Updating the Puig / Clemente timeline

RobertoClemente

In March of 2018, I took a long look at a view I’ve long maintained that Yasiel Puig could eventually have a career similar to HOF Roberto Clemente.

Most baseball fans think of Clemente as the man who died a hero but in his early 20’s he was an enigmatic player who many felt wasn’t getting the most of his tools. It wasn’t until Roberto turned 28 that he put all of his tools together and became one of the best right fielders in baseball

They are not physically alike but they are both from the islands off of Florida, right-handed hitting right fielders with arms of their generation. They both started out their careers either misunderstood or immature depending on your point of view.

Is Puig still on that pace?

Puig actually had a much better age 27 season than did Clemente. The difference being that Puig started being platooned in 2018 while Clemente was doing his 3rd straight year of over 580 plate appearances. Once again Puig had the much better offensive season at the same age but that is going change. Roberto never had an OPS+ below 138 from age 28 – 37 so I Puig wants to start putting on his HOF case, he is going to have to step up his game just as Roberto did. Roberto had also won two gold gloves in a row but it is isn’t like Puig isn’t an outstanding defensive right fielder even if he hasn’t won a gold glove yet.  .

Player Age WAR/pos OPS+ BA OBP SLG OPS
Roberto Clemente 20-27 24.6 105 0.300 0.334 0.434 0.768
G PA R H
1061 4374 569 1230
2B 3B HR RBI
191 67 75 495
Player Age WAR/pos OPS+ BA OBP SLG OPS
Yasiel Puig 22-27 18.6 127 0.279 0.353 0.478 0.831
G PA R H
712 2765 365 686
2B 3B HR RBI
129 19 108 331

Puig:

Year    Age   Tm   PA   R   H  2B 3B  HR  OPS OPS+      Awards
2013     22  LAD  432  66 122  21  2  19 .925  159 MVP-15RoY-2
2014     23  LAD  640  92 165  37  9  16 .863  145    ASMVP-19
2015     24  LAD  311  30  72  12  3  11 .758              110
2016     25  LAD  368  45  88  14  2  11 .740               98
2017     26  LAD  570  72 131  24  2  28 .833              119
2018     27  LAD  444  60 108  21  1  23 .820              120
6 Yr   6 Yr 6 Yr 2765 365 686 129 19 108 .831              127
162     162  162  629  83 156  29  4  25 .831              127

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2018.
Clemente:

Year    Age   Tm    PA    R    H  2B  3B  HR  OPS OPS+       Awards
1955     20  PIT   501   48  121  23  11   5 .666                77
1956     21  PIT   572   66  169  30   7   7 .761               106
1957     22  PIT   474   42  114  17   7   4 .637                73
1958     23  PIT   556   69  150  24  10   6 .736                95
1959     24  PIT   456   60  128  17   7   4 .718                92
1960     25  PIT   620   89  179  22   6  16 .815  121    ASASMVP-8
1961     26  PIT   614  100  201  30  10  23 .949  150  ASASMVP-4GG
1962     27  PIT   581   95  168  28   9  10 .805  114 ASASMVP-17GG

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/7/2018.

The word is that Puig is on the trading block this winter. The Dodgers have a plethora of outfielders and might want to get their top prospect Alex Verdugo into the everyday lineup. Puig is in the last year of his contract and will be arbitration eligible after next year but the Dodgers control him through the 2020 season.

Dodgers fans seem to have a love/hate relationship with Puig, and I don’t mean the kind where you love him one minute and hate him the next. You either love his theatrical antics or you hate them.  Since he joined the Dodgers in June of 2013 he has been one of the top right fielders in all of baseball.  It is a tough class with some of the biggest names in baseball but Puig is right there having accumulated the exact bWAR as George Springer in about the same number of plate appearances.

Player              OPS+ WAR/pos From   To   Age   PA  HR   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
J.D. Martinez        147    20.5 2013 2018 25-30 3102 178 .301 .361 .564 .926
Giancarlo Stanton    144    26.9 2013 2018 23-28 3327 212 .267 .361 .545 .906
Bryce Harper         143    22.2 2013 2018 20-25 3360 162 .281 .396 .519 .915
Mookie Betts         134    35.2 2014 2018 21-25 2923 110 .303 .370 .518 .888
George Springer      128    18.7 2014 2018 24-28 2789 121 .265 .356 .468 .824
Yasiel Puig          127    18.6 2013 2018 22-27 2765 108 .279 .353 .478 .831
Jose Bautista        123    16.5 2013 2018 32-37 3469 161 .241 .360 .463 .823
Josh Reddick         111    17.8 2013 2018 26-31 2885  84 .268 .331 .430 .761
Jason Heyward         97    21.1 2013 2018 23-28 3261  64 .263 .338 .392 .730

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/7/2018.

Puig might be unhappy with being platooned this past summer and while platooning has advantages not many players get the reverse platoon like Puig does. Puig used to crush left hand pitching with a 1.003 OPS in 2013, .934 OPS in 2015 but over the past two years, he has hit like a pitcher against LHP. If Puig can get back to crushing LHP he will make the leap to an elite player, if not, at least he crushes the arm side that most often pitches in major league baseball.

Honestly, I think this will be the last time I do this type of story on Puig/Clemente. Clemente is about to hurtle himself into the HOF starting with his age 28 season. Puig might be getting ready to become the next Raul Mondesi who peaked at age 26 and never became the player that looked like a star at age 26 in 1997. I probably should have been doing those comparisons instead.

