With ‘nay’ votes cast in the direction of Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin, it’s time to consider the other high profile candidate on the Hall of Fame’s managerial ballot. Will I go 0-for-3, or will I be more favorable toward a former manager whose career spanned from 1967 to 1988? Let’s dig a little further…
**** Williams made few friends among the ballplayers he managed (not to mention the owners he worked for), but he extracted productive results during the majority of his managerial terms. Winning big in several different locales, Williams took three losing franchises to the World Series, all while stamping his teams with discipline, direction, and strong fundamental play.
Once a top prospect in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ organization, Williams saw his playing career sidetracked by injury. A severe shoulder injury he sustained while making a diving catch in left field hindered his hitting and throwing abilities. The three-way shoulder separation left Williams a pedestrian player, one who would make stops in Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Boston. Williams actually enjoyed two productive seasons for the Kansas City Athletics in 1959 and ’60, but a trade to the Orioles during the spring of ’61 prevented him from playing for Charlie Finley, the man who would eventually hire him as manager.
As a minor league player, Williams was strongly influenced by his manager in the Texas League, Bobby Bragan. Williams noticed Bragan’s strengths: the ability to teach and instill discipline. These attributes would become essential parts of the Williams dossier. Williams’ manager in Baltimore, the successful and innovative Paul Richards, noticed the journeyman outfielder’s knowledge of the game and encouraged him to pursue a managerial calling. Perhaps influenced by Richards, Williams decided to abandon a mediocre playing career for what he hoped would be a higher standard of achievement as a manager.
A fiery, militaristic kind of leader, Williams patterned his “tough-guy” managerial style after that of men like Branch Rickey and Vince Lombardi. Williams stressed the importance of fundamentals and basic execution, demanded absolute hustle from his players at all times, and challenged them to play for more than themselves and the lure of a contract.
In his first managerial tenure in the major leagues, Williams molded a soft group of ninth-place Boston Red Sox into a hardened, gritty American League pennant winner—the authors of the “Impossible Dream.” With Williams in charge, the transition took just one season. Prior to his arrival in 1967, the Red Sox had been regarded as baseball’s “country club,” where team owner Tom Yawkey consistently spoiled his players. Williams completely transformed Yawkey’s clubhouse culture, making his players accountable by regularly benching those who didn’t hustle or performed poorly.
By 1969, the Red Sox deemed Williams as too tough, overly militaristic and dangerously unyielding in the ways that he dealt with his players. Williams also clashed with Yawkey, who repeatedly undermined his manager by pampering Red Sox players after Williams had tried to discipline them. Williams believed that Yawkey regarded the Red Sox as a toy, a philosophy that conflicted with Williams’ more businesslike approach.
During the 1969 season, Yawkey fired Williams, who took a job as a coach under Gene Mauch in Montreal. Williams credited Mauch with equipping him to become a better manager the second time around. “The best manager in the business,” Williams said of Mauch in an interview with Sport Magazine. “You watch him and you learn. If I ever had a seminar on managing, I’d want Gene to run it for me. He’s a baseball genius—a marvelous organizer and the greatest handler of men I ever saw.” While with the Expos, Mauch also taught Williams to be more conciliatory when dealing with his team’s owner. That advice would help him greatly during his next managerial stop.
Seeking a hard-driving manager to replace the laid-back John McNamara, Charlie Finley called on Williams after the 1970 season. Finley’s A’s, though talented, lacked experience and any history of winning. It didn’t take long for Williams to lay his imprint on his new ballclub. After a bad early-season loss to the Royals, capping off a disastrous first week for the ‘71 A’s, the players irritated Williams with their cavalier attitude toward losing. While on the team bus at the Milwaukee airport, one of the Oakland players decided to play a practical joke by stealing a battery-operated megaphone from the team airplane. Williams was not amused. He angrily lectured his players about the incident, demanding the bullhorn be returned immediately.
“Gentlemen,” Williams addressed his players, “some of you think you can be bleeps. Well, I can be the biggest bleep of them all.” Williams then delivered his first major pronouncement. “The serving of booze on planes is terminated for the rest of the seasons.” Williams continued his diatribe. “The plane can’t leave without the megaphone, and we won’t leave until the plane does.” As Williams prolonged his lecture, one of the players dropped the megaphone from the bus window onto the sidewalk. Williams saw the megaphone fall, but continued talking. “If any of you want to telephone Charlie Finley to complain,” Williams said, “I have three phone numbers where he can be reached.” No players took him up on the offer. The reign of **** Williams had officially begun.
The A’s responded to Williams’ disciplinary measures by winning their next five games. After losing a game to the White Sox, the A’s strung together seven more victories, making it 12 wins in 13 tries. Shortly thereafter, the A’s moved into first place, on their way to winning the American League West in a romp. Just as importantly, Williams engineered a crucial move during the ’71 season, making Rollie Fingers a fulltime reliever on his way to becoming the Oakland closer. Too nervous and high strung to start, Fingers made a skillful transition to the bullpen on the way to a Hall of Fame career.
To his bitter disappointment, Williams’ first season in Oakland ended with a three-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Orioles. Given Baltimore’s talent, there was no shame in that. The next season, Williams took the A’s further. Juggling an ever-changing roster while trying to patch holes in center field and at second base, Williams led the franchise to its first American League pennant since its days in Philadelphia. Making a seemingly endless series of trips to the mound to talk strategy and/or maneuver his bullpen, Williams guided the A’s to a seven-game World Series upset of the Reds, with six of the seven games decided by one run. And then Williams did what has often proved difficult for even the most accomplished managers—leading the A’s to a World Championship repeat in 1973. All the while, Williams continued to serve as a buffer between his high-strung stars and his ever-meddling, always-temperamental owner.
Finley’s scandalous treatment of Mike Andrews during the ’73 World Series represented the final straw of meddling for Williams. Sickened at Finley’s growing mean streak, he resigned his position, Although Williams often bruised the egos of his own players, those same players came to respect him for his toughness and his knowledge. “Maybe not the most popular, but you certainly cannot argue with the results that **** Williams got,” Rick Monday once told me. “He had a pretty good ballclub, but he also gave them some pretty good leadership and pretty good direction.” With three divisional titles, two pennants and two World Championships in a span of three seasons, Williams left a mark as the most successful manager in franchise history since the days of Connie Mack.
Williams’ next stop would not be nearly as fruitful. Hired as the manager of the Angels in 1975, Williams found that his new players were not as talented—or as tolerant of his militaristic ways. With established players like Bill Melton leading the charge of the discontented, the veteran Angels rebelled under Williams’ regime. Williams would have no opportunity to quit this time around; in the midst of a third straight losing season in Southern California, the Angels fired the two-time World Champion.
The next step for Williams involved a transition to the National League. He went back to Montreal, this time as the manager. Williams had no trouble adjusting to life in the league without the DH, but did clash with some of his veteran players, including Dave Cash and Steve Rogers. Under Williams, the Expos improved, became contenders in the NL East, and seemed on the verge of postseason glory—only to fall just short. Unable to overcome the lack of a dominant closer, and failing to give Jeff Reardon more of an opportunity to fill that role, Williams watched the Expos finish in second place in 1979 and ’80 before receiving the axe in September of the strike-torn 1981 season.
