- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
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When CC Sabathia walked into Milwaukee's clubhouse on July 7, the first words anyone said to him came in the form of an offer—a proposal that measured an extra-baggy 60 inches at the thigh, 39 inches at the waist and 36 inches at the inseam. "Hey, if you need a pair of pants, you can wear mine," Prince Fielder said to his new teammate and fellow big man. Sabathia cracked up. He hasn't felt out of place since.
"The easiest, most unbelievable transition,"he says now, more than a month after his arrival from Cleveland. And why not? Brewtown is dreaming of its first postseason since 1982, while Sabathia is winning just about every time he pitches. His earnestness and effort are recognized and appreciated by his teammates, and nobody is pretending that Sabathia's time with the Brewers is anything more than it appears to be. He's a temp, a hired gun, and like a mysterious stranger in an old Western, he is destined to move on. The 6'7" lefty will be eligible for free agency this fall, and he'll probably land nine-figure riches in Southern California or the Bronx.
Short-timers often shift the balance of power in baseball. David Cone did it twice, helping the Blue Jays win it all in 1992 and the Yankees begin their 13-season playoff run in 1995. Randy Johnson did it in 1998, when he almost single-handedly pitched the Astros into the division series. But the role requires the ability to handle great pressure and unusual circumstances. Cone once explained that in every game, the hired gun feels as if he has to prove himself to people he doesn't really know: He usually doesn't have lasting ties to his new club, he is disposable to the fans and he gets no time for adjustment. Denny Neagle joined the Yankees in 2000 and had immediate success, but within weeks he disintegrated under win-now duress; his last act was to stomp off the mound after angrily handing the ball to Joe Torre during Game 4 of the World Series.
The hired gun must first not disrupt the clubhouse culture of a contender, one reason Barry Bonds was not regarded as a viable option by many teams this summer. But as the Brewers did their background check on Sabathia, they came to view the big man as the perfect short-term solution for a franchise desperate to taste the postseason. Just getting into the playoffs would be a victory for the Brewers this year, and as owner Mark Attanasio had hoped, Sabathia is being embraced. Fans are snatching up jerseys and T-shirts and buying enough tickets to fill Lake Michigan.
Sabathia is just 28 years old, but he has already won 111 games. He's had a 19-win season, earned a Cy Young Award and pitched in October. After getting lit up for two losses to the Red Sox in the ALCS last fall, he's aiming to prove himself all over again. He thought he'd be doing it for Cleveland, but injuries wrecked the Indians early this year, and by mid-June Sabathia knew he was going to be traded. He and his wife, Amber, talked through the possible scenarios, which were complicated by the upcoming arrival of the couple's third child. As speculation grew that the Brewers might be best positioned to make a deal, Milwaukee reliever David Riske, a former Indian and Sabathia's best friend in baseball, started peppering the pitcher with text messages. At one point, Riske cornered Brewers GM Doug Melvin to explain why he thought Sabathia would be a good fit. Riske didn't know that Melvin had already begun imagining how Sabathia might adapt to the stress of changing cities. On July 5, Riske phoned Sabathia to ask, "Where are you? Are you on your way here?"
"I just came out of the movies with the kids," Sabathia said. "Kung Fu Panda."
Sabathia was on the Indians' team charter from Minnesota to Detroit the next day when manager Eric Wedge walked to the back of the plane and told him the trade had gone through. As Sabathia looked around at his former teammates, he could see they were shocked. He wasn't. He felt ready.
The following afternoon, he and Amber flew to Milwaukee. As he stared out the window, he watched Cleveland disappear beneath the plane. This was the place he'd shared the final months of his father's life, the birth of his children, the first years of his major league career. What he felt wasn't sadness, but a full recognition of the crossroads he'd reached. The Sabathias decided to rent a house in Milwaukee, and after a couple of days, CC's mom, Margie, flew in from Cleveland with the kids.
About 15,000 extra fans walked up to buy tickets for Sabathia's first start, a 7-3 win over the Rockies, and the energy he felt that day was something he'd never experienced. He nearly wore himself out fighting his own adrenaline over six innings. Afterward, in the trainer's room, an amazed Riske asked, "Could you believe what you saw out there?"
