YKI is trying hard not to get excited about the potential for a Wild Card (Dodgers are 5.5 games back as of today). . .but thus is baseball, with hope springing eternal, the fat lady not quite singing yet and there still being a sliver of hope until you’re officially mathematically eliminated.
YKI was discussing the 2010 Laissez-faire Dodgers with The Count last night during Billingsley’s workmanlike shutout of the Giants. In this outlandishly lackluster season, the annual topic of Is Chad Billingsley an Ace Yet arose. . .and while it was pleasing to see the final result, Chad’s quotes after the game displayed yet again why his talent belies the fact that he really never can be a genuine Ace. The always reticient Bills, when asked if he changed anything mechanically, replied, “Same mentality.”
Nothing wrong with a consistent approach, but an Ace needs to have fire, an Ace needs to say something like “the bullpen is tired. I knew I was going to need to give seven, eight, or all nine. I wanted to compete and give these guys a night off. I haven’t been pitching like I should, and it’s time to step it up.”
As YKI has noted consistently, it’s the lack of a killer instinct that keeps Billingsley from really dominating hitters game after game after game. . .
That said, maybe this is the game Chad needed to figure it out. Maybe this pitcher that relies so much on confidence has a performance he can recollect when he’s grinding in August. Maybe he’s going to rediscover the fact that his stuff makes him an Ace, and he needs the mentality to match.
Or maybe we’ll just keep having this conversation. . .
Thank you Bill Shaikin at the L.A. Times, excerpts from the article on the Dodgers (McCourt Ownership) hiring a 71-year old Russian psychic from Boston to HELP OBSERVE AND EVALUATE THE DODGERS AND OPPOSING TEAMS. WOW.
Frank and Jamie McCourt quietly hired a Russian emigre who calls himself a scientist and healer to ‘think blue’ and channel his thoughts toward the team’s success as he watched them play on TV.
The most curious figure to emerge in the Dodgers’ drama answers the door with a kindly smile and a hearty handshake. He motions toward the living room, where his wife has put out a spread of chocolate and fruit, coffee and tea.
Vladimir Shpunt, 71, lived most of his life in Russia. He has three degrees in physics and a letter of reference from a Nobel Prize winner.
He knows next to nothing about baseball.
Yet the Dodgers hired him to, well, think blue.
Frank and Jamie McCourt paid him to help the team win by sending positive energy over great distances.
In the five years he worked for the Dodgers, he attended just one game. Instead, he watched them on television in his home more than 3,000 miles from Dodger Stadium, channeling his thoughts toward the team’s success.
Shpunt’s work was one of the best-kept secrets of the McCourt era. The couple kept it hidden even from the team’s top executives. But from e-mails and interviews, a picture emerges of how the emigre physicist tried to use his long-distance energy to give the Dodgers an edge.
Shpunt could not transform a bad team into a good one, Cohen said, but his energy could increase the chance of winning by 10% to 15%.
But Bert Fields, an attorney for Jamie, said the Dodgers paid Shpunt a stipend, plus a bonus of “certainly six figures and even higher” depending on whether the Dodgers won the National League West title and how far the team advanced in the playoffs.
On Sept. 26, 2008 — one day after the Dodgers clinched the National League West championship and their third playoff berth in five years of McCourt ownership — Frank was jubilant.
“Congratulations and thanks to you and vlad,” Frank e-mailed Cohen. “Also, pls pass along a special ‘thank you’ to vlad for all of his hard work…. This organization and this community will benefit a long time from our continued success. Thanks again.”
At one point, Shpunt also tried to heal a player. In 2005, Jamie referred outfielder Jayson Werth to him for treatment of a wrist injury, after Werth had told her of his interest in alternative medicine, according to Cohen and representatives for Frank and Jamie.
More recently, Werth appeared startled when asked whether he had worked with a healer named Vladimir while with the Dodgers.
“Where’d you hear about that?” Werth said. He declined to talk about it.
