If it’s win or bust for Colletti, bust is winning
What a perfect day. I had found just the right music to greet arriving guests for “Scully & Wooden” on the Internet, the Hollyridge Strings doing their instrumental version of the Beatles’ work, 40-some years ago -- back when I was in the seminary.
Don’t worry. I discovered girls, in fact as I recall in front of the Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House. She would tell me years later she was gay, but I swear I had nothing to do with that.
Anyway, I was in a great mood when I called Ned Colletti, the Dodgers’ GM for now.
“Let’s do this right away while you are in a great mood,” Colletti said, but then we started talking Dodgers.
Colletti is a great guy. When the Dodgers hired him, I predicted he would last longer on the job than his predecessors because the media here really liked the Schmoozer.
I’ve seen him with the kids from Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. He was touched, and so were they when he made the extra effort to give each family a chance to join him at Dodger Stadium when all was well.
He’s terrific with kids, which you would think would make him the perfect baby sitter for a team counting on Loney, Kemp and Kershaw. Add a free agent here and there.
Yeah, swell guy, all right, but a bust so far as GM -- although we disagree about that.
Colletti began his career as a PR guy for the Cubs, so he knows how to spin disasters into steps necessary to move forward.
When I mention Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones, he talks about a “snapshot in time,” the moment when he had to decide how to improve the Dodgers and what was available out there.
When I suggest it probably all comes down to Schmidt and Jones, and so goes Colletti’s future with the team, he says, “I don’t think it just comes down to two players.”
OK, so I could have mentioned Bill Mueller, Randy Wolf, Kenny Lofton or signing Juan Pierre for five years and $44 million.
“I know people want to win every day,” he says, while taking over a team that finished 20 games below .500 in 2005. “I get it. But you have to look at what we had when we started and who was out there -- while still hanging on to our nucleus, the young guys of the future.”
Colletti says he “always feels” under the gun, because he knows his cliches, but no, he doesn’t feel his job is on the line because Jones can’t hit his weight and because Schmidt has given the Dodgers one win in exchange for the $47 million he received to leave San Francisco.
Colletti had been in San Francisco with Schmidt. Colletti not only signed Schmidt, but the Giants’ trainer who had worked with Schmidt. There were reports all around baseball that something was wrong with Schmidt, the velocity on his fastball no longer ferocious.
“His velocity was down, but it was still 92 or 93,” Colletti says. “But we were assured medically there was no problem.
“Look where we were coming out of the ’06 season with our pitching,” the Schmoozer adds -- one of those snapshots in time, he says, when the Dodgers were in need of someone like Schmidt.
As for Jones, who received $36.2 million after hitting .222, “we felt we needed a middle-of-the-order bat and Gold Glove in center field,” he says, before it was announced that Jones would have knee surgery. “So far we’ve gotten the center fielder.
“He’s 31, not 40 and at the end of his career. He should be close to his prime, but right now mechanically he has no chance to hit. He could be the fittest guy in America, but shifting his body the way he is while trying to hit, it ain’t going to work.”
Colletti says he doesn’t disagree with the contention that Jones did himself no favor with the fans, showing up to camp overweight and saying he doesn’t care about much of anything.
“I don’t believe he doesn’t care, but he’s going to have to be contrite and play better. Look how we’ve done, and if we had him hitting [for power] like he did a year ago, we’re really going well.”
Look where the Dodgers would be if Derek Lowe and Brad Penny were doing their jobs.
“I am concerned about our starting pitching in two cases,” Colletti says. “I had a nice chat with Derek the other day.”
Lowe pitched poorly the last time he was in the final year of his contract, although coming on strong in the postseason. If he’s following the same plan this time around, he’s more bullish about the Dodgers’ postseason hopes than anyone else.
“I told him we’re not slamming the door on him from coming back,” Colletti says. “In Boston he might have known he was not coming back.
“As for Penny, he’s giving up a ton of hits. One inning he’s throwing 95-to-97 [mph], and another 85-to-87. That inconsistency is tough to figure.”
The same can be said about general managers, the guy signing Rafael Furcal and Takashi Saito -- the same one who spent $83 million on Jones and Schmidt.
“I’m encouraged by the way we’ve started to play,” says the Schmoozer. “When you have young players, winning is not as much concern as their own personal survival.
“That’s what happened with Arizona last year. As their young players got more comfortable, they were preparing to win rather than preparing just to play.”
Colletti sees an improved Dodgers team the second half of the season, Manager Joe Torre also becoming more familiar with the National League and the Dodgers in contention all the way.
Colletti also saw something in Schmidt and Jones, but unless Dodger fans see something more in those guys the second half the season, all that Colletti might have left to show for his time with the Dodgers are those snapshots of what might have been.
TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from Jonathan Miller:
“You were the one looking elsewhere for thrills. We were waiting out the rain delay in Dodger Stadium, topping it off by having Andruw pinch bat with two outs in the ninth and the tying run and winning runs on base. Thrill upon thrill. My son predicted strike out looking. I chose strike out swinging. Father always knows best.”
But whose idea was it to leave the warmth of home and the Lakers on TV to sit in the cold and rain?
T.J. Simers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.