2008 Was Supposed to be a "Passover"

When the 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers left Dodgertown in Vero Beach just before April Fools Day, it was supposed to be an epiphany. A "passover" from 60 years in Florida and freedom from the long, long 20 years since the last baseball championship, way back in 1988.

Manager Joe Torre was the new Moses who was long on victories and unlike Tommy Lasorda, was a leader who preferred, like the biblical Moses, not to do a whole of talking.

The Dodgers were sporting many time All-Star and prodigious home run hitter Andrew Jones in centerfield, an outfielder who could actually throw. Jones' old Braves teammate and good buddy shortstop Rafael Furcal was in the jump year of his contract and great things were expect from both as the Dodgers looked to put a stranglehold on the National League West.

Well, like the Hebrews in the Passover, it hasn't worked out that quickly and the Dodgers may see the promised land, i.e., the World Series, it probably will be on their home television sets. Their journey has been more full of wandering than a proud march.

The Dodgers, we were told, were a perfect match of really seasoned veterans, used to winning, and youngsters with upsides that caused one and all to get high (without the upside down cigarettes). We had been given a field leader of excellence who was guaranteed to make a dozen games difference with his decades of experience.

Hadn't the GM done a wonderful job? Surely Jason Schmidt would pitch this year. We had one of the best cheerleaders in the business in Larry Bowa in the third base box.

The Dodgers, we were told, were without a visible weakness. As usual, we thought as we began the season, pitching was the team's strong point, not only the best in the business but maybe in baseball. What other team had a pick of aces and stoppers? The Dodgers probably were the victims of their own hype and hopes.

The Dodgers had thrown their old trainers under the bus in favor of that Giant Stan Conte and surely this magician would keep the team healthy, or if not, limit their trips to the DL.

Well, to apologize to and paraphrase the Scottish poet Robby Burns, the best laid plans of men oft go astray.

What happened?

Didn't we get off to a great start? Wasn't Furcal having his best start ever?

Oh, my aching back!

Back at the tail end of May, Furcal, hitting near .400 and near the top in baseball, felt a twinge in his back. No problem, we were told. Couple of days.

That couple of days has is now nearing three months and Furcal likely won't be back, at least healthy, this year, and maybe never again in a Dodgers uniform (unless the team, as it has done on more than one occasion, invests - unwisely as it has most often turned out - to do another Jason Schmidt and overpay for maybes (but probably nevers).

Well there was still Andrew Jones wasn't there! Well, kinda. Which Andrew Jones was the problem. Jones early season efforts most often reminded one of the center of a Dunkin Donut, i.e., a big Zero, a strikeout. Jones came into camp overweight, stayed overweight and was anything but the fleet-footed outfielder of yore.

Our bride just loves Chinese restaurants that offer all you can eat. It appears Jones did and does too.

One wonders what kind of due diligence was performed on the Jones acquisition other than reading Scott Boras' handouts. Hindsight being what it is, all the danger signs and warning signs were there. Why didn't the Braves make any effort at all to keep Jones@ Now we know.

So the hopeful Dodgers suddenly were without two of their four or five leaders on the field, both with a glove or a bat.

No problem. The Dodgers still had their vaunted pitching.

Brad Penny, who had started the previous two All Star Games, started out fine. Then the inexplicable happened. The Dodgers fans woke up in mid August and Penny was 6-9 with an ERA north of 6.66. In the Bible, that's the number of the Beast, the kind of numbers than got Esteban Loaiza hustled out of town in the middle of the night.

Well, there was still Derek Lowe, wasn't there. It turned out to depend on which night you were watching. Lowe is also like the Bible in that he contains both "good news" for the believers and "bad news" for those who don't. Aces and stoppers are not .500 pitchers and that is what Lowe turned out to be in 2008, also his "jump year".

The Dodgers had T. Saito in the bullpen, or did they. Anybody who follows Japanese baseball knows they have their pitchers throw and throw and throw and throw.

Now the human shoulder was not designed by God to throw a baseball at least easily or effortlessly. The Dodgers overlooked the fact that Saito was 38, and a "Japanese" (or seriously overworked) 38 at that.

Saito's late season breakdown, if not entirely expected, should hardly have surprised anybody.

The Israelites march to Canaan was supposed to have taken only six days if everything had turned out according to God's plan (and the Israelite's behaviour/performance). The Dodgers trek to respectability was supposed to have taken six months. It hasn't been quite as designed or hoped for.

The 2008 Dodgers, like the Israelites, went out and got themselves a new idol in mid-trip, one Manny Ramirez, a wonderful hitter, paid even by he Red Sox.

Forget he has Jeff Kent mobility afield to match a pronounced disdain for taking the glove and its work between at bats seriously.

Forget his guru is the same as Andrew Jones, that Boras fella.

Ramirez did offer a most positive distraction but when finally measured, all it distracted the Dodgers from was the fact that their pitching, the heart of baseball, was more than just iffy.

So the Dodgers went out and temporarily purchased another memory, mostly from the Braves (like Furcal and Jones) the wonderful (mostly yesterday or the day or decade before) Greg Maddux.

Now the Dodgers figured they righted the ship just in time and the journey could be completed if delayed.

The trouble was one prescient scout got it right when he said Maddux stuff had dwindled to the point that he wasn't exactly and everytime "on the black" or 1/4 inch off the plate, Maddux was little more than a batting practice pitcher, and a six inning one -- max.

Baseball can be cruel and it doesn't pay off for nostalgia or fading memories.

