THE REAL SECRET OF TRADING

The Dodger general manager exposes the detailed negotiating behind the exchange of players and reveals that the successful wheeler-dealer is the one with—well, the best scouts, the best friends, the most luck
June 04, 1967

The funniest thing about getting into the limelight, even in the little puddle of limelight that I find myself in at Los Angeles, is reading the myths about yourself. You can read how you pulled this maneuver and that maneuver and by your astute moves you enabled the ball club to win the pennant. You can read how you have some kind of sixth sense that enables you to recognize the spark of greatness in some unrecognized ballplayer and how you bring him up or trade for him at exactly the right time and he wins the pennant for you, and boy! are you a genius!

Well, let me put it simply: there are times when a general manager may earn his pay by making some brilliant solo move, but for every brilliant move you make by yourself you are the beneficiary of a dozen brilliant accidents and another dozen brilliant moves by others, like your scouts, and you wind up getting the credit yourself. There are also times when you could have made a brilliant move and you didn't, but nobody hears about the deals you didn't make, so they don't count against you in the summing up. Running a ball club is 10% skill, 40% having the right men working for you and 50% dumb luck.

The role of the general manager has changed a lot. You have to grow your players yourself, down on the farm, like rutabagas. Trading for them is a vastly overrated technique. The Dodgers don't like to trade, and if we didn't make another trade in the next 10 years it would be too soon. That may sound strange from the man who traded for Ron Perranoski and Phil Regan and Claude Osteen and Wally Moon and Andy Pafko and a dozen or so other star players, but the simple truth is we hate trading. We make trades rarely and under special circumstances, such as when we think the deal will bring us a pennant. We never make a trade just to exchange uniforms. Deals like that are going on all the time, and they're nothing more than an attempt to fool the public. Frank Lane used to specialize in uniform-exchange deals, and when I say that Frank was a great trader I don't mean that he was a good one. The thing that most people forget is that when you trade players of exactly equal ability everybody loses. Why? Because each team has lost a friend and acquired a stranger. And every trade chips away at that security that your ballplayers want, that security that makes them give you better performance. A ball club that keeps trading away a man in a blue uniform for a man in a red uniform is a jumpy ball club. You turn everybody into a Sue Perranoski. Whenever I call Ron's house and his wife answers the phone, she says, "Oh, my God, Buzzie, where are we going?"

The big trick in trading is to unload a ballplayer a year too soon rather than a year too late, and if you can give me a foolproof way how to tell when it's a year too soon and not a year too late I'll send you a lifetime pass to my private box at Dodger Stadium. Looking back on it, I would say that one good rule is to try to trade for ballplayers coming off bad years. An ideal situation is to reach down into the minor leagues for a former major-leaguer who is having the miseries. Remember, this fellow used to eat steak and stay at the best hotels and fly in jets. Now he's eating hamburger and staying in flytraps. There's no telling what he might do to get back to the big time. The perfect example is Phil Regan. He pitches in the majors six seasons, and then he wakes up one morning and he's in Syracuse. So we bring him back up, and all he does is win 14 and lose one. In his last year with Detroit he was 1-5!

But the Phil Regan deal also demonstrates the part that dumb luck plays in trading. How did I wind up with Phil Regan? Did I study the form, analyze his potential, send scouts on secret trips to watch him and then bring off the masterful stroke? No, all I did was accidentally show up in the right place at the right time. And it happened in about two minutes. I was walking through the lobby of a hotel in Fort Lauderdale and there sits my old friend Charlie Dressen, managing Detroit at the time. As I walk up to him, Charlie says, "Buzzie, I need an infielder."

I said, "Well, Charlie, that's very interesting, but what does that have to do with my young life?"

He said, "You've got two extra ones. Peewee Oliver and Dick Tracewski."

I said, "Which one do you want?"

He said, "How about Dick?"

I said, "Fine."

He said, "How much money do you want?"

Now, it is my instinct not to accept money when I can get a ballplayer, any ballplayer. You may get 19 straight stiffs, but the 20th guy could help you win a pennant. So I say to Charlie: "I don't want money. Give me a player."

He says, "Who do you want?"

Now, I could have said Al Kaline or somebody like that, but Charlie and I were practically brothers in baseball and we didn't try to kid each other or do any fancy bargaining. So I just said, "Oh, maybe a pitcher for our team in Spokane or something like that."

He says, "How about Phil Regan?"

