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Who's on First, Joe?
Tim Kurkjian
March 06, 1995
The Cardinals' Joe Torre, like other managers, finds replacement players to be excess baggage
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March 06, 1995

Who's On First, Joe?

The Cardinals' Joe Torre, like other managers, finds replacement players to be excess baggage

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One hundred and eleven players dressed in St. Louis Cardinal red jerseys piled out of the Busch Complex clubhouse in St. Petersburg, Fla., one day last week for the Cards' first full-squad workout of spring training. Forming what looked like an enormous blood clot, they gathered in rightfield and began to jog along the warning track. "They're going over the Verrazano Bridge," St. Louis manager Joe Torre announced, pointing to the bloated assemblage of minor leaguers and replacement players. "The New York Marathon has begun."

Torre folded his numerical roster—an unnecessary reference most springs but imperative this year—smiled and yelled at the mob, "Hey, Bill, run faster!" Torre recognized barely more than a handful of the players, but he figured two or three of them had to be named Bill. And if a guy turned his head in response, Torre could at least match a name with a face, which was important because duplicate numbers had been issued to several players.

In 13 previous years as a manager, with the New York Mets, the Atlanta Braves and the Cardinals, Torre had never had more than 58 players in spring training, but this year it will take two sizable cut-downs just to get to that number. Also, instead of having to fill two or three roster spots as he usually does each spring. Torre will have to piece together an entire 32-man replacement team if the major league players' strike continues into the regular season.

Like several other teams, St. Louis has signed everyone in camp to a minor league contract, will not determine its Opening Day replacement roster until the last moment and has essentially turned over the running of the camp to its minor league staff until exhibition games begin this week. Until then Torre will wander the back diamonds of Busch Complex, idly watching these strangers in Cardinal uniforms and waiting to assess their skills in game situations.

"There's very little for me to do," Torre said. "There's not a lot to talk about or to observe. Any other spring I might come to the ballpark early and formulate what I want to tell my shortstop and my second baseman that day, but this year I don't know who they are. All these names are blank faces. It's a helpless feeling. There's more work to do this spring, but there's less to do at this point. My job won't start until the games begin."

In 35 years as a major league player, broadcaster and manager, Torre, 54, has never encountered anything like what is happening this spring—nothing even close. "Every manager dreaded coming to spring training." he said of the owners' decision to open camps, and possibly start the season, without major leaguers. "The unknown, the complexity of everything...it was so muddled. I noticed the difference the first day I walked into that clubhouse: How quiet it was. These guys didn't know what was going on, either."

It's a dilemma shared by all 28 major league managers, the men stuck in the middle of baseball's labor strife. They are part of management, yet 23 of them were big league players and the rest were minor leaguers. They all pay union dues, receive a cut of licensing fees and will eventually draw a pension from the Major League Baseball Players Association. And while the managers must answer to their bosses, the most important part of their job is to build a relationship with their players to get the most out of the team.

Detroit Tiger manager Sparky Anderson found the idea of working with replacement players so repellent that he left the team on the first day of workouts, saying he would not "bargain my integrity." He says he won't return until the strike ends, although the truth is that his walkout, which shocked the Detroit front office, might cost him his job. Thus, in Tom Runnells, who guided the Tigers' Double A team in Trenton, N.J., last year, Detroit has a replacement manager.

"I've always wondered if something really important came up, could I stand up?" Anderson said from his daughter's home in Sacramento last week. "I didn't know. I'd never had to. This time, I had to. I've managed 25 years. Don't I owe baseball something? It has given me everything. I had to defend it. What [baseball owners] are doing with replacement players is absolutely ridiculous."

Anderson seems certain he'll be back to manage in Detroit for a 17th season. "I can't wait to manage the real Tigers," he says. "I will manage again, for a few more years, I'm sure, and I'll be better than ever because I know I stood up. I can walk in a room now and face any owner or any player. An owner might be mad at me, but he knows I'm for real."

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