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T.J. SIMERS

These aren't those grumpy Dodgers

After nine years of columns, the guys in the clubhouse seem to be getting it.

July 16, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

Nine years ago this week, same day as the wife's birthday, I wrote my first column on Page 2.

Catcher Chad Kreuter apparently had someone read it to him and holding it in my face he said I'd never be allowed in the Dodgers' clubhouse again.

A few minutes earlier Kevin Brown had thrown a tantrum, about the only thing he threw with any effectiveness while with the Dodgers, and demanded team officials prohibit all Times writers from entering the clubhouse.

That was odd, because it would keep Brown from enjoying his favorite pastime, lowering his pants and smacking his bare bottom any time a female reporter passed by.

Later Davey Johnson would say he would never talk to Page 2 again while he was manager of the Dodgers, compelling me to write the next day, "I hope I can wait the three weeks."

Ah, those were the days.

Catcher Jason Phillips said his family was living paycheck to paycheck on $339,000, becoming enraged when challenged.

"I'll show you my check," he screamed.

"I'd be more interested in seeing your bills," I said.

There were a string of fired general managers, each blaming the media rather than the team's record. There was also the effort to check J.D. Drew for a pulse, check the scale as Andruw Jones stepped on, and make sense of anything Kenny Lofton had to say.

Then there was Jeff Kent, who said, "I laugh at your patheticness," and everyone knows Kent never laughed, obviously making an exception when using a word that really isn't a word.

I haven't even mentioned Mr. Guerrero, Lisa's husband, who took up locker space briefly, the Choking Dogs or the look that Milton Bradley could give you when asked, "How are you doing?"

Bradley's response: "What does that mean? You're out to get me, aren't you?"

Those were the days, all right, the wife younger, so much grist for Page 2 and for some reason F.P. Santangelo allowed to wear a Dodgers uniform.

Here we are nine years later, and things couldn't be worse, the wife gumming her food and not a single Dodger willing to do battle with Page 2, every day a love-fest.

Even Larry Bowa is a pussycat.

Now I haven't talked to the relief pitcher picked up on suspicion of DUI because I've kind of made it a rule to leave the stadium before he gets into his car.

But do you know I actually give knuckles, or whatever they call them, every time I get together with Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp? There are times when Kemp gives me his headphones so I can listen to rap music. What do you think, bro?

They don't come much nicer than Blake DeWitt, although I can't tell you anymore if he's with the Dodgers or on his way to Albuquerque. I'm sure Brent Leach is a good guy too, but I couldn't tell you what he looks like.

A pleasant surprise, though, has been James Loney, who just grows on you. He's both sharp and funny, following in the first base steps of Eric Karros, who has used a fine mixture of humor, charisma and insight into becoming a very good broadcaster. Loney replacing Charley Steiner some day?

Juan Pierre showed potential as a pouting punching bag for Page 2, but now he's become such a fun-loving sparring mate, who keeps wanting to hear my dramatic line from "The Game Plan."

Now as coaches go, Rick Honeycutt doesn't offer much and comes across wary like he belongs in the old Dodgers clubhouses. But it's hard not to have fun with Mariano Duncan, Manny Mota and Bob Schaefer. Schaefer is often mentioned in the same sentence as Pamela Anderson because it's just funny.

As for approachable athletes, the Dodgers might lead the league now that Kent is gone, beginning with Russell Martin, who is such an upgrade to Kreuter, along with easy-going types like Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake.

There's also Manny, who played Page 2 perfectly from the start, before going stupid. Too early to say whether he will remain the fun-loving goof or go Boston on everyone. I remember when I got along with Kobe.

We'll know more each time Manny's approached, but so far it looks as if he's intent on being the life of the clubhouse.

Don't know a lot about Orlando Hudson yet, so I'd like to think there's still one cocky guy out there willing to take on Page 2, but I know it won't be Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw. Someone raised them right.

I have several weeks of vacation and jury duty beginning soon, and I'm not all that fired up about taking it with the family. I still haven't gotten past the RV mutiny.

But I do like this team, and after spending so much time with the Lakers, it's refreshing. I think we're looking at something special taking place here the next few months.

And good for Joe Torre. I wasn't expecting much at the outset, knowing how long he had been in the New York spotlight. But instead of being jaded, distant or above it all, I can't think of anyone other than North Idaho basketball Coach Rolly Williams I've enjoyed more in sports.

Another ring for Torre, knowing how it would play in New York, and that would be outstanding. And this is the Dodgers' best chance to win a World Series in 20 years, everyone hungry here to prove themselves, Hudson and Ramirez with their own reasons to excel, while the young players look ahead to bigger paydays.

It will also be fascinating to see what impact success, money and outside influences have on this clubhouse.

In the meantime, we have the victory parade to look forward to in October. And I really don't anticipate the Parking Lot Attendant charging more than a hundred dollars or so for each Dodgers fan to attend.

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t.j.simers@latimes.com

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