Looking at the Mueller and Huckaby Moves

Bill Mueller retired. He had to. There ain't no market for a one legged third baseman, although several with less than two good legs have been placed at the corner on occasion. But Mueller's wheels were so bad one wonders why the Dodgers gave him a $9 million two year contract last year without a physical examination.

So now GM Ned Colletti, who has a long time relationship with Mueller, makes a top level job for him and for 2007 he will get the same money he would have gotten as a player - $4.5 million. Now that is more than Colletti makes. It is, egads, more than Tuxedo Tommy makes (and if you think that will not make him burn, you don't know Tommy).

Obviously it is insurance money picking up the tab, but no difference, that's a lot of money for a guy who is yet another example of the Lasorda Dictum, i.e., he aint never done any of the things he's going to get all that money to do.

Well, Colletti is the boss, he likes Mueller, it is done, so it is better not to grouse about it. While this is good advice, it is the kind of advice Tuxedo Tommy hasn't always followed. He is a champ for getting his 2 cents in one way or another.

With 79 summers of watching the olives grow, Tommy has buried many a branch we has figured would not bear good fruit. Branches like Rick Sutcliffe, Pedro Martinez, John Wetteland to name a few. Of course, it is dirty pool to say the branches did bear some pretty good fruit, but elsewhere.

Since Mueller's job will entail talent assessment, he will be directly competing with the ageless one. To Mueller's advantage, even though he hasn't done it before, he will start out at even, which is somewhere ahead of Tuxedo Tommy's real success record.

In another little noticed signing, some team picked up veteran big league pinch hitter Dave Hansen as a double A hitting coach. Hansen, who holds the L.A. record for single season (18) and career pinch hits (110) was another long time Dodger who had future manager written all over him, just like Dino Ebel, the current California Angels third base coach. It was also noticed Orel Hershiser did not get the managerial job in Oakland.

On the same day the big Dodgers news was the retirement and rehiring of another Colletti crony, there was a little noticed clip that didn't even make the official Dodgers website - the hiring of career minor league catching veteran Ken Huckaby at a minor league contract. It says here that this was a very wise signing, a dandy.

You have to be a baseball junky to know more than a glitch about Ken Huckaby. Fifteen years ago, he was the regular catcher at Class A Vero Beach and a pretty good starting catcher. He didn't hit with power, but then neither did the major league catcher Mike Scioscia. Then came the amateur draft and the Dodgers took a left handed hitting catcher Darrin Fletcher out of college ball. There was no contest.

The Dodgers simply announced Huckaby and Fletcher would platoon. Made no matter at the time that Huckaby knew the league, knew the hitters, knew his pitchers and in fact was a hands down better mechanical catcher behind the plate.

As soon as the announcement was made in the locker room, Huckaby immediately read the tea leaves -- he was never going to be an everyday catcher in professional baseball. He had been consigned to part time player, extra, hanger on, a supplement rather than a star.

Many players at this point frankly decide whether or not to go home. If they have a wife, it is time for a soul searching family decision. If they have any other career that might offer substance if not flash, it's time to think about ditching dreams for regular income, no matter hot humdrum.

Now almost 17 years later, Huckaby plugs on. Fletcher. He got to the big leagues and rather quickly. He was a lefty hitting catcher, and just like for lefty pitchers, there are different rules for the guys who eat with the fork in the wrong hand. Fletcher got 6 or 7 years in the big leagues, a passable year or two, and then slipped out of sight. Kenny Huckaby, who was in baseball before him, is still in the game, like the energizer bunny.

Huckaby is the antithesis of Mike Piazza. Piazza can hit but not catch. Huckaby can catch but not hit. Together they'd have been the best of all time. One got money, and will even go to the Hall of Fame. The other, Kenny Huckaby, got some crumbs of the table.

It seems he made a dozen big league teams, sometimes for spring training, sometimes for a one week callup, a couple of times for a month or so, one or twice even for half a season. In all, he has gotten credit for six big league seasons. He was never a regular.

We betcha' even Kenny Huckaby can't remember all the places he's been. Between majors and minors, he's had over 75 stops, or so it seems.

And now, he's come back to the Dodgers organization for the first time in over 15 years. Signing a minor league deal. The Dodgers picked up Einar Diaz in mid-year last year, but he filed for free agency and the Dodgers know they can't keep regular catcher Toby Hall happy playing behind Russell Martin. So it figures the Dodgers will accommodate Hall, who has some value, and trade him. Enter Ken Huckaby.

Like Bill Mueller, who went from active player to front office guy in the blink of an eye, Kenny Huckaby is an active player, albeit a part time one, who is just about ready to go from player to coach in another blink of an eye.

Ken Huckaby loves baseball. It is his life. Heck, he loves it so much he even pick up Tuxedo Tommy's dinner bills and would think (or know) he was getting screwed. (Tommy would tell him that's how he got started, and he would be right. In fact, Huckaby and Lasorda's big league careers are about the same if you'd care to look it up.)

We are glad Ken Huckaby is home in the Dodgers organization. We hope they will have the smarts to hang on to the young man just like they hung onto Bill Mueller.

Being closer to 70 than 60, we nonetheless still dream occasionally. And we were day-dreaming of a day in the not too distant future where the Dodgers field staff could include Hershiser, Ebel, Hansen and Huckaby.

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