Putting Pretty Spins on Old Faces

The Dodgers introduced Jason Schmidt, Mike Lieberthal and Luis Gonzalez to the LA media on Wednesday, in the process putting the best face they could on three athletic greybeards. It was a festival for old age and a backhanded slap of youth.

Winston Churchill once said of the RAF (a bunch of kids if you'll remember) that never have so many owed so much to so few. In the Dodgers version, never will we (the paying fans) owe so much to so few.

What is it that the Dodgers have against youth?

The last time the Dodgers caught a break by playing the youth card was in 1940 when stubborn and old Red Sox shortstop/manager Joe Cronin (the boss's son in law) refused to get off the field and ensured he'd stay in the lineup by peddling the kid stepping on his heels, one Harold Reese, aka Pee Wee, to the Dodgers for a week's worth of Boston newspapers.

Of course there was the time the Dodgers signed up a kid who could throw the ball through a wall, one Sanford Brown, aka Sandy, Koufax, and had to keep him on the big league 25 man roster years before he was ready. The guy who had to go to make him a spot was a crafty lefty by the name of Thomas Lasorda.

The Dodgers seldom if ever followed up their youth success with Pee Wee and Sandy and more frequently showed they were as dumb as the rest of baseball's old guys who try to hang on past their usefullness.

The Dodgers needed to keep their old guys (why nobody knows) and due to the numbers game gave away a kid by the name of Roberto Clemente, a Hall of Famer.

Tuxedo Tommy, when managing, took one look at Pedro Martinez and surely saw the ghost of Sandy Koufax. Martinez, Tommy said, was too little to throw too hard too long, just like Koufax.

Tommy's Dodgers didn't like young John Wetteland and thought they had him figured out a couple of hundred saves before he was done. The saves all came elsewhere.

The Dodgers do have a handful of kids around. They are sure to age gracefully because it sure doesn't look like they are going to get to play a lot.

Take James Loney for example. He did hit .380 in AAA. He did smack some homers in very limited late season play (with Grady Little sitting him down quickly so he could get .220 second half hitter Nomar Garciaparra back into the lineup).

Baseball is screwy, or to put it another way there are some screwy people in baseball.

Across the country, the Red Sox now have put up over $100 million into a player who's never pitched a big league game, absolutely making mincement of the Lasorda Dictum (he ain't never done it before, don't give him the chance). On the west coast, the Dodgers have a genuine talent and it looks for all the world like they are trying to avoid using it.

Is James Loney one of the five best athletes on the Dodgers? You bet your bippy! Is he going to be one of the five players on the field the most? No he is not! Why is this? Well the Dodgers say, like Richard Nixon said, trust me, I know more, I know better.

The Yankees are not winning world championships of late. They get out of the gate well and are even in the mix at the eighth pole, suddenly to fade at the finish line. They are playing a 162 game schedule plus up to 10 more playoff games with a team built for 150 games. They are frankly too darned old to go the distance.

So what are the Dodgers doing, trying to imitate the Yankees? The Yankees got a mature, i.e., not young, centerfielder who can't throw a lick. The Dodgers went out and did the same.

With all the aging stars unveiled on Wednesday, there was not a single one of them who helps the bullpen. The Dodgers lost 26 bullpen leads last year. A team that blows that many bullpen leads will be in trouble. Are Randy Wolf and Jason Schmidt going to pitch into the 7th and 8th innings thus relieving the pressure - and the choking - on the bullpen? Not likely.

Is Luis Gonzalez going to be able to peddle his 39 year old-going on 40 year old legs to make a long running catch to bail out his bullpen? Is one armed Juan Pierre going to bail out an iffy bullpen with a sparkling throw from the outfield. No they are not going to.

Is the gap between first base and second base going to get any smaller with 39 year old Jeff Kent at one position and the bandaid kid, Nomar Garciaparra, at the other? No it is not!

Now the constant sight of James Loney languishing on the bench could prove to be an embarrassment to the Dodgers braintrust. The sight of Loney is sure to conjure up thoughts of "geez, Loney would've made that play that Nomar didn't." The easiest way to eliminate these second guesses is to swap him elsewhere quick.

Remember Muhammed Ali at 20 or 25 or at any age under 30? The smooth skin, the lithe body, the athletic quickness, the young that gave him the sine qua non of his early greatness. Then remember the Muhammed Ali past 35 and trying to hang on at 39. Remember difference? Was he as good? No he was not. Was he worse? Yes he was. Age is age.

Horses do not get better. Actresses do not get more comely. Golfers get worse (but at least they were smart enough to create an old fogey's division).

The Dodgers by slickly trying to exalt old age on did not exactly convince the world at large that they are closer to winning than they were before. The same questions arise: where are the homers coming from, how is the defense better, what have you done to improve the bullpen?