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T.J. SIMERS

Aboard the sinking ship, Colletti knows hot to survive

Dodgers GM deserves credit for getting the team to this point.

October 01, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

from san diego

When I didn't see the Parking Lot Attendant sitting beside the Dodgers' dugout Wednesday as he was a night earlier, I was worried maybe he couldn't afford a hotel room here.

But then who figured Frank McCourt would be smarter than any of us?

Not me. But apparently he knew better than to hang around for this mess -- although he did miss the Dodgers' hit.

For all we know McCourt comes out the big winner, none of the games sold out in Dodger Stadium this weekend and now a pretty good reason for folks to turn out.

Too soon to say if the Dodgers will show up.

They already have their ticket to the playoffs, so there is no danger of this farce turning into anything all that tragic, but I'm not sure Manny Ramirez was joking when he said, "We're saving the champagne for New Year's."

The biggest problem with the Dodgers' inability to close the deal is the bad taste it is leaving at a time when everyone should be giddy with playoff anticipation.

The last few days, for example, there have been reports McCourt and Ned Colletti are talking about a contract to extend Colletti's tour as general manager.

Where's the confetti? Colletti was the fifth general manager hired in a span of eight years, his chances of survival diminishing with every Andruw Jones strikeout and every day Jason Schmidt remained on the disabled list.

"Doesn't everyone have to survive no matter what they are doing?" Colletti says.

He's not only lasted four years on the job, making him the fourth longest tenured GM in Dodgers' history, but still isn't going anywhere.

"The McCourts never once said this thing better get better in the next 30 days," Colletti says. "They've been right there the whole way."

As resurrections go, it's been quite the rally for Colletti, although four days from now this collapse could change all that.

And he knows it, not for a second counting the Dodgers winners before they win. "Hey, I grew up with the Cubs," he says.

As it is, he's the guy who brought you Jon Garland, and how do you like Colletti now?

Garland has a chance to pull off a rare feat, failing to make a postseason appearance for the Angels last year and more than likely failing to get that chance now for the Dodgers.

But how do you not give a new contract to a GM in the position of having his team win successive division titles for the first time in 30 years?

"I never worried what might happen to me," he said. "I'm so far beyond what was laid out for me as a kid."

Colletti lived in a garage until he was 5, his father expanding the garage later into a house, a freight yard just yonder.

He appreciates those roots, his best friends today still the ones he made in his neighborhood.

And he is the friendly sort, the Schmoozer, who began his baseball career as a PR guy for the Cubs -- returning last year to sweep them in the playoffs.

He's also the one who kept the young players together when there was an outcry to maybe trade them for immediate success. He was also lucky enough to have Joe Torre, Ramirez and Casey Blake fall in his lap.

"We don't get credit for any of that?" the Schmoozer said, and with a laugh, he already knew the answer.

He does get credit, though, for putting the Dodgers in the position of winning the World Series for the third time in the last four years -- the only teams getting the chance to win the World Series the ones who qualify for the playoffs.

"I think this is a team capable of winning it," Colletti says. "We seem to play our best against the best, while losing concentration to the teams below .500.

"There won't be any teams .500 or below in the playoffs," he adds in delivering the best news possible for Dodgers' fans.

I HAVE some advice for Ramirez after he struck out two more times -- 4 hits in his last 25 at-bats.

It's time to make an adjustment, as big a one as he made when he arrived in L.A. a year ago when intent on upgrading his reputation and earning another big contract.

He gave everyone a thrill a year ago with his superhuman performance, but now it's time to let everyone know he's just human, struggling because of problems of his own doing but intent on still being a force for the Dodgers.

He remains in denial, but more than anyone else on the Dodgers' roster with maybe the exception of Chad Billingsley, Ramirez needs to come up big in the playoffs or lose his grip on Dodgers' fans.

"You just can't flip the switch," Larry Bowa says, but Manny had best prove him wrong.

Right now he's not the same player with a bat in his hands. He's getting challenged repeatedly by pitchers who should have no business retiring him.

A year ago he was the best hitter in baseball after arriving in L.A.; he's not even the best hitter in his own clubhouse these days.

The Dodgers couldn't get enough of him last year, the young players watching everything he did, Manny sitting down with almost everyone on the roster, one-by-one offering encouragement.

More and more he's spending his time with the other Latin players, and while understandably comfortable, his value a year ago was in touching everyone.

He's paid to be the Dodgers' top player, but he's not doing it on the field either, one home run in his last 15 games, hitting .257 in his last 59 games, in danger now of just becoming noise in the clubhouse.

Now I've been there with him from the start, joking with him, marveling at his ability to hit the ball and surprised to learn he would have been any different in Boston.

He's smart, sensitive and a good guy, if you don't get stuck on him being considered a cheater.

But now he has to be more than that. He has to be the charismatic player who kick-started this franchise a year ago, getting back in touch with his teammates and what has made him so dynamic with a bat in his hands.

The big hit to clinch a division title would be a good start.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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