While Headgear and Pittsburgh Brad pondered whether to attend the exhibition, several of the Dodgers' minor league players wrestled with the same question. Those minor leaguers were being asked by the front office to serve as replacement players, at the risk of being branded strikebreakers by the Major League Baseball Players Association. However, unlike the major league teams that signed beer league players as replacements and were sending home minor league players who refused to participate in spring training games, the Dodgers didn't sign a single sandlot player and were offering an incentive package to induce minor leaguers to play in exhibition games. Those who agree receive a $5,000 bonus, the major league spring training per diem, a substantial increase in salary (for example a Class A player who made $1,000 a month will earn $3,000 a month) and a guaranteed job in the minors for the rest of the season at that higher salary. Those who do not wish to serve as replacements can remain in the minor league camp and compete for a job, just as they would in any other season.
"We met with each player and told them that they were under no pressure at all to play," says Charlie Blaney, the Dodgers' director of minor league operations. "They will be judged the same regardless of whether they accepted the offer or not."
Last Friday when the replacement players trickled in groups into Holman Stadium for the game against the Tigers, none of them were stopped by fans with Sharpies asking for autographs on balls and hats and bats. "To be honest, I didn't even know there was a game today," said Class A catcher Ryan Luzinski, a son of former major league slugger Greg Luzinski and one of those who decided not to be a replacement player. "It's just so quiet."
Headgear and Pittsburgh Brad, their skinny white legs roasting in the early afternoon sun, were standing outside the entrance to the clubhouse. "Yeah, we're here," said Headgear. "But we're not buying tickets."
They didn't recognize any of the players, but they knew the coaches and staff members, many of whom stopped and said hello. Team physical therapist Pat Screnar pointed to Headgear's right arm and cracked, "Fall off the bar stool?"
"Hey, guys!" said Lasorda, as he jumped into a golf cart with his name written in script across the front. "Glad you made it!"
Lasorda headed for a gate at Holman, where a senior citizen bedecked in Dodger blue stopped him. "Tommy, are you happy with the crowd?" she asked, motioning toward the stream of fans with hair as white as Lasorda's.
"I'm happy every day I pick up the paper, read the obituaries and don't find my name in it," Lasorda said, and then disappeared through the rightfield gate.
When the manager stepped onto the field moments later, Hail to the Chief blared from the speakers. As Lasorda neared home plate he shouted, in a voice normally reserved for arguments with an umpire. "You want baseball? We'll give you baseball! I guarantee you you'll get your money's worth!" The fans stood and cheered. More than ever, Lasorda was the main attraction.
The paid attendance at Dodgertown for the Tiger game was 3,079, but that included 2,500 season tickets; the actual attendance was more like 2,000. By contrast, last year's Dodgertown opener drew a near-capacity crowd of 6,408, and L.A.'s exhibition opener against the New York Yankees last Thursday in Fort Lauderdale drew only about 500 fans. Still, Friday's turnout at Dodgertown was pretty good for a replacement game because some Vero Beach regulars are so loyal to the team that they didn't much care that the Dodger catcher's name was Paul Wittig instead of Mike Piazza, or that Jay Kirkpatrick was at first instead of Eric Karros or that Johnfer Landrum was in rightfield instead of Raul Mondesi, the 1994 National League Rookie of the Year.