View Full Version : Cooperstown Confidential--July 25, 2005 (Part 1)

Bruce Markusen
07-25-2005, 11:27 AM
All The Rumors That Are Fit To Print
With so many general managers trying to hold up their front office counterparts, there may not be a lot of major trades made between now and the July 31st trading deadline, but it seems there are more rumors than at any time since the start of the new millennium. With teams having less than two weeks to secure players in deals (at least without needing those players to clear waivers), let’s run down the best rumors in both leagues:

If the A.J. Burnett deal with the Orioles has indeed fallen apart, the O’s will take a serious run at Dodgers right-hander Jeff Weaver, another free agent to be. The Orioles don’t like Weaver nearly as much as Burnett, so there’s little chance that they’ll give up a package as enticing as the trio of Larry Bigbie, Hayden Penn, and Jorge Julio. A package comprised of Bigbie and Penn could get it done. The Orioles might not be the only team that hopes Weaver ends up in Baltimore; the Red Sox and Yankees are simply salivating at the possibility of taking swings against Weaver...

The bullpen-starved Red Sox have set their sights on the Phillies’ unhappy Billy Wagner, who doesn’t like Philadelphia and will most definitely leave as a free agent at season’s end. The Red Sox previously offered Alan Embree (recently designated for assignment) as part of a package, but they’ll have to add much more to the pot to bring in Wagner and his near 100 mile-per-hour fastball. The Phillies would love a top prospect like lefty Jon Lester or righty Jon Papelbon, but there’s no way that Theo Epstein will surrender either of his prized pitchers in any deadline deal. A more realistic possibility might be minor league catcher Kelly Shoppach, who could replace the aging Mike Lieberthal behind the plate for the Phillies… The Red Sox remain interested in Eddie Guardado, but the Mariners are acting as if “Everyday Eddie” is the second coming of Sparky Lyle. As Theo Epstein has tried to make clear to other general managers, the Red Sox will only give up so much in a deal for a late-inning reliever… If the asking price for Guardado and Wagner remains too high, the Red Sox might bite on a deal with the Twins for power left-hander J.C. Romero. According to one rumor, the Red Sox might be willing to part with starting third baseman Bill Mueller, which would enable the underutilized Kevin Youkilis to take over the hot corner on an everyday basis. And then there’s always the possibility that the Red Sox could trade Youkilis to the Twins and hope that the injury-prone Mueller will stay healthy for the balance of the season… With Bret Boone having been traded to the Twins and the slumping Mark Bellhorn now on the disabled list, the Red Sox did well in acquiring Tony Graffanino from the Royals. Unfairly labeled a utility player with the White Sox and Royals, the Amityville, New York native is more than capable of playing the pivot on an everyday basis. Or Graffanino could platoon with the switch-hitting Alex Cora…

Assuming that the Yankees don’t give underrated minor leaguer Kevin Thompson a shot at their center field vacancy, they’ll continue to concentrate efforts toward acquiring Seattle’s Randy Winn. The Mariners’ left fielder would not be a perfect fit in the Bronx—he’s really not an ideal center fielder and has a poor throwing arm—but his speed and range would certainly be improvements over Bernie Williams and Tony Womack. The Yankees will consider Winn strongly, but won’t give up either of their two best prospects, Eric Duncan and pitcher Philip Hughes. A package featuring Sean Henn and 20-year-old Melky Cabrera, who was overmatched during a six-game major league trial in center field, will likely have to do…Winn is probably their first choice, but the Yankees continue to monitor the Rockies’ Eric Byrnes and the Phillies’ Endy Chavez. According to the New York Daily News, the Rockies offered to send Byrnes and right-hander Shawn Chacon to the Yankees for pitchers Sean Henn and Scott Proctor, but the YANKEES turned it down. If that’s the case (and it is hard to believe), the Yankees had better turn over the decision-making to Gene Michael… If the Yankees were to acquire Byrnes, who is almost certain to be traded a second time this summer, they might try him in left field and move Hideki Matsui back to center field. The problem with a Byrnes acquisition is this: it would do more to help the Yankees on offense and little to improve the outfield defense, which remains the team’s Achilles heel. As for Chavez, he’s an extremely limited player whose value is principally on the defensive side of the ball, which might actually make him a better fit for the Bronx. Chavez would also come far more cheaply via the trade route than either Byrnes or Winn… All in all, it’s stunning how much difficulty the Yankees have encountered in locating even a good-field, no-hit center fielder, a commodity that shouldn’t be that difficult to find. (Hey, it’s not like trying to acquire a competent starting pitcher, which is like trying to find the Lost Ark these days.) The way things have gone, the Yankees’ search party for a center fielder might soon degrade into an attempt to lure either Vic Mata or Gary Thomasson out of retirement…

