Oh, Those Errors of Dodger Ways : So Far, Miscues Abound This Season, but at Least It’s Not 1905
Did you notice the Dodgers made it through a game the other day without making an error?
If you’re Tom Lasorda or a Dodger pitcher, sure.
But if you’re any kind of a romantic, the news should have struck a sad note.
Any big league team can play nine innings without booting a ball. Some Little League teams, too. Happens every day.
These Dodgers, however, have a chance to be something special, something to tell your grandchildren about. They could even be something to write home about to Brooklyn, where people still remember the Dodgers as the Daffiness Boys or the Flatbush Follies.
The Dodgers, who led big league baseball in errors with 166 last season, have committed 29 in their first 17 games this season. If they continue at that rate, they will finish with 273 errors, giving stadium organist Helen Dell a whole new repertory of tunes.
Dan Bourgoise, a Dodger season-ticket holder from North Hollywood, has just the medley of mood music for Helen:
Ken Landreaux muffs a fly ball?
“You Can’t Catch Me” --Chuck Berry .
Mariano Duncan and Enos Cabell collide chasing a foul pop?
“Catch Us if You Can” --Dave Clark Five .
Franklin Stubbs loses a ball in the lights?
“Catch a Falling Star” --Perry Como .
Steve Sax stumbles in pursuit of a blooper?
“Catch Me Now, I’m Falling” --Thompson Twins .
Walk into any section of the bleachers and you probably won’t find five people who can tell you who led the major leagues in fielding last season. It was the St. Louis Cardinals, with 108 errors in 6,359 chances.
But ask them to guess which team was the last to make 200 errors in a season and entire sections will have the right answer: the Amazin’ Mets of Casey Stengel. In 1962, their first season of existence, the New York Mets made 210 errors. Showing remarkable consistency, they made 210 the next season, too.
The Mets’ most celebrated fielder--or, to be more precise, error-maker--was Marvin E. Throneberry, known to some as the brother of another ballplayer, Maynard Faye Throneberry, but best known as Marvelous Marv.
Throneberry started out as a New York Yankee when he actually believed he was marvelous. By the time he got to the Mets, he was 29, balding and had a well-deserved reputation as a mediocre hitter and a terrible first baseman.
“Throneberry is the people’s choice,” Richie Ashburn, the outstanding Philadelphia Phillie outfielder who finished his career as a Met, said at the time. “And you know why? He typifies the Mets. He’s either great or terrible.”
Ashburn then turned to Throneberry. “But you better not get too good,” he said. “Just drop a pop fly once in a while.”
Throneberry said: “Aw, I haven’t dropped a pop fly in a week.”
It’s not that the Dodgers don’t care about their gloves. The ones they wear while holding a bat or a 9-iron are in mint condition.
“We spent hours and hours working on fundamentals,” Manager Tom Lasorda said with a moan the other day. “We might as well have done nothing. It couldn’t get any worse.”
Dodger Vice President Al Campanis devoted chapter upon chapter to fielding in his book, “The Dodger Way to Play Baseball.”
In theory, this is how Campanis believes the game should be played:
--"The shortstop must usually field the ball without fumbling it, even momentarily."-- Page 93 .
--"Second base is called the keystone sack and many games are won or lost because of the adeptness or deficiency of the second baseman."-- Page 101 .
--"The third baseman must have a strong, accurate arm, sure hands, he must be able to block hard-hit balls and he must have quick reactions."-- Page 116 .
--"A good outfielder gets a quick start on all balls hit to the outfield. He has a good arm and he judges fly balls well.” --Page 121.
It should be mentioned that Campanis wrote his book 32 years ago, when the Dodger infield had Gil Hodges at first, Jackie Robinson and Don Hoak at second, Pee Wee Reese at shortstop, Billy Cox at third, Roy Campanella behind the plate, and Sandy Amoros, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo and Robinson in the outfield.
That team finished second in the league in fielding percentage and the next season, 1955, won the first World Series championship in Dodger history.
If he were writing it now, Campanis might entitle his book: “The Way the Dodgers Wish They Played Baseball.”
This isn’t the first poor-fielding bunch in Dodger history.
“We’ve never been a great fielding team while I’ve been here,” said shortstop Bill Russell, who probably never has forgotten the ridicule he received from the New York media for his fielding during the 1978 World Series against the Yankees.
But Russell, a fine fielding shortstop through most of his career, hardly ranks with the most celebrated Dodger bunglers of all time. That honor may belong to Babe Herman, who batted .398 in 1930 but as a hitter is best remembered for doubling into a double play.
The late John Lardner wrote of Herman’s fielding: “Floyd Caves Herman did not always catch fly balls on the top of his head, but he could do it in a pinch.”
The story is told of how the Dodgers took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning of a game at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. There were two out when Pie Traynor looped a routine liner to center field. Herman charged the ball but fell on his face. Two runs scored, and the Dodgers lost.
After the game, Dodger Manager (Uncle) Wilbert Robinson put a consoling arm around Herman.
“What happened, Babe?” he said.
“When?” Herman replied.
Then there was Mickey Owen, the Brooklyn catcher famous for missing a swinging third strike on Tommy Henrich of the Yankees in the 1941 World Series. Had Owen held onto the ball, the Dodgers would have won the game. Instead, Henrich reached first and the Yankees rallied to win.
“I bet he feels like a nickel’s worth of dog meat,” Henrich said afterward.
Owen might have felt better had his pitcher, Hugh Casey, admitted then what he admitted only years later--that the pitch was a spitball.
The 1986 Dodgers are no threat to break the National League record of 408 errors set by another of their forebears, the 1905 Dodgers. That team had a rookie shortstop, Phil Lewis, who made 66 errors and didn’t even lead the league. Ed Abbaticchio of Boston made 75.
And the all-time record of 867 errors, set by Washington of the American Assn. in 1886, never will be approached. Gloves had been introduced to the game just a decade earlier and were just gradually winning acceptance.
That team had a shortstop, Davy Force, who was called the best shortstop of his generation by one historian. By his peers, Force was called Tom Thumb. He stood 5 feet 4 inches and weighed 130 pounds.
Force made 27 errors that season. His backup, Sadie Houck, made 36. The team’s catcher, 5-6 1/2, 130-pound Barney Gilligan, made 37 errors.
As you can see, in the context of history the Dodgers are merely journeyman jugglers. And Duncan, for one, despite his errors, has a chance to be a great shortstop.
“We’ve got seven or eight of our errors on our reputation alone,” Madlock said the other day.
Soon enough, then, the Dodgers will stop making errors at a two-a-game pace. There will be great leaping grabs and splendid diving stops. There still will be errors, of course, many of them, but not enough to raise up ghosts.
More’s the pity.