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Buzz Words

Former Dodger and Angel general manager Buzzie Bavasi, 90, reflects on a long, storied career

February 19, 2005|Ross Newhan | Special to The Times

"I told him that for $80,000 he should make the All-Star team but I was willing to make a deal with him," Bavasi said.

"I told him that I'd give him $5,000 if he made the team but that he'd have to give me $5,000 if he didn't. It didn't take him long to say the $80,000 was just fine.

"I mean, the one thing I don't understand today is all the incentives when you're already paying the guy millions of dollars, and it doesn't make sense for me to have to buy someone out when he can't perform any more.

"The total payroll for our '55 world championship team in Brooklyn was about $500,000, and that team had Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, who are all in the Hall of Fame. I can't figure out where the money is coming from now.

"We used to release guys hitting .250. Now they get $5 million and a multiyear contract. Walter O'Malley would have a heart attack considering he was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If there was no money involved he was Jekyll. If there was 15 cents he was Hyde."

Of course, it was Emil J. Bavasi who was referred to as Economy J. Bavasi at times in his career and who laughed when asked about the $109 million his son, Bill, has guaranteed to Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson as general manager of the Seattle Mariners this off-season.

"I told Evit that we must have brought the wrong baby home from the hospital," Bavasi said.

Times change, and with it the economy and structure.

Bavasi said he takes pride in the fact that in no year did a club for which he worked as a general manager lose money.

There were two major regrets, however.

One involved the inability of the Angels to retain Nolan Ryan after the 1979 season. Ryan left as a free agent in what has always been portrayed as a contract impasse resulting from a personality dispute between Bavasi and agent Dick Moss.

Ryan would sign baseball's first $1-million-a-year deal with the Houston Astros, but Bavasi now claims that Ryan and the club had agreed on a salary figure at slightly less than $1 million and that the breakdown involved Autry's refusal to provide a $135,000 insurance policy, a spin that Moss said was untrue because there was never an agreement on salary.

"Gene didn't want to set precedent," Bavasi said, referring to the insurance policy. "I could have argued, but I also understood his business position. I made the silly statement that we could replace Ryan with two 8-7 pitchers, but I knew it would be difficult replacing him and that Gene loved him.

"I've had to take the abuse for that over the years, but that's fine. Stay around long enough and there's going to be abuse."

Bavasi said he had similar regret over his inability to protect Roberto Clemente on the Dodgers' major league roster in the Rule 5 draft of 1954, and that it was basically a racial decision by a club that had broken baseball's color barrier with the signing of Robinson. Bavasi said two O'Malley partners, Jim Mulvey, then president of United Artists Studio, and John Smith, chairman of Pfizer, were reluctant to put more minorities on the club. Clemente would have brought the club's minority representation to 40%.

"Mulvey and Smith operated companies that had a lower minority ratio," Bavasi said. "They felt that if the Dodgers went to 40% it would have reflected badly on their own companies."

Clemente, who had played only one season in the Dodger minor-league system, was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose general manager was former Dodger general manager Branch Rickey. He might have upheld a private arrangement with Bavasi to allow Clemente to slide through, according to Bavasi, if Rickey and O'Malley had not engaged in a heated argument during a National League meeting before the draft.

Clemente, of course, went on to produce a Hall of Fame career, and the Dodgers could only grieve.

"We would have won four more pennants," said Bavasi, still pained by the would-haves, the regrets, but insistent that his passion for the game and love of talking about it remain stronger than ever.

He was asked about the steroid issue and said players of his era couldn't afford anything more than a beer, that he still doesn't understand how a drug that's a health risk can improve ability to hit a fastball -- "they could have taken the whole prescription and still not hit Koufax," he said -- and he can't understand as well why Barry Bonds isn't pitched inside more.

"I'm not taking anything away from Bonds, but he stands up there with impunity," Bavasi said. "Guys like Drysdale and Sal Maglie owned the inside half of the plate. It wasn't until Koufax came to that realization that he became a great pitcher."

He was asked about the decision by owner Arte Moreno to call his club the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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