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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Jim Riggleman Shouldn’t Have Quit…

Draft, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

…he should’ve waited for the Nationals to fire him.

When the news first broke that Riggleman had resigned, it was obvious that it was contract-related. I immediately thought back to two similar situations in which managers wanted their status defined one way or the other and wound up issuing ultimatums that cost them their jobs.

Don Zimmer won a shocking NL East title in 1989 with the Cubs and was named Manager of the Year. In 1990, the Cubs fell to 77-85 and spent a lot of money that winter for outfielder George Bell, closer Dave Smith and starter Danny Jackson to join Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux, Andre Dawson, Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston for a club that was expected to contend.

Struggling at 18-19 and with Zimmer angry about his uncertain contract status, Zimmer was fired. Apart from a stint running the Yankees while Joe Torre was recovering from prostate cancer, Zimmer never managed in the big leagues again.

Charlie Manuel also wanted his contract addressed by the Indians in 2002.

Having won 181 games in 2000-2001 and making the playoffs once, Manuel had a case for an extension. But the Indians were transitioning from their years of contention. Mired in 3rd place with a 39-47 record and heading in a different direction, they fired Manuel.

In a sense, you can say that Zimmer was better off having been fired by the Cubs. Had he remained as their manager, would he have eventually become Torre’s right-hand man in the Yankees dugout during their dynasty? Doubtful. His lovable reputation belies the feisty and fearless competitor he’s always been; it was Zimmer’s public rebuking of George Steinbrenner that sowed the seeds of his Yankees departure.

Manuel got the Phillies job because he was an agreeable choice for their veterans. His personality—on the surface—is the opposite of the manager he replaced, the fiery and intense Larry Bowa. Manuel’s success as Phillies manager speaks for itself. He comes off as laid back until you cross him. That’s when you discover that Cholly’s in Charge.

In short, Zimmer and Manuel landed on their feet.

Riggleman won’t.

Resigning because his option for 2012 had yet to be exercised was an act of self-immolation from which there’s no recovery.

For all his faults as a GM, Mike Rizzo was under no obligation to deal with Riggleman’s contract now.

The spinning by Riggleman and his agent, Burton Rocks (Burton Rocks?) borders on the farcical. Riggleman said he didn’t issue an ultimatum, but if he didn’t issue an ultimatum, then why’d he leave so abruptly with the team streaking and playing well? Riggleman’s agent said his client “will manage again”. Unless said agent pulls a Moorad and purchases a club of his own and hires Riggleman, that’s not happening. Even Rocks might look at Riggleman and say, “Jim, you quit on the Nats.”

It was always known that Riggleman was a caretaker whose job it was to rein in an out-of-control clubhouse, enact club edicts on the use of Stephen Strasburg, deal with the media and be the “veteran baseball guy” to bridge the gap from rebuilding to contention.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Worst-case scenario, if he did a good job and was fired, he’d be in the mix for another big league job as manager. Now he won’t. Not only does it look terrible for him to throw this brand of tantrum, but there’s a very good chance of him being blackballed for this ill-advised, not-entirely-thought-out fit of pique.

In a lukewarm defense of Riggleman, there was never a clear mandate as to what the Nationals are; what his job description was.

Did they want to win immediately? The signings of players like Jayson Werth indicate that was the goal.

Did they want to develop young players with winning secondary? Letting Drew Storen close and the rules enacted to protect Strasburg (they worked really well) implied otherwise.

It’s difficult to function without a stated objective.

Had he let this play out and gotten fired, Riggleman would’ve been on the side of right and possibly gotten another managing job. He’s not a great manager, but he is a good baseball man and a respected person. There are worse managers in baseball than Jim Riggleman.

Being fired is better than detonating bridges and setting oneself on fire.

He had no leverage, but he did have the perception of fairness to support him.

This was a colossal blunder.

Riggleman wanted security and he sure got it.

He’s secure in the fact that he’s never going to manage in the big leagues again.

And he’s got no one to blame but himself and whoever gave him the lamebrained advice to quit.

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Prospects

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Hyperbolic? Check.

Ignorant of a full historical perspective? Check.

Accumulating the necessary ingredients in this recipe for disaster? Check.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs came up with this little nugget about 18-year-old Nationals phenom Bryce HarperBryce Harper-Best Prospect Ever?

Once you get past the sheer lunacy of the title itself, the content is worse.

Not because it’s wrong—who knows?—but because it’s ignoring reality, history and the human nature of a game that can humble even the most talented player within a millisecond.

