September 18, 2005
Every now and then, Mother Nature likes to play a prank called a “false spring” … a few late winter days of warmer-than-usual temperatures that fool the trees and the flowers and us into thinking spring has arrived blessedly early. Then comes a blizzard.
The baseball gods like that trick, too … only they play it not in February or March but in the autumn days of September. They’ll send a losing team a late-season call-up who plays like an All Star over the final days of a bad season. A game-winning hit here, a 4-for-4 night there … and you start dreaming of how this kid will be the team’s savior next season.
Then next season arrives, and the kid’s ticket to the Hall of Fame turns into a ticket back to Triple A.
In his first month in the big leagues, young Willy Aybar is hitting .400 for the Dodgers. He has an eight-game hitting streak … he’s scored seven runs in those eight games … and he looks like the answer to the season-long “Who’ll play third now that Adrian Beltre’s gone?” question.
Sometimes, a rookie’s hot September is not a “false spring.” Boston’s Fred Lynn hit .419 over the last two weeks of the 1974 season. All he did in 1975 was win the AL MVP and lead the Red Sox to the World Series. In September 1980, a chubby Fernando Valenzuela came out of the Dodger bullpen in ten games during the final month … and didn’t give up a run. And a year later? A World Series title for LA and a Cy Young Award for Fernando.
But I also remember September 1968 … and Bill Sudakis. That month, Sudakis – a switch-hitting slugger - was penciled in as the new third baseman for a bad Dodger team. He hit a home run in his debut game, then a grand slam a week later. The Dodgers won 17 of their final 24 games … and we all thought 1969 would be a Rookie of the Year season for Sudakis.
It wasn’t. He hit .234 in 1969 … got converted to catcher in 1970 … got hurt in 1971 … got traded in 1972.
There are other Dodger prospects more highly prized than Aybar. There’s a chance that the team will try to sign or trade for a proven slugger to play third base next season.
But for now, Willy Aybar is playing and hitting … and enjoying springtime in September.
Posted by Nick Roman at 3:56 PM
Well said, Nick.
But isn't the first wave of the bumper crop usually the one that disappoints in some fashion? Sudakis, Von Joshua and Billy Grabarkewitz were the tease that eventually gave way to Garvey (remember how they had him at third until he started plunking patrons behind first base with his throws?), Buckner, Cey, Russell, Lopes, Paciorek, Valentine, Ferguson and Yeager (what a remarkable group of players that was). So Aybar might yield to Guzman, just as Dallas McPherson of the Angels might move aside for Kendry Morales or Brandon Wood.
Posted by: Andrew Torres on September 20, 2005 8:43 AM