Well, I knew less about Phil Regan than the janitor did. I had seen him pitch once in my life, when the Angels were playing in Los Angeles, and he didn't look to me like a pitcher who was ever going to wind up 14-1 with a major league club. He threw the ball with the grace and finesse of a pro wrestler. But Dick Tracewski was no Joe Gordon, either. So I said, "O.K., it's a deal." And that's the whole story of how we got the best relief pitcher in baseball.

This is the way that things happen more often than not. Take the way we got hold of Ron Perranoski, the guy who was 16-3 in relief for us in 1963. Bear with me, because this gets a little complicated, but if you can understand it you'll get a lot of insight into how major league deals are made.

I was sitting in a hotel in Phoenix just before the 1960 season opened. The Dodgers were playing exhibition games on the way home, and my favorite member of the club, for a lot of reasons, was Don Zimmer. Zim was approaching that period where he still looked valuable, but he was beginning to lose the touch and it's the perfect time, in other words, to trade him. But I'm not trying to deal him away, because I like him too much. Now the phone rings, and it's Bing Devine, then general manager of the Cardinals. "Buzzie," he says, "I need a utility infielder."

I said, "Who do you want?"

He said, "Zimmer."

I said, "What'll you give for him?"

"Oh, about $25,000."

I said, "I'll call you back."

Now the wheels are spinning about 7,000 rpm in my head. I'm figuring that $25,000 isn't much money but, on the other hand, it was pretty obvious that Zimmer was ripe to be dealt, and I can't play favorites to the point where I turn down a good deal for the ball club. So I figure, the Cubs are in Mesa, I'll just give John Holland a call and see what he'll offer. "John," I said, "Zim's available."

He perked up at the mention of Zimmer; this was just the kind of shot in the arm the Cubs needed. John says, "How much do you want for him?"

I said, "I'll see you at the ball park."

Right away I called Bing and I said, "Bing, I've got a chance to deal Zimmer to the Cubs. I don't know what they're going to offer, but if you don't mind I'd like to leave it up to Zimmer. He's meant a lot to the Dodgers, and I think he's got it coming."

Bing said, "O.K." To tell you the truth, I knew that the Cardinals now had no chance to get Zimmer. Every ballplayer wants to play for Phil Wrigley, because every ballplayer wants to play as many day games as possible and Mr. Wrigley has not had lights installed as yet. I called Zimmer, and he confirmed my reasoning.

So now I have a talk with John Holland and Charlie Grimm, and they want to know the price on Zimmer.

I said, "Oh, let's say $27,500 and three ballplayers."

To my surprise, John says, "O.K., the money's fine. What ballplayers do you want?"

I said, "I don't know. Who you got?"

He says, "Well, we'll give you Lee Handley, the outfielder."

"O.K."

"How about Johnny Goryl, the second baseman?"

"I'll take him."

"You want Ben Johnson?"

"Nope."

"Moe Thacker?"

"No, thanks."

"We've got a pretty good-looking left-hander coming out of the Army."

"Named what?"

"Perranoski. P-e-r-r-a-n-o-s-k-i."

"I never heard of any Perranoski," I said. "Who is he?"

This must have irked Charlie Grimm, because he snapped back, "Well, we gave him $30,000 to sign. That's who he is!"

I figured if the Cubs gave him $30,000 to sign he can't be all bad. When the Cubs shell out 30 grand, it's for a reason. So I said I'd take him. I thought he'd make a good prospect for our club in Spokane or Fort Worth. The deal was for $27,500 and three players, and I had to take somebody. And that is how the brilliant Buzzie Bavasi brought Ron Perranoski to the Dodgers.

Last year I got a lot of credit for grabbing Dick Stuart after the Mets turned him loose. There isn't any doubt about it, Stuart won a couple of key ball games for us, and when you win a pennant by one game you've got to look fondly on everybody who came through for you. Those hits of Stuart's made a difference, that's for sure. But I didn't anticipate this when I got the telephone call from him that started the whole deal. Stuart had just been released, and he says to me, "I'm ready to go to work. I'd like to play for the Dodgers, and I thought I'd give you first chance at me."

One thing Stuart never lacked was confidence. I like that in a ballplayer. I said, "Are you in shape?"

He acted highly insulted. "I'm always in shape," he said.

I said, "Well, the only way I could possibly use you would be as a pinch hitter, and then you'd be griping all the time about riding the bench."

"No, I wouldn't," he said. "Those days are over. I'm a pinch hitter, and I know it. And with me as a pinch hitter, you can win."

