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TALKING TOUGH : Dodgers Head Into Spring Training Just Brimming With Confidence

February 15, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VERO BEACH, Fla. — It's called Dodger arrogance, an attitude that flourished in the 1970s, thrived in the '80s and waned in the '90s.

The Dodgers are here to announce that it's back.

You want confidence? The Dodgers say they will win the National League West title going away.

You want cockiness? The Dodgers say they will be the Atlanta Braves' worst nightmare.

You want utter contempt? The Dodgers not only plan to beat teams this season on the way to the World Series, but embarrass them.

"We want to develop an aura, call it a cockiness if you will," Dodger pitcher Tom Candiotti said. "We don't want to just beat teams, 3-2, we want to bury them. We need to take a stance to punish somebody, just beat them the entire game, and don't let up."

Said Dodger closer Todd Worrell: "We've got to go out there a little cocky and arrogant. We want teams to step on the field and have the feeling that they don't want any part of us or we'll embarrass them.

"The way I see it, if we stay reasonably healthy, I don't see how this team can't win.

"I mean, there is absolutely no reason this team shouldn't win and get to the World Series."

The Dodgers, who open spring training today, say they're not being disrespectful to the rest of the division; they simply are convinced they are that good.

Combined with their playoff experience of last season and the belief that they'll be better, there is one acquisition that has the Dodgers believing times have changed: Greg Gagne, the new shortstop.

"I think that's why this is the most excited I've been since I got to this team [in 1992]," Candiotti said. "That was a huge addition getting Greg Gagne. That will make our pitchers so much better.

"I don't want to go out and start ragging on Jose Offerman, but hey, let's face it, there's a huge difference between Greg Gagne and Jose Offerman."

Gagne, who has excellent range, made only 10 errors last season for the Kansas City Royals. Offerman had a major league-leading 35 errors despite being benched all of September.

"He was a nice guy, and I liked him, personally," said first baseman Eric Karros, who was involved in a dugout shoving incident with Offerman during one game. "It's just that he really frustrated me. The thing that frustrated me so much was that when I saw him in the minors, he's the one guy who could control the game offensively and defensively.

"He would show it up here for a day or two, or week or two, but he couldn't sustain it for 162 games, and that got to me."

The Dodgers did little more this winter than acquire Gagne and third baseman Mike Blowers, and retain free-agent pitchers Ramon Martinez, Worrell and Candiotti. Yet, the feeling is as if they got Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux and Matt Williams.

"You don't want it from the high-pressure standpoint that if this team doesn't win the World Series, it's a failure," Worrell said. "But you have to have reasonable goals and expectations in front of you, and we have quite an opportunity."

Manager Tom Lasorda, who's back for his 20th season and has no plans to stop, sent letters to his players this winter asking them to be ready for a special year. Lasorda recognizes he has the team to beat in the National League West.

"I got a good feeling about this team," Lasorda said. "I have a feeling what happened last year, and getting into the playoffs will really help this team. They know how to win, and I think Atlanta knows that.

"We played them very well last year. They'd rather play somebody else in the playoffs than us.

"It's like I told my players in those letters, 'If you want to get to the World Series, this is what it takes.'

"Believe me, our guys will be ready."

Can the Dodgers really put this division away by Labor Day and coast toward the playoffs? Can they return to the World Series for the first time since 1988?

"This is the year we need to take that step," said Fred Claire, executive vice president. "Last year was a good year, but this year should be better. I don't think anyone will be satisfied just winning the division."

The Dodgers have been established as the favorites to win the division title, with several publications predicting a National League pennant, but there still is an entire spring training and regular season to endure.

"I know everything looks great, and on paper we have as competitive a team as anyone in the league," Karros said. "But I remember the '92 Mets when they had all of those stars: Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman, Tony Fernandez, [David] Cone, [Bret] Saberhagen, [Dwight] Gooden, [Sid] Fernandez. . . . It was a joke. You might as well have given them the World Series championship trophy right there.

"But at the end of the season, they were as bad as we were.

"What I'm saying is on paper, it looks good, real good. But to go to the World Series and represent the National League, you've got to go through Atlanta, I'm convinced of that.

"I think we can hold our own against them, but those guys have won a world championship, we haven't. So we can talk all we want right now, but they're the ones who can back it up."

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