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Ducking in with Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts signed an extension today and many fans won’t be happy about it. Let’s check in with Dave and see what he thinks.

For those unfamiliar with the Duck, you can check out the archived  Duck Talk Section at TrueBlueLA or the minuscule Duck Talk section here at DodgersYAT.  We ask the questions we want to ask and try to see through the clichéd responses we normally get.  Don’t get confused, this is a complete fabrication based on interviews within my fowled mind.

Duck – congratulations on the extension as the Dodger Manager.

DR – thanks, I didn’t think any fans wanted me back.

Duck – well, I’m not really a fan, I’m a duck

DR  – whatever

Duck – but, you are right. Everywhere I waddled, people were quacking at me that Dave Roberts was a horrible manager and that they hoped the Dodgers would fire you. Didn’t matter which watering hole I went too, I got the same reaction. In your defense, I didn’t get it. If Kershaw doesn’t meltdown in game 5 in 2017 you don’t have to make the manager mistake of starting Yu Darvish in game seven and you’d be World Champion Manager Dave Roberts.

DR – we all lost the 2017 World Series not just Kershaw and Darvish.

Duck – Really? because your number one and two starters lost three of the four games and gave up something like a billion runs in six innings in those three losses.

DR – that isn’t fair. We aren’t even in a position to win if Clayton doesn’t dominate in game one, and you forget he also pitched in game seven and was dominant.

Duck – I didn’t forget. I was there, and by the eighth inning, we were all wondering why Clayton hadn’t started since he was able to pitch four innings in relief.

DR – oh right, the fans wanted me fired last year as well

Duck – fans are fickle little fuckers. World Champion or bust I guess. Luckily for you, executive management has a more macro view. You did after all get the team into the World Series, you have won a Western Division every season you have managed, and you did all this while breaking in rookie after rookie.

DR – I love our fans, they want to win, and I want to win, the players want to win, everyone wants to win. I understand their frustration and hopefully next year we can celebrate a championship.

Duck – that would be great, at this moment it looks like the Dodgers will be bringing back the same gang except for Grandal.  Did you breathe a sigh of relief when Clayton and the Dodgers agreed on an extension?

DR – oh yeah. He’s a HOF and the heart of the club. Couldn’t imagine not having Kershaw on the Dodgers.

Duck – with Ryu re-signing for 2019, the Dodgers have a lot of starting depth. All postseason we kept hearing how starters aren’t going to be the future of baseball but the Dodgers have locked up seven legitimate rotation pieces and still have two or three young pieces that could step into the rotation.

DR – our rotation will once again be one of our strengths.

Duck – one peculiar decision you have made during the last two postseasons was to bench your starting catcher for the World Series and go with the backup. Grandal is now gone. Since you were confident enough in starting Barnes in eleven of the twelve World Series games over the past two years are you confident he can be your starting catcher in 2019?

DR – I have great confidence in Austin Barnes, he catches a great game. In 2017 he was one of the best offensive catchers in the game, but he never got into the same rhythm this year. We have had discussions about catcher, and we will see how that shakes out this winter. If we can upgrade at a price that everyone is comfortable with we will, if not, I’m happy to have Barnes as my number one catcher headed into 2019.

Duck – we should probably remind everyone, that even the great Tommy Lasorda lost his first two World Series in 77 and 78 before winning his next two in 81 and 88.

DR – hopefully I won’t have to wait three more years before I get back to the World Series.

Duck – If you had to do it over again, would you have had Ryan Madson warm up sooner? Would you have used Ryan Madson the second time? Would you have had Caleb Ferguson on the World Series postseason roster? Would you have played your outfield at least average depth in game one and game two? Would you bat the struggling Kiké fourth in game five?

DR – damn, did you like anything I did in the World Series?

Duck – I think starting Walker Buehler was absolutely brilliant………….

Kluber and Kershaw?

Many folks who work the trade routes have said the Dodgers and Indians are talking trade with perennial CYA candidate Corey Kluber the Dodger target. Given the depth of the Dodger rotation that seems like a strange pairing for me. The rotation seems a bit loaded with Buehler, Kershaw, Ryu, Hill, Wood, Urias, Stripling, and Kenta. Not to mention the kids knocking on the door in Santana and Caleb Ferguson.

However you do it, the price should be steep given his contract and production. He is also 32, so you are getting his age 33,34, and 35 seasons. The comments are funny as many reference his failure to win in the postseason. Sound familiar? Kershaw and Kluber have both been clobbered by Houston in October. On the other hand, Kluber has two CYA, and two 3rd place finishes in the past five years. If he is being made available, you have to make a pitch, don’t you?

I mean a rotation of Buehler, Kluber, Kershaw, and any of Ryu/Hill/Urias next Oct sounds very enticing.

For a team who won the AL Central, the Indians have a few holes. One is at catcher where they just traded one of their two starting catchers to the Nationals. Earlier this summer they traded their top prospect who was a catcher like Carlos Santana was a catcher to the Padres. With Donaldson moving on to Atlanta, MVP candidate Ramirez will move back to 3rd base leaving second base to Jason Kipnis. They could use help there. They really need help in the outfield. Their best outfielder is a free agent. That leaves Lonnie Chisenhall, Greg Allen, Bradley Zimmer, and a bunch of nothing. Yonder Alonso came back to earth so they could use also use help at 1st base.

