The next crisis involved Jose Canseco, a great player and a five-tool guy in his prime. I used to say that managing Jose was like managing Elvis Presley. He was like a rock star. Even when he came out on deck the girls would walk down the aisles to the railing to get a closer look at him.
That spring, Jose came to my office and told me that he used to pitch in high school and volunteered to be an extra pitcher for an inning or so if I never needed him in a blowout game where I didn’t want to burn out anyone else on the staff. Other players had done it for an inning, including big stars like Ted Williams, Rocky Colavito, and Wade Boggs. He said it had always been a dream of his to throw an inning in the big leagues, something I understood completely but my first reaction was, “If I put you out there and you get hurt I’m done as a manager.”
I understood how he felt because I had actually pitched twice in Triple-A. But the big-money guys are the ones you really try to protect, for a variety of reasons. Not wanting to just spring the idea on everyone cold turkey, I went to the GM, Tom Grieve, and to George Bush, making them aware that Jose had volunteered to pitch and really wanted a chance to throw an inning. Basically, I was given the green light to make the call. I told them I’d have pitching coach Claude Osteen work with him just to make sure his technique was sound and that he didn’t hurt himself. That’s what we did, and Jose listened to everything Claude told him. Then in May, we had an off day but had to play our Triple-A club at Oklahoma City, a kind of goodwill thing. It gave us a chance to look at the Triple-A players and to use some of our guys who were usually on the bench. The regulars got one at bat and then came out of the game.
That’s when I gave Jose his first chance. We felt he was well prepared, and he came in, set them down one-two-three, had a strikeout and was throwing at about 95 miles per hour. We all thought. Hey he did it and he brought some real heat. He really looked comfortable out here. Then on the same road trip we began struggling a bit, suffering through some rough games. One day we were getting killed by the Red Sox at Fenway, a real blowout, and I had used up the pen the day before. Jose was DHing that game and I really needed a pitcher, the the perfect spot to let him throw his inning. He went down to the bullpen and in a minute I could hear the ball hitting the catchers mitt-hard. Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Because there were all sorts of fans down there watching, I think he was trying to show how hard he could bring it. I told Claude Osteen to call the bullpen to sit him down. He had thrown enough. Unfortunately, he never sat down.
Then we called him in to pitch the ninth and right away I noticed that he was having trouble. Instead of 95-mph fastballs, he was throwing knuckleballs, almost lobbing them in. The Sox got a couple of hits and he was still not throwing a fastball. The next day he admitted he had felt some pain while throwing in the pen but hadn’t
said anything, and then he told us his arm was a little sore. The irony was that he continued to play for a couple more weeks, hit some homers, and seemed fine. Then in June we were in Seattle, and Jose made a throw from the outfield. As soon as he released the ball he clutched at his arm. That’s when we finally had him checked, sending him to Los Angeles to be examined by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe.
I was in Tom Grieve’s office when we got the news. Jose had a torn ligament in his elbow and would need Tommy John-type surgery. He was out for the year. To call this a crisis for a first-year manager defines understatement. One of the team’s best players was lost for the year with a severe elbow injury after I green-lighted him to pitch an inning. Sure, I needed an extra pitcher that day, but in truth I was simply allowing Jose to scratch an itch he had had for some time. The report from Dr. Jobe took some of the heat off.
He explained that this was a progressive injury, a tear that was becoming greater over time and probably had begun the year before. Jose’s full-fan performance in the bullpen might have enhanced it, and then the throw from the outfield finally blew out the elbow. When I heard that, the light went on. Dr. Jobe said a ligament problem affects everything the player does, including swinging the bat. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Jose hadn’t had quite his usual bat speed before the injury, and I also recalled him pushing the ball from the outfield on occasion, not throwing like I thought he should. He was always the kind of guy who played injured and didn’t ask out unless he was hurting very badly.
Mike Greenwell’s final game as the Red Sox left fielder came on September 28, 1996. He was not retiring: he said: “I’m not by any means saying I’m retiring because I’m not. If the right situation is out there, I’ll play. I’ll play with some enthusiasm and a new challenge.
