Green: The best Jewish
ballplayer since Koufax
Says veteran reliever Mike Fetters: "You keep thinking
with a guy this good, there's got to be a mean streak somewhere.
Nobody can be this nice. But you know what, I haven't seen it
"This guy is so nice that this spring I was telling him that he's in my book. I told him that he's hit at least one homer off me. He tells me, 'Nah, I don't think so.' But that's Shawn Green. In the back of his mind, he knows he got me, but he's too nice to admit it."
Says Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone: "The city of Los Angeles is blessed to have this guy. He carries himself with such dignity. He's so composed. He can hit a home run or strike out, and he handles himself the same. He just has so much respect for everyone else.
"It's the same with his tools. When he strikes out, I watch him closely, thinking, 'Is he going to throw his helmet? Is he going to break his bat?' But he respects his tools so much that he gently puts them away without saying a word."
Green shrugs his shoulders and wonders why anyone should think he'd change. If he didn't crack in Toronto, when he was constantly ridiculed and scorned and told that he would never be an everyday player, why would he change now?
"He was almost uncomfortably courteous," former Blue Jays teammate Paul Molitor says. "He was so very polite. So genuinely gracious. He never let the circumstances affect him.
"I really did think he'd be a great player, but to be honest, he's surprised me. I didn't envision a 35-35 guy (35 homers, 35 stolen bases), and certainly not to reach that height so quickly."
The most amazing aspect of all is that this guy with the Hall of Fame manners, and talent that has perennial All-Stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds gushing with praise, could have been obtained by virtually every organization in baseball just three years ago.
The Blue Jays put him on the trading block, inviting offers from anyone, and it was only the failings of other organizations that kept him in Toronto.
The Baltimore Orioles worked out a trade for Green in 1997 for Jeffrey Hammonds. The deal was done. But, sorry, Orioles owner Peter Angelos nixed it.
The Detroit Tigers were prepared to send Melvin Nieves. Oops, a Tigers official said this week that for some reason, they never thought he would be anything more than a platoon player.
The St. Louis Cardinals nearly had a deal worked out for John Mabry. So did the New York Yankees for Cecil Fielder.
The Anaheim Angels were ready to give up outfielders Garret Anderson or Jim Edmonds. "I don't want to embarrass anyone in our organization," a high-ranking Angels executive says, "but one of our top guys said he was 'nothing more than a No. 4 outfielder.'."
The list goes on and on, only for the rest of baseball to scream in anguish when he winds up with the Dodgers, giving them their first legitimate left-handed power hitter since Darryl Strawberry.
"I was hearing so many rumors and different places where I was supposed to be going," Green says, "that after a while, we started making up some rumors ourselves. I wouldn't have minded a trade just so I could play every day. It was hard knowing that if you had a bad game, you weren't going to play for the next game or two.
"But everything worked out the way it was supposed to. I get to play for the Dodgers, in my hometown, in front of my folks and all of my friends. I have a total different outlook on the season.
"Come on, how can I beat this?
"This is home."
GREEN, WHO HAS THE sleepy-eyed look of a teenager who just rolled out of bed on the weekend, walks outside the Dodger clubhouse door holding his Gold Glove trophy as if he's bringing home a pot roast.
He's supposed to meet his girlfriend, along with his parents and relatives - including Fern and Sandy Finkel, who flew in from Japan just for the game - in the lobby. He walks out, and there are nearly 100 people outside, including his mom, who's crying she's so happy.
"It was incredible, absolutely incredible watching him in his first game here" gushes Ira Green, who along with Judy, used to travel across the country to watch their son play. "We didn't know how emotional it would be. I think my wife went through an entire box of Kleenex."
Green hugs his parents, reminds his mom that she always cries when she watches him play, and learns that he suddenly is the center of attention of everyone in the lobby.
They not only want his autograph, but since he has the Gold Glove award in his hand, does he mind posing with the trophy? "Hold it higher, Shawn. Can I have a profile shot, now? Perfect. Smile."
Green is uncomfortable, but as he admires the award he can't stop smiling. If only they knew, he's thinking to himself. If only these fans, even the four guys who wore green wigs in the right-field bleachers to greet him on Opening Day in Los Angeles, had any idea. If only any of his teammates had a clue just how important this award was to him, they'd understand why the smile came so easily this day.
"This award means everything to me," Green says. "I'm as proud of winning this as anything I've ever done in my life. No one knew I could do this. I was always told that I would never be a good defensive outfielder."
Green stops and is a bit embarrassed that he is so forthcoming. He doesn't want to be critical of the Toronto Blue Jays. He doesn't want to rip former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston or anyone else in the front office who doubted his ability. He just wants them to remember how far he's come after being benched and platooned for three years, that's all.
"I marvel at what this kid has done, because they were all over this kid. They almost buried him," says former Blue Jays executive Al LaMacchia, one of baseball's greatest scouts.
"(Former Blue Jays general manager) Pat Gillick was always in his corner, but once he left, they said he couldn't do this, or he couldn't do that. They said he couldn't hit. He couldn't field. And every mistake he made was magnified. I remember going to Kansas City (in 1996) and Green was sitting in front of his locker with his head down. He couldn't even look up.
"I said, 'Shawn, look at me. Lift your head up. I don't want you to get down on yourself. I don't want you to be tentative. You be aggressive out there. If you listen to what I say, you're going to make so much damn money in this game, you won't be able to count it.' "
Two years, 77 homers, 223 RBI, 55 stolen bases and $84 million later, LaMacchia looks like a genius. Green has emerged as one of the finest all-around outfielders in the game, and the best has yet to come.