Depending on who you listen to the Dodgers are either offering major league players like Puig and Wood, or a plethora of their best prospects which would include Verdugo and May.  MLB Network had a discussion about it and the ex-GM said he thinks any trade can’t include Puig and Wood because the Indians don’t want the expense and said he’d go for the Verdugo package. Cody Bellinger was floated, but man you can’t trade Cody Bellinger. He might be the best CF in the National League next year.

I think a combo package is what would work. Kenta Maeda is a solid starter making peanuts given what he produces even when he hits all of his bonuses. That gives the Indians a major league starting pitcher who fits budget wise. Fill that in with Alex Verdugo who is ready to shine for a major league franchise and the Indians have to get an outfielder back from the Dodgers. First base, roll the dice with Edwin Rios. Catcher, pop in Will Smith.

or

Chris Taylor can be their outfielder or 2nd baseman. He has tremendous value so if you are getting Chris Taylor, I’d just fill in the parts with Rios/DJ Peters/Y Alvarez.

Anyway, more than likely nothing transpires but it felt good to finally have something to write about.

Dreaming of some empathy

She clutched the bat as though it was her childhood baba, but the look in her eyes was of determination mixed with fear.  We were all there in spring training for the Dodgers and while I didn’t know why I was there, I knew why she was there. She had come to make the team and my dream didn’t care that she was a smallish Asian baseball player, in this dream she was just one of many players with the same hope of heading West with the team.

Time flew by, practice after practice, and I did the mental math in my head. Andre Ethier was on the last year of a large contract and was certain to be the starting left fielder. Carl Crawford was the young stud gunning for his job but I knew he’d have to wait another year before Andre was gone. All of this made perfect sense even though none of it made any sense at all.

At some point, we are in a room but something seems off. The room seems more empty than it used to be. I asked where was everyone and they just gave me a look that said nothing and everything at the same time. I left the room and turned down the hall and noticed the Asian ballplayer standing in a doorway. She was no longer dressed in ballplayer clothes but in a nice business suit and she was holding a suitcase. I naively asked her where she was going just to make small talk. I didn’t know her name. I just knew the dream had started with her and next thing we were all playing baseball together.

She didn’t answer with words. She didn’t need too. Her eyes were pooled with tears and sadness. It finally sunk into my thick skull. She had been cut. Her dream was over. I’m not a big hugger, but the look in her eyes told me she needed a hug and I gave her one. The hug becomes something more, I don’t want to say spiritual, but possibly metaphysical as though I know what that means. Other players came out of their doors somehow knowing one of their own was in need. They become side players to our connection. In this dream state, our minds met without words and I could see the hopelessness inside of her. I felt for her, her pain, her future that would no longer include what she had dreamed of since she had been a little girl playing a boys game.  I searched for something to say, that would soothe her distress but my calculating brain couldn’t find anything. I knew she would be sad for a while, that she would either find happiness in a different venture or this defeat would hang over her the rest of her life. I don’t offer prayers. I don’t say “God works in strange ways”. I don’t say “You’ll be fine”. I don’t say “This might be for the best”. I don’t say anything. I just keep hugging her and letting her cry.

Just as quickly as I felt this enormous empathy for her situation it was over. The connection is broken, now I’m searching for a way to continue with my life and to put her behind me. I break away from the hug and simply ask her if she needs a ride. She says no, and I wake up.

I have a very active dream state and have always felt that they would make great stories but the details of most dreams dissipate within seconds of waking up. This dream was different. When I woke up, the hug connection was still fresh. I spent the next five minutes trying to burn everything I could remember of the dream into my brain so I could write something about it.  What I remembered is above. I met a female Asian baseball player at a Dodger spring training camp. She was trying to make the team, I still don’t know what I was doing there. I think I was a player, I know I was very young. I did dream the Andre / Crawford part. I did dream the room. I did dream the hug. I wish I could adequately describe what happened during the hug but it is all vague now but a mind to mind connection did occur. I did dream needing to break away from the connection.

I don’t know what my subconscious was going for. I’m a very empathetic person, but it doesn’t stay. This world is in a bad state. At any point, I’m going to read or watch stories about children dying of starvation in Yemen, of children being shot at school, of one time lovers killing each other and their children, of huge swaths of communities losing their homes/lives to fires/ hurricanes/floods, of black men being murdered almost daily by our police, of people dying of cancer, and of suicide. So much suicide.  So much gun violence. I get angry, I feel for the victims.  I send some money.

And then I move on with my life

And I know I’m not happy that I can just move on with my life instead of spending my life trying to make things better. The best I can say is that I’m not part of the problem, but I’m certainly not part of the solution.

Jamal Khashoggi was trying to be part of the solution.

Shannon Watts is trying to be part of the solution.

It is time I become part of the solution.

Five reasons to watch the Clipper / Kings game tonight

The two surprise teams in the NBA play tonight and if you are just a partial NBA fan, a Laker fan, already tired of holiday programming, or simply miss baseball, this would be a great game to watch for those who simply want to catch a glimpse of the best NBA team in Los Angeles.

