Brad Ausmus Is No Longer the Smartest Dodger

Much was made of Ausmus and his fancy-pants Dartmouth degree, but if he returns to the Dodgers, he might have competition. Dylan Hernandez reports that the Dodgers have signed outfielder Brian Barton to a minor-league deal with a spring training invite, but that’s not what’s interesting. Check out the intro to this Baseball America Q&A from 2007:

Every club passed on Barton in 2004, figuring the brilliant student with an aerospace engineering degree wasn’t committed to the game and would eventually go to work for Boeing–a company he once interned for.

He’s going to be an aerospace engineer? Half the players in MLB can barely tie their own shoes, and this guy might be designing airplanes. On the other hand, a guy who’s that smart should probably know better than to fight for outfield time on a club like the Dodgers.

Still, I like the deal a lot. Barton’s an LA native with a nice track record of minor league success (.300/.398/.451 in 5 seasons). BA had him as the #5 prospect in the Indians system going into 2007, and named him “Best Athlete”. He was taken from the Indians by St. Louis in the Rule 5 draft for 2008 and more then held his own as a 26-year-old rookie, with a 97 OPS+ in 82 games. Clearly, small sample size warnings abound here, but UZR/150 loved his defense, ranking him at 20.6 runs above average that season.

Save for one pinch-running appearance in June, Barton spent 2009 in AAA for Atlanta, and was somewhat less successful, scoring just a .715 OPS. So most likely, you’re looking at a guy who’s going to tear up Albuquerque this season, but with Juan Pierre out of the picture, the Dodger backup outfield situation is more than unsettled. I won’t find it that hard to root for a hometown guy with a decent track record of getting on base in the minors to get a shot.

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Over at Dodger Thoughts, Jon answers this question from the Kamenetzky brothers’ Lakers Blog, and I figured that as I watch the snow begin to fall here in NYC, I’d contribute as well.

What is the best play you ever made in sports, whether at the little league, high school, college, or, if you happened to be that good, the pro level? And have you ever made a game-winning play?

For me, it was in the playoffs when I was about fifteen or so. I’d always been an infielder, but for whatever reason I was asked to pitch that year. I’d never pitched before, and I never had a big arm, but what I always had was very good control. At that age, that puts you far ahead of the curve.

So for most of the first half of the season, I was flailing away on the mound, trying to figure out a repeatable windup, how not to balk, and the pitching mindset. Slowly I got better at at it, and in the final game of the season it finally “clicked”. I had that moment where I knew that the next game I pitched, it was going to be a no-hitter at worst.

The playoffs were two rounds (four teams) and single-elimination, scheduled for Friday and Sunday. The league’s rules stated that no pitcher was allowed to pitch more than 10 innings in a week or at all on back-to-back days. The coach decided to save me for the championship game, putting me at shortstop for the first game and saying he’d bring me in for the last 2-3 innings if needed.

But it rained that Friday, hard enough to force a postponement until Saturday. This meant if I pitched in the semifinal, I couldn’t pitch in the final. When we got off to a hot start and had a seven run lead going into the last inning, it didn’t seem to matter. Until our #2 starter, who’d pitched so well, went into a complete meltdown on the mound. There was a walk. And then another. More and more, until our seven-run lead was now a tie game with the bases loaded and two outs. It remains to this day one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to watch, this poor kid dousing himself in gasoline on the mound.

Out comes the coach to the mound. “Mike, I’ve got to put you in,” he said.

“But if you do, I won’t be able to pitch tomorrow,” I protested.

“If you don’t take care of this right now, there won’t be a tomorrow,” he replied. He was of course completely right, but to a fifteen-year-old looking forward to pitching a perfect game in the championship, losing that opportunity just to get a single out overcame the usual “team first” instinct.

So I stamped my feet, grabbed the ball, and strode to the mound with a huge scowl on my face. The umpire told me to take my warm-up pitches; I refused, demanding we just get on with it.

Three pitches later, I’d struck out the batter and walked off to one of the loudest ovations I’ve ever had the pleasure of receiving. Still, the game wasn’t over; we were now tied heading into the bottom of the inning, and wouldn’t you know it – I was leading off.

Still upset about losing my chance to pitch in the finals, I angrily walked to the plate and bashed a single up the middle. Once at first base, I decided I wasn’t going to leave this up to anyone else. I made it my entire baseball career without hitting a homer, but if there was one thing I could do, it was run (one year I kept my own stats, and I believe I ended up with 84 SB in 20 games). So I stole second. And then third. And then home, winning the game and sending us to the finals.

The next day, the fat kid – our emergency starter – threw a gem, and we won the championship. In retrospect, I probably came off as a bit of a brat, but I think I realized that this was going to be the pinnacle of my limited pitching career. Saving the game with that K and then stealing three bases for the win – still one of my favorite sports memories.

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Friend of MSTI Donny Baarns has started a blog about the history of baseball in Visalia. I won’t pretend I know anything about Visalia, but I do know that I absolutely dig the old school black-and-white baseball photos from decades gone by.