Ron Cey, who became a folk hero when he took a Goose Gossage fastball on the side of his head in the World Series and came back in the next game to get two hits and the game-winning RBI, was sitting cross-legged on the grass and talking about the Dodgers. "I guess the main thing," he says, "is there's an attitude about us that is almost arrogance." Almost?
While spring training talk raged about the holdout of Fernando Valenzuela—the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young winner, who finally came to camp on March 23—the Dodgers acted as if they could win with him or win without him. Didn't really matter if he came back or not. Jerry Reuss, who was there all spring, said, "We don't ever play for second place. We are professionals."
The Dodgers certainly won't be playing for second this year. It will be the same old familiar crowd—Cey, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Dusty Baker, Burt Hooton, Pedro Guerrero—with one notable exception: no Davey Lopes. Lopes, 35, the captain and second baseman, was traded to Oakland because Los Angeles thought he might be over the hill. The interloper in an infield that had been together for nine years is Steve Sax, 22, a baseballaholic who works out eight hours a day, five days a week during the off-season. He has played in only 31 games in the bigs (replacing the injured Lopes last August), but convinced the Dodger brass of his readiness by hitting .277 in 119 at bats and fielding adequately. Sax could become the team's fourth straight NL Rookie of the Year, following pitchers Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe and Valenzuela.
"This is a tremendous feeling," says Sax. "I hope they accept me." He considers it a good sign that he went out with Garvey one night in Vero Beach for a cola and conversation. Says Cey, "We're all going to have to share the responsibility for him to succeed. And we will have to be ready to help him through his tough times. He's a young kid we've got to nurse." Dodger Veep Al Campanis admits it's a gamble to have dumped Lopes in favor of Sax but says, "Those who sleep on the floor don't run the risk of falling out of bed. You've got to be bold."
And then there's the irrepressible manager, Tommy Lasorda, the only person left on earth who seriously refers to the World Series as the "fall classic." Listen to him shouting to Shortstop Russell: "This is the man/We call the dean/To us of the Dodgers/He's the finest we've seen."
And on and on. Lasorda looks very proud of himself. Russell doesn't acknowledge Lasorda. He may have another verse in mind that relates to the team's off-season acquisition of free agent Shortstop Mark Belanger, late of the Orioles: I wonder what the manager/Thinks of Belanger.
The four Dodger starters in 1981 all had winning percentages of at least .643. The 1954 Giants were the last National League team on which all four starters had as high a percentage. Three of the four (Fernando Valenzuela, Jerry Reuss and Burt Hooton) had ERAs at least one run below the league mark of 3.49. The last National League staff to do that was the 1953 Braves.