If the Blue Jays decide that they can’t catch the trio of the Yankees, Orioles, and Red Sox, they’ll listen to offers for a number of different players—including star outfielder Vernon Wells and relief ace Miguel Batista, and possibly even Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson and underrated left-hander Ted Lilly. In any deal, the Blue Jays will pursue young players and minor leaguers, with a special emphasis placed on finding some help behind the plate and in the outfield (where a productive slugger would come in handy). And yes, there will have to be some pitching thrown into the mix if the Blue Jays are to become players at the trading deadline… At one point, the Jays considered themselves players in the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes, but ultimately decided that the asking price for the flawed right-hander was way too high and wanted no part of the declining Mike Lowell in an expanded deal…

The Cubs very quietly addressed part of their outfield miseries by stealing Jody Gerut from the Indians in a straight-up deal for the one-dimensional Jason Dubois. A onetime rookie sensation in 2003, Gerut has enough speed to play center field and might find his bat revived now that he’s back in his hometown and playing at the “Friendly Confines” (at least on days when the wind doesn’t blow in). Gerut also helps strengthen Chicago’s lineup against right-handers, giving Dusty Baker three dangerous left-handed bats in Gerut, Jeromy Burnitz, and Todd Walker. The acquisition of Gerut has probably lessened the Cubs’ desire for Juan Pierre, who had previously been a subject of trade discussion. The Cubs, however, still have some interest in Austin Kearns, who could take over left field and allow for Todd Hollandsworth to return to the bench, where he becomes a far more useful player. Like Gerut, Kearns is a once-promising prospect who could benefit from the proverbial change of scenery… With Gerut in tow, the Cubs can step up their trade attempts at fortifying the bullpen. Ryan Dempster has improved their closer situation in the aftermath of the LaTroy Hawkins flop, but the Cubs would still like to improve the back end of the bullpen. They’ve talked to the Mariners about Eddie Guardado, the Devil Rays about Danys Baez, the Phillies about Billy Wagner, and the Pirates about Jose Mesa…

Firmly convinced that they can contend for the wildcard, the resurgent Astros are increasing efforts to acquire a bigtime hitter for the middle of their lineup. The player who makes the most sense? Kansas City’s Mike Sweeney would be a perfect fit, replacing the injured Jeff Bagwell at first base while taking aim at the short left-field porch of Minute Maid Park. The only obstacle might be owner Drayton McLane’s willingness to take on Sweeney’s salary, but making the playoffs would help make up for any financial shortcomings to a deal…

Dissatisfied with the lack of hitting from Doug Mientkiewicz and concerned that they might be rushing Victor Diaz’ transition from the outfield, the Mets may turn to the Reds to solve their first base problems. Cincinnati’s Sean Casey is very much available, and would cost far less in a trade than someone like Adam Dunn. The Mets are concerned about Casey’s lack of power (only four home runs this season), but feel that even a Not So Mighty Casey would represent an offensive upgrade over Mientkiewicz and utilityman Chris Woodward… In their endless search for relief pitching, the Mets will likely talk to the Blue Jays about Miguel Batista. The highly intelligent Batista would be a perfect fit for the Mets, taking over as closer and allowing Willie Randolph to use Braden Looper as their eighth-inning set-up man…

Despite their recent slump, the Nationals’ front office remains dedicated to the pennant cause. General manager Jim Bowden has had serious talks with the Devil Rays about both Danys Baez and infielder Julio Lugo. Baez would become a set-up man and occasional closer for the Nationals, taking some of the load from the overworked Chad Cordero. Lugo would be a terrific fit at shortstop, where the signing of Christian Guzman has proved more disastrous than the Yankees’ signing of Tony Womack while leaving the Nationals looking for a competent hitter to join Jose Vidro in the middle infield.

Bruce Markusen
07-25-2005, 11:34 AM
1975 World Series Revisited
With the 1975 World Series tied at two games apiece, the fifth game became a potential turning point for both the Reds and the Red Sox. Although the game would pale in comparison to the classic sixth game, Game Five did succeed in placing a future Hall of Famer and an oft-injured pitcher on the national stage.

