Over the course of the last week or so, I was in heavy correspondence with my friend Lee, who is a longtime fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The following interview is the result of our conversation, one that all readers should be reminded is deeply humorous, if not acerbic and cathartic as well. Please enjoy and remember:
Gabe: How did you come to be a fan of the Dodgers?
Lee: I was born in Washington, D.C.; we moved to Los Angeles when I was nine in 1990. The team from ’88 was still largely intact and still a playoff contender, so they were quite popular. Being small and terrible at basketball eliminated the Lakers from contention, plus I started playing Little League, so it was a perfect storm (especially when the Dodgers won five Rookie of the Year Awards in a row in the ’90s).
G: Without looking it up, list those five straight RoYs in chronological order with corresponding years.
L: Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth. Hmm…I might be switching Nomo and Mondesi, but I think Nomo was fourth (Lee was spot on, by the way, even if he did forget the years).
G: When was your first Dodgers game?
L: We went to a game in 1990, and actually went to Opening Day in ’91. My first baseball stadium was an Orioles game back in ’87 or so, in old Memorial Stadium.
G: How many Major League parks have you seen the Dodgers in?
L: I have seen the Dodgers play in Dodger Stadium, old Jack Murphy Stadium (before PetCo came to be in SD), in Safeco, in old Shea Stadium, and in new Citi Field. I already have plans to see them when they come to new Yankee Stadium next year, though I expect to have to survive off field rations for two months to afford it.
G: Whose jersey are you going to wear when you catch them at new Yankee Stadium?
L: I’ve been thinking about this:
- Clayton Kershaw (universal respect, should garner looks, but nothing rude)
- Brooklyn Dodgers hat (unlikely as I feel like a poser; New Yorkers will look at me, see that I’m not 60-plus, and laugh at me)
- (I don’t own this, but…) Pedro Martinez jersey (just to get beaten up on the 4 train after the game)
But in all likelihood, I’ll wear my LAD sweatshirt made for me by my girlfriend’s sister.
G: Will you write an original haiku about Kirk Gibson for me? It doesn’t have to be about the famous home run in 1988.
How Come Excellent
Players Often Turn Into
The Worst Managers
G: Did you intentionally make that about both Gibson and Don Mattingly? If so, very clever.
L: I don’t know how clever one has to be to see how terrible they were as managers…but then, Mattingly’s going to make tens of millions of dollars working for the owner-version of himself, so clearly, I went into the wrong field.
G: Speaking of Gibby’s World Series dinger, is that the single greatest Dodgers moment in your lifetime? If not, what is and why?
L: It’s certainly one of the best moments in LA Dodger history. Brooklyn franchise history would have to include Jackie Robinson stealing home against Yogi Berra and the ’55 season in general. One of my best Dodger memories was attending the very long game against the Cubs in 2004 in which Alex Cora had an 18-pitch at-bat in a high-leverage situation that ended well. Dodger fans are lambasted constantly for arriving in the third inning and leaving in the seventh (which is only partially true…traffic getting in and out is TERRIBLE), but there was tens of thousands of people in a state of tension for a very long time. Having that faith rewarded is part of the magical, narrative part of the sport.
G: Interestingly enough, I went to a game at Chavez Ravine near the end of the 2014 season and felt like we barely battled traffic at all. Maybe the horrible Seattle traffic made it seem normal.
G: Since that was off of Matt Clement, can you tell me the season in and team for which he last pitched?
L: Hmmm. I think it’s the Cubs, but the fact that you’re asking makes me think the answer is really Seattle or Boston.
G: Hypothetical situation here, since you don’t live in New York City. Say you’re on the subway and Clayton Kershaw is riding in the same car as you. Do you try to snatch a lock of his hair by nefarious methods and add it to your Kershaw shrine at home?
L: I live close to NYC, so I can imagine it (though I can’t imagine Clayton riding a subway). But no, I’m not the kind of fan or person who’d go up to a stranger, even a famous one; I’m inherently shy and reticent to talk to new people, even if I’ve volunteered to undergo experimental surgery in order to become impregnated by him (I might have said that in an euphoric rush at some point). What does fascinate me about Kershaw is his “switch”—there’s everyday, carefree, charitable, goofy Kershaw…and then there’s Kershaw in the dugout. If you haven’t read it, go look for a story about how his teammates were terrified of pranking him, even when he was new. His level of intensity is, well, shocking, really.
