September 22, 1990. Three things happened in Los Angeles 23 years ago today.
One: Tommy Lasorda celebrated his 63rd birthday at the Ravine.
Two: The Dodgers gifted their skipper with a 6-3 victory over the hated Giants, Dennis Cook besting Mike LaCoss. Kirk Gibson went two for three while playing center field, with Juan Samuel contributing a homer among his three hits.
Three: Your humble scribe received the gift of life, after a year on dialysis, with a great and wonderful transplanted kidney, which to this day (thanks to my sister Analee for the naming suggestion) I call “Special K.”
And by the way, while I’m not always all that humble, as implied above, I certainly am today. Humble and grateful to the family of a young man who’d died tragically after a motorcycle accident the night before, for their incredibly caring and selfless gift.
I’ve thought about this a lot in the 23 years of my new life, and especially each year when I celebrate September 22 like a birthday. And I wasn’t the only one – there was a heart transplanted into a recipient that same day from that same young man, and presumably another kidney, a liver, two lungs and God knows what else – but it might very well be that I’m the longest surviving patient. Probably, in fact.
Twenty-three years is a long time for a cadaver kidney, and I have a responsibility to that family, and to the transplant community. I’ve thought about it a lot.
I take damn good care of that organ (yes, I pay more attention to certain organs than others; you can use your imagination as to which ones), taking it out for walks, to plenty of baseball games, and watering it regularly. I hope to take it to a bleeping World Series before much longer.
And I’m planning on 23 more of these birthdays. More, if I can help it. And I can help it. I struggle with diet and consistent exercise, but I know I have to keep trying. Move forward. Progress, not perfection, yes, but I have to keep trying.
There is no call to action in this blog post. I’m not asking you to send money to this organization or that, and I’m not going to give you some big schpiel about signing and carrying a donor card. You can do those things, certainly, and great if you do, but I’m not asking.
Talking to your family about your wishes is a good idea too. It’s a real good idea, in fact, so I’ll go ahead and make that suggestion. Please talk to your loved ones about your thoughts – and about theirs. Do you want to be a potential donor? Do they? If you haven’t decided, perhaps you can ponder awhile, and whatever you come up with is fine by me.
I will say this, however, and emphatically: the system works. The organ transplantation system works in this country. Not perfectly, but it works. Please don’t get caught up in the sensational, and often fictional stuff you may see in a “Law & Order” episode or wherever. The system works, and I am “living, smiling proof.”
They say there are two times when you are to be congratulated walking into a hospital. One is when you’re having a baby; the other when you’re arriving for a transplant operation.
I felt congratulated when greeted by the good people of UCLA (Go Bruins!) that beautiful Saturday morning, September 22, 1990, and it made a difference. Special K starting functioning – with pee, glorious pee flowing by the bucket full – almost from the moment they hooked me up with that extension cord thing, and it hasn’t stopped since.
I’m just extremely grateful to my support system of family and friends, to the many doctors and nurses in my two cities of L.A. in San Diego these 23 years, and to the family who made the call. And I wanted to share with you.
Now, can Special K and I have a World Series to attend, please. Finally. Is that too much to ask? See what you can do, Dodgers.
Twenty-four years ago tomorrow – on May 10, 1989 – and after 23 games, same as the 13-20 Los Angeles Dodgers have played now, the Toronto Blue Jays were 11-21, in sixth place in the American League East, three games behind the 13-17 Baltimore Orioles and five back of the division leading Boston Red Sox. L.A. currently trails the fourth place San Diego Padres by 2 ½ games, and stands 6 ½ behind the San Francisco Giants now.
The Blue Jays bottomed out at 21-31 on May 31, 1989, before turning it around to win the division with a record of 89-73.
I remember it only because I happened to be in Chicago in mid-May of 1989 for the NRA convention, of all things. No joke; that’s the National Restaurant Association, if you’re scoring. My life-long friend, Charles Hayman, flew in from New York, and I from L.A. to enjoy The Windy City for the first time. We stayed at the Palmer House, did the town and hit the aisles of the convention center to view such things as – and I remember this distinctly – an egg yolk separating device that looked and functioned exactly like a toilet. No shit, pun intended.
