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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Rafael Soriano’s Inevitable Opt-Out

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By now there’s no denying that Rafael Soriano’s brilliant work in taking over as Yankees’ closer for the injured Mariano Rivera has taken a bite out of Rivera’s irreplaceable status. Whether it’s a significant bite or a nibble will be determined in the coming weeks.

The designation of “greatest closer in history” is based more on Rivera’s post-season success, his durability, and that he’s accumulated more saves than anyone else. In breaking that down, it’s easy to make a case that it’s not as huge an accomplishment as it appears on the surface. Rivera has had more opportunities to rack up those saves because for his entire career, he’s never played for a club that’s won fewer than 87 games. He’s been in the post-season every single year except one. And he didn’t have to handle the workload that the closers of the 1970s and 80s did.

The mere designation of “closer” is indicative of the change from the ace out of the bullpen pitching 2-3 innings in a game to what the job is now and how it’s news if a “closer” is asked to pitch in the eighth inning. Back then it was “fireman” because Rich Gossage, Dan Quisenberry, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers or any of the greats from years ago were asked to put out a fire in the middle of an inning. They were also called “short men” because they pitched briefly, and “briefly” didn’t mean one inning.

There’s no questioning Rivera’s greatness, but it’s watered down to a degree. He couldn’t have done what the aforementioned short relievers did with multiple innings and maintained his effectiveness and health for all these years. Those pitchers didn’t have to pitch in three separate, pressure-packed post-season series. It can’t be denied that Rivera has come up biggest when it counts with a 0.70 post-season ERA and a cold, brutal, fearless dominance that contemporaries—Trevor Hoffman, Joe Nathan, Billy Wagner—didn’t have.

But what happens with Soriano in the coming weeks will determine Rivera’s perception. The Yankees have won six straight games to solidify their position to at least make the playoffs. The Orioles are matching them win-for-win so the division is still in question, but if Soriano is called upon to save a Wild Card play-in game or 2-3 games in the first round and blows it, Rivera’s legacy is solidified further; but if he does what Rivera did and closes the games out without incident, what then?

The Yankees were well-situated to replace Rivera in the event of a catastrophic injury. Initially, they didn’t go to Soriano and decided to use the succession concept to give the job to David Robertson. Robertson didn’t handle it in his opportunities before he got injured and the Yankees, by necessity rather than design, went to Soriano. Soriano has been at least as good as Rivera would’ve been and possibly even better. It’s in the Fall that his value will truly be determined.

The Yankees have to face the reality that Soriano is going to opt-out of his contract and go elsewhere to close in 2013 and beyond. Unless the Yankees again make a drastic overpay as they did when the signed Soriano against the wishes of GM Brian Cashman and promise him he’ll be the closer again in 2014 (if Rivera retires), he’s leaving. The Dodgers are spending wildly and although they have a dominant closer in Kenley Jansen, his heart problems have repeatedly sidelined him and they’ll need someone they can trust to be healthy. Other teams like the Tigers, Angels, Blue Jays, Reds (if they move Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation), and Giants might be in the market for a closer and be willing to pay for Soriano.

Soriano is guaranteed $14 million from the Yankees in 2013 with a buyout of $1.5 million. He can certainly surpass that on the market if not on an annual basis, but with a longer-term deal. With Scott Boras as his agent, he’s going to opt-out. Will Soriano be happy to take a secondary role to Rivera again after the year he’s had? Extremely doubtful. Can the Yankees risk Rivera not being able to come back from his knee injury at top form? As ageless as Rivera has been, he’s still going to be 43-years-old. It has to end sometime.

Soriano’s going to walk from that contract, but will the Yankees let him walk away from them? And more importantly, can they afford to—not financially, but realistically?

The true answer will come over the next month and in the front office, they’re asking themselves the same question right now.

