NEW IN BLUE
He has pitched for four major league teams in a 12-year professional career, but he will be introduced before tonight’s All-Star game in the uniform of a team for which he has yet to pitch.
In the 69-year history of the midsummer exhibition, it’s a first.
Jeff Shaw didn’t have to be told.
“Flying in [Sunday] night, I was thinking how weird it was going to be to get to my locker and find a uniform I’ve never even worn,” he said Monday.
“I mean, this has been a crazy five days, a week I’ll never forget.”
He is here as a Dodger, after having been selected to his first All-Star game because of his accomplishments as the Cincinnati Reds’ closer.
He was traded by his hometown team on Saturday, but he won’t appear in the Dodger bullpen until Thursday’s series opener with the San Diego Padres in Los Angeles.
In fact, if the mail isn’t on time today, he may not even appear in his Dodger uniform until then, because on Monday he was outfitted in a combination of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue--but as he noted, “I could be wearing a pink uniform and still be happy.”
Instead, he wore a blue Dodger cap, a green National League All-Star jersey with a Dodger logo (no, Fox hasn’t changed it yet) on the sleeve, white pants that were a little too big and belonged to Raul Mondesi and had been shipped here in anticipation of Mondesi’s possible selection, and white and blue workout shoes provided by new Dodger teammate and fellow All-Star Gary Sheffield.
Did he feel like a Dodger yet?
“I feel like a Dodger outfielder,” Shaw said, referring to Sheffield’s footwear and Mondesi’s pants.
A complete uniform is being shipped from Los Angeles, so Shaw hopes to have at least that one package to open today--which on top of everything is his 32nd birthday.
“Any time you’re an All-Star on your birthday, it’s got to be a happy one,” he said. “Besides, I’m then headed to a team with a chance to go to the playoffs, which makes it even better.”
Shaw might not have noticed, but the young and rebuilding Reds are almost as close to the lead in the National League Central, 15 games, as the Dodgers are in the NL West, 13 1/2 games. Then again, he can be excused for trying to put the best face possible on a trade uprooting his hometown attachments.
“The shock still hasn’t worn off,” acknowledged Shaw, who had been hearing and reading rumors about possible deals with the Seattle Mariners, Atlanta Braves and Dodgers but didn’t think it would happen until next year, despite the Reds’ ongoing turnover.
Of course, the Reds had refused to give him a no-trade clause in April when he agreed to a three-year extension at $8.4 million, so “I have to accept the ramifications” of signing an undervalued contract rather than becoming a free agent after the current season.
“It didn’t matter to me what the market might bear,” Shaw said. “To be able to make the hour drive [from his suburban Cincinnati home in Washington Court House] was a dream come true. If you look at my numbers the last 2 1/2 years in Cincinnati [compared to what he’d done before], there’s something to be said for playing at home. I got to mow the grass and drive the kids to school. It was like working the swing shift.”
Shaw was born and raised in Washington Court House, and married Julie, his high school sweetheart. His son Travis, 7, goes to school there. His daughter, Molli, 3, soon will. His parents live there.
Julie and the kids will accompany Shaw to Los Angeles for this first Dodger homestand after the break, but the immediate plan is for Travis and Molli to return to Ohio during the school year while Shaw lives in a rented house in the Los Angeles area.
If home cooking contributed to his success with the Reds, does the trade jeopardize it?
“I’ve developed so much confidence in myself as a person and pitcher the last couple years that I feel I can play anywhere,” he said. “You bounce around as a young player and begin to doubt yourself. As an older player with some success, I’m better prepared to handle it.
“I realize I’m being asked to perform an important job on a high-profile team, but I’m not putting any more pressure on myself than I have been. I feel saving games in L.A. will be no different than it was in Cincinnati. No relief pitcher is going to convert every opportunity. How you bounce back is the key, and I believe I’ve done that very well.”
It’s been a strange odyssey in which the resilient Shaw never envisioned himself as a major league closer until he emerged as the league leader with 42 saves last year. He was a first-round selection of the Cleveland Indians in the January phase of the 1986 draft, endured 17 consecutive losses in his third minor league season, bounced between Cleveland and the minors for three years, was released and signed by the Montreal Expos, was released and signed by the Chicago White Sox, was released and signed by the Reds.
