WHAT I AM READING: THE BIG CHAIR
I have known Ned Colletti since he was a sportswriter covering hockey in Philadelphia, 40 years ago. He has been a media relations director (Cubs), assistant GM (Cubs and Giants), a GM (Dodgers), a college instructor (Pepperdine), TV baseball analyst (SportsNet LA), and now, in perhaps the most startling career change, a scout for the San Jose Sharks of the NHL.
Oh, and he is an author, collaborating with long-time journalist Joseph Reaves on “The Big Chair: The Smooth Hops and Bad Bounces from the Inside World of the Acclaimed Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager.”
Ned became GM of the Dodgers on Nov. 16, 2005. His run as GM, which included serving under the notorious Frank McCourt, ended with the hiring of Andrew Friedman after the 2014 season. On his watch, the Dodgers went to the postseason five times, losing the NLCS three times. The Dodgers have gone to the postseason all five seasons since Friedman became GM, going to the World Series twice, but still have yet to win a Series for the first time since 1988, the year of Kirk Gibson’s epic pinch-hit home run off the Eck.
Colletti was involved in two, headline-generating trades with the Red Sox. At the trading deadline in 2008, he acquired Manny Ramirez in a three-team swap in which the Sox landed Jason Bay from Pittsburgh. And in 2012, one of the biggest trades in baseball history (and an unmatched salary dump by the Sox, who shed $250 million in salary while giving the Dodgers $12 million), he acquired four-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez, four-time All-Star Carl Crawford, three-time All-Star Josh Beckett, and versatile infielder Nick Punto.
In this excerpt from The Big Chair, the trade has been agreed upon, but it’s not yet official. The players involved still have to undergo physicals. Ned describes what happened, up to and including the moment the players arrive in L.A.
Physicals are always important, but sometimes time prohibits a thorough look. Many trades are completed with one trainer speaking to another after reviewing medical information — without ever laying eyes on a player or doing an X-ray or MRI. One trainer needs to trust and know the other trainer — know who has no problem lying and who is thorough and honorable.
Baseball may be the national pastime, may be a family game, and may be as American as apple pie. But baseball is also a billion-dollar business of ruthless individuals. You need to learn who you can trust and who you can’t. By the time we even came close to wrapping up the physicals, it was too late to make any formal announcement even though the news was all over the media. The Red Sox players cleared waivers. But on our end, Sands and De La Rosa hadn’t, so they would need to be players to be named later. And we still had one potential speed bump ahead: As a player with ten years’ major-league experience, five with the Sox, Beckett had a built-in no-trade clause. And while Crawford didn’t have the same five/ten protection, he did have a limited no-trade clause in his contract and the Dodgers were on a list of teams he could reject. Adrian had a limited no-trade clause in his contract as well, but the Dodgers weren’t one of the teams on his list.
First thing Saturday morning, Boston time, Ben Cherington called Beckett and Crawford to get them to agree to the trade. He needed their approval in writing. And he was getting it. Finally, we were ready to announce the deal.
Needless to say, we were incredibly excited. The Guggenheim guys were so fired up, they ordered “the Hardware” to Boston right away. “The Hardware” was what they called the private corporate jet. They sent it to Logan International Airport — the airport the McCourt family helped build — to pick up Adrian, Nick and Josh.
We still were waiting to make a formal announcement when I jumped the gun. I gave the go-ahead for the plane to take off for Los Angeles. We had a home game at six o’clock that night, Pacific time, and I wanted the new guys in the lineup if at all possible.
The Hardware had barely cleared Logan’s airspace when my cellphone rang. It was Joe Torre, newly named executive vice president of operations for Major League Baseball. “Are you flying these guys to L.A.?”
I said we were.
“Do you know Commissioner Selig is still debating whether or not to approve the deal and the cash?’’ Torre asked.
“Well, obviously, I didn’t know that, Joe.” I knew it wasn’t official, but I must have felt the commissioner’s office was good with the deal after my conversation with Halem. “I admit, I made a mistake, Joe.”
“All right,” Torre said. “Let me talk to the commissioner and I hope that, you know, nothing comes out of this fine-wise or a rejection.”
I offered to turn the plane around if the commissioner wanted.
“Gimme a little while,” Torre said.
A few minutes later he called back. “Okay, the commissioner’s approved it, but I gotta tell ya, he’s not too happy with you guys jumping on the gun on getting the players there.’’
A few hours later, Dodger Stadium was electric. Clayton Kershaw was on the mound. He gave up three hits and struck out eight in eight innings. But the real magic came in the bottom of the first inning when Adrian Gonzalez, in his first at-bat as a Dodger, hit a three-run home run off Josh Johnson. Pandemonium! Welcome to Hollywood, A-Gone!
One interesting sidelight of the trade was how the media reported it. Every reference I ever saw said the Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto. It was understandable given the All-Star caliber of the other three players, but I felt bad for Nick Punto. It was always…and Nick Punto. When we met, I told him I thought Nick was his middle name. I figured his name was “And.”