Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dodgers Move to LA Wasn't Popular

by Kitty Felde
89.3 KPCC Website
From June 03, 2008

Fifty years ago, Angelenos packed the polls for one of the biggest elections in city history. On the ballot was a referendum on LA's deal to swap land so the newly-arrived Dodgers could build a baseball stadium in Chavez Ravine. Proposition B - "B" for baseball - passed by a whisker. It was almost the last step in the Dodgers' journey west from Brooklyn. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde begins a seven-part series looking at the politics and the personalities that brought major league baseball to Los Angeles.

Kitty Felde: It's hard to imagine Los Angeles without the Dodgers. But there was a time when it didn't seem that L.A. cared all that much about bringing a major league baseball team to town. The Dodgers' late owner Walter O'Malley remembered it well in a 1970s interview.

Walter O'Malley: We did not have an idea that we would be received as well as we have finally been received. We immediately, on coming here, ran into all sorts of political problems: a referendum, lawsuits. How we ever survived all of that, I don't know, but we did.

Roz Wyman: People will say now, "Was it really that controversial?" I cannot tell you how controversial.

Felde: Roz Wyman was a 22-year-old USC graduate when she ran for L.A. City Council in 1953. She won, and became the youngest person and only the second woman on the L.A. City Council. Wyman credits her victory to a promise that resonated with voters.

Wyman: I had on this little piece of literature: "Let's bring major league baseball to Los Angeles." And I must say, this was the one thing I hadn't studied in depth. (laughs) I just thought you went out and said, "Why don't you come to our city?" Well, it just doesn't work like that.

Felde: Wyman's promise of big league baseball in Los Angeles became more difficult to fulfill when voters rejected a 1955 city ballot measure to build a baseball stadium. That meant any team that settled in L.A. would have to build a ballpark with its own money.

That didn't stop Wyman. She wrote a letter to Walter O'Malley and asked if he was interested in moving his Brooklyn ballclub west. O'Malley replied that L.A. already had "two teams in organized baseball," the Pacific Coast League's Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars.

Besides, he was busy trying to build a new stadium in Brooklyn to replace Ebbets Field, the Dodgers' 40-year-old ballpark in Flatbush that O'Malley thought was too old and too small. Longtime Dodger announcer Vin Scully remembers Ebbets Field:

Vin Scully: Well it was very small, it was very intimate. The fans were very much closer to the players than they are here. They were very vocal. But because they were so close to the players, you were aware of the vocalness of the crowd.

Also, it was a hodge podge. It was, in those days, a team that was built on, on poor play, so when the good years came, they were relished thoroughly.

Felde: The Brooklyn franchise was one of the oldest in professional baseball. Born in 1884, the Trolley Dodgers were named after the citizens who dodged the trolley cars that crisscrossed the borough. After a half-century of mediocrity, the Dodgers got good in the 1940s.

In a span of 16 years, they won seven National League pennants, and almost grabbed four more. In 1947, team president Branch Rickey put baseball's first black player, Jackie Robinson, into Dodger blue. In 1955, Brooklyn won its first and only World Series. That was also the year Americans bought more new cars than ever before. For Walter O'Malley, that was a problem.

O'Malley: In Brooklyn, we didn't have a single parking lot. We parked in the driveways of people who had homes in the vicinity. The day of the Brooklyn trolley dodger was over. And we had to reckon with the automobile.

Felde: The Dodgers also had to reckon with the Milwaukee Braves of the 1950s, a team with a newer stadium, more fans, and better players. O'Malley's public solution was to scrap Ebbets Field and build a futuristic domed baseball stadium in Brooklyn. And if city planners in New York didn't go along, O'Malley had a private solution, too: Los Angeles. That's for next time.
by Kitty Felde
From June 03, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website
and walteromalley.com

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Player Injuries During Cal Ripken's Streak

Cal Ripken, Jr. Autograph on a 1987 Topps (#37)

During Cal's Streak there has been tons of injuries. Here are some of the stranger ones.

This is from an article by Knight-Ridder Tribune News Service.