With his career at a crossroads and his reputation on the downswing, Williams took his next critical step. He agreed to become the manager of the last-place Padres, a perennial laughingstock since their inception in 1969. The Padres responded well to Williams, showing major improvement and playing .500 ball in his first two seasons. In 1984, with the additions of Graig Nettles and Rich Gossage, the Padres claimed the NL West and defeated the Cubs in a dramatic Championship Series, before losing to a superior Tigers team in the World Series. In spite of the Series loss, the Padres’ 1984 run represented some of the best work of Williams’ career.
Ultimately, Williams ran afoul of Padres general manager Jack McKeon, who fired him after the 1985 season. From San Diego to Seattle, Williams took what would be his final managing job. He would have been better off retiring. Mariners players, who hailed from a generation that was distinct from those Red Sox and A’s teams in the sixties and seventies, saw nothing charming in the gruff and gritty Williams. They despised his sarcastically critical nature. With the team in a downward spiral and Williams fed up with the new breed of player, he announced his resignation early in the 1988 season.
So where do Williams’ divergent travels—and levels of success—place him in terms of the Hall of Fame? If he had stayed with the A’s and won an additional title, there would be little debate about his case for Cooperstown. Two World Championships, four pennants, and four division titles represent a good haul, but three World Series victories would have automatically punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame. Then there were the problems in California and Seattle, where veteran players bristled at what they felt were over-the-top levels of discipline and decorum. The poor performances with the Angels and Mariners dragged down his overall winning percentage to .520, a relatively pedestrian mark for a would-be Hall of Famer. Finally, Montreal provided only a mixed bag of success, with Williams unable to develop a bullpen ace—even though he had a good candidate in Reardon—the way he had in Oakland with Fingers.
Yet, the successes outweigh the black marks on Williams’ record. He took three different teams to the World Series, each in different decades under differing rules and circumstances—but with one difficult common denominator. Prior to his arrival, the Red Sox hadn’t been competitive since the fifties, the A’s had never gone to the postseason in the Finley era, and the Padres had won nothing as a franchise. Then, when Williams arrived, World Series win shares started appearing within two years. That can’t be mere luck, good fortune, or coincidence. Those teams won because Williams demanded work ethic, effort, and hustle, while always stressing sound fundamental play buttressed by an emphasis on pitching and defense. There was no distinctive style of play, like that of contemporaries Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin, but merely a simple attachment to solid, balanced baseball. And, for the most part, it worked. While some of his teams rebelled against him to the point of severe backlash, most of them (Boston, Oakland, Montreal, and San Diego) did not. With four of six terms producing some kind of positive result, and one of his stints bringing repeated success, his record is comparable to the work of Bill McKechnie, Leo Durocher, and Tommy Lasorda.
If I had a Hall of Fame ballot, I would check the box next to Williams’ name.
Of the seven managers on the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee, none were as controversial as Billy Martin. Perhaps that’s why his candidacy is also the most fascinating…
There’s a tendency to underrate Billy Martin as a player and overrate him as a manager. Perhaps that’s because most of the images that the 50-and-under crowd retains of Martin are from his combative, fiery, and turbulent tenure as a field manager. Yet, in examining his Hall of Fame candidacy, we should consider the entirety of his baseball career, including his significant accomplishments as a scrappy, overachieving player for a lasting baseball dynasty.
It’s easy to forget that Martin’s playing days spanned the entire decade of the 1950s, lasting a total of 11 seasons. A favorite of Yankee manager Casey Stengel, Martin became the team’s semi-regular second baseman during the first half of the decade. In 1952, ’53, and ’56, he played more games at second base than any other Yankee; at other times, he filled in at shortstop and third base, giving Stengel depth and flexibility on the infield. A good fielder with occasional power who twice reached double figures in home runs, Martin sometimes struggled to reach base and lacked the speed to steal bases. Though never one of the best players on his own team, he did make the All-Star steam in 1956 and emerged as a decent complimentary player on teams filled with heavy-hitting stars from top to bottom.
The postseason, however, saw Martin transform himself from ordinary player to clutch-hitting hero and defensive stalwart. In the 1952 World Series, he helped the Yankees preserve a two-run lead in Game Seven by catching a wind-blown pop-up that normally would have been handled by the first baseman or the catcher. He fared even better in the ’53 World Series, batting an even .500 with two home runs and eight RBIs, numbers that earned him the Series’ Most Valuable Player Award. Even in later Series, Martin continued to play well, hitting .320 in 1955 and .296 in 1956. For those who consider the postseason a crapshoot, Martin’s numbers might not mean much; for others, they represent a gritty player who performed his best when the games meant the most.
After his playing career ended, Martin spent eight seasons preparing for what would become his true calling—managing in the major leagues. Working as a scout, third base coach, and minor league skipper in the Twins’ organization, Martin finally earned his first big league managing job in 1969. The Twins promoted him from their Triple-A farm team and promptly watched the rookie manager lead the team to the postseason in the first year of divisional play. In winning 97 games, the Twins improved by 17 games over their 1968 finish. Martin extracted the most from role players like Rich Reese and Cesar Tovar, watched stars Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva thrive in the top half of the Minnesota lineup, and helped develop two 20-game winners.
Just as quickly as it blossomed, Martin’s tenure in Minnesota turned sour. The Twins lost three straight games to the Orioles in the playoffs and team owner Calvin Griffith became disenchanted with his temperamental skipper, who had beaten up one of his 20-game winners in August. Regarding those problems as more significant than the sum of Martin’s work during the regular season, Griffith fired Martin. There would be no opportunity for a Martin encore in Minnesota.
Instead, Martin sat out the 1970 season and awaited his next opportunity. That would come in 1971, when the Tigers fired the venerable Mayo Smith and brought in the younger, more energetic Martin. Despite having an aging team that paled in comparison with the 1968 World Championship club, Martin guided the Tigers to a strike-shortened AL East title in 1972. The Tigers then extended a vastly superior A’s team to a decisive fifth game in the ALCS, losing by just one run. Given the team’s age, it should not have come as a surprise that Martin’s Tigers would stumble in 1973. Perhaps prematurely and almost certainly unfairly, the Tigers gave Martin the boot in mid-season.
Having managed mostly veteran teams in Minnesota and Detroit, Martin then showed his ability to handle young talent at his next stop. The Rangers, looking for a fulltime successor to Whitey Herzog, gave Martin a call during the second half of the ’73 season. Well on their way to 105 losses, the Rangers had no chance to salvage the season, but hoped that Martin could work some magic the following summer. Martin did just that, leading Texas to a remarkable 27-game improvement, good for second place in the AL West. Overcoming a shocking lack of power (only 99 home runs for the season), Martin encouraged the Rangers to run wild on the bases. (Martin loved an aggressive approach to the game; if his team had speed, he used it.) As for his pitching staff, Martin had only one reliable reliever in the bullpen, so he relied heavily on Jim Bibby and Fergie Jenkins to soak up innings. The net result? In spite of a large disparity in talent, the Rangers finished within five games of the World Champion A’s.
