Results tagged ‘ A's ’
Baseball’s amateur draft, slated to begin a week from Tuesday, would carry
far more luster if Major League Baseball would change its antiquated rules
preventing teams from trading draft choices. All of the other sports allow
draft choices to be traded, except for baseball, which continues to operate
under the fear that agents like Scott Boras would demand trades for clients
drafted by undesirable teams. (What teams don’t seem willing to admit is that Boras already tries to redirect players by refusing to sign contracts
with their drafting teams, thus enabling those players to re-enter the draft
the following year.) By allowing teams to trade draft picks both during and
after the selection process, MLB would accomplish two objectives. First, the
occurrence of draft-day trades would jazz up the festivities on June 9,
bringing more publicity to an event that is currently only followed by draft
diehards. (Imagine the stir that would be caused if the Nationals traded their
No. 1 pick, essentially the rights to uberprospect right-hander Stephen Strasburg,
to a team like the Phillies for three or four prospects.) Second, with so many
contending teams reluctant to deal their near-ready major league prospects for
short-term fixes, they would instead be able to substitute draft choices in
dealing for veteran players who can provide immediate help in the pennant race.
We would therefore see far more trades between now and the July 31st
deadline, spicing up what has become a lackluster trading season in recent
Even with a healthy Brett Myers, the Phillies needed to add
another starter to make a successful run at their second-straight National
League East title. With Myers likely out for the season because of looming
labrum surgery on his hip, the need has only intensified. Heck, the Phillies
may have to add two starters to a core of starters that features ace Cole
Hamels, Joe “Bulldog” Blanton, and the sphinx-like Jamie Moyer, who just won
his 250th game. That threesome simply is not good enough to win the
East, especially with the Mets looming…
The hype attached to this week’s recall of super prospect
Matt Wieters by the Orioles is like nothing I’ve seen since the Rangers brought
David Clyde to the major leagues immediately after he was drafted out of high
school in 1974. In a way, I feel bad for Wieters, who has been praised to the
point that we expect him to become Carlton Fisk, Joe Mauer, and Ted Simmons all
rolled into one. Wieters will probably develop into a very fine player, perhaps
a great one, but it is quickly becoming impossible to scale the Mt. Everest
of expectations that has been created by so many talent evaluators and
prospects gurus. Let the young man breathe a little bit…
Not long ago, David Dellucci was a productive platoon player
capable of hitting for power, drawing walks, and fielding any of the three
outfield positions. On Friday, the Indians designated Dellucci for assignment,
a prelude to what will probably be his unconditional release. Based upon the
laments of Indians fans who have watched him stagger through the last season
and a half, Dellucci’s career looks to be cooked. He can’t hit, run, or field
at a competent level anymore, not even well enough to play regularly for an
Indians team crying for help in the outfield corners…
You know the first-place Yankees are doing well when Mike
Lupica makes only two references to them in his Sunday “Shooting From The Lip”
series of one-liners. If the Yankees were still struggling, as they did for the
first month of the season, every other segment of Lupica’s “column” would
feature some kind of potshot against the organization. The pattern has become
oh-so predictable from the guy who has been paid to hate the Yankees for over
In a season filled with injury, disappointment, and general
underperformance, the A’s have found a bright spot in the play of veteran
second baseman Adam Kennedy. Acquired from the Rays as a replacement for the
perennially injured Mark Ellis, Kennedy is hitting .400 with five stolen bases
since being anointed the interim pivotman for Oakland. The Rays must be kicking themselves
for dumping Kennedy in a cash deal, especially after they lost Akinori Iwamura
to injury for the balance of the season. Tampa’s
unsettled second base situation is one of just several problem areas, in
addition to the season-long slump of Pat Burrell and the injury- ravaged
bullpen, where journeyman sidewinder Randy Choate is now receiving chances to
These words will mark my final musings for MLBlogs. After an
eventful and fruitful four-year run as the author of this blog, I’ve decided to
pack up the laptop and move to another venue. I want to thank at least some of
the people who have helped me along the way, such as Mark Newman, who has
provided guidance and assistance since my first article appeared here in May of
2005. Jacob Wilson has also helped by providing technical assistance, a
necessity for someone who is as computer ignorant as me. Additionally, I must
mention the contributions of those who have posted comments, along with the
loyalty of the readers, a small but dedicated group who have motivated and
supported my efforts. I hope you have all enjoyed the writing here, a product
of hard work and an undying love for our great game.
I will continue to write for Alex Belth’s Bronx Banter, but
beginning this week, I will be writing a weekly article for The Hardball Times,
an outstanding web site featuring original in-depth comment. I will also be
contributing periodically to the site’s new blog, THT Live. So beginning this
Friday, you can find my writing at www.thehardballtimes.com.
I hope that at least some of our readers and posters will follow us over there
while continuing to support some of the good people here at MLB, like Bronx
Banter, Julia’s Rants, The Newberg Report, and Curt Smith’s Voices of the Game.
So it is time to bid goodbye and farewell, but hopefully
only until the next adventure begins in a new location. See you at The Hardball
With Carlos Delgado out of commission for at least two
months and possibly longer, the Mets need to face facts and acquire a first
baseman who can hit with some power. Even with Delgado for most of this season,
the Mets have hit the third fewest home runs among the 30 major league teams;
only the Giants and A’s from the power-starved Bay Area have lower totals. Of
the available first basemen, Nick “The Stick” Johnson appears to be the best
player. According to the estimable Peter Gammons, the Nationals have asked for
right-hander Bobby Parnell in return. As much as Johnson could help, I don’t
see the Mets making that deal. Parnell, who was just clocked at 100 miles per
hour at a weekend game in Fenway
Park, has a full arsenal
of four pitches and could contribute long-term as a No. 3 starter. Given
Johnson’s injury history, the Mets would be wise to hold onto Parnell and
substitute another pitcher or two (Brian Stokes? Sean Green?) in his place…
The Mets have also expressed interest in Mark DeRosa, the super-utilityman
who could become the first victim of Cleveland’s
dreadful start. DeRosa’s versatility would be wasted as a first baseman, but he
could always move to left field or second base once Delgado returns in July.
