April 17, 2014

Five Tweets with…Dodgers Blogger Eric Stephen from TrueBlueLA.com

It’s time for the second installment in our new weekly series called “Five Tweets with..”  As a refresher, each week we select one person from the world of Major League Baseball and then beg, bribe, cajole and/or twist their arm until they participate.  We ask them five questions, they tweet their responses back to us, and we post ‘em here.  The questions do not change, but how people interpret and answer them does.  Think of this as our way to learn a little more about the people that play, cover, work with, tweet about and cheer on professional baseball teams, with an emphasis on the Dodgers.

This week we’re thrilled to have Eric Stephen from the influential Dodgers blog True Blue LA and @trueblueLA with us.  I love True Blue LA for many reasons, but a big one is how Eric and the team break down the numbers behind the Dodgers wins or losses, and then tell us all what they think it means for the team and for us as fans.  Their analytical look at what makes the Dodgers tick is fantastic, and their coverage only deepens our love and understanding of the game.

Note: Keep in mind that Eric kept to the spirit of the project by answering his questions via Twitter, so he had to make do with the 140 character limit for each answer. 

Five Tweets with… Dodgers Blogger Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA.com

1. What excites you the most about this season?

Excited for Billingsley & Kershaw to lead rotation, Broxton to lead best bullpen in MLB, & the 90-HR outfield to win 3rd straight NL West.

2. What is your biggest concern about this season?

Biggest concern is health & potential regression of the 35+ crew (Manny, Blake, Kuroda), & that Vicente Padilla turns back to a pumpkin.

3. What is your earliest baseball memory?

Earliest game was 1982 with my cousin. I was 6. We were busy making jokes rather than watching the game. 1985 was first full year as fan.

4. What is your favorite baseball memory?

Kirk Gibson home run won’t be topped. Also loved Franklin Stubbs grand slam to beat Cardinals 7/6/88 (at game with my older brother).

5. Why do you love the game?

I love the pace of the game; no clock, no need to rush, anything is possible. Crack of the bat is one of the sweetest sounds in the world.

Dodgers’ Koufax Speaks at Torre’s Safe at Home Foundation Event

T.J. Simers notwithstanding, the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation event with Joe Torre and the legendary Sandy Koufax was really special (even on TV).  Kudos to Fox Sports West for televising the event.  Unfortunately the event ran long, and my TiVO cut off after the hour and a half, but what I saw was really, really great.  It was really special to see Koufax open up and get the record straight on many of his most well-known moments, and to also give a little insight into his personality.

As we’re all pretty familiar with Joe and his his Safe at Home Foundation from past posts, I’ve focused this article on thoughts and quotes from the man himself, Sandy Koufax.  When the show first started and the camera tightened in on him, Koufax looked tanned and dapper, yet also slightly uncomfortable with all of the attention on stage.  But when he spoke, he gave short, concise, confident answers.  He appeared reserved at first, but warmed up throughout the evening.

Additional baseball personalities and celebrities in attendance included Don Mattingly, Peter O’Malley (who received a rousing ovation from the crowd), Tommy Davis, Sweet Lou Johnson, Arte Moreno, Billy Crystal, Ron Howard and Jon Lovitz, among others.  Interesting that Frank McCourt wasn’t in the audience given Koufax and Torre being on hand…or maybe it’s not surprising, given the event’s host.

One great moment of the evening was when Simers brought Clayton Kershaw up on stage.  Despite being a few inches taller than Koufax, when the two compared hands,  the top of Clayton’s fingers only reached to the top knuckle of Sandy’s fingers.  Incredible; and as Torre pointed out, that was the key to Sandy’s dangerous curve ball.

Now, on to Koufax being Koufax:

On claims he’s a recluse: “I don’t know that I’ve dropped out of sight.  I go to the Final Four every year…and I go to golf tournaments and walk around if I have a friend playing in it.  I go to the Super Bowl occasionally, I go to Dodger Stadium.  I worked for the Dodgers for almost 20 years.  I go to dinner every night, I go to the movies…”

On what word he would use to describe himself: “It sure as hell isn’t gentle, especially playing the game.”

