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.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Manny Mota

Manuel Rafael [Geronimo] Mota was a poolshark with a baseball bat.

He had such great bat control that it seemed like he could place a pitched ball thrown from a variety of angles and at different speeds wherever he pleased.

Overhand fastball? He would hit a linedrive whizzing past the pitcher's head and into centerfield.

Sidearm curveball? He'd loft it just over the outstretched mitt of a leaping second baseman and into rightfield.

Nasty changeup? He'd smash a grounder past the glove of a diving third baseman down the leftfield line.

Okay, you get the picture.

And as baseball's premier pinch-hitter during the 1970s and perhaps all-time, Mota always seemed to come through with the game on the line.

A lifetime .304 hitter, he batted .314 with runners in scoring position, .316 with men on base, and a cool .375 when the bases were loaded.

"There aren't many hitters that can do what Manny can do," noted former Los Angeles Dodgers' manager Walt Alston. "As long as I've known him, he has hit better as a pinch-hitter than as a regular. He thrives on pressure."


"I have just one thing to say about him," the usually loquacious Tommy Lasorda once said. "Mota spelled backwards is 'atom.'"

And, appropriately enough, Mota was the Dodgers' secret weapon; a man who played only when it mattered most and was capable of blowing a game open with one swing of the bat.

A native of Santo Domingo of the Dominican Republic, Mota played in the big leagues for 20 seasons with four different teams, including the Dodgers from 1969 to 1980 and 1982.

He batted .300 or better 11 times in his career, including six straight seasons. But, he never came close to collecting the sufficient at bats to qualify for a batting crown.

He finished his career with 150 pinch-hits, and was only recently surpassed by Lenny Harris as baseball's all-time pinch-hitter.

However, Mota will forever be remembered for his pinch-hit double off the Philadelphia Phillies' Gene Garber with two outs in the ninth inning and the Dodgers trailing by two runs on October 8, 1977 during Game X of the National League Championship Series.

[1] Tosches, Rick. "Mota tough in pinch for slumping Dodgers." The Daily Herald, (Chicago, Illinois), August 11, 1979, Section 2, page 4.
[2] Murray, Jim. "Nobody Knows Manny -- Except the Pitchers." Los Angeles Times, September 22, 1971, E1.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Darren Dreifort

He was the posterboy for the American Medical Association.

Doctors throughout the country knew him on a first-name basis.

He was more injury-prone than Wile E. Coyote.

He spent more time in the training room than he did on the baseball diamond.

Okay, you get the point.

Arguably, no one in the history of sports suffered more severe and devastating injuries than Darren James Dreifort.

No one.

"He has not done well as far as connective tissue," Dr. Frank Jobe once noted.

Yeah, no kidding.

By the time Dreifort hobbled away from the game of baseball at the age of 33, he had undergone a total of 15 surgeries for injuries to his elbow, shoulder, knees and hips.

However, Dreifort was not upset about how his career turned out.

"But what the heck can I be mad about,'' Dreifort once asked. "I've done what I can to get out there.''

He was also paid an enormous amount of money.

After posting a 12-9 record and a 4.16 earned run average in 2000, Los Angeles Dodgers' General Manager Kevin Malone rewarded Dreifort with a five-year, $55 million contract. In return, Dreifort made a mere 26 starts and 60 relief appearances and missed the entire 2004 and 2005 seasons.


A native of Wichita, Kansas, Dreifort played in the big leagues for parts of nine seasons, all with Los Angeles, and registered a 48-60 won-lost record and a 4.36 ERA in 274 games.

He was selected by the Dodgers with the second overall pick in the 1993 amateur draft after a brilliant career at Wichita State.

The first player chosen in the draft? An 18-year old shortstop by the name of Alex Rodriguez.

Double ouch!

[1] Gurnick, Ken. "Notes: Dreifort Has Torn ACL." MLB.com, August 17, 2004.
[2] -----. "Right-hander Recovering from Surgeries Last Fall." ESPN.com, May 1, 2005.
[3] Thompson, Art III. "Dodgers lose Dreifort for season." The Orange County Register, August 18, 2004.
[4] Lutz, Bob. "Fed up with the pain, Dreifort calls it quits." Wichita Eagle, February 23, 2006.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Kevin Pasley

Only two players in baseball's long and storied history have the distinction of belting a home run in their final big league at bat and having their uniform number retired.

Yep, just two.

Well, sort of.

The first player to accomplish these unique feats is baseball legend Ted Williams. The "Splendid Splinter" hit home run number 521 of his Hall of Fame career on September 28, 1960, off the Baltimore Orioles' Jack Fisher at Fenway Park in his final big league at bat. His uniform number 9 was subsequently retired by the Boston Red Sox.

The other player?

Why, it's none other than Kevin Patrick Pasley.


A right-handed hitting catcher, Pasley played in the big leagues for parts of four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Seattle Mariners.

On October 1, 1978, Pasley hit his first and only home run of his big league career off the Texas Rangers' Fergie Jenkins in what turned out ot be his final official at bat.

And, on July 6, 1980, Pasley joined "Teddy Ballgame" in one of baseball's most exclusive clubs when the Dodgers finally retired uniform number 4; the number donned by Pasley in 1974 and 1976 to 1977 and, of course, Hall of Famer Duke Snider from 1947 to 1962.