The Mets have received virtually no home run production from their second
basemen or corner outfielders, which points out the lack of depth within their
Is it just me or is anyone else getting sick of Jake Peavy’s
pickiness when it comes to finding a new place to pitch? First, Peavy didn’t
want to go to Atlanta,
and now he’s given the heave-ho to the White Sox, who had agreed to send two
prospects to the Padres. Peavy wants a contract extension to accompany any
trade, and has also indicated that he prefers to play in the National League,
and not the American League. Does Peavy have such little confidence in his
ability that he feels he can’t be successful in the tougher league? If that’s
the case, I’d be awfully hesitant to trade a large package for Peavy,
ostensibly one of the top five or ten starting pitchers in the game. Peavy’s
reticence, along with his inability to get into the seventh or eighth innings,
should serve as red flags to opposing general managers…
While the Padres failed in their latest attempt to trade
Peavy, they did execute a minor deal on Friday, sending Jody Gerut to the
Brewers for Tony Gwynn, Jr. Let’s chalk this one up as strictly a public
relations move, as the Padres acquired the son of their first full-fledged Hall
of Famer. At best, the younger Gwynn looks like fourth outfielder material,
hardly a fair return for Gerut, who has some power and can handle all three
outfield positions. If Gerut can stay healthy, he’ll help the surprising
Brewers in the jumbled NL Central…
How much longer do the Orioles wait before summoning No. 1
prospect Matt Wieters from Triple-A? The O’s, who are going nowhere in a
stacked AL East, have been playing an aging Gregg Zaun as their first-string
catcher when he’s clearly a backup at this stage of his career. Orioles fan need
some reasons to hope; let that hope begin with the promotion of Wieters…
Is it any wonder that the A’s aren’t scoring runs? Not only
have they suffered a huge power outage at McAfee Coliseum, but now they’re
batting Orlando Cabera in the leadoff spot. I actually like Cabrera as a
player, but if he’s a leadoff man, then Perez Hilton is a great journalist…
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels might be an early
favorite for American League executive of the year honors. Daniels took a great
deal of heat for some of his offseason moves, like moving Michael Young to
third base, but most of Daniels’ plans seem to be working. The Rangers are much
better defensively with Young at third base and rookie Elvis Andrus at
shortstop, allowing Hank Blalock to concentrate on his hitting skills as a DH.
The signing and revival of Andruw Jones has also paid dividends, giving the
Rangers depth in the outfield and a potential trade chip should they fall out
The Hall of Fame staged a nice event on Saturday, when it
debuted its new exhibit, “Viva Baseball,” which chronicles the history of Latin
American participation in the sport. Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda and Juan
Marichal attended the opening, with both speaking eloquently about their pride
in the achievements of such fellow Latino standouts as Felipe Alou, Roberto
Clemente, and Minnie Minoso. A full house of media, including a number of
prominent Latino broadcasters and writers, made for standing room only in the
VIP seating area bordering the exhibit. With its array of vivid colors, selection
of multi-media interviews with Latino Hall of Famers, the impressive
large-screen video board, and the bilingual approach to storytelling, the
exhibit is brilliantly presented…
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, two new names have been added
to the roster for the first ever Hall of Fame Classic, scheduled for June 21 in
Cooperstown. Jeff Kent and Mike Timlin, both
retired after finishing their careers in 2008, have committed to play in the
old-timers game scheduled for Doubleday Field. (I could see Kent hitting three or four home
runs while taking shots at the short left-field porch at Doubleday.) Aside from
Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, and
Brooks Robinson, the Hall can now boast the following headliners for the game: Kent,
Bobby Grich, George Foster, Jim Kaat and Lee Smith. Of those latter five, I’d
vote Kent and Grich for Hall of Fame induction, with tough “no” votes for Kaat
and Smith. And here’s perhaps the best news about the Hall of Fame Classic.
Tickets are only $12.50, a far cry from the small fortune being asked by the
Yankees to attend games at their new stadium.
How quickly a player’s value can change. Brandon Inge could
have been had for a song during spring training. The Tigers would have taken a
small amount of talent from any team willing to pick up the bulk of Inge’s
contract for 2009. Just a few weeks later, the Tigers are glad that nobody took
a flyer on their starting third baseman. Through Sunday’s games, Inge has hit
seven home runs and is making an early argument for a berth on the American
League All-Star team, especially with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list. He’s
also played a stellar level of defense at third base, which is no surprise to some
scouts who consider him capable of winning a Gold Glove…
The Royals made a surprising move this weekend when they
designated third-string catcher Brayan Pena for assignment. Pena is a rare
breed in 2009–a backup catcher who can actually hit and carries more than a
modicum of power. He also brings versatility to the table, with his ability to
fill in at third, first, and the outfield corners. Expect the Royals to find a
taker in a trade for Pena. If not, he won’t last long on the waiver wire. There
are at least a dozen major league teams who could use help behind the plate
The Yankees just cannot seem to avoid injuries. For the
third straight year, the Bombers have been assaulted by a wave of physical
setbacks to start the season. They have five players slated to be part of their
25-man roster currently on the disabled list. The growing list includes set-up
reliever Brian Bruney (elbow), starter Chien-Ming Wang (hip), and default third
baseman Cody Ransom (torn quad), all of whom have hit the DL during the
Yankees’ disastrous weekend venture to Boston…
Speaking of waves of injuries, I thought the A’s would be a
factor in the AL West, but the disabled just isn’t cooperating. Staff ace
Justin Duchscherer remains on the 15-day DL with an elbow that underwent
arthroscopic surgery and won’t be able to return until the middle of May at the
earliest. The A’s also learned this week
that their No. 1 set-up reliever, Joey Devine, will likely be lost for the
season because of an elbow injury. With Duchscherer and Devine, the A’s would
have made a run for the Western Division with the Angels, who have a ravaged
pitching staff of their own, but without at least one of the “Double D’s,”
Billy Beane may have to conduct another firesale this July…
Jeff Francouer has promised repeatedly that he’ll be a new
player in 2009, but we’re still seeing the same strangling level of impatience
at the plate. Through Sunday’s games, Francouer has drawn only three walks in
18 games, which is palatable if you’re a Kirby Puckett type of player, but unacceptable
if you’re not hitting for power and not bringing Gold Glove fielding to right
field. Unfortunately, the Braves are strapped for outfielders. They’ve already
made top prospect Jordan Schafer their starting center fielder and just had to place
the disappointing Garret Anderson on the disabled list…