Sabathia won his first four starts for the Brewers, including three straight complete games. ("Sabathia against the National League is a total mismatch," says an advance scout for another team.) On July 28, he threw a season-high 124 pitches against the Cubs. The workload he has assumed for his temporary employers is daunting, if not alarming, but Sabathia says he's not thinking about that; he's accustomed to being the heavy lifter on a staff. "I'm not worried," he says. "I've always been about winning. I didn't think I was throwing that many pitches against the Cubs. It felt like I was doing what I normally do."
Amber is due to give birth in October. If the Brewers are in the playoffs, Sabathia will hope that blessed event wedges neatly between his starts. If Milwaukee is eliminated, then the Sabathias will be together in Cleveland, where they have, for now, maintained their home. They'll stay there long enough to pack a few boxes and put the house on the market and give the newest member of the family time to start life on earth.
Then they will all move on.
MARK TEIXEIRA: NOTHING PERSONAL
During his transition from Atlanta to the free agent showcase of a lifetime in Anaheim, Mark Teixeira made a stopover at Scott Boras' Newport Beach, Calif., home. With Manny Ramírez arriving in Los Angeles the same week, the joke in baseball circles was that Boras' guesthouse could become the Lincoln Bedroom of impending free agents.
Ramírez is perhaps the most talented hitter of his generation, but the 36-year-old, defensively impaired leftfielder could pose some challenges for Boras this off-season. Teixeira, on the other hand, is primed to show he's ready for his payday. The 28-year-old first baseman has two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards, and he once appeared in 507 straight games for Texas. The Angels acquired Teixeira for Casey Kotchman and a minor league pitcher in the hope that he's the missing ingredient for another World Series title.
Even if he is, Teixeira may just be stopping by on his way to the bank. Of his tenure as a Brave, he says, "I loved Atlanta, but it was time to move on." Of his future in Anaheim, he says, "We can talk contracts after the season." In some respects, Teixeira conjures images of Alex Rodriguez before Madonna. He's unfailingly polite and quick to say the right things, to the extent that some ex-teammates regard him as a little too programmed. During a radio interview in July, Texas closer C.J. Wilson referred to former Rangers who were "just interested in bank accounts."
The Boras camp, naturally, insists that Teixeira is equally concerned with playing for a winning club in a city where his family (he's married with two kids) feels comfortable. Teixeira turned down an eight-year, $140 million contract from the Rangers last July and spurned an undisclosed offer from Atlanta in spring training. "If money were Mark's sole motivation, he would have never left Texas," Boras says.
So where will Teixeira land? The Angels seem like a natural fit, given owner Arte Moreno's willingness to spend money and his ruminations about starting a regional sports network. Both New York clubs are opening new parks next April and might have holes at first base. And speculation has made the rounds for a few years that Teixeira, who grew up in Severna Park, Md., is on Peter Angelos' radar in Baltimore.
Could the whirlwind tour wind up with Teixeira in his own backyard? Hey, anything is possible. But rest assured that it won't be for a hometown discount.
KEN GRIFFEY JR.: IN SEARCH OF A RING
You want to love Ken Griffey Jr., because in 20 mostly stellar big league seasons, he's never gotten close to a ring. You want to love him because he plays the game hard and always has, and because he's never publicly demanded a trade or been arrested for shooting up a strip club. You want to love Griffey because he took less money to play for his hometown Reds. You want to love him because he never became a muscle-bound freak, because that old nickname, The Natural, still seems to fit.
You want to feel sorry for Griffey, too. You wonder how legs that look so powerful could have betrayed him. But Junior has never asked for sympathy. A sensitive and thoughtful man, he has always seemed a little bewildered by all the attention he gets. At the press conference in Kansas City before his White Sox debut, he delivers answers in a low monotone. His new teammates, though, are excited. They describe him as a "hero" and an "idol." They say they watched him play when they were kids, which is the nicest possible way of calling someone old.
This type of late-career move didn't work out for Larry Walker. Or Karl Malone. Or Junior Seau. Like them, Griffey is the archetypal aging superstar eyeing that last shot at a title. But as he stretches in the August heat, The Kid doesn't look 38. He appears jaunty in his road grays, new No. 17 on his back.
With two outs in the second and Jim Thome on first, Griffey steps to the plate. You see that distinctive stance: the bat head held so high that it's almost behind him. He fouls off a fastball on the first pitch. It's a good cut; his swing is still graceful. After a ball, he takes strike two. Then Luke Hochevar throws wild, sending Thome to second. Griffey runs the count full, then smacks a scorching line drive into centerfield, scoring Thome. The KC crowd cheers. Hochevar, asked later about the hit, says Griffey "was one of my heroes growing up."
