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THE INSIDE TRACK | T.J. SIMERS

Johnson Managing to Get His Last Licks at Dodgers

August 23, 2000|T.J. SIMERS

I asked Dodger Manager Davey Johnson what it's like to be a "dead man," not knowing at the time he was headed to the hospital for surgery, or I might have used another figure of speech.

Had I known he was having shoulder surgery at this time of the season, I might have guessed he knew he was a "dead man," obviously using his Dodger insurance while he could.

"If they're gonna [fire me], let's do it and not wait," Johnson had said Monday night. "Let me put my house on the market instead of waiting eight weeks. Just do it.

"Hey, I know what's going on. These people have spent a lot of money and so you know there are going to be changes. A lot of money. There has to be."

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I ALSO SUGGESTED in a subtle way that some people might not entirely agree with his managing approach. I think I put it this way: "Your managing in recent weeks has just been dreadful, if not awful."

Now I know what an umpire sees in Johnson's eyes when Johnson disagrees. They get real big, and I didn't know someone could raise their voice and be so animated and talk that long without taking a breath or blinking.

His impassioned speech aside, his managing in recent weeks has really been dreadful, if not awful.

But he made an interesting point. He said when he arrived in L.A., he was swept away by the euphoria of working for the organization he admired as a youngster and didn't realize the depths to which the farm system had sunk.

More than that, he said, he could not believe what had become of "Dodger baseball," calling it "flash over substance. They'd rather look good than make the right play. Maybe it's a Hollywood thing."

And this startling observation from the manager: The players that have come up through the Dodger ranks "don't know how to play baseball."

That would seem to be a deterrent to winning games.

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"ALEX CORA ALMOST got killed by Alex Rodriguez earlier this season coming across the bag, and that's horse [bleep] baseball," Johnson said. "No one had ever taught him the proper move in that situation."

Can't anyone here play the game? Adrian Beltre botches a rundown. Todd Hundley bounces a ball into second, but Cora doesn't prevent the ball from going into the outfield. "That's a pet peeve of mine," Johnson said. "That should never happen. Put your leg down--take a hit to the body."

Eric Karros doesn't look like he could hit to right field if he was hitting off a batting tee, and management wants Johnson to hit and run. Tom Goodwin, for once not striking out, runs the Dodgers out of a late-inning comeback in a play that can only be described as "Little League dumb," and Johnson is the one who is listed as 10 toes up--just waiting for someone to officially certify him a goner.

"Someone ought to be going around [the minors] teaching 'em how to play," Johnson said, but never answering the question: Might he be interested in becoming that roving instructor once dismissed as manager?

A refresher course in "how to bunt," and he'd be perfect.

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THERE HAVE BEEN no magic numbers posted yet, but more than anyone else, the man who fills out the lineup card for the Dodgers knows there will be no miracles, no way for him to save his job. Just time to get those last-minute doctor and dentist appointments before moving under a new plan elsewhere.

General Manager Kevin Malone put Johnson on this path of no return by telling everyone at the All-Star break that the Dodgers had the personnel to make the playoffs. But the Dodgers are finding it difficult, even with Malone's expertise, which brought Goodwin and Ismael Valdes here, to go .500 at home.

The final 38 games will be dedicated to playing the blame game, Malone pointing at Johnson, Johnson pointing at his inconsistent starting pitchers, and everyone else pointing to Gary Sheffield, hoping he hits a lot of homers so no one dwells on their own dreadful, if not awful play.

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P.S. THE Dodgers just scratched Sheffield from the lineup because he's sick. No mention of "and tired of it."

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F.P. SANTANGELO, in the lineup against the Expos, asked the team to play a song by Papa Roach when he came to the plate, the lyrics appropriately describing the organization's current status: "This is my last resort."

And after getting pounded the night before by the Expos, who had lost 20 of their previous 25 games, the Dodgers reported to work and cranked up the music in the clubhouse, something by DMX, called, "Party Up."

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IT'S FUNDAMENTAL. ON most nights the Dodgers no longer take infield practice, apparently because they don't need it. Before Tuesday night's game, the coaches were hitting balls to the ball boys and to the pitchers.

Kevin Brown was playing third base, which is genius--it's probably the only way they could get a full game out of him these days.

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THE HARD WORK continued on the field with Todd Hundley, Cora and Santangelo taking turns in batting practice wearing Vic "The Brick" Jacobs' oversized clown hat. They ought to let Chad Kreuter wear it this weekend when he's sitting in the bullpen in Chicago.

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FORGETTING FOR A moment the Giants do not play a team with a winning record until Sept. 21--going into Tuesday night's game if they were to go 20-19 the rest of the way, the Dodgers would only have to win 30 of their final 39 games to make the playoffs. The Diamondbacks would also have to be kidnapped, and the Mets would have to disband.

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TODAY'S LAST WORD comes in an e-mail from Bob:

"A professional reporter or professional columnist would have done his research before making such damning statements about UCLA."

So why are you telling me?

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T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address: t.j.simers@latimes.com

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