On paper, the signing of Milton Bradley made tons of sense
for the Cubs. They need the kind of left-handed bat that the switch-hitting Bradley
can provide. But Bradley has started out miserably at the plate (one hit in 23
at-bats), has already suffered his first injury, and won’t play again until Lou
Piniella deems him 100 per cent healthy. In the meantime, the Cubs will
continue to play with 24 men. Observers in Chicago are also wondering when Milton and
Sweet Lou will have their first blow-up. Both men have explosive tempers that
tend to erupt when things go badly on the playing field. Watch out in the Windy City…
Carlos Beltran is hitting like he did during the 2004
postseason, when he practically carried the Astros to their first berth in the
World Series. By flattening out an already level swing, Beltran has been able
to hit National League pitching at a .406 clip. Beltran won’t hit .400 for the
entire season, but his speed, patience, and ability to switch-hit make him a
contender for his first batting title. I just hope that Beltran doesn’t wear
himself out trying to catch everything in an outfield that will feature Daniel “Bull
in a China Shop” Murphy all too regularly and Gary Sheffield on occasion… Sheffield’s
presence on the roster continues to surprise many of the New York beat writers. With Sheffield in town, Fernando Tatis’ role has been reduced
to almost nothing, while Ryan Church remains a platoon player in the eyes of
Jerry Manuel. Sheffield started Friday night’s game against Washington’s Scott Olsen, the first time the
Mets had faced a left-handed starter all season…
Finally, a postscript to Hank Aaron’s visit to the Hall of
Fame on Saturday. In filling out all of the artifacts contained in the new
Aaron exhibit, the former Braves legend has donated more than 50 pieces of
memorabilia to the Hall of Fame and Museum. The large supply of Aaron artifacts
include not only the requisite share of milestone bats, balls and gloves, and
his entire uniform from home run No. 715, but also several bricks and a porch
post from Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile, Alabama. Those surviving pieces
from Aaron’s youth serve as yet another reminder of how “The Hammer” came from
modest beginnings, overcoming a lack of money and a preponderance of racism on
his way to one of the greatest careers in the game’s history. Kudos to Hall of
Fame curators Erik Strohl and Mary Quinn for a job well done in constructing
such an extensive exhibit on Aaron, now on permanent display on the Museum’s
Beginning this week and continuing most Thursdays throughout the season, we present a new feature at Cooperstown Confidential. Though they have become somewhat of a dying art in the major leagues, nicknames are one of my favorite pastimes. They tell us more about teams and players, while adding some color to the game. In this week’s lidlifter, let’s examine some of the best secondary nicknames that have been given to some memorable teams over the last 100-plus years.
all current-day teams have official nicknames, there’s always been a tendency
to give some clubs more colorful names, as a way of paying tribute to unique
characteristics or personalities within the teams’ dynamics. Here are 12 of the
most intriguing names that have been given to teams over the years, either by
fans, the media, or by the players themselves.
“Hitless Wonders”: 1906 Chicago White Sox
the depths of offensive frustration in the Deadball Era, the White Sox batted
.230 with a grand total of seven home runs in the regular season, yet still
claimed the American League pennant. The Sox might not have hit much, but they
drew a ton of walks and played little ball to the hilt, finishing fourth in the
league in runs scored. The White Sox then pulled off an ever larger upset in
the World Series, downing the crosstown Cubs of Tinker-to-Evans-to-Chance fame,
four games to two.
“Murderers’ Row:” 1927-1928 New York
team nickname has matched the fame of “Murderers’ Row,” which actually
originated as a 19th century reference to an isolated row of prison
cells featuring some of the worst criminals of the infamous Tombs prison. The baseball version of Murderers’ Row
included four future Hall of Famers–Earle Combs (batting leadoff), Babe Ruth
(batting third), Lou Gehrig (in the cleanup spot), and Tony Lazzeri (batting
sixth). The ’27 Yankees didn’t receive much punch from the bottom of the order,
where weak links like Jumping Joe Dugan and Pat Collins resided, but the top
six batters in the lineup did the damage of nine full men.
“The Gas House Gang:” 1934-1939 St. Louis
name originated with a neighborhood on the lower east side of Manhattan, where a violent group of young men
tormented citizens and came to call themselves the “Gashouse Gang.” The
Cardinals’ version of the “Gang” wasn’t quite as vicious as the street thugs,
but they did feature a number of ruffians, including infielders Leo Durocher
and Pepper Martin, outfielder Ducky Medwick, and ace pitcher Dizzy Dean. The
Cardinals of that era played a hard-nosed brand of ball, sliding hard into
bases, knocking over opposing defenders, and rarely backing away from on-field
“Whiz Kids:” 1950 Philadelphia Phillies:
out of nowhere to win the National League pennant, Eddie Sawyer’s “Kids”
featured a day-to-day lineup of players almost exclusively under the age of 30.
The oldest regular was 30-year-old first baseman Eddie Waitkus, but the stars
were the 23-year-old Richie Ashburn and the 25-year-old Del Ennis. The starting
rotation was also headlined by two youngsters, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons,
whose combined total of wins (37) nearly matched their collective age (44).
“Big Red Machine:” 1969-1976 Cincinnati
newspapers and magazines began to refer to Cincinnati’s dynamic offensive team
as the “Big Red Machine” as early as 1969 and ’70, but the name really caught
on when the franchise steamrolled the rest of the majors in winning the ’75 and
’76 World Championships. That mid-1970s run included a four-game World Series annhilation of the Yankees, a series that too often seemed like Thurman Munson battling alone against Cincinnati’s entire 25-man roster. The cast of characters changed significantly from 1969
to 1976, with Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Bobby Tolan eventually giving way to
George Foster, Joe Morgan, and Ken Griffey Sr. The constants were Johnny Bench,
Tony Perez, and Pete Rose, though both Perez and Rose switched positions in
mid-stream; Perez moved from third to first, and Rose went from right field to
left field to third base. Combining power and speed, few teams in history have
matched the offensive potency of “The Machine.”
“Pittsburgh Lumber Company:” 1970-1976 Pittsburgh
The Lumber Company name didn’t really take hold until the mid-1970s, but in retrospect, the 1971 world championship team should be included. Using
a free-swinging approach that might not have been fully appreciated by some
Sabermetricians, the Pirates pummeled their way to five division titles, one
pennant, and a World Championship during the first half of the decade. Other than
Willie Stargell and Bob Robertson, the “Lumber Company” didn’t like to take
walks, which they generally regarded as unmanly. Instead, Roberto Clemente, Al
Oliver, and Manny Sanguillen preferred to swing the bat early and often, and
they did it well, banging a parade of singles and doubles in a constant barrage
against opposing pitching staffs.
