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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Hot Stove Bat To The Kneecap

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To the best of my recollection, the Mets have won several hot stove championships in recent years.

In the winter of 2001-2002, reeling from having been picked to make the playoffs and stumbling to mediocrity in 2001, GM Steve Phillips acted aggressively in acquiring Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz.

The brew he concocted was toxic; it neatly paralleled the deteriorating relationship and festering tensions between Phillips and manager Bobby Valentine; the result was a 75-86 record and Valentine’s firing after the season.

They also became the darlings of drastic off-season facelifts in the winter of 2004-2005—Omar Minaya’s first year—by signing the biggest pitching name, Pedro Martinez and the biggest outfield name, Carlos Beltran; and hiring Willie Randolph as the manager.

After briefly flirting with contention, they finished tied for 3rd place with an 83-79 record.

In 2007-2008, coming off a monstrous 2007 collapse, the acquired one of the top three pitchers in baseball, Johan Santana; but the injury to Billy Wagner in August left the club with a bullpen in shambles and they stumbled from the playoff race on the last day of the season.

These are not instances limited to the Mets.

The “hot stove champions” look unbeatable from November to March.

Then they start playing.

If headlines and media/fan approval were championships, the 2011 Phillies-Red Sox World Series would’ve been epic; the 2010 Mariners and their “Amazin’ Exec” GM Jack Zduriencik would be on the way to the Hall of Fame; the 2011 Athletics would’ve provided a fitting conclusion to the Moneyball fantasy as Billy Beane‘s genius coincided with his dramatically licensed and factually inaccurate portrayal in the movie.

The Red Sox collapsed; the Phillies were bounced in the playoffs; the 2010 Mariners lost 100 games and were a embarrassment on and a travesty off the field; and the Athletics are horrible as Beane uses his chameleon-like skills at fostering positive public perception to lay the atrocity off on the lack of a new stadium, others stealing “his” strategies and morphing into the likable and hapless everyman, swallowed up by factors out of his control.

Buy it if you want—if you’re a mindless sheep; if you’re stupid.

Because the Mets haven’t signed Jose Reyes to a new contract immediately upon his filing for free agency the consensus—which appears to be based on faux “sources” and the demands of editors to drum up attention and render web hits—is that Reyes is already out the door.

He might be.

He might not be.

Whether he’s a Met or not in 2012 doesn’t automatically mean the Mets are going to be any better than they’d be without him; nor does it mean the team that signs him will have a stamped ticket to the playoffs.

In spite of what the likes of Joel Sherman and Bob Klapisch write, the Mets winning another hot stove title or treading water and perhaps badly hindering the club’s retooling efforts will not repair the issues surrounding the team for 2012.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the more important time for a team’s success or failure is the summer.

Drafting players that will eventually be tradable; gauging the market and the competition; going for a deep strike or holding fire—making intelligent analysis based on circumstances rather than maneuvering for positive coverage and validation of media imbeciles and reactionary fans—are far more important to winning than anything that’s done in the winter.

The 2010 Phillies were staggering at mid-summer, barely over .500 and entertaining offers for Jayson Werth; relentlessly and rightfully hammered for trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners in exchange for Roy Halladay and gazing into the abyss of a lost season, they fixed the hole they themselves created in the rotation by trading for Roy Oswalt; and they were lucky that Shane Victorino got injured and they had no one else to play center field, so they had to keep Werth.

Those Phillies went on a tear to win the NL East and lost in the NLCS to the Giants.

The same Giants who picked up Cody Ross on waivers and signed Pat Burrell after he’d been released. Both players were key components to the Giants championship.

Slightly over three months ago, the Cardinals desperately traded away their one young star-talent, Colby Rasmus, to acquire Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel—without whom they wouldn’t have made the playoffs, let alone won the World Series.

It’s all hindsight.

If Reyes signs a $150 million contract and pulls his hamstring in May, will the critics be savaging the Mets for letting him leave?

Money aside, does anyone truly believe that GM Sandy Alderson and his staff don’t have a viable backup plan in the event Reyes departs?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be sexy to be sensible.

Continue reading the blatant partisanship from Sherman among others if you want to have a basis for complaint.

But don’t misunderstand what you’re reading as you indulge in the hackery and do not say you weren’t warned.

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The Jose Reyes Free Agency Profile

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Name: Jose Reyes


Position: Shortstop.

Vital Statistics: Age-28; Height-6’1″; Weight-200; signed by the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1999.

Agent: Peter Greenberg.

Might he return to the Mets? Yes.

Teams that could use and pay him: New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Atlanta Braves; Florida Marlins; St. Louis Cardinals; Milwaukee Brewers; Cincinnati Reds; Chicago Cubs; San Francisco Giants; Los Angeles Dodgers; Boston Red Sox; Detroit Tigers; Kansas City Royals; Minnesota Twins; Los Angeles Angels; Seattle Mariners.

