There’s No Comparison Between These Teams
The baseball season opens tonight in Anaheim, so I took a trip Saturday to the most unhappy place on Earth, the Dodger clubhouse, to compare the chumps with the champs, and see what kind of year it might be for the local teams.
It’s a little unfair, of course, because the Angels won the World Series and also have a chimp on their side, while the chumps haven’t won a playoff game since 1988, but I thought a position-by-position breakdown might give us a better idea of how big the gap is going to be between greatness and mediocrity.
FIRST BASE: Fred McGriff, who will be eligible to join the 40-and-over slow-pitch softball leagues on his next birthday this October -- and the Dodgers don’t figure to be doing anything in October -- replaces Eric Karros. For those who thought Karros struck out a lot, he whiffed 74 times in 524 at-bats; McGriff struck out 99 times in 523 at-bats. McGriff has struck out 692 more times in his career than Karros, and he has had the luxury of hitting against the Dodger pitching staff every year. Karros stole four bases, McGriff one, which tells you we have now identified the slowest human in the world.
The Angels are better with Scott Spiezio, Shawn Wooten and Brad Fullmer.
SECOND BASE: The Dodgers have Joe Thurston at second ... in Las Vegas. “Some things in his game need to be refined,” General Manager Dan Evans said. Yeah, like putting the bat on the ball. I asked Manager Jim Tracy who will open the season as the major league team’s second baseman and he said he didn’t know. I reminded him he’s the manager and he has had six weeks and an entire off-season to figure it out, and he asked who was pitching for Arizona on Monday. When told it would be Randy Johnson, he asked, “He’s left-handed, isn’t he?” It’s a good thing the Dodgers have a day off Sunday to give Tracy time to pick up one of Bill James’ baseball books and get a better handle on the league.
Mike Scioscia said Adam Kennedy will play second. That’s why Scioscia will receive the manager-of-the-year award tonight: He knows who is playing every position on his team.
SHORTSTOP: I asked Tracy if switch hitter Cesar Izturis, who hit .195 (57 for 292) from the left side a year ago, will continue to bat left-handed. Tracy said he will because Izturis has hit so well this spring from the left side. The team’s PR department, however, could not produce statistics to support Tracy’s assessment.
The Angel PR staff reminded me David Eckstein led the majors with three grand slams.
THIRD BASE: Only 123 days to speculate whether the Dodgers will trade Adrian Beltre by the July 31 deadline. That’s what happens when you’re the team’s only marketable player and you haven’t lived up to expectations. Both Mark Grudzielanek and Karros hit .271 -- 14 points better than Beltre -- and they were considered dead weight. Beltre is a career .267 hitter in five seasons with the Dodgers; thanks for the memories. The Angels have Troy Glaus, the World Series MVP.
CATCHER: Paul Lo Duca hit .233 in August and September with everything on the line. Bengie Molina hit .286 in the World Series. Lo Duca threw out 24% of the runners trying to steal second; Molina led the
league throwing out 42.7%. Molina is not known to openly root against the Lakers. Lo Duca is.
OUTFIELD: Tracy said Dave Roberts will play all of the time in center, a year after being told by a certain columnist to bat Roberts leadoff every day. Evans, who couldn’t make eye contact with a certain columnist -- and it’s not because the Dodger GM is no taller than the Mission Bay Shrimp -- said in response Saturday to someone’s suggestion that he better not read Page 2 today, “I never do.” That would explain why he sometimes appears clueless.
Darin Erstad or Roberts? Scioscia didn’t have to be told to play Erstad every day. Garret Anderson or Brian Jordan? Jordan rescinded his demand to be traded. I presume because nobody wanted him. Tim Salmon or Shawn Green? Green has hit .284 in three years with the Dodgers; Salmon .285 in 11 years with the Angels. Green hits lots of homers, so it would seem the Dodgers have one good player.
PITCHING: The Dodgers say Mr. Grumpy is back to his old self, which I presume means he’ll want to use the team’s private plane more often. Gagne/Quantrill/Shuey or Percival/K-Rod? Oh shuey, there goes that argument. At some point the Dodgers will pitch Andy Ashby, which means no man, woman or child will be safe sitting in the outfield seats, or driving on the 101, 110 or 5 freeways. Ortiz/Washburn/Lackey/Appier or Nomo/Dreifort/Ishii/Perez? (56 wins a year ago opposed to 45 -- does Dreifort win 11 games this season? Does he pitch 11 games?)
“We’re not going to win a game this season,” Dodger pitching coach Jim Colborn said. “I don’t see how we’re going to be able to do it.”
Someone said Colborn was being sarcastic. Sarcasm, of course, is not a form of humor that I’m very familiar with, but they tell me there’s usually an element of truth in there offered in the guise of humor. If so, then deep down Colborn probably believes the Dodgers will actually win a few games this year.
I couldn’t agree more.
TODAY’S LAST word comes by way of observation Friday night:
MICHAEL JORDAN and Kobe Bryant were still in the game, but with 3:05 remaining, director Steven Spielberg left his courtside seats to beat the crowd home.
I wonder how he’d feel if people walked out his movies before they were over.
T.J. Simers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.