Dave Dombrowski has an impressive trade-deadline track record and there’s a deal he made with the Phillies that remains near and dear to his heart.
On July 21, 1997, as the 40-year-old general manager of the Florida Marlins, he persuaded Phillies general manager Lee Thomas to part with Darren Daulton in exchange for outfielder Billy McMillon.
“It’s one of the best moves for me personally and for the Florida organization because it helped us win a world championship,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve been in the postseason a number of times, but I’ve only won the world championship twice.”
And that was the first one.
“We liked Billy McMillon, but I remember at the time when I talked to Lee, he said to me, ‘I’m telling you, when you get Darren Daulton, you’re going to win the championship,’ ” Dombrowski said. “He said, ‘This guy is that kind of difference maker.’ And he was absolutely right, so for me it was one of the biggest trade-deadline deals of my career.”
Daulton, in his last hurrah as a big-league player, played in 52 games for the Marlins and batted .262 with a .371 on-base percentage and contributed eight doubles, two triples, three home runs, and 21 RBIs. During the Marlins’ seven-game World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians, Daulton batted .389 (7-for-18) with two doubles and a home run. He also scored seven times.
The numbers were nice. His clubhouse words and presence meant so much more, and that’s not an exaggeration. Daulton’s own teammates were astonished at how quickly he emerged as their leader, which was no small accomplishment when you consider that the Marlins had a long list of accomplished stars, including Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Devon White, and Gary Sheffield.
“Dutch came over and held a team meeting,” former Marlins first baseman Cliff Floyd said during a Fox Sports Florida video tribute to the late Daulton. “I think it was the first week he was there, right?”
Laughing, Floyd continued: “Here I am sitting next to Jeff Conine … and our locker room was pretty cool because you could see everybody … and Dutch comes in and says, ‘From the outside looking in … this is a country club.’ I can’t say some of the stuff he was saying, but he said, ‘From the outside looking in, this is an old country club. You all come in looking all relaxed and content and complacent and we ain’t winning nothing like that.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘This cocky team we have … somebody is going to get up and let Dutch have it.’ Not a peep. He commanded that much respect.
“I thought to myself, ‘This might be it.’ This was an opportunity for us to shine because everybody understood exactly what he was saying and I think our accountability went to another level after that meeting.”
Johnson, an All-Star and Gold Glove catcher that season, concurred.
“There was a big emotional change when Daulton came in,” Johnson said. “When Dutch Daulton came in, I believe he brought a different style of energy and a different style of leadership. He really changed the way we thought and the way we played. He was a big pickup.”
Though he knew of his reputation, Dombrowski said he was still surprised at how quickly Daulton took command.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Dombrowski said. “It’s a rarity even when you are a leader or a guy who has been around to be able to do what he did. It took him about three days before he closed the clubhouse door with our team that year and kind of let them have it. He kind of presented his thought process, so, yeah, I was a little bit surprised that he would be that vocal in such a short time period and pleasantly so.
“That just shows how good of a player he was and how good of a leader he was. This guy was a presence. There aren’t many guys made like him. When he walked into the room he had the respect of everybody. I had never seen anybody with quite that kind of presence and I don’t know if I have ever seen anybody since then have quite that presence.”
Dombrowski hit the jackpot again six days after the Daulton deal by acquiring Craig Counsell from the Colorado Rockies for a relief pitcher named Mark Hutton. Counsell, 26 years-old at the time, had two career plate appearances in the big leagues.
He ended up replacing Luis Castillo as the team’s second baseman and hit .299 with a .376 on-base percentage in the regular season and .279 with a .407 on-base percentage in the postseason while playing nearly flawless defense.
“I don’t think we win without Craig Counsell either because he did so much,” Dombrowski said. “But I remember our scout, Dick Egan, he was out there and we were looking for a second baseman. We really liked Castillo, but he wasn’t quite ready for the big time and Dick Egan was out there watching triple-A teams and he calls me and says, ‘I think I have the answer for our second-base situation. This guy is really good and fundamentally sound.’ He recommends Craig Counsell out of triple A for a world championship club. What kind of scouting is that?”
It’s the kind that made Dombrowski a World Series champion for the first time in his career.