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Beyond Compare

Karros is happy to be a Cub in a pennant race, but he won't rip Dodgers for getting rid of him

August 08, 2003|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

Eric Karros said he would not gloat about the December trade that sent him and Mark Grudzielanek to the Chicago Cubs.

It is tempting.

The four-player deal in which the Dodgers reacquired catcher Todd Hundley is considered among the most lopsided of the off-season, as Karros and Grudzielanek have been key contributors to a team contending for the National League Central title.

Hundley and the Dodgers?

Well, the injury-plagued backup has played in only 12 games and might be out the rest of the season after having back surgery June 5. Hundley has a salary of $6 million this season and $6.5 million in 2004.

After being tied atop the division with the first-place San Francisco Giants on June 22, the Dodgers are now struggling to remain in NL wild-card contention while trying to overcome the league's worst offense.

Although disappointed about the unceremonious conclusion to his 11-plus seasons as the Dodger first baseman, Karros did not criticize his former club on the eve of his return to Dodger Stadium for the first time as a member of an opposing team.

Karros said he and Grudzielanek, whose standout season has been interrupted by a broken right hand, have been rejuvenated playing under Cub Manager Dusty Baker, and he doesn't have time to focus on the Dodgers.

"I'm excited to be back, I'm sure there is going to be a lot of adrenaline and a lot of emotion, but I'm not really sure what to expect," Karros said Thursday before hitting his 10th home run in the Cubs' 9-3 victory over the San Diego Padres at Qualcomm Stadium.

"I don't have any regrets about my tenure with the Dodgers. It was a great experience; it was just unfortunate the way it ended. [General Manager] Dan Evans and [Manager] Jim Tracy wanted to go in a different direction, that's the nature of this game, and unfortunately, I wasn't in their plans.

"Things happen and you just move forward. Fortunately, I'm in a situation right now that's great. I really couldn't ask for a better situation. The environment in Chicago has been just unbelievable."

After beginning the season in a platoon with left-handed batter Hee Seop Choi, the right-handed batting Karros has emerged as Baker's top choice at first base as the second-place Cubs chase Houston, which leads the NL Central by 1 1/2 games.

In addition to hitting 10 homers in 248 at-bats (he had a career-low 13 homers in 524 at-bats last season while playing with an injured left shoulder), Karros is hitting .319 with a .377 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage and 27 runs batted in. He hit .362 in July and is batting .409 overall against left-handers.

Dodger first baseman Fred McGriff, who was with the Cubs last season, has not played since July 4 because of knee and groin injuries. In 237 at-bats, the 17-year veteran is hitting .249 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs. McGriff has on-base and slugging percentages of .318 and .430, respectively.

Grudzielanek, expected to be sidelined at least two weeks after being hit on the hand with a pitch last Saturday, has been the Cubs' offensive catalyst batting leadoff and second.

He is second to Karros on the team with a .305 batting average, and second to Sammy Sosa with 61 runs. Grudzielanek's .361 on-base percentage is the second-highest mark of his career, and Baker has lauded the second baseman's defense.

After a strong start, Dodger second baseman Alex Cora has slumped to .232. Seeking more offense from the infield, the Dodgers plan to make another change at second next season, team officials said.

Hundley, who has not played more than 92 games in a season since 1999, is batting .200 with one homer and eight RBIs. Outfielder Chad Hermansen, the other player in the deal, hit .174 in nine games before being sent to triple-A Las Vegas.

One might assume that proving the Dodgers wrong about them has fueled the resurgence of Karros and Grudzielanek, but Karros would disagree.

"That's not why I'm doing well or Grud is doing well -- that's not the motivation," said Karros, the Los Angeles franchise record-holder for home runs. "The motivation is that we're in a new organization and we've been given opportunities.

"For me, I'm going to say it [his decrease in production in 2001 and '02] was because of health issues the past two seasons. Whether anybody wants to believe it or not, that's fine.

"For Grud, just being able to be a big part of our lineup, batting at the top of our order, and just playing for someone like Dusty who

"I know there was a lot of talk about me not being able to accept the role that I was handed at the beginning of the year, but a lot of that has to do with the coaching staff and the manager. There's a reason Dusty was voted by the players as the manager people would most like to play for."

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