clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

long live the bing (part 2 of 2)

New, 1 comment

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

our discussion with bing devine began yesterday and ends today. quick item: the boys at the birdwatch were kind enough to link to bing part 1 (thanks fellas) and observed that billy beaneball -- which devine addressed in yesterday's installment -- is "nothing more than Branch Rickey Ball." an intriguing take, since rickey was devine's first boss back in the 1940s. i googled rickey+beane and discovered a sound foundation for the BW's opinion: an article branch rickey wrote for life magazine in 1954 titled "goodbye to some old baseball ideas." alan schwarz, aaron gleeman (scroll down), and rob neyer all wrote about the article last year in connection with the "moneyball" craze, but i missed out on the discussion and am glad to catch up with it now. here's a short excerpt from the '54 article:

If the baseball world is to accept this new system of analyzing the game - and eventually it will - it must first give up preconceived ideas. Two measurable factors - on-base average and power - gauge the overall offensive worth of an individual.

that's "moneyball" -- and beaneball, sabrmetrics, bill james, theoball, and all the other labels for the "new stat" paradigm -- in a nutshell. written 50 yrs ago by a guy who learned his baseball from john mcgraw. pretty cool. thanks, rob.

one last branch rickey ref'nce: he famously broke the color line by bringing jackie robinson to the brooklyn dodgers in 1947. 10 years later, when rickey's protégé bing devine became the gm in st louis, only two black ballplayers had ever worn cardinal red: tom alston and sam jones. within the next few years devine acquired and/or developed curt flood, bill white, julio gotay, julian javier, mike cuellar, minnie minoso, marshall bridges, lou brock, and bob gibson -- all african american or latin american players. read more in david halberstamm's seminal october 1964.

herewith part 2 -- and thank you very much, bing devine, for sharing your wisdom.

VEB: one of the things general managers have to do today is work within payroll constraints. i'm sure you had budget constraints of your own back when you were running teams, but they weren't as much a part of the daily media discussion and fan discussion in those days as they seem to be now. today we have the big market teams and the small market teams. is there anything that concerns you about that -- the persistent payroll gap between teams like kansas city, pittsburgh, minnesota and so forth, versus the coastal teams with the big payrolls?

DEVINE: glad you mentioned minnesota, because they happen to be that type of team and they're making it work pretty well. so it's possible to do it. maybe you have to make some changes - do some things and get lucky. luck enters into everything somewhere along the line, and they probably have to take some chances. but they've made it work. whatever they do, it's been good, and so it would show a small market team that you do have a chance.

when I was a general manager the cardinals did have budget constraints. and you're right, they weren't written or talked about as much as they are now because of the big salaries, but they were there. in my case it was with gussie busch, who owned the brewery and owned the ballclub, and there were times when he would take a look and say: why are we paying that kind of money? we can't do that again. he liked to make a return from his operation the same way he did with the brewery, to have not only a winner but a team that made money. so the constraints were there all the time. they didn't get as much attention then as they do now, and that's mostly because of the fact that the high payrolls and the high salaries, which developed when major league free agency came into the picture, make it more of a story than it was then.

VEB: if you were running one of those small-market teams and you had, say, a $45 million payroll, are there specific things you would try to do? or positions that you would try to allocate those dollars to? how does one approach that kind of a problem and make it work?

DEVINE: well what you have to do is come up with a good development program, scouting and development. you're just not going to be able to compete in the market for the big salary players, so you have to develop your own. i think it's the case of development and scouting and maintaining that as a major part of your budget, and then doing the best you can from the other standpoint to fill in.

VEB: we've touched on a couple of things that have changed in the last 25, 30 years -- the big payrolls, the prominence of payrolls in roster management, the billy beane stuff. are there other aspects of running a ballclub that strike you as very different today, for better or for worse, then when you were a general manager?

DEVINE: not really. there's more reliance upon power hitters, i guess. i think there's more of that kind of hitting, and more of that type of an offensive game. from a pitching staff standpoint, i think there's more effort to develop closers, as they call them. and also now it's imperative to have a proper set up men. i think that's a little more technical and more refined than it used to be when i was a general manager. sure you needed relief pitchers, but there wasn't the emphasis on them, or the use of the words "set-up man" and "closer," as there is now. but that's the nature of the game now. there used to be pitchers who thought it was important to pitch a complete game. but now sometimes if the pitcher throws a complete game they start worrying about whether he should pitch nine innings, will it hurt his arm. it's just a little different approach to the whole thing from what it used to be.

VEB: let's talk a little bit about busch stadium, which will be coming down after this year and where you worked for 15 years or so. do you have a few moments that stand out in your mind from that stadium and that era that you'll always remember?