As they prepared for Game Five, the Reds desperately hoped to avoid losing a second consecutive game at Riverfront Stadium. In order to do so, they needed a much-improved performance from talented left-hander Don Gullett, who had been hit hard in the first game of the Series. Gullett didn’t look any better in the first inning of the fifth game, as he allowed a one-out triple to the slap-hitting Denny Doyle and a sacrifice fly to Carl Yastrzemski.

While Gullett was making his second appearance of the Series, his counterpart, right-hander Reggie Cleveland, was making his first for the Red Sox. Cleveland, the first Canadian-born pitcher to start a World Series game, held the Reds scoreless over the first three innings. He then retired the first two batters to come his way in the fourth. With no one on, the struggling Tony Perez walked to the plate. Hitless in his first 15 at-bats of the Series, Perez had been subjected to some twisted dugout humor earlier in the evening. Sparky Anderson had informed Perez that he if he kept up his cadaverous performance at the plate, he could tie or even break a World Series record. The record? The 0-for-22 Series endured by Dal Maxvill of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968. Of course, such futility was nothing unusual for Maxvill, a lifetime .217 hitter who hit only six home runs over the span of a 14-year career.

The ribbing from his manager didn’t upset Perez; it only seemed to relax the laid-back Cuban. When Cleveland made his first mistake of the night and left a breaking pitch hanging high in the strike zone, Perez pounced on the pitch and launched it some 375 feet into the left field bleachers. The slump-ridding home run tied the game at 1-1.

Having settled down after an unimpressive first inning, Gullett supported himself on offense by lashing a two-out single in the fifth and hustling home on Pete Rose’s clutch double. One inning later, the Reds added to their lead. Joe Morgan started the inning with a walk and drew 16—count ‘em, 16—pickoff throws from Cleveland. Alas, Morgan didn’t try to run until Johnny Bench hit a routine double play grounder toward Denny Doyle at second base. Strangely, Doyle lost sight of the ground ball in the background of Bench’s lily-white uniform. As Doyle tiptoed precariously toward second base, the ball trickled into right field.

Rather than come to the plate with two men out and no one on, Perez stepped into a situation he adored: two runners on, one in scoring position. “When I started my career in the major leagues,” Perez recalls, “I always loved to drive in runs. I always took my responsibility to drive in those runners—the guys who got on base for me—I really took it seriously. I was getting paid to drive in runs. Every 15 days my check—the money I was getting paid—was all about that, driving in runs.” Perez now had a chance to do just that. He soon watched Cleveland compound Doyle’s mistake by committing one of his own. Taking advantage of another pitch poorly located within the strike zone, Perez vaulted his second home run of the night—a three-run shot that gave the Reds a sizeable 5-1 advantage.

Although Perez’ ability to produce in such clutch situations became his trademark, he supplied other, less tangible benefits to the Cincinnati clubhouse. “Tony Perez was so much more than just a clutch hitter,” says Johnny Bench, who usually batted one spot ahead of “Doggie” in the Reds’ lineup. “To our ballclub, and to our clubhouse, he was everything. He was the constant that really made the ‘Big Red Machine’ go.”

The four-run lead that Perez had supplied seemed plentiful for Gullett, who was now in the midst of a stretch that saw him retire16 straight batters from the first inning through the sixth. The 24-year-old southpaw remained strong until the ninth, when by his own admission, he started to tire. Just one out from completing the victory, Gullett permitted a single to Carl Yastrzemski, a single by Carlton Fisk, and a double to Fred Lynn. With the right-handed hitting Rico Petrocelli due up, Sparky Anderson decided that Gullett had seen enough game action and summoned Rawly Eastwick to save the win. Eastwick, the victor in the second and third games of the Series, quickly ended the budding Red Sox rally, fanning Petrocelli on three pitches. The 6-2 victory put the Reds back on top in the Series, three games to two.

Gullett’s near complete game effort left the catchers for both teams duly impressed. When asked to compare Gullett’s effort in the first and fifth games, Carlton Fisk offered a simple explanation. “He threw much harder tonight,” Fisk told Lowell Reidenbaugh of The Sporting News. “The big difference was heat.”

Another big difference between the two teams involved the contrast in team speed. The Reds, well-equipped for the fast track of Riverfront Stadium’s artificial turf, had stolen six bases in eight attempts during the Series. The Red Sox, more of a plodding team, had stolen no bases, been caught twice, and seen three of their runners cut down between third and home.