After a walk in the eighth, Junior is pulled for a pinch-runner. You think about the hamstrings, the knee, the dislocated shoulder, the wrist he shattered against the Kingdome wall. The next day, an afternoon game, Griffey leaves in the sixth with leg cramps. The day after that, another scorcher, he's the DH. Ozzie Guillén explains that he wants to "keep Griffey healthy for the whole season." Like it'll be easy. Like nobody's ever thought of it before.
PUDGE RODRIGUEZ: FEELING AT HOME
On a quiet Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, a pudgy career backup approaches the man called Pudge, who's not so pudgy anymore. "This guy likes to throw the hard slider against lefties," José Molina tells Iván Rodríguez in Spanish, referring to one of the Yankees starters. To demonstrate, Molina squats and moves his mitt to the left, as if catching a pitch. Rodríguez nods.
"He doesn't like to throw the same pitch in the same situation two times in a row," Molina adds. Again Rodríguez nods. Finally, Molina asks Pudge to squat, then stands to the side as if he were a lefthanded batter. Ticking off the names on the pitching staff, Molina tells him where each guy likes his target.
Although he's won 13 Gold Gloves behind the plate, Rodríguez—acquired by the Yankees from Detroit shortly after starting catcher Jorge Posada was lost for the season—needed some tutoring when he put on the pinstripes. After all, a catcher switching teams midseason is a bit like a student switching schools in the middle of a semester. "You need to learn new pitchers, talk to them and feel comfortable with them," says the 36-year-old Rodríguez. "It's a process."
That's why he turned to Molina, his fellow Puerto Rican and friend. José and his brothers, Bengie and Yadier, are the first family of catching. "I've spoken to Iván so many times," José says. "He's even played alongside my father [Benjamin, career hits leader in Puerto Rico's top amateur league]. I don't have a problem with him coming in and taking over. I was brought here to be a backup, and that's what I'll be doing."
On his way to the field after his conversation with Molina, Rodríguez encounters Charlie Zabransky, the Yankees' retired clubhouse security guard, sitting near the tunnel that leads to the dugout. "You should have been a Yankee a long time ago," the old man calls out.
"Well, I'm here now," Rodríguez responds.
Luckily for Pudge, so is Molina.
-JORGE ARANGURÉ JR.
By Molly Knight
Getting traded looks easy on television: A player wears one uniform one night and a different uni the next. But check out all the maneuvering required when the Dodgers acquired Manny Ramírez at the deadline.
The deal goes through at the last minute, literally. The paperwork is filed at 3:59 p.m. ET, as team owner Frank McCourt and manager Joe Torre are beginning a press conference at Dodger Stadium to announce that the team will host the finals of the World Baseball Classic. Soon, writers get text messages and phone calls and start sneaking away. Most of the Dodgers will find out about the trade the same way the rest of the world does: on the Internet or TV. (Says catcher Russell Martin: "My buddy called me and said we got Manny. I said, 'Bull.' ") At the end of the press conference, McCourt announces the blockbuster.
Now it's game on. The Dodgers buy full-page welcome ads in La Opinión and Hoy, two local Spanish-language papers, to run in Sunday editions. Team officials then scramble to figure out which number Ramírez will wear so they can place a rush order of jerseys and T-shirts for his debut the following night. A Dodgers VP huddles with Manny's agent, Scott Boras, who has season tickets behind the dugout and is in the ballpark. Manny wore No. 24 in Boston, but in LA, that's Walter Alston's retired number. Also retired are No. 2 (Tommy Lasorda), No. 4 (Duke Snider) and, of course, No. 42 (Jackie Robinson).
Ramírez, through Boras, requests No. 28, because it's the closest he can get to 24. Then, Manny being Manny, he asks for No. 66 instead. McCourt and GM Ned Colletti sign off, and the jerseys go into production. But Manny changes his mind again. Now he wants No. 11, in honor of coach Manny Mota, who's been in the organization nearly 40 years. While waiting for Mota's okay, Ramírez changes his mind once more. He requests No. 34, presumably as an homage to Red Sox buddy David Ortiz. Trouble is, that was Fernando Valenzuela's number, and it's unofficially retired. Someone suggests No. 99; no one is quite sure who came up with it. Could have been Boras. Could have been Manny. Could have been Manny's personal barber, Angel. So a little past 10 p.m. ET, the Dodgers put in a new order. They cross their fingers that the jerseys will arrive on time.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox overnight everything in Ramírez's locker to LA. His bats, gloves, batting gloves and clothes arrive Friday morning, Aug. 1, before Manny does. Dodgers clubhouse manager Mitch Poole gets Manny's cap, shirt, shoe and pants sizes from the Sox, then sews the name and number on Ramírez's No. 99 jersey and preps his locker.
