Goatriders of the Apocalypse

The Case Against Andy MacPhail

PART ONE: THE MINNESOTA FALLACY

On September 9th, 1994, amidst the most devastating labor strife in baseball history--and during another in an endless string of pathetic Chicago Cubs seasons-- Andy MacPhail was hired by the team as President/CEO to finally, once and for all, put the team back on track for annual title contention for the first time since Bill Veeck Sr. presided over the Cubs' last true Golden Age in the 1920's and 1930's.

Many thought MacPhail was the right person for the job. Working for the small market Minnesota Twins as General Manager, MacPhail was credited with bringing two World Series Titles to the Twin Cities. However, upon closer inspection, MacPhail lived a very charmed life in Minneapolis, and his failures have been masked long enough for him to survive twelve seasons in Chicago with a much longer leash than the one his three predecessors who ran the Cubs for the Tribune got.

Hired in 1985 by Minnesota, MacPhail inherited a Twins team that competed in the Al Worst, err, West in the 1980's, unarguably the worst overall division among the four divisions in baseball at the time. It was a division of slack--dominated in the first half of the decade by the Kansas City Royals and, in the second-half of the decade, by the Oakland A's. To be sure, Kansas City and Oakland were both very good teams, winning one World Series each, but when either suffered through a down year, it was usually beatin' time in the AL for whomever was held up as a sacrifice for the AL East playoff entrant.

Going all the way back to 1975, the Al pennant winner had come out of the Eastern division in nine out of ten seasons, with the sole exception being the 1980 Royals. The new decade that Kansas City ushered in with their '80 AL flag was really just an aberration, however, as the East subsequently won four more in a row after that season.

The Royals were very good teams, even if they did get to fatten up on patsies in their own division. In a 10-year period, from 1976 through 1985, the Royals won six-and-a-half division titles (In 1981, they won the "second half" of the strike-shortened campaign), two pennants, and a World Series title. Pretty solid work for a decade. That's way more than any living Cub fan's enjoyed in a lifetime, but let's not lose perspective.

The Royals were good.

The 1987 Minnesota Twins, on the other hand, were not good. They were lucky and we, as Cubs fans, have been paying the price for that luck since Bill Clinton's first term in office.

Andy MacPhail was hired as the Twins' General Manager in August, 1985. He was only thirty-two years old, but had come from a baseball lineage that stretched back to the 1930's when his grandfather, Larry MacPhail, a hard-drinking, bellicose WWI vet took over the Cincinnati Reds who, aside from their gift-wrapped World Series title given to them by the White Sox in 1919, had been one of the more perennially woeful senior circuit clubs.

Larry, however, set out to change the losing atmosphere in Cincinnati. In his short stint in the Queen City, Larry MacPhail may be best known for bringing lights to Crosley Field, the first team to do so, but--thanks in part to the revenue brought in by night baseball--he also laid the groundwork for Cincinnati's first two pennants in 20 seasons, with their first legitimate World Series championship coming in 1940. By that time, however, MacPhail's hard-drinking and tempestuousness had conspired to shorten his stay in Cincinnati, (as it pretty much would everywhere he went) and he was long gone, having set up shop in Brooklyn--another franchise that had been dormant since the end of World War I.

In Brooklyn, MacPhail continued to work the marketing strings to maximize revenue as he had in Cincinnati by forging a partnership between the Dodgers and radio. This ancilliary marketing aspect to running ballclubs would be duplicated by his grandson fifty-five some odd years later with the Cubs but, unlike his grandson, Larry MacPhail also proved to be deft at building a winning ballclub on the field. In 1941, under his leadership, the Brooklyn Dodgers broke a 21-year pennant drought when they captured the National League flag. While WWII temporarily changed the landscape of baseball for the next few years after this noteworthy Dodgers' triumph, Brooklyn was back with a vengeance after D-Day, winning National League pennants in '47 and '49, setting the stage for six more pennants through 1960. Again, though, MacPhail was already long gone by the time his foundation had begun to flourish. He had re-enlisted for WWII after Pearl Harbor and, when he came back stateside, had gone to work for the Yankees.

Yeah. The Yankees. No need to do much work there. Sure enough, in his second season, 1947, the Yanks won it all--beating MacPhail's old Dodger team. MacPhail got drunk at the celebration, threw up on everybody (metaphorically--he really just yelled and punched people--but probably literally a little bit, too), and then abruptly quit his job.

That's apparently the kind of guy Larry MacPhail was. A maverick, some say. Or an inspiring lush. Take your pick.

