The Dodgers, whose collection of prominent players with strong personalities makes for a potentially explosive clubhouse atmosphere, already have experienced some internal problems, two involving Kirk Gibson.
Thursday afternoon, before the Dodgers’ first spring exhibition game, Gibson angrily sprinted off the field and left the Dodgertown premises after having been a victim of the kind of clubhouse pranks to which most players are occasionally subjected.
Earlier this week, Gibson and Mariano Duncan had a confrontation in the clubhouse, but the next day, after a meeting involving Gibson, Duncan and Manager Tom Lasorda, all parties said the dispute had been settled.
Clubhouse sources say, however, that bad feelings still exist between Gibson and several players.
According to Dave Anderson, the Dodgers’ player representative, some players put shaving cream on a clubhouse phone and then told Gibson he had a call. Later, culprits swabbed the inside of his cap with a black marking substance similar to shoe polish.
“They pulled that phone thing on him earlier, and he took it well,” Anderson said.
But Gibson was not such a good sport after the second practical joke, which happened less than an hour before the start of the Dodgers’ game against the Chunichi Dragons of Japan. He strode into the clubhouse, grabbed his cap and headed for the field.
The violated cap apparently was too much for the volatile Gibson. He stormed off the field in front of about 1,000 fans, stopped and talked briefly with Lasorda in the bullpen, then continued to the clubhouse, changed out of his uniform and left. Sources said that Gibson yelled at several teammates and threatened offenders with reprisals.
“All I heard was that he wasn’t supposed to see (the damaged cap) when he was on the field,” one Dodger witness said. “Next thing I know, I look up and he’s running off the field.”
Said Anderson: “He had those gags played on him, and I guess he’s not used to it. When he saw his hat all marked up, he got very upset at everybody around and wanted to find out who did it. He took the first (prank) well, but maybe guys went too far. I mean, that hat really was a mess, and he had to go clean it up.”
Anderson declined to name the players responsible for the pranks. He said that no player tried to calm Gibson and that a team meeting was not called.
“But I’m sure there will be a big one (today),” Anderson said, laughing.
Added one Dodger player, seeking anonymity: “I guess we (learned) that you don’t mess around with Kirk Gibson, or else.”
Dodger publicist Mike Williams failed in repeated attempts Thursday night to reach Gibson. Fred Claire, the Dodgers’ executive vice president, emerged from meetings Thursday night and declined to elaborate on the Gibson incidents.
“I have heard reports, but I don’t know all the details,” Claire said. “Tommy has told me that he had talked to Kirk before the game and will talk to Kirk before (today’s) game.” Besides Gibson’s clubhouse problems, the Pedro Guerrero-Mike Marshall feud reportedly has flared again. The Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported Thursday that the players have exchanged words and that Lasorda also had a meeting with them.
Marshall denied that his problems with Guerrero have been renewed.
“Tommy called (the meeting),” Marshall said. “He wanted us to get together, talk to us individually and together. But no, there hasn’t been any problem. All I can tell you is that I don’t have a problem at all with Pete.”
Guerrero, who has started fielding ground balls at third base at the Dodgers’ request, declined to comment on Marshall.
Earlier Thursday, around the batting cage, Gibson explained his run-in with Duncan.
“I think it really was more of a misunderstanding than a problem,” Gibson said. “It’s no big deal. I never let anything linger. If a player is mad at me, I’ll confront him instead of going to other people or letting it linger.
“What we basically had was a stare-down. I didn’t know why, so I said to (Duncan), ‘What the . . . are you staring at?’ And he walked away. The next day, I go up to him and asked him what was wrong.
“We had a meeting. Tommy was there mainly as an interpreter because Mariano speaks better Spanish than English. We settled it. He said he was just joking with me, but I didn’t know it. How would I know unless he tells me?
“I’m not here to start any--or settle any--differences they’ve had before. I just want to get along with everybody. I know that over the years, there’s been a lot of bull going on in (the Dodgers’) clubhouse. I don’t want that.”
