VERO BEACH, Fla. — The date loomed ominously in Rick Dempsey's consciousness all spring. Thus when March 30 finally arrived, bringing with it word that he made the Dodger roster, he was considerably relieved.
Dempsey, a 38-year-old catcher, spent the spring in the nebulous category of non-roster invitee. The Dodgers and Dempsey agreed that the day the club broke camp, he would be told if he would be kept. A strong spring gave Dempsey the backup catching job over incumbent Alex Trevino.
Executive Vice President Fred Claire selected Dempsey's experience and handling of pitchers over Trevino's $300,000 guaranteed salary. Trevino is expected to be put on waivers after this weekend's Freeway Series.
Dempsey said all spring that he could make the club but wondered whether Dodger management felt the same way.
"I have to admit that, all along, I thought it would happen," Dempsey said. "But you never know what they are thinking in this game. (Tuesday), I thought it might not happen because of financial considerations."
Trevino said he was pleased when he heard of Dempsey's signing and is looking forward to getting his release. As Trevino requested, the Dodgers tried to trade him, but interested teams seem willing to wait until he clears waivers before pursuing him.
Dodger officials were silent Wednesday about their plans but probably will assume the balance of Trevino's $300,000 contract. Another team then can sign him for the minimum salary, $62,500.
The Dodgers also figure to eat outfielder Tito Landrum's guaranteed $300,000 contract. So, counting the $400,000 buyout of Jerry Reuss' contract, the Dodgers will begin the season paying nearly $1.1 million to players for not playing.
"(Money) was not a consideration," Claire said. "The contracts we have are just that--we have them. The 24 players we will select will be the 24 that we think are best."
Dempsey's salary is believed to be in the $200,000 range. Although he is a veteran of 15 major league seasons with the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and, for half of last season, the Cleveland Indians, Dempsey really was at the mercy of Dodger management. "I'm happy with the way it worked out," Dempsey said. "But it was a risk."
Perhaps even a stronger test of will for Dempsey was walking into the Dodger offices without an appointment over the winter and asking to speak with Claire about a job.
"When you want something bad enough, it makes you do something you might not normally do," Dempsey said. "Although I've never been afraid to go up to someone and tell them what I feel, this was a tough situation."
Dempsey was coming off a disastrous season with the Indians. He hit .177 in 60 games, lost 15 pounds for no apparent reason and suffered a broken left thumb in a home plate collision with Kansas City's Bo Jackson.
"It did take some convincing, because I obviously didn't impress Fred enough when I first talked to him on the phone," said Dempsey, a native Southern Californian. "I never heard back from him, so I came in to see him.
"The most nerve-wracking part was sitting in his office after everybody had left and not knowing what (Claire) was thinking. I had to convince myself, not to give up and go home."
Dempsey recovered his confidence once he reported to Vero Beach. "I had to prove to them that I was healthy, that I could still throw well, stop the running game, move fast behind the plate, call a good game and blend in with the team," Dempsey said. "I think I've done that."
Dempsey hit only .148 this spring, in 27 at-bats. But he had 6 runs batted in, including a game-winning double Monday against the Montreal Expos in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"If they want Mike Scioscia to be the starting catcher, fine," Dempsey said. "But I want them to know that if Mike goes down (with an injury) or has a bad spell, I can do the job.
"That's what it boils down to. I didn't come here to be a backup catcher. Backups accept things and get too comfortable. I don't accept it. There's a difference between an 'A' player and a backup. I still think of myself as an 'A' player. They don't get intimidated. I'll be ready to play anytime.
"I've got a lot of respect for Mike Scioscia. I see a lot of the qualities in him that I had when I played in Baltimore. I still feel capable of playing like I did in Baltimore. I'd like to push him a little. It'll help both of us."
Trevino, meanwhile, just wants out. He demanded a trade--or release--last Friday and has not changed his mind. "Of course I'll be released," Trevino said. "Of course I'll be put on waivers. I'll be disappointed if I stay with the team, like I said before. It'd be great if they would do it today, but I'm patient. I'll wait. "I don't know many veteran players with (big salaries) who get picked up off the waiver list. I'll have to clear it, then we'll see.