Book Review – Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius by Bill Pennington

Books, MLB

Which was Billy Martin?

Baseball wizard?

Scrappy, determined firebrand?

Two-fisted drinker and two-fisted puncher?

Egomaniacal, self-conscious, self-destructive innovator?

Generous and kind?

Religious and sorrowful?

Reckless womanizer?

Baiter of players, umpires, beat writers, front office folk, and owners?

All of the above?

The answers and more of what made Billy what he was are clear in Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius by Bill Pennington.

There’s no need to refer to him as “Martin” as would be generally appropriate in discussing a biography. His first name is all that is required to know who’s being referred to when discussing baseball from the 1950s when he became Casey Stengel’s pet, a post-season star and leader for the perennial champion New York Yankees and onward through time as he made his way as a nomadic and explosive journeyman player and manager from the late 1950s through to his death in 1989.

From a relatively destitute childhood in Oakland, gazing at the far off glory of Major League Baseball while brushing up against it with local big leaguers who still called the area home and Bay Area product, fellow Italian Joe DiMaggio, Billy was not to be denied. If he wasn’t going to be the prototypical bonus baby that big league clubs congregated around offering vast sums of money to sign with them, he’d force his way onto their radar with his hustle, intelligence, intensity and fearlessness.

Those same attributes carried him throughout a notoriously underrated big league playing career in which he was an irreplaceable cog for four pennant winners and three World Series champions.

Of course, Billy’s reputation from his childhood as someone who was ready and willing to stand up for himself – he’d taken boxing lessons as a youth – and a drinker and carouser are also imperative parts of the story that Pennington tells. These are integral to the character that grew to be larger than life and simultaneously sad and proud; pathetic and admirable. While Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford might have gotten into just as much mischief as Billy, it was always that “bad influence” Billy Martin who received the blame if things went wrong. This was evident in the Copacabana incident when, for once, it appeared that Billy was completely innocent but got the blame and a ticket out of New York anyway.

Once his playing career ended, he worked his way up through the ranks as a coach and manager who owners knew would probably help their teams win, but would also force them to fire him for an off-field incident that couldn’t be covered up with ambiguity or a quiet payoff.

No biography about Billy would be complete without discussing the fights. There were the famous ones with Jim Brewer, Dave Boswell, Ed Whitson, the marshmallow salesman, and the Twins’ traveling secretary to name just a few. Then there were the near-fights with Reggie Jackson and dozens of others in which Billy simply walked away because of the war of attrition having a reputation of a brawler relegated him to.

The dichotomy that was Billy Martin is clearly evident in the pages of Pennington’s book. One minute he would be buying drinks for an entire bar full of patrons and the next minute someone would say the wrong thing, make the wrong move and be lying on the floor contemplating an assault charge and a lawsuit against the famous big league manager whose fists were quicker than his temper and shattered the mental dam of hesitating for fear of long-term consequences that most of us have.

The battles with Reggie (another person for whom the first name is enough) take up a substantial part of the narrative with good reason. While it might be seen as a player and manager who didn’t get along and couldn’t stand the sight of each other, it goes deeper than that. Pennington indicates that one of the main reasons they didn’t get along is because they were basically the same personalities with an inevitable clash occurring not as a matter of circumstance, but as a matter of course. Both were egomaniacal, paranoid, self-loathing, self-loving, loud, and exhibited the diametrically opposed combination of being terrified and unafraid.

Billy’s dislike of Reggie was not linked to Reggie’s shortcomings as a player, but his unquenched desire to draw attention to himself at the expense of anyone who stood in his way – including the manager who wanted the credit for what the team accomplished. It certainly didn’t help that Reggie was signed against the wishes of Billy, who preferred Joe Rudi. Nor did the fact that Reggie walked into camp and immediately alienated the veteran working class, team-centric types like Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, and Sparky Lyle with whom Billy had bonded. Billy, considering himself the ultimate team man, was saddled with a player whose main function was to bask in the spotlight by any means necessary. Both men seemed to delight in garnering a reaction from the other and, in the end, perhaps needed one another to a degree that they would be loath to admit.

There’s no pigeonholing Billy. For those who considered him a purely bad guy, they speak from experience. For those, like Rickey Henderson, who consider him a great, caring guy who was a catalyst to their careers because he believed in them when no one else did, they too speak from experience. Much is made of coaching “trees” and managerial strategies that are passed down from one to the other over the decades, but Billy’s lineage is clear in the work that Tony La Russa did in his Hall of Fame career as he learned to concern himself with what was best for the team and not care about the reaction. It’s also evident in the work of Buck Showalter, who Billy took under his wing as a young spring training coach in 1988 during Billy’s final go-round as Yankees’ manager as Showalter was starting his climb from minor league manager to his current status as one of baseball’s best tacticians.

Tactics were the foundation to what made Billy so great as a manager. He spotted weaknesses and exploited them. He was forever going for the deep strike with aggressiveness and tailored his decisions to what the players could do best and what rattled the opponents the the highest degree. On the same token, there was rarely a “tomorrow” with Billy. It was win today; do what’s fun today; get the girl today; go get drunk today; worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

That’s not the blueprint to having a long career.

A common question about him is whether or not his tactics would translate to the new era of mathematical formulas, all-powerful general managers, players with contracts paying them one-third of a billion dollars, a smothering media, know nothing “experts”, bloggers, Twitter and numerous other distractions that make the 1970s and 80s seem like the Sixth Century. The answer is as nuanced as Billy himself. He would likely have adapted to a certain degree while maintaining the principles he learned from in-the-trenches work as a student of the game, but he also would have detonated when the daily questions arose as to why he used X reliever instead of Y reliever; why he batted this player fourth when the numbers indicate that batter should be batting second; and why he decided that ordering a steal of home was a smart move given the low percentage of its success.

