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August 24, 2005
You Could Look It Up
John Quinn's Reign
Topicality is a vicious thing. You're out of the news for years and then you regain your celebrity for all the wrong reasons.
Long-time manager Gene Mauch passed on recently, causing many a eulogizer to pick the bones of the collapse of Mauch's 1964 Phillies--the Quakermen were up by 6 1/2 games with two weeks to play, but dropped 10 straight decisions to yield the pennant to the Cardinals by one game. Mauch's panic didn't help the cause; he went to a two-man rotation of Jim Bunning and Chris Short, abandoning the rest of his staff. Almost simultaneously, the Kansas City Royals' 19 consecutive losses brought to mind the modern record-holders, Mauch's 1961 Phillies, who dropped 23 straight contests from July 29 to August 20, 1961. Dying, losing...no doubt Mauch would have preferred to stay out of the papers.
The 1964 collapse was indeed historic, but the amazing aspect of that team wasn't the last-minute power failure, but the fact that they got in position to win the pennant at all. As the 1961 losing streak suggests, the Phillies had come a long way in just a few short years, transforming themselves from that season's 47-107 team to the 92-70 team of 1964. That change had little to do with Mauch, actually, who managed the winning and losing teams indifferently. The real credit goes to the Phillies' general manager of the time, John Quinn.
When Quinn took over as Phillies GM in January, 1959, he was the most coveted executive in baseball. The son of J.A. Robert Quinn, who had been general manager of the Browns (including the surprising 1922 edition) and Dodgers, and owner of the Red Sox and Braves, John Quinn had been in baseball all his life. The game literally ran in his veins; his son, Bob Quinn, would be GM of the Yankees and Giants, and his daughter, Margo, would marry Roland Hemond, a long-time GM in the majors with the White Sox and Orioles.
Quinn might not have been the Billy Beane of his day, but he had a heck of a track record, sending the Braves to the World Series three times (1948, 1957, 1958). Winning a pennant with the Braves in the 1940s was tantamount to climbing Mt. Everest with one lung, four broken limbs and a chemically castrated Sherpa as your guide. Quinn, who had run the Boston farm for years before taking over for his father at the head of the team (the senior Quinn sold out; the new ownership kept both Quinns on), mostly built from within on the 1948 team, but cemented the team with three brilliant trades.
In the trade tables below, the final column, "Three-Year WARP In," shows the total number of wins above replacement each team received in the first three seasons after the deal. If a team held a player for only one year, it only gets credit for the one year. If a player never played for the acquiring team, obviously that team received zero wins for the player:
Date: September 30, 1946
Elliot, underrated despite four All-Star appearances at the time of the trade and a .295 career EqA, won the 1947 National League MVP for Boston and was nearly as good for the pennant winners the next year. Herman was a Hall of Fame second baseman in his prime, but at the time of the trade he was 37 and had just 15 games remaining in his career.
Date: December 4, 1947
Heath posted a .336 EqA for the 1948 Braves and .338 in 36 games for the 1949 edition. The only downside was that a broken ankle in September 1948 knocked him out of the World Series and essentially ended his career.
The Dodgers quickly returned Sanders, a decent wartime first baseman but a bust in peace time, and the Braves compensated them with an additional $60,000, making the final deal Stanky for Rowell plus $100,000. Rowell was a 32-year-old, low-grade version of Todd Walker, which is to say that he could hit pretty well for a second baseman but couldn't field the position. Because he missed 1942-1945 due to wartime service, he never got established in the majors. The Dodgers would never even use him. Stanky was just 5'8" and had little in the way of power, but he was the most determined player in the big leagues. He was one of the greatest of all time at controlling the strike zone; the 148 walks he drew in 1945 was a National League record that lasted until Barry Bonds busted it in 1996. Once on base he would do everything he could to annoy, distract and confuse the opposition; several of his baserunning moves had to be forbidden by the rule book. He was also a strong fielder, an expert at turning the double play at top speed. He was the ultimate gamer, "The Brat." Branch Rickey once said of him, "He can't hit, he can't field, he can't throw. He can only beat you." He did Stanky a disservice.
