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Original Issue

Oh, For Those Glory Days of Yesteryear

The Dodgers have lost the way that Branch Rickey laid out for them, and the future could be threadbare

You may have read the book; you may even have bought the videotape. They are both titled The Dodgers Way to Play Baseball, and they explain the rules of order as handed down from Branch Rickey to Walter Alston to Tommy Lasorda.

The Dodgers considered their minor league system to be baseball's equivalent of the playing fields of Eton, with results that showed up favorably on the major league battlefields. Not only did they win six division titles, 12 pennants and five World Series in the 30 years from 1952 to '81, but they did it right, even with the change of venue from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Current major league managers Gene Mauch, Dick Williams, Sparky Anderson, Roger Craig, Bobby Valentine and Lasorda were Dodgers bred and born, nursed on Rickey lore and raised in the belief that theirs was the best organization in baseball. Dodger Blue represented three million customers at Chavez Ravine, Vin Scully on the transistor, the club's own private plane on the runway and a wealth of good pitching on the mound. The line of hard throwers backed up all the way to Bakersfield.

But as the 1987 Dodgers finished their latest home stand on July 29 with a 6-7 record, the realization was settling in that Dodger Blue is now the Dodger blues, a different state of mind entirely. That span ended with a humiliating 16-2 loss to the Giants, and at the end of last week Los Angeles was in fourth place, 10 games under .500 and 8½ games out of first. The Dodgers figure to have back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in 19 years and finish under .500 for the third time in the last four years. That's as many losing campaigns as the franchise suffered in the 25 seasons from 1959 to '83.

What has happened to the Dodger way? What would Rickey say if he were around to witness this year's departures from the straight and Blue? On June 11 Dodger guns Pedro Guerrero and Mike Marshall almost came to blows in the locker room. In a July 6 rainout, Cardinal pitcher Joe Magrane stole home while the infield tried to run down Jim Lindeman between first and second. The reason? St. Louis players were told to run home any time Steve Sax gets the ball because of his hesitancy to throw. Sure enough, Sax held the ball as the 6'6" Magrane lumbered toward the plate.

Two weeks ago shortstop Mariano Duncan made three errors in an inning, doffed his cap to the fans and told Lasorda he had to come out because of a migraine headache. Two days later he was on his way to the Albuquerque Dukes. Last Wednesday, Guerrero took himself out of a game because he was being booed. The night before, three pitchers were trying to warm up on only two mounds in the bullpen.

The infield defense is in such a sorry state that the Dodgers recently signed Julio Cruz—out of baseball since March—and sent him to Albuquerque to get ready. Laugh if you will at the Padres, but since June 1 they have had a better record than the Dodgers. Indeed, Los Angeles has scored the fewest runs and has made more errors than any other team but the Padres in the National League this season.

And those are just the on-field problems. Vice-president for player personnel Al Campanis had to resign after 44 years in the organization because of his racial blunders on national television. Unanswered questions about the front office abound. Things are so bad that when Lasorda recently sat down to discuss possible trades with the manager of a last place team, that manager told him, "Other than Pedro Guerrero and Mike Scioscia and a couple of your pitchers, there's no one on your club that I'd be interested in." And a small but telling point: Scouts are under orders to find the cheapest airline tickets whenever possible.

Nor does the future look much better. The first pick in the 1986 draft, outfielder Thomas White, quit baseball. The No. 1 in '87, pitcher Dan Opperman, blew out his arm in his first professional warmup. And you can forget the farm. "It's only going to get worse," says a scout who, after watching Albuquerque for a week, noted that almost half the players on the Class AAA Pacific Coast League club were rejects from other organizations, including six players who had been flat out released. So much for the excitement of the Dukes' first-half division title. Old hands such as Jack Perconte, Brad Wellman, Shanie Dougas, Jaime Cocanower, Dennis Burtt, George Hinshaw, Bill Krueger and Orlando Mercado are not going to be at the forefront of a Dodger renaissance.

When teams hit the skids, there is usually trouble at the top, which is where you will find Peter O'Malley. Critics say the Dodger owner has erred by not establishing a line of succession for his aging top executives. Indeed, when O'Malley had to replace Campanis he tabbed Fred Claire, who had spent his 18 years in the organization on the public relations, promotion and marketing side.

