Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Finley’

RIP Alvin Dark

November 18, 2014
Al Dark

Al Dark

Saw that Alvin Dark died last week. He was 92 and largely forgotten. But he was a significant player and a big league manager of note.

Dark came out of Oklahoma and attended what is now Louisiana-Lafayette excelling in both baseball and football. He was drafted in 1945 by the Philadelphia Eagles football team, but chose to play baseball. He made it to the Boston Braves for a 1946 cup of coffee. While there, he  hit .231 and was sent back to the Minors (Milwaukee). In 1948 he was up for good playing shortstop well enough to earn the second ever Rookie of the Year Award (there was only one award in 1948, not one in each league). Boston got to the World Series, lost in six games to Cleveland, and Dark managed to come in third in the MVP voting.

He remained in Boston in 1949, then was sent to New York where he anchored a Giants infield that included Eddie Stanky and Hank Thompson. They finished third. The next year the Giants tied the Dodgers for first place in the National League and Dark participated in the most famous of all playoff series. Whitey Lockman had joined the team at first and an outfield of Monte Irvin, Don Mueller, and rookie Willie Mays helped the team go 50-12 at the end of the season. Dark managed to lead the National League in doubles that season (the only time he led the league in any significant hitting stat). In the famous ninth inning of the third game, Dark led off with a single, went to second on another and came home with the first run of the inning. Later Bobby Thomson hit his “Giants win the pennant” homer and everybody forgot Dark began the rally.

He hit .417 in the World Series with a home run, but the Giants lost. Dark remained with the Giants through 1955, helping them to a World Series sweep in 1954. He hit .412 and scored a couple of runs in the Series. He played part of 1956 in New York, but ended up in St. Louis. He remained with the Cardinals into 1958, then was sent to Chicago. We was with the Cubs two years, then spent the 1960 season, his last between the Phillies and the Braves.

A trade sent him back to the Giants. He retired to take over as the Giants manager in 1961. They finished third. The next year he took them to their first World Series since the 1954 sweep and their first since moving to San Francisco. They took the Yankees to seven games before losing 2-1 in the last game.

He stayed in San Francisco through 1964 when he was fired (during the sixth inning of the final game). He worked with Kansas City (the A’s, not the Royals) becoming manager in 1966 and part of 1967, when he fell victim to one of Charlie Finley’s tantrums. That sent him to Cleveland until 1971 where he managed and for a while doubled as general manager. In 1974 he was back with the A’s (now in Oakland) and led the team to the final of three consecutive World Series triumphs (Dick Williams managed the other two wins). The A’s got to the playoffs in 1975, lost, and Dark was fired. He managed one year in San Diego (1977) then retired.

For his career he hit .289, had an OBP of .333, slugged .411, and ended up with an OPS of .744 (OPS+ of 98). He led the NL in doubles the one time and had 2089 hits, 358 total doubles, 72 triples, 126 home runs, and 757 RBIs to go with 1064 runs scored. His Baseball Reference.com version of WAR is 43.1. As a fielder he was considered more than capable. He led the league in putouts, assists, double plays, and errors at various times in his career. Over his career, he made three All Star teams. His Hall of Fame voting percentage peaked at 18.5% in 1979.

During his managerial career there was some question about his view of black players. In 1964, he made a questionable comment about their baseball smarts which some considered racist. But both Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson came to his defense.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, Dark’s been largely forgotten. But he was a key player on three pennant winners, one World Series winner, and managed in two World Series contests, winning one. RIP, Alvin.

Thoughts on the Upcoming Veteran’s Committee Vote: IV

November 11, 2011

Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe as members of the Nashua Dodgers

Here’s the last installment of my look at the 2011 Veteran’s Committee ballot for the Hall of Fame. This time I want to look at the last two men on the list. They are general manager Buzzie Bavasi and owner Charlie Finley.

Bavasi was general manager for the Dodgers in their last few seasons in Brooklyn, beginning in 1951. He went with them to Los Angeles, overseeing the transition to the West Coast. He remained through 1968. From there he went to San Diego as their first GM, then finished up with the Angels in 1984. prior to taking over in Brooklyn, he worked with Brooklyn minor league teams, most importantly the Nashua, New Hampshire team that became the haven for Dodgers players brought over from the Negro Leagues. As GM he increased the number of black players on both the big league team and in the minor league system. He signed both Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, centerpieces of the Dodgers winning teams in the 1960s. On Bavasi’s watch, the Dodgers won their first four World Series championships (1955, ’59, ’63, and ’65). He set up the San Diego minor league system and later put together the first Angels teams to win division titles. He died in 2008.