Unfortunately, the Rangers may have improved too much too quickly, creating unrealistically high expectations. The pattern of “season-after” dismissals continued in 1975, when the Rangers regressed badly (in other words, back to reality) and the front office responded by blaming Martin. They sacked Martin in mid-summer, just as the Tigers had done in 1973. The latest firing set the stage for what would become the most famed part of Martin’s career.
On the prowl for a high-profile manager, George Steinbrenner offered Martin the Yankees’ job in the middle of the 1975 season. With a talented team on the verge of contention and an owner willing to spend money for top-flight talent, Martin found himself in the most attractive managerial situation of his career. It was also the most dangerous, given Steinbrenner’s penchant for meddling, a bubbling New York media that forever in search of soap opera storylines, and Martin’s own combustible personality.
In 1976, Martin took the Yankees as far as they should have gone—a league pennant and a four-game World Series loss to Cincinnati’s vastly superior “Big Red Machine.” The following year, expectations for New York grew with the signing of Reggie Jackson, whom Martin didn’t like. Stubbornly, Martin refused to bat Jackson cleanup for most of the summer, then finally relented when faced with the loss of his job. Battling the egos of Jackson and Steinbrenner throughout the year, along with his own continuing struggle with alcoholism, Martin steered the Yankee ship—sometimes unsteadily—after a faulty start. In spite of a chaotic clubhouse and frenzied front office atmosphere, Martin and the Yankees won the World Series, defeating two very good teams (the Royals and Dodgers) along the way.
Predictably, Martin’s first marriage with New York ended the following summer. With the Yankees underachieving and Martin having disparaged Reggie and George as “born and convicted liars,” the Yankees laid the axe to Martin’s neck. He would return during the ill-fated 1979 season, only to take the fall again, this time at season’s end.
Then came the most astonishing work of Martin’s career. He became the manager of the A’s, who had long since fallen into disarray under the penny-pinching ownership of Charlie Finley. Playing an aggressive style that emphasized the use of the stolen base, the hit-and-run, and a variety of trick plays, Martin’s philosophy became known as “Billy Ball.” Knowing that he had little talent in his bullpen, Martin asked his starting pitchers to complete games at a time when most other managers pulled their starters in favor of long, middle, and closing relievers. In the short term, Martin’s strategies worked. Paced by an astonishing 94 complete games in 1980, Martin’s A’s jumped 29 games in the standings, from 7th to 2nd place. After overachieving to open the 1981 season with a record of 17-1, the A’s made the postseason, defeating the Royals in the Division Series before falling to the Yankees in the League Championship Series. That the A’s made it that far without a standout in the bullpen (Dave Beard and Jeff Jones tied for the team lead with three saves) and without anything approximating a quality infield (featuring the immortal double play combination of Shooty Babitt and Rob Picciolo) remains a testament to Martin’s in-game managerial brilliance.
Like the A’s, all of Martin’s teams showed significant improvement over their immediate predecessors—no matter how mediocre the talent on hand. Unfortunately, none of the turnarounds endured in the long run. By the third season, Martin had usually clashed with the front office or alienated too many of his players, with several taking residence in his ever-expanding doghouse. In the case of the A’s, he blew out the arms of overused starters Mike Norris, Rick Langford, Matt Keough, and Steve McCatty, whose careers all short-circuited.
Late in his career, during his final tours of duty with the Yankees, Martin’s managing started to show additional cracks. Oh, he still won games at a clip well over .500, but employed some bizarre pieces of strategy. During a 1985 game in Detroit, Martin ordered Yankee third baseman Mike Pagliarulo to bat right-handed against Tigers left-hander Mickey Mahler. A stunned Pagliarulo, who hadn’t switch-hit in years, proceeded to strike out feebly against Mahler. And then, during Martin’s final managerial go-round in 1988, he made a number of ill-advised tactical decisions. He mishandled closer Dave Righetti, concocted a seven-man rotation at one juncture, and even used pitcher Rick Rhoden as a designated hitter despite the fact that the veteran right-hander suffered from a bad back. If anything, Martin’s two final managerial terms damaged his Hall of Fame chances; his resume might look stronger without those ill-fated stints in pinstripes.
So how do we assess the winding, checkered career of Martin, featuring nine stops with five different franchises along the way? The bottom line adds up to two league pennants and one World Championship, which are relatively light numbers for a Hall of Famer. On the other hand, his winning percentage of .553 puts him in the company of Walter Alston (.558) and above Sparky Anderson (.545). Martin also deserves some credit for five division titles, some of which were accomplished with severely flawed teams. Let’s also give him extra credit for his miraculous work in Texas and Oakland, succeeding where nothing short of managerial genius would have sufficed. And, of course, let’s not forget his accomplishments as a player, particularly as a contributor to Stengel’s Yankee dynasty.
In the short term, few managers have ever done better than Martin. Given one game to win, I doubt that I would pick anyone other than “Billy the Kid.” A brilliant in-game strategist, Martin understood how to make out a lineup card, usually stacking his best hitters at the top of the order. He also played to the strength of his pitching staff. If his bullpen didn’t have quality arms, he avoided it. If it did, he tried to ride the hot hand in the late innings.
Unfortunately, Martin cannot be fully assessed without looking at his chronic off-the-field problems. As much as some analysts don’t like their inclusion in the debate, character and integrity are part of the criteria for the Hall of Fame. This is where Martin failed badly, fueled largely by his problems with alcohol. He repeatedly fought with others, from perfect strangers (including the famed marshmallow salesman) to his own players (Boswell and Ed Whitson). He frequently bullied members of the press or lesser employees in the front office. These incidents didn’t represent merely a flaw in Martin’s character; they thwarted him in achieving more lasting legacies with each of his teams. After all, some of those conflicts resulted in his early firings, preventing him from achieving the kind of long-term success that might have resulted in additional pennants or World Championships. It’s that lack of sustained excellence, the inability to produce repeatedly good results in any stop outside of New York, that ultimately make Martin fall just short of the lofty Hall of Fame standard.
Next Monday, the Hall of Fame will announce the results of its newly structured balloting for managers, executives, umpires, and pioneers. A field of seven skippers will be considered by a 16-man panel that meets this Sunday, December 2. The group of managers includes Whitey Herzog, Davey Johnson, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Southworth, and “Dick” Williams.
Throughout the week, we’ll analyze the candidacies of the three men who stand the strongest chances of election–Herzog, Martin, and Williams. Let’s begin with “The White Rat.”
As a journeyman outfielder-first baseman, Whitey Herzog had little lasting impact on the game. His post-playing career, however, has produced far more meaningful storylines. During the 1970s and eighties, Herzog became a revolutionary manager, tailoring two ball clubs to a slash-and-speed style that fit perfectly with their distinctive ballparks.