“Mustache Gang:” 1972 Oakland A’s
initially balking at Reggie Jackson’s spring training mustache, Oakland owner Charlie
Finley decided that he liked the new facial hair so much that he offered $300
bonuses to each of his players if they followed suit by Father’s Day. All 25
players took up the challenge, what with $300 being a lot of money to a major
leaguer in 1972. Even after the resulting “Mustache Day” promotion, most of the
A’s kept their mustaches; some took the trend a step further by letting their
hair grown long, while adding beards and heavy sideburns to boot. The new look
certainly didn’t hurt the A’s on the field, as Finley’s gang went on to win the
first of three consecutive world championships.
“The F-Troop:” 1973-1974 Atlanta Braves
Braves’ bench players came to call themselves the “F-Troop,” in reference to
the popular TV show that starred Ken Berry and Forrest Tucker. Although the
Braves finished fifth and third, respectively, in 1973 and ’74, they did have
some productive players in reserve. In 1973, backup catcher-first baseman Dick
Dietz hit .295 while drawing an amazing 49 walks against only 25 strikeouts.
Reserve first baseman Frank Tepedino hit .295 with 29 RBIs. And utilityman
Chuck Goggin batted .289 while showing the versatility to both catch and play
shortstop. Without Dietz and Goggin, the bench wasn’t nearly as productive in
’74, resulting in a quick fadeaway for the F-Troop nickname.
“The Southside Hitmen:” 1977 Chicago White Sox
’77 White Sox of Bob Lemon finished no better than third in the American League
West, couldn’t field a lick, and had the third-worst pitching in the league,
but still managed to win 90 games while creating a legacy that makes them one
of the most beloved Sox teams in memory. The hard-hitting, stone-gloved lineup
featured Jorge Orta at second, Eric Soderholm at third, Ralph “The Roadrunner” Garr in left,
Richie Zisk in right, and Oscar Gamble at DH, all the while wearing those awful
black and white throwback uniforms that featured collared shirts of the
“untuckable” variety. Finishing second in the league in runs scored, the
“Hitmen” made the summer of ’77 a fun one in the Windy City–and a final legacy to aging owner Bill Veeck.
Zoo:” 1977-1979 New York Yankees
nickname became popular because of the book of the same name written by Sparky
Lyle and Peter Golenbock. “The Bronx Zoo” served as a perfect description of a
team where arguments took place on a daily basis, players fought in the showers
(Cliff Johnson vs. Goose Gossage), the team’s center fielder (Mickey Rivers)
spoke in a language all his own, and Lyle himself routinely sat on birthday
cakes delivered to the clubhouse. It was
all in a day’s work with the Yankees of the late seventies.
“Riders of the Lonesome Pine:” 1981 Detroit Tigers
’81 Tigers finished out of the playoff money during the split season and the
bench players really were nothing special, but they deserve credit for coming
up with one of the most colorful nicknames for a backup squad of players. “The
Riders” included the wacky (Johnny Wockenfuss and that wonderful leg-crossing stance), the obscure (Ron Jackson, Mick
Kelleher, and Stan Papi), and the forgotten (Lynn Jones and Ricky Peters).
Wallbangers:” 1982-1983 Milwaukee Brewers
nickname was a natural, given the first name of manager Harvey Kuenn and the
team’s ability to hit home runs at a moment’s notice. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas
led the American League with 39 home runs in 1982, while Cecil Cooper and Ben
Oglivie also cracked the 30-home run barrier. The “Wallbangers” advanced to the
seventh game of the 1982 World Series, but fell back in ’83, finishing fifth in
a stacked American League East. Two future Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor and
Robin Yount, played as regulars for the ’82 Wallbangers, while two others, Don
Sutton and Rollie Fingers, contributed to an underrated pitching staff.
Each winter brings outrageous free agent demands by players and their agents. At the start of the current off season, Scott Boras let it be known that he wanted a ten-year, $250 million contract for prized client Mark Teixeira. Last week, Boras “settled” for an eight-year deal worth $180 million. But even Boras’ initial demands don’t represent the most outrageous request by an agent or player this winter. No, that honor belongs to Jason Giambi, who has had the gall to insist that the A’s give him a three-year contract running through the 2011 season. That would be a three-year contract for a 38-year-old, one-dimensional slugger with a bad body and a severe lack of athleticism. That would be three years for a guy who plays first base with all the dexterity of a stone statue, and will be limited to DH duty for the balance of the contract. That would be three years for a streak hitter who disappears for long stretches, making him an offensive non-entity because of his lack of foot speed and inability to make contact. Is Giambi out of his mind? How did A’s GM Billy Beane prevent himself from keeling over with laughter after hearing that particular demand from Giambi’s agent? I mean, you can’t write this stuff…
Because of Giambi’s desire a three-year deal, the A’s have turned to two other free agents of left-handed vintage, Bobby Abreu and Garret Anderson. Abreu makes some sense because of his ability to maintain a high on-base percentage and steal bases, but Anderson is harder to figure. Never a patient hitter, Anderson doesn’t draw walks the way the A’s would like their sluggers to do. He also has a bad reputation for failing to run out grounders and pop-ups, a criticism that dates back several years with the Angels. Frankly, I’m surprised the A’s haven’t made a run at underrated free agent Adam Dunn, whose combination of power and patience makes him the consummate “Moneyball” player. Dunn also has seen his market shrink this winter, making it possible for the A’s to sign him to a three-year deal at reasonable terms. With Dunn and Matt Holliday in the middle of the Oakland order, the A’s would have their best one-two power punch since the hey day of Giambi and Miguel Tejada…
Dunn’s former team, the Reds, made a risky signing over the weekend. They inked the non-tendered Willy Taveras to a two-year contract, thereby committing themselves to him as their new leadoff man. Taveras is a good defensive center fielder with plenty of range, but his .320 on-base percentage is less than satisfactory in the leadoff spot. And while he did lead the major leagues with 68 stolen bases, it’s always a bad sign when your stolen base total exceeds your runs scored total; Taveras scored a mere 64 runs in 2008. He’s really only a slightly upgraded version of Omar Moreno, which is fine when you have players like Bill Madlock, Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, Bill Robinson, and Mike “The Hit Man” Easler batting behind you, but the Reds don’t have that assemblage of talent backing their leadoff man. In an ideal world, Taveras should be batting eighth in a National League lineup, but the Reds don’t have anyone else who fills the bill properly…
With Taveras in place, the Reds now have two-thirds of their outfield set: Taveras’ presence in center and allows Jay Bruce to move to right field, where he’ll be a better long-term fit. Still in need of someone to play left field, the Reds are considering moving Edwin Encarnacion from third base to the outfield, but they’d first have to sign Ty Wigginton. The Reds have also made contact with the Yankees about one of their spare outfielders, either Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, or Nick Swisher. Let’s rule out Matsui, mostly because no one knows whether his two surgically repaired knees will hold up playing the outfield. IT could come down to a preference for either Nady (who can be a free agent after 2009) or Swisher (who is signed long term), with the Yankees likely looking for two solid bench players in return. A package including a catcher (Ryan Hanigan?) and an infielder like Jeff Keppinger could get it done, or perhaps Keppinger and a B-level prospect.