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Mariano Rivera Didn’t Make The Rules

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After Mariano Rivera recorded his 601st save to tie Trevor Hoffman as the career leader in saves, the debate began again as to whether Rivera has a claim on the “greatest” reliever in history as if it was a title held by Hoffman that he wrested away with that save.

Presumably it’s going to amp up when he passes Hoffman.

Hoffman—a very good closer in the same category with the likes of Lee Smith, John Franco, Jeff Reardon and Dennis Eckersley—is not in Rivera’s class in terms of stuff nor results in important games.

But that’s only one of the variables as to why Rivera is the best closer of this era.

You can say that he only managed to accrue that number of saves because he had so many opportunities pitching for the Yankees; that we don’t know how the other pitchers would’ve done had they been pitching for a dominant club that was in the playoffs every single year of his career except for 2008.

This argument, like the oft-repeated Goose Gossage lament of Rivera and the rest of today’s closers having it “easy” because they’re only asked to pitch one inning, is missing the point.

Rivera doesn’t make the rules and didn’t create the save stat; he never issued any usage dictates to be limited to one inning (nor did Eckersley for that matter); he didn’t manipulate his way to the Yankees so he could compile numbers in a “I wanna be great” way.

You can make the case that the lineups in today’s game are more complete top-to-bottom today and that pitchers like Gossage didn’t need to deal with PED users all over the place and bandbox ballparks, that Rivera and his brethren are overall equals of firemen of the past.

Rivera has done his job as he was asked to do it and he’s done it masterfully.

The save stat is what we have. The predominance of pitching one inning is how he’s been utilized. The playoffs and World Series games are where he’s made his name.

He’s been great at it.

If Rivera were asked to do what Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Dan Quisenberry did, would he have been able to do it and maintain this longevity?

There’s no way of knowing, but he wasn’t trained to do that as those pitchers were, so obviously if someone is asked to do something unfamiliar to them after being nurtured on a totally different set of principles, the likelihood is that he’s not going to be effective and he’s going to get hurt.

As of right now, Rivera has the save record; someone’s going to come along and break it. Will that person also have the success rate in the post-season that Rivera has? Will he come through when his team needs him to come through? Will he be trustworthy so it’s a shock when he blows a game and not a shock when he manages to save one as has been the case with most of the closers in today’s game for years and was so with Hoffman in the waning days of his career?

Maybe.

But it will have to be someone pretty talented and mentally tough.

According to stat accumulation, hardware, success and longevity, he’s the best. Comparing him to Hoffman was an insult to Rivera before he broke Hoffman’s record and it’s ludicrous now.

Examining eras and comparing numbers to the aforementioned pitchers is like comparing Tom Seaver to Walter Johnson—you can’t do it.

Accept Rivera for what he is; the other pitchers were great at their jobs and so is he. In the era of the one-inning closer, he’s at the top of the heap.

That’s all that really matters.

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Showalter For Manager/GM?

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It has been whispered that the Orioles should do something decidedly old-school and name manager Buck Showalter GM as well.

There hasn’t been a manager/GM since Bobby Cox went back on the field to replace Russ Nixon as Braves manager in 1990 and that didn’t last long as John Schuerholz was hired as GM after that season and Cox stayed on the field for…well, forever.

Jack McKeon was the GM/manager for the Padres in the late-1980s; Whitey Herzog did it for the Cardinals in the early 1980s.

It’s all but impossible to do both jobs correctly in today’s game of GM-rock stardom. There’s really no way Showalter could do it and maintain his sanity and/or health.

That said, there’s a way to go about it if the Orioles want to give Showalter final say in the direction of the franchise.

Herzog joined the Cardinals as manager in 1980; late in the season they fired GM John Clairborne and named Herzog GM as well. Completely out of contention, Herzog handed the managerial reins to Red Schoendienst for the rest of 1980. Herzog didn’t do both jobs simultaneously. That’s a good thing given Herzog’s penchant for saying whatever popped into his head without concern as to how it was framed or perceived (think J.P. Ricciardi to the tenth power); it would be a PR disaster in today’s game.