Though it doesn’t technically have any effect on his Hall of Fame candidacy as a manager, Herzog’s work as a scout with the old Kansas City A’s represented the first groundbreaking measures of his post-playing career. Working under the employ of the difficult and demanding Charlie Finley, Herzog signed seven players who eventually made the major league roster, including talented but mercurial right-hander Chuck Dobson. Herzog also scouted Don Sutton for the A’s, strongly recommending to the owner that he sign the future Hall of Fame right-hander. The A’s would have followed through on Herzog’s legwork if not for some Finley foolishness; he insisted that Sutton adopt a nickname, ala Jim “Catfish” Hunter and John “Blue Moon” Odom. When Sutton refused the demand, Finley withdrew the contract offer. As a fan of Finley’s A’s, I can only imagine how formidable an early 1970s rotation of Hunter, Vida Blue, Sutton, and Ken Holtzman would have been for the franchise that had had relocated to Oakland.
After fighting Finley over travel expenses, Herzog left the A’s to become a coach with the Mets. He soon moved up to the front office, becoming the team’s director of player personnel in 1967 and having an influence on the development of minor league talent. As young pitching becoming the hallmark of the franchise in the late 1960s, the Mets shocked all observers by winning the World Series in 1969, with Herzog playing at least a small, indirect role.
From there, Herzog feuded with Mets chairman M. Donald Grant and then assumed his first managerial role with the Rangers. Greatly influenced by the teaching of Casey Stengel, who had managed the Yankees while Herzog played in their farm system, Whitey began to put some of Stengel’s principles, such as platooning and roster usage, into play. Unfortunately, Herzog had little talent at his disposal. Presiding over directionless franchises in Texas and California (where he served the Angels on an interim basis), Herzog managed without fanfare, acclaim, or success. Then came what would prove to be a dream job–two miles from his home in Kansas City. In taking over the upstart Royals in 1975, Herzog assumed leadership of a team that had won nothing since its inception in 1969.
Realizing that the fast artificial turf and lengthy dimensions of Royals Stadium penalized slow, plodding sluggers, and favored players who could run and defend, Herzog made quick and drastic changes to his lineup. He benched slow-footed second baseman Cookie Rojas and aging right fielder Vada Pinson, replacing them with Frank White and Al Cowens, respectively. Cowens and White had their flaws offensively, but both ran well, and both played the field exceptionally. White’s blanket-like range at second base, coupled with Cowens’ range and throwing arm in right field, fit Royals Stadium to a tee. On offense, Herzog showed a preference for players who could get on base, at a time when on-base percentage was not emphasized the way it is in today’s game. He gave players like Hal McRae and Darrell Porter increased roles, taking advantage of their ability to hit and draw walks.
With “Whiteyball” in place, the Royals intimidated other teams with their ability to pepper line drives from foul line to foul line while aggressively stealing bases. Elevating the team from non-contention in 1975 and overcoming the lack of a dominant closer, Herzog oversaw three American League West titles from 1976 through 1978. Unfortunately, each season ended with a League Championship Series loss to the rival Yankees.
It was during his Royals’ tenure that Herzog first began to show his intolerance of players he believed to be drug abusers or heavy drinkers. Suspecting that the play of slugging first baseman John Mayberry was being affected by cocaine and alcohol abuse, Herzog convinced the front office to rid the team of its cleanup hitter in the spring of 1978, when the Royals sold him to the Blue Jays in a cash deal. (Herzog would later do the same with the Cardinals, ridding them of Keith Hernandez, one of St. Louis’ key contributors to the 1982 World Championship. Unlike the Mayberry deal, the Hernandez trade would badly hurt Herzog’s team, especially in the short term.) Although the Royals ended up winning the AL West without Mayberry, Herzog’s influence in riding the popular slugger out of town made him a target within the organization. A developing feud with batting coach Charlie Lau only exacerbated the situation; when the Royals finished second in 1979, the front office had its excuse to fire Herzog.
To his full credit, Herzog did not allow the firing to become a career-killer. He became the manager of the Cardinals in 1980, then actually modified his career path, moving to the front office and becoming St. Louis’ general manager. By October, Herzog had assumed the dual role of general manager and manager. (Such an arrangement in today’s game is almost unthinkable.) With the Cardinals, he did exactly what he did to the Royals–but now with full power over player personnel decisions. Herzog shipped out slower players and sluggers, replacing them with superior defensive players who could run. Through a series of blockbuster trades, Herzog phased out Ted Simmons, Leon “Bull” Durham, Garry Templeton, and Ken Reitz. In most cases, he brought in a better defender to man each position. At catcher, Darrell Porter replaced Simmons. At shortstop, Ozzie Smith succeeded Templeton. In another move, Herzog stole Willie McGee from the Yankees for Bob Sykes, giving the Cardinals a top-flight center fielder. The succession of deals also netted a Hall of Fame closer, Bruce Sutter, who gave the Cardinals a lockdown quality in the late innings.
Emphasizing speed, defense, and the ability to hit line drives into the spacious outfield gaps, the Cardinals conformed to the fast-paced artificial surface of Busch Stadium. In spite of a shocking lack of power, the Cardinals scored runs efficiently while putting enormous pressure on opposing defenders. They also overcame a lack of dominant starting pitching, in part because of Herzog’s masterful use of the bullpen and overall skill as an in-game strategist. The end result? The Cardinals won the World Series in 1982, then followed up with National League pennants in 1985 and ’87. They narrowly missed a second title under Herzog’s watch in ’85, in part because of Don Denkinger’s blatantly bad call at first base in Game Six of the World Series.
With three pennants, one World Championship, and a successful reign as general manager in St. Louis (a later stint as Angels GM proved largely ineffective), Herzog built up a considerable Hall of Fame resume. But is it strong enough? Three straight losses in the American League Championship Series certainly damage Herzog’s cause. (Unlike some, I’m not a big proponent of the “crapshoot” theory of postseason baseball.) The personality conflicts in Kansas City led to his premature firing, denying him of an opportunity to manage the Royals in 1980, when they ended up winning the AL pennant under a lesser manager in Jim Frey. And then there were the two World Series failures in the mid-1980s, with the Cardinals losing to seemingly inferior teams in Kansas City and Minnesota, despite building early leads in each Series. The defeat at the hands of the Royals was especially disheartening, given the Cardinals’ three-games-to-one lead in the Series.
Objectively, Herzog seems like a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. Managing for part or all of 18 seasons, he compiled a .532 winning percentage, which compares favorably with Tommy Lasorda (.526) and Bill McKechnie (.524). He dared to buck–and successfully so–the conventional wisdom that dictated power hitting was a prerequisite to making the postseason. He also succeeded in the dual role of manager-general manager, an incredible accomplishment given the time demands of both jobs. Yet, there were two large failings: Herzog’s inability to coexist with others, which short-circuited his Royals tenure, and the ill-fated trade of Hernandez for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey, which weakened the Cardinals while simultaneously strengthening a division rival in New York. While a reasonable argument for Herzog’s election can be made, I think he may have fallen one World Championship (or perhaps just one league pennant) shy of Hall of Fame induction.
