Dallas Green, who died today at 82, once told his players he was the toughest sonofabitch for whom they’d ever play. Whether leading the Phillies to their first World Series title or surviving the furies of George Steinbrenner with the 1989 Yankees or the planned obsolescence of the early-to-mid 1990s Mets, Green’s kind of tough let him survive the kind of times that could break the toughest of birds at a moment’s notice.
It’s mentioned only in passing in Jason Turnbow’s Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s. (New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt; 386 p, $26.) But what Finley did to outfielder Ken (Hawk) Harrelson in 1967 gave a sneak preview into two things.
Finley showed what he was capable of doing to divide and conquer his own team, never mind that he often united the team against him. And the Hawk showed what a player considered top drawer or with the visible potential to get there could earn on a fair, open market, at a time when baseball owners continued abusing the ancient reserve clause to keep them chattel.
* Some think the Mets’ Tim Tebow experiment is a farce, some think it’s just good clean fun. He looked a bit on the foolish side in his first two spring games before collecting his first spring hit and making a diving catch while he was at it. There are worse things that could happen in spring training.
If the excerpt I have just read from Jason Turnbow’s Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swinging A’s is any indication, it promises to be maybe the single best study of one of baseball’s most memorably controversial teams. The early-to-mid-1970s Oakland Athletics were many things. Dull wasn’t one of them.
You remember: the Mustache Gang who ruled baseball (three straight World Series rings, a feat not achieved since) while they played and were owned almost as though there were no rules beyond the caprices of themselves (if ever any team adhered to the old maxim that boys will be boys, the early 70s A’s were it), and, particularly, their Mad Hatter-like owner.
Spring training doesn’t mean you keep your eyes away from a few key things to watch among baseball teams. Herewith a few of mine:
* Arizona Diamondbacks—A.J. Pollock. In 2015 he made a formidable tandem with Paul Goldschmidt. Last year, an elbow injury in April took him out for all but twelve games and the Snakes went into a 69-win pit. If Pollock is back to full strength this year, and the under-28 pitching shows some mettle, they could surprise some people.
Yes, Yogi, you can observe a lot just by watching. Herewith some of my observations over the early weeks of spring training: