Thursday was much less good.
A long time ago, I joined a really bad softball team. Now, I played for a number of bad teams over the years, but this one was special. The year before they'd come in dead last, having forfeited their last handful of games. One of their outfielders had been kicked out of the league for passing out drunk in right field in the middle of a game. Most of the rest of the guys on the team were similarly knuckleheaded. I didn't know any of this coming onto the team. I hadn't played in the league before; I'd just put my name on a list of unattached players down at the rec department, hoping to get on a team. So when the new season came along, they'd picked me off the list, along with my future landlord and a few others to fill out the roster.
We still weren't very good that first year, and not much better the second, but as the original team members drifted away* from the team, they were replaced with better players and the team got better. By the fourth year we were the best team in the division, and made the playoffs easily. We breezed though the preliminaries and got to the championship game.
* Or, worse, went to prison. Seriously.
We were doing our pregame batting practice when a police cruiser drove onto the field. Two officers got out and arrested our pitcher. He was one of the original knuckleheads.** Turns out that earlier in the day he'd tossed a lit cherry bomb through the driver's window of an acquaintance's car while the acquaintance and some other people were still sitting in it.
** In fact, one time while talking after a game, he and I discovered that he'd been best friends of the son of the dairy farmer whose farm was adjacent to the house I lived in my last couple of years of grad school. The same kid who'd boosted my housemate's motorcycle with this knucklehead's help. I'm pretty sure they were the ones who swiped the battery charger from my car, too. Small frelling world...
So there we were, the championship game just five minutes away, and our only pitcher was being led away in handcuffs. Don't get me wrong. Pitching slow-pitch softball is a lot easier than pitching a baseball, but you still have to be able to lob the ball through the strike zone, or in this case, hit the strike-zone mat stretched out on the ground behind home plate. With no one else offering to do it, I volunteered to give it a try.
Now, I'd pitched batting practice, and occasionally in other leagues, but I'd never had to do it using the mat before. It's one thing to throw a ball and have an umpire make a decision as to whether it was a strike or a ball. There's enough gray area that hitters aren't comfortable taking pitches a couple of inches either way. It's quite another to consistently have to hit a 17" wide piece of rubber lying on the ground. There is no discretion, no gray area. I walked a bunch of guys, got shelled, and we lost the game and our best shot for a title because our regular pitcher was a knucklehead.
"You can love Ramirez and still be against drugs in baseball. Hypocritical? Irrational? Yeah. What were you expecting?
I mean, really. You want to send a message to society, and you want sports fans to be your messenger? You'd better have a Plan B."
-- Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts
I was never a fan of Manny's before he joined the team. That actually didn't change much once he got here and started making like Supermanny. Manny Ramirez, as they say, marches to a different drum, and sometimes that drumbeat is pretty arrhythmic. He's a poor fielder, sometimes stunningly, incomprehensibly so, and yet can still occasionally surprise everyone. Some of his behavior during his last few months in Boston was reprehensible, and yet many of the young Dodger players have credited him with helping them become better players. He is also the finest right-handed hitter of his generation.
Fortunately for the Dodgers, they are not in the do or die situation my team was. Manny will miss fifty regular season games, but will be back in early July, long before the playoffs. Even without Manny, the lineup is still top to bottom one of the best in the National League, and the Dodgers probably remain the best team in a weak division. All they need to do is maintain the status quo as best they can until Manny returns. They have lost three out of four since the suspension was announced, but it wasn't the hitting that failed; it was the pitching, and Manny had nothing to do with that.***
*** One of the ironic things about all this is that none of the columnists (and owners, apparently) who want Manny's head on a platter, above and beyond the mandated suspension, let out so much as a peep when the Dodgers signed Guillermo Mota to a contract over the winter. In 2006, Mota (then a Met) became the first major league player suspended for the requisite fifty games under the new PED policy. The Dodgers signed him, it was noted, for his pitching and veteran leadership abilities, neither of which seemed particularly evident when he coughed up three runs in extra innings yesterday to give the Giants the win. I wasn't a big fan of the signing, but it wasn't because of Mota's previous involvement with PEDs. It was because he's not a very good pitcher.
I have no problem with the suspension. He was apparently using PEDs, and he was certainly using a banned substance, however legally he obtained it. OTOH, I'll also be glad when he's back in the lineup come July.
When the news first broke, there was little hard information and a lot of speculation. One thing that was sure, though, was that much-maligned Juan Pierre, who lost the starting left field spot when Manny came to the team, would get his old job back for awhile. Ken Noe over at Dodger Thoughts speculated about that:
Glendale AZ, March 20, 2009.
Manny: "Hey Juan, no hard feelings on left field, I hope."
Juan: "Not at all. here, have a coke."
Manny: "Mmmm...tastes a little funny."
Juan: "Probably just the can."
Pierre has been hitting unsustainably well this season, and especially since taking over for Manny (over .500 with a three doubles, a couple of walks, and a couple of stolen bases). It won't last, but for the time being it's a big help.
Finally, it was Vin Scully, of course, who put it all in perspective.
"Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant Thursday evening to you, wherever you may be. The Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles and all of California and for that matter, all of baseball, still shocked and stunned over the suspension of Manny Ramirez. We'll have more to say about that a little bit later on -- but no one man stops baseball..."
-- Vin Scully, 5/7/09