Rios, Little and Zimmer

There were three Dodgers-oriented blurbs in the news - Rios, Little and Zimmer - which would make a heckuva' name for a law firm.

The first related to the Toronto Blue Jays not able to peddle their young outfielder, Alex Rios, a guy who hasn't even had a Gary Matthews year yet, for Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley and a choice of either Matt Kemp or another prime rookie.

Hello?

The fact the Blue Jays would even float an offer like this is mind boggling and, to Dodgers fans, scary as hell.

Billingsley, slated as the number five starter in the Dodgers rotation - on days Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf are healthy and IF Brad Penny isn't moved by opening day - might well be the best number five starter in baseball.

Billingsley is young, big, strong, so far healthy, and is likely to end the season farther up the food chain amongst the starters. Once he figures out he is not overwhelmed by the big leagues and could himself be the overwhelmer, he could well be something.

That is unless subject number two in today's essay, one Grady Little, does not get cold feet when he is told Billingsley's age.

The second blurb in today's print items was about Brother Little, who it is said, is nervous with only one year left on his original two year contract, and would feel considerably better with a contract extension or a whole new contract before opening day. Wouldn't we all. This is frankly about as nonsensical as the Rios rumor.

What has Little done to date to earn an extension? And in contrast, what has he done to cause concern among the faithful? Says here he has done as much on the debit side as the credit side. We have not yet forgotten how he sat his better hitter, Andre Ethier, into a season ending slump- not exactly the way Leo Durocher handled Willie Mays.

Acknowledging Ethier is not Mays, we also must recognize Little isn't exactly Leo Durocher yet either. We also have not yet forgotten his propensity for putting Fly Ball Tomko into the seventh inning of game after game with men in scoring position, men who gratefully then scored.

We also remember how hot hitting James Loney was placed on the pine in favor of Nomar Garciaparra who was hitting as cold as Loney was hot, which was not hard to do as Nomar was playing on one leg.

So far, Little has done little to merit a long term contract, especially with the meritorious Joe Girardi waiting in the wings for a real big league opportunity. It goes without saying Girardi is (a) not uncomfortable with young talent and (b) experienced in the same.

If Grady Little is a tad uncomfortable without the security of a long term contract, he might want to remember Ol' Charley Dressen, who demanding a two year contract, got none. Dressen went from being slightly uncomfortable with only a one year contract to being more than uncomfortable, he became totally unemployed

Walter Alston managed his way into the Hall of Fame as the Dodgers manager with a lifetime of one year contracts - and he paid for his own meals and never was known to complain either publicly or privately.

And remembering Walter Alston brings us to the third and final Dodger note of the day, the estimable Don Zimmer, just switching to uniform number 59 with the Tampa Bay team as this is Zimmer's 59th year in baseball.

When Zimmer joined the old Brooklyn Dodgers in the Boys of Summer heydey, lefty pitcher Johnny Podres found not only a kindred spirit, but a pal who could and would share the fare to the racetrack as soon as the last out was over.

Don and Johnny, known to take the quickest showers on record, knew they could find some race track or harness track in or near the Big Apple open for action, and boy did the boys love the action.

Were Johnny Podres not sat down by a bum heart, he would still be in uniform as well as, truth be known, both Podres and Zimmer left a good share of their baseball earnings at the betting windows and those were the days when baseball players got paid like the rest of us working stiffs.

They worked long because number one they loved the game and it was a nice way to work if one had to, but also number two because they lived life to the fullest and aren't as well fixed to retire as some others (although Zim's pension check has got to be heftier than most just for all those years).

Don Zimmer still carries a chunk of metal in the side of his skull for he came within a whisker of losing his life to a fast ball to temple. He in fact came the closest to great shortstop Roy Chapman when beaned by Carl Mays in the 1920s.

Zimmer had some pop in his bat when beaned and frankly was never the same hitter again but that was more than 50 years ago and he is still going out there in about six weeks and lace up the spikes as he has done every year since Harry Truman was president.

Imagine the presidents Zimmer has "worked under" - Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the First, Clinton and Bush the Second. That's 11 presidents, most dead in all ways and the rest dead in more ways than they know. And Don Zimmer, like the energizer bunny.

Zimmer always was plucky if not bright. He had little stomach for the antics of George Steinbrenner and settled for the baseball backwater of hometown Tampa than Steinbrenner's New York. Walter O'Malley never paid Don Zimmer a lot, but he never embarrassed him either.

Don Zimmer managed around the big leagues - in Boston, with the Cubs, the Padres, even Texas. But he never got to come home to the Dodgers after all those years. And considering what the Dodgers have settled for lately, that seems a shame.

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