In an age when there are few wheeler-dealer types among major league general managers, Billy Beane is the closest thing we’ll ever find to an old throwback like Charlie Finley. Thankfully, Beane comes without the personality problems that made Finley reviled among the other owners and the rest of the baseball establishment. But just like Finley, Beane will make trades at any time, whether it’s dealing veterans for kids, like he did over the summer in trading Rich Harden and Joe Blanton to the Cubs and Phillies, respectively. Just a few months later, he’s on the verge of trading kids for veterans, with a swap of three players to the Rockies for Matt Holliday pending only the passing of physicals for the players involved.
In acquiring Holliday, a legitimate star, Beane is sending a clear message to the Angels and the rest of the American League West: The A’s can win a weak division in 2009. Beane understands that the Mariners are putrid, the Rangers are still rebuilding, and the Angels could be on the downhill slide once they lose free agents Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez. Holliday by himself won’t be enough to slice the gap between the A’s and Angels, but he is an excellent first step in that direction. Holliday is an all-purpose offensive player who hits for average and power, draws walks, and runs the bases well. For a team that desperately needs an offensive infusion, there are few players who can help as much as Holliday. There’s a perception that Holliday is a one-dimensional slugger, but he’s a smart baserunner who managed to steal 28 bases this season. He won’t steal that many again in 2009, but it’s reasonable to think he’ll steal 15 to 20 bases, making him a threat to go 30-20 in the power-speed department. As an outfielder, Holliday’s probably below average, but isn’t such a liability that he makes you cringe the way that Manny Ramirez and Bobby Abreu do. He’ll also find the outfield at McAfee Coliseum easier to play than that of Coors Field.
If Beane can supplement his apparent pickup of Holliday with several other shrewd acquisitions, the A’s will have a chance to make a run at the Angels next summer. Beane still needs a new left side of the infield; along those lines, he will make a hard charge at free agent Rafael Furcal, who could double as Oakland’s new leadoff man. He would also be smart to stop counting on a comeback from the always-injured Eric Chavez, and instead consider free agent third basemen like Casey Blake and Joe Crede. In giving up Carlos Gonzalez as part of the return package for Holliday, he’ll need to find a new center fielder, perhaps someone like Melky Cabrera (trade) or Jim Edmonds (free agency). The A’s could then add Jason Giambi as a free agent, giving them a DH who walks and hits home runs the way that the A’s once did during the height of their Moneyball frenzy.
So there’s still a lot of work to do if Beane is indeed hellbent on trying to make the playoffs in 2009. But with Holliday soon to be in place batting fourth and playing left field for the new-look A’s, Beane has managed to complete his first major hurdle of the off season.
This is no way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of being the Oakland A’s. Including Sunday’s 13-1 humiliation at the hands of the White Sox, the A’s are now 5-23 since the All-Star break. As Bill Madden pointed out in his Sunday column in the Daily News, their level of play is so historically bad that they are threatening to eclipse the franchise mark for the worst post-All-Star break record ever. That was set in 1943, when the Philadelphia A’s went 15-61 under Hall of Famer Connie Mack. For those who may have missed out on that team, the ’43 A’s featured the immortal infield of Dick Siebert, Pete Suder, Irv Hall, and Eddie Mayo, who combined to hit four home runs over the 154-game schedule.
The reasons for the sorry state of the current A’s are numerous. A full-throttle assault of injuries (including season-ending jolts to Mike Sweeney and Eric Chavez), midseason trades that sent Rich Harden and Joe Blanton elsewhere, and a reliance on too many not-ready-for-prime-time prospects have all conspired to place the A’s in a death spiral. If you’d like to place a finger on the No. 1 culprit, however, you might be advised to look at the team’s offense. At their current pace, the A’s are on track to score the fewest number of runs in franchise history since the 1979 A’s. Managed by the forgotten Jim Marshall, those A’s managed to score 573 runs for the season. With such luminaries as Mike Edwards playing second base and Rob Picciolo at shortstop, and journeyman catcher Jeff Newman leading the team with a scant 22 home runs, the ’79 A’s lost an Oakland-record 108 games on their way to finishing last in the American League West.
In terms of hitting, today’s A’s aren’t much better. Corner infielders Daric Barton and Jack Hannahan have been offensive ciphers, combining for ten home runs all season. (Where are Dave Revering and Wayne Gross when you need them?) After a good start to the year, outfielder Emil Brown has reverted to journeyman form, justifying the Royals’ decision to release him after 2007. Even highly regarded center fielder Carlos Gonzalez has struggled, experiencing growing pains despite being the top prospect acquired from Arizona in the Danny Haren deal last winter.
Only a good start to the season has prevented the A’s from taking their place next to the franchise’s worst teams in terms of won-loss record. Since moving to Oakland in 1968, the A’s have experienced 100-loss seasons only three times. Despite their horrific play over the last month, the current A’s are only 11 games under .500, at 56-67. Padded by the early season wins, the A’s would have to endure a truly awful stretch for them to challenge the 100-loss mark.
