Results tagged ‘ Dodgers ’

Thoughts on the Green family

PHOENIX — I never met Christina-Taylor Green, but I feel like I have through her parents, John and Roxanna.

She’s the little girl, who was gunned down nearly two years ago in nearby Tucson by a madman with an assault weapon who was after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and shot 19 people, killing six of them. The attack in front of a Safeway market took 20 seconds and he was stopped only because the 30-bullet magazine he used expired and he was tackled while trying to change that clip. The guy bought those bullets that morning at a local Walmart.

He disabled Giffords with a shot to the head, depriving Arizona of a young Congresswoman and possible Senator and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, of an active wife and a hopeful mother. She’s lucky to be alive and has used all her effort and courage to recover. She had to resign from the House of Representatives and will never be the same.

He left the Greens without their beautiful 9-year-old daughter and as Roxanna said this week: “I have a hole in my heart and will forever.”

But the Greens have moved on, using their faith as a source of strength and a motivating force to bring change to an American landscape that last week led to 20 more families suffering through the pain of losing their little children because of gun violence.

I met the Greens a month after Christina’s death when they were still in the throes of their own suffering and have written a lot about their journey since. The community, the baseball world and their friends and family circled around them.

In the days after the events last Friday in Newtown, Conn., I thought a lot about them and how they were reacting to another round of carnage. It had to have hit too close to home. Then I saw Roxanna being interviewed on CNN by Anderson Cooper from Newtown. The next day I reached out to John on the phone and wrote a column based on that conversation.

By remaining active, they are keeping Christina’s memory alive. I can’t say enough about the quality of these people and their unbelievable courage.

John is a member of s great baseball family. He’s a national crosschecker for the Dodgers, His dad, Dallas, is synonymous with the Phillies, who he managed to their first World Series title in 1980. I’ve known him for more than 30 years. Their son, 13-year-old Dallas, plays baseball. Even Christina played baseball. She was the only girl in her Little League and dreamed of being the first female to play in the Major Leagues. She was also active politically in her elementary school and was excited to meet Gabby that morning. That’s the reason she went to that community event.

John said that the younger Dallas is adjusting to life without his sister. They were very close and Christina was very protective. She sounds a lot older than her age when she died. And now it’s almost two years later.

“I would say we’re doing pretty darn good considering the circumstances,” John told me.

I’m not sure I could do the same.

Gwynn Sr. on the mend from cancer surgery

SAN DIEGO — Tony Gwynn Sr. won’t be at Petco Park on Thursday when his Padres open the season against the Dodgers. But his son, Tony Jr., will be at the ballpark nestled on San Diego Harbor, wearing  a Los Angeles uniform.

“Typical Aztec and Padre luck,” the elder Gwynn said on Wednesday.

Still, it was wonderful to see the eight-time National League batting champ, Hall of Famer and man called “Mr. Padre” board a bus outside the yard bearing his name Wednesday on the campus of San Diego State. Gwynn coaches the Aztecs, who were about to embark on a six-hour drive to Las Vegas where they are scheduled to play University Nevada-Las Vegas during the next three days while the Padres are battling the arch-rival Dodgers. That’s the way the baseball bounces.

It was little more than six weeks ago that Gwynn had a malignant tumor removed from inside his right cheek. The tumor was wrapped around a nerve that controls movement on that side of his face. Doctors transplanted a nerve from Gwynn’s right shoulder, hoping to limit the damage. Gwynn’s cheek is still swollen and that side of his face is lopsided. He also says his ear is numb. But he’s talking clearly and is slowly working his way back. He knows it could have been much worse.

“I could be dead,” Gwynn said bluntly.

Gwynn has had two serious surgeries on that cheek in the past 19 months. Doctors discovered cancer of the parotid or salivary gland when they removed a tumor in 2010. Because that tumor was wrapped around the nerve, doctors hesitated to remove it at the time, fearing permanent paralysis if they did. Instead, they opted for months of aggressive radiation therapy. That tact worked for awhile.

Gwynn went for monthly blood checkups and this past January doctors suspected that the tumor had recurred. That diagnosis was confirmed by a biopsy.

“I was stunned,” Gwynn said when he learned that the tumor was back. “I figured, ‘That’s it.’ Then you get over it, rebound and try to figure out what to do next.”

The procedure took 14 hours and began in the morning hours of Feb. 14. Gwynn, obviously, wasn’t aware of the length of the surgery until he finally awoke in recovery at 4:30 a.m. the next day.

“I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Great, I’m still here. I’m alive,'” Gwynn recalled.

