June 2012

Eric Karros

Early in 1986, Dodger area scout Bob Bishop drove to the campus of UCLA to watch the Bruins begin their baseball season with an intrasquad game. Bishop noticed a freshman third baseman, a “walk-on” player without an athletic scholarship.

“He was 6-foot-4 and I liked his build,” Bishop said. “He was all business on the field and I liked the way he carried himself. He hit the ball on a line, he didn’t loft the ball. He just looked like he was going to turn into something.”

Two years later, the Dodgers selected Eric Karros in the sixth round of the June 1988 First-Year Player Draft. Karros switched to first base during his UCLA career and with the Dodgers his stock gradually rose within the minor league organization.

Karros made his Major League debut as a September call-up in 1991. His first assignment was pinch-running for Mike Sharperson during a game at Dodger Stadium against the Chicago Cubs. He notched his first hit against Cincinnati’s Ted Power on September 16.

Karros reported to spring training in 1992 as a third-string first baseman behind free-agent acquisition Todd Benzinger and Kal Daniels, an outfielder looking to switch positions after the Dodgers traded for outfielder Eric Davis. In his first at-bat of the 1992 season on April 9, Karros hit his first home run, a two-run shot off left-hander Craig Lefferts. Karros was stuck in a three-player platoon until he won the job on May 23 with a walk-off, three-run home run as a pinch-hitter against the Pirates at Dodger Stadium. Karros started the final 124 games of the season and won N.L. Rookie of the Year honors with 20 home runs and 88 RBI in 149 games.

During his tenure through 2002, Karros became the L.A. all-time franchise leader with 270 home runs.

Rolls Reuss

The date June 27 in Dodger history belongs to Jerry Reuss, who pitched his only career no-hitter on that date in 1980 during an 8-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park. Reuss retired 27 of 28 batters he faced, the only San Francisco baserunner was Jack Clark, who reached on shortstop Bill Russell’s two-out throwing error in the first inning.

Reuss was one of the most unnderated pitchers in Dodger history, changing his career fortunes after a trade with Pittsburgh in April 1979. Acquired for pitcher Rick Rhoden, Reuss struggled to a 7-14 record with the Dodgers in 1979. During the offseason, he adopted a weight-lifting program and an exercise program recommended by team physician Dr. Frank Jobe. Reuss won 46 games between 1980-82, including a 10-4 mark during the strike-shortened season in 1981.

Fernando Valenzuela won 111 regular-season games between 1981-87, including 52 victories during a three-year span from 1985-87. After Valenzuela, it became rare for a Dodger left-hander to enjoy sustained success in the starting rotation. Two Dodger left-handers won at least 30 games during a three-year period – teammates Kaz Ishii (36 wins) and Odalis Perez (34 wins) from 2002-2004.

Current Dodger Clayton Kershaw is the latest lefty to join the group, having won 42 games between 2009-2011.

Koufax’s First No-No

With the approaching 50th anniversary of Sandy Koufax’s first career no-hitter against the New York Mets on June 30, 1962 at Dodger Stadium, I thought it might be interesting to check out the radio broadcast from that evening.

Those who didn’t actually watch Koufax pitch in person hear the stories about the “wild” left-hander whose bonus contract with Brooklyn after the 1954 season meant he couldn’t start his career in the minor leagues. After flashes of brilliance, Koufax found his control in 1961 with spring-training advice from catcher Norm Sherry and eventually became the most dominant pitcher of his era. Koufax pitched no-hitters in 1962, 1963 and 1964. His fourth career no-hitter in 1965 was the perfect game against the Chicago Cubs in which Vin Scully called the KFI Radio studio after the eighth inning and suggested the ninth inning be recorded.

But how much buildup did Koufax receive on the radio back in 1962? He entered the June 30 game with a 10-4 record, a 2.48 ERA and a league-leading 170 strikeouts in 141.1 innings. At that point, his strikeout-to-innings ratio (10.83) was the best in Major League history. Earlier in the 1962 season, Koufax recorded his second career 18-strikeout game in a 10-2 victory at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on April 24.

