The Most Disappointing Season For…The Los Angeles Dodgers
The 1992 Los Angeles Dodgers
Record: 63-99 (6th NL Central, 12th out of 12 in the NL)
Pythagorean Record: 70-92
Runs Scored: 548 (12th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 636 (6th in the NL)
Prior Season Record: 93-69
Manager: Tommy Lasorda
Hype: Second in the NL West in 1991 to the upstart Braves, the Dodgers reload with some younger players, and make a big move to reunite childhood chums.
The Gory Details: The Dodgers were a good team in 1991 but knew they needed to get younger. They also needed some more oomph, some more speed and also needed to replace a couple of free agent pitchers. They had money, though, and a deep farm system, so it seemed all systems were go for 1992.
Eric Karros, age 24, was ready to take Eddie Murray’s place at first base. Jose Offerman, age 23, was tapped to unleash his talent at shortstop in place of offensive sinkhole Alfredo Griffin. Incumbent all-star second baseman Juan Samuel was around, but young Dave Hansen was ready, and Lenny Harris could be moved from third to second just in case.
In the outfield, Darryl Strawberry had a great 1991, hitting for prodigious power while playing in Dodger Stadium. Vet Brett Butler was steady and still a fast on-base machine at age 35.
On the mound, the Dodgers lost Mike Morgan and Tim Belcher. But they had phenom Ramon Martinez around vets Orel Hershiser, Bobby Ojeda and Kevin Gross and they signed Tom Candiotti. That was a good 1 through 5. Add to that a bullpen anchored by Roger McDowell and Jay Howell, the pitching staff was loaded.
So much so that when an opportunity came up, they dealt from strength. John Wetteland was destined to spend another year in Albuquerque. The Reds, though, thought Wetteland could be either good bullpen depth or a trading chit for them.
Also, Eric Davis was quietly feuding with Reds owner Marge Schott regarding his lacerated kidney that he suffered during the 1990 World Series. The Reds took Wetteland in exchange for Davis, then later traded the reliever to the Expos for young slugger Willie Greene. Win, win, win, right?
What was intriguing was the Davis and Strawberry were boyhood friends and teammates in Los Angeles, so it was a homecoming that reunited them. It also meant Kal Daniels could become a utility OF, strengthening the bench.
Watch out Braves, here come the Dodgers.
April was a non-descript month until April 29th. The Dodgers started out slow, 9-13 and in last place. Lasorda fiddled at second and third, with Samuel and Harris at second, and Hansen and Mike Sharperson handling third. Samuel was fighting injuries as well. It was early, though, and slow starts aren’t the end of the world.
Suddenly, baseball didn’t seem so important. Los Angeles was in turmoil. The Rodney King verdict, read on April 29th, unleashed a time of riots and unrest not seen since the 1960’s in Watts.
The Dodgers, realizing the baseball was the last thing on anyone’s mind, cancelled the rest of the homestand against the Expos, to make it up later in the season when Montreal came back into town.
When LA resumed play at Philly, Samuel was on the DL, and Harris was put at second as a semi-regular, with Hansen at third, and Sharperson filling in. Even though the infield was settled for the time being, the time off took its toll, as the Dodgers went 2-6 on the road trip, losing three games by walk-offs.
Coming home, the Dodgers won six of nine, and then took two of three at St. Louis and swept the Cubs in Wrigley. That spurt put their record at 22-23 at the end of May, and they hit .500 on June 1 with a win at Pittsburgh.
Would it be callous to say that was the season highlight? Because it WAS their high-water mark for the season.
During May, the injury bug hit the boyhood friends. Strawberry was dealing with back issues, and Davis, still feeling the effects of that kidney injury, was being sidelined by all sorts of ailments. He was always a fragile player, but the kidney problems made it worse. Vets Daniels, Mitch Webster, and Todd Benzinger filled in as best they could, and that bunch helped them to .500.
It couldn’t last, though. The Dodgers needed that offense. The infield issues didn’t help either, as Hansen was scuffling, as was Harris. So much so that Sharperson and Dave Anderson were enlisted as platoon partners as they waited for Samuel to return.
Then there was Offerman. He was supposedly a brilliant yet erratic shortstop and a good offensive player. However, he wasn’t hitting that much better than Griffin did, and had already made 10 errors in the first 1/3 of the season. He also seemed to lose confidence at short, like Steve Sax did at second about 10 years before.
After hitting .500, the Dodgers struggled. Then they went on a long road trip against the Braves, Reds, Astros, and Padres. Eleven games on the road.
It was ugly. They were swept in Cincy, outscored 20-5 in three games. Swept in Atlanta, being shut out in one game, and losing a game when they actually scored eight runs. The Dodgers scored five in the top of the ninth to take an 8-7 lead, but Howell, John Candelaria, Jim Gott and McDowell blew it thanks to key hits by Jerry Willard and the game winner by Rafael Belliard. Say it again. Rafael Belliard.
