In middle school, I read a book written by Orel Hershiser called Out Of The Blue. In it described a pitcher who, in 1988 and at top of the pitching world, was able to put together one of the finest seasons in recent baseball memory because he knew the importance of a regimen, focus, and not worrying about the outside influences that don’t involve the game of baseball.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Dodgers look to put some of the lessons from that book into play.
Last season in Chavez Ravine was an absolute disaster off the field. The McCourt story line dominated any and all news surrounding this ball club. There was the messy legal battles and the unwillingness of the owner (Frank) to fully relinquish control without a fight (he still owns property rights to Dodger Stadium and surrounding parking areas). Attendance was down, morale was down, and the once proud Dodger franchise, known as a crown jewel in sports, was not only taken over by major league baseball and placed in bankruptcy court, but they were now second fiddle to the Angels.
On the field, things weren’t much better, the Dodgers were a team in transition. Gone was the steady hand of Joe Torre and in stepped Don Mattingly. Gone also were veterans Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin and a host of others who were much better options than the ones brought in. Just this past winter they lost Jamey Carroll who played a solid shortstop for them in 2011.
The pitching held steady, but without proper run support performances went wasted. Jonathan Broxton, who had been in decline since 2009, was less than stellar in 2011 before being removed from a closer’s role he was voted as an All-Star for. They look to be even thinner in their rotation this year as Broxton (Kansas City) and Kuroda (Yankees) have both since left, possibly causing a depth issue.
So the question remains: why do I like this team?
Well lets start with the announcement yesterday that a group led by Los Angeles sports icon Magic Johnson just purchased the Dodgers for $2 billion dollars. That is easily the largest amount paid for a major league baseball franchise, but his partners, Mark Walter (controlling partner) of Guggenheim Partners and former Braves, Hawks, and Nationals President/Executive Stan Kasten, are two people Magic has in his corner.
Walter, who received B.S. from Creighton and J.D. from Northwestern University, manages about $125 billion dollars in assets through his company. Outside of that, not much is known of him or his personal net worth. What is clear is he is the primary money guy in the deal even with Magic estimated between $500-$800 million dollars. Stan Kasten will be the top day-to-day executive and that is key because he has done incredible work in his front office career. Most notably he was a major player in getting new stadiums in Atlanta and Washington and building them to credible operating machines. I can’t imagine Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson throwing their hat in with a guy they don’t see fit, which is why I love this deal.
Then there is the on the field business which is certainly a cause for excitement.
Starting with should-have-been MVP Matt Kemp in the outfield. This team has an identity on offense, and with that identity comes a triple crown threat to match what the Angels have in newly acquired Albert Pujols. They will also depend on Andre Ethier (11/62/.292/.368) to bounce back from an injury plagued 2011 that robbed him of a spectacular start. He is in his walk year, and could use a big season to increase his value that some say is hindered by his declining defense in right field. James Loney (12/65/.288) returns at first base and is also expected to take another step toward being the power threat they envisioned four years ago. Personal opinion: he needs to not exaggerate the high leg kick in his swing so much on the load up, which will allow him to explode on balls more and send some of the 33-34 doubles he’s averaged in his career over the fence. Just my opinion.
On the mound, 2011 Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw (21-5, 2.28 ERA, WHIP.977) will lead a staff that has the arms to keep this team in games. He is the unquestioned ace of this team and that will do wonders going up against division rival San Francisco and their monopoly on the mound.
The regimen, the preparation and the planning done by the Dodgers in carefully renewing their brand in Los Angeles is showing signs of life. They played great baseball after the All-Star break (41-28), and also saw some things from players such as Dee Gordon(24 steals/.304 BA), who will be looked upon to be a catalyst at the top of the order for Loney, Kemp, and Ethier. Mattingly and his imprint are now being seen all over this team. They are coming to play everyday, and their spring record (12-10), mixed with excitement over the end of the McCourt saga is proof they won’t be a team that gets overlooked in a market they’ve owned since heading West.
That, in and of itself, is reason one why Dodger fans should look forward to an Echo Park revival soon enough.