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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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In a sense, Sandy Koufax still pitches for the Dodgers. Dave Stewart is black, righthanded and a reliever, but when he throws a curveball over for a strike, he's using a curve Koufax gave him. The fastball is all his own.

Duke Snider is a first baseman this time around. He's named Greg Brock, and he's off to a much better start than he had the last time. It took two years for the Duke to break into the Dodger lineup. As of Sunday, Brock was leading the team in RBIs as a rookie.

Branch Rickey lives. Actually, he died in 1965, but about 40 years ago he took a liking to a so-so Greek shortstop, and to this day Al Campanis carries out The Mahatma's wishes. Of course, Rickey can't take credit for trading pitcher Bruce Ellingsen to the Indians for Pedro Guerrero, the rightfielder-turned-third baseman who wields L.A.'s biggest bat.

The Dodgers are back. Actually, they never went very far, finishing one game behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League West last year. But in the off-season, Los Angeles bade goodby to the anchors of its infield, First Baseman Steve Garvey and Third Baseman Ron Cey, and there was some thought that the Dodgers were bidding goodby to their pennant chances. The doubts seemed justified when, in spring training, L.A. went 11-17, looking wretched in the process.

Yet at the end of last week there the Dodgers sat, on top of their division with a record of 26-11, the best in the majors. Los Angeles was off to its fastest start since 1977, when it was 28-8 after 36 games and went on to the World Series. Hot Dodger starts are usually accompanied by pennants.

Funny thing, though. The Dodgers haven't been hitting (.248 through Sunday) or fielding (41 errors) particularly well, three-fourths of their starting pitching has been disappointing—the thinner Fernando Valenzuela had a fatter ERA of 3.88—and injuries have robbed them of catching and bench strength. Fortunately for Los Angeles—and Beau Bridges, who was last week's celebrity clubhouse guest—the Dodger bullpen has been nothing short of astounding. And the two new guys manning first and third have carried the offense: Brock had nine homers and 29 RBIs, and Guerrero was batting .309 with 10 home runs, eight of which had either tied the score or put L.A. ahead.

The Dodgers have also been lucky. But then, luck is the residue of coconut snatching, cross-checking, hard work, soft sell and all of the other things Dodgers have been doing for more than 40 years. In a way, the first-place standing is a tribute to The Dodgers' Way To Play Baseball, which is both a philosophy and a book written by Campanis in 1954.

Campanis is no stranger to philosophy. He was born in 1916 on the Greek isle of Kos, which was where Hippocrates was born some years before. When he was six he came to New York City with his mother. He went to NYU, where he starred in baseball and football, and in 1940 he signed with the Dodgers to play infield for Macon in the Sally League. He got into seven games with Brooklyn in 1943 and batted a tidy .100.

In the postwar spring of 1946 the Dodgers reassembled their coaches and players in Sanford, Fla. Rickey, the general manager, would hold meetings, and before one such session, he asked his listeners if any of them could remember the first thing that he'd said the day before. Campanis rather sheepishly raised his hand. Rickey said "Yes?" Campanis replied, "Luck is the residue of design." Rickey said, "Correct. I'd like to see you after this meeting." Campanis recalls that a little later, "He said he would keep me in mind for something special, although he didn't know what exactly."

The something special turned out to be breaking Jackie Robinson in as the second baseman at Montreal. Campanis was the shortstop, but because he knew both positions, he schooled Robinson in the intricacies of second. Campanis soon became Rickey's protégé. After his playing career ended in 1947, he was a minor league manager and then a scout. Among his more famous discoveries were Koufax, Roberto Clemente and Tommy Davis.

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