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Post Season Archives
 

November 9, 1981

A Last Hurrah For Los Angeles

For some Dodgers, there may not be much time left to enjoy their World Series victory over New York

by Ron Fimrite


There was a poignancy to the victory party last Friday afternoon in Dodger Stadium, a poignancy that suffuses any gathering at which old friends get together for what may be the last time. Indeed, for many guests at the lavish shindig in the Stadium Club, where the wine flowed freely and the band played on, the joy was tempered with the knowledge that this could be more of a farewell party than anything else. The mood was: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you could be traded to San Diego.

Not even this undercurrent of fatalism could douse buoyant spirits, though. The Dodgers had come home as World Series champions for the first time in 16 years, and they had soundly beaten the Yankees, the team that had humiliated them in 1977 and '78. Somehow, an estimated 80,000 Angelenos got off the freeways long enough to salute the Dodgers in a victory parade to City Hall. And now the players were celebrating in relative privacy, savoring this sweet victory. Tomorrow was another day.

The Dodgers had every right to toast themselves. As they had in the two National League playoffs, they had come battling from behind to win. They won the Series exactly as the Yankees had in '78, losing the first two games on the road, winning the next three at home and finishing up with a lopsided win in their rivals' park. And they made the Yankees look every bit as bad as they themselves had looked in that earlier Series. In several of their losses, New York base runners more nearly resembled guys trying to crowd into a subway train than the cool professionals they usually are. Fifty-five of them were left on base, a record for a six-game Series. One Yankee who wasn't left on much was the $23 million man, Dave Winfield, and for the good reason that he had just one hit in 22 at bats.

George Frazier of New York's vaunted relief corps set another record by losing three of the six games. The only other pitcher to lose that many was Chicago's Claude (Lefty) Williams in an eight-game Series in 1919, and he is remembered as one of the Black Sox fixers. Frazier lost all his on the up-and-up, but he had help from Yankee Manager Bob Lemon, who saw fit to lift starter Tommy John in the fourth inning of the final game for pinch hitter Bobby Murcer, who then lined deep to right, typically leaving two runners stranded. John and most of the 56,513 fans in Yankee Stadium were baffled by this apparently panic-induced strategy in what was then a 1-1 game. "I couldn't believe it," said John. "I said, 'I hope you've got somebody in the bullpen who can hold 'em.' Logically, it wasn't a good baseball move."

 New York Yankees third baseman Craig Nettles goes all out

1981:
New York Yankees third baseman Craig Nettles goes all out

photograph by
Heinz Kluetmeier


Lemon's choice was Frazier, who got into the record books by quickly giving up three runs in the Dodger half of the fifth, two of them scoring on a Pedro Guerrero triple. The rout was on, to be culminated by a Guerrero homer in the eighth that delivered his fifth RBI of the game. Relievers Ron Davis, Rick Reuschel, Rudy May and Dave LaRoche couldn't stem the flood of runs, although LaRoche did strike out Davey Lopes with his LaLob, providing at least a measure of comic relief.

The Yankees played badly in that 9-2 defeat, but not nearly so badly that they deserved owner George Steinbrenner's tasteless public apology to the people of New York for his team's performance. He may ultimately have lost his credibility, though, when he alleged that he "clocked" a couple of louts in a Los Angeles hotel elevator. But if nothing else, Steinbrenner should be credited with selecting the most original venue for fisticuffs in baseball history. George may very well be the first brawler to ask his antagonists to step inside. Knocked down going up? Floored between floors? Out, please.

The Yankees showed little skill and little class in this Series. The Dodgers showed lots of character, as they ceaselessly reminded one and all. "It's never easy to come back," said Lopes, but we've done it so many times before that we never lost confidence." Said Rick Monday, "If we had listened to what people were saying—that we didn't have a snowball's chance in hell—we'd have mailed in the scores. But we have guys who are just stubborn enough not to listen." Steve Garvey, who aspires to a career in politics, paraphrased another politician in describing L.A.'s victory as one of "blood, sweat and tears." The Dodgers also made no secret of their satisfaction in finally beating the Yankees. Three years ago, when they emerged as whining scoreheads after the Yankees whipped them, the New York fans taunted them and the New York press laughed at them. Now the worms had turned. "You don't know how sweet it is to beat New York in New York, " said Lopes. "We wanted the Yankees. If somebody has kicked your butt twice, you want the chance to kick his."