In what must be considered the quintessential modern athlete injury, Tony Gwynn missed a couple of games after he smashed his thumb in the door of his luxury car. While going to the bank.
  • Rickey Henderson missed several games because of frost- bite. In August.
  • Vince Coleman missed the 1985 World Series when he got rolled up in the tarp machine.
  • Pascual Perez missed a start in Atlanta when he circled the city for more than two hours searching for the exit ramp from Highway 285 to Fulton County Stadium.
  • Kevin Mitchell strained a muscle while vomiting.
  • Twins farmhand David Foster was knocked out for the season when a lightning strike through a phone line zapped him while he was making a call.
  • Pitcher Steve Foster injured his shoulder knocking over milk bottles during a segment with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show."
  • Wade Boggs missed several games after straining his back while pulling on his cowboy boots.
  • Paul Molitor dislocated a knuckle when it got stuck in another player's glove.
  • Milwaukee's Dave Nilsson missed part of this season with Ross River Fever, a mosquito-borne virus that annually affects 200 out of Australia's 17 million residents.
  • Twins general manager Terry Ryan required dozens of stitches when he was scouting a game and a bat flew out of the hitter's hands, sailed through a space in the backstop and struck him in the forehead.
  • Pitcher Jeff Juden had a start early in the 1994 season pushed back after getting an infection from a tattoo.
  • Outfielder Bret Barberie missed a game when he accidentally rubbed chili juice in his eye.
  • Ken Griffey Jr. missed a game after his protective cup slipped and pinched a testicle.
  • Doc Gooden missed a start when Coleman accidentally hit him with a golf club in the Mets' clubhouse.
  • Mark Portugal missed a start because of food poisoning from eating bad mahi-mahi.
  • Pitcher Steve Sparks dislocated his shoulder while tearing a phone book in half.
  • Reliever Larry Anderson strained a rib muscle getting out of a Jacuzzi.
  • Pitcher Ted Power pulled a hamstring jumping off the bullpen bench to join a brawl.
  • Kent Hrbek missed the final 10 games of the 1990 season when he sprained an ankle while wrestling with a clubhouse attendant.
  • Florida's Randy Veres hurt his hand pounding on a hotel room wall trying to get the people in the next room to quiet down.
  • Dennis Martinez injured his arm tossing his luggage onto the team bus. He was diagnosed with Samsonitis.
  • Chris Brown missed a game with a strained eyelid after sleeping on an eye a funny way.
  • Former Seattle shortstop Rey Quinones was unavailable as a pinch-hitter because he was in the clubhouse playing Nintendo.
  • Terry Harper (OF-Atlanta) Injured his shoulder after giving another player a high five.
  • Greg Harris (RP-Texas) injured his shoulder trying to flick sunflower seeds into the stands from the Bullpen.
  • Baltimore's Mark Smith was hurt when he stuck his hand in an air conditioner to see why it wasn't working properly. As if the Orioles would let Ripken test the air conditioner?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Popular Former High School Baseball Star Lay Paralyzed, Nearly Forgotten in Nursing Home.

Laurie Green, left, the high school friend who discovered Patrick Chawki, right, was living in a nursing home and had not died like his High School friends had thought, has organized a fundraiser to pay for therapy that she hopes will help Chawki walk and talk again.

Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Grant High classmates find a long-lost friend -- paralyzed. His old friends had lost touch with Pat Chawki years ago and thought he had died. Now they find that he's been in a Canoga Park nursing home, unable to communicate. They take steps to help.

By Bob Pool - Los Angeles Times
March 27, 2009

Pat Chawki's classmates thought he was dead -- they'd even memorialized him two years ago at their 20th high school reunion.

But when one Grant High School alum wrote to Chawki's sister to express her condolences, she learned that the popular former baseball star lay paralyzed and nearly forgotten in a Canoga Park nursing home.

Laurie Green discovered that for the last nine years, Chawki has suffered from a rare disorder that renders him fully cognitive, but unable to move or speak. Because he cannot talk or write, he was unable to tell his family how to reach his friends.

