During his daily pregame press briefing, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was asked for his best James Loney story.
“Oh God,” he sighed. Sounded like there were a few to choose from.
Mattingly picked one from a couple years back, when Larry Bowa was the Dodgers’ third-base coach, and James did “something on the field” that prompted Bowa to pull Loney aside in a tunnel leading into the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
“I know I’ve told you a hundred times…” Bowa said, in Mattingly’s words.
Loney’s response: “Well, I guess one-hundred and one.”
It was an appropriate anecdote for a player whose sense of humor was at times his best asset this season. Like on Friday, when Loney was asked why he was scratched from the lineup, as trade rumors swirled and Adrian Gonzalez was being scratched from the lineup in Boston.
“I don’t have good numbers against (Nate) Eovaldi,” Loney said. “I’m 0-for-0.”
Loney’s overall numbers in five seasons as the Dodgers’ starting first baseman were fairly average, as indicated by his 101 OPS+. From 2008-12, he averaged 10 home runs, 73 RBIs and a .278 batting average.
A first-round draft pick by the Dodgers in 2002, Loney wore out his welcome among fans and lost his grip on the first baseman’s job by getting off to a miserable start offensively. He was batting just .198 on May 7 and by July, the Dodgers had a deal in place to acquire Carlos Lee from the Houston Astros; Lee ultimately rejected the trade and became a Marlin.
Though Loney had recovered to hit .254 through Friday, he wasn’t part of the Dodgers’ long-term plans after seven seasons in Los Angeles.
“James has been one of the guys that’s, from a hitting standpoint, a coaching standpoint, a little frustrating because you think there’s more there,” Mattingly said. “I love James but it’s disappointing because you think there’s more there.”
Mattingly said it was a “tough conversation” telling Loney he had been traded. “He’s such a great kid.”
The manager didn’t mention Loney’s most memorable off-the-field incident. In November of last year, he was arrested and hospitalized following a car crash on the 101 Freeway in Sherman Oaks.
In the clubhouse, Loney was usually friendly and quiet as he went about his business. Friday, he drew compliments from one of his longtime teammates.
“It’s tough to lose a guy like that,” outfielder Andre Ethier said. “I’ve known him for eight years. We cut our teeth and became major leaguers together.”
Fenway Park, with its short left-field porch well suited for lefties, could be the perfect stage for a month-long audition for Loney, who becomes a free agent at the end of the season.
Dodgers chairman Mark Walter echoed Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti’s sentiment that trading Loney wasn’t easy: “That’s a difficult part of the job. I wish them the absolute best. I hope their careers take off. I hope they have tremendous careers.”