At 6 o’clock Wednesday night, Bill Lajoie left his office at Tiger Stadium with no bigger evening plans that his grandson’s birthday party. A day’s worth of frantic deal-making had fallen through. The Tigers would get no offensive help before the Sept. 1 trade deadline; Lajoie was coming home empty-handed. They would have to sink or swim with their current roster. He walked in the house. The phone rang.
So much for the birthday party.
“Sometimes it happens that way,” said Lajoie, after completing two deals just before the clock ran out Wednesday, bringing in veteran power hitter Fred Lynn and relief pitcher Ted Power for minor league players, some of whom will be named later. “I had talked with Lynn and his agent earlier in the afternoon. He had wanted an extra year on his contract which already took him through 1989. I said that was as far as I could take it and so we hung up.
“I figured it was over. The rules say the player has to be with his new team by midnight of August 31st, and the last flight that would have gotten him there from California (where Lynn’s team, the Baltimore Orioles were playing) left at 4:30. So I left the office.”
And then Lynn called back and said he had changed his mind.
“Did he say why?” someone wondered.
“I didn’t ask,” said Lajoie.
He didn’t ask. Why should he? This is not a foolish man. This is not a man who can’t tell good fortune when it jumps up and bites him in the rear end — or in this case, calls on the phone. Within minutes, Lajoie had arranged for a private charter, and Mr. Fred Lynn was being whisked to his new home, quite possibly as the only man on the plane.
Is this a great country or what? The case against — and for
He did it again. No matter what ultimately happens with Fred Lynn in a Tiger uniform, give Lajoie credit: he managed to work a deal that cannot hurt the current club — and he did it within a whisker of the deadline.
First let’s make the case against Lynn. He’s 36. He’s had a lot of injuries in his career. He had an ankle problem this year. The Tigers gave up a number of young players for him, and young players are the nucleus of a future.
OK. Satisfied? Now let’s make the case for Lynn. He’s an experienced veteran. He’s been through this time of year. He was once an MVP, a batting champ, a multiple-time All-Star, a four- time Golden Glover. He’s hit 18 home runs this year and is hitting .252, and if that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, then you obviously aren’t a fan of our power-starved Tigers.
“We needed some pop,” said Lajoie, quite accurately, “especially now. To be honest with you, last week we had a four-game lead and we were looking pretty good. Then all of a sudden we hit a rough spot and we got all these injuries. I’m not sure we would have made any deals last week, but we had to work pretty quickly once we decide to.”
The waters were rough. Other teams could smell the panic in the Tigers, and they asked for the world. To Lajoie’s credit, he refused to give away anything in a sweat.
“I had one guy refuse a trade with me last week, when all our guys were healthy. Then on Monday, he calls back and says, ‘Ok, we’ll make the deal.’ Well sure. Now he wants to make it. I can’t do it now, what with all the injured guys. That’s the way it works.”
Lynn should fit in well with these Tigers. He can walk into a clubhouse and see Darrell Evans, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell and know that he’s not with a bunch of emotional kids. And he certainly isn’t in Baltimore anymore. Maybe that’s why he changed his mind. Maybe, after thinking about it, he figured a year and half with a pennant contender might be worth a bend in his contract stance.
We can ask him. Once he slips on the uniform. New blood can be a spark Know this. Lynn could have an effect even if he doesn’t set the ball on fire with his first few at-bats. Sometimes just the presence of a new player, especially someone who has a history such as Lynn, can inspire the others to perk up. “We needed some new blood,” said Lajoie.
“I promised Sparky I wasn’t going to quit until I found us some.”
In addition, the Tigers acquired Power, a pitcher who can only help their suddenly weary bullpen. True his numbers are unspectacular. But don’t forget, the Tigers injury list is so long that Don Heinkel is looking at starting a game.
The best part of all this is that Lajoie gave away nothing from the current team. He did not trade a Frank Tanana or an Eric King or a Steve Searcy, taking that gamble of pitcher-for- power. Whatever Lynn and Power add to this team will be a plus, simply because they have taken nothing away.
“When you’re in first place come September,” said Lajoie, “you do whatever you have to to win it this year. That’s the way you have to think. We didn’t play the first five months just to give up.”
He sighed. Somewhere in the skies, his newest player was flying in, beating deadline (unless, of course, he was flying Northwest). He would be in uniform by tonight’s game. He would be available should the Tigers make the playoffs. Two deals had been made, both after dinner, both after it looked like nothing would happen.
The cost? A grandson’s birthday party.
“I wanted to see him ride the scooter I got him,” said Lajoie. “That’s the only thing that bothers me.”
Give him a couple playoff tickets, Bill.
He’ll get over it.