But he was able to find players and he’d do the same thing today.

Showalter can do it in a similar fashion if he steps off the field because he’s more tight-lipped and manipulative of the media than Herzog was. Herzog was a gruff, intimidating type; Showalter is more nuanced and calculating.

Herzog built the Cardinals for the spacious dimensions of Busch Stadium with improved speed by getting Lonnie Smith, and installing Tommy Herr at 2nd base; he shored up the defense and attitude by trading Garry Templeton for Ozzie Smith; traded for a defensive minded catcher, Darrell Porter; brought in pitchers who threw strikes like Joaquin Andujar; and got the game’s best closer in Bruce Sutter.

By 1982, the Cardinals were World Series champions and won two more pennants under Herzog in the next five years.

Could Showalter do that as GM?

The Orioles can hit, but their top-to-bottom pitching is so awful that they’re going to have to consider trading some of their young bats Nick Markakis or Adam Jones to find some arms. Those arms would have to strike people out or coax ground balls to mitigate the bandbox of Camden Yards; he needs to improve the bullpen and the infield defense.

Trading talented bats like Jones, Markakis and Matt Wieters are not easy decisions to make.

If someone is going to make that call, it has to be the man who’s entrusted with the future of the organization and is completely responsible for what happens, good or bad.

Showalter would have to stop managing for a time to do the GM job properly; he’d have to be given an autonomy that owner Peter Angelos might balk at providing, but if the Orioles are going to have Showalter give his approval to whom is hired as the new GM, it’s probably easier to let Showalter do it while the Orioles are rebuilding and then have him go back on the field when he has the players he wants.

That’s the only way it could work.

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The Inevitable End Of Mariano Rivera?!?

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Of course it’s ridiculous.

After the career he’s had of unprecedented reliability—especially when it’s mattered most—Mariano Rivera has about eight years worth of capital built up to slump for a week or more.

So he’s allowed homers in consecutive appearances; he blew a game against the Red Sox on Sunday and the Angels on Tuesday and almost another one today.

And?

Does that justify the likes of Mike Francesa pulling the word “statistics” without any actual numbers to suggest that Rivera’s “slowing down”?

It sounded as if Francesa was saying to check out Rivera’s stats without, y’konw, looking at them himself or realizing that it’s no longer a nuisance of endless research to find such things.

If you truly look at Rivera’s advanced stats and compare his overall production he’s been around equal or better than his career averages in the meaningful categories.

I’ll leave the stats to others and the posterior talk to Francesa.

What I’ll say is this, Rivera has been so consistent and reliable that he’s perceived as indestructible; a Superman; an automatic.

He’s none of those things.

Almost, but not quite.

He’s a human being who’s doing a very difficult job against the best talent in the world; he’s 41-years-old; and the image of his greatness has been exacerbated by the rampant unreliability inherent with just about every other team’s closer and that he’s been brilliant when the money is on the line in the post-season.

We can debate forever the “fireman” job description of today in comparison to what closers of yesteryear had to do. Had Rivera been asked to do what Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter did by pitching as early as the 6th inning, there would be a fair side-by-side basis to say who was the “best”.

But you can’t quantify it. You can examine opposition, ballparks and advanced statistics and extrapolate; but the durability questions, number of innings pitched and how hard they had to work will never be accurately judged.

In this era, Rivera is the best.

He’s had a few bad games this week and will be fine in spite of Francesa’s imagination for affect and the Yankees fans’ feigning of stunned disbelief that their Sandman is mortal—as if they didn’t already know.

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Those Last Three Outs

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Tony La Russa, when scoffing at the suggestion that “anyone” can close games has said something to the tune of, “those last three outs are different”.

