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The Dodgers' uniform, for my money, is the embodiment of perfection in athletic fashion. The blue script "Dodgers" runs across the front of a pristine white jersey at an upward angle, underlined by a swoosh. The small red uniform number balances the scripted name and stands out against the white jersey like a single cherry atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Simple, yet elegant.
But it wasn't always so. The current incarnation of the Dodgers' jersey has been in place since 1952, when the Dodgers were the first team to put a uniform number on the front. The script dates back further, to 1938. Road jerseys with "Brooklyn" script were worn until 1945. Jerseys with "Los Angeles" script were worn in the early 1960s and recently revived. [Please note that these links are to photos on sites which sell these jerseys, but that my linking to them does not constitute endorsement of those merchants].
But the Dodgers have had some bizzare uniform variations over the years, as Dan Simon points out on mlb.com's site. Simon knows a little something about bizzare Dodgers' jerseys--he had a hand in the Dodgers' blue alternate jerseys introduced a few years ago (much to my outrage).
Among the strange ones Simon points out: a couple of pinstriped varieties, including one with "Brooklyn" running vertically down the buttons, a godawful checkered version that looks like the players are wearing graph paper, and reflective powder blue satin jerseys worn for night games in the 1940s.
Unfortunately, the article's photos are all in sepia-tone. You can get some idea of color by looking at the replica hats sold here. Some of the early ones are interesting. The 1912 versions feature a logo with a block "B" in the center of a diamond, done as a solid blue for home games and white with blue pinstripes for road games. The 1916 version is the graph-paper nightmare, but it does have the "B" in the style which carried (more or less) through the rest of the team's Brooklyn history. The 1917 version has red and blue pinstripes and for some reason reminds me of a box of popcorn you get at the zoo. The 1930 and '33 versions have double pinstripes running down the hat in six sets; the 1930 one features a red "B".
But the strangest of them all is the 1937 one--it's GREEN! If the Dodgers do a retro uniform night, they could honor one the man who broke the franchise's single-season home run record, Shawn Green, at the same time.
• On Saturday night, the Yanks came from behind against the Boston bullpen again, beating the Sox 2-1 on the strenght of bernie Williams' home run in the ninth inning. Orlando Hernandez earned his first victory of the season, outlasting Pedro Martinez, who was making just his second start after spending two months on the disabled list.
• On Sunday night, the Yanks outlasted David Cone, who channeled his pinstriped glory years in such gutty fashion that Joe Torre wanted to applaud. It took an error by futility infielder Lou Merloni, a well-placed hit by Enrique Wilson, and a near-perfect performance (one strike away) from Mike Mussina to do so. The loss was the Sox's eighth straight. Carl Everett, the Sox Pinch-Psychopath, broke up the perfecto with a two-strike single into the gap. Everett has been slowed for the past two months by what he says is torn cartilege in his knee, but what the Sox medical staff (what wears a stethoscope and sounds like a duck? A Red Sox team doctor--Quack! Quack!) terms as a sprain.
• Following the game, Duquette fired Sox bullpen/acting pitching coach John Cumberland, who'd only been on the job for 18 days since former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan assumed the reins from Williams. This after the Sox staff had given up a total of six runs (five earned) in three games, but had gone 0-3 thanks to their meager offense (Sox hitting coach Rick Down, who apparently expected to be offered the job if Williams were fired, and who was up for multiple managerial posts the past two seasons, is reportedly toast) . According to the fired coach, Duquette used Cumberland's drinking as a reason for his dismissal.
• As word of the firing spread around the clubhouse, Garciaparra--on the DL again for further problems with his damaged wrist--expressed his displeasure with the dysfunctional circus that the team had become. "This is why no one [expletive deleted] wants to play here," he complained openly. Sox outfielder Trot Nixon echoed Nomah's frustration: "We don't have a monkey on our back," he told the Associated Press, "We have a god-damned gorilla."
• Pedro Martinez, concerned over risking his fragile arm for a team that was throwing in the towel, suggested that he be shut down for the year if the Sox fall from contention. Duqette's response, again, was almost surreal: "The team is not going to shut Pedro down. We're paying him a lot of money to pitch. Our fans enjoy seeing Pedro Martinez pitch."
• Examination results disclosed on Tuesday revealed that Martinez has suffered a minor tear of his rotator cuff. Said Martinez, "I think Dan knows as much about medicine as I do, maybe less. That's why I'm surprised he said I'm healthy."