While there are very few attractive options for starting pitching on the free agent market, some of the available relievers are drawing more substantial interest. Francisco Cordero just signed a four-year, $45 million contract with the Reds; that could be a larger package than either Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva will receive. By any standard, Cordero will be vastly overpaid, but he does address a major need for Cincinnati. The Reds not only needed a closer, but require help up and down their bullpen…
One of the most intriguing free agent relievers is Kerry Wood, who will likely receive multiple-year offers from the Red Sox, Yankees, and Brewers, just to name three teams. (The Cubs would like to bring back Wood, but probably won’t budge from a one-year offer.) Wood’s fragile right arm isn’t worth the risk of a three-year deal, but someone will give him that kind of contract in this frenzied free agent market. If Scott Linebrink can merit a four-year deal worth $19 million, a pitcher of Wood’s pedigree can probably command at least three years and close to $15 million. At 30, Wood is actually a year younger than Linebrink, who was ineffective for the Brewers after being acquired in midseason…
It’s almost a certainty that the Red Sox will trade Coco Crisp at some point this off-season. The timetable will depend on how quickly Theo Epstein can convince a team to give up some relief pitching for Crisp. With Torii Hunter off the market, Crisp becomes more attractive to the White Sox and Rangers, among others. The Pirates might get involved (Damaso Marte?), as could the Braves, Padres, or Giants…
The Yankees are giving serious consideration to releasing Carl Pavano, who is owed the balance of his $40 million contract in 2008, in order to create some room on their 40-man roster. As he heals from Tommy John surgery, Pavano won’t pitch in 2008 anyway, so it’s a move that makes sense for the Yankees. If they release Pavano, they can protect one additional prospect from the upcoming Rule 5 draft…
Some of the bigger names on the trade market won’t be moved until teams become more realistic in their demands. Let’s take the Cardinals as one example. St. Louis would like to deal Scott Rolen, but new GM John Mozeliak expects some team to give up two top-notch prospects and pick up all of the $26 million due Rolen over the next two years. Prior to the Yankees’ reattachment to Alex Rodriguez, they showed some interest in Rolen, only to find out that the Cardinals wanted one of their big three—Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, or Ian Kennedy. It didn’t take long for that conversation to end.
There’s no question the Mets pulled off a steal in airlifting Johnny Estrada out of Milwaukee at the sunken cost of Guillermo Mota, but Mets fans should remain cautious. “Overweight” and “lazy” are concepts that don’t play well with the New York media and fan base. If the criticisms of Estrada coming out of Milwaukee are true (some of which have to do with his attitude and relationship with authority), Mets fans could be calling for Ramon Castro to be the every day catcher by July. After all, the Mets will represent Estrada’s fourth team in four years, which puts him well on a Bobby Bonds-like pace of about one team a season.
Still Estrada, a competent catcher, represents an upgrade over Paul Lo Duca. As a switch-hitter, he could be a viable everyday option, or could platoon with Castro. He’s not as strong defensively as Castro, and can be run on, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Willie Randolph use Castro against some of the faster teams in the National League. As the No. 8 hitter in what figures to be a still formidable lineup, all Estrada has to do is duplicate his 2007 numbers of .278 and 10 home runs in order to be a passable catcher in New York…
Yes, I’m starting to feel old when I read that Roberto Kelly has been named the Giants’ first base coach. I remember vividly when Kelly earned his first full dose of playing time in 1989, flirting with a .340 batting average as the Yankees’ No. 9 hitter. I also have distinct memories of the Election Night trade in 1993 that sent him to the Reds for Paul O’Neill. As I analyzed the trade, I questioned whether it was the right move for a rebuilding Yankees franchise, given Kelly’s speed, developing power, and youth. It turned out pretty darn well for the Yankees, in part because Kelly remained a “tweener;” he didn’t draw enough walks to bat high in the order and didn’t hit with enough power to bat in the middle. Kelly settled for a moderately productive but disappointing career, as he bounced from franchise to franchise over the next eight seasons. Well, Kelly may have more success as a field manager. As the manager of the Augusta Greenjackets the last three seasons, Kelly posted a .622 winning percentage while earning Sally League Manager of the Year honors in 2006. Over the last two seasons, Kelly’s Greenjackets forged the best record in all of minor league baseball. The Giants thought enough of Kell’y work to give him their first base coaching job, along with duties overseeing the team’s baserunning and outfield defense. Do not be surprised to see Kelly move up to a managerial position within the next two or three years…
Finally, in the words of Jimmy Gobble, **** “Turkey Neck” Hall, and the Boston Pilgrims, I’d like to wish all of our readers a Happy Thanksgiving.
The boo of the week goes out to sportswriter Dave Zirin, who in a recent column on Barry Bonds’ indictment decided to take a swipe at an entire religious group. In complaining about the alleged unfairness the federal government has shown in pursuing Bonds, Zirin referred to faith-based, Midwestern schools as “Jesus-land” academies. In criticizing attorney general Michael Mukasey, Zirin wrote, “This is idiocy raised to the level of law. It makes me wonder what they’re teaching at Jesus-land Legal Academy these days.”
In addition to being factually misleading (Mukasey is Jewish, not Christian, and a graduate of Yale University’s law school), Zirin managed to defame all Christians in one fell swoop. What Zirin did here is no different than someone sarcastically referring to the Ramaz School (the Jewish prep school that Mukasey attended) as “Abraham-Land,” or describing a school in India as “Buddhaville.”
As John McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Race and Ethnicity, so aptly wrote in reviewing one of Zirin’s books, “Zirin typifies much of the hard Left in viewing himself as a paragon of higher awareness while engaging in the same visceral, unreflective mudslinging that he reviles among people on the right.” In other words, Zirin is guilty of blatant hypocrisy, in addition to being blatantly anti-Christian. Lovely…
On to more pleasant discussion. In a trade that seemingly came out of nowhere, the pitching-rich Angels added to their mound material by acquiring Jon Garland from the White Sox for Orlando Cabrera. On the surface, the deal raises some obvious questions. By trading Cabrera, the Angels leave themselves with a potential vacancy at shortstop, unless they plan to return Brandon Wood to that position (probably not the best idea) or are convinced that Erick Aybar is ready. In the meantime, the White Sox now have two shortstops—Cabrera and Juan Uribe, whom they just re-signed to a 2008 contract. I would think that both teams will make follow-up deals, with the White Sox perhaps trading Uribe to a club like the Cardinals or the Rays, and the Angels possibly putting together a package for Baltimore’s Miguel Tejada. On a larger front, the Angels now have six legitimate starting pitchers, giving them a surplus from which to put together a package for Florida’s Miguel Cabrera. How about Ervin Santana, Wood, and Nick Adenhart for the flabby but fearsome Cabrera?
