Dodgers' closeness makes pain worse

COMMENTARY

July 07, 1993|By Claire Smith | Claire Smith,New York Times

PHILADELPHIA -- Last week, the Los Angeles Dodgers, under the direction of their club owner, Peter O'Malley, assisted the survivors of Roy Campanella in making funeral arrangements.

This week, the Dodgers will do the same for the family of Don Drysdale.

It is part of the Dodgers' way, Tommy Lasorda, the manager of the team, explained quietly yesterday, what you do when there is a death in the family.

And there has been death in the Dodgers' family this season. Too much death to comprehend at times, too much to soothe away with platitudes and somber remembrances.

It started when the former Dodger reliever Tim Crews was killed along with a fellow Cleveland Indians pitcher, Steve Olin, in a boating accident during spring training.

It continued when Campanella, the Hall of Fame catcher who defied medical science by living so courageously as a quadriplegic, died of a heart attack June 26 at the age of 71. A week to the day after Campanella's death, a heart attack also claimed Drysdale, the seemingly indestructible right-hander who helped pitch the Dodgers to three world championships in the '50s and '60s.

"I remember walking out of Campy's service Wednesday and saying, 'Please, God, don't have me give another eulogy for a long time,' " said Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers since 1950. "It looks like Tommy and I will be giving eulogies, again."

Scully, like Lasorda, has the look of a man easing away from shock and now working on checking emotions. Scully, an on-air partner of Drysdale's for the last six seasons, has been lauded for his professional handling of the announcement of Drysdale's death during a broadcast back to Los Angeles from Montreal Saturday night.

"Our job is to help people escape, to help them forget their troubles, you know," Scully said quietly. "And I remember having to do the game the night Red died," he said, speaking of the former announcer, Red Barber.

"And I could hear him say, 'Vinnie, you do the game, you do your job.' That's what I've been trying to do this week. But it's hard. It's really painful."

Lasorda, however, said: "This is just the way life is. You have to accept death. There's nothing you can do about it. Because, I tell you, if you start trying to figure out why, it will complicate it even more. We lost our son a year and a half ago and I could never understand why. But you've got to face those things."

So there is acceptance. But there is more this time, with this

team. There has always been a sense of melancholy surrounding the Dodger teams, anyway, since the Campanella era, a melancholy Roger Kahn so eloquently described in his ode, "The Boys of Summer."

These would have been terrible blows for any organization, of course. But for a team that relies so heavily on its sense of HTC family, the loss of anyone, from legend to journeyman, seems to shake the club so.

That is bound to occur not only because of the rich tradition, but because the Dodgers so gladly blur the lines dividing its past and present.

It was nothing to see, on any given spring training day at Dodgertown, a Roy Campanella in uniform coaching catchers young enough to be his grandsons, to see an always jovial Don Drysdale kibbitzing with fans, or talking pitching with the likes of Orel Hershiser.

As Lasorda says, old Dodgers don't fade away.

Campanella started with Joe Ferguson and Steve Yeager, went to Mike Scioscia, and then to Mike Piazza. It was the sort of time-continum education, just as it was when a Drysdale or a Sandy Koufax has done for Dodgers pitchers, the way Maury Wills tutored base runners, Reggie Smith the hitters.

"I never had the privilege of seeing Roy Campanella play," said Piazza. "But since I started catching, I've got a greater appreciation of what he accomplished."

The veteran catcher told the younger catcher never to worry about the doors that are closed to you because you will never see the ones that are open. It's that sort of lesson in life that the Dodgers craved. It is perhaps the one reason, aside from loyalty, that such players are kept so close.

And why their loss is felt so deeply.

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