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Bring On The Coconut Snatchers
Steve Wulf
May 30, 1983
That's just one of the many ways the Dodgers have always been able to change players, but not their place in the standings
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May 30, 1983

Bring On The Coconut Snatchers

That's just one of the many ways the Dodgers have always been able to change players, but not their place in the standings

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As the Dodgers' scouting director from 1957 to '68, Campanis conceived of and developed the advance scouting of opponents. When he became the Dodgers' vice president in '68, his first transaction was to sell his son, Jim, to the Kansas City Royals. The Dodgers never let sentiment interfere with business.

Campanis, who has 24 tapes of Rickey lectures that he still listens to, is something of a puzzle; baseball people haven't figured out yet if he's brilliant or merely eccentric. Joe Klein, the general manager of the Rangers, having failed after much trying to consummate a deal with Campanis during the 1982 winter meetings, muttered, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." The Chief, as Campanis is commonly called, speaks four languages—Spanish and Italian besides the obvious two—and quotes Shakespeare.

He's still very much the teacher and freely passes out advice to hitters, infielders and even pitchers. Last Wednesday in Montreal, for example, Centerfielder Kenny Landreaux asked him for some advice before the game. "He told me that I was trying to pull the ball," said Landreaux, "and that when I'm hitting well, I usually hit the ball up the middle. He told me to watch the ball from the pitcher's hand and to wait on it." That night Landreaux had three hits, one to center, one to right-center and one to left-center.

During Campanis' vice-presidency, the Dodgers have finished first four times and second seven times. He has made some bad trades—for instance, giving Cleveland Pitcher Rick Sutcliffe for Outfielder Jorge Orta—but then he'd already stolen Guerrero from the Tribe. "I learned a lot from Branch Rickey, but I also learned from Walter O'Malley," says Campanis. "He told me, 'Al, you've got to be bold.' In trades, that has proved very helpful. As Shakespeare said in Measure for Measure: 'Our doubts are traitors,/And make us lose the good we oft might win,/By fearing to attempt.' Ballplayers put it another way. They say, 'If you sleep on the floor, you won't fall out of bed.' "

Perhaps the best move Campanis ever made was signing a losing 18-year-old Mexican League pitcher named Fernando Valenzuela. Then he ordered that Valenzuela be taught the screwball.

"In an organization as large as the Dodgers it is important to appraise carefully the potential of each player so that he may be advanced as rapidly as his talents and capacity will permit."
—From Walter O'Malley's foreword to THE DODGERS' WAY TO PLAY BASEBALL

The L.A. scouting system is a marvel. Year in and year out the Dodgers choose low in the baseball draft, and year in and year out they produce prospects. They have had the last four National League Rookies of the Year, and Guerrero was not one of them. They have produced six Pacific Coast League batting champions in 10 years, including the 1982 titlist, Tack Wilson, whom they traded to the Twins for a Double A shortstop. This season, at least 14 former Dodger farmhands are in somebody's starting lineup, and another four pitchers are in somebody's rotation.

L.A. does it with good, old-fashioned hard work, scouring the U.S. and Latin America. It employs six full-time cross-checkers to make sure the original scout's report on a player is accurate. The Dodgers do make mistakes, but they almost always make up for them. For every Ron Kittle—now a hot White Sox rookie—they release, they discover a Greg Brock. They picked him out of the University of Wyoming in the 13th round of the 1979 draft. Stewart was a catcher with a good arm when the Dodgers picked him in the 16th round in 75. Tom Niedenfuer, another reliever, was a free agent, and Pitcher Alejandro Pena, the hardest thrower on the staff, came out of the Dodgers' rich program in the Dominican Republic. Relying on the farm system has helped Los Angeles keep its payroll down. In 1980 it was sixth-highest in the majors; it was 16th last year and will be lower this year.

Says Bill Schweppe, L.A.'s vice-president for minor league operations, "I'm not sure if continuity breeds success, or if success breeds continuity, but we have a lot of momentum built up in our minor league system. We've also been a little lucky." Sure. The names people will be seeing in future Dodger lineups are Dave Anderson, shortstop; Gilberto Reyes, catcher; Cecil Espy, outfielder; Ed Amelung, outfielder; Jose Gonzales, outfielder; Sid Fernandez, pitcher; Larry White, pitcher.

Brock, of course, has already arrived. Besides leading Los Angeles in RBIs, he was first in the National League in walks. For one so young, he has an excellent vision of the strike zone, which is good because teams have begun to pitch him very carefully. Last week, in a 15-inning loss to the Expos, he tied a league record by drawing five walks. The next night, playing despite an upset stomach, he drove in six runs on two homers, one of them a grand slam, in the Dodgers' 13-3 victory.

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