So who wins this trade? Cabrera will certainly be a major upgrade over Uribe; he is a legitimate Gold Glove shortstop with speed and occasional power. On the down side, Cabrera is 33 years old and comes at the cost of a competent 28-year-old starter in Garland. Given the lack of quality starting pitchers on both the trade and free agent markets, score this a victory for the Angels…
Has anyone noticed how stacked the Veterans Committee ballot of managers/umpires is? There are no fewer than five managers who are legitimate candidates for enshrinement—Whitey Herzog, Billy Martin, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Southworth., and **** Williams. Herzog and Martin were flexible and innovative managers who adapted their teams to either their ballparks (Herzog) or to their team’s strengths (Martin). The other three men each won a pair of World Championships. Murtaugh achieved dual titles with two Pirates teams that were prohibitive underdogs, while Williams took three different franchises to World Series after they had suffered through long periods of non-contention. And while it’s difficult to evaluate umpires, Doug Harvey’s reputation has always been impeccable. For what it’s worth, I’d vote for Murtaugh, Williams, and Harvey, with Herzog and Martin barely missing the grade… Davey Johnson is also on the ballot, and while I don’t consider him a Hall of Famer, his accomplishments as a player do count and should elevate his grade in the voting. A fine-fielding second baseman with excellent power, Johnson was one of the keys to the Orioles’ pennant-winning teams from 1969 to 1971. If Johnson were ever to return to managing and lead another team to a World Series triumph (as he did with the ’86 Mets), he might have enough to merit Hall of Fame status…
Former major league outfielder Rusty Torres has been described as the “Forrest Gump of baseball forfeits,” having played in three forfeited games during the decade of the 1970s. Last week, we presented the first part of our interview with Torres, when he discussed playing in the final game in the history of the Washington Senators, a forfeit loss to the Yankees. In this segment, Torres relives his memories from “Ten-Cent Beer Night” and the ill-fated “Disco Demolition” promotion.
Torres: None of us got hurt [in Washington], not like Ten-Cent Beer night in Cleveland. That one I remember real well. That was in 1973, or 1974 [The game occurred on June 4, 1974.] Now here’s the irony. The Texas Rangers against the Cleveland Indians. You get it, Rangers and Indians, Cowboys and Indians? First we go to Texas, Lenny Randle is almost hit with a pitch. Lenny Randle next time up drags a bunt, which is the old trick. You don’t retaliate by jumping out and starting a fight, you do it the way they did it. Milt Wilcox is coming over [to field the bunt], Lenny comes up with the elbow to the neck. We rumble. And the Texas Rangers fans started throwing beer on us, they started screaming at us. We couldn’t get out of the park, they’re going berserk. I’m still almost a rookie, not playing regularly, I’m on the bench, I feel like a rookie still. OK that’s over with. Now we go back home. I start looking at the newspapers, reading about the home stand, and I see that Texas is coming in about seven days [for a rematch]. I’m looking at the newspapers and I see a picture of a cowboy with guns drawn and a picture of an Indian with a bow and arrow.
I’m not sure exactly, but I blame Bob Short for the one in Washington. I blame the press for this one between the Rangers and the Indians. So they decided to make it Ten-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland [on June 4]. I show up at the stadium early, like I always do. People are out at the stadium already at five o’clock and they’re having ten-cent beers, man. Forget about it. Ninth inning, ninth inning, same thing again. I was on base again at that point [after entering as a pinch-hitter]. The fans then come in and storm the field. To be honest with you, Washington, that was a black eye for baseball. This one was two black eyes for baseball.
And then, of course, Disco Demolition Night, that was unbelievable. You want to hear a little bit about that one? I had a little stint with the Texas Rangers in the minor leagues and then they traded me to Chicago. Now we go to Chicago and they come up with this idea of “Disco Demolition.” They tell the people to come to the stadium [Comiskey Park] and bring all their disco records because they want to blow them up. For whoever doesn’t like disco. You know what, a lot of people didn’t like disco because that stadium was packed. I played that game—I started in right field that day. So I’m in right field. The first inning, somebody slings a .78 record—you remember those .78 records—it goes right by my head and sticks in the ground. It was always humid there, so that record sticks in the ground. So they announce [over the public address], “Please do not throw records onto the field.” You know, they’ll have their fun in between games [when the demolition of records was actually scheduled to take place]. The people calm down, they have their beers. So we play the first game, finish the first game, and then we go inside [the clubhouses]. We’re sitting inside drinking some soda, and then all of a sudden we hear this explosion. It rocked the stadium, right. We jump up. I go outside, and the stadium was full of smoke. When the smoke started clearing, you see about 20,000 people out on the field. But that’s not all of it. The police then come, they come out on horses. It was just unbelievable. Bill Veeck was the creator of that.
Markusen: Not his best idea.
Torres: That was quite an experience. We couldn’t play the second game, of course, because it was forfeited. When everything cleared and the people are getting off the field, we see that they had made a crater in center field that you would not believe. So they interviewed the guy [in charge of the explosion]. The police ask him, “What the heck did you do?” He says, “I used too much dynamite. I used too much gunpowder.” It was unbelievable.
Those events [the three forfeits] are not something I would recommend. I don’t think it will happen again. You don’t feed a hungry crowd that way, you don’t advertise [a rivalry] in the newspaper that way because the people will take to it.
And not only that, in Cleveland, we had a guy beating a drum in center field. So that only added to it!
There is only one scenario by which Barry Bonds plays in 2008. If he agrees to a plea bargain that somehow includes no prison time, Bonds might be able to find someone to give him a one-year contract. Otherwise, Bonds simply won’t be able to play, even if some general managers are willing to look beyond the stigma that goes with an indictment from the federal government. Even if he goes to trial and receives an acquittal, it’s likely that such a trial would last well into the season… Prior to the news of Bonds’ indictment, I could have seen him signing with a team like the A’s, who have a desperate need for hitting and a GM who appreciates home runs and walks as much as anyone. For the moment, no one will dare touch Bonds, at least not until the next step in the legal process takes place…
Don’t believe all of the talk that has Carl Crawford coming to the Cubs for a package highlighted by Rich Hill and Carlos Marmol. The Rays want more—and that’s more than the Cubs can give—for a five-tool player like Crawford… Mike Fontenot emerged as one of the Cubs’ biggest surprises this past summer, but he’s apparently on the verge of losing his second base job. The Cubs are close to signing Kazuo Matsui to a three-year free agent contract, a bizarre signing considering Fontenot’s performance and inexpensive salary. (Fontenot did fade in the second half, so perhaps the Cubs think his early performance was a fluke.) I’m also surprised that the Cubs would go three years with the 32-year-old Matsui, who was simply awful with the Mets before catching his second wind at Coors Field…
Staying with second basemen, the Mets have approached free agent David Eckstein about the possibility of switching positions. Eckstein would prefer to remain a shortstop, but if the Mets make it worth his while financially, he could make the move. Eckstein would make an ideal No. 2 hitter, sandwiched in between Jose Reyes and either Carlos Beltran or David Wright…
Not surprisingly, the Yankees and Red Sox have become involved in a bidding war for the services of Mike Lowell. The Sox are currently offering three years at about $40 million, while the Yankees have opted to offer a fourth year with the total package approaching $55 million. The Yankees are taking some heat for their pursuit of Lowell to play first base, but is it really that bad a move, especially when you take away a key player from a rival club? Here’s the bottom line; Lowell’s a better player than anyone the Yankees used at first base in 2007, a group that includes Andy Phillips, Doug Mientkiewicz, or Wilson Betemit. Yes, the Yankees would be wasting some of Lowell’s defensive value by not playing him at third base, but he’d still be available to play there on days that Alex Rodriguez might need to DH. Lowell would only give Joe Girardi more depth and flexibility, which are two features the Yankees’ roster has lacked in recent years…
Finally, a note that has nothing to do with trade and free agent rumors. I met Joe Nuxhall, who died last night at the age of 79, just one time. It happened several years ago in spring training, which I used to attend as part of my duties at the Hall of Fame. On a sunny March morning, I sat down to interview Nuxhall and Marty Brennaman at the Reds’ spring site in Sarasota. Both men could not have been nicer, absolute gentlemen, both on and off camera. Based on our short conversation, I learned at least a little bit why Nuxhall was so beloved in Cincinnati.