The Dodgers had perhaps an even stronger motivation than revenge—the realization that for many of them it was now or never. "A lot of guys felt they weren't going to be here next year," said Jay Johnstone, whose pinch-hit two-run homer in Game 4 was called the "turning point" of the Series by many of his teammates. "A lot of them thought this would be their last chance to get that ring. I looked over in the dugout and there were Rick Monday and Reggie Smith sitting together with about 30 years in the bigs between them and no championships. Now they have a ring." Said Monday in agreement, "You don't know how many times you can go to the well."

For Johnstone, who won his first ring with the Yankees in '78. Monday and Smith there may never be another time. They're all more than 34, and their Dodger contracts all expire this year. They are aging outfielders on a team that has swarms of youngsters ready to take their places. The infielders, who have played as a unit for eight seasons and are now all more than 32, are on only slightly less shaky ground. In the '78 Series they were ridiculed as jugglers and scatter arms. This time, they were much better, although Lopes set a Series record for second basemen by committing six errors. "The infield wanted this one bad," he said.

Added Shortstop Bill Russell, "It was a silent feeling that this might be our last chance. We didn't mention it, but it was there. I'm glad it was against the Yankees. Not that we felt we owed them one, but it was just nice. Of course, we're too old to win it. We're over the hill. We've only been doing it for eight years. I think we dispelled any doubts."

"I don't think it's necessary to bring that up," said Ron Cey, testily, in response to the predictable question about the infield's future. "Give us credit. This is one of the most successful infields of all time."

For First Baseman Garvey, a .417 hitter in this Series, the win represented "the end of a very sentimental journey. Our infield that has played together so long may not be together much longer. What better way to finish than with a world championship."

In the clubhouse after the last game, the victors seemed at first subdued, almost contemplative, as if it would take time to place their achievement in perspective. "I'm not feeling it yet," said Leftfielder Dusty Baker. "But tomorrow I'll be home and I'll say, 'Heck, we're world champs.' "

The clubhouse quiet was soon broken, however, when pitchers Jerry Reuss, Terry Forster and Tom Niedenfuer and Catcher Mike Scioscia started a food fight. With a splash of mayonnaise here, a dab of ketchup there and a splotch of mustard over there, Reuss gradually took on the appearance of an abstract painting, or as Johnstone said, "You look like Bill Russell after nine innings of trying to field those grounders." The melee inevitably gravitated into the manager's office, where Tom Lasorda, praising his players to the press for their "guts," was speedily delicatessed. "I thought I'd apologized for my sins," said Lasorda, a clown turned genius, "but I guess the Lord is paying me back. He gave me Johnstone and Reuss."

The laughter had scarcely died when speculation on the future of the team began. In Paradise Valley, Ariz. last week, where Dodger president Peter O'Malley and vice-president Al Campanis were attending a general managers' meeting, it was rumored that Guerrero, co-winner with Cey and Catcher Steve Yeager of the Series MVP award, was about to be traded to San Diego for Shortstop Ozzie Smith. Guerrero, who is only 25 and can play either third or the outfield, was one player whose future in Los Angeles seemed secure, but Smith is probably the best-fielding shortstop in baseball, and it takes quality to get quality. If Smith comes and Guerrero goes, Russell must also go. He has an uncertain throwing arm and hit .233 during the season, .240 in the Series. He also has a recent history of injuries, which now include a bad index finger on his right hand and a stress fracture in his left foot, both of which will probably require surgery in the off-season. Smith is more than six years younger than Russell, and though he's a light hitter, he's a threat on the bases, something the Dodgers sorely need now that Lopes has slowed down.