[1] -----. "Home Run in Last At Bat." Baseball Almanac
< http://baseball-almanac.com/feats/feats18.shtml >
[2] Hoffer, Richard. "A Couple of Giant Problems Are Solved." Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1980, D1.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Tripp Cromer

All of those who witnessed Los Angeles Dodgers' Roy Bunyan (Tripp) Cromer III belt a three-run, opposite-field home run deep into the right field bleachers in a game at Dodger Stadium against the San Francisco Giants on June 10, 1997 must have raised an eyebrow or two in complete and utter amazement.

And if eight days later, some of those same people saw Cromer smack two more home runs in a game against the Florida Marlins at spacious Pro Player Stadium they must have wondered whether Cromer's new found power was chemically enhanced by illegal drugs.

After all, Cromer was not, by any stretch of the imagination, blessed with eye-popping, jaw-dropping, herculean strength.

He was the prototypical "good field, no hit" middle-infielder.

He had not hit a home run in the big leagues in two years.

And, now, all of a sudden he's swatting home runs like Babe Ruth?

Come on!

Dodger manager Bill Russell was so impressed by Cromer's power hitting display that he started calling him Roy Hobbs after the lead character in "The Natural."

Surely, Cromer must have bulked up by using some illegal steroids, performance-enhancing drugs or growth hormones.

Perhaps, Jose Canseco, the steroids dispensing, juiced-up vagabond slugger with the cartoonish superhero physique, injected Cromer in the buttocks with 'roids.

Or, maybe Cromer scored illegal substances from one of Barry Bonds' BALCO buddies.

Cromer just had to be juiced.

How else can Cromer's surprising home run hitting feats be reasonably and rationally explained?

But, all you needed to do was take one look at the 6-foot-2, 165 pound South Carolina native, to realize that the homers were indeed legitmate.

The only thing Cromer was guilty of was being too skinny.

He was so skinny that he could hide behind the foul pole and not be seen.

He was so thin that the Dodgers were hesitant to play him at San Francisco's Candlestick Park for fear that the strong winds would blow him far, far away.

Clearly, Cromer did not a cheat.

Cromer was originally selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round of the 1989 amateur draft. He made his major league debut with the Redbirds in 1993 and was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers on October 10, 1996.

After beginning the 1997 season in the minors, Cromer joined the Dodgers in the middle of June. By July, he had replaced Rookie of the Year hopeful Wilton Guerrero as the club's starting second baseman. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, Cromer suffered a season ending injury.

He played briefly with the Dodgers again in 1998 and 1999, and with the Houston Astros in 2000 and 2003.

[1] Springer, Steve. "Cromer and Homers." LAT, July 23, 1997, C1.
[2] Springer, Steve. "Los Angeles Dodgers: Youngsters Making Big Contributions." TSN, July 21, 1997, 20.
[3] Springer, Steve. "It's back to basic for rookie Guerrero." TSN, August 18, 1997, 33.
[4] Springer, Steve. "Worrell's problems cloud bullpen picture." TSN, September 15, 1997, 48.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Otis Nixon

He had a mug that only a mother could love, and legs that often made catchers want to kick the dirt and scream out a few choice expletives in frustration.

Make no mistake, Otis Junior Nixon wreaked havoc on the basepaths.

He ranks 15th on the all-time list with 620 career thefts.

He swiped 30 or more bases for 12 straight seasons, including a high of 72 with the Atlanta Braves in 1991.

And, he once pilfered six bases in a single game to set the National League record and tie the American League mark.

Nixon credited his mother for his blazing speed. "I got some of it [genetic] wise from my mother, she was a runner," Nixon said. "She ran until she was 42 years old. She played basketball and ran track." He added, "It took me until I was probably in the 9th or 10th grade before I beat her myself. She could flat out run."

Like mother, like son.

Although Nixon had a face you desperately wanted to forget, his speed was undeniably unforgettable.

A native of Columbus County, North Carolina, Nixon was selected by the New York Yankees in the first round of the secondary phase of the 1979 amateur draft. He played in the big leagues for 17 seasons with nine different teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1997.

The 39-year old Nixon was acquired by the Dodgers from the Toronto Blue Jays during the heat of the pennant race for a minor league catcher by the name of Bobby Cripps. Nixon played well during his limited time in Los Angeles, batting .272 with 12 steals in 42 games. However, the club finished in second place, two games behind the division winning San Francisco Giants.

[1] Loving, James. "Sports Notes." <http://www.nationalradio.com/sports10.html>
[2] -----. "Dodgers Acquire OF Nixon from Blue Jays." <http://www.canoe.ca/StatsBBM/BC-BBM-LGNS-TORLOSDEAL-R.html>

Monday, May 22, 2006

Rudy Law

Rudy Karl Law was one of the quickest players in the game.

As they say, he had speed to burn.

Yet, one of the major knocks on him when he played with the Los Angeles Dodgers was that he had poor instincts as a base runner.

But, he was so incredibly fast that he was able to steal bases on pure talent alone.

"He's awkward, unorthodox," Dodger teammate Davey Lopes noted at the time. "I don't know of any other base runner like him. He hasn't developed the art of base running and maybe he doesn't have to. Some guys don't, if they have speed like he does."