• When Duquette fired Cumberland, he delivered the spin in classic fashion: "I'm not here to assess blame, I'm here to look for solutions." But the Providence Journal's Bill Reynolds, echoing the departed pitching coach's suggestion to look in the mirror, succinctly laid the blame back at the Duke's feet:
"This team is your creation, this whining, overpaid, dysfunctional team that now has lost eight straight games at the worst possible time. This team with a bloated payroll and dissension running through its clubhouse like someone trying to go from first to third on a single up the middle. This team that's now imploded right in front of all our eyes. Your team. The one with the highest payroll in baseball. The one you put together."
By now we're up to the classic body-counts of the Bronx Zoo Yankees--quick, somebody fire Art Fowler! But where the Yankees could use such chaos to motivate themselves and change the team's course, the Red Sox's prospects, with their two superstars injured, seem much less rosy. This is a team which, save for perhaps David Cone--who's forgotten more about winning than Dan Duqette ever will know--has that thousand-yard stare for an aura, with an extra-crispy coating.
With the Sox up for sale and new management an eventuality, Duquette has now cemented his own status as Dead Man Walking. Wouldn't you know it, he made Jimy Williams live out the same fate for the better part fo the season. It's funny how what goes around, comes around.
Technically, the Sox are not dead, not with a four-game series against the Yankees looming this weekend. But they've already torn themselves apart and have proceeded to the postmortem. In retropsect, we should have forseen this. As the New York Daily News' Bill Madden points out, on May 30, Martinez beat the Yanks 3-0, striking out 13 at Fenway. Afterward, Pedro said he was tired of talking about the Yankees and the curse of Babe Ruth. "Why don't we just wake up the Bambino, and maybe I'll drill him in the ass?" asked the world's greatest pitcher.
Since then, the Sox have slipped eight games in the standings to the Yanks, and Martinez hasn't won a single game (he's 0-1 in five starts with a 5.27 ERA ). The Bambino apparently awoke in the form of the Grim Forksman, and now he's firmly stuck it in the Sox's barbecue-reddened asses. Mess with the bull, you get the horns; mess with the Babe, you get the fork.
On May 17, 1998, I spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon puttering around my apartment, mostly working on my computer, which sits in my bedroom. I'd had the baseball game between the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins on the TV in the other room, but after two or three innings, I switched over to an NBA playoff game between the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers. Mostly I ignored the game--a nondescript NBA Eastern Conference playoff game, full of hard fouls, lousy shooting, and the boring excellence of Michael Jordan in the clutch. A few hours later, I emerged from my room to find I'd missed David Wells' perfect game.
On July 18, 1999, I went to the movies with two of my pals. We saw Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's final movie. When we got home, we found an overly excited message from our friend Julie, who'd gone to Yankee Stadium, something to the effect of, "Omigod, it was so great! I can't believe it!" I called her back, clueless about the source of her excitment. It turned out once again I'd missed a perfect game, this time David Cone's, against the Montreal Expos. Eyes wide shut indeed!
But on September 2, 2001, I was right in front of my parents' big-screen TV in Salt Lake City, watching one hell of a pitching duel. While the Red Sox's David Cone valiantly staved off the Yanks, he was outshined by his replacement in the Yankee rotation, Mike Mussina, who came within ONE STRIKE of a perfect game!
I had the game on from before the first pitch, but I'd missed the fifth through seventh innings while eating dinner with my folks. I sat down to dinner remarking that Mussina still had a no-hitter going, but thinking nothing much of it. But when I came in from dinner to see that row of zeroes at the end of the seventh, I was locked in. By the top of the ninth inning, I was on my feet, waving the Yankee runners around the bases like I was Willie Randolph--and I was relieved the Yanks only got one run because the tension was almost too unbearable to wait through. As soon as the Yanks scored, I called Issa, my roommate back in Manhattan, to make sure he was watching the game. "We're all here," he told me.
When Clay Bellinger, who'd scored the only run of the game as a pinch-runner for Tino Martinez, made his diving stop of Troy O'Leary's smash, I was SURE that destiny would prevail, and I would finally see a perfect game through to the finish. When Lou Merloni struck out, I pumped my fist and hollered. By the time the count reached two strikes on Carl Everett, the Red Sox's pinch-psychopath, I had to set my beer aside because I was jumping up and down in anticipation.
And when Carl Everett's blooper fell into the gap, I let out a curse so loud and so vile that dogs howled, paint peeled, milk curdled, and neighbors rushed to cover their children's ears. Carl Everett, a man whose tendencies I have mocked in this space on countless occasions, had repaid me and every other Yanks fan for all of the schadenfreude we've enjoyed at his expense.
But the Yanks still made the final out, winning 1-0 and completing a three-game sweep of the Red Sox which plunged them into turmoil (more on that in another post).