Bruce Markusen
07-25-2005, 11:36 AM
Card Corner
Back in the day, I used to post at Baseball Primer under the pseudonym of “Vic Davalillo.” I think I had a few people believing that I was actually the Vic Davalillo who played for the Cleveland Indians, California Angels, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland A’s, and Los Angeles Dodgers during a well-traveled major league career. As much as I wish that were true—hey, it’d be nice to be drawing from that major league pension right about now—it’s not. I was simply showing my admiration for “Little Vic,” who was one of my favorite players from the sixties and seventies.

Why do I like Davalillo? First, you have to love the name, DAV-AH-LEE-YO, which flows through the vocal chords. Then there is Davalillo’s Latin American heritage; as someone who is half-Puerto Rican, I’ve always felt special kinship with Latino ballplayers. And then there is Davalillo’s stature as a player; he was never quite the star that some predicted he would be, but he had a fine career as a role player and bench player. I’ve always liked such “supporting cast” type of players, in part because they have had to work so hard to overcome their everyman struggles, either to remain in the lineup or to merely stay on a major league roster. In Davalillo’s case, he regularly had to overcome the preconceived notion that someone five-feet, seven-inches tall couldn’t play the outfield or hit well enough to stay in the big leagues.

Davalillo’s 1965 Topps card is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. It was issued the same season that he made the All-Star team, marking his only appearance in the Midsummer Classic. The card also shows Davalillo wearing that great old Indians uniform of the sixties, the sleeveless vest with the bright red undershirt and the classically misfit zipper down the front of the jersey. (Whoever came up with the idea of a zippered baseball uniform apparently never contemplated the pitfalls of trying to slide headfirst and have the zipper take hold of the veins in one’s neck.)

Davalillo’s All-Star status in 1965, coupled with the Gold Glove he won for his outfield play in 1964, led some scouts to predict superstardom for the native Venezuelan. That stardom never materialized, but Davalillo didn’t exactly flop either. During the first half of his career, he established himself as a fine defensive outfielder with a strong arm. And then in the second half, when his throwing arm became a liability due to injury, he became a smarter and more effective hitter, both in a platoon role and as one of the game’s greatest pinch-hitters of all-time. In 1970, Davalillo collected a league-leading 24 pinch-hits for the Cardinals, making him one of the National League’s most dangerous clutch hitters in the late innings.

In 1971, Davalillo became a huge component of the Pirates’ World Championship run. Arguably the Pirates’ best regular season bench player in 1971, Davalillo emerged an effective backup to Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, giving the two Hall of Famers an occasional breather in the corners of the outfield. In 1972, Davalillo enjoyed an even more productive season—arguably the best of his career. Although Davalillo started the season on the bench, he moved into the regular lineup when an extended slump by Bob Robertson prompted manager Bill Virdon to move Willie Stargell from the outfield to first base. Davalillo became the Pirates’ regular left fielder against right-handed pitching, batted .318 in 368 at-bats, and swiped 14 bases.

After a slow start in 1973, the Pirates sold Davalillo’s contract to the Oakland A’s, who were looking for a competent left-handed bat to use as a pinch-hitter and designated hitter. Davalillo batted only .188 in 64 regular season at-bats for the A’s, but played a key role in the American League Championship Series against the Orioles. In the decisive fifth game, Davalillo delivered a key RBI triple against Baltimore starter Doyle Alexander, helping the A’s to a clinching 3-0 victory. Davalillo also took part in Oakland’s World Series victory over the Mets.

In 1974, Davalillo batted only .174 through Oakland’s first 21 games, when the A’s decided to give him his unconditional release. Davalillo had long since gained a reputation for excessive drinking, which combined with his age and lack of hitting, led many to believe that his career had ended.

Fortunately, the pesky veteran hitter decided to continue his career in the Mexican League. Playing for Cordoba and Puebla, Davalillo batted .329, .355, and .333 in his first three seasons south of the border. In 1977, Davalillo was leading the Mexican League in hitting with a sizzling .384 batting mark for Aguascalientes. Dodgers superscout Charlie Metro spotted Davalillo and recommended that general manager Al Campanis sign the veteran left-handed hitter for the stretch run. “I saw him in 20 official at-bats and he got nine hits,” Metro recalled for Russ Schneider of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “But what really sold me was that in those 20 at-bats—and every single time I saw him take batting practice—he never once failed to hit the ball when he swung at it.”

Davalillo justified Metro’s scouting report by batting .313 for the Dodgers in 48 late season at-bats. Davalillo’s most memorable moment as a Dodger occurred in Game Three of the National League Championship Series against the Phillies. Davalillo laid down a surprise two-out bunt single that spearheaded a three-run ninth inning comeback. Davalillo’s bunt, perhaps the most important hit of his long career, served as the turning point of momentum in the playoff series. The Dodgers went on to beat the Phillies and face the Yankees in the World Series.