Defensively, Law was adequate at best in the outfield. He did not always get good jumps on flyballs, but could often make up for mistakes with his outstanding speed. However, his arm was a major liability and enemy runners would routinely take extra bases against him.

At bat, Law was a Punch-and-Judy hitter with virtually no power. He made his living putting the ball in play and trying to leg out grounders for base hits.

A native of Waco, Texas, Law was signed as an amateur free agent by the Dodgers in 1975 and made his major league debut three years later.

After a blazing spring in 1980, Law was the Dodgers' Opening Day starter in center field and was a regular until midway through the season. He was hitting .286 with 27 stolen bases at the All-Star break, but shortly thereafter wound up in Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda's doghouse. Nevertheless, Law ended up batting .260 on the season with 40 steals, a Dodger rookie record.

Law's days in Los Angeles were numbered. During the winter of 1980, the Dodgers acquired center fielder Ken Landreaux from the Minnesota Twins. As a result, Law was shipped back to the Albuquerque Dukes, the club's Triple A affiliate.

"If it wasn't for my wife, I probably would have quit after the Dodgers sent me to Albuquerque," Law told the press. "It was a low point. But she helped motivate me, kept me going."

On March 30, 1982, the Dodgers peddled Law to the Chicago White Sox for minor leaguers Cecil Espy and Bert Geiger.

Law played four seasons with the White Sox before finishing up his career with the Kansas City Royals in 1986. He batted a career high .318 in 1982 and stole a career high 77 bases in 1983.

[1] Hoffer, Richard. "The Big Surprise in Center Field." LAT, April 29, 1980, D1.
[2] Holtzman, Jerome. "Now, Rudy's Law: Get it done--fast." Chicago Tribune, September 13, 1983, C3.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rex Barney

He couldn't find homeplate with a road map.

He couldn't throw the proverbial pea in the ocean.

He couldn't hit the side of a barn with a baseball if his life depended on it.

Yes, Rex Edward Barney was wild.

He was so wild that whenever he pitched the fans in the first 10 rows behind homeplate should have been required to execute release and waiver of liability forms. At a minimum, they should have been equipped with full catching gear for protection.

He was also fast.

Very, very fast.

Some old-timers say he was the fastest pitcher in the history of the game. New York Yankee great Joe DiMaggio said Barney was "faster than Bobby Feller in his prime." Others claimed Barney was faster than Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan.

Unfortunately, the flamethower's career went up in smoke when he was just 25-years old. During his final major league season, Barney walked 48 batters in 33.2 innings. That's an average of 12.8 free passes per nine innings.

Despite years of trying, he was never able to solve his control problems.

Barney pitched in the big leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers for parts of six seasons (1943, 1946-1950). He finished his career with a 35-31 won-lost record and a 4.31 earned run average. His best season was 1948 when he won 15 games with a 3.10 ERA, and tossed a no-hitter against the hated New York Giants at the Polo Grounds on September 9th.

After his playing days were over, Barney became a radio and television broadcaster in the New York and Baltimore markets. He took over as the full-time public address announcer for the Baltimore Orioles in 1974 and became famous for his calls of "Thank youuuu" and "Give that fan a contract."

In 1989 he was inducted into the Brooklyn Dodgers' Hall of Fame.

He died on August 12, 1997, at the age of 72.

[1] -----. "Former Dodgers Pitcher Rex Barney Passes Away." SLAM! Baseball, August 12, 1997. <http://www.canoe.ca/StatsBBM/BC-BBM-LGNS-REXBARNEY-R.html>
[2] Daley, Arthur. "Sports of the Times: Returned to the Factory for Repairs." New York Times, April 11, 1950, 35.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Bobby Darwin

After years of struggling as a pitcher and with his baseball career on the verge of extinction, the player evolves into an outfielder and finally becomes a success.

It's Darwinism at its best.

And, appropriately enough, it describes the baseball career of Arthur Bobby Lee Darwin.

A Southern California native, Darwin made his major league debut with the expansion Los Angeles Angels in the final game of the 1962 season. Only 19-years old, Darwin pitched poorly, yielding eight hits and four walks in three-and-one-third innings and was charged with the loss.

Clearly overmatched by big league hitters, he was sent back to the minor leagues for more seasoning.

In the ensuing years, Darwin pitched for Honolulu, Stockton, Elmira, and Spokane, before finally making it back to the big leagues in 1969 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But, once again, he failed to impress as a pitcher, registering a 9.00 earned run average in three major league games with the Dodgers.

Shortly thereafter, Darwin decided to end his career on the pitching mound and begin his career at the plate. Instead of trying to challenge hitters, he was going to challenge pitchers.

It didn't take long for Darwin to make the adjustment. He was back in the big leagues with Los Angeles during the middle of the 1971 season. In 11 games, he collected five hits in 20 at bats, including his first major league home run, a pinch-hit three-run blast off Chicago Cubs' left-hander Juan Pizarro.

On October 22, 1971, the Dodgers traded Darwin to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder-catcher Paul Ray Powell.

His career blossomed in Minnesota as a left-handed hitting outfielder. During a three-year strech from 1972 to 1974, he belted 22, 18 and 25 homers, while knocking in 80, 90 and 94 runs.

