They are winning with offense, winning with defense, winning with pitching, winning with Manny, winning without Manny.  The Dodgers have the best record in baseball.  There are not many weaknesses to point out or mistakes to criticize.  It’s tougher to blog during times like these but it’s a problem I’m willing to endure.

I know what you’re thinking and it’s something like, “Well, John.  Surely you have a lot to say about Manny and his 50-game suspension.” You may be surprised to hear that I don’t have much to say about it.  The reason is that I just don’t know enough about what Manny did to make any extensive comments. All I know is that Manny violated the league’s drug policy.  I know that he had elevated testosterone levels prompting a request of medical records on which it was discovered that he was prescribed a female fertility drug that was on Major League Baseball’s list of banned substances.  Outside of that, it’s all speculation. 

We can speculate that he was using the fertility drug to restart testosterone after a cycle of steroid use.  But when did he use steroids?  Was it recently? If it was recently, why was it not detected in previous drug tests?  Maybe he took steroids right after the last drug test but it was still in his system during the most recent test.  Has he been doing this every season?  If so, how did he pass 15 previous drug tests.  Maybe he found a way to use it in a way that was undetectable.  Maybe the drug tests are better and more reliable now.

You see what I’m getting at?  I don’t yet to know what to make of all this.  Was it a case of Manny using too much of something that resulted in high testosterone levels?  Was this a one-time thing or has Manny been cheating the system for years?  On one end of the spectrum, Manny is guilty of negligence and on the other end, he is a cheater.  Irresponsibility is a much easier pill to swallow that cheating (no pun intended).  Maybe he’s been doing it clean in the years since the drug policy was implemented but attempted to cheat this one time but got his hand caught in the cookie jar.  I don’t know.  I’m choosing to withhold my judgment until I have more information.

As for the Dodgers, they are doing okay without him and I believe the offense will continue to do well without him. The Dodgers have just wrapped up another win in Colorado as I write this.  

So, I’m glad to be back and hope to be posting often. 


The Case For Manny

To sign or not to sign.  That is the question.

The big question on the minds of virtually every Dodger fan this winter is, “Will the Dodgers sign Manny Ramirez?”  It goes without saying that Dodger fans would love to have him back, and many insist that this is absolutely necessary.

Well, what do I think about this?  First of all, I am part of the vast majority of Dodger fans who would love to have him back.  I think his personality and especially his bat, is a perfect fit for this city and this ballclub.

I will exam the pros and cons.  First, I will address the cons:

1) The Dodgers have 14 free agents that they must either re-sign or replace, including their top two starters.  The more money they pay Manny, the less money they have to fill up the many holes on the roster. Yes, Manny is great and Manny is exciting, but Manny on a mediocre team defeats the purpose of having him.  The Dodgers do not want to find themselves in the situation the Giants have been in the past several years.  The Giants had arguably the greatest hitter in the history of baseball in the middle of their lineup, but without an adequate supporting cast, they lost more games than they won. Manny was valuable to this team because they were already good.  They just needed that push to get them over the top. 

2) The six-year contract that Manny is looking for has him playing with the Dodgers until he is forty-two.  This isn’t as much of an issue for offense as it is for defense.  Manny is already a defensive liability in left field.  Can you imagine what he and his two bad knees will be in his forties?  Do the Dodgers want to repeat what the Giants did with Barry Bonds?

3) By the last few years of a six-year deal, the nucleus of this Dodger ballclub – Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley, etc. – will be free agents.  If the Dodgers wish to hold on to these guys, they can’t have large sums of guaranteed money tied up in other players.

Now the pros:

1) If the Dodgers do not sign Manny, the Dodgers will be without a bonafide power hitter in the lineup.  Sure, there is power throughout the line-up, but nobody who is a guarantee to give you 30 HR’s/100 RBI’s, and a spot in the line-up for opposing pitchers to pitch around. Unless you expect a comeback season from Andruw Jones, the Dodgers will need to go find themselves a cleanup-hitter and whoever they sign will not be cheap. Granted, that player will not be making “Manny money”, but will still cost a pretty penny.  My fear is that the Dodgers pass up on Manny, and then go out and sign another hitter to a contract that isn’t that much less than they would have paid Manny.

