Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More McCourt, and the Passing of Harmon Killebrew

     By Ross Newhan

     So, the latest from Frank McCourt is that even if he wasn't strapped for money the Dodger roster would be the same.

     In other words, even if he didn't need to take loans to meet his payroll, he would still have a roster that is last in the National League in runs, has no left fielder, a bullpen that can't be trusted and a journeyman infield because the original shortstop and third baseman are aged and injury prone veterans?

    He can't be serious, but that's what he said.

   In the meantime, former Cincinnati executive John Allan  has been appointed to assist trustee Tom Schieffer in his investigation of how a flagship franchise can deteriorate so quickly and completely, and what Commissioner Bud Selig is actually doing is making sure he has an executive staff in place when he ousts McCourt, whose eventual options seem to be down to suing the commissioner or declaring bankruptcy--or a combination thereof.


  I saw many of Harmon Killebrew's 573 home runs while covering the Angels in the 60s, including the longest ever hit in Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins first home after moving from Washington D.C.

 That record, 570 foot shot was hit off a Lew Burdette knuckleball when the former Milwaukee Braves star was trying to prolong his career with the Angels in what turned out to be his final big league season.

 The drive rocketed off a green, upper deck seat in left field, a seat still on display at the Mall of America, which was built on the site of the former ballpark after the Twins moved to the Metrodome.

 "I didn't need to turn and watch it," Burdette said. "I knew how far it went because I could hear it." 

 I was saddened Monday to hear that Killebrew had lost his battle with cancer, though he had previously released a statement saying he was giving up the battle and hoped to die peacefully with his family.

 The man was a sweetheart, as kind, gentle and accessible as he was powerful, an earlier version of Jim Thome, proof that they still make them like that, just not often.



Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Angels and Dodgers? Ordinary People II?

      By Ross Newhan

      As I've written before, it was the theory of legendary Branch Rickey, who expressed it to the late Dodger executive Al Campanis (who, in turn, expressed it to me), that you can't tell what kind of team you have until it has played every other team in the league.

      Rickey operated, for the most part, when there were only eight teams in each league.

      Now there are 16 in the National and 14 in the American, and a third of the season has often expired  before a team has played every other team.

      Thus, there is nothing wrong with an occasional appraisal, and in the case of the Angels and Dodgers as they approach mid-May, one thought comes to mind.

      Here on the fringes of Hollywood, cinematically speaking, both would fit a sequel titled "Ordinary People II," with no certainty this would be an award winner like the original.

     The eventual salvation for both the Angels and Dodgers could be that they compete in divisions of "Even More Ordinary People."

     Yes, I know that the American and National League champions of last year both came of out of the AL and NL West, but to this point the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants have not assumed their 2010 appearances--with injuries and personnel changes being factors in that, which is another key reason Rickey believed as he did.

     So, to this point, the only certainty about the Angels and Dodgers is the uncertainty.

     Take Monday night's openers of their current series.

     The Angels and Ervin Santana get whacked, 8-0, by the Chicago White Sox, toting one of the worst records in the American League, and the Dodgers fail to muster any support for Chad Billingsley in a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are trying to avoid their 19th consecutive losing season.

     For the Angels, whose only rotation question going in was Scott Kazmir and, perhaps, the health of Joel Pineiro, they now have a series of questions beyond Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, including a bullpen that has already been overhauled. In addition, with Kendrys Morales' broken leg turning into a prolonged issue and Vernon Wells (now on the disabled list) and Torii Hunter off to slow starts in the middle of the lineup, the Angels have been among the league's worst teams at hitting with runners in scoring position. It can be said with some certainty that much of the Angels fate rests with young players named Hank Conger, Tyler Chatwood, Jordan Walden, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos, none of whom have been tested over a fulll season.

     For the Dodgers, it would be foolish to say that the ownership situation hasn't been a distraction and hasn't, nor won't, affect their eventual outcome. Dodger players do not know where their next pay check will be coming from. Nor do they know, if in the hunt, they will get mid-season help. They are operating with a makeshift infield, have no assurance that Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake can stay healthy once they return, get little power from first baseman James Loney, are left with retread Vicente Padilla in what could be a long-term closer role, can't be sure Jerry Sands (romancing the Mendoza line with no home runs) will fill the left field power vacuum despite his popularity with fans, and face the reality that their best two pitchers, Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, are still plagued by inconsistency and carry the burden of an inconsistent offense.

     It is safer to say, at this early juncture, that the Angels have more potential tools and front office stability with which to get the job done than the Dodgers do.

    We will know more as the Rickey theory plays out. For now, ordinary applies in more ways than one.