The complete Dodger radio broadcast doesn’t exist, but the Mets’ version (courtesy The Miley Collection) features Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy describing the action during New York’s inaugural season in the National League. Casey Stengel’s Mets entered with a 20-52 record, already 27 games behind the first-place Giants. The Dodgers were one-half game back at 50-29. Those expecting a modest buildup for Koufax would be surprised to hear Kiner’s pregame show preview before Nelson took over the play-by-play. “… On the mound, taking his warmup pitches, one of the oustanding pitchers in baseball,” Kiner said. “He’ll probably go down as one of the greatest pitchers of all time … Sandy Koufax.”

In the second inning, Frank Thomas hit a grounder toward left field. But shortstop Maury Wills backhanded the ball and his throw beat Thomas. “That ball was labeled base hit when the ball left the bat …” Nelson said. “Maury actually went back a step on the grass to backhand it.” The other close call occurred in the sixth inning when Richie Ashburn slapped an opposite-field line drive toward left, but Tommy Davis charged the play and caught the ball.

Koufax struck out 13 batters in the first eight innings. He walked five, including veteran Gene Woodling leading off the ninth inning. New York hit into three consecutive fielder’s choices in the ninth, the final out Felix Mantilla’s grounder to Wills, who flipped to second baseman Larry Burright to complete the no-hitter.

(Photo: After Sandy Koufax’s first career no-hitter, Dodger infielder Andy Carey took this photo of the left-hander posing in front of the clubhouse chalkboard. This was part of the “Camera in a Clubhouse” collection of 20 photos taken by Carey during the 1962 season and later sold at the Dodger Stadium souvenir stands.)

“It’s Time for Dodger Football …”

When Bob Chappuis passed away last week at age 89, he was remembered as one of the most famous football players at the University of Michigan and the runner-up in the 1947 Heisman Trophy balloting behind Notre Dame’s Johnny Lujack.

But Chappuis also was a former Brooklyn Dodger who performed at Ebbets Field. His sport wasn’t baseball, though. There was a time when Brooklyn’s baseball executives took a crack at operating a professional football team in the All-American Football Conference after World War II. The Dodgers went 3-10-1 in each of their first two seasons in the AAFC in 1946 and 1947. Chappuis was the headline attraction in 1948 for Brooklyn and signed was by Branch Rickey for a reported $17,000. The quarterback led the Dodgers in total offense, but the Dodgers went 2-12 and folded after the season.

Another “Brooklyn Dodgers” football team surfaced in 1966 and Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson was named general manager on May 2. But the team didn’t play at Ebbets Field, as it had been demolished in 1960. In its only season, the 1966 Dodgers football team played its “home” games at Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island. Small crowds early in the season forced the Dodgers to play the balance of its schedule on the road.

 The first “Brooklyn Dodgers” football team was a member of the NFL from 1930-43 and played in 1944 under the name “Brooklyn Tigers.” In 1945, the team merged with the Boston Yanks. It wasn’t affiliated with the baseball team.

(PHOTO: Borrowing a marketing tool from its from the baseball team, the Dodgers front office produced a 1948 football newsletter touting football at Ebbets Field. The cover features former University of Michigan star Bob Chappuis posing with Dodger president Branch Rickey, Brooklyn borough president John Cashmore, and Peter O’Malley, son of Dodger vice president Walter O’Malley.) 

The “Go-Go” Chicago White Sox

In 17 of their 18 World Series appearances, Dodger home games were played either at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field or Dodger Stadium. The lone exception was in 1959 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum when the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox drew crowds of more than 92,000 for each of the Games 3, 4 and 5.