Then again, it’s only mid-August. Maybe these A’s have another 33 losses in them…
In contrast to the A’s, the Mets are trying to reverse their trend of early season underachievement by playing their best ball over the past month. Prior to Monday’s loss to the Bucs, the Mets had won six games in a row–in spite of Billy Wagner’s continuing absence. The Mets understandably remain concerned about their bullpen, though, which explains Omar Minaya’s acquisition of Luis Ayala on Sunday. I might be in the minority on this one, but I like the pickup of Ayala. Though he’s pitched poorly this season, Ayala was very good in 2007; in fact, he’s been an effective middle reliever his entire career. His career ERA of 3.33 is a full run better than the league average. A change of scenery–from the league-worst Nationals to the hard-charging Mets–might be a tonic for Ayala, who is only 30 and fully healthy after missing all of 2006 because of Tommy John surgery…
ESPN SportsNation has been conducting polls on the greatest players in each franchise’s history. The Reds, as one of the oldest franchises in the game, have featured perhaps the most stunning ballot results thus far. At last look, the leading Cincinnati votegetter has been baseball’s favorite banned boy–none other than Pete Rose–with about 55 per cent of the tally. Somehow, Johnny Bench is running second to Rose, and Joe Morgan can be found all the way down at fifth place. Unbelievable. Gambling issues aside, there is simply no way that a reasonable argument can be made that Rose was a better player than Bench (MLB’s greatest catcher) or Morgan (arguably the game’s best second baseman ever). In my mind, Rose ranks as no better than the 4th best player in franchise history, well behind Bench, Morgan, and Frank Robinson. Let the arguments begin…
Finally, this is the last week that we’ll take suggestions for the new baseball card image we’ll be displaying on the home page. (Sorry, Willie Mays.) Topps cards are preferred, but we’ll also consider Donruss, Fleer, and Upper Deck if the story behind the card is a good one. Post your suggestions now!
As much attention as Carlos Quentin and Cliff Lee have gained from the media for their surprising starts to 2008, it might surprise you to learn that Emil Brown of the A’s is second in the American League in RBIs. It certainly surprised me; I just realized Brown’s lofty standing this morning, after a visit to MLB.com’s homepage. This is the same Emil Brown who was let go by the wretched Royals after slugging a cool .347 in 2007. When Oakland GM Billy Beane signed Brown during the winter, more than a few eyebrows raised up in the direction of the Bay Area. At 33, Brown didn’t seem to fit in with Oakland’s rebuilding plan, but his contributions in right field have moved the A’s past the rebuilding phase and straight into contention. If nothing else, Beane might be able to peddle Brown to a contender for a prospect later this summer–assuming that the A’s themselves fall out of contention…
If you’re not an A’s fan, you’d be hard-pressed to name Oakland’s starting outfield, but such anonymity hasn’t prevented the A’s from playing .600 ball. Oakland’s current day outfield hardly brings back memories of the Rickey Henderson-Dwayne Murphy-Tony Armas combination that once roamed the warning track at the Oakland Coliseum, but Brown and company are holding their own. Brown and Jack Cust, just named the American League Player of the Week, have given Bob Geren excellent production from the corners, while Ryan Sweeney has filled the bill defensively in center field. ..
Defenders of Scott Boras wonder some of us lose our patience with the super agent from time to time. Well, Boras gave us more ammunition this week when he talked about his client, Oliver Perez, and his upcoming free agency. Boras compared Perez to Johan Santana, saying that the former is similar to the latter at the same age. I’m sorry, but when someone tries to jam pabblum like this down our throats, it’s aggravating at the least–and offensive at the most…
Former big league slugger Nate Colbert will be visiting Cooperstown in late June. Best known for hitting five home runs in a 1972 doubleheader, Colbert will be participating in a special program at the Hall of Fame, with times and details to be announced. Colbert was one of the few bright spots for the Padres during their early futility as an expansion franchise. Colbert won selection to three All-Star teams, but saw his career short-circuited by back problems, which ended his playing days by the time he was 30.
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.
The events of September 1, 1971 have never received much media attention, paling in comparison to the coverage of Jackie Robinson’s historic entrance into the major leagues. Yet, the happenings in Pittsburgh on that date, 35 years ago, constitute one of the most significant milestones in the racial history of major league baseball.
That afternoon, while sitting in his office at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh prepared to oppose the Philadelphia Phillies and left-handed pitcher Woodie Fryman. Murtaugh filled out the following names on his lineup card:
Rennie Stennett, 2B
Gene Clines, CF
Roberto Clemente, RF
Willie Stargell, LF
Manny Sanguillen, C
Dave Cash, 3B
Al Oliver, 1B
Jackie Hernandez, SS
Dock Ellis, P
At first glance, Murtaugh’s lineup seemed to represent nothing particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, the lineup appeared typical of ones that he would use against left-handed starters like Fryman, with the exception of the lefty-swinging Al Oliver at first base in place of the right-handed batting Bob Robertson. Upon further review, however, observers in the press box noticed that the lineup consisted exclusively of African-American and dark-skinned Latin American players. Baseball experts surmised that for the first time in the history of baseball, and 24 years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier, a major league team was employing an all-black lineup.
Gene Clines, one of the players in the lineup that evening, initially believed that the Pirates had used an all-black lineup several years earlier. Willie Stargell, one of the senior members of the 1971 Pirates, corrected Clines’ speculation. “No, this is the first time,” said Stargell, the Hall of Fame outfielder-first baseman who died in 2001. “Back in 1967, in Philadelphia, [former Pirate manager] Harry Walker started eight of us, but the pitcher, Denny Ribant, was white.”
Although Murtaugh’s decision to write out an all-black lineup drew relatively little attention from the fans and media, it was immediately noticed by some Pirate players in the clubhouse prior to the game. “We saw the lineup on the [clubhouse] wall… Oh yeah, we were aware,” recalled pitcher Steve Blass, the eventual winner in Game Seven of the 1971 World Series.
In 1971, the Pirates represented baseball’s most heavily integrated team, with black and Latino players accounting for nearly fifty percent of the club’s roster. The Pirates also featured one of baseball’s most harmonious teams, with friendships and gatherings often crossing racial lines. White players often socialized with black and Latino players, either at bars and restaurants after games, or at barbecues and parties organized by one of the team’s leaders, Willie Stargell. Considering the unity of the team, the players’ reaction to the all-black lineup was not surprising. “We had a loose group, [so] we were all laughing and hollering about it and teasing each other,” said Blass. “I thought that was a great reaction.”
Third baseman Richie Hebner, who sat out the game with an injury, said the players’ pre-game reaction to the lineup typified the kind of good-natured racial humor that was prevalent with the Pirates. Hebner said such humor was doled out purely for fun, and not intended to be taken seriously. “Some of the guys joked around the clubhouse, saying, ‘Hey, you white guys, you can take a rest tonight’… Back then, Ellis and Stargell would get on us [white players] and we’d get on them. You could do that,” Hebner recalled.