Duncan confirmed that the incident with Gibson happened but declined to elaborate. One Dodger player said Duncan is still upset with Gibson over the situation.
Lasorda declined to comment on Thursday’s clubhouse practical jokes.
“I just feel that, right now, it’s best not to discuss it,” Lasorda said. “I might comment on it (Friday).”
Claire said it isn’t vital that Dodger players like each other, as long as they play together on the field.
“There will be some difficult times for each player in the clubhouse,” Claire said. “We are going through a number of changes. There’s no easy way to go through that process.
“I don’t really have any comment to give on (any player clashes), other than what I’ve seen. We’ve had a number of personnel changes on the club. With 13 new players, some with strong personalities, on the roster, there’s a process of settling in.”
The lure of having a powerful offensive lineup has led Lasorda to consider the idea of playing Guerrero at third base, a move that might weaken the defense.
Lasorda apparently is not satisfied with either Steve Sax or Jeff Hamilton at third, and Guerrero confirmed that the Dodgers have asked him to field ground balls at third base.
Dodger officials indicated that they have considered a lineup with Guerrero at third base, Marshall at first, Gibson in left field, John Shelby in center field and Mike Davis in right field.
“That would be the optimum lineup for us,” Lasorda said. “I would like (Guerrero) to play there.”
Guerrero, who earlier balked at returning to his former position, was surprisingly receptive to the Dodgers’ suggestion.
“What do you think I should do when they say to go play third base?” asked Guerrero, who last played third base early in the 1985 season. “Why should I say no? They are the ones who make the decision and tell me where to play. I just work here.”
Guerrero reiterated that first base is his preference.
“But I understand that they want us all to play,” he said. “But I’m not sure I’m even going to play there.”
Claire said the Dodgers are not dissatisfied with the work of Hamilton and Sax. He called the Guerrero decision an experiment.
If Guerrero’s shift becomes a reality, Sax would likely move back to second base and Duncan to the bench. That would bulk up the Dodgers’ offense, but might adversely affect a defense that led the National League in errors the last two seasons.
Guerrero first moved from the outfield to first base in 1983 and played most of the 1984 season at third. But early in the 1985 season, he struggled offensively and defensively. After moving back to the outfield, he went on a hitting tear and finished the season with 33 home runs and 87 runs batted in.
“I’ve met with Pete,” Claire said. “His attitude is outstanding. We’ve had some good conversations, and I consider him willing to help the team any way he can.”
Mike Davis was excused from Thursday’s game after having fluid drained from his right knee. Davis, whom the Dodgers said will return to normal workouts today, had chronic pain in the knee during his career in Oakland. . . . Alan Meersand, agent for Dodger reliever Jesse Orosco, met with Fred Claire Thursday to begin preliminary talks on an extension of Orosco’s one-year contract. Meersand and Orosco also have denied that Orosco is suffering from problems in his left elbow. Meersand said Orosco has not had any elbow pain since 1983. “That tender elbow (talk) is not true,” Meersand said. “It’s just been manufactured by people in New York.”
Highlights from the Dodgers’ 14-0 win over the Chunichi Dragons: Steve Sax hit a grand slam in his three-inning debut as a third baseman. Sax, who also had a single, did not have any chances in the field. “Well, I’m playing third, so I expect to hit (home runs),” Sax joked. “Tomorrow, I’ll play second and hit singles. Maybe it was the Japanese balls.” . . . The Dodgers’ four home runs--by Sax, John Shelby, Ralph Bryant and Tracy Woodson--were a little deceiving. The wind was blowing out and the Dragons used a Japanese ball, which is smaller and generally travels farther. Dodger pitchers used a standard National League ball.
Jeff Hamilton, Sax’s chief rival at third base, had a single after replacing Sax in the fourth inning. . . . Pedro Guerrero, playing first base, had three hits.