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Inside Baseball | ON BASEBALL

Dodgers Not in Giants' League

August 03, 2003|Ross Newhan

The bellow of the Bay Area fog horns is accompanied by the beat of the hammers nailing down the Dodger coffin.

Not only are the San Francisco Giants running away with the National League West, compounding the misery of the Dodger summer, but they are extending a period of dominance in which the rivalry has been turned to dust.

With the exception of a game here, a series there, the Dodgers basically haven't been in the same ballpark with the Giants for the last decade.

In fact, the standings that now find the Dodgers closer to the San Diego Padres in the division basement than San Francisco in the penthouse provide an example.

Since 1993, when a group headed by Peter Magowan and Larry Baer bought the Giants and foreclosed on the move to Tampa Bay, only the Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians have a better record.

Since 1997, a period in which the Dodgers have finished second twice and third four times, the Giants have never finished lower than second, have twice won the division, once reached the playoffs and World Series as the wild card and compiled a better record than every team except the Yankees and Braves.

Now, with the Giants headed for a fourth consecutive season of 3.2 million attendance in Pacific Bell Park and having become what Executive Vice President Baer calls "part of the Bay Area bloodstream" as they once were in New York, with General Manager Brian Sabean having again displayed a deft and aggressive deadline touch with his acquisition of 14-game winner Sidney Ponson enhancing the Giants' goal of winning the World Series they lost to the since-capitulating Angels in seven games last year, with a new manager and remodeled lineup extending the decade of success, it's hard to argue with Baer when he says ...

"It's a great time to be a baseball fan in San Francisco."

Asked if it's that much of a greater time because of the ongoing struggle of the rival Dodgers over the last decade, Baer took the high road.

"We're having a great run, but we don't take any more delight or pleasure in it because of the Dodgers' problems," he said. "Franchises have their eras of success. I grew up in the Bay Area in the '60s when the Giants always seemed to be just a day late. We know the Dodgers are one of the great franchises in sports. It's important to us that they remain a formidable rival. We have no illusions. We know we'll be fighting it out with the Dodgers going forward."

How kind. Baer knows as well that it doesn't simply come down to "outspending people," that "every year since '97 we've spent less than two other teams in the division (the Dodgers always being one of them) and sometimes three. We think of it as an art, not a science, and it comes down to a matter of architecture, trusting the eyes of your scouts and the instincts and judgment of your general manager and his staff."

Within a framework of an upper-middle class payroll, Sabean has established his credentials as one of baseball's best general managers, annually making adjustments in the roster, often under the pressure of the trade deadline.

This year?

He tabbed Felipe Alou to replace Dusty Baker as cynics said Alou had become too old and dispassionate to be an effective manager.

He lost Jeff Kent, David Bell, Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders from his World Series lineup. He replaced them with Edgardo Alfonzo, Jose Cruz Jr., Ray Durham and Marquis Grissom as cynics said Grissom (who's become another stain for the Dodgers' top decision makers) couldn't play every day, Durham was strictly a DH and Alfonzo's best years were behind him.

He lost closer Robb Nen for the season and showed faith in Tim Worrell as cynics said the journeyman right-hander couldn't possibly pick up Nen's load.

He had injuries in the rotation and showed faith in rookies Jerome Williams and Jesse Foppert as cynics said a pennant-minded team couldn't rely on unproven arms.

Well, the Giants are 26 games over .500, have a stranglehold on the division and Sabean's instincts and judgment have been more right than wrong.

Reflecting on the turnover after last year's loss in the World Series, Baer said:

"I don't think anyone could have predicted we'd be 12 games ahead in early August, but we were confident of remaining as competitive as we had been.

"The general manager wasn't changing, the franchise player [Barry Bonds] wasn't changing, the culture of a clubhouse in which players come from other teams and sense a high level of confidence wasn't changing, and neither was the foundation and ballpark.

"We lost an excellent manager and formidable presence in Dusty Baker but gained an excellent manager and formidable presence in Alou. If I had to give him a grade it would be A-plus. He's been incredibly good on all fronts."

No question about it.

It's a great time for baseball fans in San Francisco and it has been enhanced in another way, said Baer, as Bonds produces another "magical year" and closes in on Willie Mays' total of 660 home runs -- third on the all-time list -- rekindling memories and retrospectives of Mays and Willie McCovey and the Giants early years in the city.

Of course, there is no comparing Candlestick Park to the wonderful Pac Bell.

In four years, the new park will have attracted 12.8 million fans and become a large part of the Giants' renaissance, in Baer's words a "summer house" for Bay Area fans as the club has become an even larger part of the "community and culture despite the competition" for entertainment dollars.

"Nobody says there has to be a honeymoon period for a new park," Baer said. "We believe that by trusting instincts and making good judgments we can sustain this run we've produced."

The Dodgers are in no position to argue. The Giants are hammering down a decade of dominance.

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