The Mouth That Roared By Dallas Green—Book Review

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Given his reputation throughout baseball as a straight-talking, old-school baseball guy, if Dallas Green was going to put his career in perspective with an autobiography, he had to go all-in.

Green doesn’t disappoint in The Mouth That Roared: My Six Outspoken Decades in Baseball written with Alan Maimon.

From his time as a journeyman pitcher who was constantly on the fringes of being sent to the minors, Green was a players’ player who worked as both a union representative in the nascent days of the MLB Players Union and saw the geographical shift from the owners controlling everything to the unfettered free agency that accompanied Marvin Miller, Curt Flood, Catfish Hunter and Andy Messersmith. His feelings on the matter have swung from decrying the players’ indentured servitude, clamoring for some say in their careers, battling for a crumb of the pie from ownership to today wondering how much good the $200 million contracts are doing for the game.

Green has the breadth of experience from functioning as a player clinging to his career with arm injuries and poor performance to a minor league director to a manager to a GM. He helped Paul Owens build the 1970s Phillies who almost but not quite made it over the hump from annual division winner to championship club, then went down on the field at the behest of Owens when the soft, inmates running the asylum approach of Danny Ozark was no longer working, got into the faces of veteran players, benching them, threatening them, ripping them publicly and dragged them to a World Series title in 1980—the first championship in Phillies’ history.

One interesting footnote from 1980 is that with all the complaining from closers of yesteryear about the one-inning save in today’s game, Green didn’t adhere to it during that championship season because nobody adhered to it until Tony LaRussa implemented it in 1988 with Dennis Eckersley. Pitchers like Tug McGraw, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and any closer worth anything pitched multiple innings. That had drawbacks that aren’t discussed by the “in my day” crowd (Green isn’t one of them) as McGraw pitched two innings in the first game of the World Series, had worked very hard including three innings pitched in game 3 of the NLCS and appearances in games 4 and 5, plus game 1 of the World Series, and wasn’t available to close in game 2 of the World Series with Ron Reed doing the job. That would never happen today.

The original intention was for Green to take over for Owens as Phillies GM with managing only a short-term gig. Owens had no plans to retire as the Cubs came after Green calling—repeatedly with consistently sweetened offers—to take over as their GM with carte blanche to run the team as he saw fit. He turned them down multiple times before finally saying, “Yes.”

With the Cubs, Green turned a perennial loser into a division champion with smart trades in getting Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe and Ron Cey. However, as should be noted in today’s game where there’s the perception of the GM with absolute power, it doesn’t exist for anyone and never really did at any time. Even today’s luminaries like Theo Epstein and Billy Beane answer to someone. After his first season as the GM in 1982, Green thought he had a handshake deal in place that would land Dodgers free agent first baseman Steve Garvey for the Cubs. As a corollary to that trade, the Cubs would have traded Bill Buckner (a player Green didn’t want on his team because of selfishness and in whom he took a certain perverse amusement when the 1986 World Series was lost by the Red Sox in part because of Buckner’s error) to the Phillies. The Cubs upper management didn’t okay the deal and Garvey wound up signing with the Padres who, ironically, beat the Cubs in the 1984 NLCS with Garvey helping significantly. It was then that Green learned what he was dealing with working for a corporate ownership in the Tribune Company. It was Green’s constant pursuit of putting lights in Wrigley Field that played a major role in the stadium being saved by their installation in 1988.

After the Cubs won the division and appeared to be on their way up, it became a case of too much too soon. Green’s plan was to use his own long-term contract to rebuild the Cubs’ dilapidated farm system, sign key free agents, change the culture from one that accepted losing, and make wise trades to have a consistent pipeline of talent. When the Cubs won the division in 1984, it was expected that they were going to win a World Series shortly thereafter and when they took a step back in 1985 and came completely undone in 1986 and 1987, Green was fired. The signal that it wasn’t going to work as Green planned with the Cubs occurred when an executive with the Tribune named John Madigan began going to baseball meetings, learned and used the terminology and started interfering with baseball moves. From Green this was an example and a none-too-subtle shot at people who have no baseball experience thinking that learning a few catchwords is a substitute for knowing the game itself through experience.

Following his firing the Cubs won another division title in 1989 with a team comprised of players that Green had acquired and drafted. By then, he was managing the Yankees.

For all the enemies he hammers in the book like Bobby Valentine (“He thinks he knows more about the game than anyone else.”); Gene Mauch (“lack of people skills”; “inherent mistrust of younger players…”); Joe McIlvaine (“I ended up hearing through the grapevine that he might be spending a lot of time on non-baseball activities in Atlantic City.”); and Buckner (“Buck was happy to put his numbers up, but he was never truly content. And he most definitely never embraced the idea of baseball as a team sport.”), Green never took overt shots at George Steinbrenner from his brief tenure managing the Yankees.

