The Beginning of the End for Kirk Gibson?
Mark McGwire and Kirk Gibson
Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers
When Vin Scully opens tonight's broadcast with the ever-melodic, "Hi, everybody, a very pleasant Friday evening to you, wherever you may be," the inevitable "it's the Dodgers and the Dbacks" follow-up indicates that what is about to unfold is just another contest.
This isn't the Dodgers and the Giants we're talking about here. There is no big rivalry. The Diamondbacks would like it to be, they may pretend it's some big deal, but it's not. No one in Los Angeles gives the Phoenix team more than a passing thought. They might as well be the Angels, for all L.A. cares.
We do care about Kirk Gibson, however. Plenty. He's Arizona's manager - for now - but he's a Dodger hero; he's our hero. And while a tied-for-worst-in-baseball 4-8 record may not seem all that alarming in the grand scheme of things, there's little evidence to suggest that Gibby's team is really any better than what we're seeing right now.
Minus ace Patrick Corbin, who is out for the year following Tommy John surgery, the Diamondbacks rank dead last in the National League in earned run average (5.86), walks (46) and batting average against (.287). .287!
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They have one absolutely wonderful hitter in Paul Goldschmidt, whom the Dodgers should never ever pitch to, a powerful bat in Mark Trumbo, and some nice complementary bats, but as Jonah Keri details beautifully at Grantland (see great sentence: "To be fair, it's possible to simultaneously value grit and skill."), general manager Kevin Towers and Gibson's emphasis on "gritty" players hasn't produced the hoped for results.
Sure, both Towers and Gibson were extended during the winter, but as Keri points out, all we know about these contracts is that they run through the current season. More importantly, sometimes clubs award contract extensions to put a controversy to rest, not because they really want to commit to someone. They chalk it up to the cost of doing business, give a GM or a manager (or in this case, both) the sought-after financial security and kick the can down the road until a more baseball-related decision is required.
One can argue that this is precisely what the Dodgers did with Don Mattingly. Sign the deal while privately not being all that happy about it, quell the talk, and fire the skipper later if need be.
After this weekend's series, Los Angeles will not see the Dbacks until a three-game set at home beginning May 16. If Arizona were to go, say, 10-22 during that time, would a 14-30 start to 2014 be enough to force management's hands?
It just might be, and perhaps even a full house-cleaning occurring, with Towers and Gibson getting pink slips, as was the case with L.A.'s Fred Claire and Bill Russell being fired together in June 1998. Dbacks' President and CEO Derrick Hall was the Dodgers' Director of Publicity at the time, remember.
Maybe it just wishful thinking on my part, pining for Kirk Gibson in Dodger Blue, giving myself a little what-if. You know, like for example, what if Gibson were to be suddenly available for another position? Another position in Los Angeles?
So it's the Dodgers and the Dbacks, in a battle for, well, three run-of-the-mill games in April, and nothing more. Hyun-Jin Ryu versus Brandon McCarthy tonight at 6:40 p.m., Zack Greinke and Wade Miley Saturday at 5:10 p.m. and Dan Haren vs. Trevor Cahill Sunday at 1:10 p.m. Radio only, of course, for 70 percent of the Southland.
Speaking of Derrick Hall and rivalries, back in 2001, the Giants asked the Dodgers to participate in a 50th anniversary celebration of Bobby Thomson's shot heard round the world, with a ceremony to be scheduled at what was then Pac Bell Park. Hall, then the Dodgers' Senior VP of Communications, essentially told Frisco to shove it, and what a glorious bit of gamesmanship that was.
Derek Zumsteg quotes Hall at Baseball Prospectus: "They originally came to us in March and asked us if we would be part of the celebration. We continued to make it very clear that we did not want to be a part of a salute to a Giant, pennant-winning home run. It was really shocking that they would ask. We're in the middle of a pennant race right now with that team... We realize that a man [Branca] suffered for over 50 years, as did Dodger fans. We are just not going to be a part of it."
The Giants went ahead anyway, even going so far as to wear their 1951 throwback uniforms, while the Dodgers donned their regular 2001 road grays.
Here' a fun look at the rise and fall of the bullpen car, by Matt Soniac.
And a great Sports on Earth piece about some baseball biopics that ought to be made, by Sarah D. Bunting, with extremely clutch photo illustrations by Neil Robinson.
Remember, glove conquers all.