FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Philadelphia Phillies did this from 1976 to 1983: won the NL East five times, were in the expanded postseason in the strike year of 1981, won the franchise’s first-ever World Series in 1980, and lost another in 1983.
The press box occupants covering the Phillies surrounding those glory years had an all-time great assignment in sportswriting. That’s because they had irascible Paul Owens as general manager (and occasional manager), with the genial, candid Hugh Alexander as the right-hand man.
That was in the truest sense, since Alexander was missing his left hand after it was amputated (with a saw, after two shots of whiskey as an anesthetic) following an oil-drilling accident in Oklahoma in 1937.
Decades later, Owens was “The Pope,” due to his facial resemblance to Pope Paul VI, and super-scout Alexander was “Uncle Hughie,” due to his grand tale-telling.
Owens had a taste for liquor and had consumed a fair amount one night at the winter meetings. He agreed to trade much of the Phillies’ rising talent to Detroit for Bill Freehan, a once-excellent, then aging catcher.
When Alexander heard this later, he told Owens it was a grievous mistake and the Phillies had to escape the deal. Uncle Hughie went at it directly, calling Jim Campbell, the Tigers general manager, and saying:
“That trade don’t count. The Pope was drunk.”
Chaim Bloom is a 36-year-old Yale graduate and Boston’s general manager, dating to Oct. 28. Previously, he was a top executive with Tampa Bay, and we had a half-hour conversation at Tropicana Field in January 2019.
He didn’t seem like a drinking man, so the Red Sox needed another excuse for reneging on the agreed-to Mookie Betts trade, after getting savaged for the modest return of outfielder Alex Verdugo and pitcher Brusdar Graterol.
Perhaps the complete medical reports did give Chaim and Co. extra apprehension on Graterol, but you can’t say, “Oh, we still want the kid that throws 100, Twins; you just have to give us more.”
No matter the level of alcohol intake, not even Uncle Hughie would have tried to get away with that logic.
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Spring training curiosities:
• Nick Gordon, utility, 24. Season 7 with Twins. Skill, speed; on injured list three times at Class AAA last year; 2020 is see Target Field or break up with organization.
• Jhoulys Chacin, RHP, 32. Was 28-18, 3.89 ERA, 67 starts, 373 innings in 2017-18. Brutal in 2019 and released. Fix slider, fix him.
• Lewis Thorpe, LHP, 24. In organization since 2012. Tommy John and other injuries. Good stuff, no consistency. Now or not happening here.