Karros, a 6'4" former UCLA All-America, exudes an appealing mixture of poise and humility. He knows he owes his big break to Murray's departure and a spring-training injury to Todd Benzinger, who figured to be Murray's first base replacement. "If Murray stays," says Karros, "I'm in Albuquerque. But I've tried to make the most of my chances. This season is no indication of what will happen. Next year we'll have a contending team."
Not everyone agrees, for as Dodger broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale says, "We can't fool ourselves into wishful thinking. It's just possible we've painted ourselves into a box canyon. I'm afraid what we're seeing out there now is pretty much all there is. It used to be that you felt sorry for the Dodger kids because there was no room for them on the big team. Now...."
It is nearly five hours before game time at San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium, but Lasorda University is already in session. The 65-year-old manager himself, balding and bowlegged, but, as the television commercials remind us endlessly, svelte, is on the mound pitching batting practice to rookies Rodriguez, Goodwin, Ashley, Young, Bournigal and catcher Mike Piazza.
"You'll have to earn it today, because the old skipper's really got it," Lasorda bellows from the mound, sweat from the midafternoon sun darkening his Dodger-blue T-shirt. "I've lived for years on DP Lane, address 6-4-3."
Rodriguez, a broad-shouldered youth, tops an infield grounder. "Don't feel bad, son," the skipper shouts in mock consolation. "I threw that same fastball past Stan Musial. Sportsman's Park, 1955."
The darkly good-looking Piazza steps in. Lasorda has a special affection for him, having grown up in Norristown, Pa., with the kid's father, Vincent. Mike is Lasorda's godson. The young catcher slams a ball to shortstop.
"Don't feel bad, kid. Joe Adcock did the same thing against me—Reese to Robinson to Gil Hodges. County Stadium, 1954."
All this, mind you, from a lefthanded pitcher with a lifetime major league record of 0-4.
Piazza hits the godfather's next pitch into the leftfield seats. "That must have been what Joe Adcock did in his next at bat," yells Ashley, who steps into the cage next. He is 6'7", immensely powerful. He hit 24 home runs in 101 games this season at Double A San Antonio and two more in 25 games at Triple A Albuquerque. But he fouls off the manager's first pitch.
"Foul ball," Lasorda hollers. "Don't feel bad, my boy. Wally Post did the same thing with that curveball. Crosley Field, 1954." He looks up into the bright blue San Diego sky. "Oh, please, Lord, let this young man wait on the next curveball. Let him know that the pitch must come to him." He spins off another breaking ball. Ashley drives it into the second deck, the distant red seats.