Between 1941 and 1956, the Dodgers appeared in seven World Series, and in each case, the opponent was the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers dominated the era during manager Casey Stengel’s tenure as manager from 1949-60, winning 10 pennants in 12 seasons. The two exceptions were teams managed by Hall of Famer – and former Dodger catcher – Al Lopez, who guided both the 1954 Cleveland Indians and the 1959 White Sox into the World Series.

The 1959 White Sox went 94-60 during the regular season to finish five games ahead of Cleveland and 15 games ahead of the third-place Yankees. The White Sox roster featured three future Hall of Famers – second baseman Nellie Fox, shortstop Luis Aparacio and pitcher Early Wynn. A fight song was written during the season titled, “Let’s Go, Go-Go White Sox”. The 1959 pennant was the first for the White Sox since 1919 and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley celebrated by ordering his fire chief to sound the city’s air-raid sirens.

Chicago bombed the Dodgers, 11-0, in Game 1 at Comiskey Park. After the game, pitcher Don Drysdale walked onto the team bus and wondered aloud, “Is that all they got?”, which broke the tension from an embarrassing loss. The Dodgers rebounded with wins in the next three games and had a chance to close out the Series in Game 5 at the Coliseum, but Bob Shaw edged Sandy Koufax, 1-0, and the teams returned to Chicago.

In Game 6, left-hander Johnny Podres was staked to an 8-0 lead in the fourth inning, but he lasted only 3 1/3 innings. Series MVP Larry Sherry (two wins, two saves) pitched the final 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief and the Dodgers won, 9-3.

Reserve outfielder Chuck Essegian became the first player to hit two pinch-hit home runs in a Fall Classic and the first Dodger to participate in both a baseball World Series and a football Rose Bowl (1952 Stanford University linebacker-halfback vs. Illinois). Essegian’s second home run occurred in the ninth inning of Game 6 when he pinch-hit for Duke Snider, who had 11 lifetime World Series home runs and wasn’t happy with manager Walter Alston’s strategy.

Essegian, a right-handed batter, was supposed to face lefty Billy Pierce, who hurt himself during his warmup pitches prior to the ninth, prompting Lopez to insert right-handed pitcher Ray Moore. Already out of the game because of the announced substitution, Snider told Essegian, “Nobody has ever pinch-hit for me in a World Series before, so you’d better hit another home run.” Essegian obliged, putting the finishing touches on a Dodger championship in just their second season on the West Coast.

Decades later, Essegian’s wife Holly asked Snider if he would sign a baseball for her husband. The message on the ball read: “Chuck – You can pinch-hit for me any time! – Duke”.

(Photo: The Chicago White Sox played Games 3, 4 and 5 of the 1959 World Series against the Dodgers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The three games drew a total of 277,750 fans and remain the three largest postseason crowds in MLB history.)

Ticket Please …

When Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, general admission patrons in the Left and Right Field Pavilions were supposed to use a “coin” system, similar to a subway token. The concept made sense in terms of saving costs of printing tickets. But the pennant race in 1962 produced “coin horders,” which meant enterprising fans would purchase extra coins to ensure seating for a Dodgers-Giants game in late July. When overflow crowds appeared around the Pavilion box offices, the coin concept was scrapped in favor of the paper tickets.

Each side of the coin featured the “LA” logos of both the Dodgers and American League Angels. During their time at Dodger Stadium from 1962-65 the Angels referred to their home games as being played at “Chavez Ravine.” The coins remained in storage at Dodger Stadium until the 30th anniversary of the ballpark in 1992 when some of the inventory was made into a three-coin gift set for season-ticket customers.

PHOTO: General admission coins from Dodger Stadium in 1962; the Dodgers Yearbook that season touted the roads to the new ballpark. The American League Angels played at “Chavez Ravine” from 1962-65.

