LOS ANGELES (AP) — The All-Star break certainly was a welcomed respite for Don Mattingly and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The beleaguered rookie manager and his equally frustrated team have struggled on the field and dealt daily with off-the-field turmoil — a string of unwanted headlines that have tarnished the once-proud franchise.
Los Angeles starts the second half at Arizona on Friday night, stuck at 41-51 and in fourth place in the NL West, 11 games behind San Francisco.
“The biggest disappointment is being in this position with a team that’s capable of being in the playoffs and competing with anybody in the National League,” All-Star center fielder Matt Kemp said.
From Day One, it’s been a difficult year at Dodger Stadium.
On opening day, Giants fan Bryan Stow was savagely beaten in the parking lot following the game.
The 42-year-old Stow is in a San Francisco area hospital, recovering from brain injuries.
The bitter divorce proceedings between Frank McCourt and his estranged wife, Jamie, and the legal tug-of-war over which one of them owned the team has hovered over the club all season.
Major League Baseball assumed control of the club’s day-to-day operations in mid-April and Frank McCourt recently filed for bankruptcy protection.
McCourt took that Chapter 11 action after Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig rejected a proposed a broadcast rights deal with Fox Sports that McCourt said would’ve alleviated worries about covering payroll expenses every two weeks.
Selig was concerned that the Dodgers’ embattled owner would instead use that Fox Sports money to take care of his own personal debts.
Even famed announcer Vin Scully was dragged into the fray when court documents revealed the Hall of Famer broadcaster — in his 62nd season behind the microphone — was still owed more than $150,000 as part of his contract.
In some instances, checks made out to some employees and stadium workers bounced and were later reissued.
Talk about a bad hop.
“Obviously, it’s kind of weird, thinking: `Hey, the paychecks might not be in the mail,’ but they’ve assured us that we don’t have anything to worry about on that front,” second baseman Aaron Miles said.
“It makes for a little bit of a distraction from the baseball end of it — maybe a good distraction, sometimes — but the players in this clubhouse have not focused on that. We’ve stayed focused on the field, even though we’ve had some tough cards dealt our way this year. It seems like Donnie’s been thrown a curveball every other day because of all the injuries.”
To top it off, McCourt last week fired Steve Garvey, one of the team’s most popular players in Los Angeles, from the marketing and community relations department. That came after Garvey went public with his hopes of buying the club and recruited 1988 World Series MVP Orel Hershiser to join his investment group.
If that isn’t enough drama for one fan base, there was that smoky interlude on May 28 at Dodger Stadium, when the upper deck seats behind first base had to be evacuated after a small fire broke out in a storage area.
The entire scene at Chavez Ravine over the past 3 1/2 months has provided a wealth of material for all the joke-meisters on late-night television.
“People are going to say what they say, but I don’t care what other people say. I’m not worried about it,” All-Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw said.
“People ask us about it, and we just tell the truth — that it doesn’t affect what’s on the field. As a team, all we worry about in this clubhouse is playing baseball because that’s our job and that’s all we’re here to do.”
The attendance at Dodger Stadium has been in dramatic decline.
A franchise that drew in excess of 3 million in each of the previous 15 seasons following the strike-shortened 1994 and 1995 campaigns is averaging 36,610 through their first 50 home dates.
That’s 2,392 fewer per game than the Los Angeles Angels have averaged in their 48 home dates down the freeway at the Big A.
The Halos never outdrew the Dodgers in any of their 50 previous seasons as Southern California’s other team, including the four years they shared Dodger Stadium from 1962 through 1965 before relocating to Anaheim.
“There’s a lot of people who are on the bandwagon when things are going good. And when it’s not going good, people jump off,” Kershaw said. “That’s just the way it is, and you have to accept it.”
Kemp has done his part. The six-year veteran who won a SilverSlugger award and Gold Glove in 2009 has returned to form after a sub-par 2010 campaign. He is among the top three in the NL in home runs (22), RBIs (67), slugging percentage (.584) and stolen bases (27), but is uncomfortable with the notion that he has carried the team.
“We win together and we lose together,” Kemp said. “This isn’t a one-man or a two-man show. This is 25 guys pulling together. We haven’t played the way we needed to play, so we’ve got to do better things in the second half.”
Just two seasons ago, the Dodgers reached the NL championship series for the second straight year under Joe Torre.
To some of the veterans, it seems like ages ago.
“A lot of us still have that taste in our mouths from that,” right fielder Andre Ethier said. “That’s what makes this year so frustrating — because we know how good this team was and how great this organization can be, and how much fun it can be when you’re winning.”
Ethier also is in his sixth season with the club, so he has more of an emotional stake in this situation than many teammates.
The All-Star provided one of the few highlights so far with a 30-game hitting streak.
“When you come to the Dodgers, it’s instilled in you what itmeans to be a Dodger and how to play like one, and you take so much pride in that,” he said.
“Now, when you hear the stuff people say about the organizationand see the way things have been handled in the organization, it’s makes you upset and a little embarrassed.”
The non-waiver trade deadline is July 31, and it is yet to bedetermined whether the team will become buyers or sellers by then.
“What will it take for us to be sellers? We’ll measure it as we get closer,” general manager Ned Colletti told The Associated Press two days before acquiring left fielder Juan Rivera from Toronto on the day of the All-Star game.
“We’ve got a lot of games in our division, so we have to be a little bit careful of jumping the gun on something like that. And it’s not something I’m accustomed to or something that I like doing,” he said. Mattingly’s first season as a big league manager has been extremely challenging because of all the injuries, particularly to the bullpen and the left side of his infield.
Shortstop Rafael Furcal has been on the disabled list three times.
Fourteen different players have been on the DL already, including closer Jonathan Broxton, who is out for the season.
“The toughest thing to handle has been the losing, as much as anything,” said Mattingly, who has started eight different players in left field — not counting Rivera.
“We’ve had our chances to win games, and we haven’t been able to put enough of them together at this point. It would be easy for me to say, `Well, if we’d have had this, that and the other, it would be different.’ It would be a nice excuse, but we can’t make excuses.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)