On Old Age

There was an old Roman talker named Cicero. Cicero must have been the patron saint of baseball in general and Tuxedo Tommy Lasorda. One of Cicero's great lectures and teachings was on old age. It was called "De Senectute." In English, the title is "on old age."

Tuxedo Tommy and Ned Colletti, Roman's both, must have taken Cicero's masterpiece with them to the just concluded winter baseball meetings, for the Dodgers have returned home noticeably older. The Dodgers came home with 39 year old Luis Gonzalez, 34 year old Mike Lieberthal and 34 year old Jason Schmidt.

The one thing all have in common besides being a little long in the tooth for professional athletes is all have been hurt of late. Which is not surprising since old ballplayers do get hurt.

We should have known the Dodgers were going old when they hired Stan Conte, said to be able to do wonders with old guys.

We have less agita (Latin for heartache) with catcher Lieberthal than the others. He does not expect to play much behind Russell Martin to start with and catchers are expected to be smart, not fast.

Still, why are the Dodgers willing to pay $1.4 million for a old smart catcher when they just as easily could be paying 10 cents on the dollar for the equally braining and experienced Ken Huckaby, already in the fold?

Now hurler Schmidt is going to get $47 million smackers for three years. They used the money they saved from J.D. Drew who jumped ship to swap one injury prone player for another.

Schmidt is 6 years younger than the departed Greg Maddux and a better shot to go beyond 60 pitches on any given day.

Still, Schmidt is a power pitcher and strikeout guys normally fade as they age. There are more Robin Roberts in baseball history than there are Nolan Ryans or Roger Clemens. Schmidt's physical history suggests he is more of a Robin Roberts than a Nolan Ryan, i.e., his productivity is likely to diminish with each passing month.

The Dodgers are hoping there are still good years in Schmidt's arm. We shall see. We shall see. Some things get better with age, like wine. Other things, most other things, do not.

Now 39 year old outfielders are, well, 39 year old outfielders. Luis Gonzalez is not going to beat any of the following in a footrace: Jason Repko, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney. Given the same number of at bats, he might hit more homers than Repko. Maybe. The one thing he is sure to do better than the others is take home a hefty paycheck.

The Dodgers are going to give a 39 year old player who's numbers have steadily and dramatically gone down a million a month - to continue to decline. This is smart? The decision to bring Gonzo aboard begs the question: Why?

Experience does not beat out an infielders throw to first base. Experience does not help an aging body get the bat around on a swift fastball. Baseball is a simple game: see ball, hit ball. The time to do so is the fraction of seconds. Experience does not reaction guarantee..

Is Schmidt going to win 20? He never has. Is he going to go out, pitch regularly, and sport an ERA under 3.75? Look it up, he has not in some time.

Is Gonzalez going to do what no Dodgers player did in 2006, i.e., hit 30 homers? Well, in 2006, he hit 15. That's less than two a month. For a million a month, you would think you would get more than an average of two dingers per. You want, you would think, more than a homer for ever half a million bucks.

The Dodgers went looking for punch. They have not found it.

The Dodgers have committed to paying Gonzalez. That means he will play over the rookies. That means Matt Kemp and or James Loney will sit. Sit more than they should. More than many fans want.

It looks for all the world like manager Grady Little and GM Ned Colletti have bought into the Lasorda Dictum (older is better or to put it another way, no experience, no work) hook, line and sinker. What we are getting is familiarity. What we may not be getting is a winning team. Or a better team.

The Dodgers are heading to platoon baseball. They better have players ready to go in when the old guys get hurt, or for the 7th, 8th and 9th innings when the old guys lumbago prevents them from playing any semblance of defense.

The Dodgers used to have a team with no-catch Pedro Guerrero at third and no-throw Steve Sax at second. Guerrero was asked what he thought about afield late in the game when it was tight. The honest Guerrero said "I pray they don't hit it to me, or to Sax either."

In 2007, in tight late games, we will have a new mantra: please, Lord, don't hit it to Juan Pierre (he can't throw), don't hit it to Jeff Kent (he's in there for his bat, not his glove), don't hit it to Nomar (he's out of position) and don't hit it to Gonzo (no guarantee the old codger will be awake).

That's half of your eight fielders, boys and girls. A veteran player who doesn't make errors is not the same as a good fielder. It often simply means they don't get to balls young players just eat up.

The skinny is the Dodgers have enough and now maybe more than enough pitching and will find a taker for Brad Penny. It is hopeful this is so and Penny will bring a young player or two in return.

Given the penchant for the Dodgers brain trust for old players, this is probably nothing more than a hope that will go unfulfilled.

The only thing we can say good about this disturbing trend is the Dodgers didn't get suckered into taking Manny Ramirez. And for that, we are thankful.