Kirk (Volcano) Gibson did what he had to do. Had he not taken a stand, the situation only would have gotten uglier.
Inside sources have provided me with a secret list, a compendium of pranks the Dodgers had intended to spring on Gibson as a rite of passage.
Last Thursday was just a warmup, with the shaving-cream-in-the-telephone trick followed by the lampblack-in-the-hat gag. After that, the Dodgers were scheduled to test Volcano's mettle with:
Friday--Super Glue on the on-deck pine-tar rag.
Saturday--Plastic doggie deposit in pocket of his fielder's glove.
Sunday--Reverse the lenses on his mirrored sunglasses.
Monday--Squirting carnation in lapel of first base coach.
Tuesday--Hollow out his bat and fill it with confetti.
Wednesday--Disappearing ink on his contract.
This team, Gibson sensed, was heading in the wrong direction. What would be next? Lasorda goes to the mound to yank a pitcher. Tiny bullpen cart arrives. One by one, a dozen relief pitchers emerge from the cart?
Enough was enough.
Somebody needed to make a statement against sophomoric baseball humor, most of which is not even sophomoric, but freshmanic. Example: Ex-pitcher Sparky Lyle was considered a sophisticated comedian because when a teammate would receive a birthday cake in the clubhouse, Sparky would take off his clothes and sit on the cake.
The Dodgers have a long history of practical jokes. They put Al Campanis on television. They pitched to Jack Clark.
Gibson, it would seem, has signaled the beginning of an era of serious Dodger baseball. Use a squirt gun, go to Gibby's doghouse.
After all, this is a team fighting for respectability.
It is a team fighting to survive spring training.
This has been the strangest of springs in Dodgertown.
Tom Lasorda has unveiled his Michelin plan, under which ballplayers are rotated like automobile tires. Opening day in Dodgertown, Mike Marshall finds himself written out of the starting lineup. It is Mike's day to sit on the bench.
This move makes sense, given Marshall's history of injuries. He once sat out a regular-season game against the San Francisco Giants for "general soreness," but now he's angry because he's not starting a game against those hated rivals, the Chunichi Dragons.
"I'm not caddying for anybody," Marshall fumed when he saw the lineup card.
One unverified report is that during that game, Pedro Guerrero, as he dug into the batter's box, yelled over to Marshall sitting on the bench, "Hey Mike, the left-field fence is 340 feet. What do you think? A 3-wood?"
The Michelin rotation seems a worthwhile experiment. Players get stale working the same defensive assignment every day. The fans also get tired of the sameness. I know I'm looking forward to seeing Mike Scioscia play shortstop.
And it will be interesting when the rotation comes around to Volcano Gibson's day to pitch. You want your pitcher to be imposing, intimidating, angry. Remember the Mad Hungarian?
How would you like to be the first batter to face Gibson after he discovers his teammates have planted a whoopee cushion under the rubber?
These are delicate times in Dodgertown. Lasorda wants Guerrero to play third base, or at least stand in that general area whenever the Dodgers are in the field. But such matters must be approached carefully, tactfully. Lasorda invites Guerrero and his agent into a meeting and politely broaches the subject of Pedro playing third. Guerrero says nothing.
The Dodger coaches, who preside over the infield drills, say they will not ask Guerrero if he would like to take some ground balls at third base.
"It's important that Pete come to us," a coach says. "That way it doesn't seem like we're forcing him to do anything."
Pedro's agent says it is Lasorda's job, not Pedro's, to decide who will play third base.
Pedro seems willing to give third base another try but awaits the sealed envelope.
This is baseball's new diplomacy. John McGraw would not understand. Today's manager must consider the ramifications of a position change, how it might effect a player's marketability. Should the player's shrink be consulted? Does his shoe contract allow him to change positions?
Sometimes you long for a day in the Michelin rotation when Volcano Gibson is the manager.
As of this writing, an uneasy peace seems to have settled upon Dodgertown. But even if the detente lasts all spring, no longer can we rely on the Dodgers to be the dullest show in Los Angeles. No longer will Dodger fans be asked at the ticket window whether they prefer to sit in snoring or non-snoring.
This will be, to steal a phrase, a season on the brink.
The only question now is, who's going to explain all this to the Chunichi Dragons?
Not only that, but the Soviets have taken up baseball, hoping to become competitive in international amateur play within five years. They have a delegation of coaches and players in Dodgertown, studying American baseball.
The Soviets' five-year plan may have suffered a 20-year setback.