Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What Could Have Been?

When Manager Joe Torre sends his Los Angeles Dodgers lineup out on the field tomorrow night to begin Game 1 of The National League Division Series against The St. Louis Cardinals--remember this one time great player and now certain Hall Of Famer as Manager--could have been a Washington Senator.

Yeah, one of Our Greats--In The American League.

Just like Jim "Catfish" Hunter possibly could have been too.

Craig Nettles as Washington's 3rd Baseman.

Possibly, a young Nolan Ryan starting every 4th day wearing the Curly "W" (four man rotations back then folks).

Tug McGraw as closer.

Hard to believe now in retrospect, but all five of those players were offered to Bob Short, the carpetbagger owner of The Expansion Washington Senators in the late 1960's. The very man that took Frank Howard and the rest of what was left of DC's decimated ballclub to Arlington, Texas in 1972, to become The Rangers. The saddest day of my childhood.

In 1969, Rookie Manager Ted Williams transformed a stumbling but talented young group by coaching and coercing this Nation's Capital's Team to a winning record for the first time in 17 years (and only 2nd time since 1945). The greater Washington, D.C area embraced The Senators. These Nats were a hot commodity--finishing 6th in attendance that season and 10 games over .500. Their success garnered looks from throughout Major League Baseball. Something special was happening and other teams wished to seriously trade for their talent.

The problem was that Bob Short was his own General Manager. He wasn't a baseball guy. In fact, a politician. Mr. Short had no idea what potential his team really had on the field 40 years ago. Only seeing stardom, Bob Short never understood how to build a team. Ask those Washington Redskins Fans these days how they feel about that type of ownership?

With The Senators Of My Youth becoming a viable product--The Oakland Athletics came shopping. Their Owner, Charlie O'Finley (never one to want to pay a high salary), came looking for a power hitting first baseman to add to his already burgeoning young lineup which then featured Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando and Rick Monday--Joe Rudi waiting in the wings. The A's needed Mike Epstein, Washington's young power hitting 1st Sacker who slammed out 30 home runs that '69 Season to replace the aging Danny Cater (good rbi guy, with limited power).

Mr. Finley offered Mr. Short--Jim "Catfish" Hunter--after the 1969 Season Concluded.

Bob Short turned the deal down. Real baseball people would have taken that deal--and probably got Cater too.

Eventual Hall of Fame Pitcher Hunter was 23-Years Old four decades ago when this trade was discussed. One year removed from pitching a Perfect Game at Minnesota in 1968. And one year away from becoming one of the greatest pitchers in the game for seven straight seasons.

Former Original Washington Senators Owner, Cal Griffith (Nephew of long-time owner and Hall of Famer Clark Griffith), was then the Owner of The Minnesota Twins (the transplanted Original Senators of Walter Johnson, Bucky Harris & Sam Rice. etc). Mr. Griffith was infatuated with Brant Alyea, a power right hitting young slugger with limited defensive skills in the Expansion Senators' outfield. Cal offered Bob--Craig Nettles. The very same Gold Glove 3rd Baseman who became a cornerstone of The New York Yankees great teams of the mid-1970's.

If Mr. Short had not shorted himself and hired REAL BASEBALL MANAGEMENT, he would have realized Alyea for Nettles was a no brainer--especially on the heels of The New York Mets offering one of these two players for his current 3rd Baseman--Ken McMullen. McMullen was a solid 3rd Baseman with good power. A team player. Some would call Washington's Captain. Old Number 2 was respected.

But Bob Short had no respect for the fan base in Washington, D.C. All he saw were dollar signs. And he turned down The '69 Amazin' Mets AMAZING OFFER--Tug McGraw or Nolan Ryan for Ken McMullen.

Sorry, you don't turn down that trade. A young 3rd baseman not yet in his prime. A fireballing hurler destined for greatness.

Sure, no one knew for sure back then. But Baseball People make those trades. Politicians, always cautious and looking at image, do not. Short would eventually trade McMullen to The California Angels for 3rd Baseman Aurelio Rodriguez and Outfielder Rick Reichardt in 1970. But later traded both of them away as well--for nothing in return.

