Tuesday, June 5, 2012

All-Time Bluefield Team - Joe Altobelli

I've written 25 posts on this site profiling players for the All-Time Bluefield-to-the-Bigs Team. It's an impressive list of players, but I realized I need to pick a manager to lead the club. I pretty much had five guys to choose from, three of which had won Appy League titles with Bluefield. I chose the only one of them that also managed a World Series champ...Joe Altobelli.

But first, a little bit about the four former Bluefield managers and their MLB experience:

Billy Hunter: Won the Texas League MVP with the Fort Worth Cats in 1952 and made the American League All-Star team as a rookie with the St. Louis Browns in 1953. He and Satchel Paige were the last All-Stars in the history of the Browns and Hunter accompanied the team in their move to Baltimore. He was the O's very first shortstop and seventh hitter. He went into managing and won Appy League titles in his two seasons in Bluefield ('62 and '63). In 1964 he joined the big league coaching staff and served as Baltimore's third base coach from 1964 to 1977, when he became manager of the Texas Rangers in June. He went 60-33 to close the season as the previously moribund Rangers finished with 94 wins, their best-ever finish until 1999. He won 87 games in 1978 before being replaced. He was the athletic director at Towson University from 1979 to 1995. He'll turn 84 on June 4th.

Jim Frey: Like Hunter, he won the Texas League MVP (1957 Tulsa Oilers). He succeeded Hunter as the skipper of the Baby Birds in 1964 and the team finished last in the four-team Appy League at 27-44. The following year, he went 31-38 to finish fifth out of six teams. He became an Orioles scout in the late 60s, then joined Earl Weaver's Baltimore coaching staff in 1970. He served as hitting coach and/or first base coach from 1970-79 before getting his first major league managing job in Kansas City. He led the Royals to the World Series in that first season in 1980, but they lost in six games to the Phillies. He was fired halfway through the '81 season, then landed with the Mets as hitting coach in '82 and '83 (alongside pitching coach and former Bluefielder Bill Monbouquette). He got another managing gig in 1984 with the Cubs and again had success in his first season, winning 96 games and the NL Manager of the Year Award. They came within one game of another pennant, but let a 2-0 NLCS lead slip away. After the three-game collapse, he suffered two losing seasons and was let go. There was a brief stint doing Cubs games on WGN before he rejoined the club as GM from 1988-91, winning another division title in 1989. He is currently the vice-chairman of the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League, who are managed by another former Bluefielder, Sparky Lyle).

John Hart: Won the Appy League championship in 1982 and a Double-A Southern League crown in '84 with the Charlotte O's. He was Frank Robinson's third base coach in Baltimore in 1988 during their historic and disastrous 0-21 start. In '89, he joined Cleveland as a scout and after Doc Edwards was let go as manager of the Indians, Hart took over for the last few weeks of the season, going 8-11. Hart was named Cleveland's GM in 1991 and was at the helm for their glory years until 2001. From there it was on to Texas, where he served as GM until 2005 and has since been a senior adviser in the front office. He also works as an analyst on MLB Network.

Grady Little: Started 22-year managerial career with a 29-39, fifth-place finish in Bluefield in 1980. He later won three minor league championships in Atlanta's system ('86 Appy League with Pulaski, '92 Southern League with Greenville and '94 International League with Richmond). After coaching with the Padres, Red Sox and Indians, Little took over as Boston's manager in 2002. He won 93 and 95 games in two seasons, but his tenure was marred by his decision in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. Up 4-1 and five outs away from the pennant, he left Pedro Martinez in too long against the Yankees, a move that did not end well. He was fired by the Red Sox, but he wound up with the Dodgers in 2006 and led them to the playoffs that year before resigning in '07.

Those guys had good careers, Altobelli gets the nod here.

Joseph Salvatore Altobelli was born on May 26, 1932 in Detroit (happy belated 80th!). He signed with the Cleveland Indians and began his pro playing career in 1951 with the Daytona Beach Islanders. That year, he knocked a hit in 36 straight games, setting a Florida State League record that stood until 2010. What's cool about that streak is that another FSL player had a streak going as well and was stopped at 35 days earlier. He played 18 seasons in the minors, mostly as a first baseman. Four of them were in Rochester, where he has been very popular over the years.

Joe had a cup of coffee in the majors during three seasons, batting .210 in 166 games with the 1955 and 1957 Indians and 1961 Twins.

He then got into managing and spent two years in Bluefield, culminating with an Appalachian League championship in 1967. That team featured two future MLB stars and All-Time Bluefield Teamers Bobby Grich and Don Baylor.

Altobelli moved up and returned to the Rochester Red Wings, winning International League titles in 1971 and 1974 while making the playoffs in all six of his seasons as manager.

That earned him his first major league managing gig. He joined the San Francisco Giants in 1977 and had two losing seasons sandwich an 89-win campaign in three years. It was back to the minors in 1980 and he won another IL crown that year with the Columbus Clippers in the Yankees farm system. He coached with the Yankees for two seasons before he got another shot at managing in 1983.

There were big shoes to fill in Baltimore, but Altobelli replaced the legendary Earl Weaver as manager of the Orioles in style. He guided the team to 98 wins and the division title. Baltimore rolled through the White Sox in the ALCS, then took down the Phillies in five games to win the World Series.

They won 85 games as defending champs in '84, but they finished 19 games out in fifth place, perhaps as the best fifth-place team ever. He was fired in 1985 and aside from a one-game interim stint with the 1991 Cubs, it was his last MLB managing job.

He spent some time coaching with the Cubs and Yankees, but most of his post-Orioles life has been in Rochester. Joe returned to the Red Wings in '91 and served as general manager for three seasons. He was in the the broadcast booth calling Rochester games 1998-2008 and has been inducted into two Halls of Fame (Red Wings in 1989 and International League in 2008).

A four-time champion in the minors, Altobelli is one of the most forgotten World Series winning managers of recent history. But he's my pick for manager on the All-Time Bluefield Team.

That concludes the All-Time Bluefield to the Bigs series. We are two weeks away from the start of the Bluefield Blue Jays season and I will be getting ready for Opening Day. The 2012 team media guide will be up on www.BluefieldJays.com around the June 19 opener. BluefieldJays.com and this blog will be the go-to spot for Baby Birds news and notes, audio highlights and live radio broadcasts!

All-Time Bluefield Roster
Joe Altobelli

SP 1 Dean Chance
SP 2 Mike Boddicker
SP 3 Bill Monbouquette
SP 4 Pete Harnisch
SP 5 Storm Davis
RP Tom Phoebus
RP Ken McBride
RP Sammy Stewart
RP Jim Johnson
Setup Arthur Rhodes
Setup Armando Benitez
Closer Sparky Lyle

C Gregg Zaun
C Johnny Gooch

1B Eddie Murray
2B Bobby Grich
SS Cal Ripken
3B Doug DeCinces
IF Boog Powell
IF Mark Belanger

LF Don Baylor
CF Luis Matos
RF Bob Bailor
OF David Dellucci
OF John Shelby

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