“I can be disappointed with the way I pitch, but I accept the way the business is,” he said. “I spent six years with the Indians, three with Montreal. I wasn’t tendered by the White Sox because I was eligible for arbitration. I was with the Reds for 2 1/2 years. I mean, it wasn’t like I was being traded or released every year or every other year. I was never frustrated enough that I considered quitting.”
His 1997 emergence, Shaw said, could be explained in two words: Jeff Brantley. Brantley was the NL’s fireman of the year as the Reds’ closer in 1996, Shaw his setup man and pupil. A shoulder injury sidelined Brantley for most of the ’97 season, and Brantley talked Shaw through the rudiments of closing--so successfully that Shaw registered those 42 saves and influenced the Reds to trade Brantley to the St. Louis Cardinals early this year.
“I throw the same pitches I did in Montreal,” said Shaw, of his fastball, slider, split-finger repertoire. “I’ve refined them some, but the big thing is that I have the experience now of having been out there on a regular basis at the end of the game, and I have to credit [Brantley] for a lot of my success.”
Shaw joins the Dodgers with 23 saves in 28 opportunities and a 1.81 earned-run average. His arrival may lead to the departure of Antonio Osuna, possibly in a reworked deal for Randy Johnson. San Diego All-Star Tony Gwynn said Shaw’s acquisition leads him to think “the Dodgers are maneuvering to get the big guy--and that would cause havoc in our division.”
“The way Johnson threw against us a couple weeks ago [in a 2-1 Seattle interleague victory], put him on that Dodger Stadium mound . . . well, Lord have mercy,” Gwynn said, adding that he is a Shaw admirer. “Nothing spectacular but very consistent. Good slider, good heater. He can sink it a little, cut it a little. He simply gets people out, and he should really help the Dodgers.”
Said Bret Boone, now the Reds’ All-Star representative, “When Jeff would come into a game in the ninth inning, it was over in our eyes, and that’s a great feeling.
“The Dodgers are going to like him. He’ll play a big part if they make a run at it.”
That would enable Shaw to have his birthday cake and eat it too. In the meantime, he isn’t sure what he’ll be wearing to tonight’s party.
Just Passing Through
Of the 25 players who were on the Dodgers’ opening day roster, 14 are on the active roster at the all-star break. A look:
OPENING DAY ROSTER
Mike Piazza: traded to Florida
Tom Princeon: active roster
Eric Young: on active roster
Todd Zeile: traded to Florida
Jose Vizcaino: on disabled list
Wilton Guerrero: on active roster
Juan Castro: on active roster
Paul Konerko: traded to Cincinnati
Raul Mondesi: on active roster
Todd Hollandsworth: on disabled list
Thomas Howard: designated for assignment
Mike Devereaux: released
Trenidad Hubbard: on active roster
Matt Luke: on active roster
Ramon Martinez: on disabled list
Hideo Nomo: traded to New York Mets
Ismael Valdes: on active roster
Mark Guthrie: on active roster
Scott Radinsky: on active roster
Chan Ho Park: on active roster
Darren Dreifort: on active roster
Darren Hall: on disabled list
Antonio Osuna: on active roster
Jim Bruske: on active roster
Frank Lankford: Rule V draftee returned to New York Yankees
Charles Johnson: acquired from Florida
Tom Prince: opened season with team
Eric Young: opened season with team
Wilton Guerrero: opened season with team
Juan Castro: opened season with team
Eric Karros: started season on disabled list
Bobby Bonilla: acquired from Florida
Adrian Beltre: recalled from minors
Alex Cora: called from minors
Raul Mondesi: opened season with team
Gary Sheffield: acquired from Florida
Trenidad Hubbard: opened season with team
Matt Luke: opened season with team
Roger Cedeno: started season on disabled list
Jim Eisenreich: acquired from Florida
Ismael Valdes: opened season with team
Mark Guthrie: opened season with team
Scott Radinsky: opened season with team
Chan Ho Park: opened season with team
Darren Dreifort: opened season with team
Antonio Osuna: opened season with team
Jim Bruske: opened season with team
Jeff Shaw: acquired from Cincinnati
Greg McMichael: acquired from New York Mets
Dave Mlicki: acquired from New York Mets
AL--David Wells (11-2, 3.75 ERA, 112 2/3 innings, 88 strikeouts, 17 walks)
vs. NL--Greg Maddux (12-2, 1.54 ERA, 146 1/3 innings, 115 strikeouts, 17 walks)