Hershiser feels just as good about the rest of the team. "It's like a puzzle," he says. "We don't know where everyone will fit, but we have some fantastic pieces."
Most of the pieces have been gathered by Claire, who became general manager in April 1987. Only Hershiser, Valenzuela, catcher Mike Scioscia and infielder Jeff Hamilton remain from the team that Claire inherited. Moreover, entering spring training, only 18 players on the 40-man roster are products of the Dodger organization, and there's little to pick from on the farms below. The front office likes to brag about prospects such as outfielder Henry Rodriguez, but the truth is that recent Dodger drafts have bordered on the disastrous. So instead of promoting from within, Claire and his staff have pieced this puzzle together with trades and free-agent buys.
This wouldn't be so noteworthy if the Dodgers had not been such a model organization for so long. The Dodgers of the 1940s and '50s were known for their constancy. Every pitcher on the 1960 staff was a Dodger product. In the 1970s, Los Angeles was anchored by the homegrown infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey. Now, the Dodgers are an aggregation of players from other organizations.
"Every team in modern baseball is going this way," Hershiser says. "Organization-bred teams are few and far between now. Since we acquired [Kirk] Gibson before the '88 season, we've been a free-agent team as a way to fill our holes."
Says one Dodger official, "I have a theory: We should get rid of our farm system. I'm serious. We don't need one. Who are free agents after this year? Gooden, Viola? We'll sign one of them. We're able to do that. And think about how much money we can save on instructors, minor league costs, all that. I don't think it would be a bad idea."
Claire, however, insists that the Dodger farm system will come back into play. He claims that the team won't be spending a great deal of money on free agents next winter and says that the recent signings were required to fill gaps. He's hoping that there won't be any big gaps to fill next year, maybe even for a few years.
"You have to bond a team together for a year, or a period of time," Claire says. "It probably won't last three years, it won't last five years. We can't change that. It's just the nature of the game today. The great Dodger teams with Pee Wee, Campy, Gil, Jackie...if they played like it is today, with free agency hanging over them, there's no way that team would have stayed together. We added people, but we added quality people. It's the obligation of 25 men to build chemistry or attitude. Brett and Darryl add to that. They bring chemistry to the team by their desire to play every day."
To help with possible conflicts, the Dodgers employ the only full-time psychiatrist in baseball. Dr. Herndon Harding Jr., 35, the great great grand-nephew of President Harding, was hired by the Dodgers in November (he was previously the director of the State of Ohio Department of Mental Health). On a confidential basis, he will work with the Dodgers' major and minor league players.
"I was skeptical at first. People cautioned me," Harding says when asked about dealing with highly paid and often-egotistical ballplayers. "But I've dealt with judges, politicians and people who make a lot of money in private practice. When you get down to brass tacks, most emotional makeups are the same. I've gotten all kinds of ribbing in my profession, like 'What are you doing in baseball?' It's not that the Dodgers are in trouble. They're not. This is just another progressive benefit that has made them the cream of the crop."
Harding may find that the Dodgers already have a good shrink: Lasorda. "He's unbelievable," says Hershiser. "Tommy can kick you in the pants one day, but the next day he's your best friend. He wants to be everyone's friend, but he lets everyone know he's boss. He's so kinetic. His energy level brings people together. He's a magnet. You know, you have a group of eight or 10 friends, but if one of them isn't there, the others don't have any fun. It's like that with Tommy. Take him to a dinner party and the whole group lights up."