Fire Jim Tracy

Friday, December 17, 2004

Our Hero Jerry!

Jerry, on the eve of the most difficult final of his life (little does he know, though I've attempted to prepare him), is over in the Dodger Thoughts comment board RIGHT NOW trying to keep people from drinking the same Kool-aid over Shawn Green that they guzzled over Paul LoDuca. Shawn Green! Weep no tears for Mr. 84 Million. This whole "We miss Shawn Green already" routine is lame, lame, lame.

Jerry gets it. The big contracts DIDN'T WORK! None of them. Not only do they not work for the Dodgers -- they DON'T WORK FOR ANYBODY! You get a good year. You get two. You almost never get SIX! We got by last year with a number of inexpensive players having career years, for one reason or another -- much of our salary outside of Green was tied up in disaster (Nomo, Hundley, Shuey, Dreifort, etc.).

Anyway, in anticipation of Plaschke's latest embarrassment, which will no doubt be cited for years to come, I present a few of Plaschke's greatest hits, culled from a Lexis search I just did. I'm sure there's more.

Here's Plaschke endorsing the Kevin Brown contract because Brown's 105 million dollar deal reminded him so much of Kirk Gibson's FOUR (That's 4) MILLION DOLLAR DEAL, and basically stating that if he was good for just one year, it would be worth the money. I guess this is easy to say when you get into the stadium for free and don't have to pay to get fat off the press buffet.

He's surly, solitary, doesn't care about public relations or clubhouse chemistry or anything but winning.That was Kirk Gibson in 1988.This will be Kevin Brown in 1999.He is being paid a ton of money despite already turning 30, he may not physically survive the length of his contract, he has absolutely no ties to our team or town or traditions.That was Kirk Gibson in 1988. This will be Kevin Brown in 1999.The Dodgers swallowed hard nearly 11 years ago when they gave a weird Michigan outfielder the largest contract in club history (three years, $ 4.5 million) during a time when the club's reputation and resiliency had been greatly devalued.You could hear that same gulp coming from Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday, when they signed the same sort of player for 10 times the average salary to address the same sorts of problems.Kirk Gibson was worth it.Kevin Brown can be worth it.Although Brown's contract extends for seven years, it is really about one.The one year Gibson gave us.The one year that saved everything from Dodger jobs to reputations to ticket sales for at least another five years.That unforgettable 1988 World Series championship.Kevin Brown was signed to bring us one of those.He did it in Florida. He nearly did it in San Diego before facing one of the best teams in baseball history.He smirked and snarled and endeared himself to absolutely nobody, but he did it."This guy has proven that the addition of one player can make a good team a championship team," Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone said. "This guy's performance, he enhances the performance of teammates, he makes everybody better around him."He is not an everyday player who can make everyday contributions to the team's power and psyche as Gibson did.But once every five days, Brown makes up for it.Opponents can't hit his slider. Teammates can't help but be inspired by his competitiveness. Fans can't resist watching the one player who gives their team a chance to beat even the great Atlanta Braves.This is not a deal, like so many other recent Dodger deals, about promise.This is not a Todd Hundley-gets-healthy scenario. Or an Ismael Valdes-gets-tougher deal. Or an Adrian Beltre-grows-up sort of thing.Kevin Brown has already happened. Kevin Brown has been there, done that.For two consecutive years. The last two years.The Dodgers are asking that he do it for at least one more.And if he does, then the deal has been worth it, all $ 105 million, for everybody."If Kevin Brown gets us to the World Series," Malone said, "he pays for himself."Because world championships last far longer than the players who win them, and the money that buys them.The struggling Minnesota Twins remained popular longer than they should have in this big-market era, all because of their two World