Positives:

Reyes is unstoppable when he’s healthy. He can hit for average and some power; he provides extra base hits and loads of triples; he can steal 70-80 bases; is a superior defensive shortstop with a cannon for an arm; and he’s a switch-hitter.

His personality is infectious; he excites people by his mere presence; he’s intelligent, well-spoken and charming.

As he showed with his display during the first half of the season, when Reyes is sufficiently motivated, he’s one of the most dynamic players in baseball. Any club will be better with him at the top of their lineup and in the field. His pricetag won’t be as heavy now as it looked like it was going to be in July; while it sounds strange that a team could get an MVP candidate and Gold Glover at a discount even if they’re paying as much as $130 million, that will be the case if he’s physically sound.

Negatives:

His frequent hamstring injuries are a big concern. He doesn’t walk. And once his speed begins to decline, it’s reasonable to wonder whether a team will be paying $20 million annually for a singles and doubles hitter who’ll hit 10 homers a year and is losing several steps defensively.

It must be understood that there’s always the potential for a pulled or torn hamstring that will keep him out for months or possibly an entire season.

Reality:

Amid all the criticisms doled out to the Mets for failing to lock Reyes up before this; the rumors that they’re reluctant to keep him at whatever cost or are planning a face-saving offer without intending it to succeed; and the fear of the unknown without him, it’s selectively ignored that the Mets have made the mistake of overpaying to sign, trade for and/or keep players due to fan reaction and desperation.

Does it really matter why the Mets let him leave if they choose to do so?

If it’s financially-related or a cold-blooded analysis that he’s not worth it, isn’t that why they hired Sandy Alderson as GM in the first place—because they’re running the team like a business and not to cater to the fans desires if they’re going to hinder their rebuilding attempts?

References to the Red Sox and Yankees as teams who don’t make such calculations are ridiculous.

It was the Red Sox who traded Nomar Garciaparra and allowed Pedro Martinez and Jason Bay to leave as free agents because, in order, they didn’t like Nomar’s attitude and contractual demands; Pedro’s arm had been judged to have only a year or two left before a full breakdown; and they didn’t want to pay Bay for the full 4-5 years it would’ve taken to keep him.

They were right about the first two; Bay would’ve been fine had he stayed in Boston.

The Yankees let both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui walk after winning a World Series they wouldn’t have won without them; GM Brian Cashman didn’t want to re-sign Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada and he was right in both cases.

This concept that the Mets are at fault for Reyes’s hamstring problems is as stupid as the Cashman suggestion that the Mets were at fault for his decision to give Pedro Feliciano an $8 million package for what looks like will be nothing. The Yankees “superior” medical staff okayed the deal for Feliciano; the Red Sox misdiagnosed Clay Buchholz‘s back injury this season and Jacoby Ellsbury‘s broken ribs last season.

Teams make medical mistakes—it’s not only the Mets.

You can’t build a team similar to the Red Sox from 2003-2008 without enduring some pain of these brutal, unpopular choices that need to be made. To think that a front office as smart as the one led by Alderson doesn’t have a contingency plan in place to replace Reyes with several lower cost acquisitions or via trade is foolish.

Prior Mets regimes were reactionary and thin-skinned; they allowed the fans and agenda-driven media people (or fans who think they’re the media) to interfere and affect what would’ve been better for the club in the long term. They doled generous severance packages to declining and borderline useless veterans Al Leiter and John Franco and essentially let those two have a significant say in the construction of the club—it was known as the Art Howe era.

That’s also how they wound up with Martinez; Mo Vaughn; Jeromy Burnitz; Johan Santana; Bay; Francisco Rodriguez; J.J. Putz and numerous others.

Do they want to repeat the past mistakes and spend capriciously to keep critics quiet? Or do they want to have a plan, work within a budget and build a sustainable foundation?

Whether the budget is based on lawsuits, financial collapses or creating a streamlined, profitable club is irrelevant—this is where they are and they have to react accordingly.

Say what you want about Alderson—that he’s desperate for credit; that he’s got a massive ego; that he intentionally creates factions in his front office to maintain a power base loyal to him—he’s not concerned about what people say when he makes a decision; it will be rational one way or the other.

If Reyes leaves, so be it.

What he’ll want: 7-years, $150 million.

What he’ll get: From a club other than the Mets, 6-years guaranteed with a mutual option based on games played and health for a 7th year at a total of $140 million if he reaches all incentives.

From the Mets, 5-years guaranteed at $105 million with easily reachable options for two more years based on games played and health to push it to $140 million.

It’s up to him whether money and guaranteed dollars are more important than his supposed desire to stay with the Mets. Players have shunned the chance at extra money in recent years to go to a preferred locale, so it’s not assured that he’s following every penny elsewhere.

Teams that might give it to him: Tigers, Phillies, Nationals, Braves, Cardinals, Marlins, Brewers, Dodgers, Angels, Mariners, Giants, Mets.

Would I sign Reyes if I were a GM: Yes.

Will it be a “bad” signing for the club that does pay him? It might be, but his upside and that he’s a shortstop makes him worthwhile—within reason.

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