Mark Wohlers, Braves. After saving 97 games in the last three seasons combined, he has only eight saves and a 5.63 ERA in '98. He had lost so much control over his pitches in June that he asked to be sent to the minors, where he is rebuilding his delivery and consulting a psychologist. On July 1 he yielded five hits, including two homers, walked three and gave up six runs in two thirds of an inning against the Charlotte Knights. (Dishonorable mention must go to the entire Mariners bullpen, which has blown 15 of 27 save opportunities.)
Plight of The G.M.'s
When Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley offered Fred Claire the general manager's job in April 1987, Claire accepted on one condition. Says Claire, "I said, 'Peter, I've got to have complete responsibility, because if they run me out of town, I want to be sure they run me out for the right reasons.' " O'Malley agreed and, says Claire, never once second-guessed him in the next 11 years in which O'Malley owned the team.
So imagine Claire's dismay in May when the Dodgers' new Fox ownership negotiated the Mike Piazza trade and didn't bother to tell Claire until the deal was done. When team president Bob Graziano phoned Claire to tell him of the trade, the stunned general manager told Graziano he planned to resign. Claire reconsidered but was fired a month later, ending the longest reign of any active major league G.M.
Claire's story is symbolic of the diminished stature of the general manager. In recent seasons, then Yankees G.M. Bob Watson watched team owner George Steinbrenner execute personnel decisions, and Baltimore G.M. Pat Gillick found some of his deals blocked by owner Peter Angelos. "You used to have G.M.'s who were with a team forever, like Jim Campbell [with Detroit], Harry Dalton [with Milwaukee] and Frank Cashen [with Baltimore and later the Mets]," says Florida general manager Dave Dombrowski. "But as time goes on, baseball continues to become a business-entertainment industry, and the G.M.'s job becomes more demanding. You have to deal much more with budgets, long-term contracts, more ownership involvement. Back in the '70s you were just the baseball guy."
"We're all accountable, and the price of winning has risen," says Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan. "Twenty-five years ago, if you came in last place, the owner might say, 'O.K., we'll regroup.' But those days are gone."
Given the experiences of Claire, Gillick and Watson, SI asked baseball's general managers the following question: "Would you rather be the G.M. of a team with unlimited resources and meddling ownership, or the G.M. of a team that guarantees you control over all baseball decisions but has limited resources and the prospect of competing for a championship only every four or five years?"
It is a sign of the backlash against intrusive owners that of the 24 G.M.'s who responded, 14 voted for control of all baseball decisions, while only eight voted for unlimited resources. (Two abstained.)
Says one large-market National League general manager who voted for control, "If ownership has an unlimited budget and says, 'We want to win,' you can put together the best club on paper and it doesn't guarantee you're going to win. You don't want to have somebody looking over your shoulder every second, because not everything that a general manager does is going to turn out perfect."
But at least one American League G.M. who is hamstrung by a small budget feels differently. "I'd like to believe if I had the resources, I could build a winner," he says. "I'd rather go to the park every day knowing I had a chance to win. If I could do that, I'd roll the dice with the owners."