Every time I see Jonathan Broxton, I can't help but think of Tom Niedenfuer. Both are relievers of giant size, both delivered several seasons of excellent relief for the Dodgers, but both will be remembered for their failures more than their successes.
Everybody remembers Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark, who hit successive game-winning home runs off Niedenfuer in the 1985 NLCS, but nobody remembers the 10 1/3 playoff innings without an earned run to start Niedenfuer's career. With Jonathan Broxton, his obituary is sure to feature the two failures to the Phillies in the last two Games Four more than it is to feature the one run he gave up in his other eight postseason appearances as closer.
But that goes with the territory as closer. A bad day at the office as a closer often directly means a loss, as they are literally the last men standing on the mound. However, it's not life and death out there. For Niedenfuer, he had a much worse experience over a year before Clark hit a ball to the moon. From Henry Hecht in the July 2, 1984 edition of Sports Illustrated:
While waiting for a teammate in the lower lobby of the Dodgers' hotel in Cincinnati, Niedenfuer felt excruciating pain from a kidney stone. Wanting to return to his room to lie down, he got on an elevator that happened to stop at the next level, the hotel's upper lobby. Waiting to get on was Terry Johnson, the Dodger beat reporter for the Torrance Daily Breeze.
"I'm in trouble," Niedenfuer told Johnson. "I'm losing it." Then he passed out in Johnson's arms.
"I was yelling, 'Get a doctor!' " Johnson said. "Then, about a hundred feet away I saw Charlie, and I yelled for him. He was the only person I knew there."
Metro rushed over, saw that Niedenfuer had stopped breathing, and started to give him artificial respiration. Then Metro realized that Niedenfuer had swallowed his tongue. He pried open Niedenfuer's mouth, and while Johnson kept the tongue free, resumed the artificial respiration.
"For what seemed like 100 years," Johnson wrote later, "Niedenfuer didn't breathe."
Niedenfuer regained consciousness a few minutes later and, after receiving treatment from a Dodger trainer, was taken to the hospital, where he spent the night. Three nights later in Atlanta, he worked a scoreless inning in the Dodgers' 10-4 win.
I had never heard that story before, but I was almost more amazed that, considering the Dodgers usually have only three traveling beat reporters with them on the road these days, 26 years ago the Torrance Daily Breeze had quite the travel budget.
Back to the issue at hand, I still think Broxton can and will be a dominant closer. I don't think this has anything to do with his fire or heart, looking into his eyes, or anything like that. I am not qualified as a psychologist to make those kinds of judgments. What I do know is something is wrong with Broxton now. Since the All-Star break, he has allowed 10 runs, nine hits, and 11 walks in eight innings, with only five strikeouts, and has three blown saves.
Whether the Dodgers think they are contention or not, the team would be better served by Broxton getting some time off.