Originally created 08/15/98

Dodger blue has faded

LOS ANGELES -- Only a few years ago a trip to Dodger Stadium in August would have created a sense of urgency in the visitors clubhouse.

Now all it elicits is a few yawns.

Back when the Dodgers and Braves shared the National League West, a visit here usually had implications on a pennant race.

Now it's just three games during the dog days.

Tommy Lasorda used to throw batting practice four hours before the game. He was loud, occasionally profane and he was never at a loss for words.

Now Lasorda is the general manager and his Dodgers are going nowhere.

Plenty has changed here since the Braves' last visit. There's a new manager, new coaches, new ownership and no sense of a pennant race at all. A columnist with the Los Angeles Times pronounced the team dead in Friday's editions.

"The uncertainty of spring, leading to the chaos of May, causing the purge of June, has left this poorly constructed team with no chance in September," Bill Plaschke wrote. "This is about a catcher who is too stressed out. A third baseman who is too young. A center fielder who is too worried that everyone thinks he parties too much, which he does.

"This is about a starting pitcher who should be in the bullpen. Setup relievers who think they should be closers. And, a young manager who, despite his best efforts, should spend a little more time in a coaching box."

The Dodgers, who opened a weekend series against the Braves on Friday night, don't resemble the team that everyone in Atlanta loved to hate earlier this decade. Now, looking at a club that's one game above

.500 and so far out of the race they're closer to last place than first, you almost feel sorry for them. OK, maybe not sorry, but certainly puzzled by their nose-dive toward mediocrity.

What has happened to Big Blue?

The winningest pitcher on a once-mighty pitching staff is Chan Ho Park with a 10-6 record. No other pitcher is in double figures. The offense is the league's third-worst. The defense has 100 errors, the league's second-highest total.

The Dodgers traded Mike Piazza. They fired manager Bill Russell and general manager Fred Claire. How did the team respond? By treading water. They're no better off today than they were two months ago.

This is a team that moved the lumbering Bobby Bonilla to left field to give rookie Adrian Beltre a shot at third base. Bonilla proved he couldn't play left, Beltre has shown he belongs at Albuquerque, yet the Dodgers still believe they can climb past three teams and win the wild card.

They have a better chance of moving to the NL East and overtaking the Braves.


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