Add in a 20-something kid with a degree from Harvard who’d never picked up a baseball in his life walking into his office and telling him that the new algorithm the sabermetrics department developed wasn’t being implemented as he was instructed and it’s hard to see him adapting to the degree that he would have had to to survive. Then again, he never survived in any one place for very long anyway. There might not have been a difference between then and now.

That’s just on the field.

His behaviors away from the park were a source of trouble that he never fully reined in or even tried to tamp down. His turbulent off-field life would have set off thousands of YouTube views whether it was a bar brawl, a drunken escapade, a confrontation with a reporter, or an accusation from one of the multitudes of women he insatiably chased.

He managed for five different organizations and had five different tenures as George Steinbrenner’s field boss. He turned each and every one of those teams around. He also forced the management to fire him for reasons on and off the field. Had he not died, there absolutely would have been at least one more tenure as Yankees’ manager – the book out-and-out says so. Regardless of talent level, attitude and situations, he made winners of all of them with his aggressive style of play. There was also a willing trade-off that his employers made knowing that there was going to be an incident that would make it necessary for them to fire him. Had Billy thought ahead off the field as well as he did on the field, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But that wasn’t his style.

Billy’s son implies that the constant turmoil might have been intentional on the part of his father; that Billy knew he grew complacent if he was in any one place for too long; that he couldn’t live without the action. This can explain why, when so many – almost all – of his publicly known fights occurred when he was sitting and drinking in some bar, he continued going to bars. He went drinking the night he died in that car crash in upstate New York. In a dramatic sense of a story with an unavoidable and expected ending, the crash was the only way Billy’s life could possibly have concluded.

A person who put forethought into what could happen to his future if something were to occur and had even the barest sense of self-preservation would have stopped drinking and quit living life at ten times the speed of everyone else.

Not Billy.

He refused to conform in a similar manner to refusing to alter his managerial style when he knew he was fundamentally right. His competitiveness dictated that he never back down even if it was in his interests to do so. Therefore, he never backed down. It gained him almost everything he earned and it cost him even more. That said, if he had backed down, maybe he never would have made it in the first place. On some level, he knew that and acted accordingly. It made him and it broke him on every conceivable level and made him what he was: a man who couldn’t be placed into a single category not because he tried to be that way, but because he couldn’t be any other way and succeed in the way he did.

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Congratulations Ichiro On Hit Number 4,000!! (Make Sure You Purchase Your Commemorative T-Shirt On The Grand Concourse)

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Just remember one thing when quantifying Ichiro Suzuki’s 4,000 combined hits in Japan and North America: Kei Igawa was considered a “star” pitcher in Japan with these gaudy numbers before joining the Yankees. Considering the fact that he was pitching for a powerhouse Yankees team in 2007 and 2008, Igawa could have been less than mediocre and, based on his attendance record, won 12 to 15 games. Instead, in 16 games, the Yankees got an evil 6.66 ERA for their $46 million.

This is not to decry Ichiro’s accomplishment, but how can we legitimately consider this to be worthy of all the attention it’s getting as something other than an attempt on the part of the Yankees to sell some T-shirts? It may not be as silly as my snide Twitter crack that we should calculate O.J. Simpson’s accumulated yards in the white Bronco chase and add them to his NFL rushing total, but it’s in the vicinity.

Because of his contact with an agent, Reggie Bush’s USC football records were wiped out, he surrendered his Heisman Trophy and USC’s wins in 2005 were vacated. Since he was benefiting from these relationships while in college, couldn’t it be argued that he was technically receiving remuneration for his work and was therefore a professional? Shouldn’t his college rushing yards be added to his NFL totals?

You see where I’m going here.

The argument with Ichiro is that he was such an accomplished hitter in the major leagues that he would have had a vast number of hits—probably coming close to 4,000 by now—if he’d spent his entire career in North America. I don’t doubt it. But we can’t give legitimate accolades for a record of this nature based on “probably would have” vs. “would have” and “did.”

If Babe Ruth had been a hitter for his entire career rather than spending his first five seasons with the Red Sox as a pitcher, how many home runs would he have hit? If Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige had been allowed to play in the majors rather than being relegated to the Negro Leagues, what could they have done? There are no answers.

Then we get into the Japan-North America comparison. Do Randy Bass’s 202 homers in Japan get added to his nine big league homers to make 211? Does he jump ahead of Kirby Puckett (207) and Roberto Alomar (210) on the career list?

With a clear stake in the perception of being the top hit-getter in baseball history, Pete Rose diminished Ichiro’s hit total as not being equal in difficulty to his. Any comment Rose made was probably done during a break in relentlessly signing bats, balls and other memorabilia to accrue cash, but he’s not wrong in scoffing at the concept that Ichiro’s 4,000 hits are in any way equivalent to his 4,256 hits. Although he’s banned from baseball and unable to receive Hall of Fame induction, Rose is the true hit king whether Ichiro “passes” him in the next couple of years or not.

The Yankees’ celebration of the achievement was relatively muted compared to what they’ve done for such occurrences in the past. They’ve retired numbers they shouldn’t have retired (Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Roger Maris) and created “history” out of thin air even if it isn’t actual history in any way other than to suit the narrative. Michael Kay didn’t have a long-winded and poorly written moment-infringing speech prepared similar to the pablum he recited when Derek Jeter collected his 3,000th hit. The Yankees came out of the dugout to congratulate Ichiro and there will probably be a small ceremony at some point (to go along with the T-shirts), but Ichiro had 2,533 of his hits with the Mariners. His Yankees numbers are those of a fading veteran hanging on and collecting more numbers.