Green, 38, of Studio City, immediately went to the nursing home. She snapped pictures of the 41-year-old Chawki and posted them on Facebook, explaining to friends that their buddy was still very much alive -- and very lonely.

Soon, a parade of former classmates was making regular trips to visit him. On one visit, Green noticed that Chawki could move his thumb up and down. Taking a cue from the movie "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," about a man with a similar disorder called "locked-in syndrome" who wrote a book by blinking his eyes, Green devised an alphabet poster that friends could use to help him communicate.

His old buddies were stunned to find that Chawki was not only alive but was alert and mentally active. With his thumb, he slowly used the poster to spell out: "I love you all."

"At the 20th reunion, people said he had a brain tumor and had passed away. That's all we knew -- that he'd passed away," said former Grant High baseball player Harlan Berk, now a 40-year-old charter fishing boat owner who lives in San Diego.

"When I saw the pictures Laurie had posted on the computer, I sat there for an hour in tears. I called my mother to tell her that Pat Chawki is still alive. I called up all the other team members -- these are friends you have for life.

Pat Chawki celebrates after his Grant High team beat Granada Hills High 5-1
to win the city 4-A baseball championship, June 12, 1986 at Dodger Stadium.

"Berk played first base on the Grant team. Chawki, described then by The Times as "a defensive specialist with a good arm and good speed in the outfield," played left field. The team was propelled to the city championship in 1986 by pitching standout Rod Beck.

Classmate Stacey Beck, 40, said she almost fell out of her chair when she read Green's Internet posting.

Her husband, who had gone on from high school to pitch for the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres, died in 2007 from an accidental drug overdose.

"I was amazed someone could kind of fall off the planet," said Beck, of Scottsdale, Ariz. "If Rod were alive he'd be doing everything he could to help Pat. If we don't have help, we don't have anything."

Friend Stuart Schneiderman, a 43-year-old Manhattan trade association research director who had previously tried without success to track down Chawki, was also surprised to learn of the paralysis, apparently the result of brain damage brought on by hyper-acute multiple sclerosis.

"I wondered first whether I'd been better off if I hadn't learned this. But I'd rather know. I wrote a letter to him on his birthday and sent him some old Yankees baseball cards. I'm going out to California and visit him," Schneiderman said.

Friends who gathered at Chawki's room at Topanga Terrace for his birthday last month were in tears as Schneiderman's letter was read aloud.

Workers at the nursing home were puzzled when after all these years Chawki started having large numbers of visitors.

"Once there were 10 or 15 of his friends at the same time with him on the patio. The facility called and wanted to know what was going on. I told them that everybody had thought Patrick was dead, that I hadn't known how to contact them," said his mother, 72-year-old Rose Chawki of Van Nuys.

She takes the bus to visit her son three times a week and give him some physical therapy. Medicare and Medi-Cal pay for his nursing care but do not cover therapy.

That's why Green and her public relations business partner Tracy Rubin have organized a silent auction fundraiser for 7 p.m. today at the Gibson Musical Instruments Showroom at 9350 Civic Center Drive, Beverly Hills.

Proceeds from the $75 per person event will be channeled through a nonprofit group the pair have created and used for professional therapy for Chawki, they say.

"I told Pat the other day we're going to get him out of here," Green said.

"His thumb shot straight up."


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dodger Stadium's Chavez Ravine - Once a Jewish Cemetery

Would you believe it if I told you that Dodger Stadium's Chavez Ravine was once a Jewish cemetery?

Back in 1855 the local Jewish community started the process of obtaining land to establish the cemetery and it is located near the corner of Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive adjacent to the stadium. The cemetery was eventually moved in the early 1900's to Home of Peace Memorial Park in Whittier. The original cemetery site was designated as California State Historical Landmark 822 in 1968.

