10 June 2008

The Intersection at Pedro Guerrero

I always feel a moment of panic when I type his last name. Did I spell it correctly? How many r's are there in that name, and where do they go? Does the u come before the e, or is it the other way around? If the last syllable in Guerrero's surname had been spelled similarly to the last syllable in the surname of another Dodger of the early 80's, then I don't think I would ever have the courage to type it out. Guerrereaux. Actually, that would have been a fabulous name. All those e's and r's in a row, the u's near the front and back --- can you imagine seeing that on the back of a uniform, stretching like a rainbow from shoulder to shoulder?

The concept is that three roads intersect at any particular mental idea. In this case the particular mental idea is a former Dodger, an underrated pure hitting talent of the 1980's. This may all seem very strange right now. It should. It will probably seem strange at the end, too.

Find the intersection: What are the three things I think of, remember, contemplate, when I think of Pedro Guerrero? Follow the roads: what do those things I remember about Pedro Guerrero lead to?

June 1985

Pedro Guerrero hit 15 home runs in June of 1985, capping probably the greatest offensive month by a player in Los Angeles Dodger history. The crazy thing is that it wasn't even his best month that year, going by OPS. He had an OPS of 1.297 in June, but an OPS of 1.356 in July. However, since he only hit 4 home runs in July, no one remembers it as anything special.

Pedro hit only 18 home runs in the other five months of 1985. Where did that June come from? How did it happen? Pedro was a terrific hitter, and certainly a power threat, but he wasn't what you would call a reknowned home run hitter. I've always thought the greatest sustained performance by a Dodger I've ever seen was Hershiser's scoreless inning streak, but maybe, maybe --- I don't know. It's not as if Pedro was loading up on road games to hit his home runs, either. Dodger stadium was a tough place to hit home runs in back then, but he still hit 7 of the 15 at home. Yet that's not the really impressive part. He hit four of the home runs in a three game series in the Astrodome. That would be like hitting four home runs in a three game series in Petco Park now!

Sometimes greatness defies explanation or understanding. Pedro Guerrero was a great hitter, better than most people realize. He was underrated for most of his career, playing his home games in hitter's parks and distracting people with his lousy defensive reputation. But for a month, at least, people knew how good Guerrero really was, even if he was doing something rather out of character relative to the rest of his career.

The Slide

When I played in little league I hated sliding. I couldn't slide. I can't remember now what I even did when a situation called for me to slide. Bring my body close to the ground and hope for the best. Pedro Guerrero had trouble sliding too. He tore up his leg in spring training of 1986 trying to slide. He was out for most of the year. The Dodgers went into their own slide, from first place in 1985 to a losing record in 1986, in large part because they didn't have Pedro. During a little league practice that year, right after Pedro's misadventure on the base paths, one of the coaches admonished us to slide properly or risk being hurt the way Pedro had been. Probably he had us go through sliding drills. Jerk.

Happy Birthday

1983, my first year as a Dodger fan. I'm seven years old, except then one day late in the season, I'm eight. It's my birthday. And what do I want to most do on my birthday? Go to a Dodger game. Of course. Go to the stadium, see the team in their home whites, cheer them, see them win. I remember my present that year, probably because I associate it with that game. A lego spaceship, a white fighter with twin cockpits. I always wondered which of the pilots steered the thing. And the game, too, that was the best present of all.

My father took me to the stadium. The opponent was the Astros. They were a good team, in third place, but the Dodgers were better, in first place, on their way to the playoffs. It should have been a great game at the ballpark. Instead, the Dodgers received that game one of the most brutal beatdowns they've ever experienced. The Astros scored 4 in the first, then 5 more in the second, then 3 in the third. They led 12-1 after three innings, and would end up winning 15-2. The Dodgers never had a chance.

When Pedro Guerrero led off the second with a home run, he made the score 9-1. My father turned to me and said Pedro had hit a home run for me on my birthday. But, I protested, the Astros scored all those runs. Why did that happen on my birthday? They got mixed up, he said. They thought you were an Astros fan. Oh.

But at least I got to see the Dodgers' best hitter hit a home run on my birthday. Pedro kept my birthday game from being a total downer. Thanks, Pedro.

02 June 2008

Goodnight, Everybody

Sometimes it's nice just to hear Vinny's voice. We've just now turned on the TV to watch the Dodger game, in the eighth inning, with the Dodgers up 8-1. I can't see the TV from where I'm sitting but that's okay. It's like radio this way. When I was a kid almost all the games were just radio. On the whole TV is better but sometimes it's fun to be irrationally nostalgic.

I didn't think about the Dodgers at all today. I was dimly aware that there was a game because I know they are in the middle of a long stretch without off-days, but I never looked up any of the particulars, or went to any Dodger sites. Today was my mother's birthday and we went out to dinner tonight so I knew I wouldn't be watching most of the game anyway. My mother is the reason I'm a Dodger fan. When I was 7 years old in the summer of 1983 I finally decided to take an interest in the thing on the radio she was always listening to every night. I don't know at what age I really started to appreciate the brilliance of Vin Scully. I'm not even sure I really truly appreciate it even now as much as I should. I guess that comes with growing up listening to him.

I did briefly think about the Dodgers today when I thought that I really need to write a new entry on the blog. I have nothing right now though. I think I'm in the middle of a transition from thinking the Dodgers have a chance to be a good team to just enjoying the season for what it offers, the weird beauty of baseball. I just can't imagine where this team is going. It's a 0.500 team, I guess. Unless Furcal comes back and plays like he did in April, and Penny finds what he had last year, and the young players start hitting a little more --- well, these are variants on what every fans hopes for --- that the players can just be a little better, a little healthier. I've been hoping for that very thing for 25 summers now. Just play a little better. The winning streak is always ahead of you.

Vinny just had a ball calling a strikeout on a curveball from Proctor. There's some of the weird beauty of baseball. The game is almost over now. In a few minutes Vinny will wrap up the game and say, "Goodnight everybody", and my wife will answer back, "Goodnight, Vinny". On those rare occasions when he doesn't say this at the end of his duties in a night game it's a great disappointment.

As it turned out he didn't say it tonight. Maybe next time.