G: I’m curious, have you secretly been working on the technology to make your “In-Kershaw Fertilization” possible?
L: I do work at a research institution, but my NDA prevents me from saying much more about which trimester I’m currently in.
G: If you were Farhan Zaidi this offseason, how many years and how much money do you shovel Zack Greinke’s way to keep him in LA?
L: Well, there’s what he’s worth, and then there’s what you have to pay to compete with teams that can afford to overpay. The good news is that I don’t think Greinke has any interest in playing for the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. The media in LA, while omnipresent, isn’t the grotesque tabloid or human waste that NY/BOS is, and he’s too savvy and self-aware to put himself where expectations will be unrealistically high. Other teams competing for Greinke that I think are realistic shots include the Cubs, Blue Jays, Angels (if they’re willing to spend more, which is a question), Cardinals, Pirates, Giants, Astros, and Nationals.
What I’d like to offer him? Three years, $75 million. What I think it will take? My guess: four years, $100 million. If I’m the Dodgers, I do it, because a) you’re not limited in resources, b) starting pitching is thin and he/Price are the only two sure things on the market, and c) you keep your rivals from making the leap forward that he provides. Any pitcher is an injury risk, but this is a guy who is smarter and more self-aware than maybe any other pitcher on the planet — he really reminds me of Greg Maddux, and I think you keep him until he decides he can’t do it anymore.
G: There are a lot of whispers that Yasiel Puig might be on the move via trade soon. Where do you think he ends up and who should they try for in return?
L: I don’t think the Dodgers trade him this offseason. His value is at its lowest point, and thus, the return on any trade for him is going to be low. If he tanks the first half of the year, well, it doesn’t dramatically reduce his value since it’s already depressed, and his contract is so team-friendly that other clubs will feel comfortable taking his potential on as a risk. If he rebounds, you either have an All-Star or a valuable trade piece.
Andrew Friedman suggested similar things recently (in a more vague way, I’m making assumptions in my opinion), but I think selling low is, in general, a bad strategy, and while plenty of Dodger fans are somehow bitter about a team that earned a number two seed without three-fifths of its starting rotation, I don’t think the front office is worried about the comments section (I mean, it’s not like Ruben Amaro, Jr. is working for the boys in blue).
That said, the Mets need some outfield help if they don’t re-sign Cespedes; lord knows the Mariners could benefit from an athlete with his batting potential. But who has the pitching the Dodgers need? And outfield is an area of need for LA…I just don’t see him being traded, no matter what people might want to happen.
G: In 111 PAs in 2006, James Loney had 18 RBIs. How many of those did he collect on September 28 that season? No looking it up; you either know it or you don’t. Or guess, for all I care!
L: I know this one! He had something like eight or nine RBIs and tied Gil Hodges for the franchise record! I know this because one of my oldest and best friends, Balazs Csaki, bet me that Loney would have more career HRs than Matt Kemp would (we eventually determined that our bet would be over a 10-year period). Loney was a good defender with good pitch recognition, but not a lot of pop, and he never seemed to be able to make the adjustments to major league pitching that a high OBP guy like he was should have made.
Meanwhile, I was (and still am) a really big Kemp guy—and I still think Ryan Braun should have given the MVP to Kemp (which Kemp deserved anyway) that he won right before testing positive for PEDs. Kemp, healthy, is a Hall of Famer…he just hasn’t been able to stay healthy for more than half a season at a time in years now.
And yes, Balazs owes me $100.
G: Three quick thoughts: 1.) It was nine RBIs, so you’re right. 2.) Let’s say I found out where this Balazs character lives, would you go to his front door with a Duke Snider model Louisville Slugger for the hundred bucks? 3.) We can clearly see here that Dodger fanhood takes precedence over solidarity amongst practitioners of the Hebraic tradition, in regards to your thoughts on Braun. Am I right?
L: Wow! Hooray! 2) Oh, absolutely. Hell, I’d do it just to scare him. But he’s more afraid of seafood and the smell of fish than anything else, so the better harassment angle would be to dump a truck of last night’s catch on his driveway 3) Are you saying Jews can’t use drugs? WE CAN USE ALL THE DRUGS EVERYONE ELSE CAN! We just worry about our mothers finding out.
