Link: Backman joins Ducks

Wally Backman is coming back to New York. The Long Island Ducks announced that Backman would be their next manager. Backman, who spent 2010-2016 managing and coaching in the franchise’s minor-league system, was a popular choice among fans.

From Dynasty to Disappointment

Leading companies are adding new talent to support a digital operating model. To develop sharp insights using digital tools, procurement teams will need data science and analytics expertise.

Seaver Changed Mets Losing Culture

On April 29, 1967 — the day Atlantic Records released Aretha Franklin’s single “Respect” — the New York Mets were shutout, 7-0, by the Cincinnati Reds. The loss dropped the Mets into ninth place (7 ½ GB) in the National League just two weeks into the season.

Face to Face with a Mad Man

Former MLB pitcher Al Hrabosky is either certifiably crazy or he is a great actor. Personally, I think it’s a combination of the two.

Now let me tell you why.

Hrabosky was considered one of baseball’s more colorful and intimidating characters during his 13-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves. Hrabosky earned the nickname the “Mad Hungarian” for his intense persona on the mound.

On a warm summer night in 1980, as a teenager, I had my one and only run in with the madman himself.

The New York Mets were hosting the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium and I was sitting along the third base line with my mom. During batting practice, Hrabosky came out of the Braves bullpen and began marching intensely across the outfield grass toward the visiting dugout on the third base line.

Knowing what I did from watching his antics on This Week in Baseball and an occasional Monday Night Baseball matchup, I decided to poke the bear, hurling unpleasantries at Hrabosky. It didn’t take much to get his ire, and before you know it, Hrabosky took a sharp 90-degree turn and began his trek straight for me.

Hrabosky pointed and shouted, and shouted and pointed. The closer he got the bigger his fu manchu and mutton chops looked. They took on a life of their own and my heart began to race. He’s coming directly for me, isn’t he? He’s going to come over the short divider and right into the stands, isn’t he?

I backed up a few steps in hopes that reinforcements would come in the form of Mets faithful, but no. How could they? There couldn’t have been more than a few thousand people in the ballpark. This was quickly coming down to mano e mano. One grown man vs. one teenage punk with a loud mouth. This isn’t going to end well, is it?

Hrabosky reached the railing, all the while pointing at me and shouting for me to join him.

No chance, freak.

In hindsight, the whole incident was like a scene out of WWE. I now applaud Hrabosky for staying in full character. He loved to intimidate opposing batters, and an occasional teenage fan.

Hrabosky’s name resurfaced this week amid speculation that his role as TV analyst for the St. Louis Cardinals might be coming to an end. For the record, I’d hate to be the poor soul who has to deliver the news to Hrabosky.

Winfield and the Mets

Dave Winfield got his first taste of the New York Mets over lunch. For the Mets front office team of Nelson Doubleday and Frank Cashen this was all new and, in hindsight, the 1980 Major League Baseball Reentry Draft, marked the organizations first major foray into free agency. For Winfield the visit to the Big Apple was business as usual.

The pleasantries didn’t last very long, maybe not even past the appetizer, before Winfield and his agent cut to the chase. He challenged the Mets to bear fruit: show me you’re serious about building a winning team he told Cashen. It was the same speech he gave Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner days earlier.

The field of potential suitors dwindled quickly after Al Frohman, caterer-turned-sports agent, issued a letter to every Major League Baseball club, on Winfield’s behalf, more or less telling small market teams, don’t bother. Beside the Mets, Yankees and Braves, he showed interest in the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians.

“We wanted an open draft,” Frohman told Sports Illustrated in January 1981. “What we were saying in that letter was, if you’re seriously interested, we’ll talk, but if you’re just drafting for publicity and are looking to block out the other clubs that are serious, then forget about it.”

Frohman was a curious man. He stood 5’ 4” 220 pounds. Standing beside Dave Winfield, 6’ 6” 220, they were baseball’s answer to the Odd Couple. Team Winfield spent three hours that day with the Mets, taking stock and outlining his demands:

1) Potential to win
2) Pay equals “market value”
3) Post-career preparation (“a future outside of baseball”)
4) Respect for his accomplishments
5) Develop his skills in a lineup that would allow him full scope
6) The David Winfield Foundation could do its best work

“It’s hard to evaluate what a team has in mind, but I made them aware of my feelings,” Winfield told the New York Times. “I expressed to them that I’ve been in a situation where we haven’t had too much winning, but I’m from the winning mold and I’d like to participate in that again.”