The Dodger Blue tradition was created by Rickey and turned into a money-making machine by Peter's father, Walter. As long as the club was winning and drawing all those fans to the park, the intellectual, eminently decent Peter was content to concern himself with such matters as defending Bowie Kuhn from other members of the owners' fraternity. The O'Malleys were first and always businessmen, and the bottom line was something to behold. And still is. The Dodgers are averaging better than 38,000 fans per game this year, first in the major leagues.

But aside from replacing Alston with Lasorda, who in the Rickey tradition had been groomed as a Triple A manager and then as the Dodgers' third base coach, Peter didn't make a major personnel move in the dozen years before Campanis forced his hand. Says one rival general manager, "Because they are The Dodgers, they developed an institutional arrogance that blinded them."

Campanis became general manager in 1968, the same year Bill Schweppe took over the minor leagues, and Ben Wade became scouting director in 1973. Campanis had been in line to replace Fresco Thompson, who had been in line to succeed Buzzie Bavasi, and all of them had come up through the baseball ranks. That was part of the Dodger way.

Now Campanis is gone, Schweppe is retiring and Wade is under fire, but the replacements have not been clearly defined. Even Lasorda's status is up in the air: He would love to replace Campanis, though he has no clear successor in the dugout. For now, at least, he seems to have lost out to Claire. So while Claire tries to entrench himself in Campanis's seat and pull the organization together, factions are sniping at one another as they jockey for available positions. "There's a lot of backstabbing going on," says one member of the organization, "and Peter's got to step in and pull it all together." This is something Peter O'Malley has never done.

The internecine squabbles have apparently disrupted the business of strengthening the franchise. Rickey built the Dodgers, as he did the Cardinals and Pirates, with athletes. "He believed in skill players," says Pittsburgh general manager Syd Thrift, himself a Rickey disciple. "He looked for players who could run, throw and had great body control, and he looked for pitchers who threw hard."

"Look at the team that won four pennants from 1974 to 1981," says one scout, "and you saw great athletes like Billy Russell and Davey Lopes and Steve Garvey and Reggie Smith. The only real athlete they have now is [centerfielder] Mike Devereaux, and he's in Double A. Where five years ago they had seven or eight pitchers who threw in the 90's, they don't have one pitcher with a 'plus' fastball in Albuquerque or San Antonio." Scioscia, a superb defensive catcher, and Duncan might also qualify as having Rickey-style athleticism, but Duncan's attitude still needs some work.

As head of scouting, the 64-year-old Wade is currently receiving the heaviest flak. "When the major league team is struggling, then we have to stand and take the rap," says the former Dodger pitcher. "The Dodger scouts have nothing to be ashamed of, but the big league club is losing, so I'll accept what blame comes my way."

The criticism of Wade peaked in June, when he gave Opperman $160,000 after selecting him out of high school in Las Vegas with the eighth pick in the draft. Because Opperman had had arm trouble, most clubs were wary of him. But Wade flew Opperman into Los Angeles to be examined by Dr. Frank Jobe, who cleared the 18-year-old pitcher. Opperman reported to Great Falls of the Pioneer League and shortly into his first warmup grabbed his elbow. Three weeks later he underwent surgery, and most likely will not pitch again until next spring.

To make matters worse, the Dodgers have failed to sign this year's second-round pick, too. The top '85 pick, outfielder Chris Gwynn, is hitting .285 at Albuquerque and is a prospect, but a couple of scouts complain that he is injury-prone and lacks his brother Tony's raw speed and power. Even so, Gwynn appears to be the only top choice since Franklin Stubbs ('82) with a chance to make the majors. Though Wade and Claire see third basemen Jeff Hamilton and Tracy Woodson as well as Gwynn and Devereaux as top prospects, other scouts do not necessarily share their opinion.

What went wrong? "Ross Jones epitomizes the Dodger problems," says one general manager. "They had the ninth pick in the 1980 draft and took Jones, a University of Miami infielder. Sure, he made the big leagues [he's currently with the Royals], but he wasn't a skills player like the Kelly Grubers, Glenn Wilsons, Dennis Rasmussens and Ron Robinsons who were out there at the time they picked Jones. It was the same thing in '81 with Dave Anderson. If Campanis, Mike Brito and Ralph Avila hadn't had the Latin connection to get them Fernando Valenzuela, Guerrero [whom they scouted in the Dominican Republic and traded for after one season of rookie league ball], Alejandro Pena and Duncan, this would have come to a head a long time ago. You look at the Reds or Blue Jays outfield and you see what the Dodgers used to be."