On Oct. 2, 2004, Steve Finley capped the first season of McCourt ownership by hitting a walk-off grand slam, clinching the Dodgers’ first playoff spot in eight years.
“The miracle finish … was the result of V energy,” Cohen wrote in an e-mail to Jamie. “Frank was privileged to actually feel the energy.”
Cohen also wrote that Shpunt had “diagnosed the disconnects” among Manager Jim Tracy, General Manager Paul DePodesta and the team’s pitchers and catchers.
“Your general manager destroyed last year’s team,” the e-mail read, “and put together a group of players that could not be a team and could not win.”
Cohen further conveyed Shpunt’s critical assessments of outfielders Milton Bradley and J.D. Drew and said Shpunt had identified Tracy as the “final reason for failure.”
Grossman said Shpunt had been “introduced to the Dodger organization as someone who had the ability to observe the team, observe opposing teams and provide evaluations of performance of areas and strength and weakness.”
McCourt fired DePodesta after the season, three weeks after publicly backing him when Tracy and the Dodgers parted ways. Grossman said Shpunt’s evaluations did not persuade McCourt to fire DePodesta or to cut ties with Tracy or any player.
The relationship between Shpunt and the Dodgers lasted through the ’08 season, after which Jamie asked him for help with matters separate from the team, Cohen said.
For the full story, please read Bill Shaikin at the L.A. Times.
Andre Ethier did it AGAIN last night, walking-off this time with a grand slam versus the Brewers. As YKI peruses the NL leaderboard, something stands out – Andre Ethier is leading the NL in all of the Triple Crown categories. A bit premature to project, but after his Silver Slugger (and league-leading 8 walk-off hits) in 2009, Andre Ethier may very well be the best offensive producer on the Dodgers.
(Moneyballers delight in .OPS, VORP & Zone Rating, but the fact is baseball has been defined throughout eras by its leaders in the tangible categories, those non-esoteric yet crucial & weighty determinants of a batters’ effectiveness.)
|1. A Ethier LA||.371|
|2. R Braun MIL||.360|
|3. J Werth PHI||.354|
|4. D Freese STL||.348|
|5. R Theriot CHC||.341|
|Complete Avg Leaders|
|1. A Ethier LA||10|
|2. K Johnson ARI||10|
|3. M Reynolds ARI||9|
|4. J Heyward ATL||8|
|5. C Utley PHI||8|
|Complete HR Leaders|
|1. A Ethier LA||30|
|2. J Heyward ATL||26|
|3. J Cantu FLA||25|
|4. A Pujols STL||25|
|5. M Reynolds ARI||25|
Though a great find, Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times buried the story of the day for the Dodgers, as Ned Colletti ripped into the team, specifically Matt Kemp.
“I talk to Joe [Torre] all the time. He understands my position and my frustration level,” said Colletti. “I grabbed a couple of players one on one and let them know I’m not satisfied with their approach. It’s not an easy game, and when you think you’ve mastered it and you can take it easy and walk to your position and not hustle, the game catches up to you. And some guys think they’re better than they are and they think the opposition will roll over and get beat by them. That just doesn’t happen.
“We lost two of three to Cincinnati, we lost two of three to Washington, we lost two of three to Pittsburgh. No offense to those clubs, but we’re better than they are. It’s frustrating. We can continue to work at it and talk it through, but at the end of the day they’ve got to execute it.”
“It’s below average. The baserunning is below average, the defense is below average. Why is it? Because he got a new deal? I can’t tell you,” Colletti said of Kemp. “But it’s below average.
“If this was the last day of the season and you were voting for Gold Glove, his name would not be on the ballot. It’s a shame to go from where he was, to where he was a year ago, and to revert back to, when the ball goes up in the air, you’re not sure where it’s going or if it’s going to get caught. It’s not right.”