Perfection in the form of 27 up and 27 down still eludes me (unlike the other kinds, heh heh heh). Fortunately, it's not as if I'd never seen a no-hitter before:
• On September 25, 1981, near the tail end of the strike-torn season, I'd watched Nolan Ryan no-hit the L.A. Dodgers. Such was the power of Ryan--I'd seen him take a no-no into the 9th in 1979--that by the middle innings I was turned against my own favorite team (fortunately, the Dodgers had already wrapped up a playoff spot thanks to the split-season solution to the strike). This was Ryan's fifth no-hitter, breaking Sandy Koufax's record. He went on to throw two more before he was done, though I missed them both.
• On April 7, 1984, I settled down to renew the weekly ritual of my youth, watching NBC's Game of the Week with Joe Garagoila and Tony Kubek. I was treated to Jack Morris setting the tone for the Detroit Tigers' amazing season by tossing a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. Morris's no-no tied a record for the earliest no-hitter in a season. The Tigers jumped out to a 35-5 start that year, and practically coasted to a World Championship.
• On August 17, 1992, in a hotel in Wyoming (Rock Springs, perhaps?), with my father the night before embarking on a backpacking trip, I watched the last inning of Dodger Kevin Gross's no-no against the San Francisco Giants.
• And last night, 24 hours after Mussina's near-perfecto, and only a few after I returned to NYC, I caught several innings, including the last one, of St Lous Cardinal Bud Smith's no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. Going into the bottom of the ninth, I felt a bit jaded, but as soon as Rickey Henderson appeared at the plate, I was locked in once again. And when Smith speared the sharp comeback to the mound and nearly ran the ball all the way over to first himself, I chalked up another one for the annals.
September is the month for no-hitters; I'm keeping my eyes peeled for more as this season wraps up.
* Rob Neyer ran a comparison that I've been meaning to run for awhile, that between Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina. Clemens is getting a lot of support as a Cy Young candidate based upon his gaudy 17-1 record (he beat Boston on Friday to improve to 18-1, but we'll leave that aside for the moment so I can use the same data as Neyer), while Mussina has been tagged as a disappointment with a 13-11 record. But their peripheral stats are very similar:
IP H BB K ERA BR/9 K/9 K/W Clemens 182 170 56 176 3.56 11.17 8.70 3.14 Mussina 188 181 38 169 3.55 10.48 8.09 4.44
Mussina's strikeout-to-walk and baserunners-per-nine-innings ratios are actually significantly better than Clemens'. The difference in their records is basically due to run support; The Yankees are scoring 7.2 runs per game for the Rocket and a meager 4.3 for the Moose. Using our old friend the Pythagorean Theorem to predict winning percentages based on the scoring rates (we'll use their RAs--including unearned runs, because they can determine W's and L's just like any others--rather than ERAs: Clemens, 3.86; Mussina, 3.84), the expected records we come up with (based on the same number of decisions) are these: Clemens, 14-4; Mussina, 14-10. Clemens's actual record is 3 wins better than his projected record, Musina's is 1 game worse. The difference isn't quite as dramatic as the writers praising Rocket or ripping Mussina would have you believe. Run support isn't everything, but it does skew their records a bit.
* The Danny Almonte situation is a real downer. Not only was the kid too old to be eligible for Little League, but he hasn't been in school since coming to the U.S. 18 months ago, and he and his father have also been in the country illegally. He's probably also got some major surgery ahead of him thanks to learning to throw curveballs at such a young age. Meanwhile the league's sponsor, Rolando Paulino, was found to have committed similar illegalities in Latin American Little League. Undercurrents of racism--would a white team have been investigated or vilified in the way this Latino team has?--further cloud the situation. Even with the truth revealed, nobody wins here.
Meanwhile, in today's New York Times Sports section, resident contrarian Robert Lipsyte writes of his own son's experience in Little League--or rather, lack of experience. The senior Lipsyte, concerned by the messages sent by son Sam's coach, pulled Sam from the program, but now wonders if he did the right thing: "My absolute uncertainty about this has always restrained my usual judgmentalism when it comes to parents who try to hoist their children up on their shoulders, over the fence, onto greener pastures." Lipsyte refuses to condemn the guilty parties but does address some of the ramifications of their behavior. Finally, he goes back to the source to get his son's perspective on whether he missed participating in Little League. An interesting take on an ugly situation.
[A bit of disclosure here: Sam Lipsyte and I went to school together at Brown University, and I used to write about his punk rock band, the legendary Dungbeetle. He's now an accomplished writer with an excellent book of short stories under his belt and a novel on the way.]
* With the emergence of Sammy Sosa into the National League home run race, everybody seems to be piling on Barry Bonds--teammates like last year's MVP Jeff Kent, self-important blowhards like Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly, and more neutral observers. And I'm less than innocent, though that charge extends more to my day-to-day conversations about him than my writing. Bonds is having an awesome season--his OPS would rate the 3rd best of all time--but many writers consider Sosa or Luis Gonzalez more worthy of the MVP award--as if Bonds weren't equally important to his own team's playoff chances.
