Dodgers, once home-grown, now a product of change But will tranplanted veterans pull together down the stretch?

July 22, 1991|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

PHILADELPHIA GVB — PHILADELPHIA -- As they walk into the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse, out of uniform, you wonder what they are doing there. Did they make a wrong turn at the stadium entrance? Take a flight to the wrong city? Are they just visiting until game time?

There is Brett Butler talking to Darryl Strawberry. Here comes Gary Carter and John Candelaria. Oh, did we forget to mention Bob Ojeda and Kevin Gross? And let us not overlook those longtime Dodgers, Eddie Murray, Mike Morgan and Juan Samuel.

It used to be that the career path of a Dodger was pretty much the same: They signed fresh out of high school or college, climbed together from Vero Beach all the way to Chavez Ravine, won a few championships, got hugged by Tom Lasorda and walked off into the sunset, or at least to San Diego.

"Baseball has changed, and the Dodgers have changed their philosophy," said catcher Mike Scioscia, who, in his 12th season with the team, is one of a scant few raised on what has been called The Dodger Way.

Some of the constants do remain. Good pitching, which goes back in the team's history longer than the manager, is led by 23-year-old phenom Ramon Martinez. Good hitting, with or without Strawberry, prevails. And, of course, there are those good, good, good vibrations from Lasorda, who still works a clubhouse like his buddy Sinatra works a stage.

But after a blazing start, which gave them the best record (49-31) in baseball at the All-Star break, the Dodgers recently have lost their way. They dropped seven straight before splitting a four-game weekend series with the New York Mets. And some outsiders quietly are See DODGERS, 3C, Col. 4DODGERS, from 1Cbeginning to question whether the moves this team made during the off-season have backfired.

"We've just got to get them on the right track," Lasorda said Tuesday night in Philadelphia, when the team's losing streak had reached six after Carter's line shot in the ninth, which looked like a game-tying home run in the making, failed to reach the left-field seats of Veterans Stadium. "We can't let them get down on themselves and just hope we come out of it as soon as possible. It's my job to get them back on the right course."

Long ago, when he was managing a Dodgers farm team in Spokane, Wash., an eight-game losing streak had forced Lasorda to desperate measures. He told a bunch of young players named Lopes and Cey about the 1927 Yankees. He told them that it was voted the greatest team of all time, and even that team once had lost nine straight.

"I got to my car and I told my wife what I had said," Lasorda recalled. "She said, 'Is that true?' I told her, 'How the hell should I know, I wasn't born until September of that year.' But they believed it, and they came out of it."

What probably would work better for this Dodgers team was if Lasorda could get Strawberry mad and Scioscia healthy, while rejuvenating the right arm of former Cy Young winner Orel Hershiser. Strawberry went from being an angry young man with 37 home runs last year in New York to a born-again Christian with only 10 this season. Scioscia, feeling the effects of countless collisions, has spent more time in the whirlpool this year than behind home plate. Hershiser, following arm surgery last year, isn't even doing a good Tommy John imitation these days.

But in what is fast becoming the second-worst division in baseball -- the American League East is holding steadfastly to that dubious underachievement -- the Dodgers barely have been threatened during this horrendous stretch. The Cincinnati Reds, defending world champions, matched them loss for agonizing loss. At 51-40, they led the Atlanta Braves by three games.

"The best thing is to win," said Lasorda, whose team last won everything when it upset the Mets and Oakland Athletics en route to a world championship in 1988. "The second-best thing is to lose and not lose any ground."

When the Dodgers finished second, five games behind the Reds last season in the National League West, several holes needed to be patched. The starting rotation had question marks about Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela, the team's prematurely fading legend. The outfield defense was shoddy. The bullpen, with an oft-injured Jay Howell, was thin. Except for Murray and Kal Daniels, as well as a soon-to-be-traded Hubie Brooks, the power was minimal.

So in came Ojeda, in a trade for Brooks, to fill a spot in the rotation. In came Butler, a free agent, to give the Dodgers a dependable leadoff hitter and a capable defensive center fielder. In came relief pitcher Gross. And Strawberry, who along with a revived Murray was expected to provided the best 3-4 combination in baseball.

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