On competition: “For me competing is being the last man standing.  It has nothing to with kicking water coolers.  That’s ego massage.  I just feel that when the game was over, the best thing that could happen to you was shake hands with the catcher and go inside.  But the last man standing is to me is the competitor.”

On Hank Aaron hitting .362 against him (inc. seven intentional walks in one season): “Good hitters are going to hit you.  The idea is not necessarily to get them out.  Make them hit in situations where they’re not going to hurt you. It says you have to get 27 outs, it doesn’t have any names on it.  And Henry’s was never one on my out list.”

On intentionally hitting Lou Brock in a game: “If you’re going to hit someone, you never tell him.  He did bunt.  He did get on.  And I looked at first base and I couldn’t tell if he was laughing or smiling.”

Koufax then turns to Torre: “What would you have done?”

Vin Scully on Koufax’s perfect game: “Sandy had a way of lifting his teammates, inspiring the fans and I think, every once in a blue moon, inspiring a broadcaster.  And on that particular night, it was so dramatic.  A perfect game; it inspired me.”

On his perfect game: “There are times where everything is right.  I don’t know if I’ve ever had better stuff or better control than I did the last two innings of that game.  Everything was right.  Everything worked.  I didn’t have much doubt that it was going to be ok.“

On his grandfather’s philosophy and his dropping out of the public eye:  “My grandfather just felt that time was the most important asset that…don’t be frivolous with your time.  As you get older, I’ve developed an attitude: spend your money foolishly and your time wisely because it’s a lot easier to know what you have in the bank than it is what you have left.”

On his rookie year: “I got a $14,000 bonus.  I was 19 years old and got invited to every poker game.  I was not really welcome in the clubhouse at the start.  I’m a kid with no experience; I probably pitched five times in my life, and all of a sudden I’m in the major leagues,  taking a roster spot [NOTE: that roster spot belonged to Tommy Lasorda of all people] on a team that’s trying to win a pennant and Jackie [Robinson] and Joe Becker, who was our pitching coach at the time, were the two guys who really went out of their way to make me feel welcome and try and make it o.k.”

On Jackie Robinson: “I know what Jackie went through and Jackie was very special to me.  Everyone talks about him as a competitor, but he was a warm human being too.  He was compassionate, he looked after me, and it was special to me.”

On a quality start being six innings today: “No. A quality start is shaking hands with your catcher.”

On holding out: “There were years when I’d already signed my contract, and the general manager would say, ‘We’re not getting enough press, I’m going to make you a hold out.”

On Don Drysdale: “I think we drove each other. If Don was going to do something, I had to do it also.  I think we made each other better, as a friendly competition. Most teams would like to have two guys that were pitching that well.”

On being known as a playboy bachelor: “I don’t know.  I had a good time.”

All in all, I found myself laughing and really enjoying every moment of the broadcast.  Both Sandy and Joe were very open, honest and jovial throughout the evening and it was great to get a peek inside this fiery competitor with the soft exterior.  By definition, it’s rare that any of us have the opportunity to hear from a reclusive legend, and this was one of those special moments.  Most of all, I hope Sandy had a good time and that we’ll be seeing him again soon.  It’s been too long.

Photo Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Is Radical Realignment Needed in Major League Baseball?

An AL Pacific Division featuring the Dodgers, Angels, Giants, A’s and Mariners? If you’re FOX’s Ken Rosenthal, that’s your recommendation as part of a much more radical realignment strategy that he floats in an article today.

After reading his piece and reviewing his various proposals, I am heavily in the NO camp with regard to his more extreme ideas. Part of this comes from being a baseball traditionalist…I’ve always been resistant to change in Major League Baseball, and love all the quirks that are part of the game (like the AL’s designated hitter rule). I was heavily against inter-league play at the time it was introduced, fearing that it was a temporary gimmick that would cause more harm than good when it would be eventually repealed. Plus, I would argue, that’s what makes the World Series so special. I was wrong in this case; interleague play is here to stay and I love seeing the AL teams come through Chavez Ravine each year. And the World Series hasn’t lost its luster as a result.

Rosenthal’s argument on radical realignment is based primarily on the competitive imbalance in the AL East, with the domination of the Yankees and Red Sox over their opponents:

“The Yankees and Red Sox will remain financial super-powers for the foreseeable future. Even scarier, both teams have become so efficient, they eliminated any intellectual edge that certain low-revenue teams had gained.”