Finley took over a moribund Athletics team, moved it out of Kansas City, signed a bunch of good players like Reggie Jackson, and won three consecutive World Series’ in the early 1970s. Out of perverseness, or spite, or stupidity, or miserliness, he began selling off his players for next to nothing, getting him in trouble with then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Kuhn ruled his actions were not “in the best interest of baseball.”  He sold the team in 1981. He brought in the A’s green and gold uniforms (some in awful combinations, other nice), he experimented with a designated runner, with colored balls. He had a mule for a team mascot. He was, in other words, an innovator, a rascal, a con man, and a genius all rolled into one. He died in 1996.

So do either of  them make my ballot? Nope. My problem with Finley is simply that I can’t see putting another owner into the Hall of Fame until Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the 1920s “Murderer’s Row” Yankees, and the 1930’s “Bronx Bombers” makes the Hall. It’s unbelievable to me he isn’t in, and until he is, I can’t endorse any other owner for the Hall (as if my endorsement makes a difference). Bavasi is a little harder to explain, especailly being a die hard Dodgers fan. To determine just how much impact a GM has on a team is difficult. So many other factors like scouting, ownership, and cash available all factor into the making of a team. A good GM has to work within that framework and no matter how good an evaluator of talent and chemistry he is, if he can’t get all three things working together, especially ownership and cash, he simply isn’t going to be successful. Until I work out in my mind exactly how it works, I will pass on GM’s for the Hall. I understand that my objections to both are personal quirks and  Idon’t expect anyone else to follow along.

The Best Team Nobody Knows

July 8, 2011

Charlie O. The mascot-not the owner

Saw that Dick Williams just died. He first came to my attention as a backup for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s. Frankly, I didn’t pay much attention to him. By 1967 he was managing the Boston Red Sox to the “Impossible Dream” pennant and a date with Bob Gibson in the World Series. He also managed Oakland in the 1970s and took San Diego to the World Series in 1984. It was a unique Series in that no manager had ever won a World Series in both leagues. Both Williams and Tigers’ manager Sparky Anderson had won two Series’ in the opposite league, so whichever team won, the manager would be the first to win in both leagues. Anderson got the honor (only Tony LaRussa has done it since). In Williams’ honor, I want to dwell on the Oakland teams he managed in the 1970s. They are, for my money, the best team that nobody knows.

Between 1971 and 1975, the Oakland  Athletics won the American League West Division every year. For the middle three years they ended up with the pennant and a trip to the World Series. In 1972, ’73, and ’74 they were world champions. Do you realize how unusual that is? John McGraw’s Giants never did that (they got two in a row), Connie Mack’s Athletics never did that (they got three of four), Miller Huggins’ Murderer’s Row Yankees didn’t (they got two),  the Cardinals never did it (they won three of five in the 1940s). Neither did “The Big Red Machine.” Can you name all the teams that did? They are Joe McCarthy’s 1936-39 Yankees, Casey Stengel’s 1949-53 Yankees, Joe Torre’s 1998-2000 Yankees, and this Oakland team.  And I’ll bet if you weren’t reading this you might have stumbled over the A’s, because over the years they have gotten lost in the shuffle.

So who were they? Glad you asked. The owner was Charlie  O. Finley. When he owned the A’s, I was fairly sure Finley was half crazy. He did unusual things like try colored baseballs (that didn’t work) and came up with gold and green uniforms (which did work, except that it spawned some really ugly stuff down the road). He had a mule as a mascot (and the Phillie Phanatic it wasn’t). He invented a designated runner (which sorta worked). He was loud, he was a publicity hound, and he knew how to put together a team that won. Why he’s not in the Hall of Fame with his spiritual mentor Bill Veeck, I don’t know.

Williams managed the team through 1973, then left in a dispute with Finley. He was replaced by Alvin Dark who won the final of the three Series championships and one more division title. They were very different. Williams was loud (no wonder he didn’t get along with Finley), Dark more laid back. Williams fought his players, Dark didn’t. Both knew how to get the best out of what they had. They had a knack of using an over-the-hill player to get one more decent season out of him (see Billy Williams, Deron Johnson, and Jesus Alou after the advent of the designated hitter) and get good play out of career minor leaguers like Gonzalo Marquez.

