Seeing as how Paul DePodesta has an economics degree from Harvard University -- not to mention a central role in a book entitled "Moneyball" -- it seems not at all pretentious for the Los Angeles Dodgers' 31-year-old general manager to drop a "Berkshire Hathaway" on us during a telephone interview the other day. Even though the question was about the many reclamation projects at the heart of the Dodgers' impressive start, which had them holding baseball's best record entering the weekend.
"Berkshire Hathaway did not get to where it is today by buying everything at top value," said DePodesta, referring to the Warren Buffett conglomerate. "Not that we're a bunch of Warren Buffetts here. But sometimes, in any market, you have to take chances on things that are down, but that you think still have a chance to perform very well for you."
DePodesta, who grew up in the Old Town section of Alexandria and attended Episcopal High School, wisely attempts to distance himself from the Moneyball label -- because the book has had such a polarizing effect within the game, pitting the old school against the new.
But the Dodgers' success with hidden-gem-hunting is straight out of Michael Lewis's book about the Billy Beane-era Oakland Athletics, for whom DePodesta was assistant GM before getting the Dodgers' job in February.
Consider the players who have led the Dodgers to a 22-13 record and a two-game lead over the San Diego Padres in the NL West:
* Their best starting pitcher of late is Wilson Alvarez, who recently was out of the majors for two years.
* Their best hitter -- an early Triple Crown candidate, in fact -- is third baseman Adrian Beltre, the 25-year-old free-agent-in-waiting whose troubled career has included a legal battle over his true age, a botched appendectomy in the Dominican Republic and a boatload of strikeouts.
* Their No. 3 hitter is Milton Bradley, whom the Cleveland Indians had to dump hastily when he couldn't get along with Manager Eric Wedge.
And that's not to mention hitters such as Cesar Izturis, Paul LoDuca, Alex Cora -- all of whom are batting at least 20 points higher than their career averages under first-year hitting coach Tim Wallach.
Though DePodesta can claim credit for only Bradley -- the others were already in L.A. when he got there -- something is causing all these players to perform at their peak levels, or even beyond, at the same time.
"Wallach probably plays a large part in it," DePodesta said. "But there are some other elements going into it. If you look at last year's club [an 85-77 disappointment], not many players performed at career levels. Most of them had down years. So it's reasonable to think some guys, if they regress to the mean, would have better years than a year ago.
"And to some degree, hitting can be infectious. It flows down the lineup. That's true here. We've had contributions from everybody. Every night, there seems to be a different hero."
On Wednesday night, in fact, the hero at Dodger Stadium was Cora, a second baseman with a career .241 average, who battled Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Clement through a stunning 18-pitch at-bat -- at one point, Cora fouled off 14 straight pitches -- before ripping a hanging slider for a two-run homer.
"It was unbelievable," DePodesta said. "On the last four or five pitches, the crowd was on its feet, doing the wave and everything. And then when he hit the homer, the place went nuts."
Cora's hero moment came at a time when the Dodgers are barely concealing their interest in Aaron Boone, the hero of the New York Yankees' Game 7 triumph over Boston in last year's ALCS. Boone, whom the Yankees released after he tore knee ligaments playing basketball, is recovering at home in southern California and could be back in the majors by August.
If the Dodgers sign Boone -- as many in the industry think they will -- they would play him at second base for the remainder of this season, then move him to third base, his natural position, when Beltre departs via free agency after the season.
A (relatively) cheap acquisition that has tremendous growth potential in future years? Warren Buffett would be proud.
Hairston Line Grows
Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston -- who is now, against all logic, apparently headed to the outfield -- was beaming proudly last week after his younger brother, Scott, got called up from the minors by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Scott Hairston made his major league debut as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning against nasty Philadelphia Phillies closer Billy Wagner, striking out swinging, and got sent back down the next day.
However, according to Jerry, that makes the Hairstons the first family in baseball history with five major leaguers. Sam Hairston, grandfather of Jerry and Scott, broke in with the Chicago White Sox in 1951. Father Jerry Sr. played 14 big league seasons, and an uncle, John Hairston, played briefly for the Chicago Cubs.
The Elias Sports Bureau could not verify Hairston's claim, but we'll take his word for it.
Rain, Rain . . .
Our item earlier this week about stadium rain-delay music -- in which we proposed alternatives to such standard fare as "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," "Who'll Stop the Rain?" and "I'm Only Happy When It Rains" -- brought a downpour, if you will, of additional suggestions from readers.
Time Magazine music critic Josh Tyrangiel -- a proud alumnus of the Memorial Stadium grounds crew during the Orioles' forgettable 1990 season -- checked in with a good one: "Paranoid Android" by Radiohead ("Raaaaaaaain doooooooowwn . . .").
Other excellent suggestions: "Rain in the Summertime" by The Alarm, "Rain at the Drive-In" by NRBQ, "Hatful of Rain" by Del Amitri, "Another Song About the Rain" by Cracker, and "Love Reign O'er Me" by The Who.
Once we get the rain-delay situation squared away, we'll start working on getting John Fogerty's "Centerfield" banned from pregame playlists.
Covering the Bases
When veterans Tom Glavine of the New York Mets (255 career wins) and Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks (233) faced each other Wednesday night in Phoenix, it marked the most combined wins for a pair of dueling lefties since Cleveland's Steve Carlton and California's Jerry Reuss (524 combined wins) faced each other on July 1, 1987.
Glavine won an exquisite duel, 1-0, and Johnson later was heard grumbling because the roof at Bank One Ballpark was left open, perhaps assisting Kaz Matsui's leadoff homer that held up as the only run of the game. Diamondbacks pitchers believe fly balls sail farther when the roof is open. . . .
With Larry Walker ($12.5 million), Denny Neagle ($9 million), Preston Wilson ($9 million) and Adam Bernero ($320,000) currently on the disabled list, the Colorado Rockies actually have more money committed to players on the DL ($30.82 million) than they do to players on their active 25-man roster ($30.11 million), according to the Rocky Mountain News. . . .
The Atlanta Braves are frustrated with right fielder J.D. Drew's unwillingness to play through nagging injuries, even though that was Drew's reputation when they acquired him from St. Louis this winter.
"He's a guy who, if he's not 100 percent, doesn't really feel like he's helping the team," said Chipper Jones in some pointed comments about Drew in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "What some players don't realize is, just their presence in the lineup can make other guys better. I think I probably play 90 percent of the time in a season without being 100 percent [healthy]." . . .
Here's the real reason Barry Bonds is so fed up right now: The San Francisco Giants' No. 5 hitters collectively are hitting .179 (5 for 28) with one walk following his 29 intentional walks. If that keeps up, opposing teams will never pitch to Bonds again.