|Channeling Bill Veeck to Help the Nationals|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on January 12, 2009
Occasionally I find myself channeling Bill Veeck.Â Bill last came visiting earlier last week with one of his typically crazy schemes, but one so crazy it might have worked.Â Actually with a few tweaks it still might work.Â Our topic of conversation was the moribund state of baseball in the capitol of the United States.
â€śWell I sure would.Â A last chance to see some of the legends of the game.â€ťÂ I leaned back in my chair. â€śActually I think a lot of people would come, and theyâ€™d bring their kids to witness the end of an era and root on those guys.â€ť
â€śRight.Â Now, move past the pitchers and letâ€™s talk about the offense.Â Bonds, Junior Griffey, and Andruw Jones in the outfield?Â They should be cheap enough at this point in their careers.Â And you can keep your young talent to apprentice with these guys, though you might want to keep them away from Barry and his trainers.â€ťÂ He winked.
â€śJones?â€ť I asked. â€śYouâ€™d consider him a legend of the game?â€ť
â€śNot a chance, but heâ€™d be cheap, and the only other option would be a very expensive Manny whoâ€™d be great if I thought we were a piece or two away from being championship team, but what Washington needs is credibility and fan base, not a huge payroll at this point.Â Besides weâ€™d have to improvise at a few positions.â€ť
I nodded.Â â€śFirst Base.â€ť
â€śYep.â€ťÂ Bill agreed.Â â€śI had thought maybe Jason Giambi, but maybe we could convince Pudge Rodriguez to play there.
â€śNot a bad idea, unless you want to gamble on Richie Sexson coming backâ€ť
â€śI think not,â€ť he replied.Â â€śPudge if we can convince him, then a platoon of Jeff Kent and Ray Durham at second.â€ť
I arched an eyebrow, â€śKent, Bonds, Clemens and Schilling in the same clubhouse. That will make for some interesting dynamics.â€ť
Bill laughed. â€śInteresting isnâ€™t bad. It will ensure some headlines at some point Iâ€™m sure, but itâ€™ll work.Â As to the rest of the infield, weâ€™ll keep Christian Guzman at short since weâ€™ll need some tablesetters anyway, and Zimmerman at third since heâ€™s their best player and there arenâ€™t many third base legends available right now.â€ť
â€śOk, so whoâ€™s going to catch?â€ť
Veeck looked me in the eye. â€śThatâ€™s easy, Jason Varitek, and heâ€™s going to be the manager too.â€ť
â€śA player manager. That is very old school.â€ť
Bill nodded, â€śBut a smart play too.Â There isnâ€™t a legendary manager available to command the respect of these guys - unless you can channel Casey Stengal for a whole season?â€ťÂ He paused, â€śI actually thought about this a lot, Lou Pinella or Mike Scioscia could probably have done it, but theyâ€™re committed and this isnâ€™t Jack McKeonâ€™s style of ballclub, but Varitek is a sharp cookie who commands respect.â€ť
â€śYou know, Bill, this is crazy enough to actually work.â€ť
Veeck laughed, â€śItâ€™s not as crazy as you think, as always there is a method to my madness.Â While weâ€™re filling seats and building a fan base these stars will be acting as mentors for the talented youngsters this team is going to have to rely on a year or two.Â After all any young pitcher who canâ€™t learn from Maddux, Schilling, Smoltz or Pedro has no business playing baseball.Â And between Griffey, Kent and Durham you have your bench and hitting coaches.â€ť
â€śNot bad, not bad at all, but I think youâ€™ve forgotten the bullpen.â€ť
He smiled.Â â€śNo, not really, although the game has changed.Â Iâ€™d want all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman to close, but after that the bullpen will be the same as the rest of the team.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m not sure I understand where you are going with this.â€ť
â€śWell, Jon, you see, none of these players, not Griffey, not Varitek, nor Schilling or any of these players should be asked to play a whole game anymore.Â No, weâ€™re going to need some depth of bench and bullpen - and thatâ€™s where we are going to stash the best of the future Nationals.Â Let guys like Lasting Milledge substitute in the late innings for Junior.Â Theyâ€™ll get seasoned and mentored at the same time.Â That will be especially true for the bullpen, Iâ€™d rather get 25-30 starts from each of these pitchers than ask them to go more than 5 or 6 innings and risk injury.â€ť
â€śWait, thereâ€™s more.Â Not only will fans come out to see this barnstorm inspired Hall of Fame team, but what young player wouldnâ€™t want to come get a chance to play with guys who were probably their heroes growing up?Â It should help the Nats attract more top talent and considering the division, these older guys might even have a shot at contending, at the worst Iâ€™d think theyâ€™d be close to .500â€ť
Veeck paced as he spoke, seemingly pondering each word before he continued.Â â€śAs to cost it wouldnâ€™t be too bad, since most of these guys arenâ€™t drawing huge interest from other teams and we could structure contracts with good incentives, paying pitchers for certain plateaus in number of starts and hitters for enough at bats.Â It would save us some money if we only get 4 starts instead of 30 from a starterâ€ť
â€śBill that makes too much sense.Â For the players, especially those who love the game it would be a chance for a last hurrah, to show that the oldsters still have something left to prove and to accomplish even as they mentor the future Nationals who come in as late inning replacements, injury reserves, and backups.Â It could open the door to the best staying on as coaches, and maybe even yielding some prospects to enrich the Nats farm system if they go trading vets near the deadline if the team fails to compete.
â€śIt really is crazy enough to work.â€ť
â€śJon, Iâ€™d stop calling my ideas crazy.â€ť
â€śWell youâ€™re the one thinking that youâ€™re channeling the spirit of Bill Veeck.â€ť
And with that he was gone again.
Note: Since this article was written, Trevor Hoffman and John Smoltz have agreed to terms with different teams.
What do you think of Veeckâ€™s plan to turn around the Nationals? Let us know in the comments section below.