Clubhouse Corner: Steve Schott World Series
It all began in 1995 when Steve Schott purchased the Oakland A's franchise from venerable owner Walter Haas. Mr Haas had been a free-spending owner, back in the days when a free-spending owner meant that a team's payroll was in the $20 million range rather than the $200 million range. However, the A's were three years removed from the playoffs and were losing money after the baseball strike of 1994. When Mr. Schott took over the franchise, he surmised that losing money on a losing team was a bad idea. So rather than continue to spend money on expensive veterans like Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, etc., Schott decided to cut the payroll and concentrate on rebuilding the farm system. A wise decision, as it turned out, but one that Manager Tony La Russa was not too fond of. So after the 1995 season, La Russa packed up his famous green jacket and moved east to St. Louis.
Now, it turns out that La Russa wasn't a man to travel alone. He decided that he would take his entire Oakland coaching staff with him to St. Louis, right down to the trainer, Barry Weinberg. Many of those coaches remain on the St. Louis bench today. Pitching coach Dave Duncan has overseen a pitching staff in 2004 that many figured to be one of the worst in baseball and made it into one of the best. Dave McKay, first base coach, seems to have a knack for sending runners at the right time. And the aforementioned Weinberg kept the Cardinals relatively injury-free all season.
La Russa also liked to surround himself with some of his Oakland players. In the year or so following his departure from Oakland, he and GM Walt Jocketty set out to make St. Louis a veritable Oakland-East. Dennis Eckersely and Carney Lansford were quick to join La Russa in St. Louis, as was Rick Honeycutt. However, these acquisitions paled in comparison to the other Oakland acquisition, Mark McGwire. McGwire, lured by the opportunity to play for La Russa again, asked that the A's trade him to St. Louis (or to the Angels, but the A's couldn't make that deal work) and the rest was history. McGwire hit a lot of homeruns, made the franchise millions of dollars, and led the Redbirds to a couple of playoff appearances. Perhaps his most important contribution to the current Cardinals, however, was when he re-signed with them for under market value after the 1997 season. This set a precedent for current Cardinal clean-up hitter Scott Rolen, who – like McGwire – was a mid-season acquisition expected to sign with a large market team for more money in the off-season. Rolen's charitable contract made it easier for the Cardinals to give Albert Pujols a big contract extension in the off-season and kept the formidable middle part of the Cardinals' line-up together.
So, okay, I can tell that some of you are already rolling your eyes, saying that McGwire's contract influencing Rolen is a bit of a stretch. Fine, but there are plenty of other Steve Schott connections to the current Cardinals' ballclub. For instance, Jason Isringhausen. Isringhausen, as you all know, was the Oakland closer from 2000-2001. Izzy was acquired by the A's originally from the Mets organization as part of what was then thought to be a cost-cutting deal. In the end, the A's got the better end of that deal and Isringhausen got a contract worth over $27 million from St. Louis. Izzy was quoted before the World Series as saying that he would have like to have stayed in Oakland but their hands were tied by a tight budget. As Schott sets the A's budget, it is clear that Isringhausen would not be a member of the Cardinals' team if not for Schott. And without Izzy, the Cardinals never would have made the playoffs.
Then there is the case of John Mabry. John Mabry is a fine pinch-hitter and reserve player, as the Oakland A's discovered in 2002. The A's discovered that Mabry was a fine role player because A's General Manager Billy Beane (who was hired by Steve Schott and given complete control of the personnel moves), in a fit of anger, dumped Jeremy Giambi for Mabry (aka give me something, anything, for Giambi). Mabry went on to do nothing but collect clutch hits for that Oakland team in 2002. However, Beane never took to Mabry's playing style and didn't re-sign him after the season. Mabry, whose career had effectively stalled before his trade to the A's, was suddenly a hot commodity. He spent a year with Seattle and then signed on with St. Louis, where he was able to produce excellent numbers for a reserve (.296, 13 HR). Of course, Mabry would have more of an impact on the World Series if he actually had a chance to play, but that is another story (So Taguchi and Marlon Anderson instead of Mabry?).
So as you can see, Steve Schott has had an impact on the NL pennant winners. Now for his impact on the AL champions. We can first begin right at the top. When Schott hired Billy Beane to be the general manager and then gave him full reign over player personnel decisions, he ushered in a new way of player evaluation and team building. That model was so effective that new Red Sox owner John Henry decided to buy Beane from Oakland. Schott was initially cool to the idea of handing over his prize asset to another American League team, but eventually relented and let Beane talk with Henry. Beane got as far as agreeing to a contract before backing out of the deal. However, once he did back out of the deal, he recommended that a young Assistant General Manager named Theo Epstein be considered for the position. Epstein was eventually hired and, using a player evaluation model similar to Beane's, built the current Red Sox squad.
