Tuesday, January 25, 2005

FOR PATTY: SOME KIND WORDS ABOUT SHAWN GREEN AND JOSE LIMA BEFORE THE BATTLES BEGIN


I realize I'm a little late in discussing this matter, but after being gently chastised for ignoring the subject, let me just say a few words about Shawn Green. I liked the guy from almost the minute he replaced the walking psychodrama that was/is Raul Mondesi in right field (Mondy is on, I believe, his sixth team since Green's first appearance as a Dodger in 2000, now that he has apparently reached an agreement with the Braves to start for them in 2005-- good luck and God bless, Bobby Cox).

Green was never a tower of personality, but he was likable and, despite the occasional lazy run-up on a pop fly that would end up dropping for a hit, he always seemed like he was in the game. He wasn't a complainer. He did his job, yet he gained the respect of many when he sat out a game in deference to Yom Kippur, following the example set by former Dodger great Sandy Koufax. He suffered agonizing slumps and the concurrent wrath of impatient Dodger fans who, perhaps because of his lack of arrogance, perhaps because of his potential, seemed to take Green's lulls harder than those of just about any other player, while Green himself would just quietly drop his bat and head back to the dugout.

But everyone loved him in 2002, especially on that astounding day in May when he went six for six, hit four home runs, drove in 7 RBI and ran up 19 bases in a 16-3 decimation of the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, one of the only games of the year, of course, not to be televised in Los Angeles (I'll never forget my great friend Andy, an Angels and Expos fan, running down the hall at work yelling to me, "Holy cow! He hit another one!"). That same summer I lived through a grueling 15-inning contest that ended with a game-winning Green home run. By the time that dinger was hit, there were probably no more than 3,000 people left in the stadium, and I had gravitated from my field seat out by the left field foul pole to right behind the Dodger dugout. I was one of many fans who were draped over the roof of the dugout catching high-fives from the hero of the night, who I remember shouting to the group of us, "Why aren't you people home in bed? Don't you have to go to work tomorrow?" It felt good being one of the insane that night, and Green was a large part of the reason why.

2003 was a different story for Green, as it was for the entire Dodger offensive lineup, but he remained a fan favorite, and my wife still thought he and his big ears were as cute as ever, even when it seemed he stood just as much of a chance of getting a hit by waving them at the ball instead of his bat. 2004, however, was not only the year that the Dodgers finally won the National League West. It was also the year of the much-reviled Bobblehead Family ad campaign, and Green's part in it is, for me, a fond memory, a textbook case of likable athlete turned harmlessly wooden actor. His repeating a little boy's name while signing an autograph-- "Bri-i-i-ian..."-- reminds me of nothing so much as Karloff's monster reaching out to the old man in the cabin in The Bride of Frankenstein: "Fri-i-i-iend?" (Of course, the Monster was, despite his lumbering gait and the bolts in his neck, a much livelier screen presence than Our Man from Right Field.) Green's numbers began to pick up in the second half of last year, and he ended the season with two home runs hit during the only playoff game the Dodgers won against the Cardinals, which was highlighted further by the brilliant pitching of Jose Lima, the last game he would pitch as a Dodger. But despite that pickup in performance, he never put his emotions, one way or the other, on display for the amusement of fans or as grist for the sportswriter. Which made it all the sweeter when he came bursting out of the dugout, screaming and hollering with joy, rushing to mob Steve Finley after the amazing comeback against the Giants on October 2, 2004 that was capped by Finley's dramatic walk-off grand slam.