“If all clubs possess similar brainpower, then dollars become decisive, dooming the AL East also-rans. A cynic might suggest they would be better off pocketing revenue-sharing money than trying to compete.”

Ok, fine; obviously there is a severe financial chasm that exists between the high and low-revenue clubs. I could be on board with potentially making some limited shifts in the AL East to address the issue, but where I disagree is Rosenthal’s solution of blowing up all the divisions in favor of prioritizing regional rivalries which he says draws more fans. I would argue that the scarcity of these games is what fans love and what matters most is how the teams are performing. Is there more buzz about Lakers-Clippers games than Dodgers-Angels games? Not when one team is consistently mediocre (unless you’re the Clippers). It’s just another game. Dodgers-Angels games just feel different…they almost have a playoff feel to them with fans from both sides excessively energized, and I wouldn’t want to lose that.

Rosenthal makes some interesting points about competitive balance and the financial benefits from moving the Red Sox to another division (presumably the AL Central) and moving one team from the AL Central to the AL East (he suggests the Tigers, which I’m sure makes Rosenthal persona non grata in Detroit right about now).

If competitive imbalance is truly a problem, I’d be more in favor of looking at scheduling and weighting teams’ opponents for the upcoming season based on how they finish the current season, like the NFL tries to do. Win the World Series, and you’re playing the toughest out-of-division schedule the following year.

Fortunately Bud Selig doesn’t seem too interested in Ken’s theories, so radical realignment appears to be just the musings of a baseball reporter with too much time on his hands during Spring Training.

Five Tweets with…Jon Weisman of ESPN LA’s Dodger Thoughts

Four days ago, the gates of Camelback Ranch swung open for the first time this year, and the Dodgers started their final preparations for the 2010 season.  We’re also finishing our annal tweaks for the dodgerfan.net site, and part of that involves a commitment to social media.  Many of you already follow us on Twitter (@dodgerfan_net), but we’re taking that one step further this year with a new (hopefully weekly) feature that will run through the upcoming season.  It’s called “Five Tweets with…”  Let me explain:

“Five Tweets With…” is designed to be an entertaining way to learn a little more about the people that play, cover, work with, tweet about and cheer on professional baseball teams, with an emphasis on the Dodgers.

“Five Tweets With…” was inspired by reading the Proust Questionnaire (originally developed by the French writer Marcel Proust), along with subsequent versions that appear regularly in Vanity Fair and on the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” television program.

Our “interview” features five short questions.  The questions will not change.  Each week, we’ll select one person from the world of Major League Baseball and then beg, bribe, cajole and/or twist their arm until they participate.  They will then tweet their responses back to us and we’ll post ‘em here.  Of course, if they want to email us longer responses, we’ll take that too!

We’ve got a few exciting people already on board for later in the year, but we couldn’t imagine starting this program off with anyone other than Jon Weisman of the esteemed Dodger Thoughts blog.  Jon began blogging about the Dodgers way back in 2002, and his knowledge, wisdom, insight and opinions are respected not only by us, but by many of you as well.  Ok, enough with the set-up.  Alex and I hope you enjoy the series and let us know what you think!

Five Tweets with…Jon Weisman of ESPN Los Angeles’ Dodger Thoughts

1. What excites you the most about this season?

Just seeing the gang on the field again. Kershaw, Kemp, Billingsley, Broxton, Ethier, Loney, Martin (yes, even Martin), and so on. I’ve been having so much fun watching their careers develop, and can’t wait to see the next steps.

2. What is your biggest concern about this season?

On the field, I am concerned about the older guys in the rotation: Kuroda and Padilla. Off the field, I’m concerned that many fans and media are out for blood – ready to take out their frustration about the McCourts and about the twin NLCS disappointments out at a moment’s notice. It’s going to be a long year if we have to spend each day talking about how cheap the McCourts are. No one likes losing – I certainly don’t – but my hope is that the talent base of this team reminds people that baseball is meant to be fun.

3. What is your earliest baseball memory?

Watching Hank Aaron’s 715th home run on TV while on vacation with my family in Arizona.