G: If I were to pull together a team of scientists, genetic engineers, and artists who collaborated on creating a Vin Scully A.I. interface, how much of your life’s savings would you donate to the cause? The cause, of course, would be to have Vin call Dodgers’ games for the remainder of human existence and possibly to replace all the tired, mediocre postseason announcers.
L: Especially that last part. In what universe does a network executive turn down Scully for Tim Mc-bleeping-Carver or Harold “I swear she was asking for it” Reynolds? I mean, how is this not a no-brainer? Unless he’s unable/unwilling to do it (and I doubt that; the man is still going and he’s almost 90), I would give everything I don’t need to keep the heat on (winter approacheth here in new England).
G: I take it this means you’re willing to give me $450,000 for a 49 percent interest in the company I would head to realize this project, yes? Be aware, it will probably set off a chain reaction of events that will stabilize the Middle East and South Asian sub-continental regions, reverse some of the main symptoms of environmental collapse and stem the tidal approach of the next large extinction event, right? Seems a modest investment for essentially half of the credit for saving the human race and 75 percent of its earthly cohabitants.
L: Even just reading those words is the most noble act of my life, so, yes.
G: How about another Vin Scully question? What’s the most memorable anecdote you’ve heard him tell in between play-by-play calls?
L: In the 90s, the Dodgers had a great utility guy named Dave Hansen. Whenever the camera would cut to Hansen getting ready to pinch-hit in later innings, Scully would quote Milton: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” At the time, of course, I didn’t know who Milton was, or what that meant, but it still seemed poignant and precise (which is what baseball is, really), and now, as an English professor, I appreciate it even more. I mean, he just had an obscure Milton reference in his pocket. Can you imagine how deep his personal archive is?
G: As an English professor, please offer us up your interpretation of that Milton quote.
L: It’s a poignant reflection — yes, it reminds us to be humble, but it’s also a statement on relativity. Dave Hansen is more wealthy, famous, and awesome than I will ever be. Yet, in major league history, he’s no one. And here’s Vin Scully, a legend, but also a man who only narrates — he doesn’t play, he tells stories…he is Homer, not Achilles or Odysseus. Is he Milton here, imploring us all to stop, think, and consider? Is he paying tribute to guys like Hansen?
G: You’re walking down Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles when you spot Frank McCourt. What would you do, assuming no cops would answer his pleas for assistance and mercy?
L: I call his wife and let her know where to find him. I get the sense that what she would do to him outweighs what the rest of us would do (and trust me, I have a lot of resentment towards him). Also, I ask him for my money back. It’s not like he’s hurting for cash.
G: What celebrity Dodger fan would you most like to take in a game with?
L: There was a great picture during the playoffs of Jason Bateman decked out in Dodger garb losing his mind like a regular guy over the victory in Game 2. That said, Alyssa Milano is a pretty unabashed, huge Dodger fan, and so it really depends on what my goal is here (again, if your frame of reference is having your entire adolescence occur in the ’90s, Milano takes on a more prestigious referential role, not unlike Mariah Carey). Or Justin Turner’s wife. Can we talk about the phenomenon that IS Justin Turner at some point? Talk about unlikely breakouts!
G: Funny thing is, I remember you saying something to the effect that we (even moderately astute baseball fans) should have seen this coming with Turner in a Facebook thread months ago. Why don’t I just open up the floor for you to gush about Justin Turner in 180 words or less. Go!
L: Baseball fans (and especially reporters) love narratives, so I couldn’t believe that the media spent more time trying to cobble together a specious critique of Kershaw in the playoffs when Justin Turner, Mets’ castoff, was beating the crap out of them (he was the only one, but still). Here’s a great article about the changes he made in his swing, but a guy who doesn’t get called up till his late 20s, barely gets ABs, and hits like a bench player…and then gets picked up after a non-tendering and becomes a 4 WAR a year guy?
He has an awesome Twitter feed (his handle, by the way, is @redturn2, which is awesome because of his fiery red beard and how it sounds like a Star Wars callsign) in which he and new favorite personality Enrique Hernandez spend their time tweeting hilariously at each other? He’s an awesome dude, he and his wife are hilarious and adorable, he’s a great player, he’s a great teammate, he seems to genuinely love what he does and sharing that joy with Dodger fans. He’s exactly who you’d want to root for (and be proud to root for). He’s everyman, the underdog, and a hero!
G: Who is the third-leading home run hitter in Dodgers’ history? Hint: he hit 270 big flies in Dodger Blue.
