Baseball Notes: LA Dodger Blue
The Dodgers have been on my mind a lot this year as Mike Piazza enters the Hall of Fame and I listen to the audiobook Pedro about the life and career of Pedro Martinez who came up through the Dodgers System.
The Dodgers have a very good track record of bringing up prospects through their system and an even more impressive history of those prospects excelling in their rookie years. Jackie Robinson was the very first MLB Rookie of the Year in 1947, then they had NL rookies of the year in '49. '52, '53, '60, '65, '69 before they had amazing runs of rookies of the year and top prospects in the early '80's and the early '90's. From '79 to '82 they had NL Rookies of the Year of Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela, and Steve Sax and from '92 to '96 they had Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth. In the '90's there were publications that thought if Paul Konerko was called up early enough in '97 he could have been the 6th straight ROY for the Dodgers, but he barely played as a 21 year old.
My first memory of Mike Piazza was from the first month of '93 when I was playing wiffleball in my neighbor's back yard. As we would come up to bat we would play as different MLB's and say "I'm Ken Griffey Jr." before turning around to bat left handed after batting right handed as Cal Ripken. I was getting later in my lineup when I got to my catcher and I announced "I'm... uh, I'm... you know the new catcher for the Dodgers, " blank faces from my neighbors, "he has a name I don't know, wait a second," and I ran off from the makeshift home plate, ran through the woods to my house why I dug up the Sunday paper to find the weekly stats, found Piazza's name and ran back where my playmates were oddly patient as I ran back and said in a huff "It's like Pizza, but it's not!"
Little did anyone know how impressive his career would be and he would even have a song named after him by the Scottish band Belle and Sebastian that asked "Piazza New York catcher are you straight or are you gay?" and he would also find himself in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately Piazza ended up leaving L.A. before he expected because the Dodgers refused to sign him for what he was worth and traded him away and he left with a sour taste in his mouth.
Another player that got ROY votes for the Dodgers in the early '90's was Pedro Martinez, who came up through the minors with Piazza. I've been listening to the audio-book of "Pedro" that Martinez wrote about his life and career and one of the best stories I have heard so far (I'm about halfway through) was of his very first appearance in the majors, a game he wasn't supposed to play in. His brother Ramon Martinez who was a star in the rotation at the time was struggling in a start. Pedro was frustrated earlier in the game because he had been called up but not given a chance to get into a game for over a week so he let off some steam by throwing in the bullpen. Ramon was getting into trouble so the manager called to the bullpen to have a veteran lefty warm up to get into the game, but that lefty had been drinking all game and was a cranky drunk so he told them to put someone else in. Pedro was the only pitcher who was warm in the pen so he was put in the game. He was so frustrated by the situation that he threw the game ball with calligraphy on it out of the stadium from the field. Pedro later left the team frustrated with Dodgers management like Piazza did and excelled on the teams he went to afterwards.
This year, the Dodgers are right in the thick of the playoff race leading the wildcard and just two games back in the NL West. They have lost their all-world ace Clayton Kershaw, Carl Crawford has played himself off the team, and Yasiel Puig isn't traveling with the team because he's either being sent down or traded. Hyun-jin Ryu, Brett Anderson, and Alex Wood have been absent from their rotation with injuries and future ace Julio Urias hasn't been dominant and is back in the minors but they're still in it and making trades at the deadline. Today they picked up Rich Hill, Josh Reddick and Jesse Chavez to bolster the rotation, outfield and bullpen.
Their makeshift rotation has been stabilized with Brandon McCarthy and Kenta Maeda, and the bullpen has had very few weaknesses. Twenty-two year old Corey Seager has been the star of the lineup as Adrian Gonzalez has hit for average but not as much power and Justin Turner and Joc Pederson have hit for power but not average. Howie Kendrick has moved from his natural position of second base to the outfield because of the inabilities of Andre Ethier, Crawford, Puig, and Trayce Thompson's more recent trip to the DL.
It might be that they're putting wins together with pure will to win or that the DBacks, Padres and Rockies are stinking up the division enough that the Dodgers are getting away with a better record than their team's output dictates, but they are taking advantage of whatever anomaly fits them best.