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For McKeon, Salazar, Baseball’s Lovelier the Third Time Around

Jack McKeon should be a movie producer. He just loves sequels.

You have already heard about Kurt Bevacqua, Kurt Bevacqua II and Kurt Bevacqua III. I say “heard about” because the first two played in Kansas City before McKeon brought III to San Diego.

And now, just a week from Monday, Luis Salazar III will open in San Diego, where Luis Salazar and Luis Salazar II had reasonably successful runs. Look for him to make a cameo appearance late in that opening performance against San Francisco.

What is it with Trader Jack?

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McKeon must be the kind of guy who would go looking for a car he sold five years ago so he could buy it back, or go to a thrift shop and buy a pair of pants he had donated a few weeks earlier, perhaps assuming no one else would fit in them anyway. I actually checked the media guide to see how many times he and his wife, Carol, had been married . . . to each other.

I mean, Salazar’s career looks like a schedule for an airline crew . . . San Diego to Chicago to San Diego to Detroit to San Diego.

Is Salazar here on a layover or what?

And so there he was again Saturday, waiting in Palm Springs for his new (and old) teammates to catch up with him after closing the Arizona portion of spring training.

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In truth, the transaction that brought Salazar back to San Diego from Detroit for Mike Brumley was a manifestation of McKeon’s loyalty as well as a quest for a comfort zone both at third base and on the bench. The easiest trade of all is one in which you know exactly what you are getting, and McKeon knows Salazar.

Indeed, Salazar’s remark to McKeon is almost self-explanatory: “Jack, you’re like my daddy. You always take care of me.”

Pappa Jack does this, of course, because he knows Salazar will take care of him.

In this tranquil spring of 1989, McKeon had become uneasy with only two facets of his ballclub. He had never stated it publicly, but the third base position was a potential trouble spot he had not been able to solve with a so-called “major” trade. And he was concerned about a Baby Brigade of Joey Cora, Gary Green, Bip Roberts and Shawn Abner coming off the bench in the heat of what he hopes will be a pennant race.

Salazar has been there before. In fact, Salazar has been about everywhere before, at least on a baseball field. He has played every position but catcher, and he is not likely to debut there with this club. Name another position, and Salazar has it in his resume.

In 1984, when the Padres won the National League pennant, Salazar did exactly what he will be asked to do this year. He did a bit of platooning at third base, filled in defensively at other positions and pinch-hit. He played in 93 games, plus three of five in the National League Championship Series and four of five in the World Series.

Obviously, this is an experienced player.

In McKeon’s mind, this is no back-of-the-sports-section transaction.

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“To me, it’s almost a trade like the one when we picked up Graig Nettles,” he said. “I feel that strongly about it. Nettles brought more punch, more power, but basically it’s getting more experience.”

The Nettles trade, which many feel triggered the 1984 pennant, was coincidentally made because McKeon was concerned about third base, a position Salazar had manned for the previous three season-openers. Nettles came in to play left-handed to Salazar’s right-handed, just as Salazar may end up playing right-handed to Tim Flannery’s left-handed.

Strange, these twists of fate.

All of this does beg the question, however, of why such a supposedly versatile and valuable performer is repeatedly cast adrift.

Situations, McKeon explained.

When Salazar was first cut loose, it was as part of the seven-player transaction that brought LaMarr Hoyt from the Chicago White Sox in December of 1984. You don’t mind tossing in a guy with a .241 average, even a versatile guy, when you have a chance to get a former Cy Young Award winner.

“Oftentimes,” McKeon said, “you don’t trade a guy because you don’t want him or he can’t play or he can’t help. You need help in other areas, so you get rid of a guy you like.”

Goodby, Luis I.

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After some injury problems in 1986, Salazar was released by the White Sox. McKeon gave him an opportunity to work his way back through triple-A Las Vegas, and he made it back to the Padres with a .254 average over 84 games in 1987.

He was destined once again to be cut loose, this time as a free agent. But, McKeon said, this was more the work of Larry Bowa, then the manager.

“I wanted him, and I liked him,” he said, “but Larry didn’t want him. He didn’t think he fit into his plans. I told Luis he had a choice of triple-A or free agency, and I frankly told him I wouldn’t stand in his way if he had a chance to sign somewhere. So he signed with Detroit.”

Goodby, Luis II.

And so it was that Jack McKeon went shopping in Detroit. He knew that car he had gotten rid of was around there somewhere, and he wanted it back.

“That’s a compliment to a player,” he said, “when you keep getting them back.”

In this case, Jack McKeon is also convinced that the complimented player will be a complement to the club.

Hello, Luis III.


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