Series championships.The Braves have stayed together despite repeated postseason failures--building a new stadium and huge fan base--because of their 1995 World Series title.The Yankees have regained their spot as the preeminent franchise in all of professional sports--and even made a hero of George Steinbrenner--with their two recent titles.With their return to glory, the Dodgers would become something fun again, something to pass along to your children again, the cost of which is priceless.It would also mean a huge return on Rupert Murdoch's investment, not only with ticket sales and advertisements, but on the real battleground.If he wants political help in improving the stadium, maybe winning earns him that help.If he wants local approval to own an NFL team here--some people still say Fox will ultimately throw its large hat into that small ring--maybe winning earns him that approval.And if he wants to regain his hold on the sports community from Michael Eisner and Disney, well then, this is exactly how it's done.And don't think that last point is not a major one."I certainly think there are more than enough fans to go around," Dodger President Bob Graziano said. "But do we want to be the dominant organization in the marketplace? Of course we do."So the first person you thank for this signing is Disney.When the Angels acquired Mo Vaughn earlier this winter, they threw the first punch in what had previously only been a war of glares.Fox versus Disney. Murdoch versus Eisner.When both companies bought into our sports landscape, we had hoped it would go like this. But initially they had floated aimlessly apart, more concerned with protecting their own smile than knocking out the other guy's.Not anymore.First there was the Vaughn jab, knocking the stunned Dodgers flat.The Dodgers staggered up and took a big swing with Randy Johnson, but whiffed.The Angels, going for a knockout blow with Johnson, also whiffed.The Dodgers saw an opening and finally landed a punch by trading for Hundley. But amid questions about his soundness, it was only a glancing blow.With the Angels still leading and time running out, the Dodgers have unloaded the roundhouse that is Brown.Which means only one thing.Time for the Angels to unveil a brilliant and overpowering strategy for which there could be no response.Rope-a-Clemens.No matter who ends up with fewer bruises, the winner in this fight is already clear.The fans, of course.This area plays the best baseball in the country at virtually every other level, so why not, finally, the major leagues? Not only with one team, but both teams?Not until Hundley is proved sound and the Angels find some pitching should anyone talk about a freeway World Series.But now, finally, on summer nights that freeway will be worth driving. In both directions.Of course, as in every column written about Dodger moves for the next 10 years, we must not forget to address Mike Piazza.Some will find it disturbing that the Dodgers can pay $ 15 million more to an older pitcher than their younger, more popular catcher.They should not. Brown is a proven winner. Piazza is not. Fox is paying for that proof.Not that this deal can't go wrong as quickly as the other one.Brown succeeded in relative obscurity in Florida and San Diego, playing for teams that advanced to the World Series from the enviable position of underdog.No more. The Dodgers are now expected to play like champions, and Brown will be chief among those to be held accountable if they do not.Because he is making $ 15 million a season, Brown will be under pressure to perform like a $ 15-million pitcher, pressure no player has ever encountered.How will he handle it? How will the organization handle it?Will they cater to him as they have catered to stars in the recent past, a philosophy that led directly to the erosion of the team's commitment to winning?If he and Davey Johnson have an argument, who gets the last word? If it is not Johnson, then the Dodgers have just blown their money in two areas.Nearly 11 years ago, people had the same sorts of questions about Kirk Gibson."I may offend some people," he said at the time. "But the main thing, to me, is winning."Like a certain long fly ball on a certain October night, those words live again today.

Here's Plaschke, focusing on the most important part of a manager's job when Davey Johnson was around -- deciding whether players should have facial hair. This, by the way, is the brilliant mind that endorsed Jim Tracy's rehiring.

He's losing his touch. At his coming-out party Friday, it took Davey Johnson an entire two hours to draw battle lines.Shortly after being paraded through the Dodger Stadium Club as the new Dodger manager, Johnson wearily plopped on a folding chair, took off his sport jacket, kicked back . . . and said his players better not.Next year's Dodgers will not be allowed to wear facial hair beyond a mustache. You hear that, Raul Mondesi and Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort?Next year's Dodgers will not be allowed to wear earrings or any other visible jewelry while in uniform.You hear that, Gary Sheffield?Next year's Dodgers will not be allowed to wear bluejeans or tennis shoes on the road.You hear that, everybody?"We're going to start looking professional, looking like a team," Johnson said. "I've had pitchers tell me that the Fu Manchu mustache makes them look more intimidating. Well, I've been on the other side, and it doesn't do diddly."Thus, not only did Johnson become the first Dodger manager to change the rules before he changes his clothes, he also became the first to be quoted using the word, "diddly."This is going to be fun.The reinstatement of a longtime Dodger dress code--Bill Russell allowed it to disappear last summer after the four Florida Marlins showed up--doesn't mean the Dodgers will win any more games.It doesn't even mean they will look any better while overthrowing the cutoff man or getting caught in a rundown with fewer than two out.But as first steps go, it's a good one.Because the moment the players step into Dodgertown in February, they will know who is boss.It's not going to be Bobby Bonilla, who will surely be traded before he has a chance to undermine Johnson with the younger players. Everybody said nice things about Bonilla on Friday, but you never rip before you ship.It's also not going to be Mondesi, who will not be allowed to arrive at spring training out of shape again without public censure.And it won't be Sheffield.Which, judging from his recent comments, could make things a tad sticky.Last summer, every time I wrote about how hard and intelligently Sheffield plays, how exciting he is to watch, somebody always answered me with two words."Just wait."Looks like that wait is about over.In reality, those battle lines Friday were drawn with one guy, and Sheffield is it.Since the final week of the season, he has been grumbling about two things that you would think $ 61 million should allow a guy to overlook.He doesn't want to play without Bonilla.And he doesn't want to play left field.First, the part about Bonilla, his buddy who was traded with him from Florida last year with Jim Eisenreich and Charles Johnson for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile in a deal that looks worse every day."The guys I came here with are the guys I'm going to stay here with," Sheffield recently said. "I wouldn't have wanted to come unless Bobby and the other guys were coming too."They the Dodgers knew that when we met to talk. They knew how I felt about that--and nothing has changed."Then there is the matter of left field, where Sheffield must play for Mondesi to remain in right field, his best position.Sheffield likes left field as much as his buddy Bonilla did."I just can't do it," Sheffield said at the end of the season about left field. "I always overthrow the cutoff man, believe it or not."I told them when I went to Florida, 'Don't try to put me over there, I don't know what it is, but I just can't play it.' "Johnson said Friday that he felt none of this would be a problem--"I know Sheffield; this is a guy who can carry a ballclub. . . . Players like to play for me."Managers always say that sort of thing near the end of October.Johnson knows that in four months, this could be a big problem.The Dodgers can handle Sheffield's worries about Bonilla's impending departure. Give them one of those special-friends calling cards. Bring in a couple of third-grade students to teach them the fine art of being pen pals.But this left-field deal is going to be a little more difficult and could cause a crack in the clubhouse big enough to swallow all the other beloved, time-worn cracks.Sheffield saying he doesn't want to play left field is a direct challenge to Mondesi, who would have to move to center field permanently to make such a switch work.Mondesi would never do that while conscious.So the team's two best offensive players show up for spring training mad at each other, mad at their manager . . . and suddenly somebody is reminding them to pop out those diamond studs before batting practice?It is clear that Johnson has the philosophical support of General Manager Kevin Malone, who announced, "We're going to start looking like the Dodgers again."It is also clear that Johnson has navigated these bug-infested waters before, when, in Baltimore, he convinced proud Cal Ripken Jr. to forget about his own legacy for a moment and move to third base."I wanted to show Cal I had the authority to do that," he said.But will he and Malone have the authority to do whatever it takes to get the most out of Gary Sheffield? Even if that means benching him, or publicly scolding him, or trading either him or Mondesi to fix this leak before it contaminates the room?Only the bosses at Fox know for sure.For now, Johnson is saying of his hiring, "This is undoubtedly the greatest moment of my life in baseball."Not all of his players would agree.As first steps go, that is a great one.

Here's our friend endorsing not only the trade of Mike Piazza, but the old nobodies and headcases they received in return. Oh, and Paul Konerko sucks.