They went to Houston, and were swept. This time, they lost a 2-1 game in the 12th thanks to a walkoff homerun by Luis Gonzalez off of Gott. The next game, they lost 1-0 in the ninth as Hershiser, pitching a gem, let two men on to start the inning and then Eric Anthony singled off of McDowell. They then lost the final game of the series, and their 10th in a row.
A win in San Diego ended the madness, but for all intents and purposes the Dodgers were done, and it wasn’t even July.
The first half had some bright spots. OK, one big bright spot. Mike Sharperson, an afterthought, was playing either second or third based on who Lasorda was pissed off at more, Harris, Samuel or Hansen. After that road trip, Sharperson was slashing .333/.437/.447.
In contrast, at that time Samuel had just one extra base hit for the season, Hansen was hitting .208 and Harris, a platoon player, was just slugging .320 while playing mostly at third to that point.
Add to that Strawberry’s absence due to back issues, and Davis also fighting injuries and slumps due to injuries, forcing Webster, Benzinger and Daniels to play way too much, and that was a recipe for anemic offense, despite Sharperson’s year, Butler being Butler, and Karros showing some flashes of power.
Then there was Jose Offerman. He wasn’t hitting as well as they thought, but what was worse was the Offerman was throwing the ball around from Rancho Cucamonga to Riverside. He had error problems in the minors, but they were explained away by poor fields and other excuses.
It was an ungodly mess of a team. They crawled into the All-Star break at 39-49, with their one representative being, of all people, Sharperson.
Sharperson was a former Toronto prospect turned Dodgers super-sub, who hit for average, took a walk and played every infield position.
He wasn’t strong enough at any position to be more than a fill-in, and didn’t have the power for a corner, but he was the type of player that contributed to winning teams.
At the break, he was hitting .328 with a .424 OBP. It was a career year for him, and it happened during one of the worst years ever since the Dodgers were in Brooklyn.
The pitching staff tried to hold their own. They had a 3.18 ERA but gave up 44 unearned runs. Their records were unsightly thanks to the offense, and unearned runs.
The last half of the year was quite desultory.
- Offerman kept making errors.
- The bullpen had a tendency to lose close games.
- Hansen and Harris couldn’t hit.
- Lasorda had it with Samuel and his dinky production and just cut him on July 30th, one season after being an All-Star.
- Strawberry started 11 games in July and four more in September and he was done. He played all 13 innings at Chicago in his first start in September. That probably wasn’t wise.
- Davis was out more than in, and struggling when he was in. He played nine games in August and September.
- Even Sharperson was slumping, and trying desperately to hold on to a .300 average.
It was finally over after a six day road trip. They had to win at least two games not to finish with 100 losses, a mark no team in the franchise had accomplished since 1908. At least THAT was successful, as they won two of their final six to finish 63-99. Sharperson was held out at the end of the season, and he did finish at .300.
The defense was bad, the pitching mediocre in the clutch (they lost 15 games on walk-offs) and only Butler, Sharperson, Webster (who did the best he could as a fill in, but was no Davis or Strawberry) and Karros earning their pay.
Offerman finished with 42 errors. After he left the Dodgers, who kept insisting he was a shortstop, he played mostly second and first.
It was a year to forget. Davis never fully recovered, and was traded in 1993 to the Tigers. Strawberry’s back problem led to a relapse of drugs thanks to the painkillers, and he never lived up to his 1991 season. Hansen became a pinch hitter instead of a third baseman.
Los Angeles did recover to .500 the next year, then went to the playoffs in 1995 and 1996, but the promise of the 1992 spring was a distant memory, as everything that could go wrong, did, and more.
Chicken Wolf All-Stars: Butler had a 4.8 WAR and Candiotti was steady with a 4.0 WAR. Of course, thanks to ineptitude on offense and defense, Candiotti’s season was marred with an 11-15 record, leaving the simple-minded yakkers and mediots to claim him as a failure.
Honorable Mention Team: In 2004, Jim Tracy led his squad, thanks to a monster year from Adrian Beltre and some clutch bullpen work from Eric Gagne, to a 93-69 record and first in the NL West. It all went to hell in 2005.
The Dodgers finished fourth, at 71-91. Beltre left as a free agent, and the team couldn’t or wouldn’t replace him. Gagne was hurt and no one could replace him. The team gave almost 400 plate appearances to Oscar Robles and over 300 to Jason Repko. Meanwhile, Gagne’s saves when to guys names Brazoban and Schmoll.
Bad Blast from the Past: The 1920 Brooklyn Robins (named after skipper Wilfred Robinson) went to the World Series and won 93 games. In 1921, they finished fifth and started the franchise decline that was only interrupted by a surprise second place in 1924. They finished in sixth place more often than not in the ’20s and didn’t recover until Leo Durocher took over the team in 1939.