When Odalis went after Plaschke

Yesterday’s departure of Odalis Perez brought up one of my fonder sportswriting memories. It was September 19, 2003, and the Dodgers were still in the playoff hunt. Perez had been scheduled to pitch the day before, but had opted not to because he had a chipped fingernail.

Bill Plaschke, the columnist for the LA Times, had taken Perez to task for this in a column – in fact, Perez was the focal point of the entire piece.

Perez said he couldn't pitch because he couldn't grip the ball. Yet at this critical point in the race, there are those who will surely wonder about his grip on reality.

"I want to be prepared 100% to be out there," Perez said. "I don't want to be risking one thing when I know it's not good. I want to go out there confident and knowing I'm going to pitch a good game."

As Perez spoke these words behind the batting cage before the game, Shawn Green was carrying his damaged right shoulder into the clubhouse, Adrian Beltre was dragging his sore legs into the dugout, and Dave Roberts was working his tender hamstring down the foul line.

On a Dodger team that is dirt-caked and crawling toward the finish line, if Perez needs to feel 100%, then that would make him the only one.

Many people agreed with Plaschke; others felt that he’d been unduly harsh, and neglected the truth of such injuries, which is that they can make pitching quite painful.

What made the column memorable for me, however, is that Plaschke showed up at Dodger Stadium the next day. Before the game, a bunch of reporters – including Plaschke and this one – were down on the field watching batting practice when Perez stormed out of the dugout.

He was crazed. He saw Plaschke and went straight for him, spewing four letter combinations like punches, and then coiled to throw one of those, too. He never got it off, of course – immediately, coaches and team officials got between Perez and Plaschke, and pulled Perez away.

I’ve gotten to know Bill a little over the past few years, and a little later, I ran into him in the press box cafeteria. We exchanged an amused look and I said something about it being a close call, and how nuts Perez had seemed.

Not only had Plaschke been unfazed by the whole thing – he had gone to the stadium that day expecting it. When you wrote about someone the way that he had, he said, you had an obligation to show up and face them. Then he heaped some food on his tray and went about his business.

I’d only been working as a sportswriter for about a year at that point; I felt like a green gunslinger getting a tip from the Man With No Name.

It’s hard for me to gauge what kind of props Plaschke gets here in L.A. – a lot of people seem to like him, a significant number don’t, I think, which probably means he’s doing his job. But it was one of those moments that you wished more people knew about, because Plaschke brings a level of integrity to his job that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, these days.

July 26, 2006 12:29 AM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor
 

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