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SPORTS EXTRA / BASEBALL '99

Double Feature

For $105 Million, Brown Knows Dodgers Expect More Postseason Magic

April 04, 1999|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some jobs are tough to fill, especially for would-be employers seeking potential saviors.

The applicant pool is small because leadership positions are demanding. Kevin Brown acknowledges he's unsuited for many roles, saying his inflexible demeanor would hurt him in most occupations, and those who know him agree.

But they also say, if you run a major league baseball team and you're looking for a dominant starting pitcher, look to Brown. If you want your pitching staff to set higher standards, consider having Brown in your starting rotation. And if your goal is to win, to join the game's elite, get Brown on your team.

The Dodgers did that in December.

They made Brown baseball's first $100-million player, signing the free agent to a record seven-year, $105-million contract that stirred anger throughout the industry. The fallout caused by Brown's deal, which includes unprecedented perks, continued through the off-season and spring training.

But the Dodgers believe the grief will be worth it because Brown is the leader they have long lacked.

The all-star right-hander is being counted on to propel the team far into the postseason, somewhere it hasn't been in a long time. The Dodgers view the exceptionally talented--and intensely competitive--Brown as the key piece to their puzzle, figuring they needed him at almost any price. Now, with their competitors privately hoping Brown flops, the Dodgers move forward behind their new franchise player.

"The Dodgers wanted me here because they understand what my focus is, they understand the way I am and what my approach is in this game," said Brown, whose 2.33 earned-run average the last three seasons is the lowest in the major leagues. "My job is to give this team a chance to win every day I pitch and to help this team win any way I can when I'm not pitching.

"I'll be there trying to give moral support, whether that means hootin' and hollerin' in the dugout, or whatever I have to do. Whatever it takes to be part of that winning effort, to help the Dodgers get back to that type of position again, that's what I'll do. That's why I'm here."

Brown has done it elsewhere.

He helped lead the Florida Marlins to the 1997 World Series title, twice defeating the Atlanta Braves in the National League championship series. And San Diego Padre players and officials cited Brown's arrival, in an off-season trade, as the key to their World Series appearance last season. As a Padre, Brown gave the Braves fits again in the '98 championship series.

He also moved into distinguished company.

He has 51 victories in the last three seasons, tying Roger Clemens of the New York Yankees for the third most in the majors. With 727 1/3 innings during that span, Brown trails only Clemens and Greg Maddux of the Braves.

Moreover, Brown and Maddux are the only pitchers in baseball history who have not been on the disabled list because of arm problems while pitching at least 1,400 innings, according to research by the Dodgers.

Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone had seen, and heard, enough.

The moment Malone took control of baseball operations in September, acquiring Brown became the organization's top off-season priority, though the Dodgers were also interested in Randy Johnson. They have not won a postseason game since 1988, and Malone believed Brown's talent and intensity were needed.

"This guy is really special," said Malone, the Dodgers' point man in negotiations with Brown's agent, Scott Boras. "A lot of guys talk about wanting to win, about wanting to be out there leading, but then they don't back it up.

"They want to talk about what it takes to win, about really becoming great, but they don't want to put in the work to reach that point. This guy is all about winning. He backs it up in everything he does, in how he prepares, in the high standards he sets for himself and the guys around him. This guy walks the walk."

Brown's current and former teammates agree.

Dodger outfielder Gary Sheffield and Brown were with the Marlins in 1996 and '97. When Sheffield heard Brown was coming to town, he knew what the Dodgers were getting.

"He brings the respect factor," Sheffield said. "You have to respect this guy because of everything he's done. Your team is just looked at differently. Guys know that when they face Kevin Brown, they're not only going against a guy with nasty stuff, they're going against a guy who's never going to give in.

"He's a constant competitor on an everyday basis. Even when he's not pitching, you're always going to hear him. He's always on the hitters, trying to get guys pumped up. He can make a big impact on a ballclub."

Brown did last season for the Padres, finishing third in the NL Cy Young Award balloting after the Marlins traded him during their salary purge. He went 18-7 with a 2.38 ERA and 257 strikeouts in 257 innings, elevating the performance of the other starters in the process.

Former Padre pitching coach Dave Stewart praised Brown for setting an example others strive to match.

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