The Birth of a Benchmark

August 31, 2011

One of the reasons that baseball is the greatest game is there are so many ways to measure performances.  These measurements are burned into our collective consciousness.  When I was growing up, I was given a book that had most of the records and great stars through the history of modern baseball up to the early 1960’s.  Numbers like 56, 60, .406 and 714 had an almost legendary significance.  Some of those numbers, like Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak of 56 games and Ted William’s .406 batting average are still the record (the .406 season is the last season anybody batted at least .400.)  Babe Ruth’s single season and career home run records, which had existed for so many years, have been replaced.  The funny thing is, I don’t know how many homers Barry Bonds finished with.

I am not a baseball fanatic.  I just know that baseball and all of the numbers and legendary players just seemed so much bigger when I was a child.  As much as I admire the performances of Kershaw and Kemp this year, I stopped being in awe of major league players once I was older than they were.  The Cey, Russell, Lopes and Garvey group were the last players that I really looked up to.

I was in Little League (age 10-12) in 1963 through 1965, a time when the Dodgers were world champions 2 of those years.  From my screen name, you probably know my favorite players were Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.  I probably ruined my arm trying to pitch like Drysdale.  As a dominating pitcher in Little League, I loved to aim at the batter and watch him bail out only to have my curve or maybe it was really a slider break over the plate for a strike.  Those were the days before kids were warned not to throw breaking pitches.

1959 was the first time I remember being interested in the Dodgers.  This date in 1959 was when Sandy Koufax set the record by striking out 18 batters.  But I really did not follow the team until they were in the World Series.  I just remember that Larry Sherry was the hero that year.  But the 18 strike outs by Koufax set him apart from others even before his first really dominant season in 1962.

The records last until they are broken, but the feelings about the record holders from ones childhood remain.  Orel Hershiser broke Don Drysdale’s scoreless inning record but I am 32and53fan, I don’t even know Hershiser’s uniform number.

This Day in Dodgers History

August 31, 1959 – Tying a major league mark, Sandy Koufax fans 18 Giants to establish a new National League record for a nine-inning in a 5-2 Dodger win at the LA Memorial Coliseum. In 1938, Indians fireballer Bob Feller struck out 18 in a 4-1 loss to the Tigers.


Kershaw Keeps on Truckin’

August 30, 2011

Clayton Kershaw showed why he is the Dodgers ace pitcher and a favorite to win the Cy Young award.  Despite not being overpowering in terms of strikeouts, Kershaw turned in a complete game masterpiece winning 4-1 over the Padres.  Kershaw is now 17-5 on the year and a dominating 10-1 with a 1.80 ERA at Dodger Stadium.

James Loney continued his hot streak with another homer.  He has gone 18 for 35 in his last 8 games, raising his batting average from .254 to .275.  Maybe he reads this blog and was tired of being called “Loweeny” all the time.  If Loney continues his torrid streak through the end of the year, the Dodgers will have a big decision to make regarding his salary for next year.

Señor Winces, AKA Andre Ethier, went 3 for 4 with an RBI.  Either his knee felt better, or he was grinning and bearing it.

Today Hiroki Kuroda takes the mound against the Padres Tim Stauffer.  Kuroda has gone 4-1 in August with a 2.16 ERA.  It is amazing what happens when the team scores runs for Kuroda.  They scored 27 runs in his 13 losses before August.  In his five games in August, they scored 28 runs.

This Day in Dodgers History

August 30, 1952 – Nine-time All-Star infielder Arky Vaughn drowns with a friend when their boat capsized while fishing in a volcanic lake near Eagleville, CA. The former shortstop and third baseman, who compiled .318 batting average and a .406 on-base percentage playing with the Pirates and Dodgers, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.

August 30

What is the truth about the Ethier situation?

August 29, 2011

Ever since T.J. Simers wrote his article about Andre Ethier, there has been a firestorm of controversy in the media, in the team and in the blogosphere.  Ethier said: “Other than going into the training room every day and saying my knee hurts,” Ethier says, “and having six-inch needles stuck into it to make it feel better, I’ve told them my mechanics are messed up because of my knee. They know.  “But they’ve told me, ‘Grin and bear it.'”  Ned Colletti hinted that Ethier may be faking an injury: “What am I supposed to be concerned about?” General Manager Ned Colletti says. “That he has those numbers [since the All-Star break], that he’s hurt or contends he’s hurt?”

In Tony Jackson’s article, Ethier backtracked when he talked about the condition of his knee: “Ethier himself told us there was no real change, that he was still free to play through the injury if he chose and that he, and not Mattingly, had been the one who had chosen to play through it all season.”

