Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Celebrating Dan Duquette

The Baltimore Orioles finally got a GM.
It got so bad and so many people were turning them down that I have a feeling that EVENTUALLY I would have been offered the gig.

Instead they got one time Red Sox GM Dan Duquette.

Some people are snickering at the move. Clearly it is an undesirable gig.
Sharp minds like Frank Wren, Syd Thrift and Andy MacPhail couldn't keep the Orioles from 14 straight losing seasons.

Plus Peter Angelos is still running the club and they are still in a Division with the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox. At least Blue Jays put a winning team on the field.

The Oriole job sucks. And Duquette, who has been out of baseball for 10 seasons, wants back in in the worst way. And the Orioles ARE the Worst Way.

Who knows how this will end?
But one thing is for sure... the Orioles lucked into a good solid baseball mind.

Now as a die hard Red Sox fan, it might be strange to hear me celebrating Dan Duquette. The end of his time in Boston was, believe it or not, newbies, even more awkward than the present Red Sox situation.

Duquette was the guy who let Roger Clemens walk. He fought with the insanely popular Mo Vaughn until he left. He fired Kevin Kennedy after he did a terrific job and sparred with Jimy (sic) Williams even when he kept the club in contention while riddled with injuries.

He seemed paranoid and thrived on turmoil, having an outrageous amount of roster turnover.

I have called him the Richard Nixon of Red Sox history. Brought down by his own shortcomings and imagined enemies.

His dismissal, like Nixon's resignation, was a great relief when the new ownership came in.

So why am I praising him?

Because as the GM of the Red Sox, the dream job for the Dalton native, is possibly the most under appreciated hero in Sox history.

He joined the Red Sox just after assembling the greatest team in Montreal Expos history, the tragic 1994 squad whose World Series hopes were crushed by the strike.

He arrived in Boston where the stench of the awful Yawkeys still hung in the air. The team remained lilly white and they had no scouts in the Dominican Republic.

Read that sentence again.
As some teams were bringing in MVPs and All Stars from the Dominican, the Red Sox didn't bother sending a scout to the island.

That ended under Duquette's watch. So did the tension of what to do with Mo Vaughn. There was a lot of talk of possibly trading him, because what could the Red Sox do with a budding All Star native New Englander first baseman. (Gee Whiz. I wonder what quality of Mo Vaughn the Yawkey family didn't like. Hmmmmmm. Tough one.)

The Red Sox had a lousy strike shortened 1994 but by 1995, Duquette's stamp was on the team.

Kennedy was in as manager. Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Pavano were drafted.

And the team's crazy constantly changing roster brought the Red Sox an unlikely Division Title. But there was something very different about the team.

Players like Lee Tinsley, Troy O'Leary, Willie McGee, Reggie Jefferson and Wes Chamberlain were on the squad. So were Juan Bell, Luis Alicea and Alejandro Pena.

It's hard to understand this now, but it was kind of startling to see so many NON WHITES on a Red Sox team! Usually there would be Jim Rice or Ellis Burks and maybe 2 or 3 others. Remember just 10 years prior to the 1995 team, the Red Sox LOST a racial discrimination case.

The whole "Red Sox are a racist team" aura wasn't subtle. Neither was Ellis Burks who asked "Why would a brother play there?" when the team simply non tendered him after the 1992 season. (He would play for 12 more seasons.)

The culture of the Red Sox was saved and for the best reason: Duquette wanted to put the best team on the field. He was no Branch Rickey wanting to change the game. He put blacks, latino and white players on the field in Montreal and he was going to do it in Boston.

Tim Wakefield made his Sox debut in 1995. Nomar made his debut in 1996.
During the 1997 season, Duquette dealt Heathcliff Slocumb for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek.
After the 1997 season he traded Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr, for Pedro Martinez.

He brought in Manny Ramirez as a free agent and one of his final moves as Red Sox GM was signing Johnny Damon from Oakland. And in his final draft he brought Kevin Youkilis and Manny Delcarmen into the system.

His foray into Latin America made Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez farm hands who were later used as the key chips for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.

Pedro... Damon... Manny... Youk... Lowe... Wakefield... Varitek... all 2004 heroes and all brought in under Duquette's leadership.

10 years after Duquette discovered they didn't have a scout in the Domincan Republic, the Red Sox were THE team on that island, thanks to the emergence of Manny, Pedro and Big Papi.

And the aura of the Red Sox being a racist organization has died down as African Americans, Latin and Asian players have all thrived and won World Series rings in Fenway.

Even Ellis Burks returned in 2004, obviously finding a reason to play there.

Will Dan Duquette bring the Orioles back to the glory years of Earl Weaver?
I doubt it.

But as Red Sox fans with some distance from the 2001 debacle, let's praise a native of Massachusetts who left a gigantic thumb print on the World Championship we all wanted to see.

And at least tip our caps to the new Orioles GM.

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