The PR staff is planning a pregame press conference, which is a bit of a logistical nightmare considering that Dodger Stadium, the fourth-oldest ballpark in baseball, doesn't have a pressroom. The Dodgers decide to hold the conference on the field; 200 media members are expected.
Traveling secretary Scott Akasaki gets Ramírez to LA just before 2 p.m. on Friday. He heads straight to the ballpark in a car with Boras, three associates and Angel the barber. Boras tells Manny he could get bunk beds in his guesthouse for him and fellow client Mark Teixeira, the new Angel. Manny says he'll stay in a hotel. The Dodgers PR staff meets Manny in the players parking lot and escorts him to see McCourt, who takes him on a little tour. Manny then meets Torre, who asks him to trim his dreads. Manny says he will.
The press conference is scheduled for 4 p.m., and Ramírez arrives at 4:01. "It's a dream come true," he says of being a Dodger. In the first 30 hours after the trade, the team sells 30,000 tickets and 300 packages for the remainder of the year. Dodgers fans will purchase more than $125,000 worth of No. 99 T-shirts and jerseys in the first four days of Mannymania. Soon they'll find brown and Dodger-blue dreadlocks for sale in the team stores.
After filming a spoof for Jimmy Kimmel, Ramírez takes his head shot for the scoreboard and records a few in-game promos. The team puts together a montage of his milestone home runs, set to Kanye West's "The Good Life" (the Dodgers' choice, not Manny's), which will play before his first at-bat. Manny then goes to the clubhouse to get dressed for the game, but there's a problem: His shoes are too tight. He gives them to Poole for stretching. That guy can do anything; he even finds a royal-blue Dodgers skullcap for Manny. It's the first one anybody has seen.
When Manny spots jersey No. 99 hanging in his locker, he asks what happened to No. 28. No one is sure if he's kidding.
[Ed.'s Note: Originally included in the Hired Gun feature was a piece about Adam Dunn called "Immovable Object." He was "moved" to Arizona the day after The Mag went to print. We thought we'd update you on the situation, courtesy of our always-attentive MLB department.]
By Matt Meyers
As we all learned on Monday afternoon 28-year-old slugger Adam Dunn was dealt to the Diamondbacks for right handed pitching prospect Dallas Buck and two players to be named later. Turns out Dunn—who's perceived inability to make it off the trading block was the focus of our original piece—wasn't so immovable after all.
So, with a league-leading 32 homers and a .528 slugging percentage, Dunn immediately becomes the D-backs leader in both categories, and he also represents a strong response to the Dodgers' acquisition of Manny Ramirez. These are all major plusses for Arizona, but like Ramirez, Dunn also brings along certain baggage.
He strikes out a lot. He's a poor defender. He doesn't like the game. Opinions are abound. Or, as one NL manager put it, "he's Dave Kingman."
Yes, like Kingman, Dunn hits a lot of homers and strikes out frequently, but there is one major difference in their hitting styles. Dunn is about to post his fifth straight season with more than 100 walks. Kingman, however, never took more than 62 free passes in a season. His career OBP was .302. Dunn's is .380.
Still, the perception continues. The problem for Dunn is that even though he is one of the most patient hitters baseball, many don't see this as a virtue. As evidence, critics point to his remarkable run from July 22, 2003 to June 29, 2005 in which he went 1,085 plate appearances without a sacrifice fly. Dunn is stubborn in his approach, and he seemingly refuses to alter it to suit the situation. And this, more than the strikeouts, is the reasoning of many of his critics.
Not that there won't be a whole lot more K's in the desert, because along with Chris Young and Mark Reynolds, Dunn gives the D-backs three of the NL's top five in that category. And if Justin Upton hadn't gotten hurt, he might number four. At least fans can take solace in the fact that there are going to be a few more walks, and hopefully a lot more long balls.
For a timeline on some of the best (and worst) hired guns in baseball history click here.
7hPhil Steele and Will Harris
9hMel Kiper Jr. and Mike Sando
9hMark Schlabach and Sharon Katz