We watched two last place teams face off at old Comiskey – which to this day is my favorite of the old parks I’ve visited, just dripping with history and a great old-ballpark smell – Toronto versus the then-17-23 White Sox, who finished the season in the AL West basement.
Friday, May 19, 1989. The Blue Jays (the “Jays” term wasn’t in use at the time) beat the Sox, 9-3, Mike Flanagan over Eric King. Cito Gaston and Jeff Torborg were the skippers. Llyod Moseby had three hits for the winners, the big blow coming on a three-run home run by Tony Fernandez. Kelly Gruber homered too.
I bring this up as solace to the inconsolable Dodger fan, because God knows we need solace. Solace, a serious win streak, a month of inspired play, the removal of a useless infielder or two and maybe a reason for living.
Toronto was still under .500 at 58-59 on August 13 but managed to finish the month 72-62. They went 17-11 the rest of the way, before falling to the eventual World Series winning Oakland Athletics.
I don’t know if the Dodgers have a turnaround like that in them, but what I’ve provided is but one of countless examples of how it might happen. With no game tonight, let’s keep a good thought.
And remember, glove conquers all.
The Miracle League of San Diego held their 7th Annual Home Run Derby (presented by Bank of America) Sunday and everybody won — the former big league ballplayers who swung the bat, the community, and most especially the kids.
An estimated $25,000 was raised, with the money being used to sustain the league, to provide for player scholarships, field maintenance and the like.
Ex-Padres participating included Brad Ausmus and Mark Loretta, who are both former-Dodgers as well, and all-time saves record holder Trevor Hoffman. Former-Kansas City Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney chipped in too.
Miracle League of San Diego Co-Founder and Co-President Dan Engel answers a few questions for us.
Question: Can you tell us a bit about the organization?
Answer: The Miracle League of San Diego provides children [and young adults] with special needs the opportunity to play baseball in an organized league at two locations in San Diego County: Engel Family Field – a Little Padres Park in San Dieguito Park, Del Mar – and Green Field at Coronado High School, in Coronado.
We have Spring and Fall seasons at both fields and accommodate players ages five and up. Every player is matched with a buddy for the entire season and each buddy is paired with the player based on his or her unique needs. Our mission is to ensure that every participant walks away saying they had a great day!
Our emphasis on the buddy program enables us to also serve our parents. We recognize their daily challenges, and strive to ensure that on every Saturday during the season, they will have an hour to relax, sit in the stands and enjoy the game with fellow parents and fans. Because of our buddy system and because we have multiple coaches on the field, parents can relax with confidence. We encourage parents to coach, but discourage them from being their child’s buddy so their child can experience a new friendship.
Q: Please tell us about the support you’ve received from the San Diego Padres organization.
A: The Padres are a key partner for the Miracle League of San Diego, and have been since it was founded. Our first location, Engel Family Field, is part of the Little Padres Park program and the only one that is focused on kids with special needs.
Sue Botos, Vice President of Community Relations, sits on our Advisory Board and helps arrange at least two special events for the Miracle League each Padres season, one for our players and their families to attend a game and one to entertain our key donors.
Mark Loretta, former All-Star and Padres MVP and now Special Assistant, Baseball Operations, is on our working Board of Directors and is a tremendous resource. In addition, Mark and Sue help arrange the participants in our annual Celebrity Pitcher Day held in late October to coincide with Halloween Costume Day.
Prior celebrity pitchers from the Padres organization have included Manager Buddy Black, Trevor Hoffman, Mark Loretta, Randy Jones, Brad Ausmus, Tony Gwynn, Jr., Will Venable, Heath Bell and Mark Kotsay. Celebrity Pitcher Day is usually the most fun day of the year at the Miracle League, with an amazing amount of energy and excitement. The Swinging Friar and Pad Squad are also frequent attendees of these events, as well as out our regular Opening Day festivities.
Q: Who is the priest in the photo below?
A: His name is Father Martin Latiff. He’s part of the Milles Christi order and does work at both Cathedral Catholic High School and the University of San Diego. He came with Mike Sweeney, but is also friends with Trevor Hoffman and Mark Loretta. Trevor’s kids attend Cathedral Catholic. Mark Loretta sponsored his participation in the Derby.