There were those who, in the midst of the Dodgers' dramatic and often agonizing winter trade season, fretted about Paul DePodesta's "dismantling" of the NL West champs, and when the Dodgers backed out of the trade that would have sent Randy Johnson to the Yankees for Javier Vasquez, who would then have come to L.A. with a couple of Yankee prospects for Green, Depo was treated by some, not the least of which several representatives of the Yankees, as if he were a petulant Indian-giver who ought to be worried about whether anyone would consider dealing with him again. But it was Green who had exercised his no-trade clause when the deal Arizona offered wasn't to his liking. When the Diamondbacks finally anted up, Green was gone, Vasquez was now his teammate, Johnson was a Yankee, and the Dodgers shed an expensive contract-year player (who may or may not have geared up his game like Adrian Beltre did last year in the same situation) for more terrific prospects, making their farm system one of the best in the major leagues, and freed up enough money to acquire Derek Lowe to go alongside other recent hires as Jeff Kent, Jose Valentin and, oh, yeah, right fielder J.D. Drew.

I still like Green, and I appreciate the memories he's helped to create for my family and me. As my wise friend Andy said last night, it's easy to understand how a Dodger fan might be upset by the loss of perhaps the last major piece of a team that is no longer recognizably the team he/she's been twisting in the wind with for the last four years or so. But he also said (and here's the wise part) that if you're not just a Dodger fan but a baseball fan, it ought to be a pretty exciting prospect to look at the lineups of the Dodgers, the reconstituted Diamondbacks, and even the aged Giants, and realize that the National League West is suddenly a much better division all around, and a more competitive one. For a fan of baseball, that means more exciting games, more close races, and the potential for more glorious, gut-wrenching agony wire-to-wire in the NL West in 2005, no matter who wins. Shawn Green going to the Diamondbacks may be, to some, an unconscionable concession to a division rival. But he wasn't given away, and what the Dodgers got in return figures to impact their performance far past the three years of Green's Arizona contract extension.

I wish Shawn Green good health and happy days in Arizona, but I won't be giving him any more quarter than I did when Paul Lo Duca returned to Dodger Stadium for that big love-fest last August. I'm a baseball fan who knows nothing but the thick days of free agency, and thus I've had to learn that favorites come and go, just like losers and lunkheads, and so it's the spirit of a team's history and what that team has meant to me personally over the years that has to earn my allegiance. Despite the horrors of the Fox era, the Dodgers have done just that, and I see little reason to suspect that Paul DePodesta is the clueless bumbler Bill Plaschke and his ilk seem to think him to be. He seems to have a long-term plan that I'm confident to watch play out, and as the winter wore on and it became clear that Shawn Green was not going to be a part of that plan, I did what every Dodger fan, what every baseball fan, has done before and will do countless times again-- I began preparing myself for the Green-less season that will be, ready to cheer for the players and coaches on the field, but also ready, if necessary, to analyze and criticize moves within the games and the season and chew over the whole thing with those who love the game like I do.

I hope my wife Patty will keep wearing her Shawn Green shirt proudly in 2005, and her Lima Time T-shirt too. That garment in particular is a gloriously tacky souvenir of a particularly glorious season, and an even more glorious game, when two Dodgers who are no more shone bright enough to end a 16-year playoff drought and point the direction for a franchise that would risk the ire of fans and the chemistry, the very "heart and soul," of a team that could not possibly rest its future on that one game, that one season, that one group of 25, but instead would look ahead to acquisitions and prospects and expect, despite howls of fury and protest, to do it all again.

1 comment:

Thom McGregor said...

Dennis, first of all, I usually don't understand a single word you write about baseball. It's like looking under the hood of a car to me. But I must say that I comprehended most of this one and that it's one of your best-written blog entries of all time. Even though I know you have a cold and it's late at night, your thoughts came out clear and perfectly expressed. I'm so proud of your writing talents. But I don't think Shawn Green has large ears. He's a pure cutie. And I just don't know who the Dodgers are anymore, and I'm certainly not a baseball fan, but I guess, just like last year, I will be subjected to every game televised and so will learn, by reluctant osmosis, the names of the new team members, including the one with the pornstache, and have to sweat along with you, hoping that the boys in blue make you happy. But only for you! And bring on those Nathan dogs!