Here's the thing, though. We kept hearing that the Dodgers couldn't afford another year of Kuroda. I suppose that's true, considering he likely wouldn't take longer than a 1-year deal, leaving the Dodgers little room for the kind of backloading they're pulling with all the other contracts being handed out right now. Still, with all the money being tossed at players that are unlikely to spark any kind of buzz amongst the depleting fanbase (Confession: I had no idea Mark Ellis existed until the Dodgers picked him up.), not bringing back an underrated gem like Kuroda just feels...disappointing.
My intent here is not to bury management's curious offseason moves. (Other bloggers are doing that just fine.) My intent is to show appreciation for Hiroki Kuroda. (Certain other bloggers are doing that...uh...not so well.)
2008 NLCS Game 3: Kuroda throws over the head of "The Cryin' Hawaiian" Shane Victorino in apparent retaliation for a series of HBPs from Phillies pitchers. You can debate all you want about whether a pitcher should be taking that kind of action, but for Dodger fans, it was the right move at the right time. It galvanized the team, cemented Victorino as an all-time Dodger villain, and gave those of us watching one brief moment of hope that this team could pull it off. (And then NOTHING AT ALL HAPPENED in Game 4.)
August 15, 2009: Kuroda is drilled in the side of the head by a line drive off the bat of the D-Backs' Rusty Ryal. This was one of the most horrifying sights I've seen as a Dodger fan. (I didn't see the Kaz Ishii injury when it happened.) I thought for second that he might be dead. Not only was he not seriously hurt, one of the first questions he asked trainer Stan Conte was whether someone had caught the ball for an out after it ricocheted off his head. BAD. ASS.
Both of those incidents proved to everyone that Hiro is a fighter. While he should be remembered for that, I think some are going to forget just how great a pitcher he was. He pitched a one-hitter against the Braves in '08 (after taking a perfecto into the 8th). He secured the Dodgers' first postseason series win in 20 years. He had another shot at a no-no in 2010, only to have it broken up by arch-nemesis Victorino. And when he wasn't having grand flashy moments like those, he was simply a consistent workhorse with a warrior's spirit. He gave the Dodgers a fighting chance every single time he took the mound.
I've seen his decision to not waive his no-trade clause last year criticized by some as not making much sense. To me, it showed that his loyalty to a team he loved outweighed his lifelong desire to win a championship. He didn't want to win with just anyone. He wanted to win with the Dodgers. I'm sad that never came to be.
But hey, we'll always have this...
I will miss your fire on that mound, Hiroki Kuroda. Domo arigato.
Top photo: Found on Dodgers Nation, photographer unknown.
Kemp and Kuroda photo: Icon/SMI
Pimpin ain't easy photo: Sports Illustrated