It is barely March, but people keep asking me if the Dodgers are going to be any good this season. I tell them the Dodgers are going to be good every season. I tell them the day the Dodgers are no good is the day Cary Grant turns ugly.
No matter how disappointing the Dodgers have been in certain seasons, they have rarely been terrible. You never see them losing 100 games, the way the Giants and Pirates and Mets have. In fact, the Dodgers have not lost 100 games in any season since 1908.
OK, so they don't win the World Series every autumn. Big deal. Since 1939, the Dodger franchise has finished lower than fourth place a total of five times. Five times. Wouldn't the Cubs or Indians or A's love to be able to say the same?
So, when somebody asks me whether the Dodgers will be any good this season, I quickly say yes. Exactly how good, I have no idea. But you can bet your bottom Dodger dollar that they will not be 20 games out of first place by June. They will not be canning Tom Lasorda and replacing him with Billy Martin.
A devoted Dodger fan is likely to be angry if the team fails to win the National League pennant this season. There are so many other clubs that would love merely to be in the race. Even when the Dodgers finished fourth in the NL West in 1984, their record was 79-83. Not 62-100.
Nevertheless, hardly a day passes without some Californian mentioning Lasorda's regrettable decision to pitch to Jack Clark. On the banquet tour, Tommy the Tummy could hardly sink his teeth into the ravioli without somebody asking why he refused to tell Tom Niedenfuer to walk Clark.
I, too, came down on the Dodger manager for that decision. But there is no use wiping up this spilt milk forever. The time has come to move on. Let us let Clark and Ozzie Smith and (Don't Blame It On) Joaquin Andujar be forgiven and forgotten. Let us concentrate on what is about to happen, rather than what already did happen.
Are the Dodgers going to be good this season?
Sort of good or really good?
Really good, I'd say.
First of all, consider their pitching. That certified St. Louis genius Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog tried to insist a year ago that without Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, the Dodgers would be just another ballclub.
Well, so what? That's like saying without Wayne Gretzky, the Edmonton Oilers would be ordinary. The Oilers are not without Gretzky, so who the hell cares?
Put a healthy Bob Welch in that starting rotation and the staff is solid. Find a fourth from Jerry Reuss, Rick Honeycutt maybe, Alejandro Pena if he can hack it, and the staff is really in business. Some rookie (Dennis Powell?) might have to emerge, but stranger things have happened.
With Steve Howe gone for good, the Dodgers need a lefty reliever to work alongside--or in between--Ken Howell and Niedenfuer. Ed Vande Berg should do the job. He is a veteran, but only 27 years old. A good guy to have.
All right, consider the infield. Not the National League's best, of this we are sure.
But Bill Madlock, absolved of drug blame, relieved to be with a winning team, healthier and skinnier by the hour, is liable to start 140 games at third base and bat .330 again. No kidding. He is certainly capable of it.
At shortstop, Mariano Duncan is one of the blossoming stars of the majors. As soon as he is completely comfortable as a switch-hitter, he is going to be a dangerous bunter, base-stealer and extra-base threat. Defensively, the guy is a super-scooper. He gets to everything.
Steve Sax's throwing from second base is tremendously improved. Box-seat customers behind the visiting dugout are no longer in danger. And any club that can bat Sax eighth has got a pretty decent batting order, believe me.
Greg Brock is going to be pushed for his job at first base. He might have to share it with Enos Cabell. He might even lose to Franklin Stubbs. Brock has a good eye for the strike zone, but the Dodgers would prefer that he walk less, cut loose and take his rips. If he does, 25 homers for sure.
The outfield has Pedro Guerrero, happy to be out of the infield. Guerrero went crazy at the plate last summer. About the only thing he didn't hit was Thomas Hearns.
A gazelle named Jose Gonzalez is going to challenge Ken Landreaux for center field. Somebody is always challenging Landreaux for center field. If Gonzalez could hit, the Dodgers could turn Duncan and him loose on the bases the way the Cardinals turned Vince Coleman and Smith loose.
The third outfielder is Mike Marshall, who, if he ever plays more than 140 games, is going to put together some unbelieveable numbers. Believe me.
Mike Scioscia will do the catching. The Dodgers would prefer it immensely that he not get injured.
All in all, a pretty decent baseball team. There are a couple of ifs and a couple of buts, but generally speaking, the Dodgers should be good once again this season, good enough to tack a winning record on the board, good enough to be in the division race and to keep their customers satisfied from April through September.
They look so good, in fact, that it is really difficult for me to picture them finishing as low as second place.
Trouble is, I'm picking the Reds.