Los Angeles Dodgers' catcher A.J. Ellis was in the middle of trying to calm tempers in The Brawl in San Diego, Thursday, April 11, 2013. On Monday, he was involved in a bonehead play that ended the Dodgers' last threat in a 6-3 loss to the Padres.
The late baseball executive Francis Dale once said that the Big Red Machine he built in Cincinnati wouldn't have been possible had it not been for eventual Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, and Pete Rose later told me the same thing as he was trying to mold his youngest son into a catcher.
"The easiest position to get to the majors is catching," Rose said. "That's because it's the most demanding position on a team, and there are such few good ones of them around."
Watching the start of a season in which the Dodgers were expected to be a great contender, I have to agree.
On Jackie Robinson Night Monday, I saw a major league catcher involved in one of the most bonehead plays you will ever see by someone who, by the nature of his position, is usually the smartest player on any decent team.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, trailing 5-3 but threatening, the Dodgers had Andre Ethier on second and A.J. Ellis on third with one out. Ellis had singled, Ethier walked and Luis Cruz moved them over with a bunt.
Pinch hitter Skip Schumaker then hit an easy grounder to pitcher Luke Gregerson, who looked at Elli, who had stopped like a deer in a car's headlights. If he actually thought the ball might get through, he must have been alone.
Schumaker fired to first base, and then first baseman Yonder Alonso saw that Ellis was actually thinking he could score. In his dreams. Alonso threw to catcher John Baker who easily nailed his Dodger counterpart.
Double play. End of the threat and the inning. Could have just as easily said "game called because of stupidity." The bulk of the sellout crowd thought so. They began streaming to the parking lot.
Ellis later gave his mea culpas to MLB.com's Ken Gurnick:
"I was caught in no-man's land. It was a tough read. A poor baserunning decision. Something I'm kicking myself about. Initially I read the ball past the pitcher, but Luke bounced off the mound and made a play and looked and froze me. A heads-up play by him and bad play by me."
Does it say anything that the lowly Padres have won only three games so far, and two have been against the Dodgers?
Ellis has only one full season as the Dodgers catcher behind hiim. Is this why the Dodgers went out and got the veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez last week? In other words, can the Dodgers go deep into the playoffs with Ellis, not just his skills on the bases or at the plate but behind the plate?
Maybe any shortcomings wouldn't be so noticeable if the Dodgers' offense were on a real tear, scoring six and seven runs or more a game consistently.
Which, of course, brings up Matt Kemp who is off to a horrendous start, though he had two hits Monday.
Does hitting coach Mark McGwire, who has been noticeably silent about the anemic offense, have any advice or legal elixir to offer Kemp?
And when will the Dodger braintrust decide it's time to ease the pressure and expectations on Kemp by moving him down in the order, maybe to fifth?
Their logic, of course, is to break up the lefties in the lineup: Adrian Gonzalez, the No. 3 hitter, is a lefty, and so is Ethier, who should be moved up to cleanup. Lefty-lefty. So what? The Dodgers Monday night were circulating numbers showing the team's left-handed hitters were doing great hitting lefties.
But then, maybe that's what a $200 million-plus in salaries gets you today.