All of this inadvertent buffoonery has greatly dismayed the Dodgers' veteran players, some of whom have played on championship teams. "In my wildest dreams, I could not have seen us falling off a cliff like this," says Scioscia, a World Series catcher four years ago, a cellar dweller—and a .218 hitter—today. "What a fragile balance there is between being a contender and a loser. This feels like a punch in the stomach. It's hard even to be diplomatic about how we've played on defense. The fact is, we stink."
"I've had nothing in my past to prepare me for something like this," says Ojeda, an 18-game winner for the world champion New York Mets of 1986, a six-game winner for this season's sorry Dodgers.
And then there's centerfielder Brett Butler, who is having a fine season (.314 batting average, 41 stolen bases, 83 runs scored) amid the chaos. "You forget," he says, "I played four years in Cleveland."
Even the Dodger media guide has an error in it, listing the lefthanded Webster as throwing right. And, for what it's worth, the team psychiatrist, Herndon P. Harding, is the great-great-nephew of one of America's more disreputable losers, President Warren G. Harding.
O.K., that's about enough of that. The situation is far from hopeless. As a matter of fact, the Dodgers insist they are using this odoriferous season to build for a rosy future. Lasorda himself says he'll stick around for at least one more year of that future, despite recurrent rumors of his imminent departure. But building for the future isn't exactly what the team had in mind before all the trouble began. "I thought at the start we had a championship-caliber club," says Scioscia. So did a lot of other people. This was, after all, a veteran team, one that had added over the winter the slugging speedster Eric Davis to an outfield that already had Darryl Strawberry in right and Butler in center.
Davis and Strawberry had grown up together on the playgrounds of Los Angeles, and all the while that the one, Strawberry, was playing in New York and the other, Davis, was performing in Cincinnati, they shared a dream of someday being teammates back in their hometown. The dream became a supposedly blessed reality last November, when the Dodgers traded for Davis. "It was fun playing with him growing up," said a gleeful Strawberry after the trade. "But imagine what it's going to be like on this level."
Imagining is about all anyone has been able to do, because all told, the two of them have played at one and the same time in 31 games this shell-shocked season. Davis had a neck injury when he reported to spring training in Vero Beach. He suffered strained ligaments in his left shoulder in May making a diving catch, and then banged up his left wrist in August. Strawberry's chronically bad back pained him from the beginning of the season. He played only 43 games this season, Davis 76. Strawberry drove in 25 runs, Davis 32. Each hit five home runs. They were reunited again last week, though—at the Centinela Hospital Medical Center, where on Sept. 15 Strawberry had surgery to correct his herniated disk and two days later Davis went under the knife for repairs to both his wrist and left shoulder. Both are finished for the season.
So much for the number 3 and number 4 hitters in the batting order.
The Dodgers themselves unloaded two other veterans of note in midseason when they traded gimpy outfielder Kal Daniels to the Cubs for a minor league pitcher and released second baseman Juan Samuel, who later signed with the Kansas City Royals. And before the season started, the Dodgers lost free-agent first baseman Eddie Murray to the Mets.
All of these various maladies and machinations have led to the biggest youth movement in Los Angeles since the discovery of Shirley Temple. Recognizing the obvious, that by late July the team was hopelessly out of the race, Dodger executive vice-president Fred Claire concluded, "It is time to turn the page and get a head start on what we're faced with in the future." So in rapid succession, the Dodgers summoned from Triple A and Double A farm clubs the eager but inexperienced likes of outfielders Ashley, Henry Rodriguez and Tom Goodwin, infielders Eric Young and Rafael Bournigal, and pitchers Pedro Astacio and Pedro Martinez. They joined youngsters Offerman, catcher Carlos Hernandez, 25, and first baseman Eric Karros, 24. Hernandez was hitting .262 in 68 games as a Scioscia backup, and Karros, the odds-on favorite for National League rookie of the year, had 19 homers and 80 RBIs.