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What This Team Needs Is a Heart Transplant

June 08, 1997|BILL PLASCHKE

Nearly one year into the job, Bill Russell's first demonstrative maneuver as Dodger manager the other night was all wrong.

He made a huge mistake by shoving Ismael Valdes out of the dugout after the pitcher's childish tantrum.

He should not have stopped there.

Russell should have pushed Valdes up the runway, down a hallway, and out into the parking lot.

He should have returned to the dugout, looked around for other whiners or underachievers, and done the same to them.

By the time he was finished, the bench would contain just Russell, the coaches, a few pitchers, and maybe Brett Butler and his bottle of aspirin.

That would be about right.

It has been clear since February that the Dodgers have the talent to easily win the National League West.

It has been clear since May that they lack the will.

With a virtually identical team to the one that won 90 games last season--even better at third base with Todd Zeile--they are on a pace to win 10 fewer games.

That will not win the division, or a wild card, or give Peter O'Malley one second thought about dumping the whole shebang.

The only positive here is, Dodger fans have finally figured out how to boo, even if it took approximately 17 double-play grounders by the middle of the lineup to teach them.

Dodger management, on the other hand, still hasn't learned.

Nobody around Chavez Ravine will publicly cite reasons for the team's struggles through the first third of the season, nor acknowledge the impact of a slow start on the final third of the season.

But they know. Everyone knows. The following 59-game synopsis should be far less surprising than Bill Russell's shove, if not equally overdue.

Eric Karros is not getting any $20-million hits.

Mike Piazza is not creating any $15-million moments.

Wilton Guerrero stuck a cork in the Dodgers' chances of winning a sixth consecutive rookie-of-the-year award.

He should have given the phony bat to last year's top rookie, Todd Hollandsworth, who perhaps could have knocked in a runner from third base with it.

Zeile is on a pace to hit 30 home runs, but you only notice him when he's bending over for a ground ball.

Raul Mondesi was bunting the other night, but it wasn't Russell's fault, it was Mondesi's, because he hasn't proved he should be batting third instead of second.

The reserves have been horrific. Some can't pinch-hit, and the rest of them can't pinch-run.

Judge us at the end of the year, the Dodgers ask.

Been there, done that, we reply.

The last two seasons the Dodgers have been lauded for late-season sprints, only to reward their fans by promptly keeling over from exhaustion.

Reminder: This organization has not won a postseason game since Orel Hershiser looked to the heavens in Oakland in October 1988.

How long ago was that?

This morning, the only fist-pumping Kirk Gibson will be doing is at the Crystal Cathedral, where he will be speaking alongside Dr. Robert H. Schuller.

We only wish we were making that up.

Those who judge the Dodgers only at the end of the year are missing the importance of a six-game lead at the beginning of September. The importance of having a final month that does not involve 30 draining playoff-type games.

If this sounds like so much screaming at windmills, that is the only thing a Dodger observer can do these days.

Can't demand a trade for a left-handed power hitter. Fred Claire won't break up the league's best pitching staff until he is certain this lineup really has taken a giant step backward, and that won't be until late July, and who can blame him?

Can't call for help from triple-A Albuquerque. Heavy hitters Karim Garcia and Paul Konerko need another full year.

Can only hope that somebody on this team besides Russell realizes that it's time for a shove.

Time for the middle of the order to be smarter at the plate and stop complaining that there are never men on base when they bat. When you only knock in seven of 52 runners in scoring position in May--as Piazza and Karros combined to do--there could be 152 runners out there and it wouldn't matter.

Time for the pitchers to realize that they are blessed with the best pitcher's stadium in the game, and if they don't get a lot of runs, well, join the 39-year-old club.

Time to stick around the clubhouse long enough to realize this is still a championship team. A terribly embarrassing one.

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