With the season officially in shambles, most of the articles about the Dodgers the last week have revolved around explaining an alleged rift in the clubhouse between the Dodgers' youth movement (Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Andy LaRoche, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Chin-Lung Hu, etc.) and the veterans (Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, Nomar Garciaparra, Roberto Hernandez, Olmedo Saenz, Ramon Martinez, and I'm going to throw Juan Pierre in there though he may be only 30 since his arm strength makes him appear like he's 75 (or 5, to be fair)).
Jeff Kent is "angry," "disappointed," "perplexed," and "bitter." [Shit, Jeff, how the hell do you think we feel, Jeff, since we're paying your salary?] Loney takes the bait and remarks that Kent isn't much of a leader (though actually, Kent is just that on the Dodger home run counter this year). Derek Lowe echoes the team's frustrations. Kemp sulks and forgets to congratulate teammates' home runs. Saito hides behind his interpreter. Saenz tries to make himself feel better about his .185 average by eating more in his own Pavilion.
And the LA Times reporters, who have suffered all year long through the snail-like drawl and meaningless cliche-filled-quotes of Grady Little, the inezplicable inertia of Ned Colletti, and the vacuous cluelessness of Frank McCourt, jump all over the clubhouse dissension and try and turn it into a maelstrom, like a camera crew for a reality television show.
Throw in a couple of games like this on their recent 1-6 homestand, and it looks even worse:
|9/22/07 lineup||9/23/07 lineup|
|Pierre, CF||Pierre, CF|
|Abreu, SS||Abreu, 2B|
|Loney, 1B||Kemp, RF|
|Kent, 2B||Loney, 1B|
|Gonzalez, LF||Martin, C|
|Kemp, RF||Ethier, LF|
|LaRcohe, 3B||LaRoche, 3B|
|Lieberthal, C||Hu, SS|
|Wells, P||Billingsley, P|
|Final: L, 2-6||Final: W, 7-1|
And that's not even mentioning the Win Probability Added statistics that Rob mentioned over on 6-4-2; note Loney and Martin are at the top, no veteran is above 0.00, and Pierre and Rafael Furcal are solidly at the bottom of the page.
Youth must be served. Veterans are crotchety and pissed off. Cats and dogs are living together (or I guess in this case, not talking to each other (which I suppose would be a good thing in this metaphor but you know what I mean)).
I know, we here at SoSG have been big fans of the youth movement all year long(see: Free James Loney campaign). But the Times' distillation of this into an X vs. Y campaign is simply absurd. Rodney King is right in saying that we can all get along here, and my hope is that this will set the seeds to set 2008 right.
I want Loney, Kemp, Ethier, Martin, and possibly LaRoche in every starting lineup. Hu and Abreu should vie to become the utility infielder that Ramon Martinez will never become. Billingsley should get a starter slot, Broxton will re-find his groove again, and I'm sure more youngsters will pop up their heads from the farm system and make themselves known over the course of next year (let's face it, Hu wasn't even in the margin of the picture as of 2006 opening day).
But I also hold out hope that Furcal comes back from his bum ankle and regains his sweet stroke at the plate and on the basepaths. That Garciaparra can contribute again, probably as a reserve, after an off year. That Kent and all of his curmudgeonly ways can trim a bit more weight off (can't lose that mustache again next year, can we Jeff?) and get a bit more range to go with his power bat. That we find a veteran pinch-hitter not named Sweeney or Saenz (or even (gasp!) a true every-day power bat position player!) that can contribute all year long. That Pierre...well, I don't know what to do with Pierre, I'll get back to you on that one.
But said simply, there is a place for veterans, and a place for youth, on next year's Dodger team. And once the thoroughly understandable and frankly appropriate frustrations subside over the off-season, those who can contribute should be able to find their respective roles and coexist on the same squad. That is, IF we have a manager adept enough to manage both groups seamlessly. And that's the rub--if anything is clear about these final weeks of the season, it's clear that that manager is likely NOT Grady Little.
What bothers me the most about this whole out-of-proportion brouhaha is that Grady, in his inimitable style, has done nothing to abate the tide of frustrations either in the clubhouse, preventing a leak, or afterward, condemning a leak. Yes, I know there have been "closed-door meetings," but they don't seem to be effective at stemming the tide of barbs. Left to its own devices, the media continues to illustrate the conflict's roots as veterans' egos and rookies' sense of entitlement--which, even if it did exist at smaller levels than they would want readers to believe, wouldn't happen in the first place under a manager who defined each team member's role clearly and stuck to it.
Grady's penchant for illogical and scattershot lineup decisions can only be pulled off if countered with clarity of purpose and strength in leadership, neither of which were apparent from Little this year. And now, we are where we are--out of control and out of the playoffs.
Little's lack of control over this schism, no matter how minor, has led to a media field day--and make no mistake, this will be the story to which even the rosiest of 2008 Dodgers preview articles will allude. Little needs to get control of his squad, his team, and his clubhouse, in a way that will require more intervention than his comatose demeanor would suggest.
Is Grady up for the challenge?
Well, the lineup card for the Dodgers' last game was indeed demonstrably different than the games before. True, it took 156 games to get here. But there's always hope.