  1. The Kings have the guy the Lakers should have drafted instead of Lorenzo Ball. De’Aaron Fox is balling. Fox outplayed Ball in college and is doing the same thing in the NBA. I wonder if Jerry West would have drafted Ball or Fox? Imagine a pairing of LeBron James and De’Aaron Fox.  Delicious.
  2. Ralph Lawler is calling his 40th year as the Clipper play by play man. For years he was overshadowed by the Los Angeles legendary broadcasters Chick Hearn, Vin Scully, and Bob Miller and while he’s not in their league he has been an entertaining voice for forty years. From “Bingo” to “Lawler’s Law”  he is loved by the players and fans and this is his last year.  Unlike the Dodgers and Lakers, everyone can watch the Clippers for via Fox Sports.
  3. The Clippers may not have the rookie of the year because of Luca Doncic but they do have the best young point guard in Los Angeles. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander not only has the longest name in the NBA, but he is also a rookie starting point guard for the team with the best record in the Western Conference. Shai doesn’t just start games he also finishes them, and that is really saying something that Doc Rivers is playing a rookie point guard at crunch time.
  4. BOBAN – if you haven’t seen Boban play, you really got watch this game. Gortat is hurt, so Boban should start. He’s huge. Yao Ming huge. Eight-foot wingspan. He doesn’t have a huge skill set but watching him dunk with his toes still touching the hardwood is something to see. He can even shoot free throws but the real fun is around the basket. As they say, he’s the one guy in the NBA who can make another seven-footer look normal.
  5. Oh, and the NBA Player of the Week, Tobias Harris

Is Five Thirty Eight going to join the Clipper bandwagon?

The “Clamp City” Clippers are the surprise team in the NBA and enter play tonight in first place in the Western Conference. At the start of the season I was more optimistic than most, but considering the tough early schedule and the injury history of Danilo, I was hoping for a .500 winning percentage, not a .700 winning percentage by the end of November.  Many people who cover the NBA have taken notice including this excellent article in the Ringer by Dan Devine.

It’s obviously wonderful to have great players, but at the risk of stating the obvious, it’s really nice to not have to give minutes to bad ones. The Clippers don’t really have any of those, and it’s helping.

That being said, one website that hadn’t jumped on the bandwagon was the excellent FiveThirtyEight. What you say, aren’t they the folks who reinvented how we perceive political polling? Yes, but it is run by Nate Silver who cut his teeth at Baseball Prospectus and evidently loves all the major sports so his website also churns out sports-related columns.
FiveThirtyEight is doing NBA forecasting and while the Clippers are moving up in all the power ranking (the Athletic has them at 5),  up until yesterday, FiveThirtyEight has refused to join the bandwagon which gave pause to my optimism.  However, the new ranking came out yesterday and while the Clippers are still being ranked in the middle of the pack that is a huge improvement over where they were just two weeks ago when they were given little chance to make the postseason.  They are now at 59% which is a huge improvement and have finally moved past the Lakers who now have a 50% chance.  Hmmm, maybe they have jumped on the bandwagon after all.

1507 1509 Clippers14-6 West 44-38 +0.9 59% +10 <1% <1

Even more telling is that FiveThirtyEight just came out with a new article today that showcased the current NBA Player of the Week Tobias Harris.  The story isn’t as much about Tobias or the Clippers as it is about the surprise and disappointments so far in the NBA but the Clippers are listed as one of the biggest surprises. Tobias Harris was acquired last year for Blake Griffin, and many Clipper fans were incensed that they had traded their franchise player for parts. However, these parts have become a huge part of why the Clippers are off to the fourth-best start in their long history.  Tobias Harris is playing like an All-Star and while that is going un-noticed in Los Angeles, the rest of the NBA world is paying attention and Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight explains the numbers behind the Tobias Harris ascension into greatness.

But above all else, the Clips have thrived because Tobias Harris — tied with Giannis Antetokounmpo for the league’s best effective field-goal percentage among wing players with at least 300 shot attempts — has quietly pieced together the offensive profile of a superstar this season. Between the huge leap he’s made and the gains of Victor Oladipo, the Orlando Magic front office has to be beside itself after trading away both players.

 

Countdown to 60 starts this week

My twitter profile simply says “Baseball, Clippers, movies, life over 50.”. In a few days, I’ll update that to life over 60.  As far as sports go, the first 30 years have been nothing like the last 30 years.

By the time I was thirty in 1988, the Dodgers had won World Championships in 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, and finally 1988. They haven’t won one since. I wasn’t in Los Angeles for the first three World Championships but was fully vested in the 1981 World Championship after watching them lose the World Series to Oakland in 1974, and the NYY in 1977 and 1978. The 1988 World Championship was simply dessert.

The Lakers had won Championships in 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988.  They would also win championships in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, and finally 2010.  I was here for all of them. The 1972 team had the last sighting of Elgin Baylor, the defensive dominance of Wilt, the leadership of West, and the sharpshooting of Goodrich. Four HOF played on that team even though Baylor was gone by the time the Championship was hoisted. Actually, five if you count Pat Riley who was inducted as a coach. As much as I loved the West/Goodrich era,  it was the Magic era that most defined my Laker fandom. From the moment he arrived in 1979 and delivered a Championship in his first year and the greatest Championship game in the same year, nothing beat the Los Angeles Sports beat from 1979 – 1988.  Magic won his last World Championship in 1988 the year I turned 30.

I already mentioned it but let’s take a look. From 1979 – 1988 those two franchises won seven World Championships. Talk about being spoiled.

The next 30 years have had many successes, but not a single Dodger World Championship. The Lakers won three in a row on the backs of Shaq and Kobe followed by two more with Gasol/Kobe but when you give me a list of Laker players who I enjoyed watching, they would not rank very high. The Lakers won, but it didn’t give me any satisfaction. Well, that is not exactly true. I truly enjoyed the first Shaq/Kobe World Championship in 2000. I could even say with a straight face the greatest sporting event I saw live, was the 2000 Game Six against Portland.