Darwin went on to play for the Milwaukee Brewers, Boston Red Sox before finishing up his career with the Chicago Cubs in 1977.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Clem Labine

Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals was one of the game’s greatest hitters. During his brilliant career, he collected 3,630 hits, belted 475 home runs and batted .331. He was a seven-time batting champion and a three-time Most Valuable Player.

Yet, time after time, there was one pitcher who made "The Man" look like a helpless, overmatched little league hitter.

His name? Clement Walter Labine.

Simply put, Labine owned Musial.

A right-handed pitcher, Labine thoroughly dominated the left-handed hitting Musial.

Incredibly, at one point in his career, Labine retired Musial 49 straight times.

49 times!!!

However, Labine's success wasn't limited to just Musial. He did a pretty good job of getting other big league hitters out, too.

A native of Lincoln, Rhode Island, Labine pitched in the big leagues for 13 seasons with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and the expansion New York Mets. He finished his career with a 77-56 won-lost record, 3.63 earned run average, and 96 saves in 513 games. He was on world championship clubs with the Dodgers in 1955 and 1959, and the Pirates in 1960.

Although primarily a relief pitcher during his career, Labine is best remembered by Dodger fans for his 10-inning shutout in Game 6 of the 1956 World Series against the New York Yankees.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Eric Davis

All the stories in the sports pages that November day in 1991 talked of his tremendous ability, his special skills as a ballplayer.

"I believe this brings to our ballclub one of the outstanding talents in the game today," Los Angeles Dodgers' general manager Fred Claire said at the time.

Needless to say, optimism was high in Dodgerland when the club acquired outfielder Eric Keith Davis and a minor leaguer from the Cincinnati Reds for pitchers Tim Belcher and John Wetteland.

In his prime, Davis could do anything and everything on a baseball field. He was a five-tool player, who could hit for average, hit for power, run, field, and throw. He was a natural.

A southern California native, Davis was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the eighth round of the 1980 amateur draft. He made his big league debut in 1984 and was a regular by 1986, batting .277 with 27 home runs and 80 stolen bases. He had his finest season in 1987, batting .293 with 37 home runs, 100 runs batted in, 120 runs scored, and 50 stolen bases in just 129 games.

He was a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove award winner.

He won a world championship with the Reds in 1990.

At the time of the trade, the only blot on Davis' otherwise impeccable resume was that he couldn't stay healthy. His body always seemed to be breaking down. He had never come close to playing a full season.

In trading for Davis, the Dodgers were gambling that the 30-year old outfielder would bounce back from a 1991 season in which he hit .235 with 11 homers and 33 RBI in just 89 games.

The gamble did not pay off.

Hampered by injuries, "Eric the Red" did not play well wearing Dodger blue. In nearly two full seasons in Los Angeles, Davis played in just 184 games and batted a combined .232 with 19 home runs and 84 RBI.

The Dodgers finally cut off ties with Davis on August 31, 1993, shipping the injury-prone slugger to the Detroit Tigers for a player to be named later.

As expected, the press weighed in on this trade just as it had done so when the Dodgers acquired Davis from the Reds some 21 months earlier. This time, however, the stories spoke of his unrealized potential, his failed expectations as a Dodger.

Davis went on to play for the Reds again, the Baltimore Orioles, the St. Louis Cardinals, before wrapping up his career with the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

[1] Plaschke, Bill. "Dodgers Bring Davis Home." LAT, November 28, 1991, C1.
[2] Downey, Mike. "Potential Never Was Realized." LAT, September 1, 1993, C1.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Terry Forster

Through the years, many great hitters have laced up their spikes and played the game of baseball. Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial are just some of the names that come to mind.

Those were guys who could really swing the lumber around the old ballyard.

But, who do you think has the highest lifetime batting average among players with a minimum of 15 years of major league experience?

No, it's not one of the legendary batsmen mentioned above.

Give up?

Believe it or not, it's none other than Terry Jay Forster.

Yep, "the big fat tub of goo" as he was called by comedian David Letterman in the early-to-mid 1980s is baseball's all-time leading hitter for average.

How is this possible, you ask?

Well, as a relief specialist, Forster seldom ventured up to the plate. But, when he did, he was a virtual hitting machine.

During his 16 year big league career, Forster collected 31 hits in 78 at bats for an robust .397 batting average. Had he not gone hitless in his last big league at bat, he would have batted above .400 for his career.

However, the Los Angeles Dodgers did not sign Forster as a free agent during the winter of 1977 for his ability to hit the ball. They signed him for his ability to get hitters out.

A native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Forster's career stretched from 1971 to 1986. He finished with a 54-65 won-lost record, an earned run average of 3.23 while notching 127 saves in 614 games.

Forster pitched in Los Angeles for five years, from 1978 to 1982. He had his greatest success in 1978 when he helped the Dodgers to a National League pennant, while posting a 5-4 record, saving 22 games and registering a sparkling 1.93 earned run average in 47 games.

Los Angeles fans, however, will likely remember Forster for giving up the game-wining three-run home run to the San Francisco Giants' Joe Morgan on the final day of the 1982 season to knock the Dodgers out of the playoffs.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mike Busch

When Michael Anthony Busch was called up to the big leagues on August 29, 1995, his new Los Angeles Dodger teammates did not give him a warm welcome.

Yet, although they probably wanted to elbow him in the ribs, punch him in the nose, or give him a swift kick in the pants, they simply gave him the cold shoulder.