Wade is the same scouting director who selected Bob Welch, Rick Sutcliffe, Scioscia and Steve Howe with first selections. In those days, however, he had brilliant scouts like Bert Wells and Bill Brenzel. They're gone now and their replacements don't seem quite as sharp. Today it's said that Wade is playing it safe by drafting older players. Before this year's ill-fated choice of Opperman, the Dodgers had gone nine years without selecting a high school player in the first round.

Then there is the peculiar case of Eric Davis, who grew up in the Dodgers' own backyard in Southern California. Brito, the same scout who signed Valenzuela, brought Davis to Dodger Stadium for a workout in 1980. According to Brito, Davis had an impressive tryout, but the Dodgers still ignored his recommendation to draft him. Davis was picked in the eighth round by West rival Cincinnati in 1980. And there went the solution to the centerfield problem that had been plaguing the Dodgers for years.

"There have been some mistakes made in the scouting area," concedes Claire. "But before anyone jumps on the Dodger scouting and development people too hard, look around at all the Dodgers playing for other teams." Four of the eight National League All-Star pitchers—Sutcliffe, John Franco, Sid Fernandez and L.A.'s own Orel Hershiser—came out of the Dodger organization. So did Rick Rhoden, Candy Maldonado, Tom Niedenfuer, Dave Stewart, Sid Bream, Ted Power, Jeffrey Leonard, Charlie Hough, Bill Buckner and Don Sutton. According to the old Rickey axiom, it is better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late, but obviously someone jumped too early and got too little value in return on too many occasions (see box at left).

In their defense, the Dodgers have won three division titles in the '80s and only a Jack Clark homer off Niedenfuer spoiled their chance of going to the World Series in '85. They also have had one monumental piece of bad fortune in the person of Howe, whose continuing drug problems derailed what could have been a brilliant career. "He screwed them up more than any one player screwed up any other organization," says Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog.

Because the Dodgers kept believing Howe was recovering, they traded Franco to Cincinnati for Rafael Landestoy. At the time, Franco was not considered a prospect because he hadn't yet come up with his screwball, but still he was a lefthanded reliever. Because Howe went down, Ken Howell was forced to be a closer instead of playing his more suitable role as a setup man. When Howe went down for the third time, the Dodgers felt compelled to deal Fernandez to the Mets for Carlos Diaz. Ouch! Fernandez is a 24-year-old starter; Diaz was released last October. The Dodgers also traded catcher Steve Yeager to Seattle for lefthanded reliever Ed Vande Berg, which led them to ship Maldonado to the Giants for backup catcher Alex Trevino.

Wade also claims that the Dodgers would have drafted Roger Clemens in 1983, but Howe's situation forced them to take a college lefthander (Erik Sonberg) who could get to the majors quickly. "Put Fernandez and Clemens in our rotation, Franco in the bullpen and Maldonado in the middle of our lineup, and see how we look," says Wade. "Not all of those players had to be traded, either." They won't come right out and say it, but Wade and Schweppe evidently feel they are taking the rap because Campanis stayed on too long and, not seeking assistance from below, got virtually nothing for Stewart, Sutcliffe, Leonard, Power and Hough. "We gave up [R.J.] Reynolds and Bream for [Bill] Madlock," says Wade, "and got nothing back for Ron Cey. How does that figure?"

Since ascending to power, Claire has picked up a number of released players and giveaways: Mickey Hatcher, Danny Heep, Phil Garner, Brad Havens, Tito Landrum. Asked if this isn't an indictment of the organization, Claire makes it clear that it is more of an indictment of the Campanis regime. "What we're trying to do is add veterans who have a history of being winners so we can stabilize our young players and give them time to develop in the minors," says Claire. "Woodson, Hamilton, Gwynn, Jose Gonzalez and kids like that need to be playing every day and learning in the minors. We can't be bringing them up here and either forcing them to learn on the major league level—which is very difficult—or sit on the bench. I think some players have been hurt by this in the past."

Clearly, Claire is saying that despite the scouting mistakes of the past, he agrees with Wade and Schweppe when they decry the absence of patient development of young players in the last decade. Where Campanis was unpopular with other general managers and considered difficult to deal with, Claire has been tireless in trying to make deals and, in one general manager's words, "mend the fences that had been broken by Dodger arrogance."

Meanwhile, there is another situation that needs to be resolved within the Dodger organization. It involves Lasorda, who longs for the G.M. powers now exercised by Claire. When Lasorda recently commented that there weren't any replacements coming out of the farm system, Albuquerque manager Terry Collins fired right back. "That's his opinion," Collins told the Los Angeles Times. "Sometimes I think what Tommy Lasorda is doing is wrong. But that's his decision, and he's going to have to live with it." Lasorda was outraged and told one associate, "Now I'm going to find just where I stand."