“I’m not leaving upset and I’m not leaving disappointed. My emotions are mixed, but as far as being happy, I’m happy. I’m proud of what I’ve done here. I hope I’ve given a reason for people to talk and come to the ballpark. If I’ve done that, it was worth it.”
Instead, he and Roger Clemens were playing their final games for Boston. Things were rough at Fenway, as a Providence Journal article reported:
“Mike Greenwell, with no contract on the horizon, cleaned out his locker one alligator at a time last Tuesday, even though the Boston Red Sox were in a heated battle for the wild-card spot.
Manager Kevin Kennedy understood.
General manager Dan Duquette seethed.
Roger Clemens held court with the media that same afternoon, explaining how he might not pitch if asked on the final weekend of the season because he didn’t have a contract for next year.
Duquette’s blood pressure rose even higher.
Yesterday, it boiled over.
Duquette fired Kennedy, the man he selected to manage the Red Sox only two seasons ago; the man who led the team to an American League East Division title in 1995; the man who led this year’steam to an amazing second-half comeback that almost netted the team a post-season berth.
Kennedy was too close to his players, apparently, for Duquette’s liking, forgetting that, as manager, he has to be part of a “cohesive team” to run the ball club.”
Upon hearing news of the firing, Greenwell said: “It seems to me like Dan Duquette is making excuses. He’s putting the blame on the players?
“Kevin had nothing to do with (the press conferences by Greenwell and Clemens).
“He could not have stopped or started what I said or Roger said. Dan provoked that. He’s all about power. He wants to be the only voice.
“If he wants to fire Kevin, fine. That’s his decision. But to put the blame on me and Roger is bull.”
Duquette countered: “The management team has to be on the same page. If the manager is confused whether he’s a mediator or management team, that’s where the problem begins.
“The manager is an extension of the general manager, who is an extension of the owner.
“It didn’t help the way the season ended. It was just abominable for me to see players cleaning out their lockers before the most important game of our season.
“That is just not acceptable in any operation. We were playing for the pennant. We had unfinished business.”
Duquette said this about Greenwell and Clemens, and others, failing to play out the season: “That is their job. To play. They are part of a first-class organization. They are treated very well.
“We want to have an organization that contends year in and year out. We (management and the players) have a mutual interest here – to bring a World Championship to New England.
“The players have been in the trenches with their manager all summer. It’s natural they’d be supportive of their boss. But in the long term, what we didwas for the best interests of the ballclub.”
The departure of Greenwell and Clemens was the end of a certain time in Red Sox history: the guys from the ’80s were departing the stage, and the Yankees were on the rise. The report of Greenwell’s final game made that clear:
“As it turned out, he went 0-for-4. He was robbed of a hit by a diving Darryl Strawberry in the sixth, then came up again with the bases loaded in the eighth. Facing overpowering right-hander Mariano Rivera, Greenwell fisted a spinner to shortstop Derek Jeter, who mishandled the ball for an error.
Shortly after Greenwell crossed first base, he was replaced by pinch-runner Lee Tinsley. He will not be in the lineup today, though a pinch-hitting appearance should not be ruled out.”
In 1997, Greenwell had a herniated disc from a mishap in training camp with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. He said this about being replaced in left by Wil Cordero:
“It’s weird. I still feel like I belong there. I still feel like I could put up numbers as good as the guy that’s out there now. It’s different if there’s some young, up-and-coming star, but when they bring in someone, I think that bothers you a little bit.
“That seemed to be in their plans from the day they got him and that kind of bothered me,” Greenwell said of the decision to move Cordero to left field. “I didn’t realize it until the end of the year that no matter what I did, I wasn’t going to be back because I had the ear of the players and the ear of the media. That bothered some people.”
“(Cordero is) a good athlete, but it ain’t as easy as it looks and the fans will let him know that. I used to always hear (from the fans), ‘Jimmy would have had it,’ or ‘Yaz would have had it,’ or ‘Ted would have had it.’ Maybe over the course of the year, he’ll hear ‘Mike would have had it.”‘