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Scioscia vs. Mattingly

During the 11 seasons their respective careers overlapped from 1982-92, Mike Scioscia and Don Mattingly lived separate lives in the baseball universe. Each played more than 1,400 regular-season games and wore only one Major League uniform as a player. But because interleague play didn’t arrive until 1997, and Mattingly’s rookie season was one year after the 1981 Dodgers-Yankees World Series, Scioscia and Mattingly appeared in only one game together.

The 1989 All-Star Game in Anaheim was the first of Scioscia’s two All-Star selections. He was named to the 1989 National League squad as a reserve by Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. In 1990, Scioscia became the first Dodger catcher to start an All-Star Game since Hall of Famer Roy Campanella in 1954. Mattingly was a six-time All-Star first baseman in consecutive seasons from 1984-89.

The 1989 All-Star rosters featured Tony Gwynn (Padres), Tim Wallach (Expos), Pedro Guerrero (Cardinals), Barry Larkin (Reds) and Eric Davis (Reds). The Dodgers were represented by Scioscia, second baseman Willie Randolph, starting pitcher Orel Hershiser and reliever Jay Howell. The American League squad included Wade Boggs (Red Sox), Bo Jackson (Royals), Mark McGwire (Athletics), Steve Sax (Yankees), Jeffrey Leonard (Brewers), Kirby Puckett (Twins) and Nolan Ryan (Rangers). Jackson and Boggs opened the American League’s first inning with home runs off San Francisco’s Rick Reuschel and the A.L. scored five runs in the first three innings en route to a 5-3 victory.

The Scioscia-Mattingly showdown? Unfortunately, there is no photo of the future Dodger manager at the plate with Scioscia giving signs to the pitcher. They were in the game at the same time for just one inning. Scioscia replaced starting catcher Benito Santiago (Padres) in the fourth inning. He flied to left field in the fifth inning in his only at-bat against Mike Moore (Athletics). Tony Pena (Cardinals) pinch-hit for  Scioscia in the top of the seventh. Mattingly entered the game on defense in the sixth and his only at-bat occurred in seventh and he doubled off Howell.

Scioscia and Mattingly were actually “teammates” three years later during the February 20, 1992 episode of The Simpsons. The animated television show used the voices of Major League players as part of a storyline in which Homer Simpson’s boss, Mr. Burns, hires players for his Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team: Mattingly, Scioscia, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey Jr., Roger Clemens, Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco and Darryl Strawberry.

But eight of the nine ringers end up missing the game for various reasons. Scioscia’s character gets radiation poisoning from working at the power plant. Mattingly’s character is fired by Mr. Burns for refusing to shave his nonexistent sideburns. Many assume Mattingly’s storyline was a parody of the real-life incident in which the Yankees insisted their star player get a haircut or be benched. But the Simpsons episode was written a year before the haircut controversy.

Photo: If anyone had a crystal ball, the 1989 All-Star Game could’ve touted the only meeting between two future Southern California baseball managers …

Jaime Jarrin

The Dodgers celebrate the career of broadcaster Jaime Jarrin on Monday with a commemorative T-shirt and pregame ceremony. He started in 1959 and covered the home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and went to a studio in Pasadena to recreate the road games on radio. Jarrin took center stage in 1981 as the interpreter for rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela and eventually was named to the broadcaster’s wing of the Hall of Fame in 1998.

But sometimes overlooked in the Jarrin story is the near-fatal car accident during spring training in 1990 and his courageous recovery. On March 24, Jarrin drove from the team’s spring training headquarters to a mall in Vero Beach in search of a blank audio tape for a 15-second radio commercial. While making a left-hand turn on a green light, Jarrin’s car was struck by a large pickup truck and was thrown 100 feet.

Jarrin would spend the next four months at the Indian River Hospital with serious internal injuries. He lost his spleen and gallbladder. His left lung had collapsed and fluids leaking from his liver went undetected for the first three weeks and nearly killed him. He needed a second surgery and was given only an eight-percent chance of survival. His weight plunged from 165 to 120 pounds.