Other players, like Al Oliver, didn’t realize that the Pirates were actually using an all-black lineup until the middle of the game. “I had no clue,” Oliver said, “Because as a rule we had at least five or six [black and Latino players] out there anyway. So, two or three more was no big thing. I didn’t know until about the third or fourth inning. Dave Cash mentioned to me, he says, ‘Hey, Scoop, we got all brothers out here.’” Oliver pauses for a moment and laughs. “You know, I thought about it, and I said, ‘We sure do!’ “
The fact that Oliver even started the game was strange for several reasons. Why was Oliver, primarily a center fielder in 1971, playing at first base instead of usual starter Bob Robertson? Even more strangely, why was Oliver starting against a left-hander, when Murtaugh had benched him against many southpaws that summer? “That’s a good question,” Oliver replied. “That’s a good question, because to this day when people ask me who was the toughest pitcher I ever faced, it was Woodie Fryman.” One article indicated that Robertson sat out the game with a minor injury, but didn’t specify what the injury was. According to Oliver, Murtaugh may have been looking to light a fire under a slumping Robertson, who had gone 2-for-14 in his previous four games. “Bob Robertson normally would have played that day, but Dave Cash had told me within the last [few] years, and I never knew this, that Murtaugh was kind of disappointed in Bob for whatever reason. I don’t know what the exact reason was, but he was disappointed in Bob, so he sat him down. He played me that night at first base.”
Popular and patriarchal, Murtaugh had become a comforting, father-like figure for almost all of the Pirate players, regardless of skin color or nationality. In the past, he had not hesitated in giving significant amounts of playing time to black and Latino players, and now seemed to be showing pioneering courage in making out the first all-black lineup when he was under no pressure to do so. So why did Murtaugh write out the lineup the way he did on September 1, 1971? Given the decision to start Oliver over Robertson, was it possible that Murtaugh was looking for a way to put an all-black lineup on the field? Oliver doesn’t think so. “In my estimation, I think Danny was just putting the best team on the field, and he probably didn’t notice [the all-black lineup] until later. I didn’t know until the third or fourth inning.”
Steve Blass said Murtaugh was concerned with winning games–not with making social statements. “This was not a statement, nor a device,” Blass said. “The thing I remember about it, when he was interviewed afterwards, Murtaugh said, ‘I put the nine best athletes out there. The best nine I put out there tonight happened to be black. No big deal. Next question.’ ” Blass said Murtaugh handled the matter with the proper attitude and perspective. “He was aware of the repercussions that might come out of it,” said Blass. “But he didn’t have a problem with it.”
So, for the first time since the demise of the Negro Leagues in the early 1960s, a professional major league-caliber baseball team fielded a starting nine consisting exclusively of blacks. The results? The Phillies scored two runs against Dock Ellis in the first, but the Bucs countered with six hits and five runs in the bottom half of the inning. The Phillies added four more runs in the second, knocking out Ellis, who was replaced by long reliever Bob Moose. Down 6-5, the Pirates rallied for three runs in the second. Gene Clines singled and Roberto Clemente walked. After Clines stole third, Willie Stargell produced one run with a sac fly, and Manny Sanguillen added two more on a home run.
Bob Veale, also a black player, relieved Bob Moose in the third inning, and struck out the one batter he faced. Ironically, Luke Walker, a white pitcher from Texas, relieved in the fourth and emerged as the Pirate pitching star of the day. Walker held the Phillies to one run over six innings and picked up the win in a 10-7 victory for the Bucs. On offense, Clines, Clemente, Stargell, Sanguillen, Oliver, and Rennie Stennett each collected two base hits, and Clines and Cash each stole a base. The all-black lineup had produced a win in its very first major league go-round. Unfortunately, only 11,278 fans were on hand at Three Rivers Stadium to witness this intriguing piece of baseball history.
At the time, most of the Pirates’ players and fans didn’t grasp the historical relevance of the first all-black lineup, but they have grown to appreciate its importance. “[In 1971], I didn’t even think anything about it,” Oliver said. “Nothing about it at all.” Once his playing career ended in 1985, Oliver took a step back and emerged with a different perspective about the night of September 1, 1971. “But now, of course, it means something. Once you’re out of the game, you look back and [you realize] you could be a part of baseball history. To me, that’s something that I feel good about, being part of baseball history.”
Bob Robertson never did make an appearance in the game, but like Oliver, has a similar perspective on its importance. “I think it’s a great thing that really happened there,” Robertson said. “That was the type of ballclub that we had. It didn’t make a difference if you were black, yellow, green, purple, whatever. We enjoyed each other’s company. We got along fine. We had a lot of respect for one another. I thought that was a great evening, to see that.”
According to some baseball historians, the all-black lineup of September 1,1971, remains significant because it exhibited how progressive the Pirate organization was in drafting and signing blacks and Latinos at all positions. In the past, major league teams had shown a willingness to sign many black infielders and outfielders, but had tended to avoid developing minority pitchers and catchers. Oliver agrees that the all-black lineup demonstrated the Pirates’ belief that blacks and Latinos could play the “thinking man’s” game behind the plate or on the mound. “I signed with the Pirates in 1964,” Oliver recalled. “In 1965, it was really my first spring training in Daytona Beach. The Pirates had signed, if you look at the catcher’s position, they had many [black] catchers. If you looked at the pitchers, there were many black pitchers that they had signed or drafted… I think what it came down to was that the Pirates were not afraid to draft black and Latin players because they were interested in one thing, in my opinion,” Oliver said, “And that was winning.”
In overview, the racial mix of the 1971 Pirates–culminating in the use of the all-black lineup–occurred as a product of the organization’s aggressive approach to seeking winning talent of any color, and the willingness to play blacks and Latinos at any position–first base, outfielder, catcher, utilityman, pitcher. “Obviously, we were looking for talent,” said Joe Brown, the architect of the ’71 Pirates, in an article that appeared in Baseball Digest in 1995. “We didn’t care where they came from or what color they were. If they happened to be black, so be it.” Unlike the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early fifties, the Pirates had not imposed a limit of four black players on their starting lineup. While other organizations had made progress in integrating parts of their major league rosters, the Pirates had taken a comprehensive, no-holds-barred approach in populating their entire roster with both African Americans and Latinos, top to bottom. The Pirates’ philosophy not only helped the team win the World Championship in 1971, but also sent the following indirect message to other major league organizations: expand the available talent pool to include black and Latino players, select the best players at each position regardless of color, and you will increase your chances of winning.
