December 2015

From 2015 to 2016: Do you hear what I hear?

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

Somewhere in the opaque, decaying memories of my brain, I can hear fans cheering at Dodger Stadium.

The year was 2015. The Dodgers were National League West champions, and they had taken the lead in the first inning of the deciding game of their first postseason series.

For all that had gone wrong, for all the preseason and midseason and even postseason plans chipped and broken, all this had gone right. Los Angeles was eight innings and eight games from winning a World Series.

Against all expectations, the Dodgers were peppering the superb Mets right-hander, Jacob deGrom. After Howie Kendrick lined out to start the bottom of the first inning, rookie shortstop Corey Seager hit the first of four consecutive singles, and Dodger Stadium was electric.

I don’t know how much longer that memory will last. Already, it’s mostly theoretical. I’m not actually hearing the cheering. I just know the cheering was there, and I’m projecting that sound inside my head.

* * *

Now in my brain, I hear bickering. Not muffled. Loud and clear.

It’s not surprising that we bicker. We’re a family, we Dodger fans. The bickering drives everybody crazy, but it doesn’t stop.

We all want the best. And yet, back and forth during the offseason … They don’t know anything. But they think they know everything! 

We’re not only second-guessing methods, we’re questioning intentions.

I’m done with you people. 

Doors slam.

You just don’t understand. 

Windows shatter.

Just listen to me!

Houses explode. Family is complicated, man.

* * *

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Let Vin Scully into your brain, and you’ll hear, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” You’ve heard him say it a dozen times, if not a hundred.

Here’s something else I’ve heard a dozen times this offseason, if not a hundred: “What is the Dodgers’ plan? Do they even have a plan?”

So, I see that, and I scratch my head, because the Dodgers have stated their plan, over and over and over again. Here’s one of a dozen times, if not a hundred.

“We’re tasked with doing everything we can to put ourselves in position to win a World Championship this year, while maintaining the position to sustain success over the long haul,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said early this month.

That’s a plan. No, no — that is a plan.

In greater specifics, the plan included steps to maintain and improve the pitching depth. Most notably, three things went awry. The bidding for Zack Greinke went beyond the parameters of the plan. Then, when problems cropped up before finalizing other potential acquisitions, they broke apart. (This happens every year, occasionally played out front and center in the news, often in private, never to be known.)

In short, the Dodgers made a plan, and Scully can tell you what happened next.

When things don’t go according to plan, one of two things happen. People get angry, or people regroup and move forward.

For the Dodgers, the plan remains in place, with new efforts to execute it (most recently in the signing of Scott Kazmir) because the alternative is to operate just the way you’d doubt the most  — without any foresight at all.

Now you can argue that the Dodgers should have done X or Y or Z. That the Dodgers haven’t done so doesn’t mean they don’t have a plan, or philosophy, or strategy. It doesn’t mean they have given up on 2016 or any year.

My plan is to raise my kids as people with decency and the opportunity to do whatever they possibly can with their lives. Will it be successful? I can only hope. It involves a dozen things going right, if not a hundred.

That’s true even though 29 other families raising children with decency and opportunity doesn’t prevent the same for mine.

* * *

In the end, people hear what they want to hear, and see what they want to see.

Focus on the second half of Joc Pederson’s season and the first half of Chris Hatcher’s, and despair. Do the opposite, and hope. Take in their entire seasons, and you have an open mind, knowing that baseball is predictable and unpredictable at once.

The open-minded make the quietest sound. Maybe they’re the bass players of the band, stagehands at the spectacular, librarians at the gates.

For some — for more each year since 1988 — being a Dodger fan is all or nothing. But all or nothing is a fraught way to live, especially when all or something is a true alternative. You don’t have to sacrifice your dreams to take pleasure in smaller victories. The goal remains the same.

I believe in the all or something.

* * *

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Somewhere in my brain, unleashed like a can hissing open, I hear the crackle of the cleats on Camelback grit, and picture the stream of ballplayers old and young ambling through the low February sun to their morning stretch in Arizona. I hear the pop — that astonishing, glorious pop — of ball into glove.

I’ve said this before, but I don’t miss baseball in the winter. The season is long and grueling and intense, and the break — a relatively short break, three months vs. nine — is welcome. I’m in no hurry to get back to baseball, because I know baseball is coming fast.

Then that crackle and pop arrives, and they are blessed sounds, sounds of serenity, sounds that, at least for a short while, tend to muffle all worries. It’s temporary. It fades into the grind that scrapes its way through spring all the way to fall.

Elation and deflation will do battle in 2016, as they do every year. So will the forces of belief and doom. Like the train rolling out in “The Music Man,” it will all begin again. Ya can talk, ya can talk, ya can bicker ya can talk, ya can bicker bicker bicker, ya can talk, ya can talk.