YKI has been particularly disenchanted with the club this year, as the McCourt Divorce Cloud will continue to create a milieu of paranoia, dissatisfaction & distraction. The team is playing very underwhelming baseball, and though the pitching is at fault, the chemistry is just not apparent. Kemp is a wonderful ballplayer but his continuous bad jumps in center can not be made up for by his natural tools, and those same tools cause negative havoc with his questionable decision-making on the base paths.
I think Colletti is very accurate in his comments, if not expressing the underlying frustration of not being able to spend money due to the McCourt regime’s constraints and stipulations. It’s going to be a long season in the Ravine, and hopefully the situation will be sorted sooner rather than later. . .or else the kids are going to be wayward, and fans will continue to be frustrated.
Now that all teams have officially had their home openers, the MLB season is officially underway – analysis is ongoing and predictions are rejiggered. From a macro-perspective, YKI won’t attempt to make copious observations, but one thing is becoming evident: despite initial predictions of the Rockies running away with the NL West crown, the team that’ll win the West will undoubtedly be the the San Francisco Giants.
Ouch – Dodgers fans and L.A. sports loyalists have already begun to cower, especially with the increasing security issues at Dodger Stadium clouding an already nebulous season at Chavez Ravine. The divorce has been discussed ad nauseam, the pitching was such that Vicente Padilla started opening day, and though the offense is rolling – the ethereal ‘mojo’ that is so important over the course of a baseball season is non-existent, unless one is referring to the ONE HUNDRED & THIRTY-TWO PEOPLE THAT WERE ARRESTED AT DODGER STADIUM ON OPENING DAY.
Its still early, so I’ll make this short: in the post-steroid era, Good Pitching Beats Good Hitting. Let’s have a quick precap of the Giants’ Guns:
Tim Lincecum: Unorthodox, undersized, doesn’t ice his arm, meddling father, arrested for weed possession and just plain overwhelmingly dominating. Two Cy Youngs in three years. Beat that.
Matt Cain: A right-handed, tall version of Lincecum (minus the weed). Dominating.
Jonathan Sanchez: Young, nasty left-hander with a no-hitter on his resume (last year) and 17 K’s (in 12 innings) in his pocket. Gnarly stuff would make him an Ace-in-the-making on a ‘normal’ pitching staff.
Barry Zito: “my. Boy. BARRY!“is proving once again why he was a Cy Young Award winner, and earner of that monstrous, $126mm contract in 2006. While many Giants fans consider him an albatross, he is clearly comfortable (finally) in SF, and since the 2nd half of 2009, recovered his old form – making him the only Ace in the league that holds down the 3 spot in a pitching rotation.
Now, there is still the pesky issue of a medicore bullpen, but closer Brian Wilson is strong enough to finish games, and deserves the ‘closer’ moniker in the true sense, as opposed to say, the Jeff Shaw/Brian Fuentes/Eddie Guardado Closer that received the role by default and was somehow labeled as such.
Offensively, special things are happening with this team. Pablo Sandoval is still raking. Edgar Renteria can still hit. Aubrey Huff is doing the job. And while they wait for uber-prospect Buster Posey to arrive from Fresno, Bengie Molina continues to win over fans and critics. And perhaps most scary, Aaron Rowand is Kirk Gibson – a football mentality, hard-nosed outfielder that plays balls-out, and though numbers don’t indicate his value, is a stalwart in the middle of that offense.
In short, this team has arrived earlier than planned, and they will continue to scrap out victories in 3-2, 2-1, 2-0 fashion. The Giants are here, and they will win the West.
As fans of the Dodgers wallow in the misery that is the McCourt Divorce proceedings – accompanied by a 2-4 start on the road versus the woebegone Pirates and payroll-challenged Marlins – there is respite in the looming despair: Opening Day, 2010. With an abundance of talent and numerous question marks about the state of the Organization, YKI flashes back to the years of yore, with photographic memories of my childhood and the Dodgers.
