Off Base
What do you Say We Stop Calling Them Kids Now, OK?

July 21, 2008, 7:00 p.m.

Enough already. The players who constitute half of the Dodgers starting eight, and a good portion of the roster as a whole, are not "kids." Andre Ethier, James Loney, Matt Kemp and Russell Martin are not kids. Let's stop referring to them as kids now.

According to Websters, "kid" in noun form is defined as:

1. A young person of either sex (between birth and puberty); "she writes books for children"; "they're just kids"; "`tiddler' is a British term for youngsters".
2. Soft smooth leather from the hide of a young goat; "kid gloves".
3. A human offspring (son or daughter) of any age; "they had three children"; "they were able to send their kids to college".
4. Young goat.

Cool. So now we know where the "kid gloves" expression comes from.

Beyond that, why don't we just acknowledge that the current crop of fresh Dodgers are not children, haven't been for some time, and ought to be considered as adults. They're men, actually.

And let's clear up another thoroughly misguided perception. This group of semi-new Dodgers has been no slower to improve than any other particular group in Los Angeles history, nor are they much different in terms of learning than most others in baseball, just generally, and to the extent in which they are, the responsibility squares with minor league instruction as much as anything.

Just who are these other, smarter, better group of young players who supposedly exploded onto the scene at Chavez Ravine at some point in history? Tell me who.

Most pointed to are the Seventies bunch, right? Homegrown Dodgers Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Ron Cey. The famous infield.

Garvey, arguably the best of the lot, first came up in 1969, appeared increasingly during each of the next few seasons, and finally cracked the regular lineup in the second half of 1973, in his fifth season, at 24. His fifth season. MVP and the club's first pennant in eight years in 1974. James Loney's path has been similar but faster. And he can throw. What more do you want?

The comparing of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp to the likes of Cey, Lopes and Russell is less precise because of position, but these are fine players, finding their way as Dodgers in appropriate fashion. When columnists like Steve Dilbeck of the Daily News (and others) say that the men are "regressing," it means one of two things. Either the columnist isn't watching particularly closely or he doesn't understand baseball well enough. Take your pick.

Not every pitcher goes straight to the majors, wins a Cy Young and a Rookie of the Year Award, and leads a team to the World Series, ala Fernando Valenzuela. And not every outfielder grabs an MVP, a ROY, and plays for a ring right out of the gate, like Fred Lynn. There's been zero regression.

Matt Kemp is a much better player than he was last year. Batting average isn't everything, and all that's being compared is a good batting average with a better one. It's silly. You have to watch the man play. He's improved considerably, is growing on the field as we speak, and is doing so while playing large chunks of center field in the majors for the first time. No small feat.

And by the way, Kemp is a better center fielder than Andruw Jones is right now, and it's not close.

So what about the group of ROYs from the 1990s? Mike Piazza and Russell Martin make for a fair comparison, but is anyone really complaining about Russell Martin? Eric Karros vs. James Loney, Raul Mondesi and Matt Kemp, Hideo Nomo vs. Chad Billingsley?

Andre Ethier and Todd Hollandsworth? Please. And how many postseason successes did those guys have exactly? I don't recall any, but that's just me.

Going back further, Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Steve Sax. Good players all, with real accomplishments, but it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. Good Dodgers then, good ones now.

Wanna go back further, to say, Willie Davis? The Three Dog was always a good and exciting player, and as prominent a hitter as there is Los Angeles Dodgers history, but he was better at 29 and 30 and 31 than he was at 21 and 22 and 23.

This is all very basic baseball stuff. Baseball players generally improve with experience. Where's the mystery? Athletes in general improve with experience. People improve with experience. Well, present company of general managers excluded...

Talkback: Your comments are always encouraged…

The Return of Adrian Beltre: I haven't heard anything concrete, but if Ned Colletti is serious about a possible upgrade at third base instead or at shortstop, Beltre makes a lot of sense. He's a second half guy, considerably better a player than either Andy LaRoche or Blake DeWitt is today, he's a Gold Glover, and the fans would love it. They'd orgasm, is what they'd do.

Beltre's a free agent after 2009, and we know how he does in walk years. Perhaps DeWitt and LaRoche can work on their second base play, and compete for Kent's spot next season. And although unofficially because the stats don't transfer, Beltre would immediately becomes the team leader in home runs. So why the bleep not?

Seattle would probably fork over for some of his salary, but even if they don't, at least the Dodgers can count on paying Beltre to plant himself on the diamond, rather than on the disabled list.

Oh, and most importantly, with Beltre returning, we'd get to start using the phrase "botched appendectomy" again…

As for shortstop, David Eckstein should be in Los Angeles already. The man has been underestimated for years, never for good reason. He's been an important member of two championship teams, still plays the position well enough, and is a spark plug in the leadoff spot. He's been buried in Toronto by an out-of-touch Cito Gaston, and a lot of good it's doing the retread manager. Last place is there for the Jays' taking.

GMs like Colletti can excuse their inaction by complaining about the difficulty of deal making till they're Dodger blue in the face, but it doesn't make it so. Last week's trades of Tony Clark and Joe Blanton are just the latest evidence that there are always things you can do. Always. Sooner rather than later is a good way to go too. July 21 is better than July 31.

Toronto will part with Eckstein easily enough, and be grateful for the chance. He's the perfect choice for Los Angeles, and there is literally no downside…

Prediction: Andruw Jones to the DL or the minor leagues by the end of the week…

Media Savvy: This Seinfeld-referenced article by Kevin Hench of is worth a read.

And pertinent to the discussion above, so is this Tom Singer piece, on the 40th anniversary of the Dodgers famous 1968 draft…

Statue for Sandy: The Koufax in bronze campaign continues. Please Vote “Yes on 32.” And tell a friend…

Remember, glove conquers all….







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