Anyway, Larry the Mad Genius Alcoholic had a son, Lee, who is Andy MacPhail's father. Like Bill Veeck Jr. who, as a young man got to hang around Wrigley Field while his dad, Bill Veeck Sr., built the Last Great Cubs Team, Lee MacPhail continued to work for the Yankees after his father's dissapearing act. Hell, the Yankee organization probably felt sorry for the kid, seeing what a complicated, troubled mess he had for an old man. And, like Veeck Jr., Lee MacPhail eventually broke out and got his own piece of the pie, the Baltimore Orioles, whom he cultivated into the eventual pennant contenders of the 1960's by building up a great farm system and pulling off the still-famous trade for Frank Robinson.

And then there's Andy. At first blush, one would quickly assume that Andy had inherited this baseball genius and continued to allow it to flourish. After all, the man went up into the hinterlands of Minnesota--with one pennant in their Great White North existence, which was already only one fewer than the total number of pennants the franchise had acquired in the fifty-plus years that they toiled near the bottom of the American League as the Washington Senators--and brought two World Series championships home.

Andy was Boy Wonder. He was a genius. He was in-step with his ancestry.

If only it were true.

From 1961 through 1981, the Twins (and their football counterpart Vikings) had played their games in the crisp outdoor air in Bloomington, Minnesota. Having emigrated from our nation's capital in '61, the Twins enjoyed success early on, winning the pennat in '65 and winning the AL West in '69 and '70, challenging for contention each year in between. At the same time, the Twins were almost always first, second, or third in attendance.

Later, when the Twins' fortunes shrunk, people stopped going to Metropolitan Stadium. The Twins were bad and nobody watched them. Rather than fix the team, the powers-that-be instead decided to convince everybody that attendance was down because nobody wanted to brave the elements in the Minnesota April and May to watch baseball, despite the fact that, when they were winning, cold weather didn't deter the fans. Because the Minneapolis-St. Paul area--a very beautiful area, in this cold-blooded writer's opinion--exists in a relatively arctic part of the country, the town fathers felt it wisest that the local professional baseball club play all of their games indoor.

Hence, the ugliest, most hideous, creepiest and ridiculous monstrosity that has ever been built was foisted upon baseball, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

Not only is the Metrodome an aesthetic horror, it has to be the most seriously funked-up place for a ballplayer to ever have had to have played pro ball.

Unless you're the home team. And you're winning. Then you have the potential to be a digitized, post-apocalyptic version of Christian lion-feeding. Something so incongruous with the natural beauty of baseball that one could call it unholy.

And unholy is what the 1987 Minnesota Twins were.

In 1984, the year before MacPhail was hired by Minnesota, the Twins finished the season 81-81. They were only 1/2 game out first place as late as September 24th, but lost their final six games of the season. It possibly may not have mattered, as Detroit was unstoppable that season and, as we'll discuss later, because the AL West would not have had home-field advantage in '84, the Twins wouldn't benefit by their particular advantage in that area.

As it was, the Twins in 1984 had some decent talent. Kirby Puckett made his big-league debut in May, and started in centerfield from that day all the way up to his retirement in 1995.

Kent Hrbek was a solid first baseman. Gary Gaetti actually suffered through a mysterious power outage in his third big-league season in '84 (Following up '82 and '83 seasons in which he had hit 25 and 21 home runs, respectively, with 5 in 162 games in '84), but still managed to put together a nice career in Minnesota. Tom Brunansky was another clubber in the Twins lineup. On the bump in '84 was Frank Viola, a 24-year old who went 18-10 in the breakthrough season of an eventual solid career.

Puckett, Hrbek, Gaetti, Brunansky and Viola constituted the nucleus of what would later become the World Series champs in 1987, and none of them had been drafted into the system by Andy MacPhail, who replaced interim GM Howard Fox as General Manager after Calvin Griffith sold the Twins to Carl Pohlad in September, 1984. The subsequent transition eventually concluded with MacPhail's hiring in August of 1985.

In his second full season, Andy MacPhail's team--led by Puckett, Gaetti, Viola and all of these guys that were with the team when Andy was hired--won the American League West with the second-lowest win total (85) ever for a division winner in a non-abbreviated season (the '73 Mets had 82). The fact that Kansas City had a down season (a banged-up George Brett was limited to 115 games) paved the way for the Twins, who augmented their 56-25 home record at the Metrodome with an awful 29-52 record on the road.

They were twenty-three games below .500 on the road!

Adding to the Twins' charmed season (their pythagorean record, incidentally, was 79-83), was the fact that, due to pre-determined arrangements that were the norm at the time, the AL West winners were guaranteed home-field advantage in the '87 ALCS, and the American League was also guaranteed home-field in the World Series.

Having sloughed their way to an 85-victory division-winning season, the Twins opened the ALCS on October 7th, 1987 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

Prior to 1987, postseason baseball had been played indoors on three previous occasions--all involving the Houston Astros and their prototype indoor stadium--the Houston Astrodome. Yet, as odd as the Astrodome was, it was also--unlike the Metrodome--cavernous. While the place certainly rocked loudly during the 1980 and 1986 NLCS (and the '81 NLDS), it would prove to be no match for the insantiy of the Metrodome.