Opening Day is a time of hope and positivity toward the future and nostalgic leanings to the past, and here I present some of the images that in these times of $15 parking, $70 Loge seats & $12 beers, still make it so difficult to be objective about the Organization that produced so many good memories in my household.
I generally don’t go out of my way to pick up a USA Today unless I’m traveling. But while at Whole Foods after work today I grabbed today’s copy; lo and behold, Bob Nightengale has a more-access piece on Frank McCourt splashed across the front of the Sports Section. Keep in mind, this is the preeminent national newspaper in the United States – the Dodgers owner’s divorce is front page news nationally. Harumph.
Besides touting the reliable and in-depth www.dodgerdivorce.com, Nightengale uncovers such gems as this from Hall of Fame Dodgers broadcaster Jamie Jarrin: “Frank has been a very good owner, but people in the community worry his personal problems can affect the team.”
McCourt, predictably, defends his position thusly: “This is not San Diego.” As in, the Padres, who had their own in-house divorce mess that has left the Padres bereft of talent (outside of Adrian Gonzalez), fans and cachet. On the other hand, he admitted to personal struggles:
“It’s tough. I’m not going to lie to you,” he says. “It’s a very, very sad thing. Nobody wants to go through this privately, never mind publicly.\”But in L.A., so much of it is about drama. L.A. is so much about personalities. It’s just how the city functions. This is a juicy story for people until it’s not juicy anymore. Then, they move on to somebody else’s story.”
and here’s where it gets utterly bizarre:
“Tiger Woods was fantastic for me.”
Fantastic that he wiped you off the front page? It’s logical, even respectable on a subersive level but did McCourt really need to go public with that? Interesting that he has adopted the Los Angeles persona enough already that Image really his paramount in his world.
Regardless, the numbers are alarming, and I quote from Nightengale: If the divorce indeed has no bearing on the club’s operations, critics suggest, how to explain the Dodgers’ shrinking payroll? It was $118 million in 2008. This year, without deferred payments, it will be about $83 million — about $12 million less than the rival San Francisco Giants. According to Forbes, the Dodgers’ annual revenue are about $241 million, compared with the Giants’ $196 million. The decreasing payroll is starting to resurrect fan concerns from when McCourt bought the team from Fox. The McCourts originally tried to buy the Boston Red Sox. When they bought the Dodgers, the perception was that they were underfinanced.
Sidenote from YKI: The Count & I split season tickets with our friend Jim C., great location in the Loge, right behind the visiting dugout – fifth row up; the price has increased each year under the McCourt regime to last year’s outlandish $50/game price, enough for me to seriously consider not re-upping. When I went to pick up this year’s selection from my Dad, I was aghast – the printed ticket price is $70/ticket. Yes, SEVENTY DOLLARS FOR A DODGER GAME, and I’m not even on the field level. A 10% increase I can understand, but this is 40%. And McCourt leaves the payroll the same? Unbelievable.
McCourt’s constant defense mechanism continues to be his defense of the young talent, as if retaining guys that are not full-on free agents yet is a big achievement. The trio of two-year contracts he gave out to the homegrown studs wasn’t nearly comparable to the Rays or Rockies long-term outlook. The best part, and the scariest for Dodger fans is his Polyannish conclusion (and kudos again to Nightengale for just excellent framing of the story):
“Our mission is to win the world championship, too. And we’re 100% committed to doing that.
“I know how people like drama, but ironically, there’s just not a lot of drama with this team. Everything is very stable and quiet here.
“Really, it couldn’t be better.”
*incidentally, the oft-interesting USA Today ‘Snapshot’ in the bottom left corner featured the question: “What is America’s Favorite Sport?” For the record, 35% NFL, 16% MLB, 12% College Football, 9% Auto Racing, 5% NBA. The results would be definitively different – if not completely reversed – here in Los Angeles, as everything Laker-oriented is golden, and the lack of a professional football team phases nobody.
Bill Dwyre of the L.A. Times writes a great piece on Vin Scully’s scare the other night, reminding us yet again how fortunate we are to be living in the Age of Vin.
