It’s a little hard to swallow, given that Atlanta hasn’t missed the playoffs since the administration of the original George Bush, but the first sign of a Braves’ surrender is upon us. According to whispers out of Georgia, the Braves are now shopping Marcus Giles, a sign that the gap between them and the Mets–and between them and the wild card–may be too great. Giles’ knack for injury is part of the reason for Atlanta’s thinking, along with the belief that the younger and cheaper Wilson Betemit could fill the hole at second base. Unfortunately for the Braves, few pennant contenders need second basemen; one of those teams is the Mets, but it’s unlikely that the Braves want to be seen as helping their Eastern Division rivals. Still, a prime suitor could be found in the National League Central, where the Cardinals realize their major league roster needs fortification. Aaron Miles has played decently at second base, but the Cardinals believe they can do better. And then there’s a possibility north of the border; the Blue Jays not only need a second baseman but have some young minor league talent that Atlanta would find useful… There are some non-contenders that could use help at second base, such as the Cubs, but it’s debatable whether Chicago will be in a buying model. The Cubs would also need to find a taker for Todd Walker, who will be forced to move back to the middle infield once Derrek Lee returns from the disabled list…
While the Cardinals make efforts to improve their middle infield, their top priority remains left field. They’ve targeted Pittsburgh’s Craig Wilson as their No. 1 choice, but Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield is not a wheeler-dealer type who will make a move quickly. He has asked about St. Louis’ top pitching prospect Anthony Reyes, which gives you a sense that he is looking for someone to overpay for Wilson. Littlefield needs to be careful here; if he fails to trade Wilson because of overpricing, he will lose him to free agency. There is no chance that the “Blond Bomber,” who remains dissatisfied with his playing time, will return to Pittsburgh in 2007…
If you’re looking for reasons why Allard Baird is no longer the general manager in Kansas City, just consider the asking price he placed on the Yankees when they inquired about veteran outfielder Reggie Sanders. Baird wanted Philip Hughes, the Yankees’ top pitching prospect and one of the top 10 pitching prospects in the game. When general managers make such outrageous trade proposals, they don’t really succeed in driving up the asking price, just in ticking off other general managers. They develop reputations for being difficult to deal with, which leads other GMs to think twice before even picking up the phone.
Thursday was not a good day for coaches. In Washington, Nationals manager Frank Robinson fired bullpen coach John Wetteland for allowing too many hijinks to take place in the bullpen. (Coincidentally, this came only five days after the passing of Moe Drabowsky, the No. 1 bullpen prankster of all-time.) In San Diego, the Padres fired batting coach Dave Magadan, replacing him with former Braves and Tigers batting instructor Merv Rettenmund. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Rettenmund, who played for the Padres back in the late 1970s and then served as the team’s batting instructor from 1991 to 1999.
The culture of baseball is a little less rich today. We lost one of the all-time colorful characters on Saturday when Moe Drabowsky died from bone marrow cancer at the age of 70. Drabowsky was a journeyman pitcher for much of the 1960s and early 1970s, but gained far more acclaim for his extraordinary abilities as a practical joker. In fact, Moe–and how can you not love the name Moe Drabowsky?–might have been the greatest prankster the game has ever known.
Let’s consider some of Drabowsky’s most comical stunts:
*Moe regularly ordered Chinese food from the bullpen phone, once placing a direct call to Hong Kong for some takeout. I doubt that Drabowsky’s orders were ever actually delivered to the bullpen, but the habit was reminiscent of a moment in Seinfeld when Elaine once ordered Chinese food and had it delivered to a janitor’s closet.
*Drabowsky wasn’t satisfied with giving hotfoots to teammates and other players; he once found a victim in Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Laying out a trail of lighter fluid from the trainer’s room to the clubhouse, Drabowsky set the commissioner’s foot on fire. And by using the trail of lighter fluid, he made it more difficult for Kuhn to find out who had been the perpetrator.
*In a game between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City A’s, Drabowsky pulled off what is generally considered his most famous practical joke. With A’s pitcher Jim “Jumbo” Nash mowing down Drabowsky’s Orioles, the troublemaking right-hander called Kansas City’s bullpen, impersonated the voice of A’s manager Alvin Dark, and ordered reliever Lew Krausse to begin warming up. With Baltimore relievers howling in the bullpen, Nash became so unnerved at the site of warm-up activity that he lost his composure and began getting shelled by Orioles hitters.
*After the 1968 season, Drabowsky departed the Orioles when he was left unprotected in the expansion draft and was taken by the Kansas City Royals. Drabowsky exacted some “revenge” in 1969, when he sent the American League champion Orioles a six-foot-long boa constrictor during the World Series. Coincidentally or not, the Orioles went on to lose the Series in five games to the upstart New York Mets.
Such hijinx overshadowed Drabowsky’s pitching abilities, which were certainly respectable. At one time a highly touted young starter with the Chicago Cubs, Moe became an effective reliever for the Orioles during the mid-1960s. In Game One of the 1966 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he became downright Herculean. Relieving Dave McNally early in Game One, Drabowsky came on to pitch six and two-thirds innings of one-hit ball and set a World Series record for relievers by striking out 11 Los Angeles Dodgers. Buttressed by Drabowsky, the Orioles won Game One, setting the tone for a surprising four-game sweep of Los Angeles.
It was the hallmark moment in a career filled with hotfoots, six-foot snakes, and crank phone calls. Thanks, Moe, for making the game fun.