Q: Who won the home run derby?
A: Final home run totals were 31 by Mike Sweeney, 19 by Mark Loretta, 13 by Trevor Hoffman, three by Father Latiff and one by Brad Ausmus. The winner, however, was [Miracle League of San Diego] Co-President Kenny Blattenbauer, with 46. Kenny played AAA ball in the Twins organization.
Q: Are there other Miracle Leagues around the country?
A: Absolutely, including one in Anaheim and a new one forming in Los Angeles. Michigan and Chicago have big leagues. Phoenix has one. Over 80 fields now around the country. The national Miracle League website can provide access to other leagues throughout the country. Their website is here.
Q: How can we get invoved?
A: There are three ways people can help. First, promote the Miracle League to those who might benefit from participation, either players or buddies. With our two locations, we can accommodate many more players than our current season total of 204.
Second, you can make a donation directly on our website that will help ensure the sustainability of our organization. The last way to help is to sign up on our website and volunteer, either as a coach or buddy, or as a game day volunteer. This last method is always the most rewarding.
Photos above by Nick Brumach, photos below by Chris Stone.
Below is text of a column I re-post every year around this time. The statistics have been updated.
An old episode of Cheers starts with Coach off at the DMV, getting his driver’s license renewed. When he gets back to the bar, Sam asks him how it went. “They asked me for my kidneys, Sam! It used to be just ten bucks!!”
Well, it’s that time of year again, and while we won’t ask you for your kidneys, we’d like to at least broach this very important topic.
Spring is more than just the beginning of another baseball season, important as that is. April is always National Donate Life Month, and this year, April 22 to April 28 marks National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week (NOTDAW). Please take the opportunity to talk to your family about the subject. It’s a difficult one to get into, but there’s no better time.
Let’s set the triple-crown stats aside for a second, and consider another big three. As of today, there are exactly 117,839 people on organ transplant waiting lists in the United States. Picture Dodger Stadium and Camden Yards, standing room only.
19 die each day. That’s like a section of Bleacher Bums splitting in the third inning of a September matinee against the Cards.
From the pool of what you might think are available organs from deaths in this country, only about 5% are termed brain-deaths, the standard used for transplantation. Out of that small number, only 1/2 of 1% are recovered and used to give life to someone on a waiting list. For a variety of reasons.
This much is sure. Carrying a donor card is great, but that in itself assures nothing. Family members still need to give the go-ahead, and in many cases, there’s been little or no discussion about the individual’s wishes, making an agonizing decision that much more difficult.
Yes, there are a few patients – human beings, actual people – who fall through the cracks and are let down by the system; by actual people who mess up. Those few cases make for sensational stories, which is the only reason you even hear about them in the first place. It is because these failings are so rare that they make news at all.
But this isn’t a sob story. It’s not about heart failure, if you will. It’s about heart success. The process works. It needs to work better, but it works.
I speak from what I know, OK, and I’m grateful. I was one of the lucky ones. There was a motorcycle accident somewhere in Los Angeles. The parents of a 19 year old young man said yes, and within 48 hours, the young man’s heart was thriving inside the chest of a total stranger. His liver had saved the life of another; his kidneys, two more.
It was September 22, 1990. Tommy Lasorda’s 63rd birthday. The Dodgers were in a pennant race when they cut me open, and when I woke up hours later, that kidney was producing you-know-what like nobody’s business. A rather large sample size, if you know what I mean. OK, pee, if you don’t know what I mean.
Meanwhile, in a year when there was talk that the rest of the division was actually pulling for L.A. to lose, the San Diego Padres had rolled over both ends of a doubleheader to the eventual World Champion Cincinnati Reds, and that, my friends, was that. New life for me, sure, but no such luck for the Dodgers.
Like I said, I was one of the lucky ones. I joke about baseball in part because it’s a distraction from the serious stuff. As one of the lucky ones I enjoy that luxury. 117,839 others don’t. Not yet, anyway.