2) The first priority of any team should be pitching. Why is this?  Because pitching is the one thing you can rely on to perform well consistently.  The up and down nature of hitting makes it difficult to be relied upon in a short-series in October. But great pitching can usually compensate what you’re lacking in offense – not vice-versa.  Manny however, is an exception. Manny has that rare ability to step it up in postseason and push his game to a new level.  You saw it with your own eyes last month.  Manny is a hitter who craves the pressure and thrives in it.  Such hitters are a rare commodity and are worth the money they are paid.

3) Manny brings people to the ballpark.  He has star power.  He is good for business.  A certain percentage of people who come to the ballpark are there to see Manny.  Part of the premium paid to a player of Manny’s caliber is made up by the extra revenue he brings in.

There are other reasons pro and con that I could have mentioned.  On the negative side, I could have mentioned the “Manny Being Manny” issues he had in Boston, but I don’t know enough about all that and am assuming he will have a different relationship with Dodger management.  I could also have pointed out the positive effect he had on the Dodger clubhouse as a “pro”. 

The bottom line is that the Dodgers need to win next year.  If signing Manny will prevent the Dodgers from acquiring the other players necessary to build a winning team, then it is not worth it.  If the Dodgers can sign Manny and still supply him with a good supporting cast, then it is worth it. 

The Dodgers have many needs this offseason, particularly in the area of pitching. If they can address those needs while still retaining Manny’s services, Dodger fans will be very happy.  However, if the Dodgers are not able to re-sign Ramirez, Dodger fans need to keep this in mind: championships have been won without Manny Ramirez. The Dodgers can still put an exciting, championship-caliber team on the field without him.  If Manny isn’t signed, it will have been to accomplish that very purpose. 

The Best Season Since ’88

Yes, I know – it was a disappointing finish to the Dodgers season.  However, by the end of October, you will be able to replace the word “Dodgers” in that sentence with the names of twenty-eight other Major League baseball teams.  In the past decade, 290 teams have had disappointing finishes to seasons as opposed to only 10 who have been happy with the way things ended up.  After every disappointing finish, newspapers and local sports talk radio feature discussions on what went wrong, who is to blame, and what should be done about it.  For Dodger fans, this is no exception.  People are talking about the failure of Chad Billingsley to pitch well in his two NLCS starts, the decisions that Joe Torre made in the series, and what needs to happen to make things better next year (including whether or not they should pay the hefty price to keep Manny Ramirez).  As a counterpoint to the negative focus given to this season, I will instead focus on the positive.


 All things considered, this past season was the best since 1988.  The regular season record wasn’t the greatest but this team won playoff games.  Not only did they win playoff games, they won four of them.  Three of them came against a team that was expected to go the World Series.  Yes, it was disappointing that they were eliminated in the LCS but that is what made this season so great.  They were eliminated in the LCS!  If you’re going to get eliminated, that’s where you want it to be.  Dodger fans are tired of being eliminated during the regular season year after year, or face a quick exit from the Division Series in the four seasons that they do make it.  This Dodger team took things to the next level and gave their fans something they haven’t enjoyed in a long time – winning baseball in October.  The LCS loss was easier to take for many Dodger fans because with the nucleus of talented young players this team has, there is a feeling that this season is the beginning of many great ones to come.