Yet, that was not all. Before the 1969 Season even began--during Spring Training--before Mr. Short was offered and turned down Mike Epstein for "Catfish" Hunter months later, he was offered another great opportunity. The Atlanta Braves were looking to solidify their team in the new NL Western Division for the first year of post-season playoffs in Major League Baseball Baseball. MLB had expanded in '69 with the Seattle Pilots, Kansas City Royals, Montreal Expos & San Diego Padres. No longer did the first place teams in each league automatically advance to The World Series. The now 24 Teams split, Six Franchises apiece, into the Eastern & Western Divisions of The American and National Leagues. And Atlanta wanted Washington's Catcher Paul Casanova & Epstein too. The Braves offered Joe Torre.

Bob Short, never one to realize a good player trade, turned that offer down too. Torre was then traded to The St.Louis Cardinals for eventual Hall Of Famer Orlando Cepeda late in Spring Training, 1969.

Sadly, Mr. Short didn't turn down the one trade he well should have--Pitchers Joe Coleman, Jim Hannan along with 3rd Baseman Aurelio Rodriguez and Shortstop Eddie Brinkman to The Detroit Tigers for a suspended Denny McLain and three warm bodies during the World Series of 1970. The trade which gave The Tigers the 1972 AL East Title and doomed Washington's franchise--setting everything bad in motion--and leading to The Senators eventual move to Texas.

"Catfish" Hunter & Nolan Ryan became Hall of Famers AFTER being offered to Washington.

Tug McGraw would become an ace closer after being offered to Washington (although Nolan Ryan was the better choice in any trade for Epstein).

Craig Nettles would become an MVP Candidate and Gold Glove Award Winner after being offered to Washington.

Joe Torre would win The National League MVP and Batting Title after being offered to Washington. And he would drive in 100 runs three more times in his career. Torre & Hondo back to back would have been nice.

No matter which players The Washington Senators had agreed to take in those deals offered in 1969, there is no question the franchise would have been transformed and become a solid contender.

Playing General Manager Of The 1969 Washington Senators and considering the offers--Hunter over Torre. Ryan over McGraw--this would be your 1970 Washington Senators Lineup. A Roster befitting the slogan used by The Nats back then in Washington, D.C.: "It's A Whole New Ball Game!!"

Paul Casanova behind the plate
"Hondo" at first base
Bernie Allen/Tim Cullen at second base
Eddie Brinkman at shortstop
Craig Nettles at 3rd base
Del Unser/Lee Maye/Hank Allen & Ed Stroud in the outfield

Starters: "Catfish" Hunter, Nolan Ryan, Joe Coleman, Dick Bosman, Casey Cox and Jim Hannan. Not many teams could rival that pitching rotation. Two Hall Of Famers, three All-Stars and one ERA Leader (Bosman). The Orioles, Cardinals, Mets and Dodgers all had great rotations back then. The Giants too. Washington's would have been right up there with them.

Bullpen: Darold Knowles was already developing into one of the games great closers. Horacio Pina (who was really good for a short period of time), Bob Humphreys, Jim Shellenback and Cox were decent alongside him out of the pen.

That's a good team to build upon. If you win baseball games with pitching and defense--that fantasy version of the 1969/1970 Washington Senators would have been great to watch. And it was easily attainable if only The Expansion Washington Senators had professional baseball people making the proper decisions. Instead, The Nation's Capital was left without a team from 1972--thanks to Bob Short's shortcomings--until 2005 when The Montreal Expos relocated to Washington, D.C.

What that fantasy Senators Club would be missing is another slugger and rbi guy--which Joe Torre could provide--if Mike Epstein & Casanova are traded to Atlanta in the first offering for Esptein--instead of the later one for Jim "Catfish" Hunter.

Either way--What Could Have Been is fascinating to think about. And clearly the momentum of that transformed lineup would have saved Major League Baseball In Washington from all the pain of nearly 34 Years without hearing the words "PLAY BALL!!"

PS--All this information is contained in this wonderful book I just completed reading called: The Washington Senators (1901-1971) by Tom Deveaux.


3rdStoneFromTheSun said...

beautiful post

love the history

SenatorNat said...

But, imagine had he taken the offer to trade Brinkman and Rodriguiz and Coleman and Hannan for Cy Young Winner Denny McLain and All-Star third baseman Don Wert! Oh yeah, Tom