A wise decision, considering that the 27-year old Busch was a hulking, powerful 6-foot-5, 249 pound man, and likely could have taken anyone on the team who was foolish enough to challenge him to a fight.

The reaction of the Dodger players was not unexpected. In fact, it was quite predictable.

You see, a few months earlier, near the end of baseball's last labor war, Busch crossed the proverbial picket line and played in spring training games as a replacement player.

In the eyes of the other Dodger players, Busch had committed the ultimate act of treason. They viewed him as a backstabbing traitor. To them, he was Benedict Arnold in a baseball jersey.

And, incredibly, a Dodger clubhouse previously renowned for its bickering and divisiveness was now uniformly united: They did not want Busch to be part of their team.

The Dodger players went to Fred Claire, the club's General Manager and the man responsible for promoting Busch to the big leagues. They asked Claire to give Busch a one-way ticket back to Albuquerque, the club's Triple-A affiliate.

Claire refused.

Undeterred, they tried to make Busch's stay with the big club as unenjoyable and uncomfortable as possible.

They treated Busch as if he was an outcast, a pariah. They kicked him out of the clubhouse. They refused to take infield practice or batting practice with him. They did not sit next to him in the dugout during the game.

It was 24 Dodger players against Busch.

Brett Butler, the Dodgers' player representaive, criticized Busch to the media. He called Busch a scab. He said Busch did not deserve a spot on the club's roster.

Overwhelmingly, the fans sided with Busch. On August 30, 1995, the Dodger crowd cheered wildly for Busch (even louder after he struck out on three pitches during his first big league bat) and booed Butler mercilessly.

It was now some 40,000 or so fans against Butler.

The next day, Butler called an impromptu press conference with Busch in attendance and said that he and his teammates would pull for Busch as long as he wore a Dodger uniform.

Bygones would be bygones.

Well, sort of.

Busch went on to have several key hits during the playoff run in 1995, including a pennant-clinching home run off San Diego Padres' right-hander Brian Williams during the seventh inning on October 1, 1995.

His reward? He was excluded from the club's post-season roster. No matter. The Cincinnati Reds swept the Dodgers 3-0 in the playoffs.

A native of Davenport, Iowa, Busch played in the big leagues with the Dodgers in 1995 and 1996. In limited action, he belted seven home runs, but struck out 40 times in 100 career at bats.

[1] Nightengale, Bob. "Wallach's Injury May Be Trouble in a lot of Ways." LAT, August 29, 1995, C1.
[2] Downey, Mike. "Let's Forget About Beating Down Busch." LAT, August 30, 1995, C1.
[3] Nightengale, Bob. "Dodger Call-Up Angers Players." LAT, August 30, 1995, C1.
[4] Nightengale, Bob. "Busch's Homer Caps Season." LAT, October 2, 1995, C9.
[5] Delsohn, Steve. "True Blue." New Yorker: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Camilo Pascual

Does a curveball really curve?

The issue has long been debated.

Initially, scientists claimed that the knee-buckling pitch was merely a figment of the batter’s imagination. They argued emphatically that the curveball was simply an optical illusion.

Well, if that’s true, then Camilo Alberto Pascual was a master illusionist, a veritable Harry Houdini on the pitching mound.

A native of Havana, Cuba, Pascual threw one of the best curveballs in baseball history. It was a classic 12-to-6 curveball, meaning the pitch tumbled from the 12 on the clock to the 6.

“He’d come straight over the top with it and it would just dive off the table,” said former New York Yankees' shortstop and baseball announcer Tony Kubek. “The spin was so tight, you couldn’t identify the pitch until it was too late. It didn’t flutter, it didn’t hang, it just kept biting.” Kubek added, “[w]hen Pascual was right, nobody had a chance. That curve was unhittable.”

Pascual pitched in the big leagues for 18 seasons with six different teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1971. He posted a lifetime 174-170 record, not bad considering he had a 28-66 mark after his first five seasons (1954-1958).

He had his greatest success between 1959 and 1964 pitching for the old Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins. During this six year stretch, he won 100 games, completed 90 games, tossed 26 shutouts, and fanned 1,170 batters. That's an average of 16 wins, 15 complete games, 4 shutouts and 195 strikeouts. A 20-game winner in 1962 and 1963, Pascual led American League in strikeouts, complete games and shutouts three times in his career.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Billy Grabarkewitz

What's in a name?

The answer to this question has baffled and confounded some of the greatest minds in history.

But, in the case of Billy Cordell Grabarkewitz, the answer was obvious: waaay too many letters to spell it correctly.

At least, that's what Los Angeles Dodger fans must have thought during the summer of 1970 when the club launched an aggressive write-in campaign to elect their 24-year old rookie infielder to the mid-summer classic.

Despite a blazing first half in which he hit .341 with nine home runs, 50 runs batted in, and 14 steals, Grabarkewitz did not believe he had much of a chance to make the All-Star team as a write-in candidate. "They don't even know how to pronounce my name," he said at the time. "How could they spell it."

Indeed, thousands of fans simply wrote "Billy G" on their ballots instead of trying to spell his 12-letter surname.

In the end, Grabarkewitz fell short of the necessary votes to make the NL team as a starter but was selected to the squad as a reserve by New York Mets' manager Gil Hodges.

