The best minds of baseball are terrible things to waste

October 27, 1991|By Frank Dolson | Frank Dolson,Knight-Ridder News Service

ATLANTA -- This World Series has spotlighted some of the best of baseball.

Also some of the worst.

The best has been on the playing field, where the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins, two rags-to-riches teams cheered on by supercharged fans, have played out this weeklong drama with fire and intensity. Where such longtime minor-leaguers as Mark Lemke, Greg Olson and Jerry Willard have turned childhood dreams into reality.

The worst has been off the field -- in the hotel lobbies and corridors, in the hospitality rooms and coffee shops, where some of the best baseball minds gathered this week to seek employment . . . and left empty-handed.

Syd Thrift, who masterminded the rise of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was here. So was Jack McKeon, the general manager of the 1984 pennant-winning San Diego Padres, and Larry Himes, under whose leadership all those bright, young stars -- Robin Ventura and Frank Thomas and Jack McDowell -- wound up in Chicago White Sox uniforms.

And Dallas Green, who managed the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies to the world championship, then went to Chicago and built the Cubs into 1984 division winners.

Surely, there has been nothing sadder at this World Series than seeing these men standing around, looking for work.

How, you wonder, can a man with Green's ability, his experience in virtually every phase of the game, be ignored by the corporate types running baseball today? He was a player, a farm director, a scout, a manager, a general manager, a club president. And yet neither of the two National League expansion teams bothered to interview him.

"It's a damned disgrace," said Hugh Alexander, whose scouting career spans more than half a century. "I felt so sorry for him in that [hospitality] tent. Something's wrong."

What's wrong is that the corporate types are taking over.

"They can't put their thumb on Dallas Green, no matter who they are," Alexander was saying. "They're scared of anybody they can't control. It's a reflection on the people running the game."

Once, this was a game with a heart. Now it's a game with a wallet, a profit-and-loss statement, and newly minted "experts" making decisions that affect those who have devoted their lives to the game.

In Detroit, the shabby treatment of beloved and legendary announcer Ernie Harwell was a disgrace.

In Chicago, the Cubs' corporate bosses ordered general manager Jim Frey to fire manager Don Zimmer. Then Zimmer's successor, Jim Essian, was given the boot.

"That's what worries me about our game more than anything else," Green said. "The feel for people is not there anymore. It's all tied in with the bottom-line approach.

"The people make our game go 'round -- the secretaries and the ushers and the popcorn guys and the scouts and development people. It's so many little guys that they have no feeling for and no understanding of. . . . In the last five years, baseball has made tremendous changes, and a lot of us are turned off by it.

"I don't see any long-term managers any more like [Tony] La Russa and Sparky [Anderson] and [Tommy] Lasorda and those kind of guys. I don't see long-term general managers, either. It used to be, once you worked your way up the ladder and finally got the job you were there till you died almost."

In those days there were men like Bob Carpenter operating ball clubs. Now there are newspaper companies.

"The business-oriented people just don't have the same feel for the game and particularly for the continuance of the game," Green said. "They're not in it for the long term. They're in it basically for the appreciation of the value of the franchise. They're in it for status and for what the game can give to them. ...

"It has flabbergasted me that so many [businessmen] want to be involved in baseball decisions. If I go to George Steinbrenner and say, 'George, I think you ought to do this and this and this in your shipbuilding business,' he's going to call me every kind of name he can because he knows I'm not qualified to do that. Now how do we feel when the reverse is there? That's what I don't think they understand."

Too often, a man has to play the corporate game to survive. If someone who barely knows left field from first base says, "Fire the manager," you fire him to buy some time for yourself, as Frey did in Chicago.

"I've had to fire people," Green said. "I know what goes on in some of those processes. But I also was taught by Paul Owens and Hugh Alexander that you never should be afraid to hire a guy that could take your job, and I think there's a fear of that in baseball today."

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