Sunday Special: Who Are These Guys? Expansion Exasperation for Colorado and Florida
Undated (AP) _ In 1965, the bosses of baseball huddled and, in their infinite wisdom, selected as the new commissioner an anonymous retired general named William D. Eckert. ″My God 3/8″ exclaimed a journalist assigned to report the event. ″They’ve hired the Unknown Soldier.″
He should have been at the expansion draft to stock the new Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins.
You want unknown? They got unknown.
It was like Edna Lazarus’ poem etched on the Statue of Liberty: ″Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest- tossed to me.″
That may be a tad harsh but the fact is recognizable major league names are a rare commodity on the rosters of the two new teams. It takes a Baseball America junkie to be able to separate Colorado pitching picks Ryan Hawblitzel and Curtis Leskanic from Kip Yaughn and Scott Chiamparino, two of the arms Miami picked.
For the record: Hawblitzel was 12-8 with a 3.87 ERA at Charlotte of the Southern League last year while Leskanic was 9-11 with a 4.30 ERA at Orlando of the Southern League and 1-2 with a 9.98 ERA at Portland of the Pacific Coast League. Yaughn was 7-8 with a 3.48 ERA at Hagerstown of the Eastern League and Chiamparino spent 14 months rehabilitating from ligament reconstruction surgery on his right elbow in July, 1991.
For the privilege of picking these fine young men and 34 colleagues - some of them equipped with rather marginal major league credentials - Colorado and Florida paid $95 million each. That breaks down to a shade over $2.6 million each, fancy pricetags for this crew.
Now in 1961, a simpler economic time in expansion baseball, the prices were more reasonable - $50,000 for the bargain selections, $75,000 for the majority of the roster, and $125,000 for the premium picks. The results were ... well, less then reasonable.
As exhibit No. 1, we offer the New York Mets, an expansion team that in its first year assembled the worst record in major league history, 40-120.
And, they may not even have been that good.
Casey Stengel, weaver of tall tales, was the dugout architect of this sorry group. Things got so bad that first year that outfielders who always yelled ″I’ve got it,″ on fly balls, began shouting, ″I’ll try it.″
There was trouble early when the team began assembling players with the same first and last name. This was not a good idea.
Bob G. Miller was a left-handed pitcher and Bob L. Miller was a right- hander, not enough of a distinction for Stengel, whose tangled syntax needed no help in the confusion department. He solved the dilemma by calling one of the Millers ″Nelson,″ which happened to be the name of the team’s broadcaster.
Why Nelson? Casey never said.
Which Miller? It’s not clear that Stengel even knew.
Stengel’s explanation for why the new Mets chose catcher Hobie Landrith first in the draft remains a classic. ″You’ve got to have a catcher,″ the old man said, ″or else you have a lot of passed balls.″
Go argue with that.
The rationale made Landrith a beloved part of Met lore, even though he spent just 23 games in New York. He was traded to Baltimore for a journeyman first baseman who really became the exclamation point for the team’s first- year adventure.
Stuff happened to Marvelous Marv Throneberry all the time. Bad stuff. He was the Joe Btsfplk of the Mets, traveling around with a permanent black cloud perched over his head. The Marlins and Rockies can only hope they didn’t get a modern Marvelous Marv in this draft.
Once, in a grand display of table turning, Throneberry drilled a ball into the deepest recesses of the Polo Grounds and wound up standing triumphantly on third base.
There was an appeal play and the umpire had his thumb in the air. In his haste to get around the bases, Throneberry had neglected the quaint tradition of touching the first one.
Outrageous, thought Stengel, who came limping out of the dugout, hands stuffed deep in his back pockets, prepared to dispute the issue. As the old man reached first base, he was intercepted by coach Cookie Lavagetto.
″Don’t bother, Case,″ Lavagetto advised the manager. ″He didn’t touch second, either.″
END ADV For Release SUN Nov 22