The threat to the 35-year-old Lopes isn't from the outside but from within. Steve Sax, 21, hit .277 in 31 regular-season games as the oft-injured Lopes's replacement. Lopes hit .206 in 58 games. Sax, a fiery, hustling player, could conceivably replace him as the Dodgers' offensive catalyst. Defensively, he should be an improvement. Campanis is especially high on him, remarking whenever he sees Sax, "Now that's a good second baseman." Lopes can still run the bases—he was 4 for 4 in steals against New York—but he doesn't get things started as a leadoff man often enough anymore and, like Russell, he has been getting hurt too frequently.

Garvey's contract doesn't run out until after next season, but he has been pressing the Dodgers to get cracking on a new one. His price is expected to be in the $1.5 to $2 million-a-season range, which gives O'Malley pause. Garvey is to the Dodgers what Gehrig once was to the Yankees, their Pride, and he's enormously popular with Los Angeles fans, if not always with his teammates, who have been know to be jealous of his following. Still, he is costly, and there's another youngster, Mike Marshall, waiting in the wings. Marshall is 21, 6'5" and 215 pounds. He has never hit less that .300 in four minor league seasons, and this year he became the first player in 25 years to win the Pacific Coast League Triple Crown. His PCL stats were staggering— a .373 batting average, 34 homers, 137 RBIs. Garvey may still be the present, but the future isn't that far off.

Fortunately, Marshall can also play in the outfield, where the Dodgers are especially rich in young talent. Among those ready to step forward are Candido (Candy) Maldonando, 21, who hit .335 with 21 homers and 104 RBIs in Albuquerque; Ron Roenicke, 25 who hit .316 in the PCL and impressed the Dodgers with his defensive skills in a brief stint with the big club; and Bobby Mitchell, 26 a deft centerfielder and .300 hitter in the minors. Earlier this season, the Dodger outfield seemed set for years, with Baker in left, Guerrero in right and Ken Landreaux in center. But Landreaux had a dreadful "second season" and finished at only .251, and Guerrero is suddenly trade bait. Only Baker, 32, whose contract runs through 1985, now seems safe.

Series hero Yeager—.286 with two homers and four RBIs against the Yankees—scarcely played in the regular season and has asked to be traded. At 32, he will more than likely be obliged.

And speculation like this continues through seemingly countless permutations: If Guerrero stays, he could move to third to make room for one of the young outfielders and Cey could go. The pitching is solid, but here, too there are enough youngsters to make like uncertain for their seniors. The Dodgers could well be planning to break themselves up.

That was the secondary theme played at the victory party, and Campanis, the man with the authority to shake and break, was right there, patting backs, passing along congratulations, smiling benignly, a Godfather. Campanis both countered and encouraged speculation with some Dodger Blue homilies: "We don't make changes, the players make changes..." "Competition from within is the Dodger way..." "Complacency is anathema..." "If you stand still, they'll pass you..." "We have never been a trading ball club..." "You replace loose bricks, you don't tear down the house." He's fond of telling about an architect friend who, when someone expressed admiration for the architect's handsome house, embarked on a lengthy recitation of what was wrong with it and what was missing from it. The Dodgers will replace some loose bricks here and there, Campanis said during the party. "Fortunately, we have a reservoir of young talent," he said. "Eventually, they will be used. When, I don't know. These decisions will be made at Vero Beach in spring training." One method of reconstruction that will almost certainly be eschewed is the free-agent market, where the Dodgers came up empty-handed recently with Don Stanhouse, who didn't pitch this year, and Dave Goltz, who won only two games. The market, says Campanis, "has left us with a bad taste."

It was a swell party the Dodgers threw for the players. Old Brooklyn hero Roy Campanella told everyone how proud he was of them. "Fellas, there's nothing like playing on a winner," he said. For laughs, a belly dancer was turned loose to bedevil Lasorda. And as the afternoon wore on, the sun, which had shone brilliantly on the green field below, dropped behind the stadium rim so that there were only shadows outside. There were shadows inside as well. For many of the Dodgers, their moment in the sun will be all too brief. As Campanis said that afternoon, quoting the Bard, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."


 

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