Sixto Fingers

Baseball can bring on an argument quicker than you can spell “Aspromonte”. Not that Bob or Ken’s name was that difficult to spell, the point is that baseball is a game filled with opinions, decisions and statistics that can bring about the Third World War.

Recently ‘trades’, more specifically, ‘great trades’ was the topic of debate. Nearly every fan and every team have their favorite or infamous trade stories. Which begs the question: Who was the greatest General Manager of all-time? After all, GM’s are the architects of ball clubs and much of that structure is built through trades.

For me there is one distinct gentleman who because of his savvy on one cold December day pulled off the greatest trade in the history of the game. And because of it, he is the greatest GM of all-time.

On Dec. 12, 1980, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired catcher Ted Simmons, pitcher Pete Vuckovich and closer Rollie Fingers in exchange for outfielders Sixto Lezcano and David Green and pitchers Lary Sorensen and Dave LaPoint. Brewers needed a closer. Cardinals needed an outfielder.

This deal paved the way for the Brewers to make the playoffs in 1981 and ’82. Fingers, a future Hall of Famer, won the Cy Young Award in 1981, Vuckovich won it the following year. Simmons provided offense from behind the plate and leadership in the clubhouse.

It is unheard of to pick up two Cy Young winners in a single trade. This deal however wasn’t as top heavy as some would think. The Cardinals had a surplus of relievers and catchers and needed Sorensen and LaPoint to solidify their starting rotation and got Green, who was regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball at the time. They also got one of the rising young stars of the Brewers, Sixto Lezcano, a fan favorite.

Which brings about the question once again: who was the greatest general manager of all-time? What about Whitey Herzog, who was on the other end of this trade. After all, the Cardinals beat the Brewers in the ’82 World Series.

But the Cards had and continue to have a grand tradition. The Brew Crew had none, not until Harry Dalton moved from the California Angels in 1977 to take over the Milwaukee franchise. Harry was whip smart. He understood the game like few men. He had hired Earl Weaver in Baltimore. We all know how that turned out. In Milwaukee, he hired George Bamberger, Weaver’s pitching coach. ‘Bambi’s Bombers’ began what would become “Harvey’s Wallbangers” when Harvey Kuenn won the only American League pennant in the history of the franchise. The players who came over from St. Louis in that December trade joined the likes of Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Jimmy Gaintner, Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, Gorman Thomas, Don Money, Jerry Augustine, Mike Caldwell, Moose Haas, Pete Ladd, Bob McClure, Jim Slaton and Don Sutton. Check out that lineup and see how many Hall of Famers you can count.

The trade made the Brewers contenders. In baseball, that is all you can ask. The rest is up to the players themselves.

Harry Dalton is the greatest general manager of all-time because he gave those players a chance from mediocrity of what could be and could have been to American League Champions.

Not bad for a guy from West Springfield, Mass, via Amherst College.

I had the unique pleasure of knowing Harry after he had retired. He wasn’t one who patted himself on the back for what he had done. In fact, just the opposite. He once told me that the toughest thing he had done, and one of the poorest decisions he had made, was when he traded Gorman Thomas to Cleveland in 1983 for Rick Manning. “I had to have police protection to walk from my office in County Stadium to the car and back. I didn’t understand the emotional tie Gorman had with the fans and the chemistry he created in the clubhouse.” He brought Stormin’ Gorman back in 1986 to complete his career in Milwaukee.

That’s what made Harry Dalton a great person to me. He understood finally that non-statistical tie to the game. Here’s to Harry. The greatest GM of all-time.

Play Ball!

We lost a good friend of this effort on baseball this week. This is dedicated to mmbupkus. See you on the first base side behind the dugout.

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