Read about the history of this location, taken from the Western States Jewish History website


Volume #1, Issue #3, April, 1969
by Thomas Cohen

CALIFORNIA STATE HISTORICAL LANDMARK NUMBER 822, was dedicated amid colorful ceremonies on the morning of September 29, 1968, in the Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles. This first Jewish community site was formerly the sacred burial grounds established by the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles in 1855. The dedication was the culmination of research begun by Dr. Norton Stern in the fall of 1966, who was soon joined in this task by the writer of these lines. This joint research, by Stern and Cohen, was partially motivated by the fact that although the existence of this old cemetery was well-known, its exact location was not. An accurate and documented location was needed to proceed.

None of the known reference sources on Los Angeles Jewish history indicated the precise location of the cemetery other than that of the corner of Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive. This corner, a mile from the city hall, is just south of the Dodger Stadium in the Chavez Ravine. Subsequently it was realized that the land previously occupied by the ceme­tery is now being used by the Naval Reserve Armory.

To relocate the site of this first Jewish community prop­erty required a study of the history of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles and a title-search through various offi­cial city and county archives. This was undertaken.

On July 2, 1854, a group of Jewish men met in Los Angeles to organize a benevolent society. The contemporary newspaper account states that:
The Israelites of this city formed themselves into a so­ciety under the name of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. At a meeting held on the 2d inst. the following gentlemen were elected officers of the Society: S. K. Labatt, president; Chas. Shachno, vice-president; Jacob Elias, secretary and treasurer; S. Lazard and H. Goldberg, trustees.

This organization was the first such group in Los An­geles and marked the beginning of community effort and cooperation. Our present vast and complex Jewish community structure of greater Los Angeles stemmed from this small beginning one hundred and fifteen years ago.
Solomon N. Carvalho accompanied Colonel John C. Fre­mont on his cross-country expedition of 1853, as an artist. Upon his arrival in June, 1854, he helped in the organization of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. In recognition of this, the following was adopted:

Resolved, unanimously, that the thanks of this meeting be tendered to Mr. S. N. Carvalho for his valuable services in organizing this society, and that he be elected an honor­ary member; also that these proceedings be published in the Occident.

Carvalho had opened a studio on the second floor of the building in which the Labatt brothers, Samuel and Joseph, operated their store. Thus it was only natural that the Labatt brothers, one of whom was elected the first president, brought Carvalho to the initial meeting of the society.
The organization's purpose is stated in the preamble to its Constitution and By-Laws:
Whereas: the Israelites of this city, being desirous of procuring a piece of ground suitable for the purpose of a burying ground for the deceased of their own faith, and also to appropriate a portion of their time and means to the holy cause of benevolence unite themselves for these purposes, under the name and style of "The Hebrew Benevolent Socity" of Los Angeles.

On July 6, 1854, the society incorporated, ". . . for the purpose, among others, of owning and holding certain real estate to be devoted to burial purposes for deceased members of the Jewish faith." 6 The very next day, at the City Coun­cil session, the minutes record the fact that the Mayor said that the Council might designate a ". . . piece of public land for a graveyard for those belonging to the Hebrew Church." The Council indicated that this matter should come up prop­erly by petition with an accompanying map. Jacob Elias, secretary and treasurer of the society, engaged Mr. George Hansen, a surveyor, to make a map of survey of a plot of land suitable for a cemetery. The survey was made on July 12, 1854. At the July 14 City Council session, the society sub­mitted a petition asking for land for a burial ground.

Later a request was forwarded to his Honor the Mayor and the City Council:
Gentlemen: A petition was handed to your honorable body . . . requesting the donation of pi(e)ce of ground to be used as a burial ground and other benevolent purposes, for the benefit of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of this place. Desiring to know your intention with regard to it, we beg leave to call your attention to the same. By order of the Board of Trustees, Los Angeles, September 20, 1854. Jacob Elias, Secty.

The city approved the request and title was ordered made out on September 22, 1854. Title was granted to the Hebrew Benevolent Society on April 9, 1855:
Between the corporation known as the "Mayor, Recorder and Common Council of the City of Los Angeles" . . . and .. . of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles .. . in consideration of the sum of one dollar... do grant, convey and quit claim ...that certain tract of land. .. North 84 degrees West two hundred yards thrence North 42 degrees East seventy-five yards, thence South 48 degrees East two hundred yards, thence South 42 degrees West seventy-five yards10... as a burying ground for the Israelites forever.