As Dodger fans stagger numbly today into a new era, part outraged, part inspired, mostly confused, peace can be found at the other end of a question.Are you still about winning?If so, then you will applaud the trade of Mike Piazza.For the first time since the free agent-bloated Dodger squad stumbled in the final days of 1991, your team is bold again. Your team is willing to risk public wrath for a shot at championships again.This was something Branch Rickey would have tried, something Kirk Gibson would have loved.Given the generous offer of the disgraceful Florida Marlins, fans shouldn't be wondering how the Dodgers could trade their best and most popular player.They should be asking, how could they not?These current Dodgers were bouncing out of championship contention, inching daily toward an abyss of mediocrity, with an owner who just arrived and a star who was threatening to leave.They needed a sudden halt and a dime-sized turn, no matter how much wreckage it caused or noise it made.This was that.They needed a steady left fielder, haven't had one since Gibson left town.Done. Gary Sheffield can be lousy in the clubhouse, but brilliant in the field, an even swap for a team in trouble.They would be needing a good catcher in November, when Piazza was going to leave town because the Dodgers wouldn't outbid themselves to make him the highest, highest-paid player in baseball.Done. Charles Johnson is one of the top three receivers in the game.They needed another veteran to hang out in center field and on the bench.Done. Teams try to fill their clubhouses with personalities like Jim Eisenreich's.They needed people with World Series rings.Done. They got four of them.This included one from Bobby Bonilla, who is a notch below Todd Zeile at third base, but top prospect Adrian Beltre will be here next year. And anyway, what do you want?The Marlins, now officially the most shameful professional franchise in sports history, gave them everything but their empty seats.The Marlins gave them even more than the Chicago White Sox gave the San Francisco Giants last year, and look what that did for the Giants.In return, the Dodgers gave up a player who was gone anyway.Mike Piazza fans will hate this trade.Dodger fans should love it.Some critics say it is all about business. Yet over the long term, the total value of the contracts involved is about the same.If this were business, the Dodgers would have traded Piazza for prospects.Other critics say it is all about the personality conflict between Piazza and the Dodger front office. Yet if the Dodgers are in first place, nobody cares who likes whom.If this were about personalities, the Dodgers would have traded Piazza in spring training.It has been a while since someone could say this about a Dodger organization preoccupied with money and image, but Friday's proposed trade was splendidly about only one thing.It was about wins.The Dodgers have a better chance of winning with the players they received than the ones they gave up.Mike Piazza is a potential Hall of Famer, a wonderful player who could finish his career as the game's best catcher.But in his first five seasons, the Dodgers had zero playoff wins with him. Then this season, they were 19-21 and seven games out of first place with him.Chances are, they could have probably done all of that without him.None of that was his fault, of course. For his entire career here, in fact, he has been the team's most valuable player.But he is only one player, the way Michael Jordan is only one player.Jordan never won until he had good players around him. The Dodgers wanted to try the same thing here.They wanted to sign Piazza, and build. They offered to make him the highest-paid player in baseball.But Piazza wasn't buying. He wanted more. He hinted that he would leave.They couldn't risk that, so they utilized the second option.It is easy to blame agent Dan Lozano for ultimately forcing the Dodgers to trade Piazza, but to do so would be to imply that Piazza is somehow incapacitated.He is not. He is a big boy. If he really wanted to remain a Dodger, he would have signed for roughly $ 80 million, and that would have been that.He made a mercenary decision and now, sadly, will have to live the life of one. He will travel to baseball's south Florida purgatory only long enough for some other team to rent him until the end of the season, at which point he will be offered for sale again.You want to blame someone, blame Paul Konerko. If the rookie hotshot had not been such a bust, the Dodgers would have never had a need for Gary Sheffield.You want to blame someone, blame the San Diego Padres. If they don't run off and hide so early in the season, the Dodgers don't feel the pressure to make something happen.Don't blame the Dodgers. Thank them for having the brass to take a detour from the Dodger way that, for 10 years, has led only to October failure.This is the biggest trade in Dodger history, bigger then when they sent Jackie to the Giants, or Maury to the Pirates, bigger than when they acquired Baker, then Monday, then a pennant.While this has the fingerprints of Fox executive Chase Carey and Dodger boss Bob Graziano all over it, it is hoped that the organization's top baseball man Fred Claire also approves.After all, they didn't merely swap players. They regained attitude.The only potential problem is, how much attitude.That depends on Sheffield, the key to the deal. He is a moody player who traditionally does well in new environments before wearing out his welcome.That can't happen here. The Dodgers have already lost big with one Darryl Strawberry. They can't afford another.Sheffield has to know that any sort of dissension won't play in this town. Someone should tell him that the hard-working Dodger fans have already proved they will boo Mike Piazza, so they will boo anybody.He acts up here, and his life will become a $ 61-million pain.Fox has its fingers crossed. In plotting this deal, they figured that if the Titanic sailed once, it could sail again.The movie, not the ship.For their sake, here's hoping it's not the other way around.

And here's my personal favorite. Mr. Outrage endorsing signing Charles Johnson (?) for seven years and $35 million because (and this is in quotes) "The starting catcher for [the Dodgers'] $44-million worth of arms will be $ 250,000 Paul LoDuca."

