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Los Angeles Dodgers
But the value that is popularly supposed to be at the core of the O'Malley family has been absent from the Dodgers for years: family unity itself. Of course, Bill Russell, the manager, will tell you that togetherness is overrated, that on the mighty L.A. teams of the 1970s, for which he played, there were guys who couldn't stand each other. No doubt truebut at least there was passion.
Last year the Dodgers were talent-rich (catcher Mike Piazza, rightfielder Raul Mondesi, first baseman Eric Karros, righthander Ramon Martinez, third baseman Todd Zeile) but emotionally disengaged. They finished second in a division they should have manhandled. In June, Piazza told the Los Angeles Times that the team's problems were cultural and social, that the team wasn't a melting pot but a mosaic, with big gaps between the tiles. He was trying to rattle the team out of its lethargy. Instead, the catcher was called insensitive, not only by some fans, but also by some teammates. It's an awful thing to be misunderstood.
Nothing's changed, at least on paper. The team pretty much stood still over the winter. Los Angeles once again has the most international roster in baseball, including a starting rotation with five pitchers whose native language is not English: Martinez is Dominican, Hideo Nomo is Japanese, Chan Ho Park is Korean, and Ismael Valdes and Dennis Reyes are Mexican. What's more, three of the every-day eight are from overseas: Mondesi and shortstop Jose Vizcaino are Dominican, and centerfielder Roger Cedeño is Venezuelan. When asked about Team United Nations, the players shrug and mumbleif the guy can play, who cares where he's from?
That's what they say. Who knows what they think. The most important question about the 1998 Dodgers is also the simplest: Is winning games the players' highest priority? "There are a lot of young veterans on this team, players at the peaks of their careers," says Russell. "They've shown they can put up numbers, they've proven to themselves they can make a lot of money. What they still have to prove is that they can win a ring."
Maybe the most significant problem in the Los Angeles clubhouse is, by team custom, lack of a tap. The Elias Sports Bureau has not yet made a study in this area, but the teams with the best chemistry are generally among those 15 or so clubs that have a keg flowing in the trainer's room after games. The ritual is an ancient one, common to many societies, in which grown men, unencumbered by the distraction of family, encircle a large metal cylinder, imbibing its contents while nursing wounds and commiserating about the opposition. This is known in the literature as male bonding.
Lack of unity on the Dodgers isn't only a function of birthplace. Some players live so far from the ballpark that when games are over, guys split, and split fast. In most American metropolises, your income dictates precisely where you live. Greater Los Angeles defies demographers. In Los Angeles, your residence reveals not so much your economic class but your lifestyle. Piazza lives in Manhattan Beach, among the hard bodies. Park lives in Glendale, where the newsstands carry Korean papers. Zeile lives in Westlake Villagesuburban, gated, conservative. On the Dodgers, there are players who live 50 miles from one another.
Last year, on an off day during a road trip, 20 members of the Padres got together for golf. Hearing about this act of companionship, one Dodger said, "We couldn't get a foursome together." But last year is another lifetime in baseball. At spring training, several young Caribbean players were trying to keep a count in Korean. Or was it Japanese? They weren't quite sure. They knew it wasn't Spanish.
by Mark Bechtel
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