VERO BEACH, Fla. — Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda was examining the cover of the Dodgers' new media guide, which displays the blurred image of Steve Sax in midswing.
"What kind of picture is this?" Lasorda said. "You can't even tell who it is."
Lasorda handed the book to Bill Russell. "Looks clear to me," Russell deadpanned.
Last September, when fluid and swelling developed behind Russell's right eye, the only thing clear to Russell was that his vision was too blurred for him to play baseball, which caused him to miss the playoffs.
Russell gestured at the cover again. "That's the way my right eye was all the time," he said.
That's the reason he was here Friday, one of three Dodger players given permission to begin working out early with the team's 19 pitchers and catchers. The others are Len Matuszek, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder Jan. 9 and has just resumed throwing, and Bill Madlock, who is rehabilitating a knee and a shoulder.
At one time, laser surgery was considered for Russell. Instead, doctors prescribed rest, and in a recent examination, Russell said there was no fluid buildup and that his vision had returned to 20/20.
Now, at 37 and in the last year of his contract, Russell hopes to return to a more active role with the Dodgers. Still, when Bobby Castillo spotted Russell carrying a bag of balls after a workout, he laughingly wondered if the Dodgers had something else in mind.
"What are you, a coach?" Castillo asked.
Not yet, but Russell acknowledged that he would like to stay in baseball after he's through playing. He said he hasn't talked about the possibility with team officials.
"I told them I wasn't old enough to talk about it," Russell said.
Asked if he'd consider managing, he said, "Right now, I'm not qualified."
Besides, he would like to keep playing as a backup infielder and outfielder. Since Vice President Al Campanis has said he's trimming the roster to 24 players this season, Russell figures there should be plenty of competition.
"I'm 37, in the last year of my contract, and I'm still proving myself," he said. "As long as I can contribute, I want to play. If not, I'll be carrying the ball bags."
On the same day that third-year pitcher Orel Hershiser, 19-3 with the Dodgers in 1985, won a $1-million arbitration judgment, third-year pitcher Ron Darling, 16-6 with the Mets, lost in arbitration and will be paid $440,000. He was seeking $615,000.
"I couldn't believe it," Hershiser said. "As happy as I was for me, I had mixed feelings because of him.
"It's hard to imagine he's worth just one-third as much as Dwight Gooden (who signed for $1.32 million) or less than half as much as me."
Hershiser had a suggestion for future arbitration cases.
"Even though I ended up on the winning side, I almost wished there'd been more than one (arbitrator)," he said. "That's almost a life-changing situation. For me, it was a $400,000-decision (the Dodgers had offered $600,000), and to put that in the hands of one man . . . "
Dodger Notes The name taped over reliever Tom Niedenfuer's locker here: Jack Clark. Catcher Mike Scioscia is said to be the culprit. . . . Rick Honeycutt, who has had shoulder trouble ever since he was traded to the Dodgers in 1983, pitched batting practice Friday and said his arm was better than it has been in a long time. Third baseman Bill Madlock, who noticed that American League baseballs were being used, teased Honeycutt about a possible trade, predicting that a left-hander would be throwing the AL baseballs this summer and that there was a 4 in his uniform number. Honeycutt wears No. 40. If Alejandro Pena, who threw on the side Friday, makes a comeback, the Dodgers would have an extra starter, but Honeycutt said he was unconcerned about trade possibilities. "The main thing I'm concerned about is whether my arm is sound," he said. "If it's sound, I'll be pitching somewhere. If I pitch well enough in spring training, maybe (the Dodgers) will say, 'Hey, he's back.' "
The rest of the Dodger squad is scheduled to report Tuesday, with the first workout scheduled Wednesday. Asked when he expected outfielder Pedro Guerrero to arrive, Manager Tom Lasorda said: "I think his house is OK. He doesn't need no new roof." Two years ago, Guerrero reported late, saying that his roof had been leaking. . . . For the first time, Spanish lessons are being offered at Dodgertown for team personnel. "Spanish lessons?" Russell said. "They ought to give tennis lessons."