Saturday, June 5, 2010
Torre, Dodgers remember Wooden
By Tony Jackson
LOS ANGELES -- There was no shortage of personal memories of coach John Wooden emanating from Dodger Stadium on Saturday, whether it was Blake DeWitt and Clayton Kershaw recalling a dinner with Wooden during the Dodgers' winter development program two years ago or manager Joe Torre fondly looking back on a brunch he had with Wooden and Angels manager Mike Scioscia just a few months ago.
On the day after Wooden's death, DeWitt, the Dodgers' second baseman who hadn't reached the majors at the time, said the dinner with Wooden was something he will never forget.
"Just knowing who he was, it was an honor to be there and be able to talk with him," DeWitt said. "He remembered everything in such great detail. He told us some great stories. The thing that was neat about it was that even though he talked a little bit, he also gave us a chance to ask questions."
Wooden, who was 97 at the time, spoke to more than a dozen Dodgers prospects that night as part of the team's annual two-week program in which a handful of players come to Los Angeles for on-field workouts during the day and special instruction in the evenings about handling life in the major leagues. DeJon Watson, the Dodgers' assistant general manager for player development who runs the program, said Wooden, a huge baseball fan, had done his homework before the dinner and asked specific questions about specific players in the Dodgers' system.
"What was so amazing was how sharp his mind was and how open he was," Watson said. "I spoke to him personally about how he dealt with player turnover and how he handled different players. We're constantly trying to institute some of those core principles here now."
Watson said he has two souvenirs from that night that he has proudly displayed in his home office in Phoenix: a photograph of him with Wooden and a copy of Wooden's famed Pyramid of Success that Wooden autographed for him.
Kershaw, who also had yet to reach the majors at that time, said he had a specific question for Wooden that night.
"If you look at the pyramid, at the very top, it says, 'Competitive Greatness,' " Kershaw said. "One thing I asked him at dinner was how do you define competitive greatness and how do you achieve it? He explained to me that you don't achieve competitive greatness. You work on achieving all the tools from the pyramid, and that is how you get there."
Torre said he and Scioscia were invited to a brunch with Wooden on Jan. 31, along with their families. Torre said he made a point of bringing his 14-year-old daughter so that she could meet the legendary coach.
"When he first met my daughter, he kind of did this," Torre said, putting his fingers to the corners of his mouth to shape the form of a smile. "And then he said, 'Your dad made you come here today, didn't he?' But she said, 'No, he didn't.' ... I think it was a great opportunity for her to be there and get that experience of being around him. She got to hang out with his grandkids and great-grandkids and had a great time.
"I think what all the kids there recognized was the reverence we all had for him and the way people hung on every word he said, even though sometimes he had trouble getting those words out. I think that got their attention, not just the fact that this man was old and in a wheelchair but that there was so much to him. He just commanded that attention."
Torre said he visited Wooden in the hospital Wednesday morning, stopping by on his way to the ballpark for that day's afternoon game. Wooden was asleep at the time, but his caretaker, Tony Spino, greeted Torre when he walked in.
"I was only going to stay for a few minutes," Torre said. "But Tony woke him up. He said, 'Coach, Coach, Joe Torre is here.' He started moving around and opened his eyes, and then gave me a little grin, and he said, 'Hi, Joe.' Obviously, he was very weak."
Torre on Manny's defense
Torre was asked specifically before Saturday night's game against the Atlanta Braves about Manny Ramirez's defensive play in left field and whether he thinks Ramirez occasionally tunes out, a conclusion that might have been drawn on a handful of balls Ramirez failed to catch during the past couple of weeks.
"We know what we have out there," Torre said. "We have a guy who has had leg problems. I am of a mind to give him the benefit of the doubt, as I give any player the benefit of the doubt. He has been on the disabled list because of leg problems."
Torre did concede Ramirez will be the designated hitter during all six of the Dodgers' upcoming interleague road games June 18-20 at Boston and June 22-24 at the Angels.
Blake still out
Third baseman Casey Blake remained out of the lineup, but Torre said Blake's lower back was improving. Torre did say, however, that a decision will have to be made soon as to whether to put Blake on the disabled list, something club officials obviously are hoping to avoid.
Blake has been out since suffering sudden back spasms taking ground balls before Thursday night's game with the Braves. He underwent an MRI exam Friday that showed nothing more than irritation.
Infielder Nick Green, whom the Dodgers designated for assignment on May 28, cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Albuquerque.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.