It was handled professionally and appropriately by the Yankees. The problem with this is the idea that there’s a connection between what Ichiro did in Japan and in the majors. There’s not unless you want to start going down that slide to count everything any player has ever done anywhere as part of his “professional” resume. That slide leads back to Igawa. He was a horrible pitcher for the Yankees who didn’t belong in the big leagues and was a star in Japan. For every Yu Darvish, how many pitchers are there like Igawa in Japan against whom Ichiro was getting his hits? Probably a lot. And that means the 4,000 hits is just a number that’s being lost in translation from Japanese to English. It’s an impressive number in context, but a number nonetheless.




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If You’re Thinking of Comparing Hafner to Ibanez, Don’t

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Those thinking of equating the Yankees signing of Travis Hafner to last year’s signing of Raul Ibanez are in for a rude awakening.

Because the Yankees have had some success in prior years with inexpensive and available veterans such as Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones and Ibanez, it’s a false belief that the trend will continue with Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis and Hafner. One thing doesn’t automatically guarantee the other. That’s the big issue with taking a player’s profile and comparing it to another player’s profile based on stats, history, position, contract, whatever—it’s not a real comparison because the individual nature is routinely ignored.

GM Brian Cashman wasn’t expecting the Ibanez from his days with the Mariners or his first two years with the Phillies, but considering Ibanez’s 20 homer, 52 extra base hit showing in 2011, it was reasonable to believe that Ibanez would hit 15-20 homers for the Yankees in a part-time role. He’d been durable, playing in at least 134 games a season going back to 2005. No one was expecting a Reggie Jackson-imitation in the playoffs. The Yankees got far more than they bargained for with a $1.1 million salary and Ibanez was a lifesaver.

Can the same be said for Hafner?

Put it this way: Ibanez wasn’t primarily a DH who had recurrent shoulder woes as well as back and oblique issues sending him to the disabled list over-and-over again as is the case with Hafner. In their wildest fantasies, the Yankees should be happy if they get from Hafner half of what Ibanez gave them. Even that’s a stretch. (And Hafner might not want to stretch too far for fear of tearing something, given his increasingly brittle musculature.)

Hafner, 36 in June, was one of the most dangerous fastball hitters in baseball during his heyday with the Indians between 2004 and 2007; he was an on-base machine and a clubhouse force. Then-Indians GM Mark Shapiro stole Hafner from his former boss and mentor John Hart when Hart was GM of the Rangers in 2002, getting him with Aaron Myette for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese. He was great for awhile; he’s a shell of that player now.

Hafner has played in over 94 games once in the past five years. When he was able to get in the lineup, he’s been productive and he can still turn around a high-90s fastball. He will take his walks. But he’s never consistently healthy. That’s not going to change at age 36 simply because he pulls on the pinstripes and the Yankees’ strategy of signing veteran former star players has been moderately successful in the past. Ibanez was signed as a complementary player with pop off the bench and the ability to play the outfield if needed. He wound up being needed to play far more than was initially expected due to the injury to Brett Gardner. The Yankees aren’t signing Hafner as a background roll of the dice as they did with Ibanez, they’re expecting him to contribute as a lefty-swinging DH.

It’s not going to happen.

Hafner will invite memories of Ibanez when he shows flashes of his old self by crushing a 100-mph fastball from Daniel Bard into the Yankee Stadium upper deck in early April (if he’s not on the disabled list already by then); the fans will think they got another “genius” pickup from Cashman until Hafner goes on the disabled list with a predictable malady, probably to his shoulder; then they’ll be trapped scouring the same bin for another bat to replace him. Only Yankees apologists who still function under the misplaced belief that every move Cashman makes will miraculously turn to gold are failing to accept this truth.

With each signing the newly austere Yankees make, their win total increases…if it was 2007. The club they’ve constructed would have won 115 games and been prohibitive World Series favorites six years ago. It’s not six years ago. Whereas in years past the Yankees motto was seemingly, “We want, we pay, we get,” it’s now become, “Let’s see what’s out there and what we can afford.” Hafner, with all his warts, is what’s out there and what they can afford.

Navigating the latest Alex Rodriguez scandal; wondering what they’re going to get out of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as they recover from injuries; moving forward with zero power out of either corner outfield position; not having a proven big league catcher; worrying about money—these are not the Yankees who have been at the top of the American League for the past two decades. Yet there’s a prevailing belief that because everything worked out then, it’s going to work out now. Just because.

That’s a conceit combined with a desperate delusion as a defense mechanism to avoid the horrid reality that the run is over and a downslide reminiscent of the mid-1960s is well underway.

Hafner is the least of the Yankees problems, but he’s the least of their solutions as well.

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Earl Weaver (1930-2013)

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Glenn Gulliver exemplifies what it was that made Earl Weaver different as a manager from his contemporaries. It wasn’t Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr.—all Hall of Famers. Nor was it Ken Singleton, Boog Powell, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar—consistently top performers. It wasn’t Steve Stone or Wayne Garland—pitchers who had their best seasons under Weaver; it wasn’t Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein (an MVP-quality platoon) or role players Benny Ayala and Terry Crowley; it wasn’t even the one year Weaver had Reggie Jackson on his team and punctuated Jackson’s arrival by screaming in his face because Reggie wasn’t wearing a tie on the team plane. (Brooks Robinson found him one and explained how things worked in Baltimore—Earl’s way or…well, it was just Earl’s way. Reggie behaved that year.) It wasn’t the frequent ejections, the foul mouth, the chain-smoking, the public ripping of players, his longevity and consistency.

It was none of that.

It was a nondescript third baseman whom the Orioles purchased from the Indians prior to the 1982 season and who played in 73 big league games, 50 under Weaver. Gulliver, more than any other player, shows why Weaver was ahead of his time. If he were playing today, the two things Gulliver did well would’ve gotten him a multi-year contract as an in demand asset because he: A) walked a lot; and B) could catch the ball at third base.