It is doubtful I have another thirty years in me, but I do hope the Dodgers can deliver another World Championship for a generation that has never enjoyed one.  Many people don’t believe me, but the 1981 Dodger World Championship was all I needed in my lifetime.  I won’t’ say I knew that at the time, but I know it now.

The Lakers, on the other hand, are on the back burner. I already mentioned how I’ve moved on from what was once my favorite franchise. Seems logical to me that going forward, the Clippers will probably be the most successful franchise in Los Angeles since they have the richest owner in sports who is dedicated to bringing a winning formula to his franchise. LeBron will make things interesting, but I don’t think an old King can add any banners to the franchise.

Yet, even though the last thirty years have had no Dodger World Championships and my basketball fandom switched from the most successful NBA franchise in Los Angeles to the least successful NBA franchise, I have enjoyed these past thirty years just as much but for different reasons. The first 30 years gave me my World Championships but they were always enjoyed via TV. I couldn’t afford good Laker tickets and even sitting in the rafters at the forum was a stiff price for a cheap bugger like myself.  For a good percent of these last thirty years, I’ve had season tickets for all of my favorite franchises. I got my Clipper Season Tickets in 1990 and held them until Magic got aids and the Laker STH left the team in waves, leaving tickets available in the lower bowl at the Forum for the first time since Magic had joined the team.  I quickly got Laker Season Tickets and have held them ever since even after they screwed me when they moved to Staples. I double dipped and got Clipper Season Tickets again in 1999 and have held them ever since.  When Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers and brought in Paul DePodesta I tripled down and got Dodger Season Tickets in 2004. I held those for about six years and then was a partner in Season tickets for a few more years. It has only been in the past two years I haven’t had any share of season tickets for the Dodgers since 2004. Which is a long way of saying, that unlike my first thirty years of being a TV sports fan, the last thirty have been spent going to as many events as I could.

The Dodgers may not have won a World Championship but they have given me hundreds of thrills as Piazza, Kershaw, Puig, Turner, Seager, Bellinger, Mondesi, Green, Sheffield, Ethier, Saito, Kuo, Broxton, Greinke, Brown, Gagne, Hill, Buehler, Urias, Uribe gave me plenty to cheer about over the past thirty years. I really don’t care if the journey does not end in a World Championship, I just want the journey to be enjoyable and for the most part that has been the case. Not completely the case but that is another column and doesn’t involve the Dodgers as much as it involves the evolution of baseball that is leaving me behind.

You wouldn’t think the Clippers have given me much to cheer about but you’d be wrong. I’ve had as much fun rooting for the Clippers as I ever did the Lakers because of one reason.  Since 2000 I’ve been to probably 500 Clippers games at Staples and it isn’t because I enjoy watching a team lose. I really enjoyed something in every Clipper team since 1999.  I actually watched fewer games when they were winning with Paul/Griffin/Jordan than I did when they were losing. I’ve been to almost every game this year, and I look forward to watching this franchise continue to be the best NBA franchise in Los Angeles.

Besides the World Champions in this century, I really enjoyed the teams of Van Excel, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell, Vlade, Sedale Threat, A.C. Green, and of course the half season comeback of Magic.

The next thirty years (ok, 20)  will probably be much like the first thirty in that it gets harder and harder to attend sporting events the older you get. There is a reason that when you look at crowds you don’t see many folks over the age of 70. Self-driving cars could mitigate that, but navigating between seats will always be a struggle for people of a certain age.  I’m sure stadium designers feel it is more important for every fan to trip over all the other fans as they try to get to their seats as they try to cram as many rows into a stadium that they can instead of making it a more pleasant experience for the fans shelling out the money to see their team.

When Calvin lost his Hobbes

MyWeddingGroup

Thirty-three years ago, Bill Patterson started the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. He was my favorite comic strip writer and his daily strip was a key part of my life 30 years ago. Ten years ago I wrote this for TBLA about my best friend Jerry Sullivan who was the Hobbes to my Calvin.

 

I wrote this last December but never published it. I wish the original ending was still true.

Twenty-one years ago as I was approaching my 28th birthday I was recently divorced, lost all our mutual friends in the divorce, and had a cynical view of life that manifested itself in sarcastic one-liners that shockingly put off most people. At that point, I had few friends and wasn’t very interested in making new ones.

At work, a tall lanky guy had joined the company and after the first impression on both sides, the idea that we would become friends seemed far-fetched.  The only thing I knew about him was that he hated Tom Lasorda and my Dodgers, and to make it worse was a Yankee fan.

For a while, we paid little attention to each other and as our jobs didn’t really mix we rarely had interaction, however, we had a mutual friend who was determined that we be friends. She kept inviting us both to lunch until finally one day to make her happy we all went to lunch.

That first lunch started our lifetime friendship. I didn’t quite know what to make of him but I did enjoy the conversation. Turns out he was Bill Maher before Bill Maher was potty trained. Our combined disdain for the world made for cynical heaven.  It was enough of a connection that we had lunch again and again and from that, we created a friendship that still stands large today twenty-something years later. It was a bizarre friendship that had some huge obstacles to overcome.

He was 12 years my senior

He was tall and I’m short, and my first inclination is to dislike tall people.

He was a chain smoker; I’d stopped smoking when I was 16.

He was a huge drinker who was most comfortable in bars and with the people who frequented them.  I didn’t even go into a real bar until I was over 25.

At the age of 17, he was the state Tennis champion in Kansas, and a graceful athlete. I’m a short stout guy who got by more on tenacity then on athletic skill, and grace was never part of my repertoire.

