Moments after Joe Morgan said he wanted to promote Mo Vaughn recently, Boston Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman walked into the clubhouse and was immediately confronted by reporters who cornered him outside the manager's office door.
Morgan was calling for Vaughn, and now everyone wanted to know what Gorman was going to do about it. Caught off guard, the GM became flustered. No, there were no immediate plans to call up Vaughn, he said. Yes, it would be nice to have him, but you'd have to make room on the roster. No, it won't happen tomorrow.
As more and more reporters descended upon him, Gorman finally blurted, "What do you want? I don't have a magic wand over here."
He soon found one, though. After a brief meeting with Morgan behind closed doors, Gorman emerged to say that perhaps something could be worked out. He then walked back to his office, picked up the phone and called up Mo Vaughn.
After being mostly applauded for his aggressive forays into the free-agent market last winter moves that made the Red Sox preseason favorites in the American League East Gorman is suddenly faced with the most intense scrutiny of his seven-year term, with the well-heeled Sox so far failing to play up to expectations.
"Sure, there's more pressure," he said. "When you're committing that much money to players, there's going to be more pressure. But the thing is, no matter how much you're paying, the money can't play for you. Once that game starts, the money can't play."
The pressure is fairly rare for Gorman, who, since coming from the Mets in 1984, has been more than a general manager to the Sox. He has become almost an ambassador, spreading his unlimited good cheer on behalf of the team. This high visibility has worked for and against him. He has received well-deserved credit for helping the Sox win three division titles the last five years. But he also has borne a large part of the criticism when the worm has turned.
The Blue Jays' pre-emptive strike on Tom Candiotti last week a move that conceivably could bury the already staggering Sox only heightened the impression that Gorman has been in a slump of sorts since last July, when he traded three prospects (right-hander Greg Hansell, outfielder Ender Perozo and catcher Paul Williams) to the Mets for Mike Marshall, whom he thought was needed since Dwight Evans had secretly told management he was retiring because of back problems.
Soon after that, apparently in a response to Oakland acquiring Harold Baines and Willie McGee for the playoffs, Gorman made perhaps the worst deal of his tenure. He traded infielder Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for middle reliever Larry Andersen. Andersen appeared in 15 games, then went to San Diego as a new-look free agent. Bagwell is hitting .279 in Houston and is the front-runner to win National League Rookie of the Year honors.
"Did you know that Bagwell was going to hit like that? Did anybody know? Nobody knew that Bagwell was going to hit like that," Gorman said recently. "I'd make that deal a hundred times if I had to do it over again. We wouldn't have won the division without Larry Andersen. You had to make that deal."
It is the performance of this year's team, however, that has him feeling the most pressure. After he committed to a combined $28.65 million for Matt Young, Danny Darwin, Jack Clark, Tom Brunansky and Greg Harris all of whom were free agents the players have performed nowhere near the expectations raised by such gaudy figures. Young is on the disabled list indefinitely with a partial tear in his rotator cuff. Darwin is 3-6 with a 5.16 ERA. Clark and Brunansky were hitting .222 and .206, respectively, going into the weekend. Harris, who was sent to the bullpen after a month and has since returned to the rotation, is 6-10.
Although it is unfair to judge those decisions on a little more than half a season, the Sox roster remains hopelessly unbalanced, almost as if the team was assembled without a plan. Phil Plantier, who has nothing more to prove in the minor leagues, was sent down again recently because there is simply no room for him. Vaughn had been ready for weeks before he was called up. He is playing at the expense of Carlos Quintana, who has been basically limited to playing against left-handers despite a .300 batting average. "Mala situacion," said the Q. "It's a bad situation."
It could be argued that what has happened to the Sox is what many people in baseball fear these days. Flush with television revenue that exceeds $30 million annually and ever-burgeoning attendance Fenway Park has been filled to 92 percent of capacity this season the club went into a spending frenzy that would be unthinkable for such small-market teams as Minnesota and Seattle.