Gulliver batted .200 in his 50 games under Weaver and walked so much that he had a .363 on base percentage. Weaver saw this, knew this, and could only wonder about the stupidity of those who questioned why Gulliver was playing at all with his low batting average.

Twenty years before Moneyball and everyone thinking they were a genius because they watched baseball for five minutes and knew how to read a stat sheet, Weaver was an actual genius and innovator by using a discarded player who other clubs had no clue was so valuable.

For all the talk of Weaver’s use of statistics, riding his starting pitchers, putting a premium on defense and battles with Palmer and Davey Johnson, the concept that Weaver was a dictator who didn’t know how to be flexible is only half-true. He was a ruthless dictator off the field, but on the field, he was willing to go to whatever lengths he needed in order to win.

Weaver’s teams were always near the top of the league in certain categories. They weren’t always the same. Many times, at the plate, it was on base percentage. On the mound, it was complete games and shutouts. Weaver was known not to be a fan of the riskiness of the stolen base, but as he looked at his transitioning club from 1973-1975 and realized he wouldn’t have the power to win, he let his players loose on the basepaths because he had no other alternative and during those years they were at or near the top of the American League in stolen bases.

If Weaver were managing today, that would be seen as “evolution,” or “adapting.” It wasn’t any of that. Often, the question has been asked how Weaver would function today if he were managing; if the old-school techniques of, “I’m the boss, shut up,” would fly with the multi-millionaire players who can get the manager fired if they choose to do so.

Like wondering why he was using Gulliver, it’s a stupid question. Because Weaver was so ahead of his time as a manager using statistics and that he adjusted and won regardless of his personnel, he would have won whenever he managed.

If a player had any talent to do anything at all, Weaver found it and exploited it for as long as he could, then he discarded them. He did so without apology.

Old-school managers who tear into the absence of the human element, increase of instant replay, and use of numbers are doing so because these techniques are marginalizing them and potentially taking their jobs away. Do you really believe that Weaver wouldn’t have wanted expanded instant replay? To have a better method to find tiny advantages over his opponents through numbers? The older managers who’ve subtly changed have hung around. The ones who couldn’t, haven’t.

On the other hand, Weaver wouldn’t have responded well to agents calling him and complaining over a pitcher’s workload; or to have a kid out of Harvard walking up to him and telling him he should bat X player in Y spot because of a reason that Weaver was probably already aware of and dismissed; or bloggers and the media constantly haranguing, second-guessing and criticizing managers and GMs endure today. But he always altered his strategy to the circumstances and he would’ve continued to do so if he managed in any era.

Interestingly, Weaver retired very young at age 52, then came back to manage a terrible team for a couple of more years before finally retiring for good at 56. In a day when Charlie Manuel, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre managed in their late-60s and early 70s, and Jack McKeon won a World Series at 74 and came back to manage again at 81, could Weaver had continued on? Could he have taken a couple of years off in his 50s and returned? Absolutely. He would’ve been well-compensated and just as successful as he was when he was in his 30s and 40s for one simple reason: he knew what he was doing. And that’s about as great a compliment that a manager can get.

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David Ortiz’s Response to Bobby Valentine

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Bobby Valentine must’ve experienced culture shock and felt lonely on the moral high ground. He’s never been there before.

During his barnburning tour after being fired by the Red Sox, Valentine unloaded on the deserved—bench coach Tim Bogar and the interfering and unsupportive front office; and the undeserved—Red Sox DH David Ortiz. After Valentine’s interview with Bob Costas on Costas Now (I discussed it here), Ortiz stayed quiet when Valentine accused him of quitting on the season. Clearly the slugger was waiting until his contract extension with the Red Sox had been completed before replying. As opposed to Valentine, Ortiz is a better cultivator of his image and able to show discipline. He would’ve loved to retort immediately, but didn’t.

You can read Ortiz’s comments here on Boston.com.

Valentine is incapable of functioning as a sympathetic figure. From the time he took the Red Sox job, he was in a dreadful position in part because of his reputation and in part because of the Red Sox disarray. They never gave him a chance; the team was badly overrated at the start; and the season came ended inevitably with the club 69-93 season and in last place. Whether Valentine was the manager or not, this result was unavoidable. He would’ve gotten a pass from baseball people who still respected his experience and savvy and possibly gotten another chance. Maybe.

But in true Bobby V style, he thoughtlessly chose to validate why many of the players didn’t trust him and tried to get him fired by taking one player who did give him a chance and impugning his character and professionalism.

Was Ortiz concerned about his contract? Knowing he’s been going year-to-year and wouldn’t get more money on the market than he would from the Red Sox, did he want to avoid giving them a reason to tell him to take a hike by showing loyalty with the manager they airdropped onto their sinking ship? Of course. Ortiz has been far more intense, cognizant of his image and invested in himself than the affable face he presents to the public would suggest. That competitiveness is a significant part of why he was able to transform from the player the Twins didn’t give a real opportunity to play every day and released into the basher he’s been with the Red Sox. In the Reggie Jackson tradition, he’s a recognizable star simply by uttering his nickname, Big Papi, because of the big hits he’s accrued and that personality.

Whatever the reason—selfish or not—Ortiz supported Valentine. This multiplies what Valentine did as wrong and is fully in line with the Valentine method of detonating a bridge as soon as he finishes crosses it. If he had any shot of managing in the big leagues again, it likely disappeared as soon as the ill-advised comments about Ortiz came out of his mouth because he’s not worth the aggravation, mutiny and fallout.