Upon graduation from HS, he and his best friend used the buddy system and joined the Army to fight a war in a country they had never heard of. I never served my country in any capacity and didn’t understand why boys would go off to war to kill or be killed without understanding why.

He was a huge Raider fan. I hated them.

At the time I worked out about 2 hours a day, he never worked out a day in his life.

Worse of all he hated Tom Lasorda and my Dodgers.

Those were the differences but we had fun together.  He was deeply intelligent and could see right through people. Vietnam had taken its toll but he managed his life as best he could. We talked sports, played sports, talked about books, politics, and watched sports, and admired women. For two years he was my MNF companion back when I cared about football.  Just about every day for two years we had lunch together and the routine was always the same. He’d bring the USA Today and I’d bring the LA Times, we’d read the sports sections of each paper and then trade off. Then we’d read the comics. At the time it was the golden period of comics. Doonesbury was at his peak, the Far Side was worth a conversation every day, but a new kid had arrived in town. Calvin and Hobbes; and they killed me every day. I could always tell when they were good because Jerry would let loose a bark like laugh. Short but to the point. Some people have a good laugh, Jerry was one of those. If you heard it, you knew it was worth finding out why.

At work, the friend who got us together in the 1st place called us Calvin and Hobbes. He was the older tall wise tiger and I was an out of control short youth who had a little too much energy and always said the wrong thing because the empathy and edit button had yet to exist in my mind. He had a  measured way of talking, never talked to hear himself, and usually could make his point in a sentence while I needed a paragraph.

I learned first hand that nothing shook this guy, he was calm in every situation. “You need to calm down” was something I heard a lot from him but he always said it with a laugh or in a tone that never bothered me.  I once almost drove him over a parking cliff in my hurry to get somewhere. He calmly looked at the pole that had kept us from dropping a story onto a Porsche and asked if I planned on using reverse. Later just before he left our mutual workplace a friend and I  talked him into going bungee jumping when it was illegal and you had to drive to some remote spot by invitation only. We ended up at this place where you jumped from a tethered hot air balloon just before sunrise so as to get the jumps in before the police found the spot. The guy running the balloon was already drunk on Jack when we started. The guy checking our locks was killed two weeks later when he did a bungee jump and hadn’t checked his own locks (true story). Mutual friend Mark Lippert and I did our jumps without any mishap but when it was Jerry’s turn he ended up getting smacked by the tethered line and by the time he was on the ground he had blood all over his face. It made for a great picture and story but I was plenty scared for him when his head was snapped back by that line.

JerrySullivan

Our fun all came crashing down one day when we had a company party. Our new warehouse had just been completed and those who were part of the Culver City warehouse were going to be moving to Dominquez Hills and the rest of us were headed to the sterile corporate Santa Monica office. The party moved from a hotel/bar to my place in Santa Monica but I had to take a co-worker home first. By the time I got to my place, Roger and Jerry were waiting for me and told me that our friend Rueben and been run over while trying to park his motorcycle in front of my place. It was a sobering end to a fun two years. (Rueben survived that accident but would pass away from liver disease four years ago) .

Jerry would leave our company soon after that and start a journey of jobs that saw him hang his hat in San Jose, Palm Springs, Chatsworth, Las Vegas, and finally Austin.  He’s now 60 and hanging out in Austin. The idea that Jerry is in Texas and not California is a tough one for him.. No one appreciated Southern California and the woman of our area better than Jerry.  I never expected Jerry to make it to 60. With his smoking, I figured I’d be doing his eulogy but so far he’s eluded the big C. Our getting together was very unlikely but I’m sure glad it happened.  For the last 20 years, our friendship has mostly been reduced to phone conversations. It works,  but the fun of Jerry was hanging out with him.  Throughout those 20 years, he maintained his hatred of the Dodgers and I still hate the Raiders. He will always be the tall wise tiger to me. I was saddened when the comic strip  Calvin and Hobbes came to an abrupt end but not as sad as when my real life Hobbes road off into the sunset. Since Jerry left I’ve had little inclination to read the comics anymore.

It would be great if that was how the story still ended. Life however always seems to be throwing some Kershaw like curves at you. During the same week I was basking in the Dodgers finally winning some postseason games, my old Hobbes has come down with a multitude of cancers.  Lung Cancer, Liver Cancer, and Bone cancer have invaded his space. I don’t know what the future holds for Jerry but I do know when he is gone he will be missed. He helped whoever he could with whatever means he had. On the surface, he was a cynic but underneath he had a big heart and real compassion for those who deserved it. Anyone who had the benefit of his help and friendship understands what I’m saying. I’m not sure where my life would have turned if Jerry had not been there at the time we met. I know one thing, my life would have been lesser without his friendship.

EPILOG

Jerry L Sullivan died on Feb 24th alone in a VA hospital in Austin, Texas. His ashes will at some point find themselves scattered in Yosemite, his favorite place in the world besides sitting in a bar surrounded by pretty barmaids and drinking friends.

The journey to Clippertown is complete

There was a time when the Lakers meant more to me than the Dodgers and Rams. From the time I first saw Jerry West hit that 60 foot shot in 69 to send the Lakers into overtime and eventual loss, they were my team. Without even thinking I can still name every starting member of the 1971-72 championship team including the subs like Flynn Robinson and John Q Trapp.

I saw them all, Wilt, West, Goodrich, Kareem, Nixon, McAdoo, Magic, Worthy, Scott, Coop, Rambis, Campbell, Shaq, Kobe, Gasol and hundreds of others. With Chick, I watched or listened to just about every game from 1970 until the day Chick died.

