Boston Red Sox: Dave Dombrowski a Frank Lane redux?
By Rick McNair
Dave Dombrowski of the Boston Red Sox has certainly shaken up the team in his term at the helm of baseball operations. This is reminiscent of another GM who rarely let a day go by without a deal.
Dave Dombrowski could never have operated as a general manager when Tom Yawkey owned the Boston Red Sox.
Yawkey had numerous players that were his favorites, such as Lefty Grove, who was a regular to Yawkey’s expansive South Carolina estate. Others were often treated like the son Yawkey never had and personal indulgences and less than exemplary behaviors were dismissed.
The Red Sox often had viral attachments to their team that reflected upon the country club atmosphere that existed from decade to decade. The Boston Gold Sox or “25 cabs for 25 players” were both dismissive and insightful from the outside looking in.
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Yawkey was a benefactor and his payroll was deep with former players and administrators. Joe Cronin eventually became president of the American League. Pinky Higgins would become a manager, general manager and Yawkey confidant. Dombrowski would have never survived in a Yawkey owned team.
A general manager has to minimize emotional attachments to players – both on the major league roster and within the farm system. The feel the love ends when a business opportunity trumps it and Dombrowski has an extensive history of shuffling the goods when a sense of team improvement surfaces.
Boston fans have a firsthand witness to the Dombrowski method of operation with trades, prospects sent elsewhere and free agent signings. That also existed in other professional stops so this is not any sudden revelation. The frantic actions of the Winter Meetings summoned up my memories of Frank Lane.
Just who was Frank Lane?
My very first copy of The Sporting News was an introduction to Frank Lane, who was the GM of the Chicago White Sox. Lane seems to appear in every picture the same way – telephone in one hand and a paper in the other. Lane was the consummate “baseball man” with an extensive executive resume. Lane was a GM for seven different teams and one in the National Basketball Association.
"“I think Frank does belong in the Hall of Fame. His impact on our sport and on so many franchises was really critical, and he was one of those individuals who, when you met, you would never forget. He was a remarkable human being.” Bud Selig"
Frank Lane was known by several nicknames and the two that are certainly most reprentative are “Trader Frank” and “Frantic Frank.” Need examples? As GM of the Chicago White Sox for seven seasons, Lane made an astounding 241 trades that involved 400 players. When hired by the Cardinals in 1955 the typical Lane operation took place.
Players were sold off and traded. The manager – Harry Walker – was fired. Lane would never hesitate to trade a player who was a star, fan favorite or one of potential promise. Shortly after becoming the Cardinals GM he shipped perennial All-Star Red Schoendienst off to the Giants. A few seasons later Lane proposed a deal with the Phillies – Stan Musial for Robin Roberts.
Lane loved the deal. This was his opiate. And Lane didn’t limit it to players as he once swapped managers with another team. Leaving the Cards via resignation after just two seasons the Lane swapping show moved on to Cleveland, where the results were immediate – Early Wynn was traded.
"“He practiced change, shaking up the status quo. If you had a team in the doldrums and you wanted something new, Frank Lane was your guy. He was the ultimate advocate of change.” GM Hank Peters"
Of all the Lane trades – there is a substantial list of success and failures – the one that I have often found the most fascinating was trading reigning home run champion Rocky Colavito from the Indians to the Tigers for reigning batting champion Harvey Kuenn.
Lane shifted organizations as quickly as he shifted players, but he did build clubs that eventually – or some did – prosper. A foundation that the builder rarely stayed around to witness. Lane was certainly equal part’s ability, flamboyance, impulsiveness, and shrewd.
Lane was far less measured than Dombrowski and had the impulsive itch to make a deal – just any deal – seemed to bear that out. Their personalities appear on the surface to be opposite – one quite measured and the other not. Lane had a notorious reputation for not being as responsive as possible to senior management – namely the ownership. Dombrowski presents the opposite.
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Dombrowski and Lane have a certain unity that relates to their performance regarding the trading of players. Neither approached any sudden player loyalty, but merely did what was necessary for their vision of improvement both long and short-term. A vision that often infuriates fans and raises questions of administration sanity by media pundits. I find Dombrowski’s approach far less hectic than Lane’s, but – like Lane – one who deals without concerns for looking back.
Sources: Hard Ball Times/Baseball-Reference/Frantic Frank Lane by Bob Vanderberg/SABR