No one who knew Dallas Green and George Steinbrenner could possibly have thought it was going to work not just because of the clash of personalities of one person who wanted things done his way and the other one who wasn’t going to take crap (you can pick which would be which), and it inevitably and quickly failed with Green fired in August. It didn’t help that the 1989 Yankees plainly and simply weren’t any good and wouldn’t be good again for another four years in large part because of Steinbrenner hiring people like Green and not letting them do what it was that got them hired and made them successful in other venues in the first place.

Green then joined the Mets as a scout and eventually took over as a “clean out the barn” manager. He couldn’t get through to many players from veteran Hall of Famers like Eddie Murray and young Jeromy Burnitz, but he did forge decent relationships with and got good performances from Bret Saberhagen after a rough start and John Franco. He stated openly that his experience in developing players with the Phillies told him that the Mets heavily promoted trio of “Generation K” Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson weren’t ready for the big leagues as the centerpieces when they were pushed as such. He’s right when he says all three needed more time in the minors to learn how to pitch.

An interesting aspect of Green’s career is the influence he’s had and how players who may have hated him while he was managing them took his lessons into their own management careers. Larry Bowa couldn’t stand Green and felt he was too openly critical of players. The relationship wasn’t bad enough to prevent Green from acquiring Bowa in the Sandberg trade to play shortstop for him with the Cubs and to trust him to mentor top draft pick Shawon Dunston. Nor did it stop Bowa from becoming a manager whose style was nearly identical to Green’s. As a player he didn’t like to be yelled at; as a manager, he learned that some players need to be yelled at. Like Green, he got fired for it.

Today as he’s an assistant in the Phillies front office, he sees the way deals are made with a nearly nonexistent focus on people and a detrimental focus on numbers with the money players are being paid and the almost misanthropic nature of the people making the decisions today in a cold, corporate atmosphere and yearns for a time when baseball people made baseball decisions when he says, “Many general managers today only know how to evaluate talent in front of a computer.”

The final chapter of the book is dedicated to his granddaughter, nine-year-old Christina Taylor-Green. Christina was one of the people killed in the Tucson, Arizona assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The old-school baseball man Green is also old-school when it comes to the right for responsible people to bear arms, but his case for gun control is coming from someone who doesn’t see any reason for automatic weapons designed for one purpose—to kill people—continue to be sold and has lost a loved one to make this point tragically clear.

While it would have been easy for the book to degenerate into a treatise on the superiority of the old school both on and off the field; for it to turn into a Richard Nixon-like unfettered attack against his lengthy enemies list, Green manages to state his case as he sees it with a matter-of-fact tone that has no hallmarks of a vengeful attack or manufactured controversy designed to create buzz and sell books.

A person whose life has been steeped in in-the-trenches baseball will see their beliefs validated, but those who are relatively new to the game and think they’re experts after learning how to calculate OPS+ will also find value if they read it rather than use it as an indictment of the old school and take what Green says to learn from his successes and acknowledged mistakes.

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The MLB PA Sowed the Seeds Keeping Bourn and Lohse Jobless

CBA, Draft, Free Agents, History, Hot Stove, Management, MiLB, Players, Prospects

It’s February 4th and the two biggest names remaining on the free agent market are Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse. With spring training rapidly approaching, there are reasons for both players to still be available at this late date. It’s easy to blame obscene financial demands, agent Scott Boras, age, lack of funds, lack of need or other viable but misapplied reasons. This, however, misses the prominent point that has left them waiting so long: teams don’t want to give up the draft picks. The clubs at the back of the draft probably don’t need Bourn or Lohse; the clubs at the front of the draft won’t want to give up a high pick for Bourn or Lohse leaving them stuck in a middle-limbo.

Because the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to the draconian limits on signing bonuses for draft picks, as well as the compensation due to clubs who made qualifying offers to their free agents that they knew—especially in the case of Boras’s clients—would be rejected, they inadvertently drained the river of cash that would previously have been awaiting players like Bourn and Lohse, both of whom had the best seasons of their careers heading for free agency.

Big league players have long resented the amount of money a draft pick received simply for signing his name. Agents like Boras cannibalized the process by using tactics such as those attempted in the case of J.D. Drew trying to steer his players to preferred locales while being paid millions of dollars straight out of college when they have accomplished nothing in professional baseball. It didn’t work then, but it was a fledgling strategy that agents modified over the years to accrue outlandish bonuses and big league contracts for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, among others. These payouts also served to force clubs to install a circuit breaker to make these young players earn their fortunes to a greater degree than before.