I gave him the job and he started spraying hits all over the place, and pretty soon the papers were full of stories about another one of Buzzie's coups, and how the Mets were stupid. And as far as the Mets' stupidity was concerned, I thought then and I still think now that they were right in releasing Stuart. The Mets are a young ball club, they're building, and they have a kid first baseman named Ed Kranepool who can hit a ton if he gets the seasoning. If I had been with the Mets, I'd have released Dick Stuart myself.

There's another kind of big deal that the general manager gets the credit for and really has very little to do with, and that's the one shoved down his throat by some scout. The scout will keep calling and calling about some ballplayer he's spotted, and you'll keep telling him to forget it, and he'll keep telling you you've got to bring the kid up right away, he's ready, he'll set the league on fire, etc., etc. So finally you bring the kid up to get the scout off your back and the kid plays like a million dollars and then everybody writes what a brilliant move you made. No kidding! I'm not trying to be modest, either. I know what I do for the Dodgers and what I don't do, and I'll take the credit for having a good scouting staff, for having a good organization in the first place. That's where general management comes in: you pick the right men for the right jobs and you sit back and get all the credit!

The scout who comes immediately to mind is Johnny Corriden, a sweet old guy who knocked around baseball for years and years. Johnny had been around the Dodgers when I first came into baseball, and he treated me like a man when a lot of the other guys were giving me the rookie hazing treatment. I always had a soft spot for Johnny after that, and years later, when he was getting old and he was out of baseball, I found he needed a job. The trick was to find him something that wouldn't be too strenuous, wouldn't take him too far from his home in Indianapolis and yet would give him a feeling he was earning his pay. So I called him and I said, "John, I want you to go to every ball game that's played in Indianapolis, and I want you to tell me if you see anything good for us."

So Johnny goes to work, and he pulls his load. Nothing spectacular, but then we're not paying him anything spectacular, either. Now comes the 1959 season, our second year in the Coliseum. The year before we've finished seventh, and for the 1959 season certain geniuses of the press are predicting another miserable year for us. But as the season wears on, it begins to look like we actually have a chance to win it all. I could taste that pennant! I was going to make those writers eat their columns. The only trouble was we were short a good relief pitcher, and I didn't have the slightest idea where to look.

One day I was talking to Corriden and I said, "Johnny, I want you to pay special attention to pitchers. We can win this thing with another relief pitcher."

The next week I get a call from Indianapolis. "Buzzie," Johnny says, "I've found a reliever. And where do you think he is? At St. Paul!"

St. Paul was our own farm club, which made things real nice, but the trouble was I didn't think much of John's idea of a pitcher. It was Larry Sherry. I knew Larry Sherry, and to my mind he just wasn't ready. But how was I going to stall Johnny off?

"John," I said, "why don't you take another look at him when St. Paul comes through town again?"

He says, "I don't have to look at him again. You asked me to do a job, and I did it. Now you tell me to take another look. You ought to bring him up right now!"

I said, "I can't do it on one look, John."

He says, "What are you saying, that you don't take my word for it?"

I said, "No, John, I take your word for it, but I'm just asking you as a personal favor to me: take one more look!"

He says, "If you want to be bullheaded and stubborn, all right. I'll take another look. But it'll be the same!"

A couple of weeks go by, and we're still hurting for a relief pitcher on the big club. Now it's the first of July and the phone rings, and it's Johnny. "I took another look at Sherry and nothing's changed," he says. "Besides, you've got to take him now."

I said, "Why?"

He said, "Because I just bought him a plane ticket to Los Angeles!"

How do you like that? One of our best scouts has now taken over my job and the road secretary's job at the same time! I had to laugh. "All right, John," I said, "and if he doesn't work out, we can take the cost of the ticket out of your pay."

"That's fine with me," Johnny said, "and when you win the pennant you can give me a bonus out of your pay!"

Larry Sherry shows up on the 2nd of July and turns the bullpen into the Rock of Gibraltar. Largely thanks to him, we end the season in a tie with Milwaukee and go into a playoff. Sherry, 7-2 for the regular season, went right out and saved us in the first playoff game. He came on in the second inning, stopped the Braves, shut them out the rest of the way, and we won 3-2.

You can imagine how excited Johnny Corriden must have been. He was a little too old to travel, but he watched the first playoff game on television in his living room in Indianapolis. In the middle of the game, while Sherry was mowing the Braves down one after another, Johnny's wife came into the living room and noticed that he was very quiet. "John," she said, "what's the matter with you today?" She walked over and touched him, and he was dead.

Larry was broken up about it, and so was I. Sherry sent a telegram to the widow saying he owed whatever he had to John, and now he was going to go out and finish the job that John gave him. In the Series he set a record that I'm willing to bet will never be matched. He allowed one earned run and eight hits in 12‚Öî innings, and in every one of our four wins he either saved or won the game.

