February 16, 2009, 9:37 p.m. Until recently, the number 104 has stood for one thing, and only one thing – the single season stolen base record, a mark untouched for almost half a century.
Ask any knowing baseball fan, in Los Angeles especially. He'll tell you without a moment's hesitation. In fact, it's a simple game of word association. Throw out the term "104," blink, and watch as it comes up "Maury Wills" every time. Or "stolen base record" or "1962" or "MVP," or some combination thereof.
Now the number 104 stands for piss. Literally. Urine samples, exactly 104 of them, pee-pee cups containing positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs. Chemical proof that Alex Rodriguez and 103 others cheated baseball, and broke the law of the land.
104 men, if we can call them that, thinking incorrectly that a 2003 test by Major League Baseball, and handled by a strong union, would forever be anonymous. Oops.
Sorry, Maury. We can't promise you the rest of the country, but we'll keep your number meaningful here.
Sure, Wills' record, which beat Ty Cobb's 1915 total by eight steals, had already been topped, most famously by Lou Brock's 118 in 1974, again by Rickey Henderson, with 130 in 1982, and by the less-remembered Vince Coleman three times. But again, in L.A., 104 belongs to Maury Wills.
Look, I don't know about the wisdom of allowing the full list to see the light of day, or what, if anything, to do about some other important baseball numbers, like 61 and 755. It's complicated. More complicated than it ought to be, unfortunately, because baseball's genius commissioner can't take a leak (double-entendre intended) without a consensus.
This much I do know. It could be worse. A lot worse. 104 really isn't all that bad a figure. Let's do the math, and throw out, say, 44 players, who might have left the game because of age or lack of talent in the six years since the testing. Divide by 30 teams, and you're looking at two per organization.
No doubt more than a fair share for some clubs, like the Giants, Mets, Rangers and Yankees. And less for teams like the Dodgers, we hope.
Looking at L.A.'s 40-man roster, and including for the sake of argument, Manny and a handful of stragglers, only a dozen were even in the majors to face testing in 2003: Brad Ausmus, Casey Blake, Juan Castro, Rafael Furcal, Eric Milton, Guiellermo Mota, Mark Loretta, Juan Pierre, Ramirez, Jason Schmidt, Claudio Vargas and Jeff Weaver.
Mota's guilt we already know about, and he was punished with a 50-game suspension by MLB in 2007. More than enough reason for him not to be a Dodger, but what can you do? No news to break there. There were rumors about Loretta in San Diego in 2005, so the Dodgers might want to prepare themselves.
It's safe to say that neither Furcal nor Blake ever touched performance enhancing drugs, and it's laughably so with Pierre. That, essentially, leaves Manny as the lone significant possibility.
Don't send me letters. I am not labeling Manny's a druggie. But it's not like Ramirez is winning any character-guy awards lately. It's possible his name's on the list. So it would be nice to know for sure before the Dodgers sign him. I'm just saying…
Talkback: Your comments are always encouraged…
Blue Arms: More panic about the state of Dodgers pitching than is necessary, folks. Why every baseball writer with a keyboard is talking about the loss of starters, plural, "Derek Lowe and Brad Penny," like it's a huge deal is beyond me. Losing Lowe was a blow. Duh. Penny's leaving, on the other hand, is a major coup for the blue.
And Greg Maddux hanging em up doesn't affect a whole hell of a lot at Chavez Ravine either. The Dodgers lost one starter – Lowe.
Chad Billingsley will be an ace in 2009. His numbers were equal or better to Cole Hamels throughout the regular season in 2008, and it's no coincidence the teams met in the National League Championship Series. Lots of guys implode once they get there, if not sooner. I'm not overly concerned. If the Dodgers have Manny, their starting staff will be plenty strong enough for the NL West.
I still say Juan Cruz is worth losing a draft pick over, but I'm confident in the way the bullpen looks in February. Apparently Joe Beimel is being reconsidered, and if so, props to Ned Colletti for opening his mind a little. Will Ohman and Dennys Reyes are excellent lefty choices too. You can't go wrong. The Dodgers have more arms than most clubs…
For the Record: When Wills stole his 104 in '62, watered-down Candlestick base paths be damned, he was nabbed a grand total of 13 times. Brock's caught stealing number in 1974: 33. Oh, and see the Off Base logo at the top of this page? That's Brock's record-setting base. Yep, number 105. Really…
Media Savvy: Tom Hoffarth, of the Daily News, has been laying out his 17th Annual Best and Worst of the L.A. Media series in recent days, and while he won't say so, we certainly will: Hoffarth should include a category for Best L.A. Sports Media Reporter, and award himself the statuette.
Check Tom's Best and Worst of L.A. TV Anchors, Reporters, Studio Analysts and his Best and Worst of Sports-Talk Hosts, and let us know what you think. Or better yet, let Tom know.
And congratulations to Jon Weisman on his new gig. He's moved his successful Dodger Thoughts blog to LATimes.com. Required reading for the baseball savvy. Go early and go often…
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Statue for Sandy: The Koufax in bronze campaign continues. Please Vote “Yes on 32.” And tell a friend…
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