Heaven Forfend we should dwell on the negative. Let us, instead, seek out, as Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Bob Ojeda implores us to do, "the positives in the rubble of this season." By all means, Bob. You've got a real good point there. Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Don't mess with Mr. In Between. Certainly. Absolutely. Right! But first...let's take some perverse amusement in poking through that rubble.
Lord, what a baseball season this has been in Los Angeles. Barring an even more ignominious el foldo by their once perennial antagonists, the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers will surely finish in last place for the first time anywhere, league or division, since 1905. And the collapse from a year ago, when the Dodgers nearly won the National League West, finishing a game behind the Atlanta Braves, has been—again quoting Ojeda—"collective," involving every Dodger from the suits in the executive suites upstairs to the multimillionaire working stiffs on the field below, including even those who have spent the majority of their playing time in hospital beds. The Dodgers lead the major leagues in errors (169 through Sunday) and in a statistic for which the technocrats have not yet found a category—bonehead plays. Even when they win, as they did for at least part of a recent stretch, they look awful. Consider their three-game series with the Padres in San Diego, Sept. 14-16.
The Dodgers win the first game 5-4, their 17th one-run victory against 36 one-run defeats, but suffer their 161st and 162nd errors of the season, each of which leads to a run; play a routine fly ball into a double; have two runners thrown out at third base, one on a pickoff play, the other foolishly attempting to advance on an error; turn a sacrifice bunt attempt into a force at second base; miss a cutoff man and commit a balk. "This has been going on all year," says the hardly elated winning manager, Tom Lasorda.
They win the second game 6-3, despite a dropped fly ball in rightfield by rookie Billy Ashley that leads to a run; a throw by leftfielder Mitch Webster to second base after the runner, Gary Sheffield, has already passed that bag on his way to third; and the ejection of Lasorda during an altercation with plate umpire Larry Poncino after Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser hits Sheffield with a pitch for the second straight plate appearance. "What're you gonna do?" the scarcely contrite manager queries from his clubhouse cubicle.
The Dodgers drop the final game of the series 3-1, as San Diego pitcher Andy Benes shuts them out for eight innings and closer Randy Myers squelches an insufficient rally in the ninth. Remarkably, the Padres fail to score in a sixth inning that features two walks from Dodger knuckleballer Tom Candiotti and two passed balls by catcher Mike Scioscia. Ashley plays errorless ball in right but strikes out four times, bringing his strikeout ratio for 15 games to once every 2.56 times at bat, a K average of .391. "The kid can hit," says an optimistic Lasorda, "but he was overmatched tonight."
Well, as the manager says, it has been like that all season. The Dodgers have had seven three-error games, three four-error games and two five-error games. On Aug. 13 they had six errors against the Cincinnati Reds, but that was mere preparation for a seven-error magnum opus against the Giants in Los Angeles on Sept. 11. Three of those seven—two on the same play—were made by the 23-year-old shortstop, Jose Offerman, who has 40 for the season but only a slim chance to become the first 50-error in-fielder since Roy Smalley committed 51 for the Chicago Cubs 42 years ago. Watching Offerman and company perform opéra bouffe this year has convinced Lasorda that "I've been wrong about this game all these years. I thought the easiest thing about it was catching the damn ball."
In fact, there hasn't been a Dodger team quite like this one since Uncle Wilbert Robinson's Daffiness Boys of six decades ago were fielding fly balls off their skulls and sliding three at a time into third base.
"What's the score?"
"The Dodgers are behind 4-3, but they've got three runners on base."