They say there are two times when you’re to be congratulated entering a hospital. One is when you’re having a baby. The other is when you’re having a transplant operation.
It’s spring, a time for optimism. We’re baseball fans. We all feel it. Maybe that’s why donor awareness comes up in April.
Coach got a little excited there. We’re not asking for your organs. Use them in good health. Take them to as many games as possible. Seatbelts fastened, please.
We’re not asking for money. Just talk to your family and make your wishes clear, if you’ve come to grips with them yourself. If you haven’t, please give it some thought. That’s all.
For more information, please visit DonateLife.net.
And remember, glove conquers all. Or at least, almost all.
This is just too easy. Can of corn. It’s like, some of this stuff, I can just pluck right out of last year’s column.
Here are some of the things that are almost certain to happen in the year 2013. Probably.
Major League Baseball standings will be listed alphabetically through April 1 at the latest.
American League Cy Young Award goes to David Price.
With the lifetime home run record now clearly out of reach, Alex Rodriguez gets two steps closer to retirement. A-Rod’s numbers: .260, 10 homers, 35 RBIs, in not an inning more than 50 games played.
As usual, the World Series will be a better, truer, more spontaneous event than the Super Bowl, with actual crowd shots of real fans, but the commercials won’t be nearly as good.
The debate over whether Joba Chamberlain should be a starter or reliever is forgotten, and replaced with a debate over whether Aroldis Chapman should be a starter or reliever.
Derek Jeter will appear on “Saturday Night Live” with Donald Trump (or Darrell Hammond).
The New York Yankees miss the postseason, at least one Steinbrenner goes berserk, with Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman exiting by mid-October.
Larry Lucchino will become part owner of a team working on a new stadium deal.
The Toronto Blue Jays improve by leaps and bounds, but with Jose Reyes injured at least once, settle for second place.
The American League East will finish this way: Rays, Blue Jays (Wild Card), Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees.
Detroit’s Tigers are baseball’s first team to clinch.
As the AL’s third or fourth best starting pitcher at the time, Justin Verlander doesn’t start the All-Star Game, and his team benefits, regaining home field advantage in the World Series.
AL team pegged most likely to improve greatly that doesn’t – Kansas City Royals.
A Gold Glove Award winner will lead his position in errors.
Several prominent major leaguers will miss action, delayed by visa problems.
AL Central: Tigers, White Sox, Indians, Royals, Twins.
Non-teammates Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are mentioned in the same breath more times than Henry Aaron and Willie Mays. Baseball savvy fans are reminded of Ben Grieve and Alvin Davis.
“Five-tool player” regains its rightful position as the most overused phrase in baseball, leaving “we all have to be on the same page” in the dust. “Flu-like symptoms,” “strained oblique,” “anything can happen in a short series,” “back in the day,” ”intestinal fortitude,” “chain of custody,” “there’s no crying in baseball” and “it’s only May” round out the top ten.
Countless players, play-by-play guys and color commentators will refer to a just completed contest using the word “tonight,” even though it was a day game.
Sinkerballer Derek Lowe leads baseball in comebackers not fielded.
Top-five MVP finisher Adrian Beltre, plus another Gold Glove.
Motivated in its first season as an AL club, Houston’s Astros surprise with a 68-94 record.
Astros are no-hit at least once before the All-Star break.
The Angels look outside the organization for an outfielder as Trout returns to center by June 1.
Angels fans concern about years seven, eight and nine of Albert Pujols’ contract is replaced with worries about years four, five and six.
AL MVP: Trout.
AL West: Angels, Athletics, Rangers, Mariners, Astros.
Debate over Mike Rizzo’s 2012 innings limit for Stephen Strasburg continues, with neither supporters nor detractors being placated. Strasburg just goes out and pitches his way to a top three Cy Young finish.
Atlanta’s Braves get what they bargained for with Justin Upton, and then some. With brother B.J., not so much.
The Philadelphia Phillies are as old and broken down as the preseason consensus, but still manage to contend before finishing third, with 85 wins.
Baseball’s first manager to be fired will be Terry Collins. Additional managers cut loose include Ron Gardenhire, Girardi, Clint Hurdle, Charlie Manuel, Eric Wedge and whoever follows Collins.
