Clayton Kershaw’s Cy Young is a connection to Dodgers tradition
Clayton Kershaw was preparing to walk across the diamond and into Dodgers history Thursday afternoon when he spotted a man standing alone, staring at him like a father would stare at a son.
It was Dodgers scouting boss Logan White, tossing his phone from hand to hand, rocking on his heels, trying to act composed, failing miserably.
“What are you doing over there?” Kershaw shouted. “You need to hug me!”
On the infield dirt they embraced, the new Cy Young Award winner and the man who was responsible for scouting, drafting and signing him.
“Thank you, thank you,” whispered Kershaw.
“A great day, a great day,” whispered White.
If you understand baseball scouts, you will understand why White views Kershaw as his child.
You will also understand why, after they hugged for a long minute, White’s sunglasses could not hide a long trickle of tears.
“It’s like watching somebody grow up,” said White. “What a wonderful day.”
A wonderful Dodgers antique of a day, for sure, as baseball’s oldest pitching factory produced its eighth Cy Young Award winner and first in eight years.
More important, it was the seventh time that the Dodgers grew a Cy Young themselves, marking a return to the days when they were baseball’s leading arms dealers, plucking great pitchers everywhere from small Mexican dirt towns to Bowling Green State University.
“Our history has been to win with pitching, and I’ve always wanted our staff to be part of that history,” said White, the assistant general manager in charge of scouting. “Hopefully, this is a start.”
In one respect, it is a blessed end. Because Kershaw won the Cy Young Award, White’s scouting department can finally give up the Old Sigh award after spending the last several years enduring a single question about the 2006 draft.
How could they pass up Tim Lincecum for Clayton Kershaw?
“Yeah, that question has crept in there occasionally,” White said with a smile.
Kershaw, a Dallas high school kid with the sort of huge ceiling that White covets, was the seventh overall pick that year. Lincecum, a more established pitcher from the University of Washington, was the 10th pick by the San Francisco Giants.
“OK, maybe I heard that question quite a bit,” admitted White.
It had been asked throughout Lincecum’s two Cy Young Award seasons and his one world championship. It was even asked four distinct times this season, when Kershaw, 23, faced Lincecum, 27, in Dodgers-Giants duels.
But as a sign that Kershaw’s season would be special, he went 4-0 in those games. Given the age difference and injury potential, you think anybody is asking that question now?
“We always believed Clayton would get there,” White said. “It just took time.”
The same can be said for White’s staff, which has been portrayed in recent years as one of the villains of a Dodgers system that seemingly contributed little to the major league effort, either in call-ups or trades for veterans. Yet the ugly truth was that owner Frank McCourt’s money troubles handcuffed its development efforts in every distant diamond.
“We’ve been through a lot,” said White. “We’ve had to really work it.”
That work started to emerge this year, a No-Moneyball approach that had begun succeeding in ways nobody could imagine. A homegrown product won the Cy Young, and next week another homegrown product named Matt Kemp could win the most valuable player, and both men won Gold Gloves, and did you see some of homegrown arms that showed up this season?
Homegrown relievers Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen and Josh Lindblom had sub-3.00 earned-run averages while combining for 196 strikeouts and 68 walks.
Besides Kershaw, who won the National League pitching triple crown by leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA, the rotation features homegrown Chad Billingsley and the emergence of homegrown Rubby De La Rosa and Nathan Eovaldi. While De La Rosa will miss next season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Eovaldi could be a factor, and there are apparently other arms that could push their way through.
The scouting department’s focus on pitching has perhaps resulted in fewer top position prospects, but, as anyone who watched the recent postseason will agree, pitching still wins championships.
“Especially here,” White said. “Pitching is who we are.”
And so five years ago, when White sat with area scout Calvin Jones and watched Kershaw strike out every batter in a five-inning high school game, the Dodgers were sold.
“Best pitcher I had ever seen, ever,” said Jones on Thursday in a phone interview from his Dallas home.
Five of the six players taken ahead of Kershaw in 2006 were pitchers, all of them college players, none of whom has made an All-Star team. White was different from other scouting directors not only in his vision but his execution, as he called a timeout during the Dodgers’ pick to talk to Kershaw’s agents to make sure his signing process would go smoothly.
“I’m hearing this on the conference call and I’m shouting, ‘What are you waiting for? Take him now!’ ” Jones recalled.
The minute White made the selection, the Dodgers’ draft room erupted in cheers that have echoed through the years and could be heard again Thursday from the season ticket-holders who attended Thursday’s press conference.
The fans didn’t know it, but they were cheering not only Kershaw, but White, Jones, Gib Bodet, Gary Nickels and former scouting chief Tim Hallgren, all of whom helped acquire him.
“It’s a great day for the entire Dodger organization,” said White, something we used to hear a lot, something we could get used to hearing again.
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