'He reminds me of Ted
"I remember when we first signed him in
1991, (former Blue Jays executive) Moose Johnson said to reserve
No. 9 for him," says LaMacchia, who now scouts for the Tampa
Bay Devil Rays. "He says, 'Hold No. 9 for him because he
reminds me of Ted Williams. He can be that good.' "
Says Molitor: "I think people knew he had the potential to take the game to the next level, but no one knew if he could. But he was always hungry to improve and didn't let certain circumstances affect what he could do in the long run.
"I remember Cito and the coaches working with him on the most basic things, taking routes on balls, tracking the balls in his glove, really, the most fundamental things. I don't think he was ever embarrassed, but I don't think he understood that he really had to go that basic."
It was no coincidence that Green's career took off the moment Gaston was fired as manager Sept. 24, 1997. Green finally had a manager, Tim Johnson, who believed in his abilities. He no longer was criticized for every mistake. He responded by hitting .278 with 35 homers and 100 RBI in 1998, and for an encore, hit .309 with 42 homers and 123 RBI in 1999.
Little wonder why folks in Toronto scratched their heads and wondered how Green would respond to the news that Gaston had been hired back as hitting coach.
It turned out to be a moot point. Green and Moorad told general manager Gord Ash on the afternoon of Oct. 11, 1999, that Green was not interested in signing a contract extension. He planned to test the free-agent market after the 2000 season, but provided a list of five teams he'd be willing to perhaps sign a long-term contract with: the Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs. It wasn't until the meeting ended that Ash broke the news that Gaston would be returning as hitting coach.
"I kind of knew back in July that we had a good chance of getting him," Dodgers All-Star left fielder Gary Sheffield says. "We bumped into each other at the All-Star Game, and I told him there were rumors the Dodgers were going to go after him. He told me, 'Make it happen. That would be a dream come true.'
"I was kind of caught in between, because, you know, Mondesi is my boy. But I knew we needed that left-handed bat. And (Blue Jays first baseman) Carlos Delgado told me what a great guy he was. So I passed along the info."
It turned out that Ash had no intention of trading Green anywhere within his division, eliminating the Red Sox and Yankees. And since Mondesi had already asked out, and Moorad represented both players, it made a perfect fit. The deal was done a month later, but only after Daly insisted upon meeting Green face-to-face.
"The agent (Moorad) wanted us to just make the deal and we'd worry about the contract later," says Daly, former chairman and CEO at Warner Bros. "I told him I'd just as soon jump out of this third-floor window than do that. It would be a Mike Piazza situation all over again.
"We talked for maybe two hours. He reminded me so much of my son. That's when I knew he would be the perfect Dodger."
Green actually had all the makings of being the perfect Dodger, growing up just 45 minutes away in Tustin, Calif. He was a baseball star in high school, but fit right in with the rest of the fans when he attended Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, rushing out to beat the crowd and missing Kirk Gibson's legendary home run.
"I'm still kicking myself over that one," Green says, laughing.
THE PHONE RANG AT THE Jewish Federation of Los Angeles the instant the news hit the streets. Who cared that Green was the left-handed bat the Dodgers so badly needed? It didn't matter that Green had become the highest-paid position player on an annual average basis in baseball.
All that anyone cared about was that the Dodgers, playing in a city with a Jewish population of 519,000, were bringing home the greatest Jewish ballplayer to hit these parts since Sandy Koufax.
"It was like an explosion," says Bill Bernstein, the executive vice president of the federation. "We heard from every synagogue, every Jewish agency, and from every popular cause. Everybody wanted to be involved.
"We tend not to have a lot of Jewish baseball stars, and now we're getting one of the best players in the game."
Says Moorad: "We were overwhelmed the first few months. We were getting 40 requests a day. We were getting calls from everyone from local rabbis who wanted to meet him, to women who were convinced that they should have dinner with him, to every temple or Jewish charity in the area."
It didn't matter that Green didn't attend synagogue. Or that he never had a bar mitzvah. Nor that he only celebrated the Jewish holidays when his folks were up in the Bay Area visiting relatives.
He is Jewish, proud to be Jewish, and has told everyone who'd listen that he is ready to embrace the Jewish community.
"Growing up, we knew we were Jewish, but we didn't do anything with it," says Green, who actually should have had the last name of Greenberg, but his grandfather shortened it. "I've learned more about my religion in the last five years than at any time before that."
Green, an avid reader who loves to talk about reincarnation, has been reading about his Jewish heritage since reaching the majors. Who knows, maybe one day he'll still have a bar mitzvah. Maybe he'll celebrate Passover and invite folks over for a Seder. Maybe he'll even start wearing a yarmulke during the holidays.
And maybe, just maybe, he could be forever held in reverence like Koufax if he decides to go to synagogue on Yom Kippur instead of right field at Dodger Stadium, providing, of course, the Dodgers make the playoffs.
"I'm asked that all the time," Green says. "I don't know the answer to that. We'll just have to wait and see."
In the meantime, Green simply would love to get the Dodgers to the playoffs. He has helped them atop the NL West standings, entering Tuesday hitting .280 with three homers and 10 RBI. Considering that he still is learning the league and a whole new set of pitchers, the best is yet to come.
Who knows, by the time the season ends, he might no longer be able to venture anywhere in Los Angeles without being recognized. He could have the same star appeal as Jack Nicholson.
"This is April, I give it another month, that's it," says F.P. Santangelo, perhaps Green's closest friend on the team. "This guy is going to be a star in this league, particularly because he's so intelligent.
"But the great thing about it is that he'll stay the same. This guy won't let the money-and-fame effect ever affect his personality.
"It's funny, he always says how fortunate he feels that he's back home playing for the Dodgers.
"But you know what, we're the ones who are blessed. We get to be with the guy every day."
After reading this article I was moved to tears. It was great to see now there were more than just the faithful few like myself who had seen his potential right from the start. I had to thank Mr Nightengale for this wonderful article. This was how the published section of my message read:
Moved To Tears
I am writing to compliment you on your
wonderful article on Dodger Shawn Green (cover report April
26-May2.) Having followed his career since his days at class AA
Knoxville, I was literally crying to see he has finally got the
recognition he so rightly deserves. No I'm not one of the ladies
who is "after him." I'm a married mother of two
teenagers who met Green several years ago, and always knew he
would get where he is today. I'm proud to say I had faith in him
when very few others did.
Diane M. Stanley
Bob Nightengale can be reached via email at email@example.com.