NL East: Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Mets, Marlins.
A prominent player will test positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He’ll deny deny deny, come up with the most fantastic excuse known to man, and lose the obligatory appeal. America will celebrate.
These players will miss significant chunks of playing time due to injury: Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Hamilton, Rich Harden, Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, Reyes, Pablo Sandoval, Huston Street, Troy Tulowitzski, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and David Wright.
These men will play through an array of injuries and ailments to appear in 155-plus games. Billy Butler, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Starlin Castro, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, Hunter Pence, Alexei Ramirez, Ichiro Suzuki, Dan Uggla and Ben Zobrist.
NL Central: Cardinals, Reds (Wild Card), Pirates, Brewers, Cubs.
NL team predicted most likely to contend that doesn’t – Arizona Diamondbacks.
Whenever and wherever Arizona sweeps a series, a newspaper in the losing team’s city will run the following headline: “Fill-in-the-blank Snake-bit by Diamondbacks.”
Buster Posey proves to be as close to contract-worthy as is humanly possible, and is a top five finisher in the NL MVP race. .315/.390, 25 and 100.
A ballpark in China Basin will be renamed for a telecommunications company.
Brian Wilson will spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to look clever…and fail.
Asdrubal Cabrera to Los Angeles.
To their detriment, critics will harp on Zack Greinke’s years-old anxiety disorder issues, but he will be just fine. Better than fine. 16-10, with a 3.25 ERA and 200 Ks in 200 innings.
Chad Billingsley succumbs to the inevitable and undergoes Tommy John surgery.
Benefitting from those extra three days off he’s afforded, A.J. Ellis proves to be anything but a flash in the pan. His numbers: .275/.395, 15 and 65.
Carl Crawford earns Comeback Player of the Year consideration with his 285/.350, 100 runs, 60 RBIs and 40 steals. L.A’s best leadoff man since Brett Butler.
Ending speculation about his being platooned for the time being, Andre Ethier hits .260 against left-handers, and .300 overall.
Millions hold their breath every time Matt Kemp chases a teammate after a game-winning hit.
NL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez.
Clayton Kershaw’s earned run average balloons to 2.65 as he wins his second Cy Young Award in three seasons. Leads NL pitchers in sacrifices; wins a Gold Glove too. Kershaw’s greatest mark is made in the postseason, however, as all comparisons to Sandy Koufax are deemed not just on the table, but welcome, fair and very much appropriate.
NL West: Dodgers, Giants, Dbacks, Padres, Rockies.
NL Pennant: Dodgers.
AL Pennant: Rays.
World Champion: Dodgers.
Remember, glove conquers all….
It’s the 4th Annual Dennis Gilbert Spring Baseball Classic, it’s going on now through March 30 at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Compton, and you should support it if you possibly can.
The MLBYA is an MLB-run community space, with three main goals: to give kids a place to go – a good place to go – to stress academics, and to teach baseball. Additional academies have been built in Puerto Rico, Houston and New Orleans, with Cincinnati, Philadelphia and South Florida in the works.
Students from the following Los Angeles high schools are participating in the round-robin tournament: Dorsey, Eagle Rock, Fremont, Fulton Prep, Gardena, Hamilton, Hollywood, Jefferson, King-Drew, Maywood, Monroe, Roybal, Sotomayor, SOCES, South East, South Gate, Sylmar, University, Venice and Wilson. Wood bats are used.
You probably know Dennis Gilbert as baseball’s first “super-agent,” former Dodgers owner hopeful, and the guy who sits directly behind home plate at Dodger Stadium pretty much every night during the season. Here’s a bit more from the event press release:
“Gilbert played baseball at Gardena High School, Los Angeles City College and for four years in the minor leagues before launching a highly-successful career in the insurance business and as a sports agent. He is chairman and founder of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, which provides financial assistance to former baseball scouts in need. Gilbert also personally funded the baseball diamond at Los Angeles Southwest Community College, which has been used by the local program of Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI). He serves on Major League Baseball’s Salary Arbitration and Player Development committees, is special assistant to Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, and is an active board member and supporter of the MLB Urban Youth Academy.”