Line drives will be snagged, dribblers will roll into glory. The odds will prevail, until they don’t, until they do again.

It’s a game, though we take it seriously. It’s a game we invest our days, our years, our lives in.

It is not a game for the thoughtless. It’s a game for the dedicated. It’s a game that fans, players, coaches and executives stake their lives to.

And why?

To hear those cheers. At least for a moment. Hopefully for an eternity. Loud and clear, and never-ending.

One more look at the 1965 Dodgers

1966 yearbook cover

Having spent this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1965 World Series champion Dodgers — review all the posts here — I thought I’d take one last look at the season through some selected pages of the 1966 Dodger yearbook.

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Dodgers are all right with lefty Kazmir

The Dodgers are Scott Kazmir's sixth team. Here are three of them (Getty Images)

Scott Kazmir is joining his sixth MLB team. Above are three of them. (Getty Images)

leftoriumBy Jon Weisman

Though Scott Kazmir potentially gives the Dodgers an all-lefty starting rotation, the newest Dodger isn’t your usual southpaw.

Over the past two seasons, right-handed batters have a .643 OPS against Kazmir. That’s the seventh-best figure in baseball for lefties, just ahead of Madison Bumgarner. (Clayton Kershaw, not surprisingly, is No. 1, while Alex Wood and Brett Anderson are in the top 15.)

“Kaz is a guy who’s got a very balanced split,” Dodger general manager Farhan Zaidi said in a conference call with reporters today, shortly after the Dodgers announced the acquisition of the soon-to-be 32-year-old. “His best pitch is his changeup, which really neutralizes righties. He’s not a lefty in the conventional sense.”

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Farhan Zaidi comments briefly on Aroldis Chapman

During a conference call with reporters today about the Scott Kazmir signing, Dodger general manager Farhan Zaidi was asked about Aroldis Chapman, who was traded by the Reds this week to the Yankees. Here was his reply …

“We obviously, around the time when this down around the winter meetings, didn’t want to comment, and even now I’ll keep my words fairly brief,” Zaidi said. “This is the one time I’m going to comment on it, because we’re talking about a player on another team’s roster. We did come to an agreement in principle (to acquire Chapman), but as (additional) details came to light, we just weren’t comfortable making the move. Every situation is different, every organization has to make their own decision about it. We made the decision based on the information that (was) at hand, we stand by it and we move on.”

— Jon Weisman

Dodgers sign Scott Kazmir

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

By Jon Weisman

Three-time All-Star left-hander Scott Kazmir has signed a three-year deal with the Dodgers.

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Happy 80th birthday, Sandy Koufax

1966_recordBy Mark Langill

Sandy Koufax, the man who never grew old on the baseball field, celebrates his 80th birthday today. The 2016 season will be the 50th anniversary of the iconic pitcher walking away at the top of his game because of health concerns, specifically arthritis in his left elbow.

Born on December 30, 1935, the Brooklyn native joined the Dodgers as a “bonus baby” in 1955 because of a rule requiring any player receiving a signing bonus greater than $4,000 to be carried on the Major League roster. Without the benefit of minor league experience, Koufax learned his craft at the highest level but struggled with inconsistency. Koufax went 36-40 from 1955-60, testing the patience of manager Walter Alston. His breakthrough occurred in the spring of 1961, when catcher Norm Sherry suggested he work on controlling the ball instead of focusing on velocity.

In 1966, Koufax posted a 27-9 record and 1.73 ERA and won his third Cy Young Award in an era when only one pitcher was selected among the two leagues. He led the National League in ERA for five consecutive seasons from 1962-66, and his record during that span was 111-34 with 1,444 strikeouts in 1,377 innings, 33 shutouts and 100 complete games. The two-time World Series MVP retired with four career no-hitters, including the only perfect game in franchise history in 1965. That was the same year Koufax became the only pitcher to post at least 300 more strikeouts than walks in a season (382 strikeouts, 71 walks).

At his press conference, Koufax said he had no regrets from his 12 years in the Majors, but “could regret one season too many.”

Koufax’s decision to retire triggered the fall of a Los Angeles dynasty that began with a World Series championship in 1959, a heartbreaking loss to the Giants in a 1962 playoff, championships in 1963 and 1965 and another National League pennant in 1966. Without Koufax and the traded Maury Wills and Tommy Davis, the 1967 Dodgers finished in eighth place with a 73-89 record, 28 1/2 games out of first place.

When Koufax became the youngest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, two of his contemporaries were still active with their original teams – Bob Gibson (Cardinals) and Juan Marichal (Giants).

But the lasting image of Koufax pitching at full strength for a pennant contender might havve changed, had Buzzie Bavasi had his way after leaving the Dodgers as general manager in the summer of 1968 to become president of the National League expansion San Diego Padres. Bavasi toyed with the idea of offering Koufax a one-year, $100,000 contract to come out of retirement and pitch for the Padres. He never had the chance because Koufax technically was still property of the Dodgers, having been placed on the voluntary retired list after the 1966 season.

