Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Oct. 8
Off of the top of my head, I remember the greatest infield I ever saw play the game of baseball. Steve Garvey came up as a third baseman, believe it or not, and he couldn’t throw any better than could either of my dead grandmothers. He went on to become one of the greatest first baseman to ever play the game. Why isn’t The Garv in the Hall Of Fame? Separate story. And nothing to do with the fact that he couldn’t keep his wood in the on-deck circle.
So, along came Ron Cey, he played third base instead. He couldn’t run and he had no range, but he could hit and field well enough. And Davey Lopes. Lopes wasn’t just a great second baseman, he was a clutch hitter and a fantastic base stealer, whatever he lacked in speed he made up with some sort of intrinsic innate sense when it came to getting a lead and taking off.
And then there was Bill Russell. Russell was like this comforter you slept with as a kid, not the warmest or smoothest or best thing that covered you, but it was comfortable and familiar and was always there. He would hit above .250 enough to not make you wince, and you could pen him into the line-up every day.
Of the four, guess which one that Walter and Peter O’Malley kept?
Peter and Walter O’Malley are responsible, and entirely liable, for the state of free-agency in baseball in this era, even in 2012. They made this happen. And they started it early on, first with Walter Francis and then when his son Peter took over. There is a saying that I love very much and is often true: The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Here is what happened in 1965 when I was five years old. The Dodgers were rich in pitching. Very rich. They had Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, maybe the best two pitchers in baseball at the time. And in 1965, they both wanted a raise. Hell, they deserved a raise.
Drysdale had gone 23-12, a 2.77 earned run average, pitched seven shut-outs with 20 complete games. That’s all that Drysdale did. Try finding that in baseball today. I dare you.
But Koufax, holy crap, he was even better. Try 26-8 with a 2.04 earned run average, not to mention that perfect game he hurled toward the end of the season. Insane.
So, both Drysdale and Koufax wanted a raise the following season. It seemed fair, right? But O’Malley nixed the request, so the righty-lefty duo held out in spring training in 1966. Even my five-year-old brain couldn’t wrap my head around that. It’s not like they were asking for millions of dollars.
So, after one nervous month, Drysdale signed for $110,000 dollars, and Koufax for $125,000, imagine that. The best duo in baseball and they couldn’t even clear a quarter-million after holding out for around thirty days before spring training ended.
You really want Peter O’Malley heading up ownership, Padres fans? Because he’s good for baseball? Let’s talk about Andy Messersmith and what led to the Seitz decision. See, the O’Malleys (keep in mind that this was in 1975, when Peter took over) didn’t like the idea of a player controlling his own destiny. Messersmith and some guy from the Montreal Expos (former Dodger farm team, for those of you keeping score at home) named Dave McNally (no honor amongst thieves or apparently even among fellow Irishmen) cried foul, claiming that the Reserve Clause kept them from earning their due paycheck.
The O’Malley’s lost, fat chance, right (okay, Scottish saying, sorry about that)?
Hey, manager Walter Alston was never signed to an extension. Serious! One year contracts, every season, for what, 23 years? Know your employer, baby. But so much for the reserve clause. Good job, Dave and Andy.
After all of that, there’s a track record still. Garvey came to the Padres, his number is retired in Petco Park. Cey was allowed to take a jet to Chicago and join the Cubs, Lopes wound up in Oakland, hooking up with Rickey Henderson (who eventually bounced back to the Padres, another long story for another day), but Russell was the Company Man, eventually even managing the club, miserably, before being unceremoniously fired.
The point is, Peter O’Malley is no Ray Kroc. Don’t expect it. Expect more of the same unless the stripes of that tiger somehow changed. Otherwise, Padres fans, be forewarned. The fruit rarely falls far from the tree, and none of us know a damned thing about Ron Fowler, the real money behind this transaction.
After all, wasn’t Fowler part of the Jeff Moorad group?
Moorad's money wasn't Selig's. O'Malley's is. The approval stamp is ready, paperwork is on its way. Careful, Padres fans, be very careful with your optimism. That retired number above the batter's eye in center field belongs to a guy the Dodgers didn't want to pay to stick around. Think about that next time you wonder which other numbers might wind up there.
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