Nationally, he was best known for being the youngest major leaguer of the 20th century, pitching in a game in 1944 at the age of 15. Yet, there was much more to his story. We tend to forget that after Nuxhall struggled so badly in his wartime debut, he returned to high school and then continued a long baseball apprenticeship in the minor leagues before making it back to the Reds, seven years after his debut, in 1951. Nuxhall would last 16 seasons in the major leagues, establishing himself as a very good left-handed pitcher in the mid-1950s. A two-time All-Star, Nuxhall led the National League in shutouts in 1955. Except for brief stints with the Kansas City A’s and LA Angels, Nuxhall remained with Cincinnati through the 1966 season, when he retired with 135 wins and over 1,300 strikeouts. The following spring, he returned to the Reds as a broadcaster, continuing what would become a 63-year association with the franchise.
Given such longevity, along with his easy-going personality and generous nature, it’s not hard to see why Nuxhall became one of the city’s most cherished icons.
Now that Alex Rodriguez has awoken from Scott Boras’ Bela Lugosi-like trance, it appears the soon-to-be American League MVP will be heading back to the Yankees. Just two weeks ago, it seemed that the relationship between A-Rod and the Yankees had ended forever. Now he appears headed back to the Bronx to resume his dual chases of a World Series title and the home run record. Only in baseball… Assuming the Yankees do corral A-Rod, they can now concentrate on what should be their two off-season priorities: finding a set-up man for Mariano Rivera (assuming he signs) and acquiring one more right-handed bat (possibly Mike Lowell, who would switch to first base) for their lefty-leaning lineup…
The Yankees didn’t really want to give Jorge Posada a four-year contract, but knew they had to in order fend off the hard-charging Mets. The Mets were prepared to go four years, and possibly five, in order to make Posada the latest in a line of power-hitting catchers, dating back to Gary Carter and continuing with Todd Hundley and Mike Piazza. At 36, Posada has already defied history—history that dictates catchers can’t be productive in their late thirties. The Yankees hope that Posada’s high level of conditioning, along with the lack of wear and tear to his body during his twenties, will allow him to remain a first-string catcher for at least two seasons. The Yankees will then probably employ Posada the way that the Padres used Gene Tenace in the late seventies, splitting his work between catcher and first base while grooming a younger receiver for the fulltime role…
With Posada off the table and Paul Lo Duca now considered an outcast, the Mets will look elsewhere for their 2008 catchers. They’re close to re-signing Ramon Castro, one of the game’s better backups and a player worthy of a look as a No. 1 catcher. But the Mets aren’t completely convinced that Castro can play every day, so they’re closing in on free agent Yorvit Torrealba. (How much money did his NLCS home run help his asking price?) If the Mets finalize deals for both, they could have an interesting battle for the first-string catching job next spring…
The Marlins aren’t backing off their high trade demands for Miguel Cabrera. The two frontrunners, the Angels and Dodgers, have been told they’ll have to surrender four-player packages. From the Angels, it would be Howie Kendrick, Nick Adenhart, and two other prospects; from the Dodgers, it would be James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andy “Son of LaLob” LaRoche, and Clayton Kershaw. Oh, is that all? If I were Dodgers or Angels management, I’d cease conversations with the Marlins until they bring those demands down to a more reasonable level…
We can add the name of Scott Rolen to the growing list of available third basemen. The Cardinals are shopping him, in part because of his irreparably damaged relationship with Tony LaRussa. The Cardinals can’t realistically expect much for Rolen, given the shoulder injuries that have limited his playing time the last three seasons. He slugged only .398 for the Cards this summer, a stunningly low figure…
It’s become fashionable this off-season to demean Aaron Rowand as overrated, with one writer going so far as to call him a “fourth outfielder,” but that assessment is grossly unfair. Rowand has slugged .500 or better in two of the past four years, showed an improved batting eye in 2007, and has the kind of defensive talent that enables him to play even the most difficult center fields, whether it’s at Coors Field, Yankee Stadium, or Fenway Park. One of the teams showing interest in Rowand are the Nationals, who can’t offer the free agent contending status but can try to sell him on the merits of a new ballpark. Other interested clubs include the White Sox and Rangers, but don’t be surprised if the Yankees get involved at some point. It doesn’t appear that Rowand will be going back to Philadelphia, where fiscal conservatism seems to be the mantra this winter…
A final note. Over the weekend, I had a chance to meet former major league outfielder Rusty Torres at the Museum of the City of New York. Rusty and I both participated in a panel discussion about the state of Latinos in baseball. A veteran of nine seasons with the Yankees, Indians, Angels, White Sox, and Royals, Torres is a thoughtful and outgoing guy who is the president of Winning Beyond Winning, a non-profit group that tries to educate young athletes. Torres also had the distinction (or is it misfortune?) of playing in three forfeited games during the 1970s. The three games included Disco Demolition Night, Ten-Cent Beer Night, and the final game in the history of the Washington Senators. Torres remembers well that fateful night at RFK Stadium, when Senators fans let ownership know full well their hard feelings. “I came up in 1971; that was when I was called up from the Yankee farm team,” says Torres. “We were going to Washington and I really didn’t know what was going on even though all the players were talking about it. It didn’t really hit me [about the Senators’ impending move to Texas]. What I was thinking about was that Ted Williams was the manager and that the Senators had about ten minor league players who had played against me. And I was dying to see them. I had my mind completely off the topic of the team moving.
