VERO BEACH, Fla. — The second Sunday in March, first game of the Grapefruit League exhibition schedule--now who could expect midseason form, right?
Yet, the Dodgers still managed to make Sunday's 6-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds look suspiciously like a midsummer's night last July. Try this for a first inning: Walk. Balk. Wild pickoff. Routine grounder to short, error. Walk. Double-play ball, dropped relay at second. Stolen base. Walk. Two-run single.
And that was with Fernando Valenzuela on the job. "Right, I think we should cut him right now," said pitching coach Ron Perranoski, adding some perspective to the occasion.
As it was, Valenzuela finished strongly, allowing just one hit in the last two innings of his three-inning stint. He also picked off Cesar Cedeno. Two pitchers fighting for jobs, Tom Brennan and Carlos Diaz, followed with two shutout innings each, with Brennan fanning two and Diaz three.
"This was his first spring-training game," Perranoski said of Brennan. "Who knows, the next time he may get the spit kicked out of him. But he'll be given every opportunity to prove himself."
The ninth inning was more minefield than proving ground for rookie second baseman Mariano Duncan, who made two of the Dodgers' three errors in the inning (first baseman Sid Bream had the other). "The best fielder out there, too," said Dodger Vice President Al Campanis of Duncan. Sadly, that might have been true.
The Dodgers, shut out on five hits through seven innings, scored twice in the eighth on a triple by rookie outfielder Ralph Bryant, who has replaced Franklin Stubbs as Campanis' latest pick to click. Al Oliver was the only Dodger with two hits, a line single in the first and a broken-bat number in the sixth.
If that didn't whet your appetite for baseball, consider the alternative: no baseball at all. That's a subject the Dodgers discussed among themselves with Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Players Assn., who is touring the camps to brief the players on the progress of labor talks with the owners. So far, there has been no progress to speak of--at the moment, Fehr is awaiting word from the owners on whether they're sincere about their claims of financial distress, a claim that would require them to open their books as proof. Fehr is not holding his breath.
"We're very skeptical that the clubs are losing money, either individually or as a group," he said.
And even if the owners were to prove to the players' satisfaction, that they were losing money, Fehr said that there would be no "guaranteed concessions" from the players. Player salaries, Fehr said, are not the problem. Even baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, Fehr said, is in agreement with that.
Will the season start without a strike?
"So it would appear," Fehr said, "unless something unusual would happen.
" . . . The overt hostility that pervaded the 1981 negotiations is not present this time, mainly because they (the owners) learned that you can push the players all you want, but basically they'll push back."
One thing is assured: There will be plenty of pushing before the sides come to agreement on such issues as free agency, salary arbitration, the division of TV money, minimum salary, expansion, et al.
Notes Donald Fehr said he was aware that the Dodgers had asked Steve Sax to take a drug test during the 1983 season. "I told him the Dodgers could not require him to do it, but if they required him we'd take whatever action we could to prevent it." As long as testing is voluntary, Fehr said, "I don't care if a player takes a test three times a day in Times Square on television." . . . On the subject of salary arbitration, Fehr said ownership is seeking to require a longer term of service--at least three years from the current two--while the union is seeking to cut the term of service. . . . Dodger pitcher Steve Howe, who missed Saturday's workout due to a stomach virus, said he felt "great" after throwing Sunday. Pitching coach Ron Perranoski said the Dodgers are hopeful that Howe could pitch batting practice in eight days. "I'd say he was throwing at about 60%," Perranoski said, "but he had good action and was throwing with the least bit of effort."