4. What is your favorite baseball memory?

That’s just so hard to choose. You know, I was in college during the ’88 season, so I wasn’t at the Kirk Gibson game. I wasn’t at the R.J. Reynolds “Squeeze!” game. I wasn’t at the 4+1 game. I saw them all on TV, but I don’t think I can pick as my favorite memory something I didn’t see in person. I might go with the time when I was a kid that I yelled out in the bottom of the ninth inning to a struggling Rick Monday, “Monday – a homer or your life!” and he hit a game-winning blast. Also, being at Fernando’s no-hitter was something special.

5. Why do you love the game?

I really don’t know. I just got invested in the characters at a young age and I haven’t been able to shake it. I’m not sure why. I do know I enjoy sharing baseball with my dad, and that I want to enjoy that as long as I can.

The Baseball Bookshelf: Dodger Favorites for Spring Training Reading

Maybe it’s the summer-like weather we’ve been having in LA lately, but the anticipation is starting to build around the arrival of Dodgers’ Spring Training games in just a few weeks.  One of my favorite traditions of this time of year is to dust off some of my favorite baseball books, while also looking for some new ones.  Here are a few that I’ve loved over the years, and I welcome you to share your favorites as well! 

Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball
by George Will

This was the book that transformed me from a casual baseball fan into someone who truly loved all of the small nuances of the game.  Will’s look inside at what makes a great manager (Tony La Russa), hitter (Tony Gwinn), pitcher (Orel Hershiser) and defensive player (Cal Ripken, Jr.) is fascinating for any baseball fan (even from a political commentator).  I actually find myself thinking back to many moments in the book throughout every season.  In my mind, it’s a classic.

Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir
by Dorris Kearns Goodwin

While Goodwin is perhaps best known as a Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian, her touching memoir describes growing up in New York in the 1950′s and the special relationship she had with her father through their shared love of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Plus, anyone that masters keeping score at age six is ok with me.  A fantastic look at the Dodger teams of Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Roy Camanella and Pee Wee Reese through the eyes of a fan.  One of my favorites of all time.

Nine Innings
by Daniel Okrent

You might ask why I have book about a June 1982 game between the Brewers and the Orioles on this list.  What makes this book special is that the author actually disects one game, pitch by pitch, and gives the fan a great insight into the psychology of the game.  Not as great as Men at Work in my opinion, but it’s another writer’s take on the myriad of subtle moments that occur throughout the course of a game.

The Last of the Best
by Jim Murray

Growing up in Los Angeles, I became hooked on both sports and writing through the words and style of the great Jim Murray, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Los Angeles Times.  One of only four sportswriters to win the Pulitzer, Murray was a master wordsmith that focused on the people behind the moments, rather than what happened during the games themselves.  The Last of the Bestis a collection of Murray’s last 90 columns in the 1990′s and there are a few great ones about Walter O’Malley that are worth the read (to say nothing of the rest of the book).  If you’re a fan of the story behind the action on the field, then this is a great book for you.

Birth of a Fan
edited by Ron Fimrite

This is a neat little collection of essays where writers such as Roger Angell, Roy Blount, Jr., William Kennedy, George Plimpton, Robert Whiting and Jonathan Yardley (among others) recall their early days when they first fell in love with the game of baseball.  It always seems like an appropriate read as Spring Training approaches.

100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
by Jon Weisman

And what list of baseball books would be complete without the latest and greatest by fellow Dodger blogger and author Jon Weisman of the esteemed Dodger Thoughts.  The book is a treasure trove of stories, anecdotes, history and more going back the team’s days in Brooklyn.  It’s hard to describe this book in just a few lines, but it’s safe to say that this is definitely a book that all Dodger fans need to read.

I thought the following quote from Phil Gurnee at True Blue LA summed it up better than I ever could: “I’ve finished the book but chapter five [about the Kirk Gibson home run] alone is worth the book. The title suggests a fluff book but it is anything but a fluff book. In someone else’s hands this book might have been much less then what it is. In Jon’s capable hands he will enlighten and entertain you about the team you love. Anybody who calls themselves a Dodger fan should be ordering this book not only for themselves but for any and all of their Dodger friends and family. The paperback is the perfect companion to read between innings while watching the game on TV or even at the ballpark.”

Now let’s hear from you on your favorite baseball books!