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.

Whirling Darvish

He’s bigger than you would expect. Yu Darvish, with his reddish hair and quick genuine smile, is disarming. He appears to talk to his infielders after some batters are retired. But to my knowledge, he doesn’t speak any English. (He is learning both English and Spanish to be able to converse with his new teammates.) He looks totally comfortable on the mound in this arid land so far away from his home in Osaka.

The array of pitches in his 25-year-old command is way above the norm. Not a four pitch hurler, Darvish is in command of eight, four of them fastballs. He even claims to have a famed ‘gyro’ ball. There is a little Bob Gibson in him. His fastball is heavy, very heavy.

In his four outings during Spring Training, I have seen him pitch in two games. The first was against the Brewers where he was nearly unhitable. Nearly. Norichiki Aoki, a fellow Japanese transplant this season, slapped a hit off of Darvish in the bottom of the third. This was a couple of weeks ago. What was impressive was the pop in his fastball.

Last night against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Flats in Scottsdale, Darvish faced the Colorado Rockies. He was flat-out electric. His fast ball boomed. And it was heavy. Case in point: In the 6th, after giving up a hit to Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez had his bat sawed off by a tight, inside heavy pitch, leaving him with only the handle in his hands as the barrel of his bat was stuck in the net behind home plate. He struck out for the third time. The following batter, All-Star Troy Tulowitzki did the same, again for the third time in the game. This time it was on a slurve that took the wind out of the swing of the gold glove/silver slugger winning hitter.  For the night, 6 innings. 98 pitches. 3 runs; 6 hits; 1 walk; and 11 strike outs.

For Spring Training, 15 1/3rd innings, 21 strike outs. You do the math.

The quickness of his pitch. The lively arm. He is the real deal.

For those who have an opportunity to see this amazing, young pitcher this season, you will see unmistakable signs of greatness. For those who have tickets to the Texas Rangers home opener in Arlington on April 9th, in the top of the first, there will be a matchup of the ages. When Ichiro walks up to the plate, rubs the inside of his left shoulder pulling slightly at the jersey with his batting instrument raising skyward in his left hand, slowly drops his left arm and transfers his bat to his right hand, and points it straight at Yu to begin his process of preparation in the box, the beginning of THE moment will be upon us. That time…that place will be an historic event our game rarely sees. The entire at-bat will be worth the price of admission.

It’s time for the real games to begin. The anticipation of moments like this is what dreams are made of. Field of Dreams? No. It is a ‘World full of Dreams’. It is what makes baseball, baseball.

Time To Pick Your National League All-Stars Before The Season Begins

Let’s get to it. We’ve seen the first couple of weeks of Spring Training and now the regulars will be in the lineups until the season begins. This is also the time when many get their fantasy teams together. Now you get to pick who you think are the All-Stars in the National League (American League next week) before the season begins. You can do this by going to: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KHFN568.

First Basemen to consider:  Joey Votto, Cincinnati. Now that Howard is not yet ready to play after his off season operation and both Fielder and Pujols this year are in the American League, Votto seems like the logical choice to top this position. Also in the race are Mike Morris, Washington; Lance Berkman, the former right fielder from St. Louis and Freddie Freedman of Atlanta.

Second Basemen to consider: Last year’s top selection, Rickie Weeks from Milwaukee is bashing the ball again this Spring. But Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati; Chase Utley, Philadelphia and Freddy Sanchez, San Francisco seem the likely contenders.

Third Basemen to consider: Amaris Ramirez, Milwaukee; David Wright, New York; Ryan Zimmerman, Washington and Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco seem like the top choices.

Shortstops to consider: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado, is once again having a great Spring. But then again, so are Starlin Castro, Chicago, Jose Reyes, Miami and you can’t forget Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia. Probably the best depth in all of baseball. I’ve seen both Tulo and Castro play this Spring and they are terrific.

Left Field is also another crammed position. Last year’s All-Star and league MVP, Ryan Braun, Milwaukee leads the list. Alfonso Soriano, Chicago; Matt Holliday, St. Louis; and Ryan Ludwick, Cincinnati seem ready. You decide.

In Center Field there is real race. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles, is once again ready to begin his MVP hunt. But then there is one of the most consistent Center Fielders in all of baseball, Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh. Do not forget Christ Young, Arizona and Shane Victorino of Philadelphia. The ‘Flyin Hawaiian’ is always exciting. You make the choice.

In Right Field, last year’s All-Star selection, Cory Hart, Milwaukee, will be ready for Opening Day. The exciting Justin Upton, Arizona; Carlos Beltran, St. Louis and Hunter Pence, Philadelphia will all be vying for the top spot. You choose.

And behind the plate, we have Yadier Molina, St. Louis; Buster Posey, San Francisco; Jonathon Lucroy, Milwaukee and Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia. Who do you like?

Go to the survey link above and let’s see who we will collectively choose. I announce it before the season begins.

Now, go vote.