“So I go to the stadium. I used to go in early to run because I was really enthusiastic about running. Plus, I was in Washington, it was exciting. All of a sudden I see these people dragging this huge thing, I couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked like a huge dummy. They were pulling it by the neck by a big rope. I’m looking and running, and I see this people pulling this thing all the way down the right field line. And all of a sudden, they start pulling it up toward the upper deck. It’s going up, first deck, second deck. I looked and it was a big gigantic dummy! Right on its chest, it had a sign that says, Short—that was the name of the owner of the team—‘Short S—-.’ So then they had it up by the neck with a noose and everything. I’m going, ‘What the heck is going on?’
“All of a sudden the game starts, we’re playing the game, and people are shouting, and I’m still not into it. Jerry Kenney, who was traded with me to Cleveland, said to me, ‘You better hold onto your hat. There’s something going to happen here.’ So I said, ‘What’s going to happen?’
“It just so happens that I was supposed to hit [in the ninth inning]. Bobby Murcer hits a ground ball. He gets thrown at first. They thought it was three outs. It was only two outs. And they rushed us! They rushed the field. They took dirt. People were taking dirt, taking the bases. They were tearing up the seats. It was unbelievable. That was a real scary experience.
“Thankfully, none of us got hurt.”
Do you ever wonder why so few trades get made in the major leagues these days? There are several factors at play, including complicated contracts and an industry-wide dearth of pitching, but one of the largest obstacles has to do with unrealistic demands. Too many general managers overvalue the worth of their players. Consider the ongoing example of the Marlins and GM Mike Hill, who is apparently asking some teams for four high-quality prospects in exchange for superstar Miguel Cabrera. That’s four, at a time when the usual price is no more than three prospects. Given the value of young prospects, who generally don’t cost much because they are not yet eligible for arbitration, it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to surrender such a boatload of talent for one player. This becomes even more problematic when that one player is Cabrera, who carries plenty of baggage, some of it in his midsection. Cabrera has serious weight problems, doesn’t always hustle, cannot play third base even to a mediocre level, and sometimes clashes with his teammates. As great a hitter as Cabrera is—and he is one of the five best hitters in the game today, no questions asked—he is not a five-tool player who merits a package of four top young players in return.
Here’s what the Marlins allegedly want from the Yankees: either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, minor league outfielder Jose Tabata and one other prospect. Well, gee, why not ask for Robinson Cano while you’re at it? From the Red Sox, the Marlins would supposedly like Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz, plus two other players. From the Dodgers, they are interested in Andy LaRoche, Clayton Kershaw, and two other players, with one of those possibly being Matt Kemp.
Now it’s always possible that these media reports are inaccurate and are exaggerating the Marlins’ demands. If so, my apologies to the Florida franchise. If not, I have to believe that the Marlins will eventually lower those demands to a more realistic level. Or perhaps they really aren’t that serious about trading Miguel Cabrera after all. They do have him under contractual control for two more seasons. Perhaps they will just revisit these trade talks all over again next winter…
The Tigers scored a steal in their one-for-one deal with the Cubs, acquiring a useful left-handed hitter in Jacque Jones for a dime-a-dozen, light-hitting utility infielder like Omar Infante. Jones will probably spell Cameron Maybin against certain right-handed pitchers while giving Jim Leyland a potent bat for the bench. Gary Sheffield’s frequent injuries should also provide an opportunity for Jones to soak up some at-bats as a DH. As for the Cubs, I have no idea what they’re doing with this trade. They’re already loaded down with middle infielders—Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot, Mark DeRosa, and Ronny Cedeno. Heck, maybe Infante can pitch…
My thanks to Hakim Hassan and the folks at the Museum of the City of New York for inviting me to take part in their Latinos in Baseball panel discussion over the weekend. In addition to having a wonderful time in general, I especially enjoyed talking to former Yankees, Indians, and Angels outfielder Rusty Torres. A veteran of the major leagues from 1971 to 1981, Torres is both outgoing and engaging. He also had a fascinating career, having played in three 1970s games that ended in forfeits. Those games included the final game in the history of the Washington Senators, the ill-fated “Ten-Cent Beer” night, and the equally ill-fated “Disco Demolition.” Ah yes, they don’t make promotions like that any more.
Here’s the bottom line on the Yankees’ quest to add Miguel Cabrera to the middle of their batting order. If they are willing to give up a package that features Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and Jose Tabata, they have a good chance of landing Alex Rodriguez’ replacement. If Brian Cashman maintains his refusal to part with Kennedy, then Cabrera will likely land with the Dodgers (who can offer Andy LaRoche, Matt Kemp, and pitcher Clayton Kershaw) or the Angels (who might part with Brandon Wood and pitcher Nick Adenhart, plus possibly one other player). One report indicated that the Marlins would demand that Howie Kendrick be included, but the Angels almost certainly won’t part with him. Possible destinations aside, expect the Marlins to trade Cabrera between now and the end of the winter meetings in December; they are absolutely committed to moving him before he becomes expensive (and even heavier)…
While Cabrera remains their top choice, the Yankees have made Miguel Tejada their backup plan. First off, they believe he can make the switch from shortstop to third base (he has the hands and the arm for the hot corner) and second, they believe that Baltimore’s asking price will be reasonable. Would you do a deal of Melky Cabrera and Kyle Farnsworth for Tejada? That’s one for the Yankees and Orioles to stew over…
One outgrowth of the Mets’ alleged interest in Alex Rodriguez is a rather wild rumor that has Jose Reyes going to the Twins as part of a package for Johan Santana. The rumor makes sense on some fronts: the Twins need offense, while Reyes would be well suited to playing on the artificial turf of the Metrodome. On the other hand, the Twins haven’t yet decided whether they will seriously entertain trade talks for their franchise pitcher. And I still have my doubts as to whether Omar Minaya has legitimate interest in signing A-Rod to begin with… I don’t believe the Mets are serious about moving David Wright to second base—which would allegedly happen if A-Rod came to Queens. At some point, the Mets will have to realistically tackle their second base dilemma. They have interest in re-signing Luis Castillo, but will face stiff bidding from the Astros, who need to replace the retired Craig Biggio… Other than Castillo and Kazuo Matsui, there isn’t much on the free agent market in terms of frontline second baseball. And we know the Mets won’t be revisiting Matsui, even after his successful rebirth in Colorado… On the trade front, the Mets covet Orlando Hudson, but it’s doubtful that the D-Backs would part with a player who means so much to their defensive scheme and their upbeat clubhouse attitude…
Any team that gives Andruw Jones a $100 million deal after his disastrous final season in Atlanta is flat-out bonkers, but there will still be active bidding for the onetime star. The Nationals have already expressed interest, but could soon be joined by the White Sox and the Rangers. The Sox have already shown their desire for Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand, while the Rangers like Hunter better than any other free agent. Of the three, Hunter will probably command the largest contract on the open market; Rowand will likely have to settle for the smallest…
Finally, just one more reminder that I’ll be speaking at the Museum of the City of New York on Saturday, November 10 (hey, that’s tomorrow!) as part of a panel on Latinos in baseball. The 2:00 p.m. program will include former Yankees and Indians outfielder Rusty Torres.