I rarely watched them at the forum because seats were out of my price range. So I purchased Clipper season tickets in 1990 when Bo Kimble was drafted number one by the Clippers. This allowed me to watch the Lakers twice a year, watch Bo Kimble become a star, and the prices were ridiculously cheap. $20 for ten rows, right of the basket at the old Sports Arena.

That didn’t work out as planned. Bo Kimble was a massive bust, but when Larry Brown took over the team in 1992 and led the team to the playoffs they quickly became my second favorite basketball team. Not many remember but back in 1992, that team led by point guard Doc Rivers took the eventual Western Champion Utah Jazz to the limit losing in five games. Included in that five-game series was game four played in Anaheim because of the Los Angeles Riots which closed down the Sports Arena. Game four was the best game in Clipper history in the 20th century.

Then, Magic Johnson got aids in 1992. What had once been a massive waiting list for Laker Season Tickets dissipated and so we got Laker Season Tickets. I kept my Clipper Season Tickets for a few more years but eventually, I dropped them as I couldn’t go to very many games.  My focus was once again on the Lakers. We had great seats, about even with the free throw line, lower section. Those Laker teams never won a championship but they were fun to watch. The Eddie Jones/ Elden Cambell/ Divac/Sedale/Cedric Ceballos years.

Two things happened that would change things. The Lakers and Clippers moved to Staples Center. The Lakers took my great seats and plunked me behind the basket and more than doubled my price. What had been great seats became horrible seats. A Clipper rep called me the day before the season started and asked if I wanted to be a Clipper Season Ticket Holder again. I was doubtful but he comped me two tickets to opening night. The Clippers had just drafted Lamar Odom and I did want to see him. I hadn’t stopped watching the Clippers but I certainly wasn’t a fan as I had been in the brief Larry Brown era. I said yes, and that changed my basketball life around. Lamar Odom would score 30 points in his Clipper debut. My comped seats were next to where the Clipper Spirit would congregate, the seats were on an aisle, the press area was just to the front. The seats were fantastic, the view of the girls was fantastic, the rookie was fantastic. I was sucked in and signed back up.

It wasn’t all roses. That might have been the best game of Lamar Odom’s career. Only seven times in his long career would he score 30 points or more. The fact he did it in his first game was such a tease. The Clippers were horrible for years, and for many games, I didn’t have a lot of Clipper fans around me. The arena was often filled with more fans from the opposing team. That said the team was supported by a small but vocal group of fans who rallied around the Q/Maggette/Miles/Pike teams but only once from 1999 – 2010 did they make the postseason. I’m not going into those years, this is about the journey not the details.

While I was going to Clipper games, I was still at heart a Laker fan and enjoying the success of the Shaq/Kobe teams. Eventually, I got my Laker seats moved to a better location. The Shaq / Kobe feud left a bitter taste in my mouth, and as Kobe took over the team and dominated I wasn’t as into them. Then Chick died. Then Kobe was accused of rape. That changed everything. I stopped enjoying watching Laker games and instead focused my attention more and more on the Clippers.

The black cloud around the Clippers was always Donald Sterling. He was a despicable man, who tried to buy respect. One of the richest men in Los Angeles he was also a deplorable landlord and horrible owner. I was an open Clipper fan while he was an owner but he was still an embarrassment to me. When luck came the Clipper way and he was forced out for his racist comments little did I expect the team to be purchased by the richest owner in the league. Ballmer gets his own story, but I’m sure glad he’s the owner of the Clippers now and it did lift that black cloud.

I enjoyed Bledsoe/Gordon/Blake/Jordan long before Chris Paul showed up. I would have loved to have seen the team keep the Cleveland pick and grow with Irving instead of being handed Paul by the NBA commissioner. That is hindsight for sure since the Cleveland pick was just pure luck when it turned into the number one pick and Irving. That said even though the Clippers enjoyed their most success during the regular season under Chris Paul, I can’t say I really enjoyed watching him be the general of the team. He just wasn’t fun to watch for me. I started selling most of my tickets and would only go to about 10 games a year instead of the 20 – 30 I had been going before Chris Paul showed up. I know that is strange, here the Clippers were having the most success at any time in their history, but I didn’t enjoy the team as much as I’d enjoyed prior teams that didn’t have that success.

Chris Paul left last year. Blake during the year, and Jordan this summer. The team was completely rebuilt with the trades of Paul and Blake. I enjoyed the team last year even though they didn’t make the postseason more than the Paul years. A strange comment I know, it is just how I felt.

This summer LeBron James came to the Lakers. I still have my Laker season tickets but I haven’t been to a game in five years. I found a partner who buys them all up front. That is another story.  I was wondering with James in town and the Clippers rebuilding if that would rekindle my old love of the Lakers.  I started watching the games again, but have to say I  couldn’t develop a rooting interest even with King James and a host of talented kids. Two weeks ago I went to a Laker event at their practice facility hosted by Michael Cooper. I never felt comfortable. Coop kept making disparaging remarks about the Clippers(they must be worried about them).

Last week I went to an after game Clipper event. The Clippers had beaten a talented TWolve team and everyone was in a good mood. It didn’t start out well, they gathered 100 fans in a room and provided no food/drink/entertainment for almost an hour while we waited for Montrezl Harrell to show up. Once he did though, I enjoyed the event and while I was sitting there, feeling very comfortable with other Clipper fans I thought about how much I love this particular team.   This team had limited expectations entering this season but they are blowing the minds of the NBA establishment. They play hard, they are fun to watch, they have a budding star, and they have the Boban.