It’s not something that can be equated by stats or stuff. Closing is a mental endeavor more than anything else. It helps to have a power fastball like Goose Gossage; a bat-destroying cutter like Mariano Rivera; or a split-finger fastball like Bruce Sutter, but what all three of these pitchers and the other great closers of past and present have had is that they’ve been able to handle the mental and physical stresses of the job.

This phenomenon is being played out in front of our eyes as we’re seeing another quality arm who should be able to do it, one who I specifically pointed out as a winning choice—White Sox lefty Matt Thornton—imploding in his first week as the full-time closer.

Thornton has a high-90s fastball and good slider; he strikes out tons of hitters; has historically handled righties and lefties; doesn’t allow many homers; and throws strikes. His demeanor is indicates a closer’s mentality with the aura of “gimme the ball”.

But he’s been awful so far this season. So awful that while manager Ozzie Guillen is sticking with him, he’s come out and said he wants to see better results—ESPN Story.

In other words, time’s running out on Thornton’s foray as the White Sox closer.

Can it be explained by dissecting Thornton’s games and finding a reason why he’s gotten off to an atrocious start in his star turn? He’s had three save opportunities this season and blown them all including the April 8th game against the reeling and winless Rays in which he got tattooed for 5 runs. His defense certainly didn’t help him, but that’s no excuse.

Is it a slump? Or is being the designated “closer” in his head?

Some pitchers have been very good as set-up men and, when asked to pitch one inning later, have faltered. LaTroy Hawkins and Guillermo Mota were two solid relievers who simply could not do it.

La Russa always chafes at the implication that he destroyed the game with his specialization and role-based strategies.

The accusation is a misnomer. La Russa was simply doing what was best for his club at the time—the Athletics—and used Dennis Eckersley in a way that was best suited to what Eckersley could and couldn’t do.

The suggestion that “anyone” can get the outs in the ninth inning is contradicted by the qualified pitchers who’ve failed.

It’s not as simple as going out there and recording three outs. It’s an exercise in mental toughness more than a lights out fastball or sharp breaking pitch.

It’s important for one new to the situation and designation as the “ace” out of the bullpen to get off to a good start. Thornton’s already gacked that test. Next is whether he can overcome adversity and regain his bearings—another prerequisite.

Can he recover?

Judging from the statements of his manager, Thornton had better get a move on or he’s going back to the set-up role and Chris Sale will be closing sooner rather than later.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here (coincidentally, it’s the section about the Mets).

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

I’ve started a Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Hammering

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Scott Kazmir‘s precarious position in the Angels starting rotation got me to—again—think about why teams insist on hammering square pegs into round holes.

There are certain belief systems that have to change to maximize the talent a club has on their roster. Did anyone ever stop to think that perhaps pitchers like Kazmir and Rich Harden would be better off as relievers?

After getting past the numerical argument that a decent starter is better than a good reliever, what happens if the pitcher isn’t a decent starter anymore; or if he’s good, but can’t stay healthy? Why does there have to be this ironclad set of rules that pitcher A is a starter and he’s going to stay a starter?

Kazmir and Harden can’t stay healthy as starters; Kazmir is no longer effective as a starter—why not see if he can possibly help out of the bullpen?

An onus is placed over a player who can’t do certain things and it’s at the expense of what he can do. One of the things that made Earl Weaver a genius wasn’t his adherence to stats; it wasn’t his discipline; it wasn’t his utter ruthlessness in getting rid of players who could no longer help him win; it was his conscious decision to put his players in the best possible circumstances to succeed.

He did it with Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein—separately they could only be described as average players at best; combined, they were one of the most devastating platoons in memory.

So why can’t Harden be placed in the bullpen to see if he can fire his power fastball and slider for an inning or two, not worry about pacing himself and hope he can stay healthy?

If he continues his downward spiral, why not stick Kazmir in the bullpen as the 7th-8th inning man—or even let him close on occasion—and see if the adrenaline rush from being a reliever and never knowing when he’s going to be needed to pitch blows his fastball back into the mid-90s?

