SI Vault
 
These Dodger Kids Are On The Ball
Jim Kaplan
July 30, 1984
Slumping or injured veterans laid L.A. low, but now its youngsters are keeping the team afloat in the NL West
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 30, 1984

These Dodger Kids Are On The Ball

Slumping or injured veterans laid L.A. low, but now its youngsters are keeping the team afloat in the NL West

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser IV was three outs away from beating the St. Louis Cardinals 10-0 last Thursday night when he began to lose his composure. "I was almost in tears," the 25-year-old rookie right-hander said later. "I was going crazy thinking about results instead of pitches. What I was accomplishing was starting to hit me."

What Hershiser was doing was reminding Dodger fans of Fernando Valenzuela's fantastic spring of 1981. Hershiser was about to notch his fourth straight win, as well as his third straight shutout, his second straight two-hitter and his 31st straight scoreless inning. Breathing deeply, Hershiser stepped off the mound. Then he went to work and retired the side on just eight pitches, getting Mike Jorgensen on a grounder to short to end the game.

The Dodgers, who won the NL West in 1983 but were in third place—8� games behind first-place San Diego—at week's end, have been undergoing a facelift all season, and Hershiser is just one of their hopes for the future. Third baseman German Rivera, 24, has stabilized the defense since supplanting Pedro Guerrero, who moved to rightfield on July 3. Dave Anderson, 23, has fielded almost flawlessly since replacing Bill Russell at shortstop. First baseman-outfielder Franklin Stubbs, 23, has delivered three game-winning RBIs. Outfielder R.J. Reynolds, 24, is hitting .271. And Ken Howell, 23, has shown potential in the bullpen. All but Anderson are rookies.

Except for the recent play of their kids, it hasn't been a good year for the Dodgers. During the winter their best reliever, lefthander Steve Howe, was suspended for the entire season for drug abuse. On March 22 utility infielder Bob Bailor dived for a ball with L.A. up nine runs in an exhibition game against Baltimore and dislocated his left shoulder. Between April 27 and July 16, nine more Dodgers, including such 1983 stalwarts as reliever Tom Niedenfuer, starter Jerry Reuss and first baseman-outfielder Mike Marshall, were placed on the disabled list. Manager Tommy Lasorda used 72 batting orders in 99 games, which was enough to make him go on a diet.

The Dodgers also have had some freakish bad luck. Lefthanded starter Rick Honeycutt injured his pitching shoulder on June 9 by tripping while jogging in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. On June 19 Niedenfuer passed out while suffering a kidney-stone attack and swallowed his tongue. No wonder Aphrodite (Mama Tula) Stroumbos, the 89-year-old mother of Dodger vice-president Al Campanis, cooked up her Greek evil-eye antidote, which features a plate, water, oil, a cross and incantations. "She used it, and we ended a seven-game losing streak," says Campanis.

Then there's the matter of what's the matter with Guerrero. Last season he had 32 homers, 103 runs batted in and hit .298. That performance encouraged the Dodgers to sign him to a five-year, $7 million contract. But this season his numbers through Sunday were only 7, 32 and .279. "If I'd known what would happen," Guerrero says, "I never would have signed for all that money."

Perhaps because they remember the wisdom of Branch Rickey, and perhaps because youngsters like Marshall, first baseman Greg Brock and outfielder Candy Maldonado were burning up the minor leagues, the Dodgers have tended to dispose of their stars one year early—not one year late. As a result, Guerrero is the only power hitter remaining from the 1981 team that beat the Yankees in the World Series. Guerrero was co-MVP of that Series with Steve Yeager and Ron Cey. In 1982 Davey Lopes was sent to Oakland, and in 1983 Cey ended up in Chicago and Steve Garvey signed with San Diego. Then last winter the Dodgers released leftfielder Dusty Baker, who now plays for San Francisco. Baker's departure put pressure on Guerrero that he neither expected nor sought. He came to spring training 12 pounds overweight and got off to a bad start. "Sometimes I feel there's something holding back the bat," he says. "I get to the plate, and the bat feels so heavy. I believe people can do bad things to you. And if you saw what I've seen in the Dominican Republic [his native country], you would, too."

What's held back Guerrero, some Dodgers feel, is lackadaisical play. On July 17 Lasorda reportedly blasted unnamed, highly paid Dodgers for not giving it their all. Badly shaken, Guerrero sat down that night, citing a knee injury. He did appear as a pinch hitter, striking out, and did the same the following night, extending his hitless streak to 14 at bats. When he learned the L.A. papers had raked him over the coals, Guerrero threatened 118-pound L.A. Herald Examiner reporter Ken (Mouse) Gurnick, saying, "I'm going to kick your [bleeping] ass." Instead, Guerrero kicked up his heels: He went 2 for 4, stole a base and scored twice in Hershiser's win.

Guerrero's problems have been magnified, too, in the light of several other Dodger flops. Brock was hitting .208 with only nine home runs when he was returned to Albuquerque early this month. Carlos Diaz, the lefthanded reliever who came with Bailor from the Mets in exchange for pitcher Sid Fernandez, was shipped to Albuquerque after one outing in which he gave up seven hits and seven runs in one inning. (Last week Fernandez beat the Astros and the Reds for the first victories by a Met lefthanded starter in two years.)

"The Dodgers will be fine if Jerry Reuss and Bob Welch come back," says Pirate manager Chuck Tanner. But last Wednesday, Reuss, a 12-game winner in '83 who's getting over an elbow injury, made his first start since June 2 and lasted just 18 pitches in a 5-2 loss to the Pirates. And Welch, sent to the bullpen on July 14 after attaining a 6-10, 4.02 record as a starter, continued his sour pitching with an 0-1 record in relief.

Continue Story
1 2 3