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Offerman Now Bleeds Royal Blue and Is Happy It’s Not for Lasorda

He is happy to be out of Dodger blue and wearing Royal blue--as in Kansas City Royals.

He is happy to be away from Tom Lasorda, the manager who bleeds blue.

Jose Offerman’s controversial tenure as Dodger shortstop ended in mid-December, when he was traded to the Royals for left-handed pitcher Billy Brewer after Royal shortstop Greg Gagne signed with the Dodgers as a free agent.

While Dodger players rhapsodized about Gagne’s expected impact on the defense, as if already contemplating a pennant confrontation with the Atlanta Braves in October, Offerman arrived at his new training base knowing he has work to do.

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“I need to get my concentration back so that I can feel good on the field again,” he said. “That’s something I lost in Los Angeles.

“I need to feel the way I did in the minor leagues, when I could go to the park and play the game without worrying about anything. It was never that way in L.A.

“It’s hard to play when people come down on you every time you make an error or a mistake. You have to try and go on, but there was always a lot of pressure. Everything seemed to be focused on what I did, and so I was always trying to do more than I was capable of doing.

“You can’t enjoy playing when you know the manager or the fans or the press is going to make a big deal of every error, blame almost every loss on you.”

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He made 35 errors last season and has made 139 since his 1990 debut. He was benched in favor of Chad Fonville in September of the National League West battle with the Colorado Rockies and asked to be traded, saying last week that the benching was a major disappointment.

“It was as if they had forgotten everything I had done during the first four months of the season,” Offerman said. “I had contributed too much to be treated that way.”

And when his trade request was honored? “It was the moment I was waiting for,” he said. “I’m happy to be here. It’s absolutely the best thing for my situation.

“I prefer trying to win with this team a hundred times more than being there, even as good as the Dodgers are, even as much as they are expected to win.

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“I have no complaints about the Dodger organization, but I don’t think I was treated fairly by Lasorda at all. I tried to give him 100% in the field, but I don’t think he ever really liked me. We didn’t get along in the last two years at all. He was always looking for ways to get me out of the lineup.

“The only reason I was there as long as I was is because the general manager [Fred Claire] supported me. The only thing I ever tried to do with Lasorda was defend myself.

“We used to talk normally, but in the last two years he’d say one thing to my face and another behind my back, and I never heard from him after I was traded. I don’t think he wanted to talk to me. I’m sure he was glad I was out of there.”

Reached in Vero Beach, Lasorda said:

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“I’ve always liked Jose as a person and I often told him that. If I didn’t like him, I wouldn’t have played him almost every day for five years. The guy put out and never shortchanged us, but I just didn’t think he was a very good shortstop and I felt we had gone as far as we could with him. We had to improve the defense. We needed consistency at that position.”

There is no question that Offerman’s most consistent support came from Claire, but his 1994 demotion to Albuquerque after a dugout exchange with Lasorda and his 1995 benching indicated Claire had also lost patience and could no longer dispute Lasorda’s thinking on Offerman.

Now, at only 27 and coming off a season in which--can you remember?--he appeared in the All-Star game and batted a career high .287, Offerman welcomes a fresh start.

The small-market Royals, committed to rebuilding from within, have lowered their payroll from $44.5 million in 1994 to about $19 million this year.

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Every member of 1995’s veteran and expensive infield--Wally Joyner, Jose Lind, Gagne and Gary Gaetti (along with catcher Brent Mayne)--is gone.

With defense imperative for a team that was last in the American League in runs, second-year Manager Bob Boone must hope:

--Offerman elevates his game at shortstop.

--Bip Roberts, acquired from San Diego for Joyner and considered by most scouts to be more adept in left field, can handle second base.

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--Keith Lockhart, a natural second baseman, can play third.

--Bob Hamelin or Joe Vitiello, both designated hitter-types, can catch the ball at first.

--And veteran catcher Mike Macfarlane, a free agent who had a major league-high 26 passed balls with the Boston Red Sox last year, is not shellshocked after coping with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

Offerman is probably the key. The Royals, unable to afford Gagne again and confident that highly touted shortstop Felix Martinez is only a year away, believe the risk with the former Dodger is not great.

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“I’ve heard all the horror stories,” Boone said. “I know he made something like 200 errors in five years. I also know you have to be a good athlete to play shortstop at this level.

“So much of the game is mental. We don’t know how much pressure and anxiety he was feeling with the Dodgers. Sometimes we have to look at it the way a scout does. Yes, his track record was not very successful, but all the tools are there, so you have to hope the change of scenery helps and you hope all the psychology I’m going to lay on him helps.”

Boone, the Stanford psychology graduate, smiled when he said that, but he wasn’t entirely kidding. He may have to put the degree to work.

In Los Angeles, it was Offerman who had Lasorda and others ready for the couch.

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