53,269 people packed into the Metrodome for Game 1 of the 1987 ALCS as the Twins rallied in the 8th inning off of Detroit starter Doyle Alexander and reliever Mike Henneman, and the Twins were on their way.

To their credit, the Twins did end up winning two out of the three games played in Tiger Stadium, as the last Tigers team to make the playoffs (until this year, of course) started showing their age. The pivotal moment came in the 6th inning of Game Four, when Darrel Evans, representing the tying run, was picked off third base with one out. Their spirit broken, the Tigers laid down in Game Five, and the Minnesota Twins had become the first dome team to make the World Series.

On October 17th, 1987, 55,171 people crammed into the Metrodome to take part in baseball history--they were first-hand witnesses to the first World Series game ever played indoors. Actually, to say they bore witness to this history is a vast understatement--armed with terrycloth towels that had been issued to them upon admittance, the fans became a part of the game. The "Homer Hankies" as they were known, came to symbolize the overall insane atmosphere inside the Metrodome, as baseball had entered a Brave New World.

Backed by the home-field advantage of a rabid, enclosed circus atmosphere, the Twins hung a seven-spot on St. Louis in the fourth inning and never looked back. In Game 2, the fourth inning proved to be the Twins big inning again, as they crossed home plate six times.

The Twins had outscored the Cardinals 18-5 in two games. The Cardinals had won 95 games in an NL East division that boasted three 90+ victory teams. They scored the second-most runs in the NL and allowed the fifth-fewest. The Twins, conversely, finished in the bottom HALF of the American League in both categories.

In any other situation, the Twins should not have stood a chance against St. Louis but, since they were fortunate enough to start the World Series off in their home Deathdome, they were able to put St. Louis on the defensive instead.

As funny as it is to this Cub fan that the Cardinals were victims of funky scheduling, it should be noted that, by any objective measure, Whitey Herzog's club was playing against a stacked deck.

Following the pattern of their fluky regular season, the Twins failed to win a single game in Busch Stadium, becoming the first team in the history of the World Series to win a seven game set without once winning away from home.

The Twins had some talent. However, it should be repeated here that Pucket, Hrbek, Viola, Brunansky, Gaetti and Burt Blyleven were already in place when supposed "Boy Wonder" Andy MacPhail came skipping into town. In fact, the only everyday position player that MacPhail had acquired was outfielder Dan Gladden--all of the other everyday starters had been in Minnesota's system before MacPhail had come on board in '85. Of their five-man rotation, the only MacPhail acquisition was aging veteran Joe Niekro, whose 6.26 ERA as the fifth starter left him out of the postseason rotation, limiting him to two innings. The only other significant pickup by MacPhail was, admittedly, a legitimate one--closer Jeff Reardon. Yet picking up a closer for a ready-made team is hardly anything more significant than what Jim Frey did for the '89 Cubs when he got Mitch Williams. At least MacPhail didn't deal a future 500 home run hitting first baseman and future 200-game winning southpaw to get his man, so he's got that going for him.

And, just to be sure, to be compared to Jim Frey as a general manager is not a good thing.

Having won the World Series--and garnering all of the extra revenue that comes with all of those playoffs games-- MacPhail had the resources that would allow him to build on this.

So what'd Dandy Andy do in his first post-championship offseason? Well, pretty much nothing. He stood pat, and the Twins went out and won 91 games. This time, though, it wasn't enough to get back into the playoffs as the Jose Canseco-led Oakland A's took home the AL West crown.

In 1989, the Twins slumped to 80 wins and it was during this '89 season that Andy MacPhail made the ONE trade that helped pave the way for his second World Series title two years later. In an act foreshadowing his latter attempts at sabotaging the Chicago Cubs from within the organization, MacPhail tried to knock Our Favorite Team out of the '89 Eastern Division race by dealing longtime ace Frank Viola to the hated rival New York Mets.

Two of the players that MacPhail got in return from the Mets, much to his amazing good fortune, helped bolster their second pennant-winning team two years later--Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera.

I'll be fair here. The '91 Twins were good. They won 95 games (their pythagorean was 94). They even managed to lose their precious home-field advantage in the ALDS by losing Game 2 in the Humpdome, and then stormed back to win three straight games in Toronto. And while Puckett and Hrbek and Greg Gagne still comprised 1/3rd of their offense, there were several other players brought in by MacPhail to augment these pre-MacPhail player--Chili Davis and Jack Morris were savvy free agent pickups, and Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Erickson proved that MacPhail was not a complete dunderhead at cultivating his own talent, as they were brought along in Minnesota's system after Andy arrived.

