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Bill Plaschke

Front Office Makes Costliest Error of Season

September 03, 2003|Bill Plaschke

Many were stunned by Monday's revelation that Shawn Green has played the entire season with a bum shoulder.

Jack Clark was not.

Clark, the Dodger hitting coach who was fired last month, tutored Green every day during private batting practice sessions in a Dodger Stadium tunnel.

He remembers him wincing because of the shoulder. He remembers him weakly connecting because of the shoulder.

He remembers when Green would show up late at the cages because he was in the training room secretly getting treatment for the shoulder.

"He would apologize, but said the shoulder was bothering him and he needed to have it worked on," said Clark. "About a month before the All-Star break, he said he would probably get surgery after the season."

Clark said he passed along the information on the bench during the game.

"When somebody would be sarcastic about one of his lousy swings, I would say, 'Hey, wait a minute, this guy is hurting,' " he said. "Nobody ever said anything back."

That silence today is deafening as the Dodger front office is awash in unseemly indications that it did not properly handle a season-long shoulder injury suffered by its best -- and most underachieving -- hitter.

In a Times story Monday, after a source confirmed it to reporter Jason Reid, the power-sapped Green finally acknowledged that he has been stifled by a sore right shoulder since spring training. A previously undisclosed MRI exam on Aug. 19 revealed a frayed labrum and bursitis in the shoulder, and Green said he would probably undergo off-season surgery.

Upon reading this, the many Dodger fans who have suffered through Green's stunning lack of homers (12) and RBIs (62) perhaps said, "Oh, so that's what it is."

An understandable declaration, followed by an obvious question.

So why didn't the Dodgers do anything about it?

If they knew all season that he was hurting, why didn't they make an extraordinary effort to acquire another power hitter -- even at the expense of prospects -- to make up for the loss?

And why didn't they make public the news of that Aug. 19 MRI? Those who buy tickets deserve to know about injuries that affect those whom they are paying to see, particularly the infirmities of a star whose season has been so confounding. It's called truth in advertising.

By failing to address this issue either publicly or privately, Dodger General Manager Dan Evans toyed with the trust of the fan, stunted the immediate future of the team and placed unwarranted heat on Manager Jim Tracy.

The folks who buy tickets and cross their fingers and hope that this will be the game that Green breaks out of it? Stop hoping.

The team that has waited for Green to regain his confidence and presence and longball to carry them into October? Stop waiting.

And those critics -- including this one -- who think Tracy should do more with a lineup that includes a guy who has had 91 homers and 239 RBIs the last two seasons? We can shut up for now.

The real heat here belongs to a young general manager who, despite constructing a great pitching staff and defense, needs to build better communication with his clubhouse and a sense of urgency for his fans.

"We don't feel [Green] is being hindered," claimed Evans on Tuesday.

"It's not an injury that has prevented him from playing this year."

No, the injury has not prevented Green from playing -- he has appeared in 135 games, missing only two games with a sore neck.

But, as anyone who knows the difference between a swing and a miss can attest, he has not played.

The Dodgers talk about his 45 doubles, tying a career high.

The reality is that he hits doubles because he is unable to drive the ball any farther.

The Dodgers talk about his .310 batting average since July 1.

The reality is that nobody should care about Green's batting average, a worthless statistic for a player who is paid $84 million to produce runs.

Evans defended the Dodger spin Tuesday by saying that his medical people say Green can play, and that there is no proof that this shoulder injury prevents power hitting.

"You cannot blame ... home-run production on one thing," Evans said. "No one has that answer."

Yet in Monday's story, Green offered a huge hint, explaining that, "My body just won't stay through the ball. My top hand takes over, whereas my bottom [right] hand is really the base of my power."

Translated? Two home runs since the All-Star break, and one of those was a fluke that shouldn't have counted.

Evans continued his defense by saying that Green never complained, never asked out of the lineup, never demanded an MRI and never wanted to talk about it.

"I didn't have any indication at all that this was an issue," he said. "I never had surgery addressed to me in any way."

That means, despite daily medical meetings between Evans and the baseball staff, something was lost in the translation. If Green was talking about surgery to Clark -- he confirmed it Tuesday -- then how could nobody else have heard?

Evans also maintained that it was not a situation where a trade was warranted, even with the obvious loss of power.

"I never felt obligated to make a deal, because Shawn Green was always in the lineup," he said. "It never even came into the trade discussions."

Yet the thought now that the league's best pitching staff must attempt to survive the final month of a playoff race without those home runs is unsettling, unnerving and completely unnecessary.

Green, working a positive angle where none exists, smiled Tuesday and said, "Other than the home runs, things have been going all right."

Which is like Dan Evans saying that other than the front-office stuff, he's had a fun summer.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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