Jarrin’s wife Blanca stayed behind in Vero Beach after the team left for Los Angeles. She was allowed in his room for five minutes every hour during the seven weeks of intensive care, so for 55 minutes she would return to the lobby. “She paid such a huge price,” Jarrin said of Blanca. “It was really unbelievable.”

After his accident, Jarrin didn’t know if he would again broadcast games because of his collapsed lung. He tried watching baseball games on television early in his rehabilitation and turned it off after 15 seconds because he was so tired. Jarrin was also frustrated because he couldn’t be moved to a larger facility because of his condition. In mid-June, doctors predicted three more weeks in the hospital and Jarrin called Blanca and said he was going to die in the hospital. Blanca called Dodgers team physician Dr. Frank Jobe and asked him to tell her husband it would only be 10 more days. That changed Jarrin’s mood and 10 days later he was on his way home.

As the 1990 All-Star Game approached, Jarrin remembered his commitment to CBS Radio to broadcast the Mid-Summer Classic from Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Slowly but surely, Jarrin made enough progress and reached his goal of walking into the Wrigley Field press box on July 10. The first person he saw was longtime friend Vin Scully, who was broadcasting the English version for CBS Radio.

“Someone took a photo of Vin and me in the broadcast booth at the All-Star Game,” Jarrin said. “That picture tells me I was probably reborn on that day. That picture tells me so much, and I cherish it like no other one. That’s when my life in baseball started again.”

(Photo: Jaime Jarrin poses with street sign named in his honor at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL after his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998)

No-Hit? No Way!

During a Dodger Adult Camp in Vero Beach, FL, Duke Snider looked back at the Dodgers-Yankees rivalry in the World Series and pondered the odds of a perfect game. “I guess if you played enough times, there was a chance someone might do it,” Snider said. “But of all the people in baseball … and it’s Don Larsen.”

The journeyman retired all 27 batters he faced in a 2-0 victory in Game 5 of the 1956 Fall Classic at Yankee Stadium. Larsen in his career posted an 81-91 regular-season record, including a 3-21 mark in 1954.

Which makes Friday’s no-hitter by six Seattle pitchers against the Dodgers the most surprising by an opponent in Los Angeles history. The others (John Candelaria, 1975 Pirates; Nolan Ryan, 1981 Astros; Tom Browning, 1988 Reds; Dennis Martinez, 1991 Expos; Kent Mercker, 1994 Braves) were complete games of at least nine innings by one pitcher. Browning and Martinez were perfect.

(PHOTO: Dennis Martinez’s 1991 perfect game jersey vs. Dodgers on display at Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY) Image

Maury’s Spokane Experiment

The Dodgers playing in Seattle this weekend brings to mind the career minor-league shortstop who at age 25 tried switch-hitting at the suggestion of his manager at Triple-A Spokane. Maury Wills was in his eighth year of professional baseball and seemingly forgotten in the Dodger organization, playing behind veteran Pee Wee Reese and touted prospects Don Zimmer and Bobby Lillis.

Spokane manager Bobby Bragan noticed one day Wills took his swings from the left side during his final round of batting practice to save time. “Sometimes you just notice things,” Bragan said. “He just looked natural doing it.” The pair worked on Wills batting left-handed after a long homestand, figuring there would be less pressure on the road.

The Dodgers sold Wills’ contract to the Detroit Tigers during spring training in 1959 on a “trial” basis, but the Tigers were unimpressed and returned him. Wills was returned to Spokane and promoted to Los Angeles during the summer of 1959 because Zimmer was nursing a broken toe.

Wills would steal 586 bases during his Major League career from 1959-72, including 104 during his N.L. MVP campaign in 1962.

“I wanted to quit 100 times, but I couldn’t go through with it because I love the game too much,” says Wills, who serves as a Dodger baserunning instructor. “I like encouraging young players because God blessed me with meeting Bobby Bragan and he turned me around, so one person can make a difference.”

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