The tournament began Thursday, and my apologies for getting this to you late. The remaining schedule is below.
Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy, El Camino College, Compton Center (west of football field) 901 East Artesia Blvd. Compton, Calif. 90221, 310-763-3479.
Saturday, March 23
Hamilton vs. Sotomayor at Hamilton, 3 p.m.
University vs. Dorsey at Roybal, TBD
Venice vs. Roybal at Roybal, 3 p.m.
Monroe vs. Jefferson at UYA#1, 9 a.m.
South East vs. King-Drew at UYA#1, 11:45 a.m.
Maywood vs. Eagle Rock at UYA#1, 3:15 p.m.
Fremont vs. Fulton Prep at UYA#2, 12:15 p.m.
Wilson vs. University at UYA#2, 3:30
Monday, March 25
Hamilton vs. Jefferson at Hamilton, Noon
Eagle Rock vs. Fulton Prep at Hamilton, 3 p.m.
Wilson vs. Gardena at Roybal, 2:30 p.m.
South East vs. Roybal at Roybal, 6 p.m.
University vs. Dorsey at UYA#1, 9:30 a.m.
Maywood vs. Fremont at UYA#1, 12:15 p.m.
Venice vs. King-Drew at UYA#1, 3:30
Hollywood vs. Sylmar at Monroe, 10 a.m.
Monroe vs. Sotomayor at Monroe, 1 p.m.
Tuesday, March 26
SOCES vs. Hollywood at Hamilton, 10 a.m.
Hamilton vs. Monroe at Hamilton, 1 p.m.
Dorsey vs. Wilson at Roybal, Noon
King-Drew vs. Roybal at Roybal, 3 p.m.
Maywood vs. Fulton Prep at UYA#1, 9:30 a.m.
Gardena vs. University at UYA #1, 12:15 p.m.
Fremont vs. Eagle Rock at UYA#1, 3:30 p.m.
Jeferson vs. Sotomayor at Venice, 3 p.m.
South East vs. Venice at Venice, 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, March 27
Quarterfinals and Consolation games
Hamilton 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Roybal, Noon and 3 p.m.
Sylmar, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
UYA#1, 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
UYA#2, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.”
Friday, March 29
Semifinals at MLB UYA#1, 10:30 a.m. and #2, 10 a.m.
Saturday, March 30
Championship game and all-star presentation at Southwest College, Dennis Gilbert Field, Noon.
Updated: March 21, 2013, 10:01 a.m.
Setting aside the Hanley Ramirez World Baseball Classic thumb disaster for a moment, the Dodgers rushing Carl Crawford into action is the baseball equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s cutting off your elbow to spite your season, is what it is.
Crawford had his Tommy John August 23, 2012, and if the Los Angeles braintrust has its way he’ll be celebrating the seven-month anniversary of the surgery while playing left field in a Spring Training game, Dodgers vs. White Sox, Saturday at Camelback Ranch, 7:05 p.m.
The club’s stated goal for the former All-Star? To be able to hit the cutoff man. Repeat: If Crawford can hit the cutoff man, he’s good to go. And what could possibly go wrong?
Among the many reasons for my being as pissed as I am about the Ramirez injury – and you really don’t want to get me started – is that it’s robbed me of the line about Hanley being Crawford’s cutoff man on most plays, and that God only knows if the shortstop will be anywhere near position to take the throw.
So much for that. Ramirez jammed his left thumb diving for a grounder in the WBC final last night in San Francisco, in the rain, and is out two to 10 weeks. That’s the preliminary, anyway. We’ll know more in a few hours. I’m guessing four to six weeks.
Update: Ramirez will have ligament surgery; Dodgers say he’ll miss eight weeks. Prediction: They’ll have him back in seven.
With Ramirez out, the domino effect puts Luis Cruz at shortstop to start the season (which is fine in and of itself), with some combination of Juan Uribe, Jerry Hairston, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and even Elian Herrera at third. Except, Hairston and Schumaker are supposed to be playing some left for Crawford if he’s not on the Opening Day roster, and even if he is, for defense in the late innings, because hitting the cutoff man isn’t going to save you a ballgame.
