You look at this year's World Series and right away you are reminded that major league baseball is a general manager's medium.
While the press is quick to criticize or harmonize with what every field boss does on a daily basis, it's pretty obvious that managers only drive the car; they don't assemble it. Construction, instead, is left to the front office, where the general manager's pen, so to speak, is mightier than the bat.
For example, the Milwaukee organization seemed in a constant state of limbo until five years ago. But at that point Harry Dalton, who had previously built the Baltimore Orioles into a perennial contender and was then working for the California Angels, became general manager of the Brewers.
Since then Dalton has acquired such proven talent as outfielders Gorman Thomas and Ben Oglivie, pitchers Pete Vuckovich, Jim Slaton, and Rollie Fingers (last year's league MVP), and catcher Ted Simmons. And when Manager Harvey Kuenn seemed to need more pitching to survive the Ides of September, Harry went out an got him Doc Medich and Don Sutton.
What was especially interesting about the Thomas and Slaton deals was the fact that Dalton wasn't afraid to bring back two players a previous general manager had traded away. Thomas, incidentally, has hit 175 home runs since his 1978 purchase from the Texas Rangers.
Almost from the day he came to Milwaukee, Dalton was a mover and shaker. Practically overnight, Harry increased the Brewers' full-time scouting staff from five to 18 and its part-time staff from two to 12. In addition, he put together a special task force of coaches who regularly toured the farm system, instructing in such areas as hitting, fielding, and base running.
Dalton's opposite number in St. Louis is Whitey Herzog, who serves the Cardinals as both their general manager and field manager. The fact that most bench bosses don't want to carry that extra responsbility doesn't seem to faze Whitey in the least.
He began a major St. Louis housecleaning during the 1980 winter baseball meetings, when he traded 13 players in exchange for 10. Among those Whitey received in return was Bruce Sutter, maybe the best relief pitcher in baseball. Sutter had nine wins, 36 saves, and, in the second half of this season, a 1.47 earned-run average.
Knowing that few balls are ever hit out of Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the air is heavy and the fences seem to be in the next county, Whitey proceeded to build himself a team of rabbits who could also play defense. Then he got himself two more rabbits this winter in shortstop Ozzie Smith (from San Diego) and outfielder Lonnie Smith (from Philadelphia).
This is the same formula that Herzog had a hand in when he was the highly respected field manager at Kansas City, and now he has demonstrated its effectiveness once again.