Personally, I have enjoyed this season because I feel like the Dodgers have returned.  What do I mean?  I feel like the spirit of the Dodger teams that I rooted for as a kid in the ’80’s, has returned.  Shortly after the magical championship year of 1988, the Dodger organization gradually descended into mediocrity.  The departure of the O’Malley’s, as they sold the team to FOX in 1998, had to lot to do with the decline.  The Dodgers became just another organization.  They had a rich history but nothing to offer in the present.  The resurgence of the Dodgers actually began when FOX brought in Bob Daly to run the team and continued under the new ownership of Frank McCourt.  The Dodgers are once again bringing up talented players from one of the richest farm systems in all of baseball.  Just like the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, today’s Dodger ballclub is mostly made up of homegrown talent, and just like those teams, today’s Dodger team is winning playoff games – something they haven’t done in 20 years.  The 2008 Dodger team put the organization on the map with the addition of one of the most respected managers in all of baseball, Joe Torre, and perhaps the greatest hitter of his time, Manny Ramirez, while reminding us of the past with the year-long celebration of 50 years in Los Angeles.  Once again, the Dodgers were playing games in October in front of a nationally televised audience.  In a small way, the return to KABC as the Dodgers’ flagship radio station and the return of their AAA affiliate to Albuquerque helped symbolize this return.


The future is bright for the Dodgers.  The Dodgers are once again assuming their rightful position as one of the top organizations in all of baseball and the team to beat on the field. 


“The best season since ’88”.  Not a bad epitaph for 2008.


27 years ago this
month, the Dodgers found themselves down two games to none in a
best-of-seven series. They went on to win the World Series.

20 years ago this month, the Dodgers lost 2 of the first 3 games of
the NLCS, including a 3-2 loss in Game 1 with their No. 1 starter
throwing a shutout for most of the game until the opposition scored
three. Sound familar? That team went on to win the World Series.

Two games to none doesn’t mean anything. Three members of the
Dodgers have witnessed firsthand that a three games to nothing deficit
doesn’t necessarily mean anything either. This could be a short exit
from the LCS…or the beginning of something big.

Why The Angels And Cubs Lost…And Other Thoughts

The general consensus going into the playoffs was that the Angels and Cubs would be meeting in the World Series.  They were clearly the two best teams during the regular season, so why couldn’t they each win their first round series?  I am among those who are not surprised at what happened.  There are two seasons in baseball: the regular season and the postseason.  The regular season determines which teams will play in postseason, but beyond that, one has nothing to do with the other.  In Major League Baseball‘s postseason, there are no favorites and underdogs.  It is who
is playing the best baseball in October.  Simple as that. Baseball’s playoffs are largely unpredictable. 


Why is this?  There are two factors.  The first one is the inconsistent nature of baseball.  Out of the four major U.S. sports, baseball is the toughest sport to win on a consistent basis.  You will rarely ever see a team dominate a sport in the same way as you would in other sports.  You will never see a winning percentage in the .700’s like you would in the NBA or NFL.  This, among other things, has to do with the fact that the
most influential player on a baseball team changes each night – the pitcher.  Pitchers exert the most control over a game.  You
can have the best baseball team in the world, but if your pitcher is
struggling on any given night, you’re going to have a hard time winning
that game.  The inability to achieve consistency
in baseball also has to do with the fact that your best offensive
player is expected to fail at least 60% of the time.  This is not the case in other sports.  You can expect the Lakers‘ best offensive player, Kobe Bryant, to play at least a decent game each night but the same cannot be said for Kobe ‘s counterpart on a baseball team.  A baseball team’s best offensive weapon will occasionally come up empty and is expected to do so. 


The second factor is baseball’s playoff format.  Major
League Baseball has twice as many regular season games as that of the
NBA or NHL because the inconsistent nature of baseball requires a
greater sample size of games to determine the best teams.  One
would think that baseball would carry that same logic into the
postseason, but instead goes the other direction and features a
five-game series as opposed to the seven-game first round series in
basketball and hockey.  This doesn’t make sense.  So, what you have is a first-round Division Series that is, as Joe Torre put it, “a crapshoot”.  In a short series, a
weaker team has a greater chance of upsetting the better team.  A
couple of breaks that go your way, especially in the first game, and
that can be enough to swing a five-game series in your favor.  Even
the seven-game LCS and World Series rounds do not feature enough games
to accurately determine the best teams, in my opinion, but they are
certainly better than five.  (By the way, I’m not saying the Dodgers
were the weaker team.  In my opinion, the Dodgers are just as good as
the Cubs and if that is not the case, they are at least much better
than their regular-season record indicates).