The recordation took place on April 17, 1855.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Original Amazing Indian Reality Show

Before 2008, Rinku Singh (left) and Dinesh Patel
were javelin throwers who hoped to join India's army.
Al Tielemans/SI
By Bobby Ghosh, 3/3/2009
Sports Illustrated; SI.com

Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel have had it up to here with Slumdog Millionaire analogies. Yes, O.K., they get it: They come from impoverished Indian families. Their path out of poverty began with a reality show called The Million Dollar Arm. If you must know, they've seen the Oscar-winning Bollywood-inspired blockbuster, and they loved it. Loved it. But the two youngsters wish the Americans they meet -- journalists, teammates, the kindly lady at the Walmart checkout line in Bradenton, Fla. -- would get over it already.

Trouble is, Singh and Patel can't explain this to those people. One reason is that they speak very little English and worry about being misunderstood.

The other is that they are culturally conditioned to treat their elders with a diffident deference, which explains why they say, "Yes, sir," more often than GIs at the officers' mess. When a CBS reporter recently asked them about the parallels between their lives and Slumdog, they smiled kindly and shook their heads. "No, sir," they replied. "Not like our life, sir." A few days later, when an NBC reporter asked the same question, they again smiled kindly and shook their heads. "No, sir. Not like our life, sir."

But speaking with me, a fellow Indian who speaks their native Hindi, they could be more candid. Minutes into our first conversation, Singh, the taller and, at age 20, the older of the two, preemptively asks, "You're not going to compare us to those kids in that movie, are you?" As I begin to answer, the 19-year-old Patel interrupts. "We're not from the slums, and we're not millionaires," he says, softly but firmly. "We are not characters from a film. We want to be taken seriously, as baseball players, as professional pitchers."

Singh finishes the thought: "Yes, sir. Nothing less, nothing more."

After spending a couple of days with them, after they've told me their life stories, I better understand their aversion to Slumdog comparisons. Singh's father was a trucker who raised eight children on $30 a month until a bad back cost him his job and forced him into sharecropping. Patel was raised by his uncle, a construction worker, because his dad, an intermittently employed tailor, didn't make enough to raise three kids. Both boys spent time working on farms in the punishing 110° summers of their native Uttar Pradesh state, located in the Indian north, to supplement their families' income. But as poor as they were, the Singh and Patel families were at least one step removed from panhandling -- and that is a matter of honor vital to their self-image. "We missed a meal now and again, but we always had a roof over our heads," says Singh, stiffening his back in pride. "We never had to steal or beg or forage in garbage dumps."

Baseball lore is littered with stories of kids who overcame seemingly insurmountable hurdles -- physical, cultural, linguistic -- to make it to the majors: the Dominican teens who used milk cartons for gloves or the Cuban youths who used broomsticks for bats. But Singh and Patel are attempting a whole new kind of leap. How many youngsters, after all, arrived in this country with dreams of baseball greatness without having ever played a single game?

Around this time last year neither Singh nor Patel had so much as laid eyes on a baseball. They were both training to be javelin throwers at a state-run institute in Uttar Pradesh for promising young athletes. Their game plan was simple enough: to win enough medals at national meets to draw the interest of recruiters from the Indian army. That would lead to a career in uniform, starting at the same relative economic level as a U.S. Army GI. That would bring job security -- or at least as much security as can be expected from a job that includes tours in insurgency-wracked Kashmir, where India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947. "If we were in India now," says Singh, holding his hands up as if wielding a machine gun, curling his left forefinger around an imaginary trigger, "we'd be fighting terrorists." (Two of his three older brothers are in the armed services.)

Last winter, however, a javelin coach told them about a reality TV show in which the winner could earn big bucks by throwing a ball, hard. With their powerful shoulders, the coach reasoned, Singh and Patel might have a chance. "We didn't know it had anything to do with baseball or America or anything like that," says Patel. "We agreed to compete because of the money."

