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Baseball 2000
(Spring 2000)

The Orlando Cepeda Story
(Spring 2001)

Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
Previous Columns

Dispelling A Myth

Leave it to a sportswriter like Mike Lupica to never allow facts to get in the way of one of his illogical opinions. In a recent New York Daily News column, Lupica offered some thinly-veiled criticism of this year’s Yankees, suggesting that a truly outstanding team wouldn’t have needed to add so many players through trades in mid-season (Glenallen Hill, David Justice, Denny Neagle, and Jose Vizcaino). "No great Yankee team has ever had to do this much," Lupica wrote. "Name another Yankee team in all of Yankee history that had to make this many changes to stay on top." Well, we can name at least three, all in recent memory. In 1976, the Yankees made a series of in-season trades and transactions, adding starting pitchers Doyle Alexander and Ken Holtzman, lefty reliever Grant Jackson, a left-handed hitting DH in Carlos May, a pair of backup catchers in Fran Healy and Elrod Hendricks, and veteran utilityman Cesar Tovar. (The Yankees also purchased star left-hander Vida Blue from the A’s, only to have the deal turned down by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.) Assisted by the veteran additions (especially the short-term improvements to their pitching staff), the Yankees won the American League East by 10 and a half games over the second-place Orioles. In reality, the Yankees would have claimed the division title even without all of the trade activity, but the acquisitions of Alexander and Holtzman did bolster a thinning rotation, helping the team post winning months in June, July, August, and September. The following year, the Yankees struggled against left-handed pitching, prompting the front office to pick up righty sluggers Cliff Johnson from the Astros and Dave "King Kong" Kingman from the Angels before season’s end. The Bombers also added veteran right-hander Mike Torrez to the starting rotation in an early-season deal with the A’s. Unlike the previous season, New York’s margin of victory was quite slim—a mere two and a half games better than the Orioles. Without Johnson’s 12 homers and .296 batting average, and Torrez’ 14 wins and 15 complete games, the Pinstripers might have finished second to the pennant-pushing O’s. And then there’s even more recent history. In 1996, the Yankees made a series of deadline deals, acquiring Cecil Fielder from the Tigers to fill the DH void, Charlie Hayes from the Pirates as a platoon partner for Wade Boggs at third base, and Graeme Lloyd from the Brewers as a much-needed situational left-hander for the bullpen. (In two lesser deals, New York also acquired Luis Sojo and Mike Aldrete to round out its bench.) Fielder and Hayes, both capable right-handed batters, supplied the Yankee lineup with needed balance and helped stave off the Orioles by four games for the division title. Although the injury-plagued Lloyd did little during the regular season, he pitched shutout ball in all three rounds of the post-season. Without the contributions of Lloyd and Fielder, the Yankees almost certainly would not have won the World Series in 1996—their first world championship since 1978. And it’s not like the Yankees are any different than other championship franchises of the last 30-plus years. For example, the 1968 Tigers acquired a trio of veteran pitchers—ElRoy Face, Don McMahon, and John Wyatt—as pennant insurance down the stretch. In 1979, the Pirates reconstructed half of their starting infield by acquiring Tim Foli and Bill Madlock in mid-season, while also adding veteran hurlers Joe Coleman, Dock Ellis, and Dave Roberts to the pitching staff. Yet, the best example of in-season trading by a world-champion-to-be can be found in the early 1970s, when Oakland owner Charlie Finley made a habit out of acquiring proven players in mid-season as a way of nudging his "Swingin’ A’s" to three consecutive pennants and world championships. In 1972 alone, Finley used an astonishing 47 players during Oakland’s successful run at the American League West. The list of Finley acquisitions included onetime American League Cy Young winner Denny McLain, former "Miracle Met" Art Shamsky, and onetime National League MVP Orlando Cepeda. Although none of the above players paid real dividends, three other mid-season acquisitions did: former National League batting champion Matty Alou (who batted .281 down the stretch and filled a gaping hole in right field), veteran infielder Dal Maxvill (who drove in the division-clinching run for the A’s), and longtime slugger Don Mincher (who delivered a key pinch-hit RBI in Game Four of the World Series. Although Finley eased off the transaction mill a bit the following season, he still added veteran hitters like Jesus Alou, Mike Andrews, Rico Carty, and Vic Davalillo. Andrews and Carty fizzled, but Alou and Davalillo both came up with crucial hits against the Orioles in the fifth and final game of the 1973 Championship Series. Do we really think any less of those World Series-winning teams because they dared to fix some of their problems during the season? Does that make those A’s any less of a champion? We don’t think so. Quite simply, all of this historical evidence shows that Lupica’s contention—that the Yankees’ decision to change their cast of characters in mid-season is something new or somehow diminishes their championship aura—is pure balderdash. What New York is doing in the year 2000 is no different than what the franchise has done several times in its history, and what other franchises have done time and time again. The Yankee front office, spotting holes on its 25-man roster, has simply acted quickly and decisively in trying to rectify the weaknesses. For that, the Yankees should be applauded, not belittled. After all, it’s a strategy that has worked—and one that has often been necessary—many times in the past.

