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It's Better to Be Nasty Than Nice

May 25, 2003|Ross Newhan

The doubt Kevin Brown harbored is gone. He has clearly overcome the arm and back injuries of the last two years. He is on top of his game again -- intimidating hitters, busting up clubhouses, insisting he is who he is and has no reason for apologies or excuses.

What does that mean?

Well, Brown suggested in an unusually candid and extended interview at his Dodger Stadium locker, it means he is long past the point of trying to win friends and influence people.

It means, he said, that if reporters have created a public image that can best be described as being fit to a T -- Testy, Tenacious and Tightly Wound -- he has been burned so often that he is wary of letting anyone see anything else, letting anyone penetrate the wall.

It means, he said, that he feeds off his intensity and competitiveness and if that leads to an occasional clubhouse demolition, it would be cause for concern only if he were endangering others.

It means, he said, that "friendship and respect are two different things" and his primary hope is that he has the respect of his teammates.

"A long time ago I got beyond the point of trying to please everybody," Brown said. "You're never going to do that, and if you try, you're probably selling yourself short of who you really are and what you really are.

"I can stand up and look myself in the mirror. I can look [my teammates] in the eye. If somebody really wants to know what's going on off the field with me, who I really am, it comes down to a matter of trust, and that takes time to develop."

Time, Brown said, better spent preparing to pitch than making small talk with reporters, healing a wariness that doesn't go back to any one place or incident.

"No one city has a patent on it," Brown said of the frequency with which, he perceives, he has been burned.

Addressing it another way, he said:

"I've always been my own worst critic. I'm as tough on myself as anybody as far as my performance on the field. What people want to write as far as critiquing the pitcher or person, if they walk in and see what they think they want to see, I have no control over that.

"I'm not one to kiss anyone's rear to try to make them think one way or the other about me. If they don't like the way I am, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I'm competitive on the mound, tend to carry my intensity and focus on my sleeve, and as long as I have the respect of my teammates, that's all I worry about."

No worry. At least in the context of his performance.

"The man commands a level of respect with what he does and the way he carries himself, and that's exactly what he should get," said Darren Dreifort, whose game face is almost as perpetual as that of Brown's and whose performance in this season of pitching comebacks for the Dodgers is comparably impressive.

For the 38-year-old Brown, coming off elbow and back surgeries in the last two years, his current roll may be the most impressive of a distinguished career. He faces the Milwaukee Brewers today with a 5-1 record and 2.38 earned-run average, the National League's third best. He has held opponents to a .206 batting average, given up only seven runs in the 42 innings of his last six starts, given up only one run in each of the last five and gone seven innings or more in five of the last six (he went six innings in the other).

It has been a tone-setting display for the best rotation in baseball, challenging fodder for the other starters.

"He's fun to watch, but he's hard to watch," Dreifort said. "As a fellow pitcher you try to get a read on the other team by watching how he pitches, but you can't do that because every pitch he throws is different. You don't know if he's throwing a splitter or a sinker or a cutter or a slider or a curveball or a changeup. He's so good because he's got all that to keep a team off balance.

"Besides, the intensity he brings to the day he pitches is incredible. If you can't get fired up watching him pitch a game, you've got problems. I mean, you certainly try to feed off that intensity because you can't match his stuff."

Coming back the way he has, Brown said, is a relief more than anything.

The low point, he said, discounting the times before the back surgery when he couldn't even stand or dress, came last September when he tried to pitch out of the bullpen after Dr. Michael Watkins had operated on June 11, experienced discomfort and "I had to really start questioning whether I would ever be right again."

A promising spring lessened his anxiety, restored his optimism, and now he says, "I feel like at times I've been as good as I've ever been, but the key is doing it for the whole season. That will be a big steppingstone. At this point I'm not saying 'OK, I'm back,' because I'm not satisfied yet where I'm at and still can improve. It's a good feeling, however, to be able to go out there healthy and focus on making pitches instead of worrying about how I'm going to feel when I do."

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