DEVINE: you know, i really don't. i mean sure i remember good times, bad times, exciting moments, run-of-the-mill periods of time. but i guess i remember more seeing a player in a position -- curt flood playing center field. ozzie smith playing shortstop. bob gibson pitching, for sure. those are the kind of things i remember more than the specifics of any game or moment.

VEB: curt flood was the first player you traded for, is that correct?

DEVINE: yes he was. he was the first player i acquired when i became a general manager. we were talking about a deal with the general manager of the cincinnati reds and the name of flood came up, a third baseman on whom we had good reports for his speed and the ease in which he played the game. we had a meeting during the world series -- we weren't in it -- and flood's name came up, and i indicated we had an interest in him, and after we had talked about potential players both teams were interested in we called time and said, "well let's go out and think about it and talk with our organization." and we left the meeting. fred hutchinson was my manager at that time, and when we had come out of the meeting he said, "you know, why don't we go back in and make the deal? i like flood's potential, what I've heard of him. i think he would help our club. i think we probably would see if he could play center field; from what i've heard about his ability i think he could transfer to center field because of his running speed. let's make the deal." and i said, "well let's go out and talk about it and figure out what kinds of players we're willing to give up." i guess at the time, not having made a major deal yet, i was still a little bit cautious about what i was going to do. but it was fred hutchinson who pressed me into making that deal, him saying: "you know, get with it kid; get it done and don't worry about it." so we did it. [ED: per retrosheet, the deal was completed december 5, 1957: the cardinals gave up three fellows named marty kutyna, ted wieand, and willard schmidt in exchange for flood and joe taylor.]

VEB: that trade gets overshadowed by the lou brock trade, which of course is one of the most famous trades in baseball history. but flood came in and played center field for 10 or 11 years and was the defensive anchor for three championship teams, an all-star player who you acquired for almost nothing. has the importance of that trade been overlooked?

DEVINE: well yeah, i think it has. the brock deal i guess became more important because, number one, it was made with the chicago cubs, with the rivalry between the two teams and the two cities. and so there's always that question of what the cubs think about the cardinals and devine because they stole lou brock. but we didn't steal him. you asked about the flood deal and i told you about hutchinson. the brock deal, we had been interested in him for two or three years because we liked his running speed as much as anything else. and when we found out during the season that we might be able to make a deal, i met with johnny keane, my manager at the time, and i said, "well it looks like we can now make the brock deal." he said "for whom?" and i said, "we gave them a list of several pitchers and told them to pick one off the list. they said they'd make the deal for ernie broglio." johnny keane looked at me and said: "what are we waiting for?" so that's the reason we made the brock deal. i mean we were ready to make it. we liked it. but johnny keane's "what are we waiting for" kind of pushed me into saying, well i'd better do it now.

another reason it became so important was because the team of '64 came from so far behind. they won the pennant and the world series the month after i was fired for the first time by mr. busch. that probably is the reason it gets so much attention, because it was such a major part of that reason we could come from ten games behind in august to win the pennant and the world series. [ED: the complete transaction: broglio, bobby shantz, and doug clemens for brock, jack spring, and paul toth on the trading deadline (june 15), 1964.]

VEB: notwithstanding the fact that gussie busch fired you twice, from a fan's perspective st. louis has had pretty good ownership for the last 50 years -- both the busch family and the owners that are in place now. do you have any thoughts about that?

DEVINE: you're certainly right. you picked out a very important part. the ownership is always so important, and it always been outstanding here and they just carry on a tradition. so when you talk about big market and small market teams and big salaries and lesser salaries and the change of the nature of the game -- the success of the cardinals down through the years has been so much related to their leadership and ownership. it's a very important point.

VEB: this is my last question. i've been watching baseball now for about 35 years, and i'm always learning new things about it. and i would imagine the same is true for you, even though you've been working in the game for 65 years and have seen it all. are there things you have learned about the game recently, particularly watching this cardinal team that has surprised and impressed us so much? are there new things you are learning even to this day?

DEVINE: well there's -- i think i always knew this, but i didn't realize how important it was down through the years until watching successful teams in maybe the last 15 or 20 years -- is how important it is to have a good relationship among the players. and i mean on the road and in the clubhouse, not just in the game itself. i think it's important to have some kind of a feeling of camaraderie, where each player is impressed with the others and all the players recognize the importance of all of them together as opposed to any one of them as individual. that's so important on a team, and i think it's usually what you find when you look back and think about what are the marks of a good team. and that, to me, is something i keep learning more about as time goes on.

VEB: that does seem to be a hallmark with this group of cardinals.

DEVINE: i think it is. i'm sure that's true with other winning teams; i don't think it's just the cardinals. but again, we're talking about something that comes down from the ownership, leadership, the loyalty of the fans, the general manager, the manager -- and when we mention all those things, they don't have anything to do really with what actually goes on on the playing field. not directly. but they can be a very important part of a team's success.