He spent the first nine years of his major league career in San Diego, never finishing higher than fourth place. They lost more than 100 games twice; finished above the .500 mark (1978) once during that time. Winfield, a four-time All Star and two-time Gold Glove outfielder, was tired of losing. At 29 years old, he was healthy and headed into the prime of his career.

Before the 1980 season, Padres president Ballard Smith offered Winfield $13 million over 10 years, with 15% of his earnings donated to the David M. Winfield Foundation, his personal charity to help underprivileged children. Team Winfield said no. The fans and media in San Diego believed Smith wasn’t making an effort to keep Winfield.

Smith proved everyone wrong when he shared the contract proposal with reporters for The San Diego Union Tribune and The Evening Tribune on a team flight to Mexico for a series of spring exhibition games. Smith told the reporters Team Winfield never intended to negotiate with the Padres, adding Frohman had poor interpersonal skills — an “inability to deal with people. They used the media and the fans to fight their negotiating battles. They don’t know how to handle people.”

“I released the proposal to defend myself,” Smith told the media. “I was told by Frohman and Winfield that I had no choice, I had to sign him because the fans were demanding it. Dave had placed himself in a position where he wanted to be the highest-paid player. If you’re there, you better produce. He didn’t. The fans obviously thought his contract demands were unfair, compared with his performance.”

“David wanted to stay in San Diego,” said Frohman. “But without negotiating, they ran to the press. They made David look like the worst ogre in the world. They were using any kind of chicanery to beat him down. Nobody wants to be associated with such a loser.”

Before the end of the 1980 season Smith offered to Winfield a six year deal that would pay $700,000 annually plus incentives. He turned it down. Smith came back with a $1 million offer. Strike two.

Cashen was not motivated by Winfield’s demands. The Mets general manager was going to build a winner, with or without Winfield. “He has a choice,” said Cashen. “He can be added to an already formidable team, or he can come here and help us win. This would be more adventurous and satisfying.”

“One guy said, ‘Give me a top figure and I’ll double it, and I’ll give you the money tonight,’” Frohman told the media. Everyone knew a flamboyant comment of that nature could only have come from Turner, who was determined to outwit, outplay and outsmart both New York teams. While the Mets were busy courting Winfield, the Braves snuck in the back door and signed Claudell Washington to a five-year, $3.5 million deal. The deal caught everyone by surprise.

“I’m going to sign all three (Winfield, Sutton and Washington),” snapped Turner in a confident and cocky tone.

As days passed and confidence began to wane, the Mets called a press conference at Shea Stadium to send a message to fans, the media and Winfield. “Winfield remains our No. 1 target,” said Cashen. The next morning the New York Times published an open letter from Cashen, who used the time and space to share with the media and fans what the front office was doing, and how they would do it.

Meanwhile, the Mets were the only team with a formal offer to Winfield. He was anticipating a ripe offer from Steinbrenner. “Every time Steinbrenner wants to make an offer, Frohman says wait,” one source told New York Times baseball writer Murray Chass.

Don Sutton signed with the Houston Astros two weeks later. The deal was another strike against the Mets (who offered Sutton $12 million) and the Braves, but not Steinbrenner, who turned the negative into a negotiating tactic.

“We would have liked to have Sutton, but he’s not indispensable,” said The Boss, sending a loud and clear message of his own. “There’s one free agent we’d like to have and that’s Winfield.”

By the first week of December the storyline moved to the Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas where the Cashen and the Mets quickly became the talk of the town after rumors surfaced that the Mets and Red Sox were discussing a trade that would send Mookie Wilson, Neil Allen and Tim Leary to Boston for Fred Lynn.

“Sure, it’s exciting to think of those two (Lynn and Winfield) in the same outfield,” said Cashen. “But could we pay the ushers?”

Winfield was back in New York at the table with Steinbrenner; lunch on Friday, breakfast on Saturday. Steinbrenner, Winfield and Frohman “straightened out a lot of mental things … things about how Dave and George and Reggie are going to get along,” said Frohman.

Winfield was seriously concerned about Steinbrenner’s explosive temper and his penchant to air dirty laundry through media channels. His worries were justified, even exploited, during his 10-year run with the Yankees.

As the deal for Lynn fell through on the final day of the Winter Meetings, Cashen surrendered, “I think we’re pretty much washed up.” Without Lynn, the Mets lost all hope of signing Winfield.

