That is a line from a sappy baseball poem written by the late Bart Giamatti, way before his brief stint as commissioner and probably even before he was National League president, I don’t know. But at any rate, it’s apropos this morning because baseball season officially ended last night. There will be no Game 7, thanks largely to the fact the St. Louis Cardinals apparently forgot to pack their bats when they left for Boston.
Although he doesn’t get the attention of some of his teammates like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino, the guy I choose to focus on today from the 2013 World Series champion Boston Red Sox is catcher David Ross. The reason is that he was twice drafted by the Dodgers, once out of high school and later as a college junior, when he actually signed, and there was a time when he was viewed as the team’s catcher of the future, the heir apparent to Paul Lo Duca, although Russell Martin already was working his way up the Dodgers minor league ladder at that point.
But the day that sticks out in my mind was one of Ross’ last as a member of the Dodgers. It was spring training 2005, in Vero Beach, and in ’04, he had had a disappointing first full season in the majors offensively. He batted just .171, with a strikeout every 3.1 plate appearances, even though he had finished the year as the main guy after Lo Duca was traded to the Marlins at the deadline. And now, in spring training, Ross was having an even harder time, and honestly, it looked for all the world like he was done. Like he was a washout at 28. Like he didn’t have the first clue what to do when standing at home plate with a bat in his hand. It was obvious that he was wondering the same thing. Ross had always been a media-friendly guy, but suddenly, he had turned surly. And you could kind of tell that he was embarrassed at times by the fact that overnight, he just had stopped seeming capable of hitting at that level anymore.
This was the off-day — back in those days, teams got just one off-day in spring training, whereas now they get two — but somebody, I want to say it was Kazuhisa Ishii, was throwing a simulated game at Holman Stadium to stay on his normal rotation. Ross, who needed all the practice he could get as he tried to salvage his career, was one of the guys there to hit off him. May have been the only guy, far as I can remember.
But there were a handful of people in the stands that day, some fans who had wandered in — if you were ever at Dodgertown, you know how casual everything was there — and some team officials. Jim Tracy, the Dodgers manager at the time, was sitting on a folding chair over by the backstop, near the first-base dugout. Tommy Lasorda was in about the third row of the stands.
There was one point in the game when Ross made really solid contact with a ball. It wasn’t a home run or anything, but it was a hard hit up the middle, as I recall. At this point, Ross walked out of the batter’s box, and Lasorda walked down to the field. The conversation, as most conversations involving Lasorda are, was loud enough that anyone within about a hundred-foot radius could hear it, especially on a day when there weren’t many people around.
“See what happens when you get behind the ball?”
Alas, that was about the closest Ross would come that spring to regaining his stroke. On March 20, the front office, realizing Ross no longer was a viable option as the team’s everyday catcher, acquired the immortal Jason Phillips from the New York Mets for Ishii. Ten days later, Ross was shipped to Pittsburgh for a small amount of cash, the Pirates willing to take a flier on him as long as they didn’t have to give up a player to do it.
Ross would split that season between the Pirates and San Diego, where he went in an insignificant trading-deadline deal, and he would hit .240 — not great, but 70 points higher than he had hit for the Dodgers the year before. From there, he went on to have a nice career for himself, one that is still going strong after 11 seasons. And last night, for the first time in that career, Ross became a world champion. More than eight years after it looked like he was going to have to find some other way to make a living.
Kind of a nice story, I’d have to say.
By the way, the Dodgers already have been installed as the favorites to win the 2014 World Series. But after you peruse these odds from pregame.com, make sure you read the fine print at the bottom, which explains that these odds aren’t always set based on who they think actually will win and that they can be affected by betting patterns.
Finally, here is a note Dylan Hernandez had in the Los Angeles Times yesterday about Dee Gordon playing the outfield for Licey in the Dominican Winter League, an apparent indication the Dodgers plan to move him there if they end up keeping him at all.
I have to say, though, this smacks of desperation. Look, I like Gordon, and I would love to see him succeed. But in all honesty, he doesn’t appear at this point to be a major league player. Certainly not offensively, and probably not defensively, either. The only tool he brings, really, is his speed, and with apologies to Herb Washington, it’s tough to believe a National League team can afford to give a precious 25-man roster spot to a guy who can’t do much other than pinch run — you know, like the Dodgers did in the playoffs.
Unless Gordon suddenly takes to the outfield like he were Willie Mays or something — remember, he did take some fly balls out there during batting practice late in the season and in the playoffs — it’s tough to imagine him being on the active major league roster next season or even really being a significant part of the Dodgers’ plans going forward.
One other note about the World Series: the Red Sox moved ahead of the Giants into sole possession of fourth place all-time with their eighth title, behind the Yankees (27), Cardinals (11) and A’s (nine). Right behind the Red Sox are the Giants (seven), the Dodgers (six) and the Pirates and Reds (five each). One thing I found interesting — but otherwise completely meaningless — was that in 109 World Series, this was the FIRST ONE that followed this exact sequence of wins and losses by the winning team:
Win Game 1 at home
Lose Game 2 at home
Lose Game 3 on the road
Win Game 4 on the road
Win Game 5 on the road
Win Game 6 at home
Yes, I’m a nerd when it comes to stuff like this.