Tony La Russa has forever been blamed for the one-inning closer because of the way he deployed Dennis Eckersley; the truth is that Eckersley pitched more than one inning regularly when he first moved to the bullpen and La Russa’s decision to use his short reliever in that manner was based on Eckersley being better that way; it was not some grand scheme that this is how it should be done.

Does anyone think that Eckersley would’ve been of more use had he stayed in the starting rotation as his career was nearly undone at age 32 because he was no longer an effective starter? He didn’t want to go to the bullpen—he had no choice—now he’s in the Hall of Fame.

With the way relievers—aside from Mariano Rivera—are so inherently unreliable, the entire fabric of how to deploy one’s pitching staff has to be overhauled; it would take a gutty front office and manager to do it, but with the new blood permeating baseball and shoving back at conformity with a flourish, someone’s going to say they’re doing it another way…eventually.

Old-school people who repeatedly reference Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Dan Quisenberry as closers who were legitimate relief aces tend to forget that those great pitchers blew games too.

George Brett used to lie in wait for a Gossage high fastball because he was one of the few hitters in baseball who was quick enough to get on top of it. Other hitters with whom Gossage had trouble were fastball hitters like Champ Summers* and Richie Zisk.

*Summers was a piece of work. He was a Vietnam vet who loved—not liked—loved to fight.

In fact, when Gossage signed with the Yankees in 1978, he allowed homers in his first three appearances. It wasn’t all “lights out, ballgame over” when these pitchers came into games, selective memory and factional disputes as to eras aside.

From memory, Sutter was the reliever I feared more than any other because he’d come into a game in the sixth inning and close it out. But Sutter’s greatness was proven to be limiting as well when he left the Cardinals, signed a massive free agent contract with the then-woeful Atlanta Braves and his presence didn’t help them at all because they weren’t any good; the Cardinals won the pennant the first year without Sutter.

A team has to be complete; it has to have all the puzzle pieces arranged correctly. We don’t know what would happen with a Kazmir or Harden if they were made into relievers, but we certainly know what they currently are as starters, so why continue the charade? Why not make a career change and see if it works?

They’re not doing much good now, so what’s the difference if they fail as relievers as well?

And it just might work.

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My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

****

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available and will be useful for your fantasy leagues all season long.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


//

Muddled

Hall Of Fame

Trevor Hoffman retired yesterday and the Hall of Fame argument as to his worthiness has already begun.

While he was playing there was a debate in judging his career with some calling him an automatic Hall of Famer and others—some former players among them—scoffing at the notion based on the perceived easiness of what it was Hoffman and the other closers of the era did.

So which is it and are we going to have to listen to the back-and-forth for the next five years? Let’s look at the pros and cons, defenses and indictments of Hoffman’s career.

Should he be punished or rewarded because of strategies?

Tony La Russa has been unfairly blamed for the proliferation of the “one-inning closer”. Naturally, it’s a misapplication of blame. When he was managing the White Sox, La Russa used his closers as closers were used in the late 1970s-early 1980s. They pitched multiple innings and were worked hard.

It was when he got to Oakland and installed Dennis Eckersley that he ushered in the era of the “specialist”; middle-men, set-up men, closers backing up a pitcher who was generally only asked to give 6-7 innings fostered the notion of La Russa altering the game.

The truth is that La Russa used Eckersley that way because that was how Eckersley was best suited to be used as he made the transition from starter to closer. The truth is, Eckersley pitched more than one inning somewhat regularly during his heyday of the late 1980s; he didn’t pitch 2-3 innings as Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Dan Quisenberry did in the early part of the decade, but no short reliever does that anymore. Brian Wilson does it occasionally and he’s an anomaly.

Managers who don’t have La Russa’s nerve to innovate—the Jeff Torborgs—took the theory to its logical conclusion. Such was evident by Bobby Thigpen‘s 57 save season in 1990 pitching for Torborg with the White Sox. The hollowness of the save stat became highly pronounced just as Hoffman and John Franco were beginning their careers.