It turned out to be Grabarkewitz' only All-Star appearance of his career. In the game, he collected a key single in the decisive 12th inning as the NL beat the AL, 5-4.

Grabarkewitz slumped mightily during the second half of the 1970 season, finishing the year with a .289 batting average, 17 homers, 84 RBI and 19 steals in 156 games.

After two injury plagued seasons, Grabarkewitz was shipped to the California Angels as part of the seven player deal that brought Andy Messersmith to Los Angeles.

Grabarkewitz then went on to play for the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, before wrapping up his career with the Oakland Athletics in 1975.

[1] Hunter, Bob. "Dodgers Hand Shortstop to Grabarkewitz." The Sporting News, November 16, 1968, 41.
[2] Wiebusch, John. "Fate Put a Limp in His Plans," LAT, 3/4/1969, F1.
[3] Hunter, Bob. "Billy G. is Just Great, Dodgers Crow." TSN, 8/1/1970, 3.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Joe Ferguson

Anyone who has ever heard Tommy Lasorda speak, knows that the Los Angeles Dodgers' Hall of Fame manager is a master salesman, a pitchman extraordinaire.

He could sell ice to an Eskimo, fleas to a dog, and a comb to the folicly impaired.

He could sell anything to anybody.

Years ago, Lasorda tried to convince a promising young minor league outfielder by the name of Joseph Vance Ferguson to switch positions and become a catcher.

You see, although "Fergie" could hit the longball and had a strong throwing arm, he was not blessed with much foot speed and thus lacked adequate range to play the outfield.

"Heck, he runs like a catcher," Lasorda must have thought. "So, let's make him one!"

Ferguson was resistant at first. No surprise there. After all, who in his right mind would willingly don the tools of ignorance?

Lasorda then gave Ferguson the hard sell. He told him that Ernie Lombardi, Gabby Hartnett and Mickey Cochrane struggled as minor league outfielders, switched positions to catcher, and went on to have Hall of Fame careers.

It wasn't true, of course. But, the truth seldom mattered to Lasorda when he was trying to make a sale.

As expected, Ferguson bought Lasorda's sales pitch; hook, line and sinker.

And just like that, a catcher was born.

A northern California native, Ferguson played in the major leagues for 14 seasons with four different teams, including two separate stints with Los Angeles.

Ferguson was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals along with two minor leaguers for outfielder Reggie Smith on June 15, 1976, and was reacquired by the Dodgers from the Houston Astros for Rafael Landestoy and Jeffrey Leonard on July 1, 1978.

Although Ferguson played catcher for the majority of his career, he is best remembered for throwing out Sal Bando at home plate with a perfect throw from right field in Game 1 of the 1974 World Series against the Oakland A's.

[1] Murray, Jim. "Lasorda Improved His Lie and Ferguson Didn't Catch It." LAT, March 22, 1974, D1.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Luis Alcaraz

Although Angel Luis Alcaraz [Acosta] had excellent bloodlines, he just didn't have the requisite skills to make it in the major leagues.

Alcaraz is a distant cousin of Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, a power-hitting first baseman-outfielder who batted .297 and slugged 379 home runs during his 17-year major league career.

Like his famous cousin, Alcaraz was born in the beautiful little Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, but that's where the similarities end.

Alcaraz signed with the Milwaukee Braves in 1959 and was sold to the Los Angeles Dodgers the following season. He made his major league debut with the Dodgers on September 13, 1967, after playing in such places as McCook, Orlando, Artesia, Keokuk, Santa Barbara, and Albuquerque.

In the minor leagues, the 5-9, 165 pound infielder displayed plenty of power, averaging nearly 20 home runs per year from 1960 to 1967. He had his best season as a professional ballplayer with the Double A Albuquerque Dukes in 1967, leading the Texas League in batting with a .328 average, while belting a career-high 23 home runs and knocking in 85 runs.

However, in two brief stints with Los Angeles, Alcaraz struggled at the plate, hitting .181 with two homers and eight RBI in 58 games.

Nevertheless, Alcaraz remained confident that he could hit big league pitching. “I batted against Juan Marichal, Juan Pizzaro, Bob Gibson, Sam McDowell, Al McBean, Joe Sparma, Denny McLain and pitchers like that [in the Puerto Rican Winter League], so I know I can hit,” Alcaraz insisted at the time.

The Dodgers were not convinced. They peddled Alcaraz to the Kansas City Royals for a bucket of baseballs and a fungo bat on October 21, 1968. (Actually, the Dodgers received cash in return, but who is to say that they didn't purchase a bucket of balls and a bat with the money they received?)

Shortly after the trade, Lou Gorman, the Royals' director of player development, said: “I think the Dodgers became discouraged with Alcaraz when he didn’t hit.”

Ya think?

Gorman also provided the following assessment of Alcaraz' abilities: “His speed and his arm are okay, but if he doesn’t hit, his other abilities probably won’t impress you too much. We feel he is a much better hitter than he looked with the Dodgers.”

He wasn't.

Alcaraz failed to hit in Kansas City as well, batting a combined .201 with two homers and 21 RBI in 57 games during parts of two seasons.

He was traded to the Chicago White Sox prior to the start of the 1971 campaign, but would never return to play in the big leagues again.