He then reached for his right shoulder and couldn’t extend his left arm. He had been positioned on that arm all day. Now he’s in rehab to rebuild strength in his right shoulder. He’s hoping that the transplanted nerve will regenerate, giving him full function on that side of his face. That could take as long as a year. He suspects the cancer sprung from a lifetime of chewing tobacco and has quit the terrible habit, replacing it with a non-toxic herbal blend.

Asked last summer if he still thinks about chewing tobacco, he responded: “Every minute of every day.”

Still, life is good. He’s back teaching kids, which is what he loves to do best. And though he won’t be in San Diego on Opening Day, he hopes to be there on Easter Sunday so he can possibly see his son play in at least the finale of the four-game series.

He said his energy level isn’t nearly what it should be yet, but that hardly matters. “You just don’t know how good it feels to be back to work,” he said. “I’m busy and it keeps my mind off all these other things.”





Garv, Boss my picks on new Hall of Fame ballot

I don’t vote for the 12 people who are on the latest Veterans edition of the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. That will have to wait until early next month when the annual list is sent out to eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

But if I was on the 16-member Expansion era committee, which is charged with voting by the Dec. 6 Winters Meetings in Orlando, Fla., the choices would be easy: I’d go with the Garv and the Boss.

Why Steve Garvey never made it during his 15 years on the Writer’s ballot has always been a mystery to me. I voted for him every time, although he always finished somewhere in the middle of the pack. Despite his obvious impact on Major League Baseball, this is George Steinbrenner’s first time on a ballot considered by any configuration of the Vets committee with the express purpose of voting for owners.

The Garv: National League MVP in 1974, All-Star MVP in 1974 when he won his spot as a write in, NL Championship Series MVP twice — once in 1978 for the Dodgers and again in ’84 with the Padres when he had the single best offensive NLCS game I’ve ever seen: 4-for-5, 5 RBIs, and a walk-off, two-run homer to win Game 4 in San Diego against the Cubs. Still an NL record 1,207 consecutive games played. Need I go on?

The Boss: Made free agency what it is today with his signings of Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage from 1976-78. Under his sometimes chaotic guidance the Yankees won seven World Series and 11 American League pennants after he bought the club in 1973. The rest of what today constitutes the American League East has won the Fall Classic a TOTAL of five times during that same period — Toronto and Boston twice each, Baltimore once. If the Hall is about numbers, those are incredible numbers.

This is not to say there aren’t plenty of other worthy people on the new Vet ballot. Marvin Miller and Pat Gillick should also be elected. I’ve also always thought that Ron Guidry and Ted Simmons have been seriously overlooked.

But if I were among the august Gang of 16 my first choices would be the Garv and the Boss. To garner the necessary 75 percent they each need 12 of the 16 votes. I’ll be waiting.

Pettitte starting to look like Hall of Fame candidate

As we entered the 2009 baseball season I never thought I’d mention the words Andy Pettitte and Hall of Fame in the same sentence. But the Yankee left-hander’s 4-0 performance in the postseason and his 2-0 exclamation point in the World Series has me starting to think in those terms.

Pettitte, now 37, hasn’t determined whether he’s coming back next season.

“I’m not sure,” Pettitte said in the din of the clubhouse celebration after the Yanks clinched their 27th World Series title by vanquishing the Phillies. “I’ll need to get home
and talk to my family. I’ll need to talk to the Yankees and find out
where they’re at, and then I can probably start trying to figure out
what I’d like to do.”

Even if he doesn’t come back, his resume after 15 seasons has to warrant some serious HOF consideration. Pettitte already has a 229-135 record for a .629 regular season-winning percentage. His 18 postseason wins — five of them in the World Series — are the most in Major League history. John Smoltz, who had 15 postseason wins for the Atlanta Braves, only recorded two of them in the Fall Classic. With 213 wins and 154 saves, Smoltz is considered a very formidable Hall of Fame candidate, although his Braves won the World Series only once in five chances.

Pettitte also compares favorably to Yankee Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, another left-hander who was elected with a record of 236-106 and a .690 winning percentage in 17 regular seasons. The man also nicknamed “Chairman of the Board” had a record 10 victories in 11 World Series. Ford played in an era when the pennant winners in each league went directly to the World Series. There were no qualifying rounds. Ford’s Yankees won six of them.

Pettitte has now played in the World Series eight times, seven with the Yankees and one with the Astros. He’s won five, all with the Yankees. That’s no mean feat, considering the fact that in his era a team must get through three grueling rounds of playoffs to be crowned champions. This year, he won the clincher in each round against the Twins, Angels and Phillies.

