Los Angeles Dodger coach Monty Basgall tore a strip of paper from
an old press release on manager Tommy Lasorda's desk in Dodger
Stadium last Wednesday and, pencil poised, inquired of his boss,
''Well, what's the lineup tonight?'' Lasorda, whose energies until
that moment had been focused on a dish of clams, looked slowly up at
his faithful subaltern and asked quietly, ''Monty, how long have you
been in baseball?''
Basgall, puzzled by this line of questioning, replied, ''Oh,
40-some years. Why?''
''Because,'' said Lasorda, mimicking an Edgar Kennedy slow burn,
''you must know by now that we don't have any choices. Who the hell
can we play? What the hell can we do that's so different? We don't
have anybody left.''
Strictly speaking, that wasn't entirely true. There were some
Dodgers afoot who didn't look as if they'd just stormed the Anzio
beachhead or finished a gig with the Wallendas. But not many. The
Dodger clubhouse that day was pungent with the aroma of disinfectant.
After several agonizing moments of deliberation, Lasorda and Basgall
pieced together from the remnants of a once- formidable team a lineup
that had Bill Russell, a 37-year-old broken-down shortstop, playing
rightfield and batting third, and Enos Cabell, a 36-year- old
vagabond utilityman, playing first and batting fourth. Between them,
Russell and Cabell had hit zero homers and driven in 21 runs in the
Dodgers' 83 games. Russell was hitting .234, Cabell .227. Both, of
course, had injuries -- Russell, a leg muscle pull and Cabell, a bum
shoulder -- but unlike so many of their teammates, they were able to
put one foot after another unaided by hospital orderlies. Cabell
would be the Dodgers' sixth cleanup hitter in 2 1/2 weeks.
For their No. 5 batter, Lasorda and Basgall chose Alex Trevino,
a much- traveled catcher then hitting a rousing .275 with three
homers and eight RBIs. The sixth batter would be Jeff Hamilton, a
22-year-old rookie third baseman playing in his 11th major league
game. Hamilton, hitting .158 at the time, had been the cleanup hitter
the night before. ''We've got to move that kid down in the order,''
Lasorda argued with Basgall. ''Yeah,'' agreed the coach, ''but this
is a tough racket when you've got Enos Cabell hitting cleanup.''
So the Dodgers took the field that night against St. Louis with a
lineup featuring three legitimate regulars (second baseman Steve Sax,
leftfielder Ken Landreaux and shortstop Mariano Duncan), three
declining veterans, two rookies (Hamilton and centerfielder Reggie
Williams) and Fernando Valenzuela on the mound. The nine of them had
hit a total of 16 home runs in 1986. They walloped the Cardinals 8-2,
with Cabell and Hamilton each driving in three runs. Russell got a
hit and scored two runs. What do you know? That was the 58th
different lineup Lasorda had fielded in 84 games. Thursday's game, an
11-4 win over the Cubs, would see the 59th and Friday's, a 6-3 loss
to the Cubs, the 60th. But all the fiddling couldn't keep the Dodgers
out of the National League West cellar, where for the first time
since 1979, they wallowed as late into the season as July.
And these were the defending division champions, the Dodgers
Lasorda himself had envisioned running roughshod over the pack this
year. ''I raved about this team in the spring,'' the portly manager
recalled in a mournful moment. ''I thought with a guy (Bill Madlock)
who had won four batting titles hitting third, a guy (Pedro Guerrero)
who had hit 33 home runs batting fourth and another guy (Mike
Marshall) who had hit 28 home runs in only 135 games batting fifth,
we'd be the toughest team in baseball in the middle of the lineup.''
Alas, Guerrero has not played a game. On April 3 in the final
spring training game in Florida, he ruptured a tendon in his left
knee, aborting a slide. He was operated on by the suddenly
beleaguered team physician, Dr. Frank Jobe, and is not expected to
return to the lineup until next month. That was Guerrero's third
serious injury suffered either sliding or deciding tardily , not to
slide, prompting wiseacres and serious observers alike to wonder if
in the future he might not be well advised simply to remain upright
at all times, regardless of circumstances. The injury to their
foremost slugger figured to drag the Dodgers back to the pack a bit,
but they still had plenty of talent left -- for a while, anyway.
Marshall, whose always promising career has been set back by repeated
injuries, was out last week with a bad back, a nasty and apparently
recurring malady. And only a Pollyanna would expect a full season out
of the valetudinary Madlock. He has been on the disabled list twice
this season and the injury list seven times. He played in only 47 of
the team's 88 games before the All-Star break.
