As a Marine Corps infantry officer, Sandy Alderson’s face adorned one of those famed posters carrying the message: “The Marines Are Looking for a Few Good Men.”
Now, as vice president of baseball operations for the Oakland Athletics, Alderson is still looking for those few good men--and most often acquiring them. Obviously, he’s one former Marine not afraid to pull the trigger.
Although the A’s have the best record in baseball and lead the American League West by 6 1/2 games, Alderson did it again Wednesday, trading for two four-time All-Stars: Willie McGee and Harold Baines.
“This shows why Oakland does so well,” McGee’s agent, Tom Reich, said Thursday.
“When you acquire a McGee and Baines in one sweep, it shows you’re very serious about repeating. When disaster strikes, the A’s react decisively.”
Reich alluded to the loss of center fielder Dave Henderson, who had knee surgery last Friday and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season.
Switch-hitter McGee will replace Henderson in center. Left-handed hitting Baines will serve as designated hitter and occasional right fielder, perhaps providing Jose Canseco relief from his continuing back problem.
Alderson said that Henderson’s loss and the tenuous status of Canseco brought a sense of urgency to a season-long attempt to “rectify the imbalance” in the A’s predominantly right-handed hitting lineup.
What he didn’t say was that the urgency and imbalance had become even more acute with the likelihood that the A’s will face the Boston Red Sox in the American League playoffs; and that Boston right-hander Roger Clemens has the ability to dominate a short series, as Orel Hershiser of the Dodgers did in the 1988 World Series with the A’s.
Asked about that Thursday, Oakland Manager Tony LaRussa said he is focusing strictly on winning the division title, that the acquisition of McGee and Baines again illustrates the A’s determination “to be the best that we can be.”
“Some guys play their whole careers without getting a chance to win,” he said. “We’ve played like hell getting in position, and it would be a mistake not to take our best shot. I don’t know how we could live with ourselves all winter if we knew we’d had the chance to make two deals that might have helped us win and hadn’t done it.
“I mean, Felix Jose (one of three players the A’s gave up for McGee) has done a fine job for us. He helped put us in this position, but if anyone thinks he gave us a better chance to win than Willie McGee does, I’d have to question that judgment.”
The message, of course, is not lost on the players, who by now understand that the A’s front office is behind them, that in the words of Rickey Henderson “the people upstairs want to win as much as we do, and that’s the way it should be.”
Among his many moves are Alderson’s aggressive addition of free agent Mike Moore to an already championship pitching staff and the re-acquisition last summer of Rickey Henderson.
“Every time we’re shot down by an injury or need that one more player, Sandy goes out and gets an impact replacement,” third baseman Carney Lansford said. “I mean, Harold Baines and Willie McGee. I don’t know how he does it. It just shows again what kind of organization this is.”
Said Alderson: “We prefer action over inaction. You can’t be afraid to do things. It’s what you expect of the players and what they have a right to expect of you.”
In this case, concerned about the left-right imbalance, Alderson said he was also worried about the “deflating” aspect of losing a clutch player and quiet leader of Dave Henderson’s ilk this late in the season.
In the wake of discussions involving Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers, Mel Hall of the New York Yankees and Dave Martinez of the Montreal Expos, among others, Baines and McGee cost the A’s only one player off their 25-man roster: the blossoming Jose.
Baines came from the Texas Rangers for two players to be named later. They were identified by a source as pitchers Scott Chiamparino and Joe Bitker.
Though both are now wrapping up successful triple-A seasons, they don’t seem to equate to the package that the Rangers sent to the Chicago White Sox for Baines last summer--Scott Fletcher, Sammy Sosa and Wilson Alvarez.
The Rangers, looking to make room for the touted Juan Gonzalez, went 94-96 with Baines on their roster. He batted .288, his career average, but drove in only 60 runs and hit a disappointing .205 with runners in scoring position.
Now, in the middle of the talented A’s lineup, Baines may feel he is carrying a lighter burden and may also respond to being reunited with La Russa, his manager for eight years at Chicago and in the minors.
“As much as anyone I’ve ever had, Harold is the guy I want hitting with the game on the line,” LaRussa said Thursday. “The more pressure he feels, the better he plays and hits.”
Besides Jose, the A’s sent minor league third baseman Stan Royer and pitcher Daryl Green to the St. Louis Cardinals for McGee, who was batting .335 as the National League’s second-leading hitter and has enough at-bats to qualify as that league’s batting champion. He would give the A’s a unique sweep if Rickey Henderson wins the American League title.
McGee, 31, is making $1.5 million in 1990 and can become a free agent when the season ends. The development of outfielder Ray Lankford and the likelihood that McGee will be seeking a three-year, $9-million package at a time when the Cardinals are faced with the task of (a) rebuilding and (b) re-signing Vince Coleman, Ken Dailey and Terry Pendleton, among other potential free agents, prompted the Cardinals to make sure they got something for McGee.
Said agent Reich: “Willie would have returned to St. Louis if they had approached him aggressively, but it’s evident the Cardinals are restructuring, letting some people go.
“There’s no hard feelings. Willie comes from the San Franciso area and is happy to be returning to a championship environment with another shot at a ring. As for the future, we’ll face that when this season is over.”
Alderson said the same. He may be only renting McGee for a month. Both he and La Russa insisted--perhaps for Dave Henderson’s edification and psyche--that Henderson will be the center fielder again when he has recovered. The A’s payroll--with Baines bringing a guarantee of $3 million through 1992--is already due to exceed a record $30 million next year.
“We’re focused on 1990,” Alderson said. “We’ll worry about 1991 when 1990 is over.”
For the final month of the 1990 season, the A’s regular lineup will include eight former All-Stars, with Baines probably batting fourth, between Canseco and Mark McGwire, and McGee either second or near the middle, said La Russa, who scoffed at the theory that McGee is strictly an artificial turf hitter.
“He has a good stroke, good ability and 166 hits,” La Russa said. “You mean the only thing he does is bounce the ball on the turf and beat it out?”
LaRussa smiled. He has been writing outstanding lineups and will continue to, saying his only concern is that the players realize they still have to do it on the field, that having the names of McGee and Baines on the lineup card makes nothing automatic.
Of Alderson, LaRussa said: “People like dealing with him because he doesn’t just talk. He pulls the trigger. He gives value in return. He’s not out to take advantage of anyone.”