The problem was the Dodgers - and its fans - both spoiled during the wonderful O'Malley half century.

The O'Malley machine might have spun its share of "spin" (nothing like today when "spin" is confused with what is really going on) but it managed to survive AND WIN by doing things by the book (not by hoping) and by, God forbid, throwing money around foolishly (as has been the habit of late, or since the departure of Mr. Peter).

There's an old saying in politics that the last person one ought to fool is ourself. And the biggest thing that went wrong with the Dodgers was they fooled themselves. And us along with them.

As Vladimir Ilyitch Ulananov, aka Lenin, (sorry folks, we are encamped on the west side of the Black Sea and watching Lenin's minions making life miserable for the Georgians on the other side of the water), wrote "What Is TO BE DONE?"

Just as the swallows will not return to Capitstrano and the Dodgers will not return the Vero Beach, Florida, evermore, the 2008 Dodgers are not likely to return the World Championship banner this year - and, thank the Lord, neither will an exact replica of the 2008 team.

Scott Boras represents Rafael Furcal, Andrew Jones AND Manny Ramirez. The three never played a game together then entire season, much less a game in which all showed their former stills together.

The Bible quotes the Lord as saying it would easier to count every grain of sand on all the world's beaches, or stars in the heaven, before some things could be accomplished.

That's about Boras' chances for all three of those guys getting Dodgers dollars to delude us again.

Jones will remain because nobody else will take him and relieve the Dodgers of their mistake. If obesity be a DL-able offense, he could earn a least part of his pay carrying Jason Schmidt's bags from one rehab appearance to another.

With another agent, Furcal might have a chance to return. Forget Tommy Lasorda's utterances. More basic to Dodgers baseball is the collected wisdom of Dr. Frank Jobe, who has not ceased to urge maximum caution with any athlete with a bad back.

The fly in the ointment in the Furcal/Boras/Dodgers soup is the Jobe dictum.

Ramirez might be back under more reasonable circumstances, which means something other than Alex Rodriguez money, and the absence of some other team dumber than the Dodgers but that precludes the existence of the Yankees.

The Dodgers surely know or be reminded that $20 million per buys an awful lot of pitching, which is what they basically need.

It is too bad Jeff Kent will not get the chance to end his Hall of Fame playing career without one final winner. He frankly, at 40, is no longer a number three or four hitter, nor should he have been miscast as one.

He is, all of baseball knows, just adequate afield. If he has a baseball future and should want one, it surely is as a AL designated hitter. The Florida Marlins can no longer (for them) afford Dan Uggla yet was still going to hit his 30 homers, which no Dodgers would do this year.

Why would one want Angel Berroa back? Or Mark Sweeney? Will there be anything left in Scott Proctor's tank after he was overworked by Torre first in New York then in LA?

The pitching staff is full of guys by he names of Sturtze and Park and Johnson who if back will signal the continuing failure of the front office to assemble a 11 man deep staff capable of winning.

The backup catcher, Bennett, was said to have "plantar fascitis" or some such and when we looked that up in Cassell's Latin-English dictionary what we found was "throws like Steve Sax".

Nomar Garciaparra, yet to play healthy for any appreciable time for the Dodgers since arriving, will probably be "No-more."

The Dodgers have plenty of hitting coaches but apparently no room for a fielding coach.

One easily sees, whatever the outcome of the dog days of the season, a squad with at least a 50 per cent overhaul ahead. The question remains, will the GM be given a chance for repentance and yet another shot?

The team owner has frankly done better, making the uncomfortable fans quiet in better seats and better (if pricier) parking spots. Surely even he knows he needs to turn his attention to the product on the field.

If one has noticed the banana republic prices of the new facilities in both New York stadia, and likewise has any understanding of the jittery nature of the economy, any baseball owner, even the Dodgers, has to take not only notice but action.

The wandering tribe of Dodgers hasn't pitched well (or healthy), hasn't fielded much, hasn't been lucky (with Furcal's back and Saito's tired arm) and the proof was in the pudding.

The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert. The Dodgers, halfway there with now more than 20 years without a winner, see 40 as a very bad number. Kent is 40, Maddux is 40. Jones' waistline is past 40. Sweeney is or should be 40.

As the 2008 season, begun with such hopes and dreams (and crossed fingers) dwindles down, the summer rains have soaked Vero Beach and Dodgertown sits which set eerily empty, as if drowned in the tears of Dodgers fans everywhere.

Sandy Koufax and Ron Perranoski and Dave Wallace still live there, with the memories of better days and happier times. The Dodgers themselves have left on their Passover trip. But they ain't there yet and on the basis of this season, the promised land is still not in sight.

It is probably for the better that the recently departed Dodgers Dugout writers and commentators Phil Spencer and Billy Shelley weren't around to see the 2008 season. Spencer would have been apoplectic.

Shelly would have fretted that the marvelous kids who came up through "his" farm system (1) weren't handled particularly well when they got there, (2) were appreciated more by baseballers outside the Dodgers and (3) generally deserved better.

The Dodgers, under the O'Malleys, and within our dwindling gang of aging writers, used to be fun. On balance, 2008 wasn't nearly as much fun as it should have been. Democratic hopeful Barak Obama promises "hope and change you can believe in." That sounds like a great platform for the Dodgers.

Not the packaging. Not the wrappings. But what's inside the box - or on the field.

Unfortunately, like Tony Bennett, who left his heart in San Francisco, the Dodgers left more in Vero Beach than they thought they did.

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