Unlike the clumsy, blatant, ill-thought-out, illegal and eventually very, very expensive methods owners used in the mid-1980s with collusion trying and briefly succeeding in stopping the free agent migration and limiting salaries, the players walked right into this new legally mandated austerity. Teams don’t have to come up with transparently weak excuses for not pursuing big name free agents. All they need to do is point to the luxury tax penalties on the horizon as the Yankees are, reference the draft picks they’ll lose if they sign a Lohse or Bourn, and explain away the perceived cheapness with statistical reasons that may or may not be spiritually accurate.

In short, with collusion, there was proof that the owners banded together to hold down salaries; with the draft pick compensation, the players agreed to it without truly understanding how it was going to affect them in the long run.

It could be argued that Bourn isn’t worth the $75 million+ that Boras wants, but he’s no less worth it than B.J. Upton and the Braves decided to pay Upton rather than retain Bourn. Upton is younger and has more power, but Bourn has performed on the field with more consistency and desire than Upton ever has. Lohse is at least as good as Ryan Dempster, but Dempster was traded to the Rangers from the Cubs at mid-season. The Red Sox signed Dempster. He doesn’t cost a draft pick and Lohse does.

Until the CBA expires again, agents are going to use various techniques to make sure their players aren’t subject to draft compensation once they reach free agency. In a brilliantly conceived bit of foresight, Boras had it written into Carlos Beltran’s Mets’ contract that the Mets couldn’t offer him arbitration when his contract expired, thereby making him a “free” free agent. The Mets traded him at mid-season 2011 in large part due to that and in large part due to the Giants offering their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.

In the final year of their contracts, players will also be more demanding when they request a mid-season trade from a non-contender. Zack Greinke was not subject to draft pick compensation because he’d been traded to the Angels at mid-season. While his financial demands precluded at least 25 of the 30 big league clubs from making an offer, it was a comfort for the Dodgers to know that they didn’t have to pay Greinke $147 million while simultaneously surrendering a 1st round draft pick, essentially magnifying his financial and practical cost.

Sign-and-trades are a method used by the hard-cap saddled NBA to make everyone as happy as possible within such a regimented system and get their players the money they desire. It was considered by MLB clubs earlier this winter and the Braves traded Rafael Soriano when he surprisingly accepted their offer of arbitration after the 2009 season. There are loopholes agents will find and exploit. That doesn’t help Bourn and Lohse now.

The players have always been selfish and in many cases, ignorant as to how much of they pie they’re entitled to. As the union heads convinced them to band together, the MLB PA evolved into one of the most powerful and feared unions in sports if not in any industry throughout the world. In search of labor peace and fan/media approval, they’ve forfeited the one hammer they used repeatedly and successfully: a work stoppage. It’s a good thing for the fans that there’s been labor peace since 1995, but for the players they’ve lost much of their bargaining power and the owners—many of whom grew rich in their other businesses by making sure they cut costs wherever they could, especially with their workforce—took advantage of it to maintain “cost certainty,” and “solvency,” on the backs of the players.

Ten years ago, would someone have already signed Bourn for far more than what Boras is now asking? Would someone have signed Lohse? Absolutely. Yet they’re still out there and waiting, hoping that in Bourn’s case the Mets are able to convince MLB to let them keep their first round draft pick if they choose to sign the center fielder or that the Rangers make a late strike; that a club will look at their pitching situation and realize that Lohse can help them and is worth a mid-to-late 1st round draft choice.

MLB shortsightedly doesn’t let clubs trade draft picks and they’ve implemented a hard cap and preventative techniques to stop players from making as much money for as many years as they could. Agents will adapt, but like Curt Flood, Dave McNally, Andy Messersmith and Catfish Hunter, Lohse and Bourn are case studies in why this situation is bad for the players and, like Flood, may not benefit from the fallout as anything but a footnote to get the ball rolling to change.

Players will have to deal with this new landscape until the CBA expires, then they’re going to play hardball to recoup the freedom that they lost through their own selfishness, trust, and bottom-line stupidity.

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Soler Provides A Window Into The Future

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Through Jorge Soler, I’ve gazed into the future.

Not because he’s such a hot prospect and was so heavily in demand that the Cubs today signed the 20-year-old Cuban outfielder to a 9-year, $30 million contract. I have no idea how good he is or if he’s going to take 3-5 years of seasoning to become anything close to what his talent indicates he could be. Cubs’ team President Theo Epstein is a good executive, but he’s gotten torched on the international market before both practically and narratively.

The posting fee and signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka was costly. The results were inconsistent at best and, by all accounts, disappointing. One can only hope that Epstein won’t take to calling a 20-year-old from Cuba “Mr.” Soler as he called Matsuzaka “Mr.” Matsuzaka.

