Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Juan Marichal

Although there were some noticeable specks of grey in his hair and he had a few wrinkles around his eyes and on his forehead, his proud, beaming face was easily recognizable.

His 37-year old body looked as fit as in years past, except for the makings of a slight paunch around his midsection.

And, most noticeably, he still had his greatly exaggerated high-leg kick pitch delivery that a few have attempted to duplicate but no one has been able to replicate.

Yet, Juan Antonio [Sanchez] Marichal just didn’t look right.

For one thing, he was wearing number 46 on the back of his jersey instead of his usual number 27. For another thing, he was now hurling pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers instead of at them. And finally, and perhaps most exasperating, opposing batters were digging in and teeing off against him when they normally would have been ducking and running for cover.

Looking to fill a void in their starting rotation, the Dodgers signed Marichal to a one-year, $75,000 free agent contract prior to the 1975 campaign, even though the veteran right-hander was coming off an injury-plagued season.

Unfortunately, the gamble did not pay off.

Marichal made just two starts for Los Angeles, yielding nine runs on 11 hits and five walks while striking out just one batter in a mere six innings of work. His earned run average was a staggering 13.50 and his record was 0-1. Opposing batters hit an eye-popping .407 against him with a Ruthian slugging percentage of .704.

Clearly, he was no longer the same pitcher.

Not by a longshot.

Rooting for Marichal didn’t feel quite right, either. After all, this was the man who as a member of the San Francisco Giants 10 years earlier clubbed Dodger catcher John Roseboro with a baseball bat in one of the ugliest, most violent incidents in the history of the game.

Roseboro sustained a bloody two-inch gash and a large lump to his head during the fracass, while Marichal received a slap on the wrist: an eight-game suspension and a $1,750 fine.

Marichal claimed he retaliated after Roseboro had knicked his ear on a return throw to Koufax.

Roseboro sued Marichal for $110,000, but settled out of court years later for $7,500.

A native of Laguna Verde of the Dominican Republic, Marichal pitched in the major leagues for 16 seasons for three different teams, but it is as a member of the hated Giants that he will be remembered. In his career, he won 243 games and lost 142 for a sensational winning percentage of .631, while his ERA was a sparkling 2.89. He always appeared to be at his best when pitching against the Dodgers. He had a 37-18 lifetime mark against Los Angeles with an ERA of 2.36. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Jay Johnstone

There's absolutely no way that they'd make it a thought-provoking, tear-jerking documentary.


Chances are if some Hollywood movie studio ever decides to purchase the rights to Jay Johnstone's life story, they would make it a knee-slapping, side-splitting, fall-out-of-your-chair-laughing animated cartoon.

Ten-to-one odds says that everyone's favorite lovable prankster, Bart Simpson would be chosen for the lead role. Bart is a dead ringer for Johnstone. He even has Johnstone's toothy smile.

As you probably know or perhaps guessed by now, Johnstone was a completely zany, off-the-wall character, who simply loved to play practical jokes on his unsuspecting teammates.

He pulled off a number of infamous pranks during his playing days, including placing a soggy brownie inside Steve Garvey's first base mitt, cutting out the crotch area of Rick Sutcliffe's underwear, dressing up as a groundskeeper and sweeping the Dodger Stadium infield in between innings, and replacing the celebrity photos in Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda's office with pictures of himself, Jerry Reuss, and Don Stanhouse.

Johnstone was also a pretty darn good hitter. But, that wasn't always the case. At least, not at first.

After seven big league seasons, Johnstone sported a rather pedestrian .245 career batting average. The most troubling and frustrating part of his game, was his lack of consistency with the bat. He was as reliable as a local weatherman suffering from dyslexia or an alcoholic with amnesia.

In 1972 Johnstone batted .188 in 107 games for the Chicago White Sox and was subsequently waived.

Ironically, baseball's funny man had been laughed out of the league. His career appeared to be over at the age of 27.