Vin Scully is OK, making all of us OK
It is late Friday morning, and our hearts have started beating again.
The dreaded words were right there in the morning paper: ” Vin Scully hospitalized.” It happened so close to deadline that the story could not satisfy the axioms of journalism and say what, why and how.
Now we know. He fell at home and hit his head. But he is OK. The good news got out there quickly. It marks the first time we have been happy for the existence of the Internet.
And then it hits us. Would any other member of the Dodgers — any other member of any sports franchise in Los Angeles — be deemed so important that a newspaper felt compelled, and correctly so, to print a man-enters-hospital story with no other details?
The answer is no.
Scully is a franchise treasure, a community treasure. No need to stop there. If you are even a tiny bit of a sports fan, he is a national treasure.
He is also 82, and even though his 82 is the new 67, when he hits his head, the rest of us gasp.
His reaction will be embarrassment at the attention this gets. Our reaction, since this is all about us and his several million fans, is to mandate that he now wear a helmet around the house. He’ll get a chuckle out of that and go looking for one of those old leather jobs from the Red Grange era with no facemask.
He will never quite understand what he means to the rest of us because he cannot. He is the one inside that skin.
But if anything happens to him, the void is too huge for comprehension. If we had our way, there would be a fountain of youth and Scully would have John Wooden, who may know more baseball than basketball, as his broadcast sidekick. That might be the only tandem that would work, because, as current Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner has so often and so aptly pointed out about Scully’s go-it-solo broadcasts, “Poets don’t need straight men.”
Think of what we would miss as we navigate our tangled web of freeways during the baseball season.
Scully starts a story as the batter comes to the plate. The stories are almost always new, always fascinating. As the tale unspools, we focus harder, praying somewhere deep within ourselves that the pitcher has the decency to throw a couple in the dirt and the hitter has the good sense to take some pitches, or at least swing and miss. We don’t care about the game at that very moment. We want no interruption to Scully’s story.
We’ve even thought about asking our old friend Bud Selig to help. Hey Bud, how about some sort of little buzzer that will go off on the plate and the mound when Scully starts telling a story? Then, under penalty of fine from the commissioner’s office, the pitcher is ordered to walk off the mound and go to the rosin bag. After that, the hitter must re-tie both shoes and return to the dugout for a new bat.
The once redheaded Scully was born of Irish immigrant parents and still wears the old sod like a comfortable nightshirt. One of his best friends over the years was The Times’ late and great columnist Jim Murray, who also had the Cliffs of Moher embedded in his face.
Listening to the two of them talk over a cup of coffee was like watching Koufax pitch or hearing Pavarotti sing. The stories were marvelous, some of them even true. The occasional blarney made one thirsty for a swig of Guinness.
The joy with which they interacted was a pleasure to behold. Nor did either comprehend what the rest of us have known forever: That reading Murray was like eating whipped cream, and listening to Scully is the same.
Peter O’Malley, who used to own the Dodgers and whose vintage is such that he thinks of Cork first as a county rather than something capping a bottle of wine, reacted with relief.
“Vinny’s genuine, 14 karat,” O’Malley said. “He’s as good as a friend as he is behind the microphone.”
When Murray died and a memorial service was planned for Dodger Stadium, the list of speakers included the equivalent of an American sports who’s who. In the group were Jerry West, Al Michaels, Al Davis, Chick Hearn, Chris McCarron and Scully. The dilemma for the memorial service planners was who would bat cleanup. Quickly, it was determined there was no dilemma.
So when Scully stepped to the plate to wrap things up, looked to the heavens and told the audience that it was the kind of day that Murray would have appreciated because it was “what the Irish call a soft day,” there were no dry eyes.
Scully will do his first spring game from Arizona on Sunday. Dodgers versus Cleveland Indians. The score won’t matter. The voice giving it to us will.
We remained blessed.