Call me a cynic, but Sunday’s comeback win over the Rockies doesn’t prove to me that the Dodgers aren’t quitters. It proves that baseball is a funny game where the better team doesn’t always win.
As for these Dodgers, it’s not so much the players who quit as the management team around them. Over the 2009-10 winter, the front office quit on the team by failing to sign players to replace the departing Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf, both of whom left without even a draft pick in return. Hudson was the offensive sparkplug for the 2009 team, hitting for the cycle in his Dodger Stadium opener. He hit a surprising .283 and OPSed .774, better even than the $10 million man Rafael Furcal at short. Wolf led the team in starts and innings pitched, but the Dodgers thought it was a career year and let him go.
Jon Garland put up serviceable numbers in his short career with the Dodgers, but they let him go as well.
As the trading deadline loomed, management again quit on the Dodgers, failing to acquire the kind of players who would make the team better. Off went Cliff Lee. For the third time in two years, no less. Off went Roy Oswalt. Ted Lilly came west, but only at the price of weak-hitting Ryan theriot. Octavio Dotel was another drain on the farm system that didn’t seem to indicate any immediate upside.
By the time the non-waiver deadline approached, the Dodgers were barely in contention, but kept trying to have it both ways. They wanted to unload Manny Ramirez and his hefty contract. But instead of simply dealing him, they waited until the last minute to see if the team would magically re-enter the pennant race. Still, they refused to play Manny for fear that he might get hurt and ruin the deal worked out with the White Sox.
Finally, Joe Torre quit on the team, announcing last week that he would not return in 2011. He also revealed that he had made his successor, Don Mattingly, a contractual part of his deal with the team when Torre signed in 2008. There never was, and never would be any discussion about who would follow Torre, because it was even more in writing than the name of the McCourt who owned the team.
Torre clearly had to know his mind before September 15. The timing of his announcement, however, followed the remarks by former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley, who said the McCourts had disgraced the proud Dodger franchise. You know, the one the O’Malleys sold to those fine citizens, the Fox broadcasting company. Still, the PR hit left a mark, one that could only be erased by a new news cycle in which Grandpa Torre passes on the family farm to Little Don.
Does the Jackie Robinson signing automatically exempt the Dodgers from having to do anything on behalf of minorities ever again? The team had to scramble to find an African-American player to introduce Rachel Robinson in 2006 and 2007. The 25-man roster in 2010 has had no more than four black players at a time: Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Russell Martin, with Kenley Jansen, replacing Garret Anderson when the latter proved no better a hitter than the former.
The 2010 Dodger season was over before it even began. There were flashes of above-average play, but nothing inspired other than an early season stretch where the team averaged six runs a game. Their fielding was sloppy, the pitching was uneven, and players could not stay off the disabled list. They looked like an older, duller version of the 2009 team that started out so strong and merely hung on to win the division.
The 2011 team looks to be just as awful. There will be no budget for free agent signings, and no farm system to raid for dividends that pay sooner. Mattingly may wish he had taken the opportunity to learn in the minor leagues under Tim Wallach while the team struggles through the horrible McCourt divorce. It’s going to be a long run and the temptation to quit will be just as great.
-- JOHN ROSENTHAL