And then the unexpected happened.

Baseball's clown finally started taking the game seriously. During the winter of 1972, Johnstone worked with a batting coach and began the slow and tedious process of remaking what would later turn out to be a picture perfect line drive swing. A veritable workaholic, he seemd to spend every waking moment hitting tennis balls off a tee.

Unfortunately, Johnstone did not see immediate results at the big league level, batting just .107 in 28 games for the Oakland A's in 1973, and was released once again.

However, Johnstone would not be out of work for long.

His hard work, dedication and preserverance eventually paid off. In the ensuing four years, he batted .295, .329, .318 and .284 for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Johnstone was not surprised by his new found success. "You see, the more you practice, the more you can do things without thinking about it," Johnstone explained at the time. "And when you can do it, react without thinking, you cut down on the time it takes the brain to send messages to the parts of your body that has to react. And that little minute time makes all the difference."

A native of Manchester, Connecticut, Johnstone was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Los Angeles Angels in 1963. He played in the big leagues for parts of 20 seasons with eight different teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers twice from 1980 to 1982 and again in 1985.

[1] Girodano, Paul. "Constant Work for Johnstone." Bucks County Courier Times, (Pennsylvania, March 21, 1977, A15.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mike A. Marshall

His reputation for refusing to play with insignificant injuries and minor maladies was well-deserved.

Believe it or not, he once missed a game because of general soreness.

Wait, it gets worse.

Are you ready for this?

He was also sidelined for some time with, of all things, a wart.

No, I am not kidding.

Well, at least, he didn't sit out a game because of a paper cut or a case of the hiccups.

His lack of tolerance for pain was legendary.

The words "Fragile -- Handle With Care" should have been stitched prominently across the back of his jersey instead of his last name.

He was more brittle than a China Doll.

His bones appeared to have the density of eggshells.

Ok, I am starting to get a little sarcastic.

To absolutely no one's surprise and everyone's complete frustration, Michael Allen Marshall played in only 1,035 games over 11 big league seasons, averaging just 94 games per year.

When healthy, however, Marshall posted solid power-hitting numbers during the pre-steroid era. He hit 20 or more home runs three times and knocked in 80 or more runs twice. His best big league season was 1985 when he batted .293 and set career highs in home runs with 28 and RBI with 95 in 135 games.

Nicknamed "Big Foot" because of his size-14 shoe, Marshall was selected by the Dodgers in the sixth round of the 1978 amateur draft. He won the Pacific Coast League Triple Crown and was named Minor League Player of the Year in 1981 after hitting .373 with 34 home runs and 137 runs batted in for Triple-A Albuquerque. During his 11 big league seasons, Marshall played for the Dodgers, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox before wrapping up his career with the California Angels in 1991.

Yet, for all of Marshall's achievements in baseball, his claim to fame may be that he dated Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Gos briefly during the mid 1980s.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Al Campanis

As the old saying goes, "Life is not always fair."

Unfortunately, a brief moment in time can ruin a life's work.

Just take Alexander Sebastian Campanis, for example.

He is best remembered for his controversial remarks on the half-hour television show "Nightline," rather than for his many accomplishments in baseball during a career that spanned over 40 years.

On April 6, 1987, Campanis agreed to appear on Ted Koppel's show "Nightline" to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier.

Campanis' life would never be the same again.


During the interview, Campanis shocked Koppel and the entire world with his response to questions about continued prejudice in baseball.

Campanis said, among other things, that blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager."

The next day Campanis issued an apology, but it was a little too late.

Nothing could save Campanis from the media frenzy that suddenly surrounded him.

At the request of Dodger President Peter O'Malley, Campanis resigned the following day.

Sadly, Campanis' brief appearance on "Nightline" transformed how others would perceive him.

He would now be viewed as a racist.

Ironically, during Campanis' 44 years as a player, scout, manager and executive in the Dodger organization, he was considered anything but a racist.