Stanky was available for two reasons: Once the ultimate expression of the Leo Durocher style, Stanky and his manager/role model had had a falling out. Second, the Dodgers were ready to move Jackie Robinson to second base and now had nowhere to play their leadoff man. Quinn swooped in and solved the problem for them.
Stanky and young shortstop Alvin Dark combined to give Boston one of the most productive up-the-middle combos in the game at a time when middle infielders didn't do much hitting. This was of inestimable value to the Braves, but…
…too bad it couldn't last. Quinn also made one very, very bad trade during this period…
Date: December 14, 1949
Even though Quinn acquired an excellent hitter in Gordon, this trade was a literal franchise killer. Dealing off his middle infield was Quinn's way of defusing a personality conflict, as manager Billy Southworth sullenly drank himself out of a job and Stanky and Dark (particularly the former) objected to the detached way he was running the club. For the Giants, the deal became the basis of the 1951 pennant winners and 1954 champions. In Boston, the trade meant the end of National League baseball. Boston was never good about supporting the Red Sox and the Braves at the same time. It was usually one or the other. The trade helped make the city's latest switch to the Red Sox permanent. In 1947, the Braves drew 1.3 million, in 1948 1.5 million, in 1949, 1.1 million. After the trade, attendance dropped to 900,000, then 500,000, 300,000...and Milwaukee. Not all of that was a result of the trade of Dark and Stanky, but it started the ball rolling. Southworth was gone from the majors for good a third of the way through the 1951 season; Dark would title his autobiography, "When In Doubt, Fire the Manager."
Quinn stayed with the Braves. In December, 1958, the Yankees tried to recruit him, offering him the number-two position in the organization. The position of director of player personnel was presumably a stepping stone to replacing George Weiss, who had been the GM since 1948. He himself had ascended from the player-personnel position he had held since 1932. Quinn turned it down; the Yankees would not guarantee the line of succession. Publicly, Quinn said he was too attached to the Braves and the city of Milwaukee to leave. Privately, he was looking to get out. Veteran catcher and manager Birdie Tebbetts had been named an executive vice-president of the Braves. It was the second time that the Braves had promoted a newcomer over Quinn.
The Yankees, who were about to close up shop on almost 30 years of player development so the team could be sold, didn't really need a GM of Quinn's skills. The Phillies did, desperately, having been in free-fall for a long time. After shocking baseball by winning the 1950 pennant, the team almost instantly reverted to noncompetitive status, which was where it had spent most of the century to that point. After flirting with the .500 mark from 1953-1957, the team collapsed, landing in eighth place in 1958. Quinn was making just $22,500 with the Braves; the Phillies offered him $35,000 and a five-year contract, and significantly, the title of vice-president and general manager.
Having spent the winter trading season with the Braves, Quinn didn't get a chance to make many changes to the 1959 Phillies, who would lose 90 games. The 1960 Phillies were even worse, losing 95 games, and the 1961 Braves lost 107. Yet the farm was being revitalized and Quinn was quickly rebuilding through a series of lopsided trades.
The 1964 Philles were driven by these players. The Quinn moves are in bold:
PLAYER WARP ACQUIRED Dick Allen, 3B 12.0 Farm Johnny Callison, RF 8.6 Trade Chris Short, LHP 8.2 Farm Jim Bunning, RHP 6.6 Trade Clay Dalyrimple, C 4.9 Minor League Draft from Braves Dennis Bennett, LHP 4.4 Farm Jack Baldschun, RHP 4.1 Minor League Draft from Reds Ed Roebuck, RHP 3.8 Trade Tony Gonzalez, CF 3.7 Trade Tony Taylor, 2B 3.7 Trade Wes Covington, LF 3.6 Trade Bobby Wine, SS 3.0 Farm Cookie Rojas, OF/INF 2.9 Trade Gus Triandos, C 2.8 Trade Ruben Amaro, SS 2.7 Trade Art Mahaffey, RHP 1.4 Farm Frank Thomas, 1B 1.4 Trade Alex Johnson, OF 1.2 FarmAlmost every one of these moves amounted to outright thievery by Quinn:
Limiting the WARP accounting to just three years doesn't do justice to how good this trade was. From 1962-1965, Callison batted .280/.336/.498 for annual WARP scores of 8.5, 10.7, 8.6 and 8.6. He remained with Philadelphia through 1969, still playing well, albeit not quite at that level. The White Sox kept Freese for a year, figured out he couldn't play third base, and shined him on to the Reds, where he was part of the pennant-winning 1961 team.