The catcher changed over the years. Dave Duncan was there in 1971. In 1972 Gene Tenace took over and became the World Series MVP.  In 1973 and 1974 Ray Fosse (he of Pete Rose All-Star fame) was the catcher. He was still there in 1975, but Tenace was back to do the primary catching that season. Duncan was a good catcher who handled pitchers well. It got him a pitching coach job with LaRussa and he’s gone on to glory. Fosse was also a good catcher, but the encounter with Rose cost him a lot of his hitting prowess (I’ve never been quite sure why that’s true). More on Tenace in the next paragraph. All in all it was a decent, if unspectacular, catching staff.

The infield was amazingly consistent for the entire period. Mike Epstein started off at first, lasting through 1972. He hit a lot of home runs, had a lousy average, and was only a so-so first baseman. Tenace replaced him in 1974. He was sort of Epstein redux. He hit for a lot of power, not much of an average, and wasn’t going to make anyone forget he was an ex-catcher. He was, however, more of a team leader. Dick Green was the regular second baseman and he was great. Green was one of the premier second basemen of the era, and quite frankly one of the better second basemen ever. That has nothing to do with how well he hit, because he didn’t . He hit eighth for a reason. For a while Williams experimented with starting Green, then pinch-hitting for him when he came to bat, inserting Ted Kubiak at second, then pinch-hitting for him when his turn came to bat. Didn’t last long. It took up a lot of bench players and Green’s glove was sorely missed late in the game. Bert Campaneris played short and led off a lot. He was an OK shortstop, but his specialty was his bat. He hit around .300 a lot of the time, had no power, but had great speed. He was a fine table-setter for the power lower in the lineup.  He led the AL in stolen bases several times, but during the pennant run only led in 1972 (with 52). Sal Bando played third, was a team captain, and one of the most overlooked third basemen ever. He was an unquestioned team leader, played third well, and might have become the face of the team if not for the fellow in right field.

First and foremost, this was Reggie Jackson’s team. He played right field, hit the ball a mile, was outrageous (and could back it up), had his own candy bar, and led the team in power and quotes. Between 1972 and 1982 the American League team won the World Series five times. Jackson was on every team. He went to the playoffs every year except 1976 and 1979. I don’t know that he’s the best player of the 1970s (there’s always Mike Schmidt and George Brett to consider) but he was the most successful. Joe Rudi played opposite him in left. Rudi was everything Jackson wasn’t. He was quiet, never “hot dogged”. He was almost as good a player, however. He was excellent in the field, hit well, had good, but not great, power, and never stood out like “Mr October.” Center Field had Billy North out there in both 1973 and 1974. He was fast, could catch well enough, and made a good two hitter. He led off  some and ended up winning a stolen base title in 1974 (and later in 1976). Angel Mangual was the regular center fielder in 1972. By ’73 he was backing up North.

The staff consisted of Hall of Famer Jim Hunter, rookie sensation Vida Blue, lefty Ken Holtzman, and “Blue Moon” Odom. In many ways this was the strength of the team. All were good pitchers (Odom was far and away the weakest of the lot) whose records reflected their abilities and weren’t just reflections of the team hitters. Hunter led the AL in wins once (74), in winning percentage twice, and ERA once. Blue led in both ERA and shutouts once. With Nolan Ryan in the league, none of them ever led the league in strikeouts.

Then there was Rollie Fingers. He’s probably as famous today for his moustache as for his pitching. He was the bullpen man (they didn’t call them “closers” yet). He never led the AL in  saves in the era, but was instrumental in Oakland’s victories. He was an old-fashioned reliever, meaning he entered the game in whatever late inning was critical and shut the door, then finished up the game. In the World Series winning years he pitched in 65, 62, and 76 games logging 111, 127, and 119 innings (or about 2 innings per appearance). They don’t do it that way any more.

There they are, three-time World Series winners. Most of them are long gone into obscurity. They never had the panache of the Yankees and playing in the West coast time zone certainly didn’t help, but they were a great team that deserves to be remembered. Take the occasion of the death of their first manager to do just that, OK?