And Hairston’s supposed to spell Andre Ethier against the occasional left-hander. And Schumaker’s supposed to give Matt Kemp – he of the surgically-repaired left shoulder – a day off every so often. And Schumaker’s supposed to play second for Mark Ellis against the occasional right-hander,or a lot of them. And Juan Uribe shouldn’t be a Dodger in the first place. Get the idea? It’s a bleeping mess, independent of Crawford’s health, not to mention Zack Greinke’s, which we won’t, or Chad Billingsley’s, which we won’t.
Every piece of a roster puzzle affects another. That’s just baseball, and all 30 clubs face the same challenges in preparing for a new year, give or take a few rehabs. They don’t all hurry their players along, fingers crossed and eyes closed, which is no way to drive the team bus. The Dodgers do. Not always, but more than enough for my comfort, and they’re doing it now with Crawford.
Sure, maybe he’s 100% and ready to face the Giants April 1 at Dodger Stadium. Maybe. Or perhaps they DL him for 15 days – or 30 – easing up on the pedal. But this business of Crawford’s hitting the cutoff man – which he may not even be ready to do consistently in a few days, much less weeks – is complete folly.
He’s got to be able to throw from the left field corner to second base on the fly. He’s got to throw from deep left center to third base to prevent the stretching of a double. He has to keep a runner from tagging up at second and going to third on a routine fly ball, and he’s got to throw a man out at the plate on a first inning single.
You can’t blame Crawford for doing his best to get out there asap, and if anything he’s to be praised for trying. But it doesn’t matter what the ballplayer says or wants. That’s what doctors are for. A trainer shouldn’t be making the call – not really – and to a lesser extent neither should a general manager trying to please all parties, nor should a skipper with six months to go on his contract. A physician – an objective conservative doctor – or better yet, doctors plural; should.
Here’s to hoping cooler heads prevail re Carl Crawford. Cooler, smartest-person-in-the-room, eight-years-of-medical-school-slash-specialty-training, no-agenda cooler heads. And the Dodgers will be better for it in the long run. In the short run too.
Updated: March 22, 10:48 p.m. In the immortal words of Roseanne Roseannadanna: “Never mind.”
Complain if you want to, but Ben Howland has earned another season. I won’t lose a ton of sleep if the UCLA coach is fired in a week or two, but given the turnaround from the last two campaigns, he’s done enough for a return engagement.
Following the Bruins’ disastrous 14-18 season of 2010-2011 with a 19-14, controversy-filled 2011-2012, Howland was in-and-out-heartbreak close to dismissal and being run out of town on a rail a year ago at this time. Instead, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero laid down the law, gave his man a year to redeem himself, demanding changes in almost every department, and for the most part got them.
Yes, Howland’s clubs still manage to either lose to or almost lose to inferior clubs early and often, in at times excruciating fashion. Yes, his players jumped ship again; and while Tyler Lamb was no star and Josh Smith a mass of frustration (emphasis on the mass part), a team simply cannot lose scholarship players mid-stream without it affecting the unit as a whole, let alone have enough bodies to participate properly.
I often wonder, when these kids come to his office prepared to bail, if Howland ever tries to smooth things over and actually asks them to reconsider. Ever. Like say, “we can work it out, please stay.”
But even with the early-season awful loss to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the near-loss to Irvine, even with the transfers – not to mention Shabazz Muhammad’s missing his team’s first three games due to suspension – even with all that and the struggles in various aspects of play, UCLA managed a season-changing 10-game winning streak from December 8 to January 16 and had a shot at a Pac-12 title despite losing three of its next four games.
And win in the conference they did. Say what you will about the Pac-12; RPI ratings or whatever; it’s always a goal to win the conference and it’s no small thing that UCLA got there. The Bruins won seven of nine to finish the regular season, beat Arizona a third time in the conference tournament, Howland had his team peaking at the exact right time, and let’s be honest, they were going to beat Oregon last night and head into the NCAAs on an almost unimaginable high.
If not for one misstep by Jordan Adams, which you can’t blame on Howland. You just can’t.
