Friday, October 06, 2006

Koufax to Cueller to ...Kuo? Oh, My!

Posted by Picasa Mets manager Willie Randolph was asked yesterday if he had yet announced his Games 3 and 4 starters for the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"No, not yet. Not yet."

Once upon a time such questions didn't even need to be asked. Then, again, once upon a time, teams in the postseason probably had starting rotations that went deeper than the obvious candidates for, well, Game 1.

That is no longer the case. Not when manager after manager got into the postseason only to find themselves with starting staffs still works in progress.

At least that's what you have to assume the playoff rotations were, looking at some of the pitchers toe-ing the mound during this, the most important games to date in their team's 2006 campaigns.

Blame it on injuries, youth movements or a general lack of depth throughout major-league pitching, but not one of the eight rotations toiling in the postseason will be confused with the Baltimore Orioles 1971 rotation members (pictured above) who entered the postseason with 20 or more victories each.

Jim Palmer-Dave McNally-Mike Cuellar-Pat Dobson?

Sandy Koufax-Don Drysdale-Claude Osteen-Don Sutton?

Greg Maddux-Tom Glavine-John Smoltz-Steve Avery?

Try these guys on for size: Tuesday, Boof Bonser, a rookie who spent part of the season in the minors and was 7-6 with a 4.22 ERA in the bigs this season, was sent to the mound by a Minnesota Twins team needing a victory to even their ALDS series against the Oakland A's.

Later that day, another rookie John Maine (6-5, 3.60), was the Mets' Game 1 starter, against L.A.

Today, St. Louis' starter in Game 2 of its NLDS clash with San Diego was Jeff Weaver - 3-10 (6.29) with the Angels, 5-4 (5.19) with the Cards (Weaver and four relievers, including three rookies, shut out the punchless Padres, 2-0).

And finally, last night the Dodgers, down 0-1 in the best of five series against New York, sent Hong-Chih Kuo - 1-5, 4.22 - to the mound. Kuo has one big-league victory to his name, it coming on Sept. 8 at Shea against the Mets in his first major-league start.

Kuo's mound opponent? Glavine, who's started almost as many postseason games (33) as Kuo has major-league appearances (38, counting the Game 2 start).

Minorities Top Endangered List. Again

What do these three men have in common?

Well, here goes:

Cito Gaston, Dusty Baker and Don Baylor (left to right) all took teams into the postseason.

Gaston managed two World Series teams in Toronto - and won both times. For those counting, that's one more world championship than won by Tony La Russa. One more than won by Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, as well. And it is the same number won by Tommy Lasorda, yet another Hall of Fame manager.

Baker - a three-time manager of the year, led the San Francisco Giants to the seventh and final game of the 2002 World Series before losing to the California Angels.

Baylor, in perhaps the greatest of these feats, took the expansion Colorado Rockies to the playoffs via a wild-card berth in the team's third year of existance - a major-league record for fastest advancement to postseason play by a new franchise. That garnered him manager of the year honors.

What these three men also have in common are these two things: Not one is currently is managing in the major leagues. And, as such, each is a member of baseball's most endangered species: minorities in managerial positions.

This wouldn't be such a sensitive subject were it not for the Black Monday witnessed in baseball this week. For Monday - the day following the end of the regular-season - saw all but two of the black or Hispanic managers who began the 2006 season ousted.

Frank Robinson, fired by the Washington Nationals.

Baker, fired by the Cubs.

Felipe Alou, fired by the San Francisco Giants.

Willie Randolph? The New York Mets skipper is baseball's last man - of color - standing.

Ozzie Guillen held on to his perch with the Chicago White Sox.

The ranks of Hispanic managers did grow when the Marlins replaced Joe Girardi with Fredi Gonzalez Monday.

Robinson and Alou, both 71, realistically won't put uniforms on, again. Both want to remain in baseball, however, and deserve opportunities to move into front office positions somewhere.

Baker, like Baylor, very much wants to manage again. Immediately.

Still, if baseball trends hold to form, Baker, like most minorities, will go to the "back of the bus," figuratively speaking, despite being a three-time manager of the year. After all, who would are deny that the revolving door through which displaced managers return to the ranks of the employed just flatout spins more slowly men of color than it does others?

Slower, as in galacial. Or, in the case of, say, Gaston, Baylor and Jerry Manuel - another one-time manager of the year who never got another shot - not at all.

Gaston, unlike many a manager with not one World Series ring, was never invited to skipper manage another team after being fired by the Blue Jays in 1997.

Jimy Williams, the man Gaston replaced in Toronto in the 1989 season, has been hired twice by teams since Gaston was fired. Williams has yet to reach the World Series.

Meanwhile, names of former managers like Lou Piniella, Bob Brenly and, alas, Girardi are already said to be hot candidates in places like San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and Texas. For those keeping score, only Piniella has won a Series ring as manager.

Where's the justice? Where's the outrage? Commissioner Selig? Anyone in authority?

At least, where's the buzz? Something to suggest that some or all of these very qualified veteran managers are being considered anywhere that currently has bench jobs to fill? For if they have no hope of breaking back into this exclusive club, what will the game tell the hopefuls named Cecil Cooper, Terry Pendleton, etc.? Wait your turn, because there's room for only one at at time in the pipeline, again?

Time to step up, baseball. Make sure the hiring processes in Washington, Texas, Chicago, San Francisco and anywhere else a position may open up are truly fair. These men don't want guarantees, just opportunities to compete. Then they'll be happy to let their records, accomplishments and talents speak for themselves.