Al Rosen: A Good Man Gone
In 1984, Giants general manager Tom Haller had hired his good friend, Jim Davenport, as manager. I wrote that Davenport would be a disaster. Dave Newhouse, who liked the decision to hire Davenport, wrote that “You can’t judge a cake before it’s baked.” Actually, you can, if you know it doesn’t have the right ingredients. The 1984 Giants lost 100 games for the only time in their San Francisco history and Davenport didn’t even last the year as manager.
Owner Bob Lurie hired Rosen, who had been both a player and executive, to clean up the mess. Rosen hired Roger Craig as manager and made phone calls to writers, assuring them that his door would always be open for any who wanted to talk to him. Few ever did but I accepted that invitation often. I had always wanted to learn from those who had knowledge I lacked and Rosen had been both a great player and an executive. I asked questions and got answers which greatly added to my knowledge.
Some of it was more personal. I kidded him about being my boyhood idol because I had first seen him play with San Diego, then the Triple-A farm club for the Cleveland Indians, in 1949. Most of that year, though, he was in Cleveland, where he was an outstanding player. He might well have been a Hall of Fame player but his career was too short. It started late because he was in the service in World War II and it ended early because of a contract dispute with Hank Greenberg, then the general manager. Rosen quit and became a stock broker, making more money than he could have in baseball.
On the field in 1985, Craig turned the team around with his “Humm, baby” personality and unusual game strategies. The Giants got into the playoffs in 1987 and to the World Series in 1989, the one interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake and swept by the A’s.
In a way, the most interesting aspect of that time came before the season, in spring training. That’s usually a relaxed time but Rosen never relaxed. He would walk from the Giants hotel to the ball park at a pace closer to a run. No writers ever tried to keep up with him.
In his office at the park, he was constantly on the phone, trying to make deals. The first year, he was looking for a second baseman – Harold Reynolds was high on his list – until Craig told him he had the second baseman they needed in camp, Robby Thompson. Will Clark and Thompson would anchor that side of the infield for years.
Though they lost in the World Series, 1989 was the high point for Craig as a manager. He never changed his strategy, so he became very predictable. His handling of the pitching staff destroyed the confidence of most of the pitchers.
I became increasingly critical of Craig, especially of his pitching staff. Other writers were convinced Rosen was supplying me with information to undermine Craig. That was the exact opposite of what was happening. Rosen consistently praised Craig to me. He never once made any criticism of him. My own criticism was based on what I was observing. Other writers could have done the same, but they were more interested in keeping on Craig’s good side.
When a group formed in 1992 to keep the Giants from moving to Tampa Bay, as Lurie had tentatively agreed to do, Rosen resigned as general manager. He knew the new group would want its own man in there, and Bob Quinn was there briefly as Brian Sabean was being groomed to take over, which he did in 1995.
Rosen believed he’d get another job in baseball but nobody ever called. I’d call him from time to time at his new home in the Palm Springs area and we’d talk about what was happening in baseball. I knew it was maddening for him not to be active. I can only surmise that there wasn’t another owner willing to give a general manager the kind of authority he would need. Their loss.
And now, ours as well. A very good man is gone.
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