[1] -----. "Little Alcaraz Shows Sock." The Sporting News, May 14, 1966, 39.
[2] Hunter, Bob. "Newcomers Adding Dash and Fire to Dodgers." The Sporting News, April 20, 1968, 23.
[3] McGuff, Joe. "Luis Alcaraz: Big Name in Royals Future." The Sporting News, November 30, 1968, 51.
[4] Roth, Alan, "Who's Who in Baseball: 1970." New York, 1970, 3.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Steve Howe

Steven Roy Howe's life was filled with bitter irony.

He was one of baseball's top relief pitchers. Yet, he never seemed to get any relief away from the game.

He always appeared to be in control on the baseball diamond, but was completely out of control off it.

He registered saves for a living, but couldn't save his own life.

Howe's life was also marked by adversity and tragedy.

His problems were well publicized.

He was slapped with a record seven drug related suspensions by Major League Baseball, including a lifetime ban by Comissioner Fay Vincent that was later overturned by an arbitrator.

He also had several mishaps and run-ins with the law. In 1992 he pled guilty to a charge of attempting to purchase cocaine, and in 1996 he pled guilty to a gun possession charge. In 1997 a drunk driving case was filed against him, but was later dismissed.

And, like all good relief pitchers, Howe bounced back after each life setback seemingly unfazed, undaunted. He appeared to be uneffected by life's obstacles or disappointments.

It looked like Howe was intent on living his life as if he had just strolled onto the mound in the ninth inning with no outs and the tying and winning runs in scoring position, and he was determined not to let anyone see him sweat.

Strangely, he seemed to need to challenge life.

However, on April 29, 2006, Howe got himself into a jam that he was not able to overcome. During the early morning hours, his truck flipped over on a highway and he was partially ejected.

The closer's life had finally come to a sad and tragic close. Howe died at the scene. He was 48 years old.

Former Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia summed up Howe's life best. "He was extremely talented, very confident on the mound and had an incredible arm," Scioscia told the press. "Obviously, he didn't reach his potential because of other things that crept into his life."

A native of Pontiac, Michigan, Howe was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 16th overall pick in the first round of the 1979 amateur draft. He played in the big leagues for 12 seasons with the Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, and the New York Yankees. He finished his career with a 47-41 record, 91 saves and a 3.03 earned run average in 497 games.

As a Dodger, Howe had several triumphs. He was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1980, closed out the World Series against the New York Yankees in 1981, and was an all-star the following season.

[1] Walker, Ben. "Former Major League Pitcher Steve Howe Killed in Truck Accident." sfgate.com, April 29, 2006.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Stan Williams

A batter digs in at the plate. Instinctively, the pitcher snarls and gives him a little "chin music" in return.

It is a scene that has been repeated time and again on baseball diamonds everywhere.

It is part of the very fabric of the game.

And few pitchers were better at brushing back enemy batters than Stanley Wilson Williams.

He was pretty good at hitting batters, too.

Yep, "Big Daddy" was what they call a beanball artist, a headhunter.

Some say that the 6-foot-5, 230 pound flame-throwing right-hander was one of the meanest and most intimidating pitchers to ever toe the rubber.

He liked to throw the high, hard one at any point during the game, regardless of the score or pitch count. And the numbers back it up. He finished in the top 10 in hit batsmen a total of six times in his career.

He seemed to think that a hitter was crowding the plate as soon as he stepped onto the on-deck circle.

It was as if he felt he was most effective when the batter was lying on his backside sprawled on the dirt, desperately gasping for air.

Williams was born on September 1, 1936, in Enfield, New Hampshire. He was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954 and made his major league debut four years later during the club's inaugural season in Los Angeles. He played in the big leagues for 14 years with six different teams, retiring in 1972.

He had his greatest success as a Dodger, winning 14 or more games in three consecutive seasons, 1960-to-1962. He was an all-star in 1960 and struck out a career high 205 batters in 1961, finishing second in the league behind teammate Sandy Koufax.

However, Los Angeles fans will likely remember Williams for a game he lost. On October 3, 1962, Dodger skipper Walt Alston called on Williams to pitch the ninth inning of the third and deciding playoff game against the San Francisco Giants with the club holding on precariously to a 4-3 lead. The bases were loaded and there was just one out. The lead would not last. Williams promptly gave up a sacrifice fly to Orlando Cepeda to tie the game, and then walked in the winning run.

This turned out to be Williams' last game as a Dodger. He was traded to the New York Yankees for first baseman Bill Skowron during the off-season.

[1] Goddard, Joe. "Brushback Becoming an Endangered Species." The Sporting News, July 29, 1978, 22.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mike G. Marshall

Michael Grant Marshall was not just a relief pitcher; he was a one-man bullpen.

He was a long-reliever, setup man, and closer all rolled up into one.

He believed he could pitch every day, and almost did.


"Iron Mike" collected saves the old fashioned way; he earned them.

Incredibly, only two of his 188 career saves were obtained by toiling a full inning with a three run lead.

No, that's not a typo.

To put this in perspective, Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley notched 11 cheap saves in one season and had 63 in his career.

Marshall specialized in the tough save.

He registered a save after pitching three or more innings a whopping 10 times in 1974 and a total of 42 times during his career.

Eckersley? He had just one three-inning save. Yep, just one.

Marshall was a manager's dream.

Well, sort of.