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Managers Traded For Players

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To the best of my research, managers have been traded six times in baseball history. It wasn’t always player for manager and the criticism the Red Sox are receiving for trading infielder Mike Aviles for righty pitcher David Carpenter and the rights to speak to John Farrell is stereotypical and silly. With it only having happened six times, it’s not a large enough sample size to say it’s not going to work. Also, history has proven that if a manager doesn’t work out in other spots, he might in another. Casey Stengel had one winning season (and that was only 2 games over .500) in nine years as a manager with the Braves and Dodgers before going down to the minor leagues between 1944 and 1948 where he had success he’d never had in the big leagues. The Yankees hired him in 1949 and he won 7 championships and 10 pennants in 12 years.

Here are the manager trades.

Jimmy Dykes for Joe Gordon—August 3, 1960

The genesis of this trade was originally a joke between Tigers’ GM Bill DeWitt and Indians’ GM Frank Lane, but as their teams faded they basically said, “Why not?”

Gordon was managing the Indians and Dykes the Tigers when they were traded for one another. Dykes was 63 when the trade was made and had never finished higher than third place while managing the White Sox, Athletics, Orioles, Reds, and Tigers. At the time of the trade, the Tigers record was 44-52 and they were in sixth place in the American League. Gordon’s Indians were 49-46 and in fourth place.

Interestingly, Dykes was the second Philadelphia Athletics manager in their history after Connie Mack was running things from 1901-1950.

Gordon has been popping up as a background performer in other dramas recently. As the debate regarding the American League MVP between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout reached a critical mass in the waning days of the regular season, Cabrera’s Triple Crown was a point of contention as it was stacked up against Trout’s higher WAR, superior defense, and perceived overall larger contribution. The Hall of Famer Gordon won the MVP in 1942 while playing for the Yankees over Ted Williams even though Williams won the Triple Crown. You can read about that and other MVP/Triple Crown controversies here.

Gordon had a contract to manage the Tigers for 1961, but asked for his release and it was granted so he could take over the Kansas City A’s where his former GM with the Indians, Lane, was the new GM under the A’s new owner Charlie Finley.

Do you need a family tree yet?

Gordon had a contract with the A’s through 1962, but was fired with the team at 26-33. He was replaced by Hank Bauer. This was long before anyone knew who or what Finley was. Gordon was only 46 at the time of his firing by the A’s, but only managed again in 1969 with the expansion Kansas City Royals. (Finley had moved the A’s to Oakland in 1968.) Gordon’s 1969 Royals went 69-93 and he stepped down after the season. On that 1969 Royals team was a hotheaded 25-year-old who won Rookie of the Year and was, as a manager, traded for a player—Lou Piniella.

Now you do need a family tree.

Dykes managed the Indians in 1961. They finished in fifth place with a 78-83 record and that was his last season, at age 64, as a big league manager.

Gil Hodges for Bill Denehy and $100,000

The Mets traded the right handed pitcher Denehy to the Senators for the rights to their manager Hodges. Hodges was a New York legend from his days with the Dodgers and, despite his poor record with the Senators (321-444), they had improved incrementally under his watch. The most important quality Hodges had was that the players were afraid of him and he didn’t take a load of crap. That they had a bushel of young pitching including Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan helped as well. That not taking crap facet might help Farrell with the Red Sox if they have the talent to contend—and right now, they don’t.

Chuck Tanner for Manny Sanguillen, November 5, 1976

Here was Charlie Finley again, still owner of the A’s, but with three World Series wins in his pocket and free agency and housecleaning trades decimating his team of Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and in the future Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, Vida Blue, and others. Finley wasn’t kind to his managers, but he won anyway. When the Yankees tried to hire Dick Williams while Williams was under contract after having resigned from the A’s after the 1973 World Series win, Finley demanded the Yankees top prospects Otto Velez and Scott McGregor. The Yankees hired Bill Virdon instead and then Billy Martin. George Steinbrenner always used his friendly relationship with Williams as a weapon to torment Martin.

I find fascinating the way perceptions cloud reality. Finley was thought to be ruthless and borderline cruel with the way he treated his managers, but he was also a brilliant and innovative marketer who’s rarely gotten the credit for being the shrewd judge of baseball talent he was. On the other hand, an executive like Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils hockey club has made (by my count) 19 coaching changes in his 25 years with the team. Several of the changes have been recycle jobs of bringing back men he’d fired or who’d stepped down; twice he changed coaches right before the playoffs started and replaced them with…Lou Lamoriello. Because he’s won three Stanley Cups and lost in the Finals two other times, he’s gotten away with it.

The Tanner trade came about because the Pirates needed someone to take over for longtime Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh and Tanner had a reputation for being relentlessly positive, well-liked, and solid strategically. He was also said to be strong as an ox so if a player did mess with him, it was a mistake.

Tanner was an inspired hire because that Pirates’ team had strong clubhouse personalities Willie Stargell and Dave Parker and the last thing they needed was for a new manager to come storming in and throwing things. Tanner and the Pirates won the World Series in 1979. The team came apart under Tanner’s watch, but they got old and had little talent to speak of until the end of his tenure in 1985. He was replaced by Jim Leyland.

Sanguillen still threw well from behind the plate at age 33 and spent one season with the A’s, playing serviceably, before being dealt back to the Pirates prior to the 1978 season.

Lou Piniella and Antonio Perez for Randy Winn—October 28, 2002

Like the David Carpenter for Aviles trade by the Red Sox (or the Chris Carpenter for the rights for Theo Epstein—what is it with players named Carpenter and the Red Sox?), the players were secondary to the rights to speak to and hire the still-under-contract managers. Piniella had resigned as the Mariners’ manager after ten successful years and want to go to the Mets who had just fired Bobby Valentine. This is more family tree fodder since Valentine was the consolation hire the Red Sox made a year ago after failing to acquiesce to the Blue Jays’ demands to speak to Farrell. It didn’t work out.