That next spring training, the Red Sox were looking for a new manager and had their sights set on A's bench coach Ken Macha. Macha, a former Red Sox minor league manager, was well-respected by some of the Red Sox who had played in their farm system, namely Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra. He also was viewed as a manager who paid close attention to numbers, namely pitch counts. Despite Macha's desire to interview for the Red Sox position, both Schott and Beane considered Macha too valuable to give up and blocked the Red Sox request. The Red Sox instead hired Grady Little, who got along with the players but didn't like stats and didn't always pay attention to pitch counts. Macha, who seems to favor the concept of pulling a starter in the late innings if he has reached his pitch limit (especially one who has a history of fading after 100 pitches), would likely have pulled Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Then the Red Sox may have won that game. Had they won that game, they likely would not have tried to get Curt Schilling and Alex Rodriguez in the off-season. Had they not gotten Schilling or pursued A-Rod, they might still have Nomar Garciaparra. If they had Nomar, they wouldn't have Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz or (possibly) Dave Roberts. And so it goes. (Of course, had Macha been managing the Red Sox in 2003 and someone else had been at the helm for the A's, the A's might have been the ones losing to the Yankees in ALCS last year, but that is another story.)
Schott was not similarly inclined to block the Red Sox's request to interview another A's bench coach the next season. Terry Francona, who had spent the 2003 season in Oakland learning how to manage "Billy's way", quickly became a favorite of Epstein and his crew in large part, it seems, because he had been hired by Billy Beane. That Francona was also Curt Schilling's choice for manager didn't hurt, as the Red Sox were trying to woo Schilling to Boston at the time of the hiring. So, in retrospect, Schilling's arrival in Boston had a great deal to do with Schott's decision to let Beane hire Francona before the 2003 season.
Schott's shallow pockets had an even earlier impact on the Red Sox roster. After the 2001 season, A's centerfielder Johnny Damon was on the free agent market. He had had a down year with Oakland (okay, he was terrible), but he did play well against the Yankees in the ALDS, which was all Boston needed to be interested in Damon. Damon showed some interest in staying in Oakland, but when the A's were unable to match the Red Sox's lucrative offer, Damon went East. A similar scenario developed with current Boston closer Keith Foulke. Foulke, who had been excised to middle relief by the White Sox before being traded to Oakland, was a free agent after his Rolaids Relief Man award-winning 2003 season with Oakland. Schott and Beane set out to re-sign Foulke, but were out-bid by Boston. Foulke reportedly gave the A's a chance to match Boston's offer, but the A's declined to pay that much and Foulke signed on with Boston. I think it is safe to say that the Red Sox wouldn't be in the playoffs if it wasn't for the shallow pockets of Mr. Schott (or Carl Pohlad, Larry Dolan, and Jerry Colangelo, but that, too, is another story).
Finally, there is the curious case of Mark Bellhorn. Bellhorn, unlike Foulke, Damon, La Russa, et. al, was not sent away from Oakland because of payroll constraints. In fact, he still is a bargain. No, it seems that the A's jettisoned Bellhorn because then-Manager Art Howe reportedly didn't really like Bellhorn all that much. This may have had something to do with his sub-.200 batting average over four seasons. Reasons notwithstanding, the A's felt the need to trade him away for Adam Morrissey in the off-season of 2002. This trade allowed Bellhorn to spend the 2002 season launching homeruns in that other legendary bandbox stadium, Wrigley Field. Bellhorn hit 27 homeruns that year, but Bellhorn's tin glove turned the Cubs off and they sent him to Colorado. Bellhorn was awful in Colorado, but in the winter of 2004, Theo Epstein, using Billy Beane's model of player evaluation, decided to give Bellhorn a shot. Bellhorn ended up duplicating his earlier bandbox success in the bandbox of Fenway Park and a post-season hero was born.
So, as you can see, this World Series is about far more than excising curses and bringing a title back to the baseball equivalent of Titletown, USA. No, it is a culmination of nearly ten years of effort by a sometimes maligned owner of a small-market team. May the best spawn of Schott win…
The opinions in this column are the author's alone and are not endorsed by this website, the Oakland A's or Major League Baseball. Of course, if Bud Selig wants to rename the World Series trophy after Mr. Schott, we wouldn't object.
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