In 1980, a year after being fired as manager of the Kansas City Royals, Whitey Herzog strolled through a hotel lobby in Dallas. It was during baseball's winter meetings -- some people actually called them "trade meetings" back then, which sounds like one of those dull scenes from one of the Star Wars sequels -- and Herzog was one of the most powerful men in baseball. The year before, the Cardinals had hired him to be their general manager, and midway through the 1980 season, Herzog fired franchise legend Ken Boyer -- months before Boyer would be diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him -- and took the lead job himself.
The Cardinals were coming off an 74-win season and hadn't won their division in 12 years, since those Bob Gibson/Lou Brock/Curt Flood/Orlando Cepeda/Roger Maris teams of the '60s. The team was getting old and complacent, and Herzog wanted to use the meetings to reconstruct his roster.
The problem was that there wasn't much happening: As Tracy Ringolsby wrote for on MLB.com this week, at one point the meetings were so dull that Reds manager John McNamara and Angels manager Jim Fregosi made up a rumor about the Giants managerial opening just to see what would happen. (It turned out to cause such a fracas that the Giants' general manager confronted his owner and threatened to resign, which I guess is only sort of funny in retrospect.)
But Herzog changed all that. As documented later in a famous Inside Sports magazine feature by the great Daniel Okrent, Herzog made four trades, involving 23 players, in one week. And these were great players. He sent eight players to San Diego for Rollie Fingers … and then the very next day acquired another future Hall of Fame closer, Bruce Sutter, from the division rival Cubs, for Leon Durham and Ken Reitz. Two days later, he traded Fingers again, along with franchise icon Ted Simmons, for superstar prospect David Green (who in the piece is compared to Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose and Willie Mays), Dave LaPoint and two other chaps. They released Bobby Bonds a week later, just as a cherry on top. (Heck, Herzog wasn't done: A year after the meetings, he'd trade for Ozzie Smith.)
Not all of these trades worked: That trade with the Brewers, because Green never became the star he was supposed to be, looks like a disaster. (And all told, trading two infield regulars to the Cubs for a closer, even one as great as Sutter, looks a little shaky too.) But what mattered was that Herzog, new in charge, rolled into town and decided to completely blow up his team. He had a lousy team, and within two years, he had won a World Series, and would reach two more within the next seven. People still talk about Herzog's December frenzy. It is the stuff of Inside Baseball legend.
But I think the Dodgers' Andrew Friedman just topped him. In Ringolsby's piece, he laments that "It's not as much fun as the old days." I wasn't there in 1980 like Tracy, so I can't speak to how much fun it was then. But this is pretty damn fun.
There are so many moving parts involving the Dodgers right now, with some of the their trades and signings confirmed and some not, so bear with me: This is the time of year when grown men curse teenage boys for fooling them on the Internet and it gets written up in the New Yorker. (May we live in interesting times!) But the Dodgers have gone looney tunes.
On Thursday morning the Dodgers made the biggest of their many, many moves, reportedly sending Matt Kemp, along with catcher Tim Federowicz and $31 million, to the Padres for Yasmani Grandal ,Joe Wieland and Zach Elfin. This was the day after reportedly bringing in Jimmy Rollins and sending out Dee Gordon and bringing in Howie Kendrick and shipping out Dan Haren and bringing in Brandon McCarthy and … sheesh, let's do a ledger here. (Remember, not all moves 100 percent confirmed.)
Zach Elfin, RHP
Yasmani Grandal, C
Andrew Heaney, LHP (but just for a few hours)
Chris Heisey, OF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Brandon McCarthy, RHP
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Joe Wieland, RHP
Austin Barnes, INF
Enrique Hernandez, UTIL
Chris Hatcher, RHP
Drew Butera, C
Dee Gordon, 2B
Dan Haren, RHP
Matt Kemp, OF
Matt Magill, RHP
Miguel Rojas, INF
Andrew Heaney, LHP (after being very briefly in)
I am certain to have missed some. Friedman has been the Dodgers' president of baseball operations for exactly 26 days. In that time, he has made 10 trades. That puts Whitey Herzog to shame. And Friedman likely did it without leaving his hotel room.
The best part about this? The general consensus is that the Dodgers are doing all this to set up other moves. USA Today's Bob Nightengale wrote -- at 1:55 this morning; you're gonna take all the fun out of the winter meetings if you keep taking writers out of the hotel bars at 2 a.m. and make them work -- that this is all preparation for a big push for Cole Hamels. Or, if they don't get him, David Price, or Mat Latos, or even Jordan Zimmermann. As CBS Sports' Mike Axis pointed out, the Dodgers made all these moves without really raising payroll and without really trading away any major prospects.
Now, I'm not sure every one of these moves make the Dodgers and immediately better team, much like not all of Herzog's moves worked out either. Matt Kemp is still a pretty outstanding player -- he might have been the best hitter in the National League for the second half of the season -- and now he plays for a division rival, with the Dodgers picking up a good chunk of the tab. But there's a lot of payroll junk on the Dodgers' roster, and Friedman is cleaning it all up. He is creating a situation where the Dodgers can have one of the deepest farm systems in the game and a massive payroll and the flexibility to fiddle with the roster whenever needed. He's doing what he did with the Rays … but able to lay down the money hammer whenever needed.
This is how the plan was supposed to work. It just wasn't supposed to work so fast. (Also: This was a division winner last year!) But this is what the Winter Meetings are supposed to be about. Whether you're slugging back shots at the lobby bar and making up rumors to entertain yourself, or whether you're in a hotel suite "war room" buried in data … it's a place to shake up everything -- to make a team yours.
Andrew Friedman and Whitey Herzog, as people, couldn't be more different. (I have a difficult time imagining Friedman tossing back a six pack while fishing in the middle of some chilly Missouri pond.) But they are cut from the same cloth. Come in, blow it all up, make it yours. Who knows how it'll work out. But sometimes being the guy in charge of a baseball team seems like the most fun job in the world.