The Million Dollar Arm was the brainchild of J.B. Bernstein, a sports agent based in Northern California who figured that, by the law of averages, a nation of 1.1 billion people -- most of them nuts about cricket -- must have plenty of young men capable of throwing 90 mph. More than 30,000 Indians signed up to compete across 30 cities. After three rounds of competition, Singh was declared the winner last March, with a top speed of 89 mph. That earned him $100,000 (a king's ransom in his hometown of Bhadohi), a Gatorade shower ("I thought, Why are they pouring juice over me?") and a shot at another $1 million if he could throw three consecutive strikes at 90 mph. (He could not.) Patel, who came in second with an 87-mph pitch, received $2,500, and both entrants earned a trip to L.A., where they would live and train on the USC campus for the next six months before auditioning for major league scouts.

From footage of the two teens on the TV show it's hard to imagine how they generated that kind of velocity. The lefthanded Singh, in particular, seems to have the worst possible delivery, his throwing hand too tight, his 6' 2" body too stiff and his windup almost cartoonish. He looks like, well, a javelin thrower. The righthanded Patel, at 5' 11", appears more comfortable, but only slightly. He giggles with embarrassment as we watch the video. "Nobody told us how to do it right," he says, defensively. "We needed lessons."

Which they would receive from one of the best teachers in the game. When the teens arrived in Southern California last May, Bernstein (now their manager) hooked them up with USC pitching coach Tom House, the guru known widely as the Professor for his cerebral approach. Over the next nine months they went through a demanding regimen of pitching drills and physical training. Off the field, they lived an isolated existence. "We didn't want distractions," Singh says. "We didn't come all this way to eat dhal and speak Hindi. We had to eat baseball and speak baseball."

A skeptic at first, House had one objective, he says: "to take those good arms and give the pitchers some skills to go with their genetic talent." The two spent hours and hours in the bullpen and the classroom, learning the mechanics of pitching. By the middle of last summer House concluded that their previous inexperience was actually an asset: It gave him the opportunity to work with a blank canvas. "Because they hadn't played before, they didn't have any bad habits," House says. "I came to realize that it was easier to teach a new skill to someone who doesn't know than to unteach someone who thinks they do know."

Before long, Singh had developed a decent breaking ball and was getting the hang of a changeup, a pitch that comes late to even the game's top prospects. Patel was consistently throwing around 90 mph. House sent them off to play a series of simulated games against high school kids at a baseball camp and against Vanguard University. "When they first faced real-life batters, they got a little anxious and wild," House says. "But they got better with every game."

By early November, Bernstein was confident enough in Singh and Patel to arrange a tryout in Tempe; scouts from every MLB team were invited. It was a disaster. Just a few of their pitches reached the high 80s, and they showed little control. They now blame the unfamiliar setting and the mound -- "too slippery," says Singh. The scouts were unimpressed, and the players shattered. "I thought, This is it. Now they'll send us back to India, and I'll go home empty-handed," Patel recalls. "At least Rinku had his $100,000. Me, I'd have to go to the army after all."

Bernstein, however, was able to persuade several scouts to take a second look, this time at USC. On what was effectively their home turf, Singh and Patel hit 90 mph and displayed a serviceable array of curveballs and sliders. The scouts sat up and took notice -- and the Pittsburgh Pirates snapped them both up. "I was very cynical going in," says Joe Ferrone, one of the two Pirates scouts who recommended the signings. "I thought, If two kids can learn baseball in five or six months, then that minimizes what everybody else does, players who spend a lifetime learning the sport."

But when the Pirates saw them, "they didn't look like two kids just five to six months into their baseball careers," says Sean Campbell, the other Pittsburgh scout who attended the USC workout. "They looked like they'd been doing it 10 to 12 years."

Even to an untrained eye, the sight of Singh and Patel hurling fastballs from the practice mound in Bradenton looks a lot more like the real thing than those javelin throwers from last year's TV show. A week into spring training, this is their first stint on the mound, and they're being watched intently by Pirates minor league pitching coach Miguel Bonilla and field coordinator Jeff Banister.

