Back in fold, Lopes instilling 'Dodgers Way'

Back in fold, Lopes instilling 'Dodgers Way'

Back in fold, Lopes instilling 'Dodgers Way'
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It didn't end well for Al Campanis with the Dodgers, but with the hiring of Davey Lopes, it hasn't completely ended for Campanis with the Dodgers, after all.

Lopes, for nine years a Dodgers fixture at second base, and at age 65 now considered a baserunning guru, was brought back to Los Angeles after a 29-year absence to extract the potential from all Dodgers in general, and the talented Matt Kemp in particular.

Say what you will about Campanis' demise, in his prime he was more responsible for the Dodgers' success than anyone. Lopes has not handed out paperback copies of Campanis' "Dodgers Way to Play Baseball," but the 1954 textbook and the fundamental teachings of its author are the foundation for Lopes' approach as a coach.

"We didn't read it because we were living it," Lopes said of Campanis' book, which put into print an organization-wide system set in place by his mentor, Branch Rickey. "I didn't have to read it. Things were done a certain way in L.A. It was the O'Malley era, it was tradition. There was a lot of history. We did things differently than other organizations. We were the organization others copied."

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Lopes is more than the first-base coach for new manager Don Mattingly. He's essentially the baserunning manager, in charge of deciding who steals and when, and making sure they know what they are doing, from leads to breaks to rounding the bases and cutting down wasted movement.

"I remember the drills in the spring in Vero Beach," said Lopes. "It was always about the footwork. The operative word -- and I can hear Campanis saying it today -- 'balance.' Whether you're a pitcher or hitter or fielder or runner: better balance for success. He would say it over and over and over until, 'Alright already, I get it.' A lot of times, we broke the game down to different phases, in minute detail, that is not done today.

"Like footwork. We had stupid drills. I can hear him today -- 'Lead with the right, drag with the left' -- a lot of things stay with you. I was taught the fundamentals every spring. Maury [Wills] would give his talk over at Holman Stadium early in the morning. My God, we were half asleep. It was a lecture. But I did pick up things there."

Wills is glad to hear it.

"A runner can incite a bench more than a home run," said Wills, now a Dodgers bunting instructor. "A home run -- boom -- and it's gone. But get a couple of guys running and it's a cloud of dust and the whole bench comes alive. That fit my offensive approach, and Davey Lopes was the same type of player. Good running affects the entire team. Anybody can have the right technique. It's not about speed. Davey can bring that to the table for them.

"Davey learned from Al. We all did. Campanis taught me everything I know about this game. What the Dodgers did all came from Al Campanis and through Tommy [Lasorda]. It's the Dodgers way. And it was pompous in those days, that there were two ways to play the game. The wrong way and the Dodgers way. I didn't read his book. I was full of myself. I figured I had my own book. But my book was really his book. I still use some of his quotes in our meetings. I hear somebody say, 'We can't teach this guy this or that guy that.' Campanis would say, 'YOU can't teach him, but we can teach him. Tell him again.'"

If Wills was responsible for reviving the stolen base in baseball in the 1960s, Lopes took the baton in the 1970s and ran with it. He was a four-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner with the power to once slug 28 home runs. But he was known mostly for stealing bags, leading the league twice. He finished his career with 557 swipes (25th all-time).

Injuries slowed Lopes in 1981 and Campanis -- who often said he'd rather unload a player one year early than keep him one year too long -- called up Steve Sax from Double-A after the strike ended that summer. Sax won the second-base job and Campanis unloaded Lopes to Oakland for Minor Leaguer Lance Hudson in the winter. Lopes played five more seasons -- he even stole 47 bases at age 40 -- then retired to become a coach, as well as manager of Milwaukee for a little more than two seasons.

Lopes, the first of the record-breaking infield to be moved, didn't appreciate the treatment from the Dodgers during his final months in 1981.

"Things happen," he said in retrospect. "It was the first time I was traded, and I was leaving the only organization I had ever been with. I took it personal and I was emotional. Over the years, I've tried to put it in perspective. It was a business thing. It could have been handled better on both sides."

Lopes said the trade did not diminish his admiration for Campanis, who carried on the tradition established by his mentor, Rickey, as Lasorda carried on the tradition established by Campanis.

"I always enjoyed Al," said Lopes. "He was a great baseball man. He and I spoke often. We'd go back and forth. I'd go up to his office to talk. The Dodger organization had a continuity from the Minors to the big leagues. You were taught how to play ball to get here. We had gifted Minor League instructors -- not to say that we don't now -- but they were there for years and years and everybody was taught the same way, the same thought process that, 'This is the way we do it,' or 'We don't do things around here that way.'"

Lopes sounded doubtful that those days can ever truly be replicated, but that doesn't mean you can't play the game the right way.

"The game has changed," he said. "I feel the players are receptive to me, but I know there's a greater emphasis placed on the individual. Some people say it's the player's fault, but I disagree. I know where the emphasis is put on. This game is dominated by hitting, power. It takes up so much time it's absolutely ridiculous, but the player is indoctrinated this way. It's not their fault."

As for Kemp, Lopes likes what he's seen so far.

"I think he's done well," he said. "I don't know how he was, other than what I hear and saw in a few games. The kid has fun. He's confident and he seems relaxed. He's in good spirits and he has a lot to prove, and I'm looking for him to have a big year. His head is in the right place. He's confident, but all good players have that mentality.

"You can sit around and come up with all kinds of rationalizations why a player isn't doing what you expect, but it comes down to the individual. The player has got to want it. A lot of guys talk about being good but don't want it bad enough. I tell them they have to be willing to sacrifice, to do it on and off the field. Sometimes when there's instant stardom, they lose sight of the reality. They say this game makes you humble. That's when you have to go back to who you were."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.