And had they played outdoors, the Twins might have won the World Series in 1991 anyway. But, just to be sure, they once again had home-field advanatge and, repeating the history they made four years earlier, clipped the Atlanta Braves in seven games while going winless away from the Metrodome.

Amazing. Two World Series titles while going 0-6 on the road. Before 1987, it had never been done. Now, it had been done twice. In four years. By the only dome team--still, at this point--to have made the World Series at all.

The Twins followed up their second World Championship with a 90-win season in 1992. And the '92 Twins turned out to be the last +.500 season for Andy MacPhail's Minnesota teams. In nine full seasons from 1986-1994, the Twins amassed a 751-707 record, but only finished above .500 in four of those nine seasons. So even after their first title, the Twins only finished above .500 in three of the following seven seasons. This pattern of inconsistency--which indicates a major lack of planning-- was not only something that would be evident in MacPhail's later years in Chicago, but was actually averted in Minnesota by MacPhail's successor Terry Ryan, who is in the process of finishing his sixth consecutive winning season for the Twins.

Also, in spite of their two World Championships, the Twins in the MacPhail Era only finished first in AL attendance one time--1988--and finished in the bottom half of attendance five times. But while the Twins had trouble raking in the dough from attendance, the 1987 miracle covered up a multitude of sins.

1987 allowed the Twins to gain massive revenue from two ALDS and four World Series games. Enjoying the typical spike in attendance that comes the season following a championship season, Minnesota had amassed a healthy financial cushion. This cushion gave Andy MacPhail four years to rebuild around the nucelus of players that had delivered him his first ill-gotten championship. And, while MacPhail surely deserves recognition for the '91 Twins, it may never have existed had the Twins not stunned the baseball world with their unlikely title in '87. Not only did the mediocre Twins benefit from their freakish dome-field advantage in 1987, but that team was hardly put together by Andy MacPhail in the first place.

But all anybody looked at was the fact that Andy MacPhail was the general manager for two World Series winners. The Tribune Company, having already proven by 1994 that they were one of the most unthinking baseball owners in history, easily took this bait and--presumably-- still wholeheartedly believe, to this day, in the Myth of Boy Wonder, Andy MacPhail.

MacPhail has now been here twelve seasons, so we no longer need to strenuously argue about his flukish success in Minnesota; his voluminous amount of failure here is a matter of public record. However, I felt it was necessary to do so because this success in Minnesota has managed to provide protection for MacPhail while he's here in Chicago. His defenders will somehow ignore the empirical evidence of failure that his dozen years has wrought--so it's important to nip this Minnesota Fallacy in the bud.

To read Part Two, please click here.

Jeff

I Totally Agree with The Article About Andy Macphail. and I think the only Way he will Ever be gone is if the Team Gets Sold. I wish That Would Happen

Byron

Mike, simply an amazing piece. Kudos to you, I should have gone to bed quite a while ago.

A few quibbles: While Toronto is not technically a dome team, I believe they had the roof closed during there World Series games.

Second: I think you should probably mention that Branch Rickey was an executive (GM?) for the '41 Dodgers. While I wasn't around then, I've always heard that it was Rickey's baseball brilliance that built the Bums, not Larry MacPhail's.

Mike D.

Toronto's first World Series was in '92--AFTER the Twins' second title.

Rickey succeeded MacPhail in Brooklyn. In '41 the Mahatma was still in St. Louis. MacPhail's the one who ended Brooklyn's pennant drought.

Thanks, Byron.

clark addison

Excellent work. You did your homework and have a great grasp of baseball history.

In seasons like this most bloggers get lazy and stop producing readable material. Yours is one of only two Cubs blogs worth reading these days.

kurt

Thanks for the kind words, Clark Addison, although no-one here would deny that we're lazy.

We may never have the sort of in-depth analysis of the Cub Reporter, and we may lack the on-the-field knowledge that comes with Bleed Cubbie Blue, but we have a good niche and we'll keep plugging away, no matter how painful it gets. So, keep reading!

RockTheIvy

Wow excellent piece of writing! Not only was it hilarious, it was also very informative and obviously very well researched.

How much does Rick Morrissey make again? Yeah, that's too much.

Don

Excellent piece. I have always believed that McPhail actually ruined the Twins farm system, which was then rebuilt by the guys who took over after he cashed in in Chicago

Byron

Eating Crow now.

Clute

Great piece that clears up why McPhail moved up the ladder at the Trib. Clueless owner interested only in window dressing not substance. The only accountability that takes place in this organization is at the cash register. To kill the snake you have to cut off the head. Please, will a Mark Cuban or similar motivated owner that actually gives a shit about winning buy the Cubs?

Chicago Tribune's Chicago's Best Blogs award