The Mets were in disarray, GM Steve Phillips absolutely did not want Piniella for the same reasons Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman didn’t want Piniella when it was rumored he was going to replace Joe Torre after 2006—he would be uncontrollable.

It was said by the likes of Peter Gammons that the Piniella to the Mets deal would eventually get done. Of course it was nonsense. The Mariners were annoyed at Piniella and weren’t going to reward him with going to his location of choice unless they were heavily compensated. They asked the Mets for Jose Reyes knowing the Mets would say no. The Mets hired Art Howe instead.

Piniella had nowhere to go aside from the Devil Rays and, while in retrospect, he should’ve sat out a year and waited for his contract to expire, he wanted to manage and the opportunity to be close to his home appealed to him regardless of the state of the Devil Rays. Promises were made that the team would spend money and Piniella—unlike Farrell—had the cachet to squawk publicly about it when the promise was reneged upon. Owner Vince Naimoli hoped the fans would come out to see a manager manage in spite of the players and, of course, they didn’t. For Piniella’s rights and journeyman infielder Antonio Perez, they traded their best player at the time, Winn. Winn had a solid big league career and the Devil Rays would’ve been better off trading him for players rather than a manager, but judging by how the team was run at the time, they wouldn’t have accrued much more value from the players they would’ve gotten than they did from Piniella. Maybe they sold a few extra seats because Piniella was there, so what’s the difference?

Piniella spent three years there losing over 90 games in each before leaving. He took over the Cubs in 2007.

Ozzie Guillen and Ricardo Andres for Jhan Marinez and Osvaldo Martinez

The Marlins had their eye on Guillen going back years. He was a coach on their 2003 World Series winning team and had won a title of his own with the White Sox in 2005. Looking to bring a Spanish-speaking, “name” manager to buttress their winter 2011-2012 spending spree and fill their beautiful new ballpark, Guillen was still under contract with the White Sox. But the White Sox had had enough of Guillen’s antics and wanted him gone. The Marlins traded Martinez and Marinez to the White Sox to get Guillen and signed him to a 4-year contract.

The Marlins were a top-to-bottom disaster due in no small part to Guillen immediately drawing the ire of a large portion of the Marlins’ hoped-for fanbase by proclaiming his love for Fidel Castro. Guillen was suspended as manager by the club. That can’t be blamed for the Marlins’ atrocious season. They played brilliantly in May after the incident, but incrementally came apart amid infighting and poor performance.

It’s been rumored that Guillen might be fired, but if the Marlins were going to do it, they would’ve done it already. Trading Heath Bell—one of Guillen’s main agitators in the clubhouse—is a signal that Guillen will at least get a chance to start the 2013 season with a different cast of players. Since it’s Guillen, he’s absolutely going to say something stupid sooner rather than later and force owner Jeffrey Loria to fire him.

Free from Guillen’s lunacy and with a new, laid-back manager Robin Ventura, the White Sox overachieved and were in contention for the AL Central title before a late-season swoon did them in.

I discussed the Farrell deal yesterday here. He’s who the Red Sox wanted, he’s who the Red Sox got. Surrendering Aviles isn’t insignificant, but everyone in Boston appears to be on the same page when it comes to the manager.

Whether it works or not will have no connection to the past deals of this kind and if a team wants a particular person to manage their team, it’s their right to make a trade to get it done. Criticizing the Red Sox on anyone else for the hire itself is fine, but for the steps they took to do it? No. Because Farrell is the man they wanted and now he’s the man they got. For better or worse.

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Reggie In Time-Out

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One amazing thing you’ll find about Reggie Jackson is how little he’s evolved from his playing days.

When looking for a Thurman Munson quote regarding Reggie’s famous “straw that stirs the drink” comment I found this William Nack Sports Illustrated profile from 1980 that is almost identical to the piece this week that’s gotten him placed into time-out by the Yankees organization.

The quote I was looking for, attributed to Munson, was an incredulous, “For four pages?!?” at the suggestion that Reggie’s “straw” comments in Sport Magazine were taken out of context.

When the latest Sports Illustrated piece came out, I wrote essentially that Reggie was Reggie before Manny was Manny (Manny Ramirez); that he was going to do what he would do, say what he would say and backtrack when faced with the consequences for his “candor”; that he was goaded into saying those things by the reporter.

Is his relationship with Alex Rodriguez damaged beyond all repair? Are the disparaged Hall of Famers and their families offended? Will he be allowed to hang around the Yankees again at his leisure?

Here’s the cold-blooded answer: what’s the difference?

A-Rod is very intelligent and calculating. He’s attention-starved and brings on much of his problems himself, but a large chunk of his issues stem from the hypocrisy he saw with Derek Jeter and Joe Torre among others. The “Jeter does no wrong” brigade is shocked when Jeter acts as if he was hit by a pitch when he really wasn’t and takes his base as the umpire instructs; the “St. Joe” label attached to Torre conveniently hid how calculating, money-hungry and manipulative the former manager could be. With A-Rod, when he used the gamesmanship of yelling “HA!!” in Howie Clark’s ear to distract him when trying to catch a pop-up, it was A-Rod being a bush leaguer; when he opted out of his contract—clumsily—it was A-Rod listening to his Svengali agent Scott Boras and being greedy.

I doubt A-Rod was seriously bothered or surprised by what Reggie said. He’s smart enough and cynical enough not to be offended by it long-term.

You might see Kirby Puckett’s and Gary Carter’s family reply to what A-Rod said; for Jim Rice to start his “why me?” act; but they’ll have their own reasons for doing so. In the case of Puckett and Carter the families will presumably reply to the question when it’s asked. With Rice, he’s still looking for validation that he presumably felt would fill that void when he was finally (deservedly) elected to the Hall. But he’s still hearing the same old debates about whether or not he belongs and now it’s coming from a peer and rival.

