Philadelphia Daily News - December 9, 1980
Phils Brew(er)ing Deal
By Bill Conlin
DALLAS – Out of the garbage scrawled on a notebook which reads like the transcript from a New Year's Eve party in a madhouse, out of the meandering gibberish picked up by a shocked tape recorder, one could discern the following:
• The Phillies victory celebration is still in full swing.
• Paul Owens has never been in sharper winter meetings form.
• The Phillies have a trade in the works which will create a genuine outfield logjam and add new streaks of gray to Dallas Green's hair.
What emerged from a surreal session between Owens and a totally overmatched press corps last night was the developing picture of a possible trade with the Milwaukee Brewers.
As matters stood with more meetings ahead on an evening that was already out of control, the Phillies were ready to send Randy Lerch, Dickie Noles and a utility infielder to the Brewers for Sixto Lezcano, a 27-year-old outfielder of great talent who is coming off a bad year.
LEZCANO WAS brilliant in 1979. In just 138 games, the 175-pound Puerto Rican, a right-handed hitter with a howitzer throwing arm, batted 321 with 28 homers and 101 RBI.
Last season, however, he went into a dramatic, unexplained tailspin. Lezcano, hit 18 homers in just 112 games, but his average plunged to a pathetic .229 and he drove in just 55 runs.
Special assignment scout Hugh Alexander, who bird-dogged the American League and recommends Lezcano, has his theories on Sixto's swoon.
"The kid's in a lineup that does nothing but mash the ball out of the park," Hugh said. "Hell, the shortstop, Robin Yount, was leading the league in total bases two-thirds of the season. You got all them home run hitters, Ben Oglivie, Gorman Thomas, Cecil Cooper. When I scouted him he looked like he was trying to jack everything out of the park. He's not that kind of hitter. When he hits for average like he always has before this season, the homers have come."
The $64 question is why? Why add a rightfielder to a team that already has a rightfielder. Bake McBride, who is coming off his finest season?
"When's the last time one of our bleeping outfielders threw somebody out?" Paul Owens offered. "This guy's arm is right there with the best in our league and you know we got some rightfielders in this league who can throw. I came here looking for another bat and his bat can mean 20-25 homers for me."
LONNIE SMITH should play every day. McBride should play almost every day. Garry Maddox is the Gold Glove tenant in center field.
A Lezcano acquisition would put immediate pressure on the Phillies to trade Greg Luzinski.
'That would be the obvious next step," Dallas Green said. "It would also be tough on Lonnie Smith, cut in on his playing time. It could be tough on Bake, although I feel Bake is an every-day player for us if you look at how he hit against most lefthanders."
So who sits? And how often?
"Maybe Lezcano would be my insurance if the guy in center goes south on me," Green said.
Oh boy. The manager didn't sound like a man out to mend his fences. Which is why he swiftly amended the reference to his 1980 differences of opinion with Maddox.
"I honestly believe," he said, "that Garry came out of the World Series with a much better understanding of where I'm coming from."
DALLAS SAYS THE third player the Phillies would give up is the current roadblock to completion of the deal. The Brewers want shortstop Luis Agnayo, a prospect Green considers his hedge against various things that could go wrong with Larry Bowa, including what many feel is an inevitable showdown between two baseball men who do not see eye-to-eye. "I'd go to war with Luis Aguayo for one season any day," Green says when asked if the loss of Bowa for any reason would be a disaster.
"I don’t want to lose Aguayo and Pope doesn't want to give up Jay Loviglio," Green said. "So we still have to make our mind up about some things. But before we go out and start talking Greg Luzinski to clubs, I have to know we can make the Lezcano deal."
Once Green knows that, he says there is a market for the Bull. "Both Chicago clubs are interested," he said. "The Giants are interested. Baltimore's interested."
In that context, the Phillies would have to get pitching back. Their pitching is deep, but not deep enough to lose both Lerch and Noles without filling one spot on the staff.
But Green has great faith in the farm system which bailed him out last season. And yesterday's draft reinforced the Phillies confidence in the quality of that system.
NO LESS THAN four unprotected minor leaguers – outfielder Jorge Bell, left-handed reliever Carlos Arroyo, outfielder-catcher Orlando Sanchez and sore-armed right-hander Jim Wright – were sucked up on the first round of the $25,000 draft.
The Phillies were trying to hide Bell, but the Toronto Blue Jays did their homework, sending a scout to watch Puerto Rican League morning workouts and ascertaining that Jorge has recovered fully from a back injury. They were hoping that nobody would bother with Wright, formerly the organization's premier pitching prospect.
Wright was drafted by Kansas City, where former Phils minor league instructor Billy Connors is the pitching coach and former Phils farm boss Howie Bedell is the new coordinator of minor league talent.
"I can see where Connors and Bedell had a lot of input into their drafting of Wright," said Jim Baumer, the Phils' new farm director. (Baumer is the former Brewers general manager and is pushing for the Lezcano deal.) "We didn't see Bell as a major leaguer this year, but felt he was close to being a well-rounded player in the next year or two. He's one we didn't want to lose."
None of the four figured remotely in the Phillies' 1981 plans. They wen expendables in what is currently a mighty minor league operation, one bursting at the seams with talent.
"WHAT I DID today was make $I00,000," Owens said. "And maybe some of these kids will get the chance to play we couldn't give them at this time."
Meanwhile, the Phillies are not the only club making a play for Lezcano.
"The Astros will be heard from." Green said. "The Brewers need pitching and after getting Bob Knepper today they've certainly got surplus pitching to deal. It's no secret Ken Forsch can be had. It'll come down to whether they like the pitching we can give them better than what they can get from somebody else."
The dice are rolling. The midnight oil is being burned. Room service is in heavy demand.
Don’t ask for the transcript of last night's press briefing, though. It has been turned over to language expert for further scrutiny.
By Bill Conlin
DALLAS – The general manager who once referred to a movie on the Pearl Harbor attack as "El Toro, El Toro, El Toro," has struck again.
The baseball executive who once referred to the classic Gary Cooper western as "Twelve Noon," is in vintage form.
Paul Owens was riding in from the airport here the other night when he heard a song playing on the radio that he likes.
"Hey, cabbie," The Pope said, "turn that radio up to about 100 disciples."
"Pope," Phillies traveling secretary Eddie Ferenz interrupted gently. "I think the word is 'decibels.'"
A number of Phillies front-office types were having dinner Sunday night at a Mexican restaurant in the Loew's Anatole Hotel, winter meeting headquarters. When the waiter handed menus around, The Pope made a pitch for prompt service.
"Take good care of us," he said. "We're Numero One-0."
And last night, Owens was describing the chemistry necessary to deal successfully at the winter meetings.
"At these," he said, "the way to get things done is input and exput."
The week has just begun. Stay tuned.