At the end of spring training, Ethier had this to say: ”

“My salary is increasing each year. I would say the likeliness of me being here beyond this year, it’s not just my decision. … I have been kind of lucky to be in one spot in baseball for as long as I have been, for six years now. That is a long time to be in one city playing for one team. There is no inclination now other than to go out and play this year and see what we’ve got.

“If I don’t play well, we have seen them non-tender guys here. If you do play well, sometimes they don’t offer those guys arbitration because their salaries are too high.”

The obvious message Ethier was trying to get across that day was that he wasn’t feeling that the Dodgers were committed to him. Fast forward to this weekend, to another Ethier firestorm that on its face was completely unrelated to that first one, and it now sounds as though Ethier might not be all that committed to them, either.”

Steve Dilbeck reported in his L.A. Times blog “that by Sunday afternoon, a certain disconnect had developed between what Ethier told Simers and what he said before the game. This came after he met with Colletti and Mattingly in the manager’s office, and then was quickly ushered into the training room by team doctor Neal ElAttrache for another examination.”

More disturbing were the comments by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who felt that his personal integrity had been challenged:

“I got kind of blindsided by that,” Mattingly said. “To me, the way I read it is, Dre’s been telling us he can’t play and we just said, ‘You’re playing anyway.’ That definitely isn’t the case.

“For me, that takes a shot at my integrity. … I would never do that. I would rather lose my job that put a guy out there who might hurt himself.”

In the official Dodgers MLB site, Ken Gurnick said that Ethier backed off the comments he made in Simers article: “His pointed comments in the column ignited a controversy that indicted club decision makers and infuriated teammates. But Ethier backpeddled an hour before game time, agreeing with the club that he never told officials he was too injured to play. ”

Mattingly declined to speculate on whether Ethier’s comments in the article were motivated by contractual desires or to serve as an excuse for the outfielder’s second-half slump. Instead, Mattingly said if Ethier needs surgery now, “he’s better off to get it now.”

All of this speculation about Andre Ethier has caused quite a stir.  Who knows who to believe?  Only time will tell how all of this will play out.

This Day in Dodgers History

August 29, 1948 – In St. Louis, Jackie Robinson hits for the cycle, drives in two runs, scores three times and steals a base helping the Dodgers to beat the Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park, 12-7.

A Turning Point For America

August 28, 2011

Today marks the 66th anniversary of the day Branch Rickey met with Jackie Robinson to talk about breaking the color barrier in the major leagues.

America in 1945 was much different than it is today.  Despite waging a brutal war against Nazi Germany, who subjugated and annihilated a complete class of people because of their race and religion, America treated it’s black citizens in much the same way.    This moral contradiction between what America said it stood for and the way it was actually organized was most clearly articulated at the time by the eminent sociologist Gunnar Myrdal in An American Dilemma, published in 1944. The thesis of his book was that a terrible tension existed in American society between our professed ideals of equality and fairness based on individual merit and the reality of harsh, suffocating exclusion and oppression based on skin color.

Branch Rickey was the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers and began his quest for integration in 1943.  He confided his plan to George V. MacLaughlin, his banker, the president of the Brooklyn Trust Company, which essentially held a mortgage on the team.  MacLaughlin supported the idea, although not without some anxiety. He told Rickey that for this bold plan to work, he would have to find a black player who was better than the other players.

Rickey, who said “Luck is the residue of design”, was a master strategist whose ultimate goal was to win baseball games and to increase the fan base.  He began an extensive search for the right man.  By mid-1945, Rickey had narrowed his search and begun to focus on Robinson. He thought the young man was talented enough as an athlete and liked the fact that Robinson was educated and abstained from alcohol. Robinson’s temperament both attracted and worried Rickey. His refusal to buckle under to discrimination and strength of character were exactly what Rickey wanted. But Robinson’s explosive aggressiveness concerned Rickey: while it fueled his athletic performance, it also made him vulnerable to being provoked by the intense racism he was sure to experience as the first black to play in the major leagues. Rickey strongly believed that it would be necessary for Robinson to contain himself if the experiment was to succeed.

On August 28, 1945, at Dodgers headquarters at 215 Montague Place in Brooklyn, Rickey met with Robinson for the first time.

“For three hours, Rickey harangued Robinson … graphically illustrating the difficulties Robinson might face. He portrayed the hostile teammate, the abusive opponent, the insulting fan, the obstinate hotel clerk.  Rickey challenged the black man with racial epithets and verbally transplanted him into ugly confrontations. “His acting was so convincing that I found myself chain-gripping my fingers behind my back,” wrote Robinson.”  “In the face of this onslaught Robinson finally responded, “Mr. Rickey,  do you want a ballplayer who’s afraid to fight back?” [Rickey] had awaited this moment. “I want a player with guts enough not to fight back,” he roared.”

