SAN FRANCISCO — Al Rosen forever erased his reputation as a timid trader with three summertime deals that provided crucial pitching help for the San Francisco Giants.
Now the 63-year-old president and general manager is being hailed as the man most responsible for bringing the team its first title since the Mays-McCovey-Marichal era.
"To me he's our MVP," says Giants Manager Roger Craig, sharing the sentiments expressed by several players. "It's unbelievable, the trades he made for us."
Rosen was saddled with the "overly cautious" tag with the New York Yankees in 1978-79 and again in Houston, where he was asked to resign in 1985 after five years as president and general manager. He hadn't been around long enough to gain credit for the Astros' first divisional title ever in 1980, and he'd been dumped long before they captured their second last season.
As if to shred the reputation entirely, Rosen has made such a flurry of acquisitions since he took over San Francisco's baseball operations in September 1985 that 72 players have worn the Giants uniform since.
He acknowledges the label but remains puzzled by it, noting that the Yankees and Astros both had strong ballclubs when he arrived and needed less housecleaning.
"Being known as cautious is not a bad reputation to have," shrugs Rosen, who is very content these days. "But in five years in Houston I traded for a lot of players."
Among them, he cites Bob Knepper, Kevin Bass, Gerald Young, Ray Knight, Jerry Mumphrey, Harry Spilman and Frank Dipino. He also got Mike Scott for Danny Heep, and acquired Dickie Thon for Ken Forsch, a deal he still considers his best because "Thon was a future Hall of Famer until he got hurt." (He says his worst was trading Jeffrey Leonard and Dave Bergman to the Giants for Mike Ivie.)
Giants fans are still buzzing about Rosen's "Chicago Seven" trade and successive deals for Don Robinson and Rick Reuschel, all within seven weeks:
-- On July 4 in Chicago, with the Giants losers of 30 of their last 48 games, Rosen announced the seven-player swap that brought pitchers Dave Dravecky and Craig Lefferts and third baseman Kevin Mitchell from San Diego in exchange for third baseman Chris Brown and pitchers Mark Davis, Keith Comstock and Mark Grant.
Dravecky, the team's No. 2 starter with a record of 7-4 and an earned-run average of 3.07 since then, has filled the gap created early in the season by injuries to last year's 20-game winner Mike Krukow (4-6) and Roger Mason. For the Giants, Lefferts was 3-3 with a 3.48 ERA as of midweek, and Mitchell was hitting .307 with 14 homers and 41 runs batted in.
-- On July 31, Rosen dealt reliever Jim Gott and minor-league catcher Mackey Sassey to Pittsburgh for Don Robinson. Robinson, the bullpen closer in the absence of the injured Scott Garrelts, has gone 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA.
-- On Aug. 21, he acquired the man Craig had said he needed all along to win: Rick Reuschel. The Pirates got reliever Jeff Robinson and minor-league pitcher Scott Medvin in the deal, and the Giants got champagne -- Reuschel helped the club run away with the division by winning five of his first six starts and is the ace going into the playoffs.
In the clubhouse, there were raves for the front-office slugging of the one-time third baseman, who earned American League MVP honors for the Cleveland Indians in 1953.
"The first trade is when everything started happening our way," says outfielder Candy Maldonado, who Rosen coaxed from the Los Angeles Dodgers last year for backup catcher Alex Trevino. "And the Reuschel trade, that was like saying we were going to win it."
Rosen began dialing for help early in the season.
"It occurred to me sometime in May that our pitching wasn't going to be strong enough to carry us," Rosen explains. "The two people I wanted most of all were Dravecky and Reuschel."
Management in Cincinnati and Houston has taken a roasting for letting Rosen outmaneuver them.
"He made three trades where the other guys made none," says Craig. "We had a chance to win the division without those deals, but they clinched it for us."
Rosen, a stronger contender for National League Executive of the Year, doubts the Giants could have won standing pat. But he acknowledges that "nobody could have anticipated those players would be as successful as they would be for us."
While basking in the glow of the club's sudden success, Rosen already is making telephone calls that will determine the makeup of the '88 Giants. The trade bait remains secret, although Rosen does note that Chili Davis, Atlee Hammaker, Mike LaCoss, Robinson, Spilman and Joel Youngblood all are potential free agents.
Is the man who has been half-seriously referred to by local media as "Trader Al" hoping to swing another blockbuster?
"This year, I've been active. Next year, who knows?" replies Rosen with a smile.