L: He is the man with the most HRs in Dodgers’ history (post-Brooklyn), and my favorite player of the 90’s, Eric Karros!
G: What was the franchise’s name before they were called the Dodgers? Additionally, why are they called the Dodgers?
L: I’m guessing (hoping?) this is a Trolley Dodgers question—they were the public transportation in Brooklyn at the time (and you’d dodge trolleys on your way around town).
G: You’re right about the Trolley Dodgers and its etymology. They were actually named the “Bridegrooms” before that. Apparently, a bunch of the players all got married in a short span of time.
L: Well, there were wars a-ragin. Get married or die tryin!
L: Fernando is purchased a beer by everyone at the bar and begins generously telling stories and laughing with everyone in the bar. Koufax has something dignified, is very nice and generous to everyone who asks to speak with him, but initiates almost no contact. Hershiser sets up in a back corner with his friends, tips generously, is very polite, but stays with his posse in his corner.
G: That’s the most boring answer of any iterations I imagined you’d come up with. Seriously? Is that all you got?
L: If you take all of Piazza’s career, then it’s gotta be him (in that case, he might be the best ever, or, at least, in the conversation). Defensively, of course, it’s Campy, but I honestly don’t know how to answer; it depends on your criteria; they played in such different eras.
G: While we’re on managers, list five of the dumbest moves by Don Mattingly, in your esteemed opinion.
L: I don’t know that I can give you specific dates and events, but I can list five things that he did repeatedly that killed me:
- Only using Jansen in the ninth inning in save situations and not using him in any other high-leverage, crucial situations (including every single trip to the playoffs).
- Asking Puig to sac bunt (not bunt for a hit mind you) on numerous occasions.
- Giving Jimmy Rollins 524 ABs (including the playoffs). He was, without a doubt, the worst player on the roster, and arguably, the worst shortstop in baseball. The Dodgers had the top prospect in MiLB who was ready by June, and yet, it was Rollins, every day, showing the range of an amputated statue and the arm of a T Rex. And batting leadoff in over a third of the season! I mean…WHAT? It’s one thing to believe in him in April and May; we all thought he’d be better than terrible. But once June began, I mean…did they think he was going to turn into a butterfly at some point?
- Mismanaging Joc Pederson. Yes, clearly, the league adjusted to him in the second half, but just because he stopped slugging doesn’t mean he wasn’t valuable. He walked 34 times in the second half (perhaps a bit inflated by batting eighth occasionally, but still) compared to Rollins, who, as a “leadoff hitter,” only walked 44 times the whole year. His defense is ok, but his range is excellent and with experience, he will be a good center fielder. He needs more time and better instruction in making hitting adjustments, but the Dodgers really should look into making him a defensively above average, outfield version of Adam Dunn — big hits, walks, and strikeouts with solid defense. He’d be a valuable player indeed.
- I’ll give you one specific incident, which is really an example of #1, but still. In Game 1, Mattingly made the SAME mistake he made previously. He left Kershaw in, and then, when he finally went to the ‘pen, instead of using the righty Jansen, who has near record-setting K/9 ratios, in a difficult spot with men in base, he brought in the righty Pedro Baez, and, well, the rest is history. That’s a fireable offense all by itself. Can you imagine if Joe Torre had sent anyone other than Mariano Rivera out in a big spot?
- Because Mattingly will ONLY double switch (seriously, he’s incapable of not doing it). He once pulled Puig for Scott Van Slyke in order to insert Juan Nicasio in a game. That’s like sending Scarlett Johansson home because the ghost of Fred f****** Thompson wants to talk to you about a reverse mortgage.
Sorry. Sorry. It’s hard to stop. And of course Miami hired him…my god, how badly do you feel for Stanton? If I’m literally any other team, I’m asking what it takes to trade for him (especially the Dodgers, which would be a great spot for him).
G: Should Sandy Koufax be canonized in the Tanakh?
L: I heard they were going to add a sixth book in which Moses comes back to guide Sandy Koufax through his development as a pitcher, culminating in his famous “sit” on Yom Kippur. I imagine this would be done in a similar style to The Inferno, in which Virgil’s ghost guides Dante through hell and back.
Hmmm, an interviewee who, unsolicitedly, references both Dante’s Inferno and Milton. It’s possible that Lee is actually John Doe from Se7en.