But these are only the more significant casualties. Team public
relations director Steve Brener's injury report showed 44 entries
through Sunday. Nine Dodgers have been on the DL at one time or
another since April 1 and four -- Guerrero, Madlock (left groin pull
this time), infielder Dave Anderson (broken little finger on throwing
hand) and catcher Mike Scioscia (torn membrane in right ankle) --
were on it up until the All-Star break. Even batting practice pitcher
Mark Cresse fell to the plague, suffering cartilage damage to his
left knee in his deceptively demanding work. It is no wonder that
trainer Bill Buhler will join Sax and Valenzuela as Dodger
representatives on the National League All-Star squad. Who has worked
harder? And who on the Dodgers has been more in demand by newsmen
poking among the ruins of the team? Weary of explaining his players'
various infirmities to the medically illiterate, Buhler prepared a
glossary of terms -- Buhler's Anatomy? -- complete with diagrams, and
last week distributed copies to the Dodger beat writers.
Correspondents from the Times and the Herald-Examiner now converse
easily on matters pertaining to the patella, the axilla and the
humerus. The Dodgers' travails have at least proved elevating for
those obliged to chronicle them.
But Buhler is not the only overworked member of the medical team.
Physical therapist Pat Screnar has so many patients in rehabilitation
that those who can must stand in line for his ministrations. Dr.
Jobe, one of the nation's more prominent orthopedic surgeons, has
already operated this season on Guerrero, first baseman Greg Brock
(left knee), first baseman Len Matuszek (shoulder), pitcher Dennis
Powell (elbow) and Cresse. When asked by an unwitting well-wisher how
he was holding up under his ordeal, Lasorda archly replied, ''I
have the patients of Jobe.''
The only true beneficiaries of the Dodger epidemic have been the
eager youths from Triple A ball who have climbed aboard the shuttle
from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. Ten have made it so far (some have
since returned), among them Craig Shipley, a 23-year-old infielder
who became the first native Australian to appear in the big leagues
since Sydney-born Joe Quinn played second base for the Washington
Senators in 1901. Shipley lasted 12 games and 27 at bats (3 hits)
before he was shipped back to New Mexico, but he was in L.A. long
enough to make a little history.
Hamilton might last longer. ''I know they wanted me to play a full
year in Triple A,'' he says, ''but when Dave (Anderson) went down,
there was no one left in the infield. The problem now is not to try
to do too much in a short time. I've got to play my game. I don't
know what's going to happen in a few weeks when the regulars get
back, but whatever it is, I'll take it all in stride.''
What Lasorda thinks will happen in a few weeks is that he'll get
his four disabled veterans back, plus Franklin Stubbs, a 25-year-old
first baseman- outfielder who, despite a shaky start (12 strikeouts
in his first 22 at bats), hit 15 homers before he crumpled with a
strained right hamstring on July 6. The Dodgers see the All-Star
break as a passage to the promised land. For all of their foul play
-- they lead the league with 101 errors -- and cruel misfortune, they
were still only eight games behind the first-place Giants at the
break. They were in position, as Lasorda reminded them in an
impassioned clubhouse oration before the 81st game, to emulate such
fabled finishers as the Miracle Braves of 1914, World Series winners
after being last as late as July 19, and the 1951 New York Giants,
who trailed the Dodgers by 13 1/2 games on Aug. 12 and then beat them
for the pennant in the Bobby Thomson shot-heard- round-the -world
And lo, only a couple of days later, who should appear in
Lasorda's office but the very manager of those '51 Giants, Leo
Durocher. The Lip, at 80, looked trim and chic in a smart blue blazer
and pearl gray slacks, and he was treated like royalty in an office,
once a haven for celebrities, suddenly grown barren with the
commissioner's ban against outsiders in the clubhouse. Durocher's
appearance fell within the rules as a special circumstance, and
Lasorda trooped his players in, one after another, to meet the great
man. Finally, Durocher told him, ''You know who I want to see is
that shortstop of yours -- Duncan. I hear that kid's been out 2 1/2
weeks with a sore ankle. Sore ankle!'' He spat out ''sore ankle'' as
if it were an expression Ed Meese would find offensive.
Mariano Duncan was dutifully retrieved. He is a Dominican, only
23, and the dapper white-haired man with the loud voice was just
another stranger to him. Durocher strode up to him and said, ''What's
wrong with your ankle?'' Duncan shrugged. Durocher continued, ''A
young fella like you out 2 1/2 weeks with a sore ankle. Let me tell
you something. I was a shortstop, too, and I played every day whether
my ankle was sore or not. Once I tore up my hand fielding a bad hop
and hurt my ankle the same day. That was on a team called the Gas
House Gang. Remember them?'' Duncan shrugged and smiled. What was
this old man going on about? ''Well,'' Durocher went on, ''our
manager was a guy named Frankie Frisch. Tough son of a bitch. Well,
he took one look at my bleeding hand and just spat tobacco juice into
it. Then he had that ankle -- swollen out to here -- taped up and he
told me to get the hell out there and play. Know what I mean?''
''He means,'' said Lasorda to the bewildered Duncan, ''you gotta
learn to play hurt in this game.'' That night Duncan did, and he made
two plays that Durocher said afterward were among the best he'd seen.
Maybe, after all, that's what the Dodgers will need in the second
half of the season -- a little spit in the right places. And a lot of