Jackie Robinson Meets Branch Rickey

Jackie Robinson Signs Contract With Branch Rickey Looking On

As we all know now, the arrival of Jackie Robinson on the Dodgers changed not only the baseball world, but also America itself.

This Day in Dodgers History

August 28, 1945 – A moment in American history takes place in Brooklyn as Branch Rickey meets with Jackie Robinson to share his plans to integrate the major leagues. During the three hour meeting, the Dodgers’ president will shout racial epithets to ‘test’ the 26-year old ballplayer’s mettle to withstand the abuse which will come with being the first player to cross the color line this century.

The MVP and the Cy Young Award

August 27, 2011

I thought I’d give 32 a break and try and write one of these things. I hope your Plumber’s Hell is just about over.

Just about the only interesting thing that has come out of the ’11 Dodger season (other than following the dropping attendance of course) has been the possibility of the NL MVP and Cy Young Awards going to Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

It dawned on me the other day that the Dodgers’ poor record, while a hindrance to Matt and the MVP, could actually aid Clayton’s Cy bid. Especially in a year when the Phillies’ vote will be split between Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, the voters might well have some sympathy for Kershaw toiling for a crummy team, while Kemp is fighting uphill against the “How Can He Be Most Valuable” sentiment.

Any decent baseball fan can cite Andre Dawson’s ’87 great stats (with a last-place club) against Kirk Gibson’s good stats (with a Series-winning team) in ’88 in arguing whether either one really deserved it. And every now and then we’ll have a season in which the MVP debate brings the club into it, but never the Cy. Why? Obviously, it’s the “Most-Valuable” thing. Here’s my solution: The Player of the Year.

“Whoa!” you say. “The other sports have MVPs.” “There’s already enough awards in baseball.”

I say, “Why not?”

The Cy is only for pitchers, one in the AL and one in the NL. Make the MVP only for position players, and keep it one in each league. After all, how “valuable” can you be if you’re only on the field once every five days? OK, there’s another argument, but let’s leave it for another day.

The Player of the Year (the Associated Press names an offensive and a defensive Player of the Year in the NFL) would not involve the fortunes of his team. I’d make both position players and pitchers eligible for it. I’d even think of making only one for all of MLB.

Of course, I know of the inherent “danger” of threatening to remove some of the debates. Baseball fans love to debate more than any other fan of any other sport. But I think, especially if you keep it to one PotY (yeesh, that’s a horrible acronym), there might even be more debate.

But what’s better, is that the MVPs would indeed be Most Valuable and the Player of the Year would be quite impressive.

This Day in Dodgers History

August 27, 2005 – Jeff Kent becomes the first player to hit 300 homers as a second baseman. The Dodger infielder, who has surpassed Ryne Sandberg’s total of 277 last September, is the major league leader at this position with Joe Gordon holding the American League record with 246 round-trippers.

Wait ’til next year

August 26, 2011

Those famous words were the Dodgers motto for years when they were still in Brooklyn.  It seemed that the Dodgers were always the bridesmaid, but never the bride.  Of course that all changed with the magical 1955 season.

Tony Jackson has an article that outlines what the Dodgers need to do for the remainder of 2011.

Over at the Los Angeles Times blog, Steve Dilbeck has lots of links for your Dodgers browsing pleasure.

This Day in Dodgers History

August 26, 1939 – At Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, NBC televises the first major league game in history on experimental station W2XBS. The Dodgers and Reds split a doubleheader.

More of the same

August 25, 2011

I spent another day in contractor hell fighting with a plumber whose workers only complete about 95% of the job.   I have had to learn how to install baseboard molding complete with a back cut made with a coping saw.  The guy installed ceramic tile but left a few gaps that were too big to be hidden by the molding.  I had to learn how to cut tile and install it with fast setting thin set mortar.  I had to learn that working with the fast setting mortar is like working with Bondo.  It gives you a few minutes then BOOM! it hardens like a rock.

I can relate to some of the old guys on the Dodgers.  I need a day of rest after a night game.  But that is not going to happen.  I am going to have to haul my aching back and legs out of bed and do it all over again today.   I can relate to Mattingly who can not abide a player who does not put in 100% effort.

Todays lineup:

  • Hook up pipes from sink to drain
  • Finish installing molding
  • Paint bathroom

Let me know how the Dodgers are doing.  I have been too busy to keep track lately.

This Day in Dodgers History

August 25, 1979 – In a Hollywood Stars vs. the Media game played at Dodger Stadium, Robin Williams, the star of the hit television show, Mork and Mindy, in which he plays an alien, runs the bases backwards. The comedian explains circling the bags clockwise is very common on the Planet Ork, his character’s home in the universe.