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News flash: old ex-ballplayer does not engage in revisionist history

Mar 29, 2011, 1:07 PM EDT

Lou Brock

Yesterday I quoted that Bill White interview by the RetroSimba blog.  It continues today, and White said two pretty neat things.

First, when asked if the Cardinals infield of White, Ken Boyer, Dick Groat and Julian Javier was the best infield he’d ever seen, he said no, cited Javier’s shortcomings as a defender and opined that, while good, it wasn’t the best.  How often do you hear an old retired ballplayer pass up the opportunity to say otherwise? Especially when all it would require is agreeing with the questioner? Hell, half of the members of the Hall of Fame are there because old ballplayers convinced themselves that their teammates were the greatest. It’s nice to see White not fall into that trap.

Second, White is asked about the Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio trade. That trade has come to be synonymous with lopsided trades, but White is very clear-eyed about it when asked if, at the time, the Cardinals thought they’d come out so well on it:

None of us did. We all thought it was nuts. Lou was a raw talent. At that point, he didn’t really understand baseball. He might try to steal while 10 runs up or 10 runs down. When he got to St. Louis, Johnny Keane told him what he expected of him, and he turned him loose. I think Lou relaxed in St. Louis. Now he’s in the Hall of Fame. Without Brock, we would not have won.

As the commenters over at this Baseball Think Factory thread discussing the interview noted, however, at the time most savvy observers felt that the Cubs had actually won the trade and won it handily. Brock was already 25 years-old, still raw, and played extremely poor defense. No one at the time felt that at his age he’d blossom into a Hall of Famer. Meanwhile, Broglio was thought of as a solid pitcher who, though today we’d likely worry about due to his workload, wasn’t thought of as a risk then.  Finally, the lesser players heading to Chicago with Broglio in the trade were far better than those accompanying Brock down to St. Louis. The Cards got Paul Toth and Jack Spring. Chicago got Doug Clemens, and Bobby Shantz.

Which, of course, underlines the notion we all know: that trades have to be judged twice: both on what is known or suspected at the time they are made and judged again later, from a “so, how did they do?” perspective.  The Brock trade was pro-Chicago by the former measure and obviously pro-St. Louis on the latter.  Only no one seems to remember or care about the former.

But Bill White remembers. And that, combined with his comments about his infield, make him the rare old timer who views his time in the game objectively and doesn’t seem to tell tall tales as time goes on.

  1. BC - Mar 29, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    The Dodgers’ lineup in the late 70’s has to be one of the best. The Reds in the 70’s weren’t too shabby either when you had Rose, Concepcion, Morgan and either Knight or Dreissen playing.

  2. jwbiii - Mar 29, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    No one at the time felt that at his age he’d blossom into a Hall of Famer.

    So you’re saying there’s a chance for Francoeur?

  3. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Mar 29, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    Bill White was best friends with Gibson while in baseball (heck, they probably still are). Bill’s straight forwardness and truthfulness are traits that he and Gibson share. When ask about steriods, Gibson recently said if they had been around when he played and he thought it would give him an edge he probably would have used them. That is no bs.

    Like Gibby, White was a fierce competitor. He always did whatever he could to win. He also was a sweet fielding first baseman. As good as anyone at digging the ball out of the dirt.

  4. schlom - Mar 29, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    Which, of course, underlines the notion we all know: that trades have to be judged twice: both on what is known or suspected at the time they are made and judged again later, from a “so, how did they do?” perspective. The Brock trade was pro-Chicago by the former measure and obviously pro-St. Louis on the latter. Only no one seems to remember or care about the former.

    Why should anyone care about the former? Only the results matter. You can talk to you are blue in the face about “how we couldn’t have known that Player A would have improved that much and no one could have foreseen Player B’s injury” but that doesn’t change the end result.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Mar 29, 2011 at 2:57 PM

      Because people look at this sort of thing for purposes other than the end result. Like, in assessing the historical acumen of the front office. Knowing that a trade made in 1964 is one that every other GM would have made at the time is interesting to know. And, depending on the outcome, could change one’s assessment of that executive. How many people ask who “the dumb GM was who made the Brock trade.” Well, maybe he wasn’t dumb.

