SAN FRANCISCO — Al Rosen, the president and general manager of the San Francisco Giants, has a unique way of dealing with stress. After watching his team play at Candlestick Park, Rosen returns to his office, takes a bat, or maybe just his foot, and knocks the bejeebers out of an inflatable punching bag.
"I got it good the other night," Rosen said recently. "I felt a lot better, too."
But, really, what does this guy have to be stressed-out about? In just two seasons with the Giants, Rosen and Manager Roger Craig, who also occasionally takes a few whacks at the bag, have transformed a team that lost 100 games into the National League West champions.
What is really impressive--or galling, if you're the competition--is that Rosen and the Giants have made it look so easy.
The Cliff Notes version of the Giant resurrection might go something like this: Chant 'Humm Baby' every day, purge the deadwood from the roster, bring up kids from the minors, get on a party line with other general managers for trades and then make travel arrangements for St. Louis, where the playoffs open Tuesday night.
It did not unfold quite that simply, but the Giants' success is proof that a good plan and good personnel can lead to prosperity.
But isn't going from a dismal 62-100 record and last place in 1985 to 90-72 and first place in 1987 a little too much to ask?
"I can't say I expected this this quick," Rosen said. "The resurrection of a franchise that was downtrodden, laughed at and demoralized would seem to take longer. This year, we've got a chance to win it all. We had record attendance, we made a profit and hopefully are on our way to getting a new stadium downtown.
"All that's happened in two years time. That's not bad."
Permit Rosen a few minutes to savor the success. But Rosen, who retains the conservative demeanor and dress (gray suit matching his gray hair) from his days as a stockbroker, does not gloat.
He credits the Giants' revival to Craig, a strong candidate for the Manager of the Year Award, and to the Giant players.
Fact is, Rosen imported or shrewdly retained nearly all of the current Giants players. After Rosen took over as general manager in the final weeks of the 1985 season, 72 players have worn Giant uniforms. Rosen has added 12 players via trades in two seasons, and he has purged 34 players from the organization.
Rosen, criticized for not making significant trades during his five seasons as the Houston Astros' general manager, nudged the Giants' title hopes along with three major trades this summer, giving the club four quality pitchers. Each trade came when the Giants were sagging in the standings and needed a lift.
He talks about his summer acquisitions like a veteran retelling war stories.
The first and most publicized trade came on July 4, after the Giants lost 14 of 20 games and fell 5 games behind the West-leading Cincinnati Reds. A dejected Rosen went back to his hotel room in Chicago and called a friend, San Diego Padres' General Manager Jack McKeon.
The result was a trade dubbed the "Chicago Seven." The Giants acquired pitchers Dave Dravecky and Craig Lefferts and third baseman Kevin Mitchell from the Padres in exchange for pitchers Mark Davis, Mark Grant and Keith Comstock, and third baseman Chris Brown.
What the Giants received was a quality and experienced left-handed starter in Dravecky, a young, promising left-handed reliever in Lefferts and a reliable third baseman in Mitchell. They gave up two unproven pitchers and a disgruntled third baseman whom Rosen was trying to deal, anyway.
"I call that a dramatic deal because that was obviously the thing that set this club from being a .500 team to a club that really had a good shot to win," Rosen said.
All summer, the Giants and Reds battled on the field and in negotiations for the rights to veteran Pittsburgh pitcher Rick Reuschel.
Rosen said his pursuit of Reuschel began shortly after the July 4 trade with San Diego. It took until the end of August for Rosen to finally snatch Reuschel away but, in the meantime, he also acquired Don Robinson, another experienced relief pitcher from the Pirates.
"I was after Reuschel the whole time, but I was told I could not get him," said Rosen, who gave up minor league catcher Mickey Sasser and $50,000 to get Robinson. "I really had no interest in Don Robinson. All during that deal, I kept asking (Pirate General Manager) Syd Thrift about Reuschel."
Persistence sometimes brings pennants--or at least divisional titles--and on Aug. 21, the Giants finally landed Reuschel. To do it, however, Rosen had to go against his basic rules of trading: Never give up talented youth for talented veterans.
"Syd wanted Jeff Robinson (a 26-year-old reliever), and I didn't want to give him up," Rosen said. "I called Syd back the next day and told him that if it's going to take Robinson, let's do the deal.