Nowadays we have another old man from Indianapolis keeping his eyes on things, and I wish we had a hundred more like him. His name is Ted McGrew, he is in his 80s, and before he went into semiretirement he was one of the best scouts in baseball. To tell the truth, all we pay Ted is his expenses, but the arrangement is satisfactory to everybody. In the summertime we get him a room in a hotel in Chicago, and he sees a game every day, either the Cubs or the White Sox. There are not many men around who have as good an idea of what's going on in baseball as Ted McGrew. He is the reason we got Claude Osteen. We were looking for a good left-handed pitcher, and one day Ted calls and says, "Osteen's your man." I'd seen Osteen once or twice myself, and I liked his looks, but I'd never have dealt for him if Ted hadn't made his recommendation. And if we don't get Osteen, is there anyone in his right mind who thinks we would have won the pennant in 1965 and 1966? Everybody remembers that Sandy Koufax won 27 games for us last year and 26 the year before; nobody remembers that Osteen won 17 last year and 15 in 1965.

If ever there was a pennant deal in the whole history of baseball, it had to be the one for Wally Moon, and this one was a mixture of luck and enterprise, mainly on the part of Wally Moon himself. One day in 1958 Bing Devine called me and said the Cardinals wanted to trade Moon, a left-handed pull hitter. Now, if there is anything in the world that met the definition of useless, it was a left-handed pull hitter in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was 440 feet to right field and your average left-handed pull hitter couldn't put one over that fence in anything less than a drive and two five-irons. If Duke Snider could barely do it, maybe twice a season, how could Wally Moon be expected to do it? Another thing: Moon had a bad elbow. So when Devine said, "Maybe you'd give us Gino Cimoli for Moon?" I said, "No."

Bing said, "What about if I throw in Phil Paine?" Paine was a promising young pitcher; I figured he could help our Spokane club, and now the pluses began going through my brain. Moon had had four good seasons before his injury, and he used to murder our pitchers. I got to thinking, maybe Moon isn't going to be worth a damn to us, but at least we'll get him off the streets and he won't be able to mug us anymore.

So I told Bing, "O.K.," and thought very little more about it. Gino Cimoli was a special friend of mine, but he was riding the bench for us and mad about it, and the trade of one bench warmer for an injured player and a minor league pitcher isn't the kind of deal I sit up nights wondering about. The most encouraging thing was Moon's comment. "Los Angeles made a hell of a deal," he said, "better than the Cards made." I liked that. I'm a sucker for a ballplayer with confidence. But I never dreamed just how valuable Moon would turn out to be. He came to Los Angeles and began to study that short screen in left field, and then he began asking our pitchers to throw him extra batting practice, and soon he was ready to go. As he explained it later: "I decided to shoot for the screen with what I call a calculated slice. It's simply a matter of bringing your hands closer to the body and slightly delaying your swing. You keep the end of the bat cocked for a split second after the hands have begun to move, and at the last possible moment you flip the end of the bat at the ball. That's all there was to it."

That makes it look pretty simple, but Wally Moon was that rare combination: a good, smart athlete with the ability to integrate his intelligence into physical actions. You have good athletes who are smart but can't get their smartness in harness with their muscles. Wally put it all together. He hit nine of his 19 home runs that season over that screen, even though it was the "wrong" field for him. He batted .302, drove in 74 runs and did as much for our ball club in one year as a single human being could possibly do. His confidence helped the whole ball club. I don't mean he was a pop-off, but he would say things like, "My idea of a picnic is to come to bat in the last of the ninth with the score tied 1 all and a man on base." He meant it, too, and pretty soon he had the whole ball club acting like pennant winners, even though they had finished next to last the year before. As if all that wasn't enough, Wally helped us with Sandy Koufax, who you will remember was a struggling kid in those years, full of promise but with very little to show for it. When Wally was on the Cardinals one of his closest pals was Alvin Dark, and that smart-guy Alvin discovered that Koufax was tipping his pitches. Sandy would bring his glove to one place on his uniform for a curve ball and another place for a fast ball.

When we traded for Wally, he told us the secret. Nobody believed him, so we had Sandy pitch a practice game in Florida and we kept score on how many times Moon could predict the pitch. He called 93 out of 96, and we had Sandy correct his motion fast.