Bonilla's heavily accented English is a special challenge for Singh and Patel, but his body language is clear enough. In Singh's first few throws, his body flings too far forward, leaving him slightly off-balance; Bonilla steps in and mimics (with some exaggeration) his mistakes. "Like this, like this," he says, displaying a more compact windup and motion. Singh watches intently and says, "Yes, sir." Then he copies his coach, throwing with less velocity but more correctly -- and accurately. Banister, the day's catcher, shouts encouragement. Five or six throws in, Singh begins to turn up the heat. The ball thwacks into the glove of Banister, who nods approvingly. Bonilla arches his eyebrows. "He's ready to bring it, baby!" he exclaims. "Oh, yeah," Banister grins.

"Yes, sir," says Singh, politely. But there's triumph in his eyes.

It's Patel's turn. With his shorter, more muscular frame, he looks less like a natural pitcher. But his arm speed seems to compensate for any physical disadvantages. Having watched Bonilla direct Singh, he's better prepared than his countryman. Thwack, thwack, thwack. Banister grunts as each ball smacks the glove. Bonilla stands back, satisfied. "Gooooooooood," he says. "Gooooooooood."

Patel bumps fists with Singh. They're learning American hand gestures almost as fast as the language.

The next day Banister watches as a Pirates coach puts six young pitchers through running drills. Singh and Patel are constantly sprinting ahead of the pack, forcing the others to pick up their pace. During breaks between laps, Singh stands ramrod erect while the others collapse onto the turf. "Damn, you're a ma-chine," gasps Michael Felix, a minor leaguer who's in his third spring training with Pittsburgh. Singh, not understanding the reference, looks away, embarrassed.

Banister is satisfied with what he's seen so far. "The fact that they have to be first, even in [running drills], tells me these guys want to compete," he says. "They know they have a long way to catch up to the others, but they're not worried about that."

In the evening after the grueling running drills, Singh is showing off his pool skills in the Pirate City rec room. He's already hustled a member of the clubhouse staff into believing that he didn't know the game -- and promptly beat him. His thunderous break sends balls scattering. "Sometimes, I hit the white ball so hard, it flies off the table," he says, grinning. Clearly, he hasn't yet grasped all the objectives of this game.

With baseball, on the other hand, he and Patel are developing a firm command. In their hostel room they spend hours watching the great pitchers on YouTube -- Randy Johnson, a USC alum whom they met briefly in L.A., is a favorite. (They've met Barry Bonds, too, but know next to nothing about A-Rod, and I had to explain the whole sorry steroids scandal to them.) I help them find the video of that Johnson pitch that obliterated a dove during a 2001 spring training game. "That's amazing," Patel says. "Add it to my favorites. I want to learn from him to do that." What, kill a bird in mid-flight? "No, I want to pitch like that."

They also instruct and test each other from a well-thumbed copy of Baseball for Dummies. "Single to the right," Patel asks. "Runners on first and third. What do you do?"

"Back up third base," Singh replies.

"Single to the left, runner on first," says Patel.

"Follow flight of the ball, then decide ... usually [back up] third."

In any sport, there's only so much you can learn from books or videos. Even Bernstein concedes that his clients have "a 12- to 14-year deficit" relative to their peers. If they were hitters, House says, they'd stand no chance of closing that gap. "But a pitcher, if you have a good delivery, you can learn to strike people out pretty quickly," he says. The Pirates will likely keep Singh and Patel in extended spring training, get them into the Rookie Gulf Coast League and give them lots of short bursts as relief pitchers -- at this point, frequency is more important than duration. If the Pirates stick to this plan, House reckons, "there's a 75-25 chance they'll acquire the experience they need within a year."

Do Singh and Patel have a realistic shot at the majors? It's a long shot, and they're smart enough to set realistic goals -- for now. Patel says the low A squad may be within their reach this summer; Singh thinks high A is feasible. But that's still months away. For now, these two farm boys from Uttar Pradesh are content to push themselves harder and harder at Pirate City. "Learning, learning, learning...all the time," Singh says. "We don't want to go out, don't want to do anything else."

