The Dodgers New Leading Man
Shawn Green is back home, and L.A. has bestowed hero status
By David Leon Moore USA Today
There might still be a few holes in the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup, but no one seems to be able to find any in Shawn Green.
He is 27 years old, 6-4 and 200 pounds, strong inside and out, as solid as the lumber he will wield in the middle of the Dodgers' attack in 2000, a season that the team hopes finally will reverse the franchise's embarrassing slide.
He is expected to fill a void- a left-handed power hitter- that existed in this city seemingly as long as earthquakes and mudslides.
He is expected to outstanding defense in right field and steal some bases.
And he is expected, since he has done so in the past, because it's his nature, to sign all autographs, pose for all the pictures, visit the hospitals, and talk to the children.
"I just feel it's important to give something back," says Green, who says he has made an appearance about once a week since the blockbuster Nov. trade that made him a Dodger. " I felt like it was important to get off on the right foot."
In particular, the large Los Angeles Jewish population has lined up to request appearances by Green, who is Jewish and has rekindled memories of Jewish Pitcher, Sandy Koufax, one of the franchises most beloved heros.
"They've totally embraced him, that's for sure," says new Dodgers chairman Bob Daily, the former Warner Bros. Studio boss hired after last season by Fox executives to run the club. "And he's shown he cares about the community by doing a lot."
No one is saying he's actually here to save
But there is at least a feeling that if the Dodgers could put all they hope their team will become into one package, it would be Green, acquired Toronto in a four-player trade that sent disgruntled L.A. outfielder Raul Mondesi to the Blue Jays.
The first two seasons, Green blossomed into one of the game's best players, putting together a 30 homer-30 stolen bases season in 1998 and last year hitting .309 with 42 homers and 123 runs batted in.
"Obviously, he's a nice face to put on the franchise," Daly says. "But I don't want to pin the whole franchise on him. That's a mistake."
Daly did, however, think Green was enough of a building block that he gave him a six year, $84 million contract, an average salary of $14 million, the second highest in baseball behind Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown's $15 million salary.
Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone, looking to improve the chemistry of the team that was a hugely disappointing 77-85 last season, can't stop talking about Green's presence on and off the field.
"What impresses me the most is who he is as a person," Malone says. "It's his integrity, his character. I hope my son grows up to be like Shawn Green. He's special."
Dodgers manager Davey Johnson, who tends to put more faith in three-run homers than chemistry, is thrilled to get some left-right balance in the middle of the line up. He plans to stick Green in clean up spot between Gary Sheffield and Eric Karros.
"He brings a left-handed enforcer in the middle of the lineup, which we really needed," Johnson says. "Mondesi is a great player, but Shawn is a better fit."
Any pressure of living up to the astounding financial commitment or becoming the poster boy of a franchise resurrection, though seems to be nonexistent to Green as he gets ready to report to spring training in Vero Beach, Fla.
"Really, I don't feel any of that
pressure at all," he says.
I just have to go out and play and do the things I've always done, and whatever happens, happens."
Green, tall, good-looking and soft-spoken
(think Gary Cooper in pride of the Yankees), strolls into The Baseball Academy,
an indoor batting cage and training center in Orange County's Santa Anna Calif.,
breezes past assorted moms, dads and 10 year old sluggers and heads into the
office, making himself right at home.
Which is fine, because he is at home.
This is his dad's business, a 10,000 square-foot facility favored in the off season by many major an minor leaguers, as well as college, high school and little league teams. His dad, Ira, a former DePaul basketball player and high school baseball coach, and his mom, Judy run the place.
Green doesn't need quarters here. He hits
He winces when somebody suggests he can certainly afford to pay.
Green says the best part of the trade and the new contract was not the dollars, but the sense - as in, it made sense to come home after five seasons nearly a continent away from friends and family.
"It's always tough to pack everything up and move, :he says. "You always kind of feel unsettled. When I did get a chance to see family and friends, it was always over a couple of days. That made it a lot more difficult to spend quality time together.
"Coming home became a priority the more I thought about it. Not only for me, but for the family. Now they have the opportunity to watch the games, be a part of it."
His mom, Judy, isn't worried about Shawn
pressing or trying too hard in front of family and friends. "He's never put
too much pressure on himself," she says.
"I think it's such a great situation for him. He's home, and I think that's going to add a lot to his happiness."
Dodgers Days Of Glory
Green was 12 when his family moved to Tustin, Calif., and became fans of the Angels and the Dodgers. He attended more Angels games as they were closer.
"It was difficult to get up to see the Dodgers," Ira says." Then he pauses and adds, "It was, that is. It won't be anymore."
They were in Dodger Stadium, though, for
Game 1 of the 1988 World Series and Kirk Gibson's legendary ninth-inning homer.
But they missed it, having left their seats early to beat the traffic.
"My fault," says Ira. "I was
They were walking out when they heard a roar
"We rushed back in and saw everybody jumping up and down on the field," Shawn says.
"I remember Tommy (Lasorda, then the L.A. manager) running around with his arms up in the air."
That series was the the Dodgers' last. They haven't won a play off game since. And there are question marks on this team at short-stop, second base, center field and catcher, where Todd Hundley, last years big acquisition, had a miserable season.
But all of L.A. is hoping 12 years without a title is long enough and that Green will help glue Dodger fans in their seats until the last out of the 2000 season.
"Things turn around quickly in the game today," Green says. "I wouldn't say we are rebuilding. I think we are a play off and World Series contending team."
They're certainly keeping the faith down at The Baseball Academy, where there is a life-size cardboard cutout of Ken Griffey Jr., but not one of Green.
So one of the little leaguers recently put a post-it note on to Griffey cut out and wrote: "I wish I was Shawn Green."