So, Major League Baseball is partially to blame for the early elimination of the Angels and Cubs.  The rest of the blame falls on the teams themselves.  Both teams played bad baseball.  It wasn’t just a matter of winding up on the losing end of close games.  Both teams committed errors, walks, and other mistakes that they would not usually make.  Why
two very good teams would suddenly play bad baseball in the most
meaningful series of the year (up to that point), I do not know, but I
do have a theory.  When was the last time the Angels and Cubs faced pressure?  The Angels and Cubs each ran away with their divisions and clinched early.  When was the last time these guys faced must-win games?  The
Dodgers and Red Sox however, have been playing hard for the last month
or two in order to keep up with Arizona and Tampa Bay .  Both teams are accustomed to having to bring their A-games to the park each night in order to avoid falling out of the pennant race.  Last week’s Division Series was a wake-up call for the Angels and Cubs.  The Dodgers and Red Sox however, were already up.  Both the
Angels and Cubs looked uncomfortable last week.  The cakewalk they both enjoyed during the season turned into a pressure-cooker and neither team seemed to respond well to it. 


Other thoughts…

I do not expect the dominance that characterized the Division Series to carry over into the League Championship Series.  All four LCS teams have been playing great baseball the past few weeks and both series should be hard-fought.

the Dodgers and Phillies should be evenly-matched, I think the Dodgers
may have a psychological advantage.  When you start a series on the
road, you always have that knowledge that even if you lose the first
two games, you’re coming back home for three games.  You can play a
little more relaxed.  When you start a series at home, the pressure is
greater knowing that you have to play well in those two games because
you’re going out on the road for three games.  I also think that the
Dodgers will be able to concentrate better without the extra adrenalin
from playing in front of the hometown fans.  When you do come home,
you’re a little more relaxed.  This may not be an issue with veterans
as much as it is would be for younger players, who make up a sizeable
and significant portion of the Dodger team. 

attended Saturday night‘s game.  The stadium was electric and I will never forget that 9th inning.
The anticipation of the Dodgers’ first postseason victory since 1988 and the first Division Series win ever, was heightened with each strike that Jonathan Broxton threw.  The crowd got louder and louder with each strike, until the final one was thrown to Alfonso Soriano and the crowd erupted.  The excitement and thrills from that win made the exhausting walk across the main parking lot and up the hill to the parking lot behind the Think Blue sign, a little easier.

Easy Schedule?!

People are talking about the easy schedule the Dodgers have from here on out, especially when compared to the Arizona Diamondbacks.  I do not know where they get this from. Well, I do know.  It’s because the Dodgers do not play another above-.500 team the rest of the season.  It is because 12 of their remaining 19 games are against the two teams at the bottom of the NL West standings and four of the other seven games are against the last place Pirates. 

Dodger fans should know better than this.  The remaining schedule is far from easy.  Why do I say this?  Because most of their remaining games are against the Padres and the Giants.  So, what’s the problem?  The problem is that the Padres have never been an easy team for the Dodgers to beat.  They have been a constant thorn in the Dodgers’ side for as long as they have been around.  The Padres can always be counted on to give the Dodgers a hard time. 

And the Giants? The Giants would love nothing more than to eliminate the Dodgers.  There are two goals for a Dodger or Giant team: win the division or prevent the other team from doing so.  The Dodgers and Giants are .500 teams when they play each other. The Dodgers cannot count on marching into San Francisco at the end of the season expecting success or expect to roll over the Giants at home. 

The Padres and Giants have been nothing but trouble for the Dodgers over the years.  The Dodgers also travel to Coors Field where they were swept last September by a Rockies team that was behind them in the standings and considered to be out of the race. 

