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Top Dodgers get chance to share, show whether they care

Owner Frank McCourt 'respectfully' declines to speak to the columnist. Manager Joe Torre is motivated to make playoffs, and Andre Ethier appears to be unaware of his ability to carry the team.

August 03, 2010|T.J. Simers

As lifeless as the Dodgers have appeared, and knowing some people might still be interested in buying tickets, I thought I'd check in with the owner, the manager and the team's best player to find out why anyone should be spending their money.

THE OWNER: I know the fight over a piece of paper to determine who really owns the Dodgers begins Aug. 30 in a courtroom, but you would think Frank McCourt would at least be acting like an owner these days to advance his case.

I put a call into him Tuesday to give him the chance to tell everyone there are better days ahead, knowing he's never had a problem before blowing smoke, but received the following message: "Mr. McCourt has respectfully declined to speak to you.''

The McCourts have become a local joke, by their own doing, but if their name is going to remain attached to this franchise that so many value, they have some serious work to do with the faithful to regain their trust.

So much is up in the air when it comes to these Dodgers, and yet the guy who talked about being very transparent when he bought the team, has gone into hiding.

Don't know if it's worth the price to park and get into the stadium, I like watching the owner's box to see if he has what it takes to sit through a Dogs' game. He wasn't there Tuesday night.

THE MANAGER: The Dodgers began the night dead, so I reminded Joe Torre it's his job, based on his success in New York and getting them past hard times, to lead this team out of this mess.

"And I will do it again," said Torre in shouting it to everyone in the dugout, everyone laughing.

"Is that a guarantee?"

"My name isn't Joe Namath," he said.

"So where is the magic formula to turn this around?"

"I'm keeping it a secret," Torre said.

"Obviously you haven't told the players," I pointed out.

"When we win five games in a row, then I will expose myself," Torre said, before catching himself. "I don't mean expose myself … I'm not sure that would be to anybody's delight either."

"Have you tried giving a speech to your team?"

"I did" before Monday's game, Torre said.

"Didn't seem to help much," given the 10-5 loss.

"It satisfied me," Torre said before adding a wink. "Sometimes it takes time to sink in — giving myself a little stay of execution there."

This might very well be Torre's last year as a manager, and what a way to go — essentially eliminated in early August.

"I got over that kind of stuff in New York,'' he said. "A number of friends felt that with what I had accomplished in New York, I shouldn't go anywhere else [and diminish it]. I didn't agree with it, and I'm glad I didn't. I came here, it's been fun and we've had some success. If people choose to change their mind about me, that's their prerogative."

"You still believe this team can make the playoffs?"

"Only if we start playing better; can't wish it, got to make it happen.''

"And what have you seen to think that's possible?'' I asked.

"I've seen this club play better,'' he said.

"You can remember that far back?''

"How about this,'' he said. "I give you an interview if we don't make the playoffs, but if we do, you promise never to talk to me again. Now that's motivation.''

As you can see, it takes a sense of humor to manage the Dogs. Now if only they handed him a microphone and talked everyone through a game, it would be worth the price of admission.

THE BEST PLAYER: Andre Ethier's batting average has dropped 100 points since he injured his little finger, but there are really only two players capable of carrying this team, Matt Kemp and Ethier.

But I don't believe Ethier understands that, as I was telling him before Tuesday's game.

He's gotten this far because there is a chip attached to his shoulder, Ethier convinced no one thinks him any good, so he's going to prove them wrong. But instead of understanding he has arrived, as he has done in a big way as a gifted hitter, he's convinced everyone is waiting for him now to fail.

I mentioned his ability to carry a team and he said, "nine out of 10 scouts wouldn't mark me as much in tool categories.''

Those days are behind him, though, his record as a pressure player later in games already setting him apart as something special, so maybe it's time to accept the fact everyone is counting on him as team offensive leader because he's that good.

"Sometimes it's a grind and [the Dodgers] don't always like it when I grind,'' said Ethier, and there he goes again.

The guy who almost took off the pitcher's head with a line-drive single in the sixth inning probably needs to do that every night the way things are going. Should he do so, maybe it wouldn't feel like such a waste of time caring how these guys do every night.

TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Scott Brutocao:

"You seem to find fault in the Dodgers more than the redeeming qualities. Your columns make me sad … yes the Dodgers have a lot of faults, but they have a lot of things going for them as well.''

I agree, and as redeeming qualities go, I do not see them falling to fifth place.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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