The Grouch Confesses

A reader, and a fan of mine at that, has suggested, rightly, that I have become a grouch, a curmudgeon, obsessed with the age factor on and around the Dodgers. He was and is 100 per cent correct.

Way back in 1941, with war coming like a speeding train, the Dodgers without a lot of money and before Branch Rickey arrived with his program (sign a 1,000 kids for peanuts, create 20-30 teams at every minor league level, and in the era before free agency, wait until the cream of the crop rise to the top), the Dodgers did accumulate a flock of aging stars with bigger names than current talent and amazingly rode them to the World Championship series, which they might have won had catcher Mickey Owens let a passed ball get by him.

Heck, in the 2007 Dodgers could duplicate the efforts of the 1941, I would be thrilled as would most Dodgers fans.

If that should happen, we would be glad to make some appropriate atonement for my constant reservations about the age of the team - even, egad willing to pick up Tommy Lasorda's dinner bill (albeit at a diner of my choice).

Over the years, the Dodgers have picked up dozens of name players - Bill Skowron, Elmer Valo, Rocky Colavito, Boog Powell, Frank Robinson, Greg Maddux and on and on. Few if any had any positive impact on the team.

Over the same years, the Dodgers have picked the pockets of other teams for kids just getting started, kids like Cesar Izturis, like the current outfielder Andre Ethier. The record on unknown youngsters on the way up has been a lot better than the name guys on the way down. Its a matter of record.

The Dodgers have won some trades and signings and lost others. In the Rickey years, the Dodgers had quality players backed up at every position. Jim Gentile took years to get out from under Gil Hodges. Don Demeter was stuck behind Duke Snider. Same at every position but third base. The players were, to say the least, uncomfortable under the old rules of bondage.

It was fixed. But in the fixing, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Under the old regime, there was a kind of price control on the game that frankly benefited the fans. Under the current regime, there are NO price controls, to the deep detriment of the fans.

The sticking with age business is not our main fixation, it is only a symptom of what really bothers me, money.

Only corporate types can afford to a baseball game first class anymore. Even second class trips to the ball park cost a fan into three figures if he takes his kid. We are worried about the dwindling number of young people at the ball parks. We are worried about the number of young kids preferring football and basketball over baseball.

We would love to write weekly or thrice weekly columns or retrospectives on things like the return of the veteran catcher Ken Huckaby to the Dodgers fold, but for every Ken Huckaby story there are the dozens of things the team does that fall into the category of follow the leader in today's baseball rush to idiocy and oblivion.

The Milwaukee Braves just gave a journeyman infielder a one year contract for $3.5 million, a guy who has never been a regular anyplace anytime. That's where baseball has gone and its tragic.

That's the Reagan trickle down theory wildly successful. But what trickles down has to trickle up from somewhere and that's from you and me.

To my pal who thinks I have become a grouch, I may try to take my foot off the pedal for a while and give Ned Colletti's collection of players the chance to do their thing - BUT, don't forget, when things go the way they usually do, you'll permit me to say I told you so.

The patron saint of scouts, Ponce de Leon, spent many a year in Florida looking for the fountain of youth, and as this is likely the Dodgers penultimate spring season in Florida, the scouts should spend their time looking for the fountain.

While they are here, the Dodgers ought to hold a big time conference with Ralph Avila, the father of the Dodgers gold mine in the Caribbean, and consider reinvesting more in this valuable source of young players. It was when the Dodgers began to scale back that young Miguel Cabrera, the little Albert Pujols, was signed elsewhere.

Now as to old age itself. It ain't no good thing. Sports included. It is the way of the world. What we once wanted to do but couldn't afford to do now we can afford it but can't do it. When we had the physical talent we weren't smart enough and now we are smart enough we aren't physical enough.

It was so sad to watch Willy Mays trying to hold on. It wasn't much more fun trying to watch Duke Snider trying to get his 400th homer, in a Mets and Giant uniform. And it was doubly sad to know in several cases the guys either never made a lot of money or didn't manage wisely what passed through their hands.

How bout this for a deal? We will ease up on the age business if the Dodgers do likewise.

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