As for the “adviser” role Reggie has with the Yankees, his influence died with George Steinbrenner. Reggie’s position is similar to Johnny Pesky with the Red Sox when the club let him be involved without any real power other than that of a treasured former player—i.e. an old man who hung around. He was popular with the fans and wasn’t bothering anyone. Along with the Boss’s other circle of “advisers”—Billy Connors, Dick Williams, Clyde King, Dick Moss, Randy Levine, his sons, sons-in-law and whoever else managed to gain his ear for a period of time, it’s not the way it used to be with the Yankees. Gone are the days when Steinbrenner listened to the last voice he heard (validating a Boss rant with sycophantic agreement) and reacted by dumping a player the baseball people wanted to keep and getting a player that no one else would take.

Reggie’s mistake is that he is bothering the club by creating a controversy for no reason. It’s a hallmark of his life. Whereas it would once be brushed off and handled by the Boss, now with Brian Cashman in charge, Hank Steinbrenner effectively muzzled and subdued and the more thoughtful Hal Steinbrenner holding sway, how much of Reggie’s advice is actually taken? How much of it is listened to? How much is he even around and does anyone notice when he is or isn’t?

Notice.

That’s what Reggie wants. It’s always been that way and clearly from the latest SI piece and fallout, that’s never going to change.

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Reggie And SI Get What They Want

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I’m sure that a vast number of people reacting to the Hall of Fame yays or nays from Reggie Jackson in this Sports Illustrated profile won’t bother to read the entire piece, but if they do they’ll see that the Hall of Fame worthy/unworthy discussion is inserted into the middle of the article in what appears to be a blatant attempt to get people to websearch—not necessarily read—the rest of it.

He talks of religion; his baseball relationships from the past and present; and who he is as a person.

His Hall of Fame assessments don’t come from the extreme wings of the Hall of Fame camps with the stat people on one end and the old-school, “I know a Hall of Famer when I see one” on the other. It’s Reggie saying stuff—stuff that could change if you ask him again next week. Of course it’s capricious to say that Andy Pettitte’s PED use isn’t relevant while it is in the cases of players like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez. Conveniently (or not) their unnaturally gained home run prowess negated some of his accomplishments.

There’s going to be head shaking and questioning of his motives when he says Jim Rice and Bert Blyleven aren’t worthy, but Jack Morris is. And there will be others who suggest that his ego is so enormous that he not only wants a museum dedicated to him and him alone, but it would have to have as few members as possible to fit the “magnitude of me” self-aggrandizement that he exemplifies.

With some the “Reggie” designation would be placed in quotes because it’s a persona and not a person. With this Reggie? It’s all him.

Here are the facts about Reggie Jackson: he was a Hall of Fame player; he knows how to irritate people; and that ability garners attention for himself. In the case of the article in Sports Illustrated, it looks to be a mutually advantageous exchange. He will make provocative statements to drum up webhits and conversation; SI will put the other aspects about him into the article that will get him back into the public consciousness if anyone actually reads it.

He was always a supreme marketer of his favorite subject—himself. At age 66, that hasn’t changed. Except now there are no teammates to anger and no media contingent following him around waiting for him to say something to continue the circle of Reggie-media-teammates-owner-fans-Reggie-media-teammates-owner-fans.

He wanted attention and he’s getting it.

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Managing Like Mauch

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Billy Martin said (it was in one of his books that he’d had ghostwritten) that when he managed against Gene Mauch, all he would do is sit back and wait for Mauch to make a mistake due to overmanaging—bunting, pitching changes, some control-freak maneuver that would backfire.

In 1986, the Red Sox benefited from one such mistake in game 5 of the ALCS in Anaheim. The Angels were ahead 3 games to 1 and leading in game 5 by the score of 5-2 when Don Baylor homered off starter Mike Witt with one out and a runner on in the top of the ninth inning to make the score 5-4. Witt got Dwight Evans to pop up for the second out; with Rich Gedman batting, Mauch pulled his starter in favor of veteran lefty Gary Lucas. Witt later said that not only could Baylor not have hit the low and outside pitch out of the park again, he couldn’t have hit it at all; Witt also said he regretted not fighting harder to stay in the game.

Lucas, who wasn’t the Angels closer, had pitched to Gedman three times in his career and struck him out each time. Gedman was 3 for 3 that day at the time and had homered off Witt earlier in the game.

There was an argument to go with the percentages and yank Witt for Lucas; there was also an argument that his staff ace Witt could handle a hitter whom he’d dominated to the tune of an .095 batting average in the regular season before that playoff series.

Lucas drilled Gedman with the first and only pitch he threw.

The Red Sox went on to win the game and the series.

In retrospect it was a ghastly mistake; in practice, it was an arguable decision.

But Mauch was a slave to the numbers and it exploded in his face.

It’s easier to go by the stats; it’s easier to have an numerical explanation for why a manager does what he does than to trust his instincts and his players and do what could be criticized later.

Mauch managed nearly 4000 games in the big leagues without making it to the World Series in part because he had some bad teams; and in part because he panicked and squeezed when he should’ve let up.

Last night as Chris Carpenter was pitching a gem against the Phillies to lead his Cardinals into the NLCS against the Brewers, there were calls on Twitter for him to be yanked as the Cardinals led 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth with Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and Ryan Howard due to bat.

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa—oft-criticized for overmanaging and using 5 relievers to get 5 outs—left Carpenter in the game in part because he doesn’t have a dominating closer; in part because it was his horse pitching and pitching brilliantly.

The pitcher that was supposed to come into the game in the eyes of many was Marc Rzepczynski. The reasoning for this was Howard’s 4th trip to the plate against Carpenter and that Howard is awful against lefties.

It was stat-based; it had reasoning behind it; and it was ludicrous.