When the Red Sox were avidly pursuing Jose Contreras, Epstein had just taken over as their GM and there was still a sense of puppetry with Larry Lucchino holding the strings floating over the head of the then-28-year-old, so it wasn’t such a shock that the story of Epstein being so angry that the Yankees had signed Contreras that he broke a chair in the Nicaragua hotel in a fit of rage.

Epstein vehemently denied it and I believe him. In subsequent years, he became a respected GM and won two championships while working in his hometown and running what isn’t a passion in Boston, but is a religion. It’s no surprise that he was showing the wear of eight years at their helm—he was burned out and needed a new mountain to climb. The Cubs are certainly that.

That said, no one knows what Soler will be. In that sense, he’s like a highly drafted player who is given a massive signing bonus along the lines of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg just for signing his name on a contract.

But he’s not a drafted player. He was a former professional player in Cuba who, because of that status, became an MLB free agent.

It’s ironic that the Soler signing occurred during the frenzied confusion that’s been a corollary to the new MLB draft rules that have the “experts” and advocates of drafting and developing throwing hissy fits over players like Stanford pitcher Mark Appel. Appel was considered one of the top if not the top player in the draft, but fell to the Pirates at 8 because of signability concerns that have placed him in a box: his eligibility as an amateur is exhausted; MLB is the only game in town; it’s sign or don’t play.

A large part of the preparation for a drawn out battle is Appel’s adviser, Scott Boras. Boras has been openly critical of the new draft rules.

You can read about the new draft rules here. They’re hardline to say the least.

It’s only a matter of time before the defector’s handbook is used in the opposite way for the known amateur stars in North America and Canada to circumnavigate the draft. Much like the reserve clause challenged and from which Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally eventually won their freedom from the indentured servitude that used to be in place, someone will try to take MLB to court to negate the draft. From the legal wrangling initiated by Flood, the entire wall came crashing down not long after. It only takes one player and one agent to try and sue baseball to get out of the requirement that the player go to the team that drafted him or be forced to delay the start of his career by years if necessary to get the opportunity to be paid and go to a venue he prefers. J.D. Drew tried something similar when he (also represented by Boras) played with an independent minor league team after being drafted 2nd overall by the Phillies and couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract. The ploy didn’t work, Drew went back into the draft the next year and was taken by the Cardinals with the 5th pick in the first round. This time he signed.

Much like the concussion and long-term damage inspired lawsuits now being filed on behalf of retired NFL players, it only takes one to start the train rolling before others (some traveling in first class; others hopping onto the boxcar) join in and try to get their piece of the American Dream of riches through lawsuits.

That’s not to diminish the tragic deaths of Dave Duerson, Andre Waters and Mike Webster among many others, but did they need a warning that playing in the NFL was dangerous? That repeated blows to the head and body would eventually take its toll and that they were trading years off their lives for the money, glory, excitement and perks of playing in the NFL?

How long before Boras convinces a top draft pick to shun MLB and walk through the loophole of age and professional status presented by players who’ve played in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Cuba? According to this piece on MLB.com, that loophole is big enough for a convoy of prospects to walk through—maybe even the entire first round of the draft.

The relevant bit follows:

Not all international players will be subject to these rules. Players in leagues deemed to be professional (those in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Cuba apply), are at least 23 years old and have played a certain number of years in those leagues can be signed without the money counting against the pool. Yoenis Cespedes, the 26-year-old outfielder who is a free agent after defecting from Cuba for example, would not count against the pool. Neither would Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, should he be posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters. But the money spent on Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman, who was 22 when he signed with the Reds almost two years ago, would have counted against the pool.

Japan has a working relationship with MLB that nets them large sums of money for the posting fees on players like Darvish and Matsuzaka so it’s unlikely that they’d want to upset that applecart by messing with MLB’s attempt to install cost certainty into the draft and cap the bonuses, but would Taiwan care? Would Korea? And if Cuba sees a way to really stick it to a big American business that has raided their players and caused embarrassment with worldwide stories on players defecting, what’s to stop them from creating a baseball player program where college age players would be able to come to Cuba, make some money and then walk back into MLB as free agents and make a truckload of cash that they wouldn’t make otherwise?

Don’t think these scenarios haven’t been considered by Boras.

And don’t think that a player isn’t going to be willing to destroy the draft and the rules because it’s depriving him—in a way that doesn’t reflect the capitalism of what America stands for—of the freedom to auction his skills to the highest bidder due to MLB’s oligarchical constraints.

Baseball as an industry has to think about this. They never thought the reserve clause would be struck down, but it was. The same thing could happen to the draft if they wind up in front of the wrong judge.

It’s going to be tested. Soon.

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