Still, I can't honestly say that the trade for Wally was the best deal I ever made. That distinction goes to one I made strictly at the behest of a guy who brings a lump to my throat every time I think of him: Spencer Harris, our general manager at the Spokane club and before that our all-round shop foreman in spring training—"the mayor of Dodgertown," as everybody knew him. Spence died a couple of years ago, and I went up to Spokane for the funeral with Fresco Thompson and Dick Walsh. I hadn't seen ice and snow for years, and now it was up to our backsides. Here we are carrying the casket through this thick snow, and all the time I'm thinking of Spence and the thousand practical jokes we had played on each other, and then I almost slipped and fell, the snow was so deep. So just before we got to the church I started to laugh. I couldn't help it. Fresco gave me a look; he knew what I was thinking. I was thinking that Spence must be having the biggest laugh of all at this scene. Here was the ultimate in practical jokes, making us carry his casket through the snow. I could hear him chortling to himself, "Boy, I got even with this guy! Boy, did I get even!"

Spencer Harris could watch a kid comb his hair and tell you if the kid would ever make the major leagues. One day, when I was general manager at Montreal, Spence called me and he said: "Buzzie, I just found out the Baltimore Elite Giants need money. Call them right away and get two of their players, Joe Black and Jim Gilliam. Get them no matter what they cost!"

I made the deal for $11,000, and if you can beat that, call me collect. Joe Black won the pennant for Brooklyn in 1952, and Jim Gilliam has done as much for the Dodgers through the years as any ballplayer I can think of, including some of the biggest names in the club's history. I'd hate to think what our record would have been without him. Funny thing about Gilliam: he's been on the block every single year since we got him. That is, according to the press. I can't remember a spring when the newspapermen didn't put Gilliam up for trade. It gives me great pleasure to report that we never even came close. That's why he's on our coaching staff now. Gilliam's playing days are over, but I wouldn't trade him for Nebraska.

Of course, if you take a real good look at this business of who traded whom and for what, it can get ridiculous. It balances out. Or at least that's what I tell myself every time I think of Roberto Clemente.

We once owned Clemente. We signed him for a $10,000 bonus and sent him to Montreal for seasoning. He was a 19-year-old kid, right out of the winter leagues, and there wasn't any room for him on the roster of the big club. We ordered Montreal to keep him under wraps any way they could. Up there he was eligible for the baseball draft, and we didn't want to lose anybody as promising as this kid. On the other hand, we didn't realize how great he was or we'd have put him on the big club right away and protected him from the draft regardless of who we'd have to unload.

At Montreal, to keep Clemente from looking too good, our manager, Max Macon, kept moving him in and out of the lineup. Poor Roberto! He'd strike out and Max would let him play the whole game. If he hit a home run, Max would get him out of there quick. He was benched one game because he had hit three triples the day before. He was taken out for a pinch hitter with the bases loaded in the first inning of another game. You can imagine how this must have puzzled the kid. The net effect was to hold his batting average down to .257, and we figured he was safe from the draft.

But Clyde Sukeforth, who had come out of our own organization and now was scouting for the Pirates, had his eye on Roberto. He told Macon, "Take good care of Clemente. We want him in good shape when we draft him."

Max says, "Clemente? He's nothing!" Max knew better, and so did Sukey. That year Pittsburgh finished last in the league and had the first draft choice. There goes Clemente! Am I admitting that we blew it? I certainly am. But then I always say: of all the different kinds of sight, the best kind is hind.

That's especially true in baseball, and that's one of the wonderful things about the game. The second time you take your grandmother to a ball game she's second-guessing the managers and explaining the infield-fly rule to some stranger three rows back. Everything in baseball is right out there in the open, and your opinion is as good as mine. As a baseball general manager I have to be concerned about things like taxes and attendance and interleague play and concessions and so forth, but when you get right down to it the game of baseball is about two things and two things only: winning and losing.

You've got to love baseball to be a general manager, or else you've got to be stupid, and maybe it's a little bit of both with me. I do know that I wouldn't have missed this career for anything in the world. I go home every night and say, "What a way to make a living!" It's a pleasure to get up in the morning, and anybody who complains about a job in baseball is either an idiot or a moron. If someone had told me 25 years ago that I'd be spending my springs in Florida watching baseball games and my summers in Los Angeles watching baseball games and my evenings at home watching baseball games, I'd have sent for the wagon. Sometimes I feel I should go into O'Malley's office and tell him to cut my salary $10,000 because it's not fair that I should be getting so much money for having so much fun. I mean, there are a lot of interesting ways to make a living, like telling jokes or flying planes or tasting wines, but not for me. I'll take baseball all the way.

PHOTO PHOTO ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)