With the Pirates picking Dallas McPherson up off of waivers yesterday, I was reminded of a chance encounter I had with Dave Littlefield back in 2003. It was the spring of 2003, perhaps late May or early June, and the computer guy at my “day job” and I went to Smallman Street Deli for lunch.
There we were, two nerds huddled around a table built on a barrel, chomping down on deliciously lean corned beef on rye with mustard and a pickle on the side. At first, I saw the hair. It was magnificently styled and perfectly brushed. It must have preceded him into every room, like an advance scout. The next thing I remember seeing is the suit. It was an extremely sharp gray suit. Perfectly tailored. And then the rest of Dave Littlefield walked into the deli.
Littlefield was accompanied by some other front office types, as well, and they were engaged in some conversation. I had just finished reading Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball (an actual book, not on some fancy machine called an iPad or Nook) and was full of vim and vigor on how to re-invent a baseball team.
“That’s Dave Littlefield,” I said to the computer guy.
“Who’s that?” he asked. He can be forgiven, because he wasn’t a baseball fan and he was a recent transplant from Boston.
“The General Manager of the Pirates. I’m going to talk to him.”
“Please don’t do that…” were his last words he said to me, but I was already up and out of my seat.
I beelined directly over to Littlefield, probably startling him into thinking I was meaning him harm, and said hello.
“I just finished reading Moneyball, Mr. Littlefield. I want to know if you had a chance to read it and what your thoughts were.”
Littlefield made a small, nigh-imperceptible wrinkle of his nose. As if he caught a hint of molded cheese.
“I haven’t read it, no. But it’s easier to write a book about being successful when you have Mulder, Zito, and Hudson in your rotation.”
Wow. Guess that Dave was going to order some Haterade to wash down his sandwich at lunch today. But he was right about the author overlooking (or at least minimizing) the presence of those three fantastic pitchers in the book. Try to find them, or even a mention of them, in the movie, too. However, the point of the book (and movie) wasn’t about the success of the 2002 A’s. It was about how they found undervalued assets to offset player losses to large market teams.
In other words, the A’s were doing what every small market team should have been doing. I instantly realized that the Moneyball angle was not one that I should pursue further, so I switched tracks to the upcoming trade season.
“You should trade Kris Benson to the Mets for their 3B prospect, David Wright. Or to the Angels for their 3B prospect, Dallas McPherson.”
I got right to the point back then, as you can see. To say that I have finesse here in 2012 is humorous, but back in 2003 I was like a sledgehammer. To put things in historical perspective, in 2003 the Pirates were having some financial problems and it was assumed that Kris Benson would be their most desirous asset to trade. He was a pitcher in his theoretical prime (age 28) that seemed to be on the verge of breaking out. The Pirates did have a young stud 3B in Aramis Ramirez, but aside from his fantastic 2001 he always seemed to be underacheiving slightly. If the Pirates got a young 3B prospect, they could groom him and either trade Ramirez in a couple of years or move Aramis to 1B.
“Do you really think we could get Wright or McPherson for Benson?” The smarm in his voice matched the smirk on his face perfectly. I was undaunted, though.
Historical Perspective #2 — back in 2003, there were 3 top 3B prospects. There was Andy Marte from Cleveland, David Wright from the Mets, and Dallas McPherson from the Angels. The “Anaheim” Angels had just won the World Series in 2002 and had a young 3B playing well in the majors in the form of Troy Glaus. I felt that McPherson would be expendable for them.
“If the Angels want to win again this year, they would give up McPherson for Benson,” I said. At this point, I realized I was wearing thin on his patience and his posse just wanted to masticate some deli meats.
I wished him luck and released Dave Littlefield back into the wild. So how did things turn out? The star-crossed Kris Benson ended up getting hurt in mid-July right before the trade deadline and the Pirates weren’t able to get any return for him. They panicked and traded the young Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs for approximately 2 cents on the dollar. Ramirez matured and blossomed into a fantastic 3B for the Cubs, while the Pirates continued to drop deeper into the abyss.
Kris Benson did get traded to the Mets in 2004, but his career at this point was tainted by repeated injuries. The Pirates got a promising pitcher in Matt Peterson that never amounted to anything, a major-league ready Ty Wigginton, and the Rule 5 pick Littlefield foolishly lost in December 2003 named Jose Bautista.
As for Dallas McPherson, he continued to mash homers in the minors, but a combination of a propensity for strikeouts and chronic back issues pushed him into the dreaded Quad A status. He had stints in 2003-2005 with the Angels, but only got sporadic time and didn’t overly impress. His injuries ruined him after that.
Shockingly, McPherson is only a 32 year old mammal. It feels like he has been around forever but just an instant at the same time. His career will never be what it was meant to be back in 2003, but at least now the Pirates have acquired Dallas McPherson in some form or fashion.
I might celebrate by going to Smallman Street Deli for lunch today.