Ford, 10-8, in the World Series, only started 22 postseason games. Pettitte has started 40 and he’s 18-9. Sandy Koufax, one of the premier left-handers in baseball history, won 165 games in 12 seasons with the Dodgers and added four wins in eight World Series appearances, seven of them starts. Koufax is the rare exception to the rule: a pitcher who was elected to the Hall based on six great seasons, the last six of his injury-prone career.

As a Hall-of-Fame voter, it’s a no-brainer that Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will be first ballot electees to the Hall of Fame. Barring injury, Jeter will become the first Yankee with 3,000 hits and he’s already the leading shortstop all-time in that category.  Rivera is second behind Trevor Hoffman with 526 regular-season saves. But he’s light years ahead of Hoffman in both postseason statistics and opportunities, with eight wins, 39 saves and a 0.74 ERA. Two of those wins and 11 of those saves have come in the World Series.

Of course, any discussion of Pettitte for the Hall will have to include consideration of his admitted use of human growth hormone (HGH). But Ford scuffed and doctored baseballs with the help of Elston Howard, one of his catchers. So where does a voter draw the line?

Off those great Yankees teams in Ford’s era — 1950-67 — Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra are also in the Hall of Fame. From this era, circa 1995-2009, I’m now inclined to consider Pettitte in the same breath as Jeter and Rivera.


Don’t the Dodgers need to sign Colletti long-term? The answer is Blowin’ in the Wind

I’m usually loathe to start any bit of prose with a question. But with the Dodgers having clinched the playoffs for the third time in the last four years, is it not time for management to re-up Ned Colletti? After all, he’s been the GM there for that entire period.

Or is the answer to this question the same as the answer to all nine questions in the quintessential Bob Dylan song that was the anthem for an entire generation?

“The answer my friend is Blowin’ in the Wind. The answer is Blowin’ in the Wind!”

Those nine questions were asked by Dylan when he penned the song in 1963. Forty-six years later, none of them have been answered. Probably the best cover version of this song was done by a folk group called Peter, Paul and Mary. That became germane this week because of the death of Mary Travers, the female soul of the group, which kept performing well into this decade until Mary’s maladies made it impossible for her to sing any longer. Now they are gone, their ashes are Blowin’ in the Wind.

But I digress. Colletti and the Dodgers have a mutual option on a contract for the 2010 season. Colletti probably will not come back unless he is offered a multi-year deal. There’s no reason to blame him. At 93-63, these Dodgers will finish with the club’s best record since 1988, the last year it won the World Series. Last year, Colletti’s team, playing within the blush of the Manny Ramirez acquisition, went to the National League Championship Series for the first time since that 94-win, championship season. They lost in five games to the Phillies.

This is the type of progression that management has to love after adding a guy who had never been a GM prior to his hiring by the Dodgers after a disastrous 71-91, 2005 season. Coming a year after they made the playoffs for the first time since 1996, that season of internal conflict cost GM Paul DePodesta and manager Jim Tracy their jobs. And perhaps that’s the way it should have been.

But with Colletti as the GM and Joe Torre as manager, the Dodgers have thrived. Torre clinched his 14th consecutive season managing a playoff-bound team, the first 12 with the Yankees where he won four World Series titles. Torre has a year to go on his contract and says flatly that he will retire at 70 when the 2010 season ends.

Thus, more than ever, the Dodgers need some continuity and Colletti will provide them that if he’s given a long-term deal. Actually, I’m not sure what the arguments are against it. He spent too much money on Jason Schmidt, who came up with a bad arm? He took a chance on Andruw Jones? With the Dodgers trying to save money, Colletti acquired Ramirez from the Red Sox in ’08 and Jon Garland from the D-backs last month and both opposing teams paid the balance of their contracts. One should offset the other.

In baseball, its all about numbers and success, and no matter how far the Dodgers go in the playoff this year, here’s this season’s most important number: 3,601,611 — the top attendance in the Majors, coming in a down economy. That means Dodger fans think that Colletti has put together and Torre is managing an entertaining team. End of story. The decision is a no-brainer. How many cliches can I give you?

But sometimes answers aren’t as easy as asking the questions. And at 57, I never thought some of these nine would still be left unanswered:

How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?

How many seas must a white dove sail before she can sleep in the sand?

How many times must a cannon ball fly before it’s forever banned?

How many years must a mountain exist before it’s washed to the sea?

How many years must some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?

How many times must a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?

How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?

How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?

How many deaths will it take ’till he knows that too many people have died?

The answer my friend is Blowin’ in the Wind. The answer is Blowin’ in the Wind.