Throughout Davalillo’s career, baseball writers had debated his actual age. As with many Latin American players of that era, the difficulty in obtaining copies of birth certificates made it difficult to pin down exact ages. As a result, veteran players like Luis Tiant had been “accused” of lying about their age. In the early 1970s, the Baseball Register listed Davalillo as being born on July 31, 1936, making him 41 years old by the end of the 1977 season. “I don’t care what anyone says,” Davalillo told The Sporting News defiantly. “I was born in Cabinas, Venezuela, July 31, 1939.” That would have made Davalillo 38 years old. Many writers, however, did not believe him. As Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda once said during the 1977 season: “I don’t know how old Vic Davalillo and Manny Mota are. But someone told me they were both waiters at the Last Supper.”

Davalillo’s major league career finally came to an end in 1980. He concluded a vagabond but productive career with a .279 batting average, 125 stolen bases, one All-Star Game berth, a single-season pinch-hitting record, World Series appearances with three different teams, and two championship rings. Never a star, he became a journeyman, a term that some unfairly treat with derision, but one that Davalillo made all the more respectable.

Bruce Markusen
07-25-2005, 11:37 AM
Pastime Passings
Dick Sipek (Died on July 17 in Quincy, Illinois; age 82): One of a handful of deaf players to appear in the major leagues, Sipek debuted with the Cincinnati Reds during the war-torn season of 1945. He played in 82 games that summer, his only major league season. Sipek succeeded William “Dummy” Hoy and Luther “Dummy” Taylor as the third deaf player in major league history. While at the Illinois School for the Deaf, Taylor had mentored the younger Sipek.

Mickey Owen (Died on July 13 in Mount Vernon, Missouri; age 89; Alzheimer’s disease):
Though best remembered for dropping a third strike in Game Four of the 1941 World Series, a miscue that allowed the New York Yankees to rally for a win, Owen was an above-average major league catcher who earned four All-Star Game nods during the World War II era. Owen made his major league debut in 1937 with the St. Louis Cardinals. Becoming the Cardinals’ regular catcher in 1938, Owen remained with the Redbirds through the 1940 season. During the winter, the Cardinals dealt him to the Brooklyn Dodgers for fellow catcher Gus Mancuso, a minor league player, and a sum of cash. From 1941 to 1944, Owen became the Dodgers’ regular catcher, earning a reputation for his fine defensive play behind the plate. Yet, during the 1941 World Series, Owen’s glovework let down the Dodgers. With Brooklyn clinging to a 4-3 lead in the ninth of Game Four, Owen dropped what should have been a game-ending third strike to Tommy Henrich. Given a reprieve, Henrich eventually reached base and the Yankees scored four runs to post a miraculous 7-4 victory. Now up three games to one, the Yankees beat Owen’s Dodgers the next day to wrap up the World Series. In spite of being cast as the Series’ goat, Owen responded to gain All-Star selections over the next three seasons, giving him a total of four in a row. Though generally a light hitter, as evidenced by only 14 home runs in 13 seasons, he became the first player to hit a pinch-hit home run in All-Star Game play.

In 1946, Owen made headlines again by jumping the major leagues and joining the Mexican League as a player and manager. The move earned him a three-year ban from the majors. Owen then returned to the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 1949, before closing out his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1954. After his playing days, Owen became a major league scout and then formed his own baseball school. The Mickey Owen Baseball School became one of the country’s most respected training and development facilities for young players.

Lyman Bostock, Sr. (Died on June 24 in Birmingham, Alabama; age 87): An All-Star performer in the old Negro Leagues, Bostock played for the Brooklyn Royal Giants and Birmingham Black Barons, earning selection to the East-West All-Star Game in 1941. Although a fine player in his own right, Bostock became better known to younger fans as the father of former major league star Lyman Bostock, Jr. The younger Bostock emerged as a star outfielder with the Minnesota Twins in the mid-1970s before signing a lucrative free agent contract with the California Angels. Sadly, Bostock died during his first season in California; he was killed in Gary, Indiana on September 27, 1978, when he was shot while riding in the back seat of a car.

Bruce Markusen is the author of Tales From The Mets Dugout, currently available from Sports Publishing. He also serves as an advisor and consultant to museums that feature exhibits about baseball and other sports. To contact him about exhibit consultation, send an e-mail to bmark@telenet.net.