What those who are so invested in the numbers don’t seem to quite understand is that baseball is not a strictly scientific endeavor in which you mix the formula and achieve the desired result. For LaRussa to take Carpenter out of the game at any point in the ninth inning as it transpired would’ve been maniacally controlling and borderline deranged.

If he had a Mariano Rivera-style closer, then okay; but he didn’t. He had Arthur Rhodes and Rzepczynski; the rest of the Cardinals bullpen consists of pitchers who have all been interchangeable in the role of late-inning reliever and should not be given precedence Carpenter—a Cy Young Award winner and one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past 7 years.

Utley hit a rocket to the warning track in center field; Pence grounded out; and Howard grounded to second base and collapsed in a heap between home and first with an achilles injury.

The Cardinals won.

But that’s secondary to the premise of there being a nuance to managing that the hardest of the hard-core stat people simply do not get. They don’t know the history; they don’t understand people; and they adhere to the numbers because they don’t have a grasp of humanity to allow them to do something against their vaunted books and calculations.

The same was true when Howard came to the plate in the seventh inning as Carpenter ran the count to 3-0 and Howard swung at the pitch, just missed hitting it out of the park, and flew to right field.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was apparently supposed to tell his number 4 hitter and biggest RBI man that he should be taking on 3-0 and trying to walk.

That’s not what got the Phillies where they were; that’s not why Manuel is respected by his players; and that’s not how Howard accumulated the resume to get the massive contract he signed.

The players are there to play; you have to put the game in the hands of the players; if you don’t, you’d be amazed how fast the turn on you; how easily and quickly they can and will get you fired.

The enduring image from that 1986 ALCS isn’t what happened on the field in game 5 nor how the Red Sox came back to win the series; it’s Mauch standing in the corner of the dugout, waiting for the final out to be recorded to win his first pennant after so many years on the precipice; with Reggie Jackson standing next to Mauch in part to celebrate with his manager, in part to make sure he was on camera.

It was an out that Mauch had waited for 25 years to be recorded.

It was an out that never came.

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Paul Splittorff’s Yankees Connection Never To Be Broken

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Former Royals pitcher Paul Splittorff died today after a battle with cancer—KansasCity.com Story.

I vaguely remember Splittorff as a pitcher and what I do remember was 1983-84 when he was in the twilight of a good career.

When he was in his prime, he was a very tough and durable lefty; I’m sure you’ll get a better assessment of Splittorff from Bill James and Rob Neyer.

What sticks out in my mind about Splittorff comes from reading about the Yankees of the late-1970s amid the Reggie JacksonBilly Martin soap opera that was in its heyday during the entire 1977 season.

Martin and Jackson had a very public feud about a dozen things that season, but in the playoffs, Martin benched Jackson in game 5 of the ALCS because Jackson had gone 2 for 15 against the lefty Splittorff that season.

The Yankees won the game and advanced to and won the World Series over the Dodgers, but the back-and-forth continued into the Fall Classic as is seen here in this NY Times column (PDF Format).

Martin was, of course, picking on Reggie just for the sake of it and using random statistics to back up a ridiculous decision.

You don’t bench Reggie Jackson in the final game of a playoff series. It was a similarly irascible maneuver as the one Joe Torre pulled with Alex Rodriguez in the 2006 ALCS against the Tigers, but at least Torre didn’t go to the extent of benching A-Rod.

In truth, it wasn’t even a statistically sound call on the part of Martin.

Martin was the best game manager I’ve ever seen, but it’s an open secret as to what kept him from being truly great—the chip on his shoulder the size of Reggie’s ego; and his off-field self-destructiveness.

In a slight nod to Martin, Reggie’s replacement in right field, Paul Blair, ripped Splittorff to the tune of a .441 average for his career in 34 at bats with no power; Mickey Rivers and Cliff Johnson hammered Splittorff as well.

But if Martin wanted to adhere so stringently to stats, he should’ve realized that Blair was no longer the player he was with the Orioles; that Blair was little more than a defensive replacement for the Yankees at that point in his career and should not have been in the lineup of a playoff game instead of Reggie Jackson.

Here are Splittorff’s, er, splits against lefties for his career (courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com):

I Split PA AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+
vs LHB as LHP 2212 2020 229 509 63 23 31 138 241 .252 .303 .352 .655 711 .271 84
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/25/2011.

And here are Reggie’s numbers against Splittorff before 1977:

Year PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP missG missYr
1971 5 5 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 .600 .600 .600 1.200 0 0 0 0 0 0
1972 10 9 5 2 0 1 4 0 2 .556 .556 1.111 1.667 1 0 0 0 0 0
1973 17 16 3 0 0 0 0 1 5 .188 .235 .188 .423 0 0 0 0 0 0
1974 13 13 4 2 0 0 3 0 3 .308 .308 .462 .769 0 0 0 0 0 0
1975 16 15 2 1 0 0 1 1 2 .133 .188 .200 .388 0 0 0 0 1 0
RegSeason 61 58 17 5 0 1 8 2 12 .293 .317 .431 .748 1 0 0 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/25/2011.

Reggie hit Splittorff well enough to be in the lineup despite his poor showing in 1977; but Martin chose to be a bully against a player he reviled with the one thing he had left to use as a hammer—the lineup card.

Martin’s self-destructive nature naturally extended to the field; had he not won the World Series that year, his antics and treatment of Reggie would’ve been cause to fire him earlier than his first Yankees departure at mid-season 1978.

As you know, he returned again…and again…and again and never achieved the same lofty heights he did in 1977 when the Yankees won because of Reggie’s heroic World Series performance.

In addition to having a fine career as a player and broadcaster, Splittorff will forever be remembered as a pawn in the Reggie-Billy war; one of baseball’s epic battles between player and manager.

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