Under the radar
An All-Star team of unappreciated baseball people
Posted: Friday March 23, 2007 12:25PM; Updated: Friday March 23, 2007 12:54PM
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Here's my All-Underappreciated All-Stars, the best of baseball's players and decision-makers who aren't among the best known.
I'll start my team with a GM and manager, then pick my starting pitcher, reliever, infielder, outfielder and catcher. This is a list of some greats (or near-greats) of the game who only come up noticeably short in one area: recognition.
Larry Beinfest, Marlins.
Beinfest often wears a cowboy hat yet manages to blend into a crowd. He's from Los Angeles but there isn't an ounce of Hollywood in him.
He's won a World Series, rebuilt a franchise in no time and makes a higher percentage of good trades than almost anyone else. He never sees his name in lights, which may have something to do with his blend-into-the-background personality, and it may also have something to do with running a team without many fans.
"It's part of my makeup to maybe lay a little bit low," says Beinfest.
Well, he's picked the right organization then. He's occasionally cited in South Florida as the second or third most important man in the Marlins organization, behind Miguel Cabrera and maybe Dontrelle Willis. But nationally, it's almost like he doesn't exist.
Beinfest's miracle winter of 2005-06 hasn't gotten near the acclaim it should. Charged with conducting a secret fire sale, he needed to find major-league-ready players while paring his payroll to almost nothing (about $25 million). The result was 14 new players, 11 of them pitchers, many of them stars in the making. In one trade alone, with Boston, he plucked future NL Rookie of The Year shortstop Hanley Ramirez and pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who went 10-2 with a 2.82 ERA and threw a no-hitter.
"I'm happy with the way it worked out ... "[But] it was a function of trading away a lot of really good players," Beinfest says in typically low-key fashion.
The result was a stunning season, during which the $25 million Marlins actually peeked their heads above .500 before settling in at 78-84 after beginning 11-31. Beinfest didn't win national awards and finished second to another under-the-radar type, the Twins' Terry Ryan, when GMs voted for their own Executive of the Year (Beinfest himself voted for Ryan). This winter, he made his Marlins slightly younger and cheaper, and executed one trade, a deal that received little notice and netted Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom from the Mets, one of whom is likely to fill the club's closer role.
Beinfest credits great people working for him, including Jim Fleming, Stan Meek, Dan Jennings and Michael Hill, and some luck; it's like they still can't believe their good fortune to have drafted second baseman Dan Uggla as a Rule V longshot.
While he's found a lot of stars for the Marlins, Beinfest continues to avoid accolades he deserves.
"I don't mind at all. It's not something I seek," he says. "I only have to worry about [team owner] Jeffrey Loria and [president] David Samson deciding whether I'm doing a good job. Personally, I prefer the focus on the field and the organization. The limelight is not something that gets me going."
Well, then, he's in the right place, isn't he?
Runner-up GM: Walt Jocketty, Cardinals.
Grady Little, Dodgers.
Don't let that Southern twang and folksy charm fool you. This guy can manage a game, and he can manage people even better. He won consistently in Boston and tied for first his first year in Los Angeles, two teams with history and places with pressure.
It helps that the players actually seem to like him. Little's trick? "Players know they're playing for someone whose priority is them, and not himself, every day," Little says. "The players have enough pressure on themselves. None of that pressure comes from me."
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