Claire had the Albuquerque manager call Lasorda to explain his comments, but two weeks after Collins's remarks, the picture remains murky. That has led some to ask: Is the new regime saying that Lasorda has been impatient and hence is part of the problem? "There's more there than meets the eye," says a general manager familiar with the situation. "Fred's trying to make a major trade to prove he can do it, and Tommy's trying to block him because he wants the job."

Lasorda's friends say that if he cannot move upstairs he will look elsewhere for a manager-general manager's job. He denies it. "I turned down millions from the Braves and the Yankees," Lasorda says. "I'll do whatever Peter O'Malley wants me to do. The O'Malleys have always been wonderful to me."

Lasorda represents only one of several personnel decisions O'Malley can no longer avoid. Schweppe is retiring, and rumored replacements include scout Mel Didier and former catcher John Roseboro, who until this spring had been out of baseball for a decade. There are rumors that Wade will soon be asked to retire. And despite appearances that Claire will be in charge for the long haul, O'Malley has never really made that clear. Because he has not acknowledged the need for change for such a long time, O'Malley now faces difficult decisions indeed.

"There are still a lot of great scouts and instructors in the Dodger organization," says Claire. "We have some good prospects. I am extremely positive about our future. We just have some things to pull together."

Not just some things. A lot of things. Because right now the Dodger way is as close to last place as it is to first. What must Mr. Rickey think?



Grieve heads up the Rangers' kiddie crusade.


While the Dodgers are a prime example of age catching up with the front office, the Texas Rangers are proving that good things happen when youth is served.

Sure, the Rangers and Mariners are the only teams never to finish in first place. And when you think of Ranger tradition you think of Lenny Randle punching out his manager, Frank Lucchesi. But something is brewing down on the range, and a youth movement is behind it all.

The first, and perhaps boldest, step came in September 1984, when Texas owner Eddie Chiles made Tom Grieve, 36, the game's youngest general manager. Grieve looked around for a scouting director, decided that San Diego's Sandy Johnson, 44, was the best man available and gave him more power and freedom than any scouting director around. In May 1985, Grieve fired manager Doug Rader and replaced him with Bobby Valentine, a Tommy Lasorda disciple who, at 35, was then the youngest manager in the majors.

Valentine and Grieve set out to begin a new tradition. The previous ownership had never comprehended what it took to build a solid franchise. Brad Corbett went for free agents and ignored the farm system, and when his organization developed Dave Righetti, Ron Darling, Walt Terrell and the like, they were shuttled off for Sparky Lyleses and Lee Mazzillis. When Grieve took over as general manager, he knew what hadn't been done right. "I had no revolutionary ideas," he says. "I just knew what successful organizations did. I could look at Toronto or the Mets or Cincinnati and see that they poured their time, money and energy into scouting and development."

Grieve has increased the scouting and development budgets by more than $1 million, enabling Johnson to go out and hire more than a dozen reliable scouts. From San Diego, Johnson got Luis Rosa, one of the most productive Latin American scouts, to try to challenge the Blue Jays and the Dodgers in that part of the world. Johnson raided other organizations for additional scouts, and Valentine—who can outtalk Lasorda—set about making the Rangers "stand for something."

Valentine has shown his willingness to take chances by hiring innovative pitching coach Tom House, who is working on a Ph.D. in psychology. Player-development director Marty Scott hired a brilliant maverick minor league pitching coordinator, Dick Egan. "Everyone here is open to new ideas because there's enthusiasm everywhere," says House.

The Rangers began to make a move last year by winning 87 games and finishing second. This season they are in contention after a bad start and at week's end were only 4½ games out. With a rotation of fireballer Bobby Witt, 23, Jose Guzman, 24, and Edwin Correa, 21, built around ageless Charlie Hough, they should be a power for years to come.

They also have a young, talented outfield in Ruben Sierra (a potential superstar at 21), slugger Pete Incaviglia (23) and Oddibe McDowell (24); a 21-year-old second baseman, Jerry Browne; and the foundation of a solid farm system on the A level.

"The one thing the free-agent era has told us is that scouting and player development are the name of the game," says Grieve, "and the money and energy had better go there before anywhere else. When they ask who are the best organizations, they don't look at the blood lines, they look at the talent produced."