Pompous, egotistical and downright obnoxious, Marshall could be a nightmare for his manager, coaches, teammates, the media, and fans alike.

A native of Adrian Michigan, Marshall broke into professional baseball as a shortstop. However, after years of struggling defensively, Marshall switched positions and began pitching. He made his major league debut in 1967 after learning to throw the screwball.

Marshall played in the big leagues for 14 seasons with nine different teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1974 to 1976. The Dodgers acquired Marshall from the Montreal Expos during the winter of 1973 for Willie Davis and traded him away just over two-and-a-half years later to the Atlanta Braves for Elias Sosa and Lee Lacy.

Marshall led the league in games finished five times, games pitched four times, and saves three times.

His best season was 1974 with Los Angeles when he posted a 15-12 mark with 21 saves and set major league records for games pitched with 106, relief innings pitched with 208.1, and consecutive relief appearances with 13. For his staggering numbers, Marshall was honored with the National League Cy Young and Fireman of the Year awards, and was named The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year.

[1] MacDonald, Ian. "Marshall Fadeout Enrages Pilot Mauch." The Sporting News, Aug. 14, 1971, 29.
[2] MacDonald, Ian. "Marshall Plan Lifesaver for Expos." The Sporting News, Sept. 2, 1972, 13.
[3] Newhan, Ross. "Iron Mike--What's Behind Brilliant Record?" The Sporting News, July 27, 1974, 3 and 12.
[4] MacDonald, Ian. "Marshall's Scroogie Pays Off to Tune of $50,000." The Sporting News, Mar. 24, 1973, 40.
[5] Oates, Bob. "'Victory is in the Competition.'" Los Angeles Times, Jan.y 27, 1974, C1.
[6] Prugh, Marshall. "Marshall Does a Big Number (93) on the Reds." Los Angeles Times, Sept. 9, 1974, F1.
[7] Newhan, Ross. "Dodgers Do it Again with a Finishing Touch." Los Angeles Times, Jun. 27, 1974, D1.
[8] Oates, Bob. "Marshall's Pitch is Easy to Follow--in Class." Los Angeles Times, August 20, 1975, D5.
[9] Newhan, Ross. "Marshall Saves Dodgers' 3-2 Victory Over Mets." Los Angeles Times, Jun. 15, 1974, C1.
[10] -----. "Morning Briefing: Marshall Has Masters Degree in Rudeness, Columnist Says." Los Angeles Times, Oct. 20, 1974, C2.
[11] http://retrosheet.org

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Charlie Manuel

In the United States, Charles Fuqua Manuel was a virtual unknown.

And rightfully so.

The 6-foot-4, 200 pound outfielder played in the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers for parts of six seasons, but failed to hit his weight.

However, in the Land of the Rising Sun, Manuel was a super star.

To Japanese baseball fans, the hot-tempered redhead was known as “Aka Oni” or "Red Devil."

Manuel played in Japan for six seasons, from 1976 through 1981, averaging 31 home runs per year. He was the first foreign born player to belt over 40 home runs in a single season, a feat he accomplished twice. In 1979, he was named Pacific League MVP after batting .324 with 37 four-baggers and 94 RBI despite missing six weeks of the regular season with a broken jaw suffered during a beanball incident. He was also named to three Best Nine squads.

After his playing days were over, Manuel managed the Cleveland Indians from 2000 to 2002 and has managed the Philadelphia Phillies since 2005.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Jeff Hamilton

Former Los Angeles Dodgers' General Manager Fred Claire was much maligned for his player personnel moves.

And with good reason.

Claire was responsible for signing outfielder Darryl Strawberry, a monumental free agent bust, to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract back in 1991.

He is also the genius who traded 22-year old right-hander Pedro Martinez, a future three-time Cy Young Award winner, to the Montreal Expos for Delino DeShields, an injury-prone second baseman, prior to the 1994 season.

However, Claire's worst move as the Dodger GM is probably one that he chose not to make.

During the winter of 1989, the Pittsburgh Pirates were shopping a talented, but under-achieving 24-year old outfielder by the name of Barry Bonds.

Yep, Bonds was on the market!

In return, the Pirates reportedly were seeking Dodger third baseman Jeffrey Robert Hamilton and a pitcher, either Tim Belcher or John Wetteland.

But, Claire was not willing to pull the trigger on this deal.


Now, don't get me wrong, Belcher and Wetteland turned out to have solid pitching careers. But, they were clearly expendable. They would be peddled to the Cincinnati Reds a couple of years later.


He didn't have a particularly noteworthy career.

A native of Flint, Michigan, Hamilton was born on March 19, 1964. He was originally chosen by Los Angeles in the 29th round of the 1982 amateur draft. He played in the big leagues for a total of six seasons, all with the Dodgers. His best year was 1989, when he batted .245 with 12 home runs and 56 RBI.

In fact, Hamilton will likely be remembered for what he did on the mound rather than for what he did manning the hot corner or at the plate.

On June 3, 1989, Hamilton pitched in a 22-inning game against the Houston Astros, and took the loss. He thus became the first position player to get a decision in a major league game since Rocky Colavito on August 25, 1968.

Yet, Claire somehow concluded that Pittsburgh was asking for too much.

Boy, was he wrong!

And, incredibily, Claire is never criticized for failing to make this trade.