Taylor was a long-time Philadelphia favorite for reasons that are hard to see at a distance; he was a weak hitter and a stationary object at second base. Perhaps, rather than for his ballplaying skill, he was appreciated for being the first African-American to start for the Phillies. Still, he was with the Phillies for 14 years (plus five more as a coach), and ranks fourth on the franchise list for games played with 1669. Bouchee, a 24-year-old rookie in 1957, batted .293/.394/.470 in 154 games but never again approached that level of excellence. The Cubs' WARP total above is almost entirely Cardwell's fluke 1961 season (7.6 WARP).
With Vada Pinson firmly in control of center field, the Reds were looking for another corner outfielder to complement Frank Robinson. Thus the rookie center fielder Gonzalez, a singles hitter with occasional power, got only a brief look before the Reds eagerly dealt him to the Phillies for the sluggardly slugger Post, a former Red. That Gonzalez had just hit .300 and slugged .519 as a 22-year-old at Havana of the International League (16 triples, 20 home runs) didn't enter into the decision. Gabe Paul was the Reds' GM and this is what he did--trade his 20-year-olds for 30-year-olds, then wait a few years and trade different 20-year-olds to recover the 20-year-olds he had dumped who were now 30-year-olds.
As in the case of Callison, limiting the study to three years doesn't give Quinn enough credit for the move. Gonzalez jumped from 5.8 WARP in 1962 to 7.8 WARP in 1963, then came back with a 7.7 WARP season in 1967, .339/.396/.472. Gonzalez was with the Phillies through 1968, at which point he was claimed by San Diego in the 1969 expansion draft.
Parenthetically, Gonzalez is an example of a player who would have greatly benefited from platooning. Thanks to Retrosheet, we now know that the left-handed hitter batted a solid .303/.366/.442 against right-handers (remember, this was the 1960s, and those numbers were better than they would look now). However, his managers--primarily Mauch--allowed Gonzalez to get 20% of his career at-bats against southpaws, against whom he batted .219/.288/.299. Mauch seems to have platooned Gonzalez only in certain years.
Post was a part-timer for the Reds for two seasons, then was dealt to the Twins. At that moment his career had 26 games remaining. Once again, Quinn had given up limited, short-term value and received a player who was of value to the franchise for years.
Don Demeter had made it to the Dodgers in 1956 at age 21 on the strength of a .287-41-128 season for Fort Worth of the Texas League. Despite the early start, he never clicked with the Dodgers; poor plate judgment and a crowded outfield of Tommy Davis, Willie Davis, Frank Howard, Wally Moon and Duke Snider held him back. The Phillies bounced him to first base, then to third base for most of the 1962 season. This expansion year was Demeter's best season--he batted .307/.359/.520 with 29 home runs (perhaps not coincidentally, he was 27 that year). The next year, pushed back to the outfield by Joe Randa-style third base glove man Don Hoak, Demeter slipped to .258/.306/.433 with 22 home runs, closer to his real level of ability. Though Mauch benched him for the last month of the season, he was still attractive to other teams, as Quinn would demonstrate in December, 1963.
The Dodgers held Farrell for one year, then let him go to the Astros in the 1962 expansion draft. Koppe was sent down, then sold to the Angels.
Covington was a player Quinn had developed with the Braves, a power-hitting lefty platoon outfielder who had strong seasons for the pennant winning 1957-1958 teams, but who slumped starting in 1959. Del Greco was one of Branch Rickey's most hyped prospects, but his development was in inverse proportion to the amount of hot air expended on him.
The three-year limit leaves out .300 and .293 EqA seasons from Covington in 1964 and 1965.