The Pirates?  Okay, that one should be easy….as long as they keep in mind what happened to them in Washington a couple weeks ago.

The Dodgers will have their hands full the next few weeks and I hope the team realizes this.  Nothing can be taken for granted.  The Dodgers have the team to win the division but things will not be easy.

Roller Coaster

A little over a week ago I started a blog post entitled “Reason To Hope” about how Dodger fans had reason to be optimistic about the Dodgers even though they were in a nosedive – not able to beat anybody, including the worst team in baseball.  I was even going to include my prediction of a winning streak following the losing streak.  But I got pulled away and never finished it.  Oh, how I wish I had.

As the losing streak wore on, the more confident I became that the Dodgers would turn things around. Why did I believe this?  Because a prolonged losing streak is one of the best things a club can go through. Why do I say this?  Because a long losing streak stirs things up.  Players get angry and if the streak goes on long enough, they get desperate.  The team begins addressing weaknesses that often go overlooked when they are winning every other day.  As each day goes by, the players arrive to the ballpark with greater determination than they had the day before.  The intensity level increases to a point where players are willing to do anything to get a win.  The team begins to play with a playoff-like intensity.  Then the breaks start going their way and when they do, they start winning again – and often winning big.  For an example, check out the game-by-game results for July and August 2006 for the Dodgers. 

I should say the above is true only for teams that

1) Have highly competitive players
2) Have a lot of talented players
3) Have time left to turn things around.

All three were true of the Dodgers and that is why I was confident that they would turn things around.

Will they go on to win their division?  I offer no predictions there.

A Perfect Week (almost)


Just as I predicted, the Dodgers came home from San Francisco after two devastating losses to the Giants, with the determination to turn things around…and turn things around they did.  The Dodgers swept a 4-game series from the Phillies (the first time they have done this at home since 1962) and won two out of three to the Brewers.  The Phillies and Brewers are very good teams and the Dodgers showed the baseball world that they are just as good as either of those two teams.

I had the opportunity to attend Friday night’s game and enjoyed every minute of it.  Me and my wife became parents three months ago and finally made it to a game.  Our 3-month old girl stayed with her Grandma while we (along with my parents and father-in-law) made it to our first game in a long time.  The Dodger Dog was wonderful. 

The one imperfection in this homestand came on Saturday night.  You’re thinking, “Of course, they lost”.  That is true and that was part of it.  But what I’m really talking about was the reception given to Milwaukee’s set-up man when he jogged in from the bullpen in the 8th inning.  The Dodger Stadium crowd greeted their former hero with nothing but boos.

Eric Gagne was the greatest closer in franchise history and the most popular pitcher since Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela.  He practically doubled the previous record of consecutive saves.  He went a whole season without blowing a save and won a Cy Young Award.  Eric Gagne carried the team on his shoulders while he was on the mound.  Without Gagne, Steve Finley’s dramatic grand slam in 2004 would likely have been meaningless, as any other closer would have had several more blown saves resulting in a few more losses. Dodger fans enjoyed the excitement of knowing the game was over when he jogged onto the field in the 9th inning.

I didn’t understand the reaction of the crowd on Saturday night.  If you aren’t going to cheer Eric Gagne when he makes his return to Dodger Stadium as a former Dodger, then exactly who are you going to cheer?  You can boo when he strikes out a Dodger, like Casey Blake.  After all, he is pitching for the opponent.  But you can’t acknowledge him and what he did for Los Angeles for even a minute?

Kirk Gibson, a coach for the rival D-Backs was cheered earlier this year.  Joe Torre got an ovation from a Mets crowd that hated him and had no obligation to give him any acknowledgment.  Heck, even Johnny Damon got some cheers from Boston fans upon his return to Fenway shortly after doing something unthinkable and traitorous – leaving the Red Sox for the hated Yankees.  Dodger fans couldn’t do the same for Gagne?