“I can understand the fans’ frustration,” he added. “And if they want to criticize, I can understand that, too. But we couldn’t have worked any harder … For the fans sake, to rebuild the ballclub, which we promised to do, I feel bad. As for the Winfield situation, I don’t know what the reaction is, it’s not my first consideration. I didn’t think this all could have been done in one trading period anyway.”

“The poor Mets,” said Frohman. “We’re still waiting for them to get somebody, anybody. I told the Mets about people who were available – Keith Hernandez, Jason Thompson. But nothing happened.”

Back in Manhattan, Fred Wilpon met with Frohman in a last-ditch effort to secure Winfield, tabling an eight-year, $12 million offer. “Their offer was just an offer,” said Frohman. “I anticipated a good offer, but I was wrong.”

“I don’t know where the Mets are going, but it’s going to be years before they develop,” said Frohman. “Dave Winfield alone isn’t going to do it. They’ll just pitch around him. He doesn’t want to go into a lineup bare again. We didn’t do anything until now so the Mets would have a chance.”

Winfield called his mother, Arline, at her home St. Paul, Minnesota that same night.

“Mom, I’m going to sign with the Yankees,” he told his mother.

“Was it as good a deal as you expected?” his mother asked.

“Better,” he said.

Winfield signed a 10-year, $21-million contract. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner later said Winfield received a one million signing bonus, making him baseball’s highest paid player – for the moment, that is.

As the press gathered for Winfield’s formal introduction at Yankee Stadium, Cashen made his first move, trading Jose Moreno and John Pacella to, of all places, San Diego for Randy Jones.

“There are three things an athlete dreams of — he wants to be as good as he can, he wants to play in a winning environment and he wants to make money,” said Winfield. “The New York Yankees seemed at this time to be the best for me. If I’m healthy, I’ll do well. My best years are ahead of me.”

Reggie Jackson was in attendance. He offered one piece of advice to Winfield. “It’s the greatest place to play – and the toughest,” he said. “It can be Disneyland or it can be hell.”

The Mets moved on, again, overwhelmed by the Yankees power, money and “mystique,” as Steinbrenner would say that day. In the shadow of Winfield, the Mets signed Rusty Staub, then 37, for his second tour in New York.

“We offered him more money than a baseball player ever was offered before,” said Cashen. “If he feels he got a better offer, God Bless.”

He wanted to find out just how good he is (or was). He found out. The results are negotiable. In nine years in San Diego he batted .284, 154 HR, 626 RBI, .357 OBP and .464 SLG. In nine years as a Yankee he compiled a .290 BA, 205 HR, 818 RBI, .356 OBP and .494 SLG.

The Yankees finished below .500 three times during Winfield’s tenure. They only made the post-season once, in 1981, eventually losing in the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a strike-shortened season.

By 1982, Steinbrenner said Winfield “wasn’t a winner.” In 1985, Steinbrenner asks reporters, “Does anyone know where I can find Reggie Jackson? I let Mr. October get away, and I got Mr. May, Dave Winfield.” In 1986, the Mets won the World Series. In 1987, the notorious Steinbrenner-gate started when The Boss hired George Spira to “dig up dirt” on Winfield, to no avail. In his 1988 biography,Winfield: A Player’s Life, Winfield revealed he filed two lawsuits against Steinbrenner and the Yankees for back payments due to the Winfield Foundation. The Mets were back in the post-season and, by then, Winfield saw Flushing as Nirvana. In 1990, Winfield was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Mike Witt.

The Yankees and Winfield were decidedly more hell than Disneyland.

Seaver’s Strange, Crooked Road

On paper, Tom Seaver’s professional baseball career is remarkable. The man known in New York as “The Franchise” won the 1967 Rookie of the Year, compiled 311 career wins, recorded 20 or more wins in a single season four times, 200+ strikeouts 10 times (including nine straight seasons between 1968-1976), led the National League in strikeouts five times, won three Cy Young Awards, tossed a no-hitter and was voted to the All-Star team 12 times. Seaver’s career was cemented in 1992 with his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame, recording a record 98.8% of the vote.

It is not a stretch to suggest Seaver is one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. But Seaver’s journey to baseball immortality wasn’t without one-way street here and a dead end there. In fact, the road was crooked from the beginning.