"He did more for black players, more for Latin players, than anybody," Tommy Lasorda would later tell the press.

"In all the years I've known him, I've never heard him say one racist thing, ever." added Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, "He didn't have a racist bone in his body."

Born in Greece, Campanis came to the United States when he was just six years old. He graduated from New York University in 1940 and entered the Navy shortly thereafter.

He had a brief stint with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, appearing in just seven games and batting .100, collecting two hits in 20 at bats.

He also played shortstop for the Montreal Royals in 1946 when Jackie Robinson broke into organized baseball as the Dodger farm team's second baseman.

As a scout, Campanis signed such notable black ballplayers as Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente and Tommy Davis, a two-time batting champion.

Appointed as the club's general manager in 1968, Campanis guided the Dodgers to four National League Pennants and a World Series title in 1981. But tragically all of his achievements would be overshadowed by his racially charged remarks on "Nightline."

Camapanis' life came to an end on June 21, 1998. He was 81.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Fernando Valenzuela

It was the day prior to the start of the 1981 season and the Los Angeles Dodgers' pitching rotation was decimated by injuries.

Jerry Reuss was hobbling with a strained left calf muscle, Burt Hooton was sidelined with an ingrown toe nail, Bob Welch was out with bone spurs in his right elbow, and Dave Goltz had a pulled groin.

Usually cheery and tremendously upbeat, Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda must have been feeling truly blue over the state of his starting pitching.

With no one else healthy enough to turn to, the Dodger skipper named Fernando [Anguamea] Valenzuela to start the season opener.

At first, it appeared to be an act of desperation, a move of last resort.

Sure, the chubby 20-year old rookie southpaw from Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico, had pitched extremely well during his brief trial at the end of the preceding season, winning his only two decisions and hurling 17.2 scoreless innings. But, he had never started a game in the big leagues and had just a year and a half of minor league experience under his rather large belt.

Upon reflection and hindsight, however, Lasorda's decision turned out to be a stroke of sheer brilliance.

Valenzuela was simply sensational in his Opening Day start, tossing a complete game, five-hit shutout as Los Angeles beat the Houston Astros, 2-0, before a crowd of 50,511 at Dodger Stadium.

He displayed the confidence and poise of a grizzled veteran.

"He wasn't one bit nervous," noted Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia at the time. "He's so cool out there. I don't think he even broke a sweat."

"He may be 20," Astros' manager Bill Virdon conceded, "but he pitches 30."

And he didn't stop there. He went on to lead the Dodgers to a world championship that season, winning the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards along the way, after posting a 13-7 record, 2.48 earned run average, while pacing the league in strikeouts (180), innings pitched (192.1), complete games (11) and shutouts (8).

The key to Valenzuela's success was his devastating screwball, a pitch he quickly mastered under the tutelage of teammate Bobby Castillo.

"It took Carl Hubbell all his life to perfect a screwball,"Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray once remarked. "Fernando picked it up between tacos."

Valenzuela pitched in the major leagues for 17 seasons with six different teams. But, he will always be remembered as a Dodger and in particular for the spectacular start to his career and the no-hitter he pitched on June 29, 1990 against the St. Louis Cardinals.

[1] Heisler, Mark. "Valenzuela's the Survivor ... and the Starter." Los Angeles Times, April 9, 1981, E1.
[2] Heisler, Mark. "Dodgers Put Welch on Hold." Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1981, 11.
[3] Heisler, Mark. "Did They Tell Him that Batting Practice Was Over?" Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1981, E1.
[4] Murray, Jim. "Fernando Has the Figure for Astros: 0." Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1981, E1.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sid Fernandez

Anyone who took the time to review his brilliant minor league numbers in the early 1980s must have thought he was the second coming of Dodger great Sandy Koufax.

In 1981 at age 18, he dominated the rookie-level Pioneer League, posting a 5-1 record and a 1.54 earned run average while fanning 128 batters in 75.2 innings.