DODGERS LET BOUNCING BALL ROLL THROUGH TO BACKSTOP; Passing on banged-up veteran Alomar was fine, but letting Johnson; sign elsewhere makes no sense to a team in need of a solid, experienced; catcher.BYLINE: BILL PLASCHKE BODY:To the rest of baseball, maybe, he was only a free-agent catcher.For the Dodgers, he was a ground ball in the ninth inning of the championship game that is their off-season.Charles Johnson had been bouncing toward the Dodgers for weeks, it seems, the stakes growing with every skip.If they caught him, he would complete an expensively reinforced pitching staff. If they booted him, the staff would be cheapened, the defense diluted, the 2001 season potentially damaged. Then came Monday, when Charles Johnson took that final bounce and the strangest thing happened.The Dodgers didn't boot him, they ignored him. They watched him skip past their shoes and bounce all the way to Florida.Johnson signed with the Marlins for what, by this winter's baseball standards, is a song. Five years, $ 35 million--Darren Dreifort's under-the-cushion change.It is a song, however, that the Dodgers were obviously unwilling to sing.They prefer, apparently, the strains of, Lo-Duuuuuca.The Dodgers' refusal to buy a catcher such as Johnson to accompany Brown, Park, Dreifort and Ashby is like deciding to save money on your Mercedes by never changing the oil.The starting catcher for this $ 44-million worth of arms will be $ 250,000 Paul LoDuca. Except when Dreifort or Chan Ho Park pitches, in which case it will be 36-year-old Chad Kreuter.Nothing wrong with them, really, except they have the potential to render the Dodgers' winter maneuverings as meaningless as "Jingle Bells" in July.It was written here that the Dodgers needed to ignore Alex Rodriguez and improve their pitching and defense.Andy Ashby and Dreifort were a start.Johnson would have been a finish.Johnson would have directed the staff with the sort of experience that seemed badly missing in recent years.Johnson could throw out runners to relax them, and hit homers to save them.Johnson said Monday he signed with the Marlins because he wanted to go home, but he had earlier indicated that he would have signed with the Dodgers under the right conditions.After paying $ 55 million to Dreifort, however, the Dodgers apparently felt they could no longer afford him.Knowing this now, does anybody else think maybe the combination of Johnson and Kevin Appier would have been a better deal?The organization loves LoDuca, 28, and he comes recommended by no less an authority than Mike Scioscia. But he has never really played in a major league game that mattered.Kreuter is as plainly reliable as sunflower seeds, but he has hit only 46 home runs in 13 seasons. As poorly as Todd Hundley played for the Dodgers, he hit 48 homers in two seasons.And, no, Sandy Alomar Jr., who signed Monday with the Chicago White Sox, was not the answer. The Dodgers don't need another 70-games-a-year catcher.What they need, though, is more than what they've got.To what was essentially a .500 team--they got 10 of their 86 wins in the final two weeks against teams that no longer cared--they have:* Added 12 wins with Ashby.* Subtracted 24 homers and 70 runs batted in with the departure of Hundley.Looks like another .500 team from here.Certainly, Dreifort can live up to his new contract by showing us a pitcher he has not yet shown us in six seasons here.Absolutely, LoDuca is a player favorite who could emerge as the sort of tough guy this team so desperately needs.And, OK, you figure Shawn Green will adjust to his new surroundings and avoid becoming a bigger homecoming bust here than Darryl Strawberry.Lots could happen. But lots should have already happened, and hasn't.The Dodgers cannot be blinded by Dreifort's smoke or confused by Ashby's mirrors. This is not a complete team. It still needs work.Which brings us to where we hope the Dodgers are headed next. That would be Kansas City, and center fielder Johnny Damon.If the Dodgers can pry him from the Royals, it's front-page stuff. If they can give Kansas City a few young underachiev . . . , ahem, young arms--hey Royals, you'll love this Antonio Osuna guy!--then it could be championship stuff.Of all Damon's lovely leadoff-hitting statistics, none is more striking than this: He was the third-hardest American League hitter to strike out, fanning only once every 12.4 at-bats.Damon will become a free agent next year, which is why the Royals want to trade him. Because he is a Dodger Stadium sort of player, the Dodgers will be pursuing him next year anyway, if he's still available, so why not now?Of course, there is always the possibility that the Dodgers will arrive in Vero Beach just as they are.At which point, they will remind you that with 86 wins, they finished only one game worse than the New York Yankees.To which you should remind them, staring down a ninth-inning grounder with their off-season possibly in the balance, the World Series champions would have gone to their knees to make that catch.

So bring on Plaschke, and before you start declaring that you usually think he's an idiot, but how right he is about this, remember that he's not going to be writing that follow-up in 2007 if and when Beltre blows a knee. Whatever. He's just as dumb as you and me and Tracy and DePodesta. Though perhaps not as dumb as Omar Minaya.

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