Prominent players from other teams took note of the composition of the Pirates’ roster. Frank Robinson, often mentioned as a candidate to become the major leagues’ first black manager, offered some admiring comments about the Pirates in a 1972 interview with Sport magazine. “Last year the Pirates may have had more black players than any team in baseball,” Robinson said. “They became the first team to start an all-black lineup in a game. And they won a world title.” Robinson described a direct connection between winning and the presence of minorities on a team’s roster. “Color shouldn’t matter anymore,” said Robinson, “except it’s clear if you have most of the top black players, you have a lot of top players, which gives you an edge in talent.”
Although it is difficult to prove conclusively, many of the subsequent championship teams of the 1970s seemed to have followed the lead of the Pirates. Evidence of such a trend cannot necessarily be found in any publicly attributable statements from baseball front office officials, but can be traced through their own tangible actions in assembling major league rosters. The Oakland A’s, who won three straight World Championships from 1972 to ’74, featured a changing, increasingly integrated roster. Having already developed a number of minority players, including Campy Campaneris, Reggie Jackson, and Vida Blue, by the time the Pirates won the 1971 World Series, Oakland would add a large number of African Americans and Latinos in ’72, ’73, and ’74. For example, the A’s acquired several minorities, while giving up mostly white players, in a series of trades engineered during the 1972 season. Oakland dealt onetime Cy Young winner Denny McLain to the Braves for Puerto Rican first baseman Orlando Cepeda, stole .300-hitting Dominican Matty Alou from the Cardinals for two marginal players, acquired outfielder “Downtown” Ollie Brown from San Diego for catcher Curt Blefary, and picked up Cuban utility infielder Marty Martinez from St. Louis for outfielder Brant Alyea. During the summer, the A’s promoted Venezuelan pinch-hitter Gonzalo Marquez and Panamanian speedster Allan Lewis from the minor leagues. After the season, the A’s sent pitcher Bob Locker to the Cubs for a black outfielder, Billy North, and dealt first baseman Mike Epstein to the Texas Rangers for a Mexican reliever, Horacio Pina.
During the ’73 campaign, Oakland purchased three accomplished Latino hitters (Rico Carty, Vic Davalillo, and Jesus Alou) and promoted three other minorities (Manny Trillo, Jose Morales, and Tim Hosley) from the minor leagues. In 1974, the A’s recalled top prospect Claudell Washington from the Southern League, signed sprinter Herb Washington as the game’s first “designated runner,” and acquired pinch-hitter Jim Holt from the Twins. While Oakland’s controversial owner and general manager, Charlie Finley, had come under fire for various offenses during his reign in the Bay Area, critics would have been hard-pressed to knock his frequent acquisitions of black and Latino players during Oakland’s glory years of the early 1970s.
Although Cincinnati’s championship teams of ’75 and ’76 were not as heavily populated with minorities as the aforementioned A’s, the starting lineup of the “Big Red Machine” did contain six African Americans and Latinos. Infielders Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Dave Concepcion, and the entire starting outfield of George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, and Ken Griffey, Sr. comprised a large part of baseball’s best offense. In the months after the 1971 season, the Reds had acquired both Morgan and Geronimo in a trade that had seen them net three black players (Ed Armbrister being the other), while losing only one (Lee May). The Reds then promoted Griffey to the majors two years later. Only two white players, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, played on a regular basis during the 1975 and ’76 seasons. In ’76, the Reds’ pitching staff included the names of three Latinos: veteran Pedro Borbon and two newcomers, Santo Alcala and Manny Sarmiento.
In 1977, the Yankees moved to the top of the baseball world, and did so with black players like Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Roy White, Mickey Rivers, and Reggie Jackson in the starting lineup. Although White had come up with the Yankees in 1965, the other players had been acquired through trades and free agent signings since the 1971 season. The Yankees picked up Chambliss, Randolph, Rivers, and Dock Ellis in a series of excellent trades, while surrendering only one African American–Bobby Bonds–in return. Off the bench, post-1971 trade acquisitions like Cliff Johnson, Paul Blair, and Elrod Hendricks, along with recently promoted minor leaguer Dell Alston, performed creditably in the pinch. In 1977, the starting rotation featured a Latino, Ed Figueroa, and a Mexican-American, Mike Torrez (acquired in a trade for Dock Ellis), who combined for 30 victories.
In 1979, the Pirates won their second championship of the decade. Much like the ’71 team, the “We Are Family” Bucs did so with an intriguing mix of nationalities and colors. Willie Stargell, Rennie Stennett, and Bill Madlock comprised part of the infield’s makeup, while Lee Lacy, John Milner, Dave Parker, Bill Robinson, and Panamanian Omar Moreno monopolized the playing time in the outfield. Manny Sanguillen, who had been traded and then re-acquired from Oakland, and another former Athletic, Matt Alexander, chipped in off the bench. Mexican right-hander Enrique Romo and African Americans Jim Bibby, Grant Jackson, and Dock Ellis (since returned to Pittsburgh) all contributed to the pitching staff. Except for Stargell and Stennett, all of the aforementioned players had been acquired or re-acquired in trades, or developed through the farm system since the 1971 World Series.
Although it is difficult to say with absolute certainty that the success of the integrated Pirates of ’71 directly influenced other successful teams of the seventies, it is quite possible that an indirect correlation existed. General managers in all sports, baseball included, have tended to adopt the following copycat philosophy: when they see other teams have success, they examine the reasons for that success and often incorporate similar blueprints for their own teams.
This much is certain: every World Championship team of the 1970s had at least one great star of minority descent, a player who not only excelled on the field but provided other black and Latino teammates with a leadership model, a point of reference. The A’s of the early seventies revolved around Reggie Jackson, the Reds of the mid-seventies leaned heavily on the talents and leadership of Joe Morgan, the Yankees of ’77 and ’78 also centered on Jackson’s presence, and the Pirates of ’79 fed off the ample influence of Willie Stargell. And let’s not forget Frank Robinson of the ’70 Orioles, and of course, Clemente with the ’71 Pirates. Black and Latino stars had not only made their marks in terms of sheer numbers, but also as full-fledged impact players on championship ballclubs.
Bruce Markusen is the author of the new book, The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, available from Westholme Publishing.