The Oakland A's have a ways to go before they can comfortably use the d-word, but their latest acquisitions certainly smack of dynasty-building. And the Athletics' method suggests that they're following baseball's best blueprint for such things: the 1949-64 New York Yankees.
In every one of those glory years, it seemed, the Yankees would pick up a veteran for the stretch run and beyond; and every time, it seemed, the plan worked. From '49 through '64, the Bronx Bombers won 14 pennants and nine world championships, and much of the credit belongs to George Weiss, the general manager from '47 to '60 and baseball's all-time leading pennant insurance agent.
Players snatched by Weiss in late-season deals include Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny Mize (1949), first baseman Johnny Hopp ('50), pitcher Johnny Sain ('51), pitcher Ray Scarborough ('52), pitcher Ewell Blackwell ('52), pitcher Jim Konstanty ('54), Hall of Fame outfielder Enos Slaughter ('56), pitcher Sal Maglie ('57), pitcher Murry Dickson ('58) and first baseman Dale Long ('60). Every one paid dividends.
In late August 1949, the Yankees, under new manager Casey Stengel, were battling the Boston Red Sox for first when Weiss picked up Mize on waivers from the New York Giants for $40,000. "In an exhibition that spring, Casey had asked me how I was doin'," the 77-year-old Mize said last week from his home in Demorest, Ga. "I said, 'Not too well. I ain't playin'.' And he said, 'You would if you were with us.' "
The acquisition of the Big Cat, at the age of 36, was blasted in the press. Wrote Will Wedge of the New York Sun: "The Yankees' surprise purchase of Johnny Mize, a big, slow, former slugger, who had seemed approaching the washed-up stage with the Giants, reveals the panicky state of the Yankees' front office." Mize silenced the critics a few days later with a two-run homer off Bob Feller to help beat Cleveland. He paid bigger dividends in the years to come, hitting 25 homers in 1950 and batting .400 with three homers and six RBIs in the '52 Series. All in all, the "washed-up" Mize played in five Series for the Yankees and inspired these immortal lines from sportswriter Dan Parker: "Your arm is gone; your legs likewise,/But not your eyes, Mize, not your eyes!"
Late in August 1956, Weiss and Stengel, eyeing a World Series against Brooklyn, decided they needed a lefthanded-hitting outfielder against the predominantly righthanded-pitching Dodgers. They purchased Slaughter from the Kansas City Athletics on Aug. 25, and he went on to bat .289 in 24 games and .350 in the Series. But to make room for Slaughter, the Yankees had to cut a player.
Stengel called shortstop Phil Rizzuto, who had lost his starting job to Gil McDougald, to his office. Stengel and Weiss asked the Scooter to look over the roster and suggest who should be cut. Rizzuto suggested backup catcher Charlie Silvera or pitcher Rip Coleman, but Stengel explained why they were needed. Only then did it dawn on Rizzuto that they wanted to release him. Distraught, he walked out of Yankee Stadium that day and never played another game.
But the dynasty lived on. And while the 1990 Athletics have yet to defend their title, they're on the right track. "The A's are doing just what the Yanks did," says Mize. "If they need someone, they get him. The other clubs sit back and wait until it's too late."
The Athletics should be forewarned, though. In 1951, the minor league pitcher that the Yankees gave the Braves to get Sain was a kid from Nitro, W.Va., named Selva Lewis Burdette. In the '57 World Series, Lew Burdette pitched three complete-game victories—4-2, 1-0 and 5-0—as the Braves beat the Yankees in seven games.
Slaughter (above) and Mize (far right) helped Stengel stay a step ahead.