The funniest thing about getting into the limelight, even in the little puddle of limelight that I find myself in at Los Angeles, is reading the myths about yourself. You can read how you pulled this maneuver and that maneuver and by your astute moves you enabled the ball club to win the pennant. You can read how you have some kind of sixth sense that enables you to recognize the spark of greatness in some unrecognized ballplayer and how you bring him up or trade for him at exactly the right time and he wins the pennant for you, and boy! are you a genius!
Well, let me put it simply: there are times when a general manager may earn his pay by making some brilliant solo move, but for every brilliant move you make by yourself you are the beneficiary of a dozen brilliant accidents and another dozen brilliant moves by others, like your scouts, and you wind up getting the credit yourself. There are also times when you could have made a brilliant move and you didn't, but nobody hears about the deals you didn't make, so they don't count against you in the summing up. Running a ball club is 10% skill, 40% having the right men working for you and 50% dumb luck.
The role of the general manager has changed a lot. You have to grow your players yourself, down on the farm, like rutabagas. Trading for them is a vastly overrated technique. The Dodgers don't like to trade, and if we didn't make another trade in the next 10 years it would be too soon. That may sound strange from the man who traded for Ron Perranoski and Phil Regan and Claude Osteen and Wally Moon and Andy Pafko and a dozen or so other star players, but the simple truth is we hate trading. We make trades rarely and under special circumstances, such as when we think the deal will bring us a pennant. We never make a trade just to exchange uniforms. Deals like that are going on all the time, and they're nothing more than an attempt to fool the public. Frank Lane used to specialize in uniform-exchange deals, and when I say that Frank was a great trader I don't mean that he was a good one. The thing that most people forget is that when you trade players of exactly equal ability everybody loses. Why? Because each team has lost a friend and acquired a stranger. And every trade chips away at that security that your ballplayers want, that security that makes them give you better performance. A ball club that keeps trading away a man in a blue uniform for a man in a red uniform is a jumpy ball club. You turn everybody into a Sue Perranoski. Whenever I call Ron's house and his wife answers the phone, she says, "Oh, my God, Buzzie, where are we going?"
The big trick in trading is to unload a ballplayer a year too soon rather than a year too late, and if you can give me a foolproof way how to tell when it's a year too soon and not a year too late I'll send you a lifetime pass to my private box at Dodger Stadium. Looking back on it, I would say that one good rule is to try to trade for ballplayers coming off bad years. An ideal situation is to reach down into the minor leagues for a former major-leaguer who is having the miseries. Remember, this fellow used to eat steak and stay at the best hotels and fly in jets. Now he's eating hamburger and staying in flytraps. There's no telling what he might do to get back to the big time. The perfect example is Phil Regan. He pitches in the majors six seasons, and then he wakes up one morning and he's in Syracuse. So we bring him back up, and all he does is win 14 and lose one. In his last year with Detroit he was 1-5!
But the Phil Regan deal also demonstrates the part that dumb luck plays in trading. How did I wind up with Phil Regan? Did I study the form, analyze his potential, send scouts on secret trips to watch him and then bring off the masterful stroke? No, all I did was accidentally show up in the right place at the right time. And it happened in about two minutes. I was walking through the lobby of a hotel in Fort Lauderdale and there sits my old friend Charlie Dressen, managing Detroit at the time. As I walk up to him, Charlie says, "Buzzie, I need an infielder."
I said, "Well, Charlie, that's very interesting, but what does that have to do with my young life?"
He said, "You've got two extra ones. Peewee Oliver and Dick Tracewski."
I said, "Which one do you want?"
He said, "How about Dick?"
I said, "Fine."