Weekend In Cooperstown

As usual, Hall of Fame Weekend at the "Birthplace of Baseball" provided a bevy of new friendships and memorable happenings. Our favorite moment from Sunday’s Induction Ceremony involved Sparky Anderson, who made sure to promote baseball during his acceptance speech. "If you don’t think baseball is the greatest game, [then] LEAVE, because you’re missing it all," said Sparky in addressing a crowd of approximately 25,000 fans. "It’s a game of having fun, the greatest game." By the way, no one left… Another one of the highlights of this year’s induction was the appearance of longtime Yankee public address announcer Bob Sheppard. After donating to the Hall the microphone he had used for 50 years, Sheppard introduced the new class of Hall of Fame inductees. Even at 90-plus years (he won’t reveal his exact age), Sheppard still has the great voice, dramatic pacing, and dignified style that make him the best PA man in the land… Another nice moment was provided by the daughter of the late Mel Ott. She attended the ceremonies and donated the bat with which her father blasted his 500th home run… One other note from the weekend: Carlton Fisk’s induction speech lasted 38 minutes, surpassing Jim Bunning’s 1996 acceptance speech and thereby making it the longest in Hall of Fame history.

Random Thoughts

Any pennant-contending team looking for a disciplined right-handed bat to bring off the bench or use in a platoon role should consider signing Mike Stanley for the stretch run. The Red Sox designated Stanley for assignment last weekend, effectively ending his days in a Boston uniform. Although Stanley has struggled this season, he still knows how to work the count and draw walks, and retains occasional power at the plate. Stanley would be a perfect fit for a team like the A’s, who have needed a right-handed bat since the start of the season. The need has only grown with the recent loss of the injury-plagued John Jaha for the rest of the season. Stanley could platoon with Jeremy Giambi in the DH slot, while also spelling the defensively inferior Jason Giambi at first base… Speaking of acquisitions, the Mets were smart not to give in to the temptation of signing Barry Larkin to a three-year contract. As much as the Mets would like to win this year, they need to keep their shortstop options open so that they can make a serious run at impending free agent Alex Rodriguez. While Larkin is still an All-Star caliber shortstop, Rodriguez may have elevated himself into the title once owned by Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey, Jr.—i.e., the best player in the game. Unlike other prominent stars, Rodriguez has no fear of playing in New York; in fact, he actually seems to revel in the idea of playing in his birthplace… Met fans should consider another positive by-product of the Larkin snub. The organization still has top prospect Alex Escobar, a five-tool player who has repeatedly been compared to Roberto Clemente. Escobar was one of the three minor leaguers the Mets would have surrendered for Larkin… Although the Mets fell short on Larkin, they still have other short-term options on the trade market. If the Orioles ever come to their senses, they will make All-Star infielder Mike Bordick available in a trade for two or three prospects. (We laughed recently at an internet report that suggested that the Orioles consider Bordick a player that "they can build their team around." Bordick is certainly a fine player who has improved with age, but a "franchise" player? No, not quite)… Bordick says he would prefer to stay with Baltimore, but does not have a no-trade clause in his contract… If the O’s foolishly decide to hold on to the 35-year-old Bordick, the Mets can then turn their sights to Chicago. The Cubs are very willing to shop Ricky Gutierrez, who has been enjoying a career year in the Windy City. Gutierrez might not be a huge improvement over incumbent Melvin Mora, but his presence would allow Bobby Valentine to return Mora to the "super utilityman" role he filled so capably last season. Mora, an excellent defensive outfielder, could also be used as a late-inning defensive substitute for left fielder Benny Agbayani… How bad has the Oriole clubhouse become? At times, as many as five players do not speak to the media. They are Albert Belle, Delino DeShields, Scott Erickson, Mike Mussina, and Sidney Ponson. It’s enough to make a beat writer inquire about early retirement.

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