Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda says he sleeps like a baby -- up every hour. It passes for a joke in the funeral setting that is the Dodgers' clubhouse, where the only appropriate humor is gallows humor. The Dodgers should trade in their uniforms for ashes and sackcloth. their uniforms for ashes and sackcloth. Dodger blue has turned to mourner's black.
For it the Dodgers, who celebrated the 4th of July from the National League Wast cellar -- 17 games behind the Houston Astros -- are not yet officially dead, it is only by the grace of some mathematical formula. They are almost certainly beyond reviving.
What led the Dodgers to such a sad state? A team that wins consective National League pennants simply cannot be worse than the Atlanta Braves, whatever the standings say. An off year would be third place. The Dodgers are having an off year like the British did in 1066.
Lasorda is given to repeating those little words; "I don't know." He has taken them for his litany.
The symptoms of the team's collapse are easier to diagnose than the disease. And the blame? It must be shared by the entire organization, top to bottom.
Among the symptoms: Mediocre starting pitching, horrendous relief pitching, erratic hitting, failure to get the big hit or the big out, a breakdown in fundamentals (throwing to the wrong base, failing to execute a squeeze play), injuries, a hint that the team might be starting to give in to the temptation to stop trying. Look at any last-place team and you'll find a similar formula for losing.
Team captain Davey Lopes put it succinctly; "We're not doing the things that win ball games."
Breakdowns can't readily be explained. They happen in bunches usually, a kind of reverse momentum, the landslide theory of losing.
But there are questions that need answers. Why wasn't Tommy John signed? Why wasn't Terry Forster replaced? Why is it that the Dodgers are getting kicked around by the entire league and don't seem to be kicking back?
John was lost to free agency (and the Yankees) and Foster (who is now back) to an offseason operation on his left elbow. With the loss of two aces, the Dodgers may gave folded their hand.
John's departure was based on economic considerations and Peter O'Malley, president of the Dodgers, defends his decision without apology. In the case of Forster, the Dodgers seem to have made a colossal miscalculation, clinging to the unreasonable hope that he would be ready by season's start or soon thereafter.
The Tommy John negotiation process is a familiar tale. In the spring of '78, John wanted a three-year contract (through 1981) for his bionic left arm and the Dodgers were willing to guarrantee his contract through 1980. The sticking point was $350,000, hardly a princely sum for the Dodgers.
"We didn't want to gamble that kind of money on the chance that he would still be pitching effectively 3 1/2 years later," said O'malley. "We will see in three years if we were right or wrong."
O'malley says he wasn't thinking just of John but of the four other Dodgers (Burt Hooton, Lopes, Bill Russell and Steve Yeager) he still had to sign and pointed out that the Dodgers are obligated in guaranteed contracts beyond this season to pay out "much more" than $10 million.
"It's easy enough to say what's $350,000 to the Dodgers," said O'malley. "But it's not just one player we have to pay, it's a whole team. Amd a lot of $350,000s can add up."
So much for John. O'Malley says the Dodgers did not seek a replacement for Forster (until it was too late) because they didn't think they had to.
As late as spring training, the Dodger party line was that Forster was coming around. In the final weeks of March, Dr. Frank Jobe reaffirmed his earlier opinion that Forster would not be ready until June and not fully recovered for a year following the November surgery.
A1 "campanis, a vice president of the Dodgers, frantically sought to make a deal. But unwilling to break up the starting lineup, Campanis came up empty. The Braves turned down a deal for Gene Garber and the Dodgers were forced to rely on Charlie Hough and Lance Rautzhan.
In the season opener, Rautzhan wild-pitched home the winning run and a trend was established.
Andy Messersmith was signed as a reclamation project, a gamble that failed. Doug Rau and his steady 15 wins a year wre lost to a torn rotator cuff, an injury that jeopardizes his career. Reclamation project Jerry Reuss has been no more successful than Messersmith.
Thus, the starting rotation is a mess and the bullpen a refuge for would-be minor leaguers and castoff big-leaguers. A major renovation will be needed once the disaster runs its course.
One pitcher is tired of hearing the complaints, and the first signs of bickering and shortened tempers emerge in full view. "I don't know how many runs we've given up because a cutoff man has been missed and they let another runner advance to scoring position," said this pitcher when the Dodgers were hitting and losing.
Lasorda was not fiven the manager's job as a tactician. He is a motivator who has attempted every ploy his 34 years in baseball have afforded him to rally the Dodgers.
Don Sutton is the only player on the team who has experienced a losing season as a Dodger.
In fact, the Dodgers have had only four losing seasons since coming to L.A. in 1958, as compared with seven pennants and three world championships. The last losing year was 1968.
But it isn't as if the Dodgers must open their wallet in a no-holds-barred shopping spree. It the infield is starting to show a little age, it is still among the best in baseball. Dusty Baker in left and Reggie Smith in right are more than adequate. Center field and catcher (Ferguson hits, Yeager fields) may be weaknesses but not security risks. Two new pitchers and a trade or two could put the Dodgers back in business.