Los Angeles Dodger coach Monty Basgall tore a strip of paper from an old press release on manager Tommy Lasorda's desk in Dodger Stadium last Wednesday and, pencil poised, inquired of his boss, "Well, what's the lineup tonight?" Lasorda, whose energies until that moment had been focused on a dish of clams, looked slowly up at his faithful subaltern and asked quietly, "Monty, how long have you been in baseball?"
Basgall, puzzled by this line of questioning, replied, "Oh, 40-some years. Why?"
"Because," said Lasorda, mimicking an Edgar Kennedy slow burn, "you must know by now that we don't have any choices. Who the hell can we play? What the hell can we do that's so different? We don't have anybody left."
Strictly speaking, that wasn't entirely true. There were some Dodgers afoot who didn't look as if they'd just stormed the Anzio beachhead or finished a gig with the Wallendas. But not many. The Dodger clubhouse that day was pungent with the aroma of disinfectant. After several agonizing moments of deliberation, Lasorda and Basgall pieced together from the remnants of a once-formidable team a lineup that had Bill Russell, a 37-year-old broken-down shortstop, playing rightfield and batting third, and Enos Cabell, a 36-year-old vagabond utilityman, playing first and batting fourth. Between them, Russell and Cabell had hit zero homers and driven in 21 runs in the Dodgers' 83 games. Russell was hitting .234, Cabell .227. Both, of course, had injuries—Russell, a leg muscle pull and Cabell, a bum shoulder—but unlike so many of their teammates, they were able to put one foot after another unaided by hospital orderlies. Cabell would be the Dodgers' sixth cleanup hitter in 2½ weeks.
For their No. 5 batter, Lasorda and Basgall chose Alex Trevino, a much-traveled catcher then hitting a rousing .275 with three homers and eight RBIs. The sixth batter would be Jeff Hamilton, a 22-year-old rookie third baseman playing in his 11th major league game. Hamilton, hitting .158 at the time, had been the cleanup hitter the night before. "We've got to move that kid down in the order," Lasorda argued with Basgall. "Yeah," agreed the coach, "but this is a tough racket when you've got Enos Cabell hitting cleanup."
So the Dodgers took the field that night against St. Louis with a lineup featuring three legitimate regulars (second baseman Steve Sax, leftfielder Ken Landreaux and shortstop Mariano Duncan), three declining veterans, two rookies (Hamilton and centerfielder Reggie Williams) and Fernando Valenzuela on the mound. The nine of them had hit a total of 16 home runs in 1986. They walloped the Cardinals 8-2, with Cabell and Hamilton each driving in three runs. Russell got a hit and scored two runs. What do you know? That was the 58th different lineup Lasorda had fielded in 84 games. Thursday's game, an 11-4 win over the Cubs, would see the 59th and Friday's, a 6-3 loss to the Cubs, the 60th. But all the fiddling couldn't keep the Dodgers out of the National League West cellar, where for the first time since 1979, they wallowed as late into the season as July.
And these were the defending division champions, the Dodgers Lasorda himself had envisioned running roughshod over the pack this year. "I raved about this team in the spring," the portly manager recalled in a mournful moment. "I thought with a guy [Bill Madlock] who had won four batting titles hitting third, a guy [Pedro Guerrero] who had hit 33 home runs batting fourth and another guy [Mike Marshall] who had hit 28 home runs in only 135 games batting fifth, we'd be the toughest team in baseball in the middle of the lineup."
Alas, Guerrero has not played a game. On April 3 in the final spring training game in Florida, he ruptured a tendon in his left knee, aborting a slide. He was operated on by the suddenly beleaguered team physician, Dr. Frank Jobe, and is not expected to return to the lineup until next month. That was Guerrero's third serious injury suffered either sliding or deciding tardily not to slide, prompting wiseacres and serious observers alike to wonder if in the future he might not be well advised simply to remain upright at all times, regardless of circumstances. The injury to their foremost slugger figured to drag the Dodgers back to the pack a bit, but they still had plenty of talent left—for a while, anyway. Marshall, whose always promising career has been set back by repeated injuries, was out last week with a bad back, a nasty and apparently recurring malady. And only a Pollyanna would expect a full season out of the valetudinary Madlock. He has been on the disabled list twice this season and the injury list seven times. He played in only 47 of the team's 88 games before the All-Star break.
But these are only the more significant casualties. Team public relations director Steve Brener's injury report showed 44 entries through Sunday. Nine Dodgers have been on the DL at one time or another since April 1 and four—Guerrero, Madlock (left groin pull this time), in-fielder Dave Anderson (broken little finger on throwing hand) and catcher Mike Scioscia (torn membrane in right ankle)—were on it up until the All-Star break. Even batting practice pitcher Mark Cresse fell to the plague, suffering cartilage damage to his left knee in his deceptively demanding work. It is no wonder that trainer Bill Buhler will join Sax and Valenzuela as Dodger representatives on the National League All-Star squad. Who has worked harder? And who on the Dodgers has been more in demand by newsmen poking among the ruins of the team? Weary of explaining his players' various infirmities to the medically illiterate, Buhler prepared a glossary of terms—Buhler's Anatomy?—complete with diagrams, and last week distributed copies to the Dodger beat writers. Correspondents from the Times and the Herald-Examiner now converse easily on matters pertaining to the patella, the axilla and the humerus. The Dodgers' travails have at least proved elevating for those obliged to chronicle them.
But Buhler is not the only overworked member of the medical team. Physical therapist Pat Screnar has so many patients in rehabilitation that those who can must stand in line for his ministrations. Dr. Jobe, one of the nation's more prominent orthopedic surgeons, has already operated this season on Guerrero, first baseman Greg Brock (left knee), first baseman Len Matuszek (shoulder), pitcher Dennis Powell (elbow) and Cresse. When asked by an unwitting well-wisher how he was holding up under his ordeal, Lasorda archly replied, "I have the patients of Jobe."