Major league baseball today is a general manager's medium - the same way film is a director's medium and business a power broker's medium. It is the general manager who calls the shots, sets the tone for the future, monitors the farm system, negotiates player contracts, hires the field manager, and makes the deals. Nobody has done a better job in that position this year than Al Rosen, general manager of the San Francisco Giants, who have moved out to a commanding lead in the National League West with fewer than three weeks left in the regular season.
When Rosen joined the Giants in time for the 1986 campaign, they were coming off a year in which they had lost 100 games, morale was at a low ebb, and the pitching was terrible. Today, thanks to Al's wheeling and dealing, only eight players remain from that '85 roster.
This, of course, is the same Al Rosen who starred as Cleveland's third baseman in the 1950s, led the American League in home runs and RBIs twice each, and was the MVP in 1953. Not the usual credentials for general manager, a post more frequently filled by career front-office types whose playing efforts, if any, were of the journeyman variety. But Rosen has had success in top front-office roles for quite a while now, having previously done good things as president of the New York Yankees in the late 1970s and the Houston Astros in the early '80s.
When Al took over in San Francisco, he came on like a trumpet screaming in an empty hall. First he signed a new manager, Roger Craig, who probably knows as much about putting together a pitching staff as anyone in the big leagues.
So much has been written about Craig as the guru of the split-fingered fastball that there is a tendency to think his talent stops there. But Roger is also an expert at teaching control and how to set up hitters. He also seems to have a sixth sense about when to lift a pitcher on the verge of getting himself into serious trouble.
Partway through this season, Rosen struck a deal with the San Diego Padres that netted pitchers Dave Dravecky and Craig Lefferts, plus third baseman Kevin Mitchell. Later, Al acquired veteran pitchers Don Robinson and Rick Reuschel from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Since so many other contenders in both leagues (including the Reds and the Yankees) also wanted Reuschel, Rick did not come cheaply. But in just a matter of weeks the veteran right-hander has become the Giants' stopper and the best insurance policy this team has had all year against a losing streak.
Mitchell, who was never comfortable with San Diego Manager Larry Bowa, has also played extremely well for San Francisco. In fact, with Kevin joining first baseman Will Clark, second baseman Rob Thompson, and shortstop Jos'e Uribe, the Giants now have one of the youngest and best infields in baseball.
So, as good as Craig's managing has been (actually it's been super), no one should forget Rosen's contributions when handing out the plaudits for this year's success. Al couldn't have had a greater impact if he had dropped a pile driver on a cup of custard! Elsewhere in the majors
Probably the two best clutch hitters in the National League this year have been St. Louis first baseman Jack Clark and Chicago outfielder Andre Dawson. If the first-place Cardinals hold on to win the East Division title, Clark may have the inside track for MVP honors. Otherwise, Dawson, who leads the league in home runs and RBIs but whose team is probably going to finish fifth, would have a chance. If Dawson were selected the MVP, it wouldn't be the first time a player on an also-ran team earned the honor - and indeed, the Cubs seem to be specialists in this department. Hank Sauer in 1952 and Ernie Banks in 1958 and 1959 were MVPs while playing for Chicago teams that finished fifth.
Asked how pitcher Dave Stewart of the Oakland A's has gone from being a journeyman pitcher in one year to the American League's leading Cy Young Award candidate, manager Tony La Russa replied: ``When we signed Stewart last year as a free agent, he had 1 pitches and sometimes not that many. Now he has three good pitches and has learned to throw strikes.''
Former Los Angeles infielder Billy Grabarkewitz, recalling at an old-timers luncheon how in 1970 he set the Dodgers' team strikeout record of 149 for a single season: ``I would have struck out even more, except that I didn't play the first four games of the season!''