Putting it into context—with Gossage’s lament—it’s not the same as it was; you can’t compare what the relievers do today to what they did before.

Just as players like Wade Boggs shouldn’t have been punished for using the Green Monster in Fenway Park for target practice, how do you blame Hoffman for the way he was used? This was the game when he was pitching; he did as he was told and did it well. The save stat has been made less than what it was when it was created and that’s not Hoffman’s fault.

But maybe he shouldn’t be rewarded for it either.

Was it him or was it the song?

This isn’t a joke.

Did the echoing of AC/DC’s Hells Bells influence the thought that, “Oh no, Hoffman’s coming in!”?

Or was his stuff such that opposing teams and fans threw their hands up in the air or packed their belongings when his name was announced as the new pitcher?

Hoffman wasn’t style over substance, but it was a cool thing to hear the tolling of the bell in the song. That his out pitch wasn’t a Gossage 100-mph fastball; a Sutter split-finger; or a Mariano Rivera cutter lends credence to the idea that teams were more fooled than devastated by Hoffman’s money pitch change up.

Again, not his fault; but something to think about.

There was no “moment”.

Hoffman’s case would be made easier if he’d won a World Series. In his one chance in the Fall Classic, the Padres were swept away by the 125-50 Yankees; but the series wasn’t as much of a washout as the four game sweep suggests.

In game 3, the Padres were clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning when manager Bruce Bochy called on Hoffman with a runner on first and no one out. Bernie Williams flew out to deep right; Paul O’Neill walked; then series MVP Scott Brosius homered to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. A lead that Mariano Rivera held giving the Yankees a 3-0 series lead.

Had Hoffman saved the game, could the Padres have won the series? Probably not; but the longer it went, the more of a chance they would’ve had; if they’d gotten it to game 7 with an in-his-prime Kevin Brown ready to pitch, who knows?

But Hoffman gave up the big homer rather than getting the big out.

It’s not a small blip for a borderline Hall of Famer.

Accumulation is not the mark of a Hall  of Famer.

Hoffman accrued stats. The one closer of today, Rivera, who’s going to waltz into the Hall of Fame accrued championship rings and the reputation as unflappable because he got the outs in the post-season.

The argument that Rivera had a better team and more opportunities in the playoffs is not without merit, but that has nothing to do with what Hoffman accomplished.

The “woulda, coulda, shoulda” isn’t the same as looking at a Bert Blyleven and examining his career based on the teams he played for and his contemporaries.

I’ve always wondered why the “woulda, coulda, shoulda, argument was enough to get Kirby Puckett into the Hall of Fame when his career ended because of glaucoma, but not good enough for Don Mattingly, who was a far more dangerous hitter than Puckett—was in fact the dominant player in baseball position for five years—but didn’t get the same treatment because his back problems ruined his greatness.

The magic number of 300 wins and 500 homers is being ignored now because the game has changed. Jamie Moyer and David Wells have more wins that some Hall of Famers, but aren’t getting in; members of the 500 club aren’t receiving the honor because of PED allegations. And the save stat has been diminished because of the one-inning save.

You have to put eras into perspective if you’re going to compare them at all.

Will Hoffman get in?

I honestly don’t know.

I’ve gone back-and-forth on the subject myself. Will his numbers be enough when the vote comes around? He’s not going to have the passionate support that Blyleven had from stat zombies; nor is he going to get the old-school support.

If you examine Eckersley—a deserved Hall of Famer—his candidacy was only made viable by the fact that he was a great starter and a great closer. I feel that same thing will push John Smoltz over the top.

Hoffman?

Is he a Hall of Famer?

Right now, I put him in a similar category with Lee Smith, Jeff Reardon and John Franco; based on that, I’d vote no.