Thomas Boswell wonders if we're headed for another 61*--that is, a situation like in 1961 where the public is clearly rooting for one outgoing, charismatic player to break the home run record (Mickey Mantle in that case) and against his dour, aloof competitor (Roger Maris). Boswell wonders about how the treatment Bobby Bonds (Barry's father)received in baseball has shaped his son. Bobby Bonds accumulated 332 career HR, 461 SB, and three Gold Gloves during his 14 year playing career. He also switched teams eight times in his last eight seasons, when young Barry was between the ages of 10 and 17--a situation that probably put a chip on the son's shoulder. "A sense that, to be a Bonds in baseball was to be misunderstood, underappreciated and almost persecuted at times," as Boswell writes.
It's a plausible take on the situation, and to some degree, perhaps it mitigates Barry Bonds' aloofness. But damn it, the man is being paid millions upon millions of dollars to play a kids' game. If he can't find some way to enjoy that and give something of himself back... well, I'll save my tears for somebody else. Besides, I'll be rooting against the Giants long into the afterlife. The longer he and fellow "clubhouse cancer" Jeff Kent preserve their fragile equilibrium of unhappiness, the better it is for the Dodgers and every other NL team I'd rather see make the playoffs.
* The Yankees finally took a step to shore up the void at third base created by Scott Brosius' hairline fracture. They've been using a trio of futility infielders--Clay Bellinger, Enrique Wilson, and Luis Sojo, all of whom have lived up to their reputations as good bench players--so long as they remain mostly on the bench. On Friday they acquired Randy Velarde from the Texas Rangers for two players to be named later. Velarde's arrival means that three Yankees who just missed out on the Torre Dynasty have returned to the fold--Gerald Williams (traded in mid-'96 for Graeme Lloyd, among others) and Sterling Hitchcock (to Seattle for Jeff Nelson and Tino Martinez after the '95 season) being the others. Who's next--Tony Fernandez? Mike Stanley? Danny Freakin' Tartabull? Heat-packin', coke-snortin' Steve Howe (hey, he is a lefty...)? Lord help me, if Buck Showalter shows up in pinstripes again I'm turning in my Yankee cap.
* For my money, Tommy John should be in the Hall of Fame. Not just for the 26 seasons he spent in the bigs, or the 288 wins (plus six more in the postseason, where he had a 2.65 ERA in 14 games), or the four-year span in which he went 80-35 and pitched in three World Series. It's also for his medical legacy--John was the first pitcher to undergo a radical reconstructive surgery by Dr. Frank Jobe, in which tendons from his right hand were transplanted into his left elbow. The surgery has become so common, yet so successful that it bears his name--Tommy John Surgery. This piece recounts the history of John's surgery as well as that of several other pitchers who've undergone the knife.
* Al Martin, who led the league in bigamy last year, recently got caught in another delusion. Al recounted how, while playing football at USC, he tackled Michigan's Leroy Hoard during a game against Michigan in 1986. Only a couple of holes were poked in the story: Michigan and USC didn't play in 1986, and Martin not only never played at USC, but never even enrolled there. I'm not sure whether this would be funny if it weren't so sad, or sad if it weren't so funny. Either way, the guy needs some counselling--maybe a stint in Vietnam under Tim Johnson will help.
After four nights in the woods, I'm back in civilization, or the 3.2 percent version that passes for it in Salt Lake City... anyway, as it's September 1, Roster Expansion Day, I just wanted to note the return of the best baseball player ever named Jay, the Seattle Mariners' Jay Buhner. Buhner has been sidelined for the entirety of Seattle's impressive season with foot problems, but as a man who was around for the franchise's lean years, he certainly deserves a taste of the glory.
Buhner was acquired from the New York Yankees in 1988 in a trade for the immortal Ken Phelps. Phelps hit 17 home runs for the Yanks over parts of two seasons; Buhner's second on Seattle's all-time home run list with 305 and counting. Typical of the Yanks' decision making during the Dark Ages.
I've been doing a little bit of research on ballplayers named Jay. There have been 36 ballplayers with the first name Jay to have played in the bigs, and most of them have done so in my lifetime--an exciting demographic trend to someone who never met another person with the same name until after college. Buhner is the best of the lot, with Jay Bell a respectable second. Jay Witasick continues Jay Tessmer's tradition of lousy Yankee pitchers bearing my name. Jay Payton, whose strike zone is ranges from Hoboken to Fire Island, is yet another black mark against the name. I'll have a more extensive report on the Jays of the majors in the near future. I know you're all dying for it.