A group of locally based Dodgers began their annual winter workouts at Dodger Stadium Monday. The atmosphere on a warm morning was informal and relaxed. New sod covered the playing surface. A new attitude seemed to flower in the clubhouse.
Some of it stemmed from Mike Marshall, whose frequent absences from the lineup led to a fight with teammate Phil Garner last year and a verbal exchange with Pedro Guerrero, who had to be restrained from attacking Marshall.
Now, Marshall completed a clubhouse interview with a group of reporters, smiled and said: "Keep it positive, guys. Positive articles. I feel great. I'm ready to play. I love Pete."
The Dodgers do not leave for spring training for five weeks. They do not play their first regular-season game for 12 weeks. Guerrero is still in the Dominican Republic. Does he love Marshall? Only time will tell, of course. For the present, Marshall knows what everyone else knows: Despite all the winter changes, the Dodgers still need the potential explosiveness of Guerrero and Marshall hitting back-to-back.
That's what Guerrero, frustrated by the tendency of pitchers to work around him when Marshall wasn't in the lineup, was trying to say when he erupted at Marshall in midsummer.
That's what Marshall himself said Monday.
"For us to win, for us to score runs, we have to play together," he said, alluding to Guerrero and himself.
"From my standpoint, there are no problems. We've played together and been friends for five or six years. Pete is a great player, a leader on the team. We're both professionals who pull together to win. Off the field, we respect each other and go our own ways.
"These things (the incidents of last summer) happen when you're not winning. No one is happy when you finish fourth or fifth. There were problems between other less visible players last year that got swept under the rug, that you guys never heard about it. With Pete and me, it was big news. None of it happens if the team is winning."
Which comes back to the basic point: Marshall is pivotal. He drove in 72 runs in 402 at-bats last year. He hit 28 home runs and drove in 95 runs in 135 games in 1985. The Dodgers, with all their changes, will have a tough time winning if he appears in only 104 games again, if his string of sometimes strange illnesses and injuries continues, again isolating him from teammates and generating charges of malingering.
"I don't feel I have anything to prove," Marshall said. "I've done everything asked of me when I've been well enough to go out and perform. I've had some unfortunate injuries, but I feel great now. I want to be out there every day. All that other stuff is in the past."
There was speculation that all that other stuff would lead to Marshall being traded, that it was what he wanted. Questions pertaining to his physical status may have diluted his market value. The recent speculation has centered on the possibility of Guerrero being traded.
If they both stay, one will have to move to a new position. The signing of free-agent right fielder Mike Davis may send right fielder Marshall to left field, with Guerrero moving to first base. Or Marshall may go to first, with Guerrero remaining in left.
Guerrero has said he wants to go to first. Marshall said Monday that he doesn't care where he plays, that he will be prepared to play either first base or the outfield and that he is confident that Manager Tom Lasorda and executive vice president Fred Claire will make the right decision.
Lasorda said Monday that he wants to talk with both Marshall and Guerrero before making a decision, sorting out their feelings.
Claire said Monday that he had two or three winter conversations with Marshall and senses that he is positive, relaxed and capable of putting the problems of last year behind him.
"From the standpoint of having my home here and knowing the guys," Marshall said, "I wanted to stay. From the standpoint of some of the things that happened last year, I was prepared to be traded. I knew there'd be changes and trades, and I'm really happy to still be here. I'm looking forward to the season. I'm hoping for a fresh start."
Preparing for that fresh start, Marshall said he decided to "steer clear" of Dodger Stadium during the winter, to avoid any reminders of last year's "clubhouse exchanges."
"I wanted to walk in today with a positive attitude, and I have," he said. "It's only the second time I've been here all winter. I had places to work out on my own, and I did. I'm already at my playing weight. I've been swimming, running, stretching and playing tennis. The problems I've had with my back in the past are fewer and farther between. I still have to be aware of it and work at it, but I feel that I've eliminated it as a major concern. As I've said, I've never felt better."
At 28, Marshall also feels a little older.
"It seems like just yesterday I was a rookie," he said. "Now I'm about fifth on the totem pole. There have really been a lot of changes."
Has he digested them all? Marshall shook his head. He said the bottom line is that something had to be done and that Claire and Lasorda have set out to do it. He said the important thing now is to create some stability, to settle on a regular lineup and let it work together. First, of course, the Dodgers have to decide where Marshall and Guerrero are going to play. Marshall alluded to Steve Sax, who is moving from second to third base, and said:
"It's like Saxy said the other day, the team means a lot to all of us. The team is more important than the individual. As long as we turn things around, it doesn't matter where we play."
Sax had said initially that it did matter, that he was baffled and unhappy about his move, that he felt he had established himself at second base despite the constant reminders about his previous throwing problems.
Now he accepts the move--sort of.
Asked if he would prefer to stay at second, he looked at the reporter and said: "You know the answer to that. I like playing second base, but the situation has changed for me. The move is going to be a challenge, but I'll go out and do the best I can."
Sax spent about a half hour at the position Monday, fielding grounders hit by coach Joe Ferguson while taking instruction from coach Joe Amalfitano. Many of his throws kept his first baseman on his toes--and higher--but it's early.
Sax was asked later if any one aspect of the move is the toughest.
"All of it," he said. "The one obvious thing is that I'm going to have to use a bigger glove. Playing that position with a second baseman's glove is like trying to catch flies with chopsticks."
The Dodgers intend to bring infield coach Bill Russell in from his Oklahoma home to work with Sax.
"Russell will make Pie Traynor out of him," Lasorda predicted optimistically.
First, Sax has to beat Jeff Hamilton and Tracy Woodson for the job.
"I don't know what's going to happen yet," Sax said. "No one has said that I'm the third baseman. I've got to go out and prove I can play it first."
He seems intent on doing that. Sax stood at the batting cage Monday, watched a couple minor leaguers take grounders at third, and said, "Hey, don't let those guys mess up my new office."
New shortstop Alfredo Griffin, who jammed his left thumb in September and has worn a cast for the last five weeks, was expected to have the cast removed either late Monday or today and may receive permission to join Wednesday's workout. Griffin has also asked the Dodgers' permission to play in the Dominican Winter League playoffs when he returns to his home in San Pedro de Macoris soon. Claire said that he would probably approve Griffin's request, depending on the medical report after the cast is removed.