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THE WORLD SERIES : OAKLAND ATHLETICS vs. LOS ANGELES DODGERS : Griffin Covers Gap at Shortstop for Dodgers

Times Staff Writer

Some friends from the old neighborhood may be moving in on Alfredo Griffin soon.

There are Juan Bell and Jose Offerman, both from Griffin’s hometown of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, and Jose Vizcaino, another Dominican.

All 20. All promising shortstops in the Dodgers’ organization.

“Lots of talent,” Griffin, 31, said of his countrymen. “They’re the kids of the future in the organization.”

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Griffin has encountered the future before.

The Toronto Blue Jays traded him to the Oakland Athletics in 1984 to make room for Tony Fernandez, yet another Dominican.

The A’s traded him to the Dodgers last winter to make room for Walt Weiss.

Now Griffin is one of 11 Dodgers who are eligible for free agency. The future comes in different forms.

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“I’m going to recommend very highly that we re-sign Alfredo,” Manager Tom Lasorda said during a workout Monday in preparation for tonight’s Game 3 of the World Series.

“Players of Alfredo’s ability don’t come down the pike that often, and I don’t think any of the kids are quite ready yet,” Lasorda added.

Fred Claire, the Dodger executive vice president, has made it his policy not to discuss the free-agent situation, but he seemed to imply that Griffin will remain with the club, the ideal bridge to Bell, Offerman, Vizcaino or a young Puerto Rican named Luis Martinez.

“One of the major reasons we wanted Alfredo Griffin is because there’s not a better player anywhere for setting an example beyond playing the game,” Claire said. “I’m talking about mental and physical preparation, how to address certain situations.”

He’s talking about assisting the development of a young player who may be adjusting to a foreign environment as well. Earlier this year, the Dodgers had Griffin make a telephone call to the homesick Offerman, who was playing for a rookie team in Great Falls, Mont.

All of that is a byproduct of the pre-trade research Claire did into Griffin’s leadership and character.

“That was certainly part of the thought in acquiring him,” Claire said, though it wasn’t the imperative. The imperative, of course, was the need for stability at shortstop. The Dodgers, who led the majors in errors in 1986 and ’87, lacked consistency there since Bill Russell played 131 games in 1983.

Russell, now a coach on Lasorda’s staff, said Griffin has provided the Dodgers with “the missing link.”

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“There’s nothing flashy to him,” Russell said, “but he’s given us the consistency and dependability we hadn’t had.

“There’s an awareness to him out there that everyone else draws from. He makes everyone more sure of himself, including the pitcher. It’s a plus for the pitcher when he can walk out there confident of the defense behind him.

“I mean, Griffin just never makes a mistake. The pitcher sees that and the infielders see that and everyone goes about their job more calmly.”

Claire realizes that as well.

Will he attempt to re-sign Griffin, who is making $750,000 in the last year of a 5-year contract?

“I can’t predict the future, but I know what condition we were in when we made the trade, and I know what he’s meant to us since then,” Claire said.

Griffin, who played a full schedule of 162 games 4 times in the previous 6 years, would have meant even more to the Dodgers if he had not been sidelined from May 22 to July 25 with a broken right hand suffered when he was hit by a Dwight Gooden pitch.

He appeared in only 94 games, batting a career low .199, 57 points below his current career average of .256.

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Does he hope to remain with the Dodgers?

“I had told myself before being traded to the Dodgers that if I ever got a chance to play for them, I would be a lucky man,” Griffin said. “I had heard about the organization and the facility and the city of Los Angeles, and now that I’ve seen it and experienced it, I know it’s all true, that it’s the best place to play.

“I would like to stay, but if I have to go, I would go without disappointment, because I try not to look back. I have proven myself over 10 years now and think someone would want me.”

The Dodgers believe that Griffin did not regain full strength in his broken hand until September. He had a 12-game hitting streak down the stretch and has played brilliantly in October, teaming with Steve Sax on a double play in Game 2 of the Series Sunday night that was worthy of any highlight film.

Griffin said he is not the type to make excuses and would not use the injury to explain his average. Nor should a slap hitter of his type have problems adjusting to a new league, he said.

“But I know when I play regularly that I’m a .260 or .270 hitter and that it was frustrating in my first year with a new team and the last year of my contract to miss so many games after playing 9 years without injury and not having to think about a contract,” he said.

“But that’s life. You can’t have everything. You’ve got to struggle and believe good things are ahead.”

Some of the good things may be named Bell and Offerman and Vizcaino.

How good are they?

Aware of predecessor Al Campanis’ tendency to overstate the ability of a prospect, creating an environment in which too much was expected too soon, a temperate Claire said:

“We feel fortunate to have three definite prospects at one of the most important positions in the game.”

Bell, brother of George Bell of the Toronto Blue Jays, is the most advanced, having hit .300 in 73 games in what Claire called “an easy adjustment” to triple A this season. Monty Basgall, a longtime Dodger coach and instructor, recently told Claire that Bell has the best arm he has ever seen on a young infielder.

Of Offerman, a National League scout who requested anonymity said Monday: “I’ve been in the game 39 years, and he may be the best young player I’ve ever seen.”

Would Griffin like to assist in their adjustment to the major leagues?

“Beautiful,” he said. “I’m not a selfish person. I’m not afraid of a challenge. I want to see young players progress. If I can’t hold my job while doing it, I don’t deserve it.”

Griffin and Weiss were together with the A’s for only a month late last year. Weiss said that Griffin never said more than “Hi” to him in that time.

Griffin knew what was coming. The trade to the Dodgers, he said, did not surprise him. Nor did it create pressure, knowing what the Dodgers expected, knowing how desperately they needed a shortstop.

“I have confidence in what I can do,” Griffin said. “It just made it more exciting for me.”

Now Griffin and Weiss are matched in the World Series, and Griffin has only praise for his successor with the A’s, saying, “It’s hard to believe how well he’s played in this pressure, considering he’s a rookie.”

And Alfredo Griffin may be saying that soon about any one of several young Dodger shortstops.


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