Sometimes the good guys win

By Cary Osborne

On a recent December evening, I was on the phone with a man who I hold in high regard, so his words mean a lot to me.

During the conversation, he congratulated me for an accomplishment and said five words that resonated with me: “Sometimes the good guys win.”

The good guys.

I thought about that.

I realized by him calling me one of the good guys he saw more in me than I thought. And though I’ve failed him at times, he remembered my victories more than my losses.

And that’s truly how I feel when I look back at the Dodgers in 2015.

I think of the good guys and how they won.

It would be easier to think of loss when thinking about the Dodgers because that’s how their season ended and that’s how many people look at recent events for the team.

My experience is different.

I watched guys who I’ve grown to like not as players, but people, succeed.

I look at Justin Turner and what he’s become — not just on the field, but off it.

After the 2013 season, he was non-tendered by the New York Mets. Essentially, he was fired by the Mets because they had no use for him.

He came to the Dodgers a non-roster invite to Spring Training camp in 2014.

In the last two years, he has statistically been one of baseball’s best third basemen. He had a bobblehead this year. And it would be hard to find a fan who doesn’t cheer for him when he comes to the plate.

Turner plays hurt, is friendly and giving of his time and so hard not to like. On top of all that, he is one of the most active Dodgers in the community, having made hospital visits on gamedays, he has participated in charity events of different types and is always, always smiling.

It’s safe to say that by establishing himself as the Dodgers everyday third baseman in 2015, Justin Turner won.

So did J.P. Howell.

By Howell deciding to exercise the option year on his contract instead of becoming a free agent, it tells you right there how big his heart is for Los Angeles and the Dodgers. But then, it’s not all that surprising.

Howell is approachable, happy, fun and positive.

He’s been a significant influence on Dodger relievers, but specifically on Kenley Jansen who he treats like a brother. He checks in on Kenley, counsels him and shows him how to become a better big leaguer.

Howell is charitable and is a good husband. He and wife Heather created an inspirational nonprofit called Discover Your Path to help youth stay on the right path.

Not only did Howell have another fantastic season, he made this play that still drops my jaw:

J.P. Howell had major shoulder surgery in 2010 to repair his labrum. He’s not big and he doesn’t throw fast. But those haven’t held him back from becoming one of the best left-handed relievers in the game.

I can’t not bring A.J. Ellis into this conversation.

When the Dodgers acquired Yasmani Grandal, it spelled the end of Ellis’ everyday role behind the plate.

And yet, it never changed Ellis’ approach and preparation.

On days when Ellis didn’t start, I would always see one thing or the other.

Ellis would either be dripping with sweat because he was working out, hitting or getting other baseball work done, or he’d be in the video room studying or preparing pitchers for that day’s game.

That’s A.J.

And when Grandal was hurt in the second half, Ellis stepped right in and was one of the best offensive catchers in the Majors.

During the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, I made my way down to the back of the field level section behind home plate. It was the same exact place I stood two years earlier when Jansen got the last three outs of the NLDS to send the Dodgers to the NL Championship Series. Maybe I felt there was still some magic left in that area.

Ellis was the second batter of the ninth and he struck out swinging. Then Jeurys Familia struck out Howie Kendrick and the Dodgers lost.

That’s all some people will take from 2015.

Not me.

I have a different takeaway.

I think of what that man said to me on the phone. Five words. And I can be content with this season.

The Dodgers who hit ’em the hardest in 2015

By Cary Osborne

Which Dodgers hit the ball the hardest in 2015?

According to baseballsavant.com, the answer is Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal.

Pederson’s average exit velocity was 92.00 miles per hour.

On May 5, he hit a lineout off Matt Garza that left his bat at 114 mph, his hardest-hit ball all season.

The above 441-foot home run by Pederson on May 2 was fed by a 94.7 mph fastball by Evan Marshall and went bleacher bound at 111 mph.

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The Dodgers’ best 30 plays of the second half

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 4.09.28 PM

By Cary Osborne

Back in July, we gave you the best plays of the first half of the season. Let’s close the book with the top plays of the second half.

Going through many plays, a couple things stand out. Man, Joc Pederson covers a lot of ground in center field. Man, I still scratch my head watching that play where the fan tried to take the ball away from Adrian Gonzalez. And don’t try top steal home on Clayton Kershaw.

Enough of my commentary, just enjoy …

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Ultimate presents: Most valuable Dodger memorabilia

Kirk Gibson's 1988 World Series jersey. Photo: SCP Auctions

Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series jersey. Photo: SCP Auctions

By Cary Osborne

What is the most valuable piece of Dodger memorabilia?

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