Cameron references some of the best prospects in baseball history in comparing Harper’s professional start. Such luminaries who, in retrospect, fulfilled their promise. Alex Rodriguez; Chipper Jones; Ken Griffey, Jr.; and Josh Hamilton are all mentioned.

Fair enough, but where are the rest of their stories?

The diversity of success, injuries, off-field issues and PED use should be accounted for when discussing Harper and making over-the-top equivalencies.

But Cameron fails to do so; instead he focuses on these players who, at the same ages as Harper, put up lesser stats.

Stats.

That’s the basis of the analysis.

But, as usual, they ignore other necessary aspects in the creation of a player.

Harper is a human being. He’s 18. And he’s already got a reputation as an immature and obnoxious jerk.

Had I been managing Harper when he first broke into pro ball, before anything else, I’d have told him to lose the warpaint on his face that’s little more than a means to draw attention to himself; whether he listened or gave me a problem would’ve indicated where the relationship was going to go; in addition to that, the support of the organization in reining in such a player could make or break his development.

Did Cameron’s salivating consider the injuries that hindered Jones’s early career? A-Rod’s PED use? Hamilton’s drug problems?

Cameron picks and chooses to bolster his point without factoring in such important pieces of information like the level of competition each player faced; instead he chooses to focus on pure numbers and level of play without the insight provided by including full disclosure of how those numbers were achieved.

And what about top prospects who were supposed to rock the baseball world, but didn’t such as Shawon Dunston?

Or others who did make it and never fulfilled their promise because of similar allegations of poor behavior (which were conveniently ignored for expediency) like Darryl Strawberry?

Or players who are doing well now as big leaguers like Justin Upton?

Where’s Joe Mauer? Mauer, whose drafting by the Twins was seen at the time—in part—as a bow to the hometown hero when the “better” choice was supposedly Mark Prior?

How’d that work out?

Personality has to be examined.

There’s having an attitude of confidence and maturity as Jones did. It wore on the veterans when he got to the big leagues and definitely irritated opponents, but he backed it all up and is now respected throughout baseball.

There are players who have cultivated a somewhat likable bluster based on prior insults as is the case of Dustin Pedroia; Pedroia has a chip on his shoulder the size of Mount Everest, but that’s more in part to his size and naysayers than it is a byproduct of him being a jerk. Had there been people telling him how wonderful he is and catering to his every whim because he was a “prodigy”, would Pedroia have become what he is? Maybe not.

Harper is being enabled by everyone.

It’s going to be a problem.

This type of column by Cameron certainly won’t help.

Plus it’s ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous…

Why are people discussing a long-term contract extension for Eric Hosmer and worrying about Scott Boras’s posturing about his player’s potential free agency?

You can read about this strangeness here on MLBTradeRumors.

Hosmer just got to the big leagues. How about having a look at him to see how he handles the circumstances before signing him long-term and locking him through arbitration/free agency? Maybe give him a chance to succeed or fail on his own?

There are so many inconsistencies and easily batted down arguments to the concept of signing him long-term immediately.

Boras is anything but stupid. Do you really believe that he’s going to allow another team to sign a contract like that which was signed by Evan Longoria right after he got to the big leagues? Longoria’s contract has been called the most value-laden in history in terms of money saved and performance; but it was still a risk for both sides. It turns out the Rays made out like bandits in the deal and Longoria—while securing long-term security for himself—cost himself a ton of cash.

Them’s the breaks.

Simply because Longoria chose the extension rather than playing it out; that the Rays made such a gutsy and retrospectively brilliant move (and it could’ve failed had Longoria faltered), doesn’t provide a template for the future of every player. Boras won’t advise his players to do such a deal. If they hire Boras to begin with, that means they want to get paid, period.

As teams have signed their young stars to long-term deals, some have chosen to tear up said deals repeatedly—as the Rockies did with Troy Tulowitzki—and extend the extensions on top of the extensions. If Hosmer signed a deal now, what difference would that make? A contract is relatively meaningless if a motivated player decides he wants to be traded as Zack Greinke did this past winter to Hosmer’s team, the Royals.

Why should the Royals and their fans even be concerned about this now and why would there be the suggestion that they won’t have the money to sign Hosmer when the time comes?

Hosmer’s years away from free agency and the Royals have been mentioned as a possible destination for Albert Pujols if he leaves the Cardinals. They’ll have the money to pay Pujols but not to keep a homegrown star?

There’s mathematical formulas and objective analysis; then there’s realistic logic and common sense.

Guess where I stand in that battle for baseball’s soul.

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