His Jockstrap with the number 22 marked in black on the waistband hangs from a metal hook in the locker. His Los Angeles Dodgers uniform is draped neatly on wire hangers, while his blue cap and his batting-practice jersey dangle from another hook. His shoes are lined up on the floor like obedient soldiers: a pair of rubber-soled baseball shoes marked 22 and a pair of shower sandals with BUGSY scrawled on each heel.
There is a ghostly quiet about this perfectly arranged cubicle in the visitors' clubhouse of Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Centerfielder Brett Butler will not be needing it, because he is in New Orleans trying to regain his strength after throat cancer and its treatment reduced him to a 140-pound waif with sunken eyes. He has damaged nerves in his shoulders, his neck is bright red from more than 30 radiation treatments, and his throat is so pocked with sores that he can swallow only liquids.
Still, Butler's locker will be re-created in St. Louis this week, just as it was in Pittsburgh last week. Like curators of a traveling museum exhibit, the L.A. equipment people take his belongings everywhere the Dodgers go and arrange them in a locker just as if he were there. "His uniform is always waiting for him," says Bill Russell, who guided Los Angeles as manager pro tern for 30 games after Tommy Lasorda suffered a mild heart attack in late June, and was named manager for the rest of the season when Lasorda retired on July 29.
The tribute, however gallant in intent, is a silent reminder that the Dodgers aren't whole. In Cincinnati last weekend they won two of three games against the Reds and at week's end were in a second-place tie with the Colorado Rockies, 2½ games behind the San Diego Padres in the National League West. Los Angeles has never been more than seven games better than .500, and it is having a difficult time trying to repeat as division champion.
"It's been, uh, interesting, let's put it that way," catcher Mike Piazza said last Saturday, before a game in which pitcher Hideo Nomo took a no-hitter and a 7-0 lead into the sixth inning, but the Dodgers wobbled to a 7-5 victory that ended with the bases full of Reds. "I can't say that it's been a lot of fun. I've never been through a season in which we've lost so many games in such frustrating ways, like with errors or leaving guys on base."
Butler's locker isn't unique. The Dodgers left another eerie, Smithsonianlike memorial back in Los Angeles: On Sunday, 13 days after Lasorda retired, the manager's office at Dodger Stadium remained undisturbed, still filled with his personal effects of the past 20 years. The place always had the feel of a New York Italian deli, with autographed pictures of celebrities on the wall and huge, steaming trays of food passing through before and after games. You half expected to see logs of provolone and mortadella hanging from ropes tethered to the ceiling. During Russell's first six games after Lasorda stepped down, he worked out of the coaches' room, and then L.A. hit the road. The manager's office was to have been cleaned out by the time the Dodgers returned home this week.
It has been an emotion-twisting year for Los Angeles. With soft-focus video, tinkling piano music and John Tesh voice-overs, the NBC Olympics people could turn the Dodgers' season into a tearjerker with a 23 rating and strong female demographics. Or, as shortstop Greg Gagne put it more bluntly, "Guys gettin' hurt, guys gettin' cancer, guys havin' heart attacks. It seems like every time we start to feel good about ourselves, something goes haywire."
Pitcher Ramon Martinez pulled a groin muscle while running in a snowstorm during a game in Chicago in April, which caused him to miss six starts. Third baseman Mike Blowers blew out a knee running the bases in May, which put him out for the season. Five days after outfielder Wayne Kirby joined the Dodgers from the Cleveland Indians on June 24, his father died. Earlier in the season pitching coach Dave Wallace's father also died.
"There has never been a season in my 30 years in baseball in which so many emotional things have happened," says Los Angeles general manager Fred Claire. "That said, the thing we have to focus on is the pennant race. We've been through a lot, but not at any time would I use that as an excuse for why we haven't played as well as expected."
"For us to be only a couple of games out with everything that's happened is amazing," Piazza says. "We haven't put a decent streak together yet. But if we can hang in there and stay within two or three games down the stretch, anything can happen."