The second Cuban prospect Quinn picked up for free (Gonzalez was the first). Rojas had never hit at all in the minors, so this was a gamble that worked. Rojas was a career .263 hitter in the majors and had three seasons in the vicinity of .300. When Quinn made the deal, Rojas was 22 and coming off a season of hitting .265 with one home run for Jersey City of the International League. Perhaps the scouts saw something that the statistics left out, like talent.
Through 1963, when he was 31, Bunning had gone 118-87 with an ERA of 3.45 and a strikeout/walk ratio of almost exactly 2.5-1 (1406 strikeouts, 564 walks). He had had something of an off-year in 1963, posting an ERA of 3.88, just above the league average of 3.63. The Tigers, who had Mickey Lolich and Denny McLain coming along, and didn't like Bunning's leadership role in the uppity players union, figured they could deal Bunning for an outfielder. They had Al Kaline, Rocky Colavito and Bill Bruton, but Colavito seemed to be slowing up at 29 (he wasn't) and Bruton, who was rarely any good in the first place, was almost finished at 37. The Tigers thought the replacement they needed was Demeter, who was ticketed to play center fielder and bat third. They were wrong; it was actually Willie Horton, who had made his major-league debut that September, but he was just 20 and the Tigers weren't ready to jump him right from the Sally League to the majors.
Earlier the same winter, Colavito had been dealt to the A's for additional pitching (one of the pitchers received, Dave Wickersham, was actually pretty good, but the Tigers managed to pitch his arm off in one season). "Demeter is a better all-around player than Rocky Colavito," Tigers manager Chuck Dressen said. "Facts is facts. Demeter can outrun Colavito, can throw with him, and maybe can hit just as good." For the record, Demeter batted .256/.290/.460 for the Tigers in 1964, with 22 home runs and 17 walks in 134 games. Colavito played in 160 games for the A's, batting .274/.366/.507 with 34 home runs and 83 walks.
Triandos, one of a long list of promising catchers run out of New York by Yogi Berra, proved to be a useful platoon partner for Dalyrimple in 1964. Hamilton was never an effective major-league pitcher. Bunning went 74-46 with a 2.48 ERA with the Phillies from 1964-1967.
Date: April 21, 1964
Jack Baldschun was the go-to arm in the Phillies' pen, but he had little help there. Even after the acquisition of Roebuck, who had been a serviceable middle reliever for the Dodgers since the mid-'50s, Mauch pitched Baldschun's arm off, using him in 71 games for 118 innings. Roebuck made it to the Phillies in time to work 60 games, save 12 of them, and post a 2.22 ERA. He stuck around for two years after that, generally pitching well.
The '64 Phillies had no first baseman. The main starter, John Herrnstein, batted .234/.360/.288 in 125 games (that's a .250 EqA, which seems high for that line). Quinn tried to rectify this with the acquisition of Howard, who was of no use to the Mets. No one was of any use to the Mets. Thomas had hit 34 home runs for the 1962 Mets, but hadn't done much since then. The Phillies gave up two non-prospects for the 35-year-old, somewhat cranky outfielder/first baseman. Thomas hit well for them, .302/.321/.543 through September 8 (unlike the modern Frank Thomas, the original wasn't big on the whole walking thing). On September 8, he fractured his thumb diving back into first base. He was out until September 25. He made only three hits over the six games remaining to him. The next spring he and Dick Allen got into a dispute that turned violent; Thomas, who was done anyway, was released.
Allen was, of course, the main course of the whole affair. Quinn supplied the appetizers, drinks and dessert. His 1964 Phillies came as close to succeeding as any Allen team.
Quinn remained GM of the Phillies through 1972, at which point he was summarily retired. He had made 51 deals during those years. Many of those were for veterans to satisfy the voracious need of Mauch, who persisted as the team's manager through 1968. Many of those deals have gone down in history. The inevitable trade of Dick Allen almost brought Curt Flood to Philadelphia, but it brought a historic lawsuit instead. He acquired pitchers Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl from the Cubs--but threw Ferguson Jenkins, 22, into the deal. And, in one of his last moves for the Phillies, he dealt his disgruntled starter, Rick Wise, for another team's disgruntled starter, Steve Carlton. It was a hell of a parting gift.