In 1965, the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Seaver in the June draft. Seaver demanded a $70,000 signing bonus from the Dodgers, but the team balked. The following June the Atlanta Braves drafted Seaver and the two agreed to a $40,000 deal. But, stop.

MLB Baseball Commissioner William Eckert ruled the signing illegal between Seaver and the Braves. According to the commissioner’s office the contract was terminated because the University of Southern California had already played two exhibition games when the agreement was reached and, according to MLB league rules, teams could not negotiate or sign a player after the college season began. Despite the fact that Seaver did not play in either game, the contract was void. Seaver intended to play for USC and, again, re-enter the June Draft. But the NCAA ruled that his having signed the contract had cost him his amateur status and ruled him ineligible, even if the contract were no longer in effect.

Eckert eventually ruled that MLB teams would have the opportunity to match the Braves’ offer. Three teams matched the offer — the New York Mets, Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies — and a special lottery was held for the rights to Seaver.

The Mets won the lottery and the next decade is, well, baseball history.

Seaver arrived in New York in 1967 and eventually led the Mets to a World Series in 1969 and a second appearance in 1973 against the Oakland Athletics. But his career took a sharp left on June 15, 1977, when the Mets traded Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds, a infamous day in Mets history known as the “Midnight Massacre.”

“The impact was awesome,” said former Mets infielder Len Randle. “I had no idea a player could have that much impact on a city, since Joe Namath, I guess … it was a bad move.”

The deal was like a soap opera and it eventually plunged the Mets into the darkest era in team history. They would finish last in 1977 and would lose 95 or more games in each of the next three seasons under manager Joe Torre, who would be fired after a 41-62 record in the strike-shortened ’81 season. Attendance at Shea Stadium plummeted and the Mets would not have another winning season until 1984.

Seaver reflected on the experience in an interview with the New York Daily News in 2007 saying:

“It was both the worst day of my career and the best day as I look back on it now. The team was being run into the ground by Grant – and really had started to go down after Gil (Hodges) died (in 1972). If I had stayed, once the whole face of the club had begun to change, would I have won 300 games? As it was, I got to play with Rose and (Johnny) Bench in Cincinnati, then I got to see the other league and got to play with Pudge (Carlton Fisk) and even got to experience the Red Sox in 1986 and all that Boston energy. It would have been nice to be a Met my whole career, but I’m eternally grateful to have experienced all I did.”

Five years later, in December 1982, the Reds traded Seaver back to the Mets. He was coming off a 5-13 season with a 5.50 ERA. Seaver pitched 111 innings, striking out 62 batters and did not record a single complete game. He struggled through the 1982 season with a hip injury and sore right shoulder. Many wondered if he was done. Still, the Mets wanted Seaver to return home enough to consider giving up one of their top pitching prospects. Eventually, the Reds agreed to a lesser deal and Tom Seaver returned home.

 

He returned to New York with a career record of 261-156. Seaver, a proud, confident and competitive man was on a mission: to win 300 games. He went right to work, throwing in the indoor cage under the right-field stands at Shea Stadium three times a week. His catcher: Jeff Wilpon, who was then a 21-year-old catching prospect for the Montreal Expos.”The Mets are a young club,” Seaver told the New York media. “I hope I can help them win. I don’t want to play for a .500 club.”

In 1983, the Mets finished in last place and last in National League attendance. Instead of winning 15 games and pitching 250 innings as he had hoped, Seaver lost 14 games, but pitched his heart out and gave then Mets GM Frank Cashen everything he’d asked for: a role model and a pitcher who could go out every five days and give the team a chance to win.

But more weirdness was coming.

On this day in 1984, the Chicago White Sox claimed Seaver from the free-agent compensation pool. The moved shocked the Mets, their fans — and Seaver.

“The Mets certainly made a mistake by not protecting me. You don’t have to be a Harvard law student to figure that out. They admit it. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do for the next 24 to 48 hours. My alternatives are to retire, or not to report and wait for the White Sox to trade me, or to negotiate a contract and play in Chicago. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m healthy, but there are other things I love besides pitching. Leaving New York, leaving my family, that would be the tough part.”

He considered retiring, but Seaver was determined to win 300 games.

“Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” Cashen told the media. “I had the final decision, I made a mistake. We made a calculated and regrettable gamble.”

Seaver made his return to New York in August 1985 as a member of the Chicago White Sox and earned his 300th win at Yankee Stadium.

Ugh.

Only in New York.

Only in Queens.

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TOM SEAVER’S CAREER TIMELINE