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Notes from around the majors
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
The malaise that has the Dodgers playing as if they are being attacked by West Nile mosquitos is not about Gary Sheffield vs. Mike Piazza, who are both MVP candidates. It's not about hiring Davey Johnson over Mike Scioscia. It's not just about some of GM Kevin Malone's moves, be it Todd Hundley over Charles Johnson (although pitchers generally prefer Hundley) or signing former center fielder Devon White or Carlos Perez. "There's something deeper here, and it's hard to put a finger on exactly what it is," says Malone."I keep hearing, 'you've got much more talent than your record indicates,' and frankly I think everyone here's tired of hearing it," Malone says. "Our pitching's pretty good. You look at our positional players and they're very good. But there's something missing."
Malone recently has been focusing his attention on the minor leagues, and the draft work of the Dodgers' widely respected scouting director Ed Creech. He has had to try to make up for the blunders by others in the previous administration, which are costing them their international signing rights for a year.
But while Malone says "I think we can get this thing turned around," he admits that may take time, and in that time he has people -- even some that he hired in Montreal and brought to L.A. -- sniping at his back while anyone at the Pioneer Chicken Stand on Alvarado Street knows that Malone and Johnson aren't exactly Gore and Lieberman these days.Without pointing fingers at a good player and decent guy like Eric Karros, Malone wonders about the Dodger baseball culture. "I don't know if you see the passion here," he says. "I don't know why, but sometimes it just doesn't seem to be here. Maybe it is the atmosphere. I'm not sure."
As Piazza leads the Mets toward the postseason and is heading for the Labor Day Turn in a dead MVP heat with Jeff Kent and Sheffield, one can ask whether or not Piazza would be what he is today if he were still out in L.A. doing "The Bold and the Beautiful" rather than driving through Queens every day.
Granted, Piazza is an East Coast guy who can tell you anything you want to know about the '80s Phillies and he's as New York tough as it gets, but several of his former L.A. teammates felt he was drifting toward being more George Hamilton toward the end of his stay with the Dodgers than the Thurman Munson he has become.
"There are people who believe that, but it's up to us to change whatever causes it," says Malone. "We have some players here who play with a great deal of passion." Kevin Brown, no matter what he makes, is one. Sheffield has grown into being another. Mark Grudzielanek is another. And no one is more of a baseball rat than Hundley. "We just have to find some more," says Malone.
The questions may be: 1) How do you fit Casey Candaele characters into "The Bold and the Beautiful"; and 2) Whom will chairman and CEO Bob Daly decide makes up the We.News and notes
Merloni, like many other players in the Lee Stevens and Mark Johnson molds, said the pitching in Japan was so good that he learned a lot. "It seems as if I spent an entire season hitting 0-for-2," says The Guv. "They really pitch, and I'm a better player for going there. Someone asked me what I missed most, and I answered, 'fastballs.' They really deal and deal on the corners."
But it's hard to pick an AL Rookie of the Year leader between Anaheim's Ben Molina and Adam Kennedy, Oakland's Terrence Long (the next Dave Henderson, this one being a lefty) and Kansas City's Mark Quinn. That's what the last month will determine.
"Who else has got left-handed pitching to touch them?" asks the scout. Indeed, between Eric Milton, Mark Redman and J.C. Romero, they lead the league in wins from left-handed starters. Brad Radke is also solid, and while Joe Mays has been inconsistent, he has "second starter stuff," according to the scout. Then throw in Matt Kinney, the horse of a right-hander who made his debut Friday night after going 11-3 with 151 strikeouts in 142 innings in the minors (let it be noted that for Greg Swindell the Twins got Kinney and outfielder John Barnes, who has the best batting average in the minor leagues at .367 for Triple-A Salt Lake City).
"They've got Johan Santana and (Everyday Eddie) Guardado in the pen," says the scout, "which is more good left-handed arms than anyone else. I think they can get good in a hurry." As Twins GM Terry Ryan keeps telling everyone, they still have to find some more power and hope Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones, Matt Lawton and David Ortiz start hitting for more power.
"What's strange is that he hasn't played much baseball," says Nomar. "He's been playing mainly soccer and football. He's one of the top kickers in the country, with a slew of big-time football offers. But where he once was going to do a soccer/football double in college, now he's starting to like and play baseball. He has a lot of ability, so he'll be fun to watch."
This and that
The manager has to convince his players and the Detroit fans that they can win. He also has to convince opposing players so they can attract free agents to a city whose downtown still doesn't have a department store (because the auto companies have left Detroit as the worst example of urban planning in American history) and he and Smith have to convince Ilitch that what they're doing is the right way to go about things.
For all their international dabblings, two of Boston's top four draft picks the last two years have been from New England -- OF Rick Asadoorian and right-hander Brad Baker -- and this week they had a camp for New Englanders who played in the Cape Cod League as well as two top 2001 prospects returning from the Area Code Games, shortstop/right-handed pitcher John Toffey of Needham, Mass. and outfielder Mike Conroy of Boston College High School. For you interested hockey fans, Toffey might be a first-round pick in the NHL draft.
This is a kid who was playing shortstop for Quinsigamond CC in Massachusetts in '90 when scout J.P. Ricciardi saw him throw in infield practice and drafted him as a pitcher.
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