The following season, he breezed through the Class-A Florida State League with an 8-1 won-lost mark, a 1.91 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 84.2 innings before earning a promotion to Triple-A.

And in 1983, he toyed with Double-A hitters, registering a 13-4 record and a 2.82 ERA while whiffing 209 batters in 153 innings.

Among the many highlights of his three minor league seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers' organization, included striking out 21 batters in a single game twice and hurling two no-hitters, a one-hitter and four two-hitters.

But, unfortunately, the Dodgers appeared to be more concerned with Charles Sidney Fernandez' ever-expanding wasitline than they were impressed by his minor league statistics.

They didn't think "El Sid" was the next Koufax.


Instead, they thought he was the second coming of the the Michelin blimp or the Pillsbury doughboy.

So, they peddled their chunky left-hander to the New York Mets during the winter of 1983 for Carlos Diaz, a left-handed relief pitcher, and Bob Bailor, a utility infielder.

In hindsight, this turned out to be a horrendous deal for Los Angeles. Diaz and Bailor were both out of baseball by the 1987 season, while Fernandez went on to pitch another 14 years in the big leagues, winning 114 games, losing 96 and posting a respectable 3.36 ERA.

His best season was 1986 when he set career highs in wins with 16 and strikeouts with 200 for the world champion Mets.

Although his fastball wasn't considered especially fast, Fernandez was extremely difficult for batters to hit. He led National League pitchers in fewest hits allowed per nine innings in 1985, 1988 and 1990. His career 6.82 hits per game ratio ranks fourth best all-time, behind Nolan Ryan, Koufax, and Pedro Martinez.

Fernandez pitched in just two games as a Dodger during the tailend of the 1983 season, striking out nine batters in only six innings of work, but yielded seven hits, seven walks and four runs and was charged with a loss.

[1] Nightingale, Dave. "Super Smoke: Super Prospect Fernandez May Have Climbed Too Fast." The Sporting News, August 2, 1982, 41 and 44.
[2] Gammons, Peter. "'84 Rookie Crop Looks Good." The Sporting News: 1984 Baseball Yearbook. TSN, 1984, 115-120.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Tom Niedenfuer

"A relief pitcher is like a safecracker," longtime philosopher and Los Angeles Dodgers' manager Tommy Lasorda once noted. "Not everybody can go in and crack safes. Most people would be scared to death. You get into enough of those situations and it begins to take its toll."


To be successful, a relief pitcher must have the ability to bounce back quickly from failure.

He must be blessed with an abundance of nerve and intestinal fortitude.

He must be able to forget easily.

Unfortunately, Thomas Edward Niedenfuer had the resiliency of the Dodo Bird, the nerve and intestinal fortitude of a scarecrow, and the memory of an elephant.

Niedenfuer simply couldn't get over, nor forget the devastating and gut-wrenching, game-winning gopher balls he served up to the St. Louis Cardinals' Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark in consecutive games during the 1985 National League playoffs.

In the five seasons prior to those playoffs, Niedenfuer yielded a mere 19 home runs in 344 innings, for a home run ratio of one every 18.1 innings pitched. But, in the subsequent five years, those numbers more than doubled. From 1986 to 1990, he allowed a staggering 41 four-baggers in 309 innings, for a ratio of one blast every 7.5 innings.

Unfortunately, not only did Niedenfuer lose a couple of playoff games to the Cardinals in '85, he also lost his confidence in the process.

A native of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, Niedenfuer signed with Los Angeles as an amateur free agent in 1980. He played in the big leagues for 10 seasons with the Dodgers, Orioles, Mariners and Cardinals.

Ironically, his best season was with the Dodgers in 1985 when he posted a 7-9 record and 2.71 earned run average while registering career highs in saves with 19 and strikeouts with 102 in 64 games.

[1] Crowe, Jerry. "'Bullpen Burnout,' A Common Ailment in Major Leagues." Baseball Digest, August 1987, 33-38.