Before I leave, they ask me if I can help them learn a few phrases of Spanish, the better to communicate with Bonilla. The first phrase they want to learn?

Si, seƱor.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

How Manny's Deal Finally Got Done

L.A. expects Ramirez to commit himself, become 'a full-fledged Dodger'

By Jayson Stark

"We want to say yes."

With those five words, uttered over the phone Monday night by Scott Boras to Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, it was over.

Well, not totally over. Manny Ramirez wasn't a Dodger. Not yet.

But the four-month war of wills -- and words -- that had chewed up the Dodgers' entire winter, that was finally over. Manny was ready to make a deal. Boras was ready to make a deal. And the Dodgers were more than ready to make a deal.

That Monday night phone call, sources say, was what led to the face-to-face meeting Tuesday between McCourt and Boras and what brought the two sides within sight of the two-year, $45 million contract Ramirez agreed to Wednesday.

"We want to say yes," Boras told McCourt.

"Yes to what?" the owner replied.

"To the offer you made Wednesday," Boras told him.

Technically, of course, the offer the Dodgers had made five days earlier -- $25 million of the $45 million deferred with no interest, and none of those world-famous Scott Boras incentive clauses, either -- was no longer even on the table.

Technically, McCourt had gone on record as saying that any further negotiations would have to "start from scratch."

But when it was clear to McCourt that Boras no longer wanted to play games -- not the Match The A-Rod Deal Game, not even the We Don't Do No-Interest Deferrals Game -- the owner clearly had no second thoughts about putting his offer right back on that table.

Frank McCourt wanted more than a signature from Manny Ramirez. He wanted a commitment.

He had made his point, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. He had no reason, at that juncture, to lowball Manny -- other than to continue messing with Boras, just to rub it in his kisser.

And McCourt wasn't in this for style points. He was in this to sign Ramirez. Period.

Through all the insanity of these negotiations -- a four-month journey that took the two sides on a surreal, circular route to virtually the same place they had started -- that was really all the Dodgers ever wanted.

They didn't really want Adam Dunn. They didn't really want Bobby Abreu. They didn't really want anybody playing in left field for L.A. this summer except Manny. That became obvious over time.

And now there's reason to wonder whether Manny really wanted to go anywhere else.
Oh, he might have taken the Yankees' money, if there had been enough of it. He might have taken the Mets' money, or the Giants' money, or the Phillies' money. But that money was never there anyway. So it's all a moot point.

And even if Ramirez had taken it, his friends have made it clear -- and Manny himself seemed to make it clear, in his interview with the Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers this week -- that he knew L.A. was the place he fit best.

Intuitively, that's what the team brass had believed all along. That's why the Dodgers waited all those months for Ramirez to sort through the negotiating smoke screens and come back to the one place left in America where they didn't merely accept him for what he was. They worshipped him.

But when Boras called McCourt on Monday night, the owner merely suggested they meet the next day for breakfast.

And when they did, at a restaurant in Beverly Hills, and Boras reiterated a desire to end the madness, it's notable that the owner didn't immediately say, "Great. Sign here." Instead, according to sources, McCourt told Boras he wanted more than Manny's signature.

He wanted a commitment.

A commitment to the Dodgers' culture. A commitment to the Dodgers' fans. A commitment to the Dodgers' community. And he wanted Manny to back up that commitment with a $1 million contribution to the Dodgers Dream Foundation, a fund established by McCourt and his team president (and wife), Jamie, to build baseball fields throughout the Los Angeles area.

McCourt also made it clear the Dodgers didn't want a guy who believed he could just show up for a few hours every day and play baseball. They wanted him to commit to being "a full-fledged Dodger."

That meant being a leader. It meant setting an example for younger players. It meant interacting with fans, making appearances, being more than merely a guy who swung the bat four times a night.

Boras listened to all this and told McCourt, "You need to say this to Manny."



All is well in Mannywood tonight as the Manster has agreed to a deal with Frankie for two more years at the Ravine, dreadlocks and all; pending of course the required physical. Does the physical include a drug test? Just wondering.

Manny's back and we're glad to have him.