Look, this is no perfect coach we’re talking about here. Issues remain. I don’t know why Howland’s guys don’t use the glass like UCLA teams have for decades, I don’t understand the consistent ineffectiveness out of timeouts and not a one among us gets the timeout strategy generally.
Obviously there’s no excuse for Howland’s hurling his jacket into the stands last night, the technical which had to follow, and the two free points for the opponent, but at least there was some crispness on that one pass.
All that said, with Adams available UCLA was headed exactly in the right direction. After the last two seasons you couldn’t have asked for more. Not reasonably anyway. They’d have beaten the Ducks to finish 26-8, gotten a good seed to open March Madness at Salt Lake City, and quite possibly played their way to a Sweet 16. Or better.
You can’t fire the coach after 28 or 30 wins in a comeback season. You just can’t. Let’s see what happens with the crappier seed and draw. Maybe UCLA surprises with a win or two or three. Either way, Howland deserves one more year.
Dodger fans fretting over Matt Kemp can stop waiting for the other cleat to drop. He’s going to be absolutely fine. Panicking about Carl Crawford wouldn’t be a waste of your time, on the other hand, so if you’re a worrier, knock yourself out. Crawford’s your man.
But before we start throwing out the Grady Sizemore references, let’s give Crawford a break. The future Los Angeles left fielder had Tommy John surgery in late-August of last year, and while the comeback is easier for a position player, it’s no piece of cake for anyone.
Crawford is less than seven months out, has experienced some discomfort in the elbow, been shut down, and has resumed activity with hitting in recent days. Swinging a lot in batting practice first, with “live pitching” (which is a great term) as the next hurdle, and he’s scheduled to DH in a minor league game today.
If all goes well, Crawford can then begin to throw. Which means any talk of his making the Opening Day roster is beyond optimistic. There’s absolutely no way. May 1st is a good target date, but don’t be surprised if it’s June 1st. If all goes well.
Zack Greinke is doubtful for the opener too, so again, if you want to worry, please do. Worry hard, actually. L.A.’s number two starter hasn’t had surgery ala Crawford – and his MRI showed no structural damage – but he has had a PRP injection, been given anti-inflammatory medication and will need to start over with his spring program, almost from square one.
Missing a start with the flu earlier, Greinke has pitched all of five innings of exhibition ball, and playing catch is his next assignment. That’s right; playing catch. The Dodgers haven’t ruled him out to follow Clayton Kershaw versus the Giants to begin the season, but I certainly have. Count on Greinke staying behind for “extended Spring Training” in Arizona, with a mid-April or early-May debut in Dodger Blue.
Oh, and re Crawford, prepare for the proverbial “the-pain-isn’t-in-the-area-of-the-surgery” phrase to be uttered at some point. Then look at your elbow – in fact, do it now – look at your elbow. It’s not that big; if there’s pain in the elbow, there’s pain in the area that was cut on.
But Matt Kemp is going to be fine. And dandy. An “abundance of caution,” as someone called Kemp’s approach to his March work, is a good thing. The smart and responsible way to go, and if the Dodgers best player carries that attitude into the season, more power to him.
Perhaps a second’s hesitation and Kemp plays a ball off the wall instead of crashing into it, when there is little chance of making the catch in the first place. And he stays in the lineup because of it. Or a feet-first slide into a bag instead of exposing that surgically-repaired left shoulder to God-knows-what. The right way to go for sure.
A thesaurus is a handy thing. A Microsoft Office search of the word “careful” brings up hesitant, watchful, thoughtful, guarded, wary, restrained, circumspect and prudent, all of which are wonderful as applied to the L.A. center fielder. The antonym reckless is telling too.
So Kemp takes his game a tad slower for the time being. It’s absolutely a good thing. Perhaps he struggles at the plate for the first week. BFD. Maybe he struggles for a couple weeks or a month even.
Whatever the stats early, it doesn’t matter. Worry all you like about Crawford. And the team is going to lose some games they wouldn’t with Greinke on the mound, so worry about him. But Matt Kemp is going to be fine. Cautious, yes. Hesitant, yes. But absolutely fine.