I can say for certainty now, that when I’m at Staples or at home listening to Ralph I’m as comfortable as I ever was watching the Lakers or listening to Chick.

It was a long journey that started with Bo Kimble making a left-handed free throw in honor of Hank Gathers, but eventually that long and winding road has brought me home.

I’m a Clipper fan. Yes, yes I am.

 

 

 

Yazmani Grandal leaves a huge hole

Yazmani Grandal will leave the Dodgers with an October to remember but it won’t be a pleasant memory.  For the second straight October, the Dodgers starting catcher for the past four years struggled mightily in October and so when Grandal turned down the Dodgers qualifying offer basically guaranteeing that he will leave via free agency not many blue tears were shed.

Yaz will leave as a permanent member of many Los Angeles Dodger leaderboards for a catcher. Grandal is 4th in home runs for catchers who have caught at least 80% of their games while in Los Angeles. Yet his home run per PA is twice as good as the catchers in front of him. He has the 3rd best OPS+ for Los Angeles catchers.

Player             OPS+   PA From   To  HR   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
Mike Piazza         160 3017 1992 1998 177 .331 .394 .572 .966
Tom Haller          115 1637 1968 1971  25 .276 .344 .393 .737
Yasmani Grandal     112 1883 2015 2018  89 .238 .337 .453 .790
Todd Hundley        111  822 1999 2003  50 .239 .332 .494 .826
Paul Lo Duca        105 2361 1998 2004  57 .287 .342 .428 .771
Chad Kreuter        105  613 2000 2002  14 .245 .378 .392 .770
Russell Martin      101 2713 2006 2010  54 .272 .365 .396 .761
Mike Scioscia        99 5057 1980 1992  68 .259 .344 .356 .700
John Roseboro        98 4505 1958 1967  90 .253 .329 .384 .713
Rick Dempsey         95  532 1988 1990  13 .211 .326 .354 .680
A.J. Ellis           93 1922 2008 2016  36 .237 .340 .348 .688
Steve Yeager         84 3869 1972 1985 100 .228 .299 .358 .657
Carlos Hernandez     62  512 1990 1996   9 .228 .271 .314 .584
Jeff Torborg         60  943 1964 1970   7 .214 .269 .277 .546

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/12/2018.
How does Grandal look compared to his peers since he became the Dodgers starting catcher in 2014?

Player               OPS+   PA  HR RBI  OBP  SLG  OPS
Kurt Suzuki           118  697  31 100 .341 .485 .825
Jonathan Lucroy       118 1621  35 175 .364 .447 .811
Yasmani Grandal       112 2326 104 294 .335 .443 .778
J.T. Realmuto         110 2152  59 243 .327 .442 .768
Willson Contreras     108 1255  43 163 .349 .450 .799
Devin Mesoraco        108  985  42 130 .325 .435 .760
Tyler Flowers         106  991  28 120 .360 .411 .771
Francisco Cervelli    105 1611  25 164 .368 .384 .752
Jorge Alfaro           99  508  15  51 .327 .422 .749

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/12/2018.

Grandal is 3rd in OPS+, first in home runs, and first in RBI. That is a huge hole to fill. But in a strange twist, the top three OPS+ catchers since 2014 are all free agents. Kurt Suzuki, Jonathan Lucroy, Yazmani Grandal.

Grandal certainly had his issues with passed balls, leading the league in 2016 and 2017, and seemingly mishandling numerous balls during the 2018 postseason. As much as passed balls are annoying I kind of think that is overrated. Grandal caught over 1,000 innings last year and is still considered one of the best framers in baseball. That is probably way more important since that impacts every at bat compared to nine passed balls in over 1,000 innings caught. That said, it was annoying when he missed pitches but it really should be put in perspective. Someday soon I’ll show that those nine passed balls rarely resulted in a run, and when it did result in a run, it even more rarely resulted in a loss. Someday.

The Dodgers have two bonafide catching prospect that played in AA in 2018. They aren’t ready yet, but both could be ready sometime in 2019. I doubt the Dodgers sign any catcher to more than a one year contract. Lucroy was once one of the best offensive catchers in baseball but his bat has taken a big hit since his monster season in 2016. He’ll only be 33 and might take a one year deal to rebuild his value but I’d expect he could get more than one year. If Lucroy hits like 2018 he would not be an improvement on Austin Barnes. Kurt Suzuki was once one of the worst hitting catchers in baseball but over the last two years has been one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. At 35 headed into 2019, he seems like a likely candidate for a one year deal. Baseball doesn’t like anyone over 30, much less 35.  Austin Barnes is the last catcher standing in the Dodger organization. It is clear the Dodger don’t feel Kyle Farmer is a catcher as they never let him catch when he’s on the major league roster. Never.  Austin Barnes beat out Yaz Grandal for the full time catching gig in Sept of 2017. He kept the job through the postseason even though his World Series exploits have been an offensive black hole. When Barnes is going right, he offers some punch, a good OBP, excellent speed for a catcher. You could have made an argument (I might have) that he could become the next Realmuto given his power and speed combination. No one is making that comparison right now but we simply don’t know if 2017 was the fluke season or if 2018 was the fluke season.

Who is a better bet to have the best offensive season in 2019,Austin Barnes, Lucroy, or Suzuki? I would actually bet on Barnes, it will be curious if the Dodgers do the same.