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Getting Davey Lopes back with the Dodgers would be a steal

Former All-Star second baseman for the Dodgers is no longer the first base coach for the Philadelphia Phillies, and L.A. could certainly use him.

November 04, 2010|Bill Plaschke

I must make a rather pathetic confession. I have been stuck in a permanent cringe since the rather hideous moment the San Francisco Giants won the World Series.

Everyone expects us Angelenos to be such good sports about it, and, OK, fine, congrats, Giants, good job, blah, blah, blah. But, c'mon. We're only human. Watching them dance around in their shoe-polish beards and whoa-dude grins made me want to make like Reggie Smith.

Instead, I picked up the phone and called Davey Lopes.

Remember him? The tough Dodgers second baseman? The centerpiece of the legendary Dodgers infield? A celebrated coach for the Philadelphia Phillies during their two recent trips to the World Series?

Lopes is now a free agent, having suddenly left the Phillies in a dispute over his worth. He's a great communicator with difficult players. He's the game's best baserunning guru. And, oh yeah, the Dodgers' revamped coaching staff has a vacancy.

"Come home," I told him.

"That would be nice," he said.

Later Wednesday I called Ned Colletti, the Dodgers' general manager.

"Bring Davey home," I said.

"Hmmm," he said.

So now the cringe is slowly leaving and the raw beginnings of distant hope are slowly returning, because I think it could happen. I'm guessing they are already talking.

For the first time in 29 years, Davey Lopes could soon be a Dodger again.

"The things he did in Philadelphia, combined with the fact that he's a Dodger legend, we would be remiss if we didn't think about this internally," Colletti said.

With the kind of bargain basement lineup they are going to throw on the field next year, maybe Lopes would not even be worth one win. But with his potential to unlock the likes of Matt Kemp and James Loney and Andre Ethier, maybe he's worth plenty.

Remember, at one time, Lopes was all three of them. He was a precocious kid who felt misunderstood in a locker room that did not look or act like him.

"I've been there, I know what it's like when you're young and you need to know somebody is covering your back," Lopes said from his home in the San Diego area. "Sometimes you feel lost, and you need a coach or manager to alleviate that. I get it."

Indeed, last season, the Dodgers' young stars were lost, and the coaching staff was unable to reach them, leading to Colletti's decision to bring in new coaches. No announcements have been made, but the choices have already been clear.

Larry Bowa was new Manager Don Mattingly's choice as bench coach, but Colletti didn't agree, so Bowa is gone. Bob Schaefer, who sparred with Kemp during the season, decided he would not come back. Mariano Duncan hasn't been totally cut loose, but he is free to seek a job elsewhere.

Here's guessing all three guys were at least partially relieved to be relieved.

"The Dodgers are a class organization and they were nothing but good to me," Schaefer said. "But last year was a tough year, watching some guys go through the motions."

Now, new surroundings. The new bench coach is former Kansas City Royals manager Trey Hillman. The third base coach is possible future Dodgers manager Tim Wallach. The new hitting coach is Jeff Pentland. And the new first base coach?

Davey Lopes would be perfect.

He's tough like Bowa was tough, but he knows when to back off. He's smart like Schaefer was smart, but because he once played, he can relate better to younger players.

"I think it would be a good situation for the Dodgers and myself," Lopes said. "I would love to finish where I started."

Lopes played for the Dodgers from 1972 to 1981. The four-time All-Star joined Ron Cey, Bill Russell and Steve Garvey to form the most enduring infield combination in baseball history, the group playing together for 8½ years.

Lopes won a Gold Glove, but he was best known for his base stealing, with 557 stolen bases and an 83% success ratio. He took that knowledge to the Phillies, who led the major leagues in stolen base percentage during his three seasons there.

This year, the Phillies were successful on a baseball-leading 84% of their stolen base tries. The Dodgers finished 28th out of 30 teams with 65%.

"I am impressed with the entire Phillies operation, and Davey was part of that," Colletti said. "I know the intensity he brings to a team. He knows how to use his knowledge and experience."

Lopes left the Phillies after they denied his request to be paid as much as the average third base or bench coach. The difference is relatively miniscule, and Lopes said it's not about the money, but the perception.

"It's about how much a club values what you do," he said. "I just wanted to feel valued."

It shouldn't cost the Dodgers much to make him feel that way.

"I was a little disappointed I haven't been back to the Dodgers for so long, but I believe everything happens in its time," Lopes said.

Now is that time, for both Lopes and the locals who once adored him. Watching the Giants spending the winter dancing might be a little easier for Chavez Ravine folks to take knowing their backs are being covered by an old Dodger.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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