It isn't on the agenda for the baseball meetings in Honolulu in early December but the owners could do a lot worse than schedule a seminar on pikcing managers, with Dodge chairman of the board Walter F. O'Malley the chief speaker. O'Malley's pick a year ago, Tom Lasorda, finished on top in his freshman year, but that's only the one-eighth of the iceberg that is usually visible to the naked eye.
O'Malley goes deep, deep as a selector of his field boss. He had three shots at it since he wrested control of the Dodgers from Branch Rickey in 1950. All three picks paid off with pennant winners. And only once did he go outside his organization for help. Moreover, the 23 one-year contracts under which Walt Alston operated and won proved a record that probably never will be equalled.
O'Malley is pushing 75 and no one has tested his knowledge on the infield fly rule, but there is none more deft in the game in (a), politicking and (b) getting the most out of his payroll. Insiders feel that had O'Malley not been bothered by ill health the past year or two, both his and within his family, the course of baseball might well have been changed.
When the players moved in on the cash register via the ruling on the reserve clause there was no "O'Malley hand to soothe and rally. The agents and their lawyes went through the owners like cheese. The best O'Malley could muster was a rumbling. "We have met the enemy and they are us," as he watched the millions usually ticketed for player development go into the pockets of the stars-turned-free-agents.
The Dodgers didn't get into the bidding but they did give Steve Garvey $1 million plus on a six-year contract. Fro openers. There were other boosts on a club that at one time a $1,500 and a handshake was considered ample. Not that the Dodgers players didn't come through for the club. O'Malley's concern is where the talent, his and other clubs', will be coming from five years hence.
More immediate is his success as a picker of managerial talent. After the 1950 season Burt Shotton had to go because he was a Rickey man.
O'Malley went outside for the first and last time, picking Charley Dressen, who had been managing the Oakland Oaks. Dressen came through with a tie for first place in the 1951 National League race, resolved in the ninth inning of that third playoff game by Bobby Thomspon's homer off Ralph Branca.
There was talk that this might be the end of Jolly Cholly, who passed off the blame for using Branca in relief on his bullpen coach, but the next year Dressen was still there and he won the pennant, but lost the Series to the Yankees. The following year it was ditto, and what more could you ask for a manager? Nothing except that he be satisfied with a one-year contract.
Dressen had bridled at the one-year job, asking for three. He pointed out that Leo Durocher at the New York Giants, finishing 35 games behind the Dodgers, had a multi-year contract. All ancient history now. Dressen stuck fast to his guns and he found himself shot out the door.
In came Walt Alston, fresh from a minor league managing career at Montreal, a winner but an unknown. He could'nt beat the Giants that first year, finishing second, but he didn't do too badly for the next 22 one-year contracts and the Dodgers became the biggest gate attraction in baseball.
Pick No. 3, Lasorda, also came up from the minors via Montreal, not as a manager, but as a pitcher first, then a scout, then a minor league manager for the organization, then a coach for Alston. At 50, he has served the Dodgers in some capacity or other for half his life. He says that his blood runs Dodger blue. He might be correct, even if the concept is biological incorrect.
Alston had had one at bat in the big leagues as a player and had struck out. Lasorda went him one better.He was a pitcher who wasn't bad in the minors but was 0-4 lifetime in the majors.
Lasorda did his last pitching back at Montreal, then started his nonplaying career. He seemed to be around every time O'Malley looked, a helluva trick because his record shows that he managed in Ogden, Albuquerque, and Spkoane. When they all got down to Vero Beach, Lasorda made sure the big fellows knew he was around. Later, as a third base coach he practically ran the last lap with every home run hitter, with a wink at the red eye of the TV camera.
Lasorda got lucky when the Cincinnati Reds, a truly awesome machine that had beaten the previous two Dodger clubs by 20 and 10 games, collapsed in April and May. Suddenly he had a 10 game lead. He gathered his young people, more than half of whom he had in the minors when they cheated on the five dollars a day meal money by eating peanut-butter crackers for lunch, and advised them that they could wreck the big machine.
Of course, the free-agent scramble and the doubling and tripling of the salaries of the stars still around already had wrecked it beyond reclaim. At the end Sparky Anderson was benching his MVP of two years, Joe Morgan, alone with his $250,000 salary, for a right-handed hitter.
No one on the Dodgers is paid that much. Some of the players particularly the pitchers, do well, though. Lasorda is well aware, as was Alston before him, and Charley Dressen before him, that there are players taking direction from him who are paid perhaps twice as much as he.
It doesn't bother Lasorda - as it did not bother his predecessor - knowing Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and before that Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella and Pee Wee Reese - were making more than the manager.
Maybe that's the secret of O'Malley's success in picking his manager - or one of the secrets. You pick a manager to whom the job means more than money.
This is both easier and more difficult than it seems. There are plenty of people around who would manage to Dodgers for practically nothing. The trick is to get someone who'll do it under these salary conditions and reduce the Big Red Machine to Little Red Wagon status, and there aren't many of those.
Now, if the seminar will come to order Prof. O'Malley will continue.