25 January 2010

Into the Arms of America

Based on the 2009 regular season, you could debate which was the better team between the Dodgers and the Phillies, but based only on the 2009 NLCS ( which is all that really mattered ) it was clear that the Phillies played better. So, for a Dodger fan, it was a bad loss, but it was not a senseless loss. The pain of the loss came from the feeling that the team should have played better. It could have been worse. It could have been the kind of contest after which the losing fans feel that a cruel script has been drawn up for them, been laid upon them, like an old world curse, that strange chance and untimely weakness has tragically unwound all skill and achievement and delivered, at the end of struggle, bitter defeat.

And that was the fate of Viking fans yesterday. Better, by far, to have been a Jets fan yesterday, and know that your team played well, achieved beyond sensible dreams, but just wasn't as good as the Colts. But for the Vikings, what logic determined their fate? They outgained the Saints by over 200 yards, but could not hold on to the ball. Both teams, in fact, had trouble handling the football. The Vikings fumbled six times, and lost the ball three of those times, while the Saints fumbled three times, and lost the ball once. In spite of this barrage of fumbles, the Vikings were in position to win the game as regulation came to a close. The game was tied 28 apiece, and Brett Favre has driven the Vikings to the doorstep of a make-able, game-winning field goal. Third and 10, and maybe a run up the middle for five yards would be just the thing to set up the field goal and win the game. But before anything like that could happen then there was a senseless penalty for 12 men in the huddle. Suddenly the field goal was a little too long, and it was third and 15, and a play had to be made to save the chance at the game-winning kick. I'm sure that's what he was thinking, Mr. Favre, as he came out of the huddle for that fateful play. He had to make a throw. He had to make something happen. I think maybe Brett Favre was the greatest ever at making something happen in the history of sports. And here, finally, in a game full of fumbles and muffs and strange plays was the inner logic that would guide the game to its conclusion. What had to happen, happened.

The Saints came after Favre, and he was chased to his right. Thinking, probably, that he had to make something happen, Favre threw back to his left, against the grain, as they say, against sanity, they might just as well say, for those poor Vikings fans. But for the rest of us? It was the greatest throw of Brett Favre's career.

I would like to think he made that throw for us, the rest of us. The ones who were tired of the how much announcers gushed over him. The ones who were sick of his yearly retirement dance, which first began in 2006 and has become worse and worse with each passing year, culminating in the sleazy farce this year where he said he was retired for good at the start of training camp only to then suddenly come out of retirement after training camp was over. That throw was for us, intended or not. It revealed the truth, that Favre is still an overrated gunslinger. Everything that came after, the overtime coin flip won by the Saints, the overtime penalties, the pure field goal for the win by the shaky young kicker, it all seemed to flow from that throw. That beautiful throw. An interception, from Brett Favre's hand, across the field, into the arms of America.

22 January 2010

The Two Year Plan

I look forward to the season. I look forward to the games, so much, because they will drive away the feeling of hopelessness I have about the Dodger franchise right now. It was not a second loss to the Phillies in the playoffs that took away my spirit for the Dodgers. I was the revelation of the deep cracks in the Dodger foundation. There is a crisis in the Dodger ownership. The divorce. Revelations of personal greed that undermined the franchise. Insincere assurances. Arrogant proclamations that everything is fine. Financial decisions that point to looming ruin for the product on the field. The wretchedly dysfunctional Dodger ownership passed up on free draft picks because there was a small chance that it might cost them some money. So yes, I look forward to the season, because while the Dodger name has been tarnished, the Dodger team that takes the field for this season is not yet been ruined.

I look forward to the season because this, right now, is my favorite Dodger team of all time. These Dodgers haven't won the most, but they're the ones I've grown fondest of, the ones I've watched break in and thrive on the big stage. These Dodgers, who have never been anything else. These Dodgers, Kemp and Ethier and Kershaw and Billingsley and Broxton and Loney and Dewitt and McDonald. We've had two years of these Dodgers, and we'll have two more, at least. And two more years at most, probably. For some of them. A team too cheap to make a play for valuable draft picks that might very well save money in the long run is not going to be able to keep Kemp and Ethier and Billingsley around when their service time strikes midnight.

I think of it as a two year plan. All my favorite players will be around two years more. Vinny will be around for another year at least, but maybe also two years. I hope. And then, after two years, when Vinny is probably retired, and the oldest of the young players start leaving --- what? I don't know. It's a two year plan. I don't have the emotional budget for year three right now.

21 January 2010

A Pitcher With No Name

The Dodgers can do better than Vicente Padilla for their fourth starter. He's more of a fifth starter, or even a fifth-point-five starter, the kind of guy you bring in at the end of a season when you've lost too many other pitchers to injury and regression and curious head games. He was that kind of guy last year. Padilla is Eric Stults with a resume and a briefcase full of service time. But really Padilla is the horse with no name. He'll give you some innings, make you glad to be out of the rain, get you through the metaphorical desert, but that's it.

But you know what? Orel Hershiser is not walking through that door. Sandy Koufax is not walking through that door. ( Unless Kershaw counts for that, but we're talking about the fourth starter here, remember. ) There are no shiny free agents walking through that door. Let's give thanks for that, probably. How often, really, is giving a pitcher a multi-year deal a good idea? With Padilla it's just one year, five million dollars. That's less than they're paying Juan Pierre to go away. And Padilla is a horse, by which I mean, a functional pitcher. It's better to have a horse with no name than no horse at all. I don't know who the Dodgers fourth starter would be if it wasn't Padilla. But I know who the fifth starter would be. Russell Reid Ortiz.

Are you scared yet? Or just skeptical? Maybe it really wouldn't be, but not having Padilla would make us one step closer to having Ortiz in the rotation. Remember Jose Lima? He was another washed up pitcher who was a spring training invitee. Yeah, Lima worked out, but that doesn't make him fundamentally a good pitcher or at the time a good bet, it makes him a gateway drug. Lima was the gateway drug that convinced the Dodgers that drugs were cool ( in other words, that inviting terrible terrible washed up pitchers to spring training is cool ). And Ortiz is the terrible, awful drug at the harrowing end of the drug journey, the cautionary tragedy at the heart of an ABC afterschool special, or the centerpiece of a very special episode of Diff'rent Strokes. Anything that helps keep Ortiz away from the mound of Dodger Stadium is fine by me.