The great thing is that baseball didn't even have to invent
Eric Karros. Just when the sport needed an example of something
to show for itself other than greed and fan neglect, he was
right there, playing first and batting clutch for the Dodgers.
In a year when the game needed a big save, Karros smacked homers
that were truly Homeric. In the thick of the NL West division
race on Aug. 7, he launched game-winning shots against the
Giants and the Cardinals on three consecutive nights. For the
season he had eight dingers among his 18 game-winning hits.
This is an article from the March 12, 1996 issue
But clutch hitting is not the only reason Karros's name will be
invoked at Dodgertown this spring. In March, when Los Angeles
director of minor league operations Charlie Blaney addresses the
130 or so minor leaguers gathered in Vero Beach, Fla., he will
detail with great pleasure the continuing rise of the 1992
National League Rookie of the Year, a guy who should be the
patron saint of every college walk-on and a spark of hope to
every hardworking prospect who doesn't blaze with talent. "My
point to them is that Eric made it happen," says Blaney. "He
doesn't have outstanding physical tools, but he has outstanding
makeup. He has worked hard and earned his success. He has made
the most of every opportunity. He got his foot in the door, and
then he knocked the door down."
Karros is perseverance rewarded, and richly so: The former UCLA
walk-on will earn $3.15 million this year. For major league
baseball, he is a bargain. In Karros the sport has a player who
achieved success the old-fashioned way and yet is cutting-edge
enough to share his baseball diaries with fans on his own
America Online bulletin board; polished enough to do World
Series analysis spots on local television; smart enough to
absorb every detail of his financial affairs; and grateful
enough to give UCLA, the school from which he earned his
economics degree in 1993, a $100,000 baseball scholarship. "Eric
Karros is popular with all demographics," says his agent, Jeff
Moorad. "Kids look up to him; women admire his good looks and
want to date him; young men sense his realism and want to have a
beer with him; corporate types admire his intelligence and want
to do lunch; and the older generation is taken with his
In other words, the 6'4", 222-pound Karros may be just what
baseball needs to carry its flickering torch into the next
millennium. After all, there are plenty of kids--adults, too,
for that matter--who can relate to the righthander's brand of
self-evaluation: "I have decent size, but do I run well? No.
Throw well? No. Ninety percent of what I have is from hard
work," the 28-year-old Karros says. "I haven't had a lot of
people in my life telling me, 'You're the greatest.' In the long
run, I think that has helped me. There's really nothing better
for motivation than someone doubting you."
Unless it's someone doubting you in print, which is what Oakland
minor league manager Ted Kubiak did in the fall of 1989, when he
told Baseball America that, yes, Karros had had a decent year at
Class A Bakersfield, Calif., "but I don't know how much better
he is going to get."
"That really pissed me off," says Karros, who photocopied the
offending comment and kept it posted on the wall over his bed
for a year. Two years later he was named the Dodgers' 1991 minor
league player of the year.
That winter Karros met doubt on a different continent. Playing
for Caracas in the Venezuelan League, he performed wretchedly,
hitting .113 in 81 at bats before being run out of town after
three weeks. When he went down swinging on his last trip to the
plate, fans pelted him with bottle caps and held up a banner
that read KARROS GO HOME! YOU'RE FIRED! "They even wrote it in
English," says Karros, "so I'd be sure to get their point."
Karros began the 1992 season as Los Angeles's third-string first
baseman. He was so uncertain of his status (the team usually
carried just two players at that position) that he decided not
to send out his dry cleaning for fear that he would be shipped
to the minors before his clothes came back. But in May--after
leftfielder Kal Daniels didn't pan out at first base and his
replacement, Todd Benzinger, pulled a calf muscle--Karros was
moved into the starting lineup. His foot thus wedged in the
door, he went on to hit .257 with 20 home runs and 88 RBIs and
was named NL Rookie of the Year. "It was a frustrating
year--god, we lost 99 games!" he says. "But I was lucky. On a
struggling team, I got to play every day." Karros adds that had
he come up in a different era, say the '70s, when Steve Garvey
had a death grip on first base, "I would not have ended up a
The fact that he did end up a Dodger is ironic. Karros's father,
George, was born in Brooklyn and grew up a Dodgers loyalist,
even though he spent most of his childhood in an orphanage in
Utica, N.Y., a Yankees stronghold. After the franchise moved
west in 1958, George made a request to serve his Marine duty in
the early '60s at a base in El Toro, Calif., because of its
proximity to Dodger Stadium. "I didn't know anyone on the West
Coast, and I thought I could at least catch a couple of games,"
says George, a retired banker. He and his wife, Karen, had two
sons. Their second, Kirt, who is now a tax accountant, loved the
Dodgers. But Eric, two years older, hated the team and rooted
instead for Pete Rose and the Reds. "I think he loved the Reds
just so he could argue with me," says George. "Eric didn't like
the Dodgers until they drafted him."
Karros wasn't offered a single college scholarship coming out of
San Diego's Patrick Henry High in 1985. Still, three years later
he expected to be drafted higher than the sixth round after he
had parlayed a walk-on opportunity with the Bruins into
third-team All-America honors as a junior. "I was genuinely
angry," he admits. "It was an ego thing. I was told by scouts
that I'd go no later than the second round. But I signed,
because I didn't think I could do any more in college ball."
After all, there was so much work to be done in the pros. Still
is. It rankles Karros that people perceive his job as easy, the
lucky and lucrative result of god-given talent. "People don't
realize how much work this takes," he says. "If I had spent as
much time preparing to be a doctor or a lawyer as I have spent
preparing to be a baseball player, I would be a doctor or a
lawyer by now."
And baseball would be out one hardworking torchbearer.