      • BC - Mar 29, 2011 at 3:57 PM

        Exactly. Think Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen. Red Sox win a division, Astros get an eventual HOF’er (OK, let’s not start that debate, my bad) who at the time couldn’t field at 3B and hit for little or no power.
        Ya never know.

      • spudchukar - Mar 29, 2011 at 4:13 PM

        Same thing in the Atlanta/Detroit deal that brought Smoltz to the Braves, and sent Doyle Alexander to the Tigers. Worked briefly, to a championship degree for Detroit, and some time later the Braves cashed in with a ring of their own.

  5. spudchukar - Mar 29, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    I have to quibble a little here with White’s assessment of Javier’s defense. Many times arguments arose regarding Mazeroski. While Maz was the more sure-handed of the two, Javier definitely had greater range, and his turn on the double play was magical, earning him the moniker the ghost. He was not little, bigger than most second basemen which afforded him some pop at the plate. His primary weakness was the breaking ball away, which tormented him til the end of his playing days. He was an okay hitter, around .275 during his better years, but he was in the lineup consistently because of his defense. Maybe, White, who I am a tremendous fan of recalls the plays he should have made more than the ones he did. I know I am like that.

    • florida76 - Mar 29, 2011 at 3:24 PM

      Javier was a fine second baseman, but Maz is the all time leader in turning double plays for a reason. Durability, hands, and a gifted ability to turn the double play. Let’s not get too carried away with those comparisons to a hall of famer like Maz.

    • spudchukar - Mar 29, 2011 at 4:06 PM

      At no time did I or would I disparage Maz’s defensive ability, that and a timely World Series home run propelled him to Cooperstown. Javier did lack Maz’s consistency, which was amazing, but while Maz had better than average range, Javier’s was better. As for the double-plays; Maz’s quick feet and release and accuracy of throw was nonpareil. In the mid seventies when I was playing for Modesto, the Cards’ highest A team, Bobby Dews, the long-time Brave coach was instructing me on the turn which I was having difficulty with. He showed me Maz’s approach, which he thought might be more applicable to me since we had similar physiques. Then he countered with the Javier approach, which was more difficult. During his pivot he would tag the bag with his outside or left foot, then plant his right as he twirled his throw to first, quickly moving to the inside of the baseline avoiding any contact. Needless to say I never fully mastered either style, and today few second-basemen employ either approach. I won’t claim that Javier was more effective than Maz, cause he was a wizard, but Javier was poetry in motion when he made the turn, and his style seems forgotten, which is unfortunate because it allows the second baseman to play deeper, and not cheat so much, as they can still be quickly on the move as they approach the DP.

  6. bigharold - Mar 29, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    I grew up watching Bill White broadcast Yankee games so his candor and baseball acumen are not surprising to me. He was and apparently still is a model of integrity. One may not alwys agree with his opinion but it wasn’t to be taken lightly.

    Today I can TEVO the game, watch it on my computer, we have super slow motion reply, HD and stats that are parsed to a degree I can barely fathom and yet there are still times I think the games were more enjoyable watching White, Rizzuto and Messer on a warm lazy Sunday aftternoon.

    • lmno7 - Mar 30, 2011 at 12:49 PM

      I also loved the dynamic that Bill White and Phil Rizutto shared… Watching WPIX Yankee games back them was like getting entertained on two levels at the same time… good times.

      This is from wikipedia….

      During the openings to two separate telecasts, Rizzuto began by reading off a teleprompter, “Welcome to New York Yankee Baseball. I’m Bill White… wait a minute.” Both times, this caused White, standing to Scooter’s left, to burst out in laughter. On another occasion, Rizzuto introduced the team as “Bill Rizzuto” and “Phil White.”

      Rizzuto’s relationship with White … produced some good-humored exchanges, including one with White during the WPIX telecast of the American League Eastern Division title game on October 2, 1978. Red Sox batter Bob (Beetle) Bailey, who had gained a little weight, had just stepped into the batter’s box:

      RIZZUTO: “Looks a little out of shape, doesn’t he, Bill?”
      WHITE: (chuckles) “Well, Beetle’s been around a while…”
      RIZZUTO: “Yeah.”
      WHITE: “Got a lot of money — from the Pirates. Put it all in California real estate. That’s why he’s got that big…uh…”
      RIZZUTO (chuckles): “Big WHAT?”
      WHITE: “Well, big BANK account.” (Both men laugh.)

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