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SOUND AND VISION

Scully's positive spring turns into a very negative fall

September 27, 2007|Christine Daniels

Vin Scully's eyes have seen the coming of Kirk Gibson to home plate in October 1988 and the late-fading of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 and the fates of nearly 60 different Dodgers teams twist and turn more capriciously than a Charlie Hough knuckleball tossed into the old Candlestick Park wind tunnel.

But the Dodgers' bizarre hike through 2007, a well-mapped mountain climb followed by an abrupt cliff dive, has caused those seen-it-all eyes to blink hard more than once this summer. The potential he saw in this team in March far outscaled the barely-.500 plateau of late September.

"Most bad years are bad the whole year, you know what I mean?" Scully said Tuesday evening, a few hours before he called the Dodgers' 9-7 loss to Colorado, which officially eliminated the team from playoff consideration.

"This was a different year, because this was a team that, first of all, I was positive would either win the division or certainly be the wild card. I was positive! In the spring.

"And you know they were in first place at the end of July. So that made this different. And even when they started their slide down, you kept thinking, 'Yeah, but they were in first just a week ago, just two weeks ago.' You kept waiting for them to get back up again. Well, it never happened. So it was a different kind of a year."

Scully smiled and recalled the Tom Lasorda-managed 1992 Dodgers, who finished 63-99 -- 35 games out of first place.

"The year we lost 99 games," Scully said, "I remember thinking, I looked down on the field, and we had a lot of players that had come from other teams, and I remember saying to Lasorda, 'It looks like a used-car lot,' You knew this was a bad team, and it wasn't going anywhere.

"But this one -- nooo. This one was a wonderful team. And then, just things happened."

Scully takes a detached view when discussing this season's disappointing team. "Whether they win or lose doesn't affect what I'm trying to do," he said. But in his estimation, the Dodgers failed the litmus test all true contenders must pass: coping with the injuries that hit a club over 162 games.

"I don't think there's really so much blame [to assign]," Scully said. "It's just the way the cards played out. I mean, they lost certain people to injuries and they couldn't make up the slack. Other teams have had injuries and they made it up.

"I mean, Colorado lost Aaron Cook, a very good pitcher. The Mets lost Pedro Martinez. The Phillies lost Cole Hamels. Arizona lost Randy Johnson and a second baseman, Orlando Hudson. Somehow they were able to all recover.

"The Dodgers had the injuries and they weren't able to all recover. . . . That's what happens in the course of 162. They all have the injuries, and some clubs are able to overcome the absence and others can't. I don't know why. They're all major league players."

Media criticism of Manager Grady Little's handling of the roster, especially the pitching staff, has been unusually harsh by traditional local standards. Last week, the Dodgers' publicity staff went so far as to publicly chide "Dodger Talk" host Bob Harvey for swinging too freely with his journalistically sound tell-it-like-it-is approach.

Scully says such criticism of the manager "goes with the territory. It's like being president of the United States. You're going to get ripped. Every day. And unfortunately, unless you win, you're going to hear about it. So they have to be thick-skinned."

Still, Scully believes the criticism "really hurts" Little, whom he describes as "a very quiet man."

"I don't ever know what's really on his mind. His personality always is exactly the same. You'll watch and he'll come out and argue [with an umpire], but even his arguing is not inflammatory at all -- 'Hey, I think this and, you know, well, OK.' And then he walks away.

"He would seem to have the constitution to understand the barbs. And he went through it in Boston. Although that's got to hurt even more -- 'Here I go again,' " Scully said, referring to the Red Sox loss to the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

Scully said his personal philosophy is to never second-guess the manager on the air.

"Because it doesn't help anything anyway," he said. "And let's face it, I'm trying to help this team. I'm trying to get people to come see it. I don't want to dwell on negatives. And I don't think that's my job anyway. My job basically is between the lines. I've always thought: That's enough."

To Scully, that includes the rift between older and younger players that became public last week.

"When I think of the individual players who had problems, I was never aware of them," he said. "I didn't know Steve Howe was having his [drug] problem, I wasn't aware Bob Welch was having a [drinking] problem. Because I respect their privacy.

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