Was it the Mitchell report?  I doubt it.  Was it the fact that he left as a free agent despite saying during the season that he was willing to give the Dodgers “a hometown discount?”  Many Dodger fans shrugged their shoulders, thinking that his best days were behind him anyway, after the string of injuries that left him sidelined for two years. Honestly, how many of the 50,000 fans were actually thinking about those words when he entered the game on Saturday? 

No, Dodger fans booed him because they were in a bad mood. The Brewers had just taken a lead, leaving the Dodgers six outs away from falling into second place.  They didn’t enjoy having to watch their former closer enter the game to help ensure that the Brewers kept the lead. That, combined with the fact that Takashi Saito has done a fantastic job as closer for the Dodgers in Gagne’s absence, left Dodger fans with very little love for their former closer whom they enjoyed watching just a few years earlier. 

If Gagne had come into the game earlier or with the Dodgers leading, the reaction might have been a little different.  John Park Rule #1 is that teams are never as good as they are during a winning streak and never as bad as they are during a losing streak.  John Park Rule #2 is that the longer a game wears on, especially during a pennant race, the less likely for a former player to get an ovation upon an initial return to their former stadium and the more likely they are to get booed.  Much of the fan reaction can be explained with psychology.  It’s just too bad Dodger fans couldn’t rise above it.


A Great Series

That was a great series!  I’m a mind-reader and I know what you’re thinking.  “What?!  What are you talking about?!  That series was awful!! The Dodgers lose two out of three to a really bad team – the hated Giants no less.  The Dodgers blow a golden opportunity to get into first place and you say this was a great series??  Maybe you should change the color scheme of this blog to black and orange.” 

Okay, okay, I hear you. But I stand behind my statement. This was a great series.  All three games go down to the wire.  The Dodger-hating fans in San Francisco are loud and passionate.  This is what the Dodger-Giant rivalry is all about.  This was a great series.  But Dodger fans are disappointed.  “We should have swept these guys or at least won two out of three.  We blew it.  This team has no heart.  If they can’t beat a team as bad as the Giants, how can they expect to come home and beat teams like the Phillies, Brewers, etc etc.”

First of all, you forget that this is a Dodger-Giant series.  There is no advantage in a Dodger-Giant series,  In a Dodger-Giant series, one team is as good as the other.  Regardless of talent level or position in the standings, the Dodgers and Giants are .500 teams when they play each other.  Why? Because that’s the way it is in a rivalry.  Both teams dig down deep and find a way to beat the team they hate.  Two weeks ago, the Dodgers won two out of three from the Giants at home.  This weekend they lose two out of three.  .500.  This is the way it has always been between these two teams.  Throw stats out the window!  The Dodgers had no advantage going into this series. 

This was a great series, not only for the reasons mentioned above, but for another reason.  This Dodger team needed a kick in the butt. The Dodgers are still riding the Manny high and are not playing good enough baseball.  A Dodger sweep of the Giants and a spot in first place could have been the worst thing for the Dodgers and their mental approach to a homestand against some tough opponents.  The Dodgers needed a wake-up call that things will not be easy the final two months – Manny or no Manny.  They are going to have to fight for this division.  The Dodgers are going to fly home angry and looking for blood – the exact attitude they need to beat Philadelphia and Milwaukee. 

If the Dodgers win the division, they may very well point back to the two bitter defeats in this weekend’s series with the Giants.

The Beginning Of Something Good

Right now I’m watching the 9th inning of yesterday’s game.  I taped it to watch the post-game show.  Anyway, I believe that this very game is the beginning of a big stretch for the Dodgers – a stretch that will land the Dodgers in first place and in a good position heading into October.  The Dodgers are due for a winning streak and I believe that streak will be happening soon and may have already started already.

The Dodgers now have an offense behind a pitching staff that has the best ERA in the National League.  Unlike the first half, a good stretch by the starting rotation is likely to give the Dodgers a lot of wins. 

Hold on to your seats.  The next few weeks are gonna be exciting.