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GETTING THEIR RIPS IN

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Angered by comments made by former Dodger Brett Butler about Mike Piazza in The Times, the organization on Monday rallied around its all-star catcher, criticizing Butler and questioning his motives.

Coaches and players at Dodgertown were stunned by the story, in which the retired Butler described Piazza as a “moody, self-centered ‘90s player.” They especially disagreed with Butler’s assessment that Piazza, their franchise player, was to blame for the team’s recent late-season collapses.

“I don’t agree with anything Brett says,” Manager Bill Russell said. “I don’t see what he sees at all. In Mike, you’re talking about a guy who has done a lot for our team. Mike has done a lot for the game of baseball.”

The players were swift and uniform in their condemnation of Butler.

“Where is he coming from with that?” second baseman Eric Young said. “I started out playing with Mike in single-A [at Vero Beach in 1990], and that’s not the Mike Piazza I know.

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“Mike always gives it his all to win. Mike cares about winning, so I don’t know why [Butler] is saying all this stuff. I just don’t get it.”

Third baseman Todd Zeile also was troubled, saying Butler’s comments were wrong. Moreover, Zeile said Butler should have voiced his opinions to Piazza while they were teammates, instead of taking shots after retiring.

“You don’t need to hear a voice from the grave,” he said. “If Brett felt that bad about this, why didn’t he say that to him face to face?”

Butler said the Dodgers “can’t build around Piazza because he is not a leader.” But several players said Piazza leads in his own way, adding that it’s not Butler’s place to critique Piazza’s style.

“You ask 10 different guys what it takes to be a leader, and you will get 10 different opinions,” Zeile said. “You look at Mike, and he’s the focal point of the offense. You get a lot of people talking about the Dodger pitching staff. But they don’t pitch themselves. Mike takes command every night out there.

“He is the guy in the spotlight who feels most of the media pressure, and he takes that on fine. People from the outside looking in don’t realize what a burden that is, being in the spotlight, but Mike doesn’t shy away from it.”

Butler released a three-paragraph statement Monday, criticizing The Times’ story, calling it a “senseless display of journalism.” However, he didn’t dispute the accuracy of the quotes attributed to him.

Several Dodgers said the former outfielder made the comments to try to regain the spotlight. Butler retired after last season, his 16th in the major leagues, and some players said he craved attention more than anyone on the team. One high-ranking club official was too incensed to speak about the situation.

Former manager Tom Lasorda, a longtime friend of both Butler and Piazza, said he plans to speak with Butler, possibly today.

“This is totally uncalled-for on Butler’s part, and I’m very disappointed he did this,” Lasorda said. “I’ve known Mike Piazza since he was 9 years old, and nobody wants to win more than Mike. Believe me, these are totally erroneous statements. The audacity for him to say this. . . . It’s just crazy.”

First baseman Eric Karros said this storm won’t derail the Dodgers.

“Brett has the right to have his opinion, but Brett’s opinions aren’t a concern to this team,” he said. “The bottom line is that Brett is no longer on this ballclub, and what he thinks has no bearing on anything.”


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