The Gateway Grizzlies led the league in transactions last year with nearly 50 and won the Frontier League championship.
Entering the second half of this season, the Mid-Missouri Mavericks have shattered the Grizzlies’ number with 68 roster changes, but the results are no where near the same.
Midway through the 2004 season, the Mavericks are 8-40, 20 games out of first place. They are the only team in the Frontier League West Division without a winning record.
Mavericks President Gary Wendt summed up the season in one word: “Underachievers.”
The Mavericks had plenty of reasons to be optimistic entering the season.
They hired Jack Clark, a former St. Louis Cardinals slugger, to coach the Mavericks in October. They also netted Bill Clark to occupy the spot of director of player procurement.
“It was certainly a false optimism, but we certainly thought we made the right changes,” Wendt said. “We thought it would lead to a more competitive ballclub.”
Once the losses began piling up, the organization began shuffling players in and out with seemingly a handful of transactions a day.
“Maybe I brought in bad players, but some of these guys had pretty good success,” Bill Clark said. “It seemed like it was hard to satisfy the coaching staff.”
“I felt like I had contributed very little because the kids I brought in went out that revolving door immediately.”
Bill Clark didn’t get any help from a preseason trade that sent Bill Greenwell, an All-Star first baseman, to the Washington Wild Things for pitchers Jason Elkins and Brian Dorsey on May 14.
Greenwell is leading the Wild Things with 35 RBIs; the Mavericks cut Dorsey on June 3 and Elkins on June 6.
“It was one of those deals where we had some guys with some pretty good numbers last year,” said Jeff Johnson, director of broadcasting and media relations. “They thought they had some guys in here that could fill those voids.
“You have to remember that last year we were in last place, too. We were 33-57. We tried to load up on pitching; we felt like we were weak in the area of pitching. Some of them have worked out. Some of them haven’t.”
Bill Clark resigned June 17. At the time, he said, “Maybe my expectations were too high. I didn’t live up to my own expectations, and I didn’t live up to management’s expectations.”
Wendt dispersed the blame, saying the organization struggled to put a competitive team on the field.
Five days after Bill Clark resigned, Jack Clark stopped managing after cancer was diagnosed in his father.
Although the Mavericks never knew who would sit on their bench on a day-to-day basis, the players accepted it as part of minor-league baseball.
“It’s part of the business,” left fielder Blake Blase said. “You just have to take care of what you can.”
Blase is one of the only Mavericks left from last year’s team.
Catcher Matt Oakes, who has played for Mid-Missouri since opening day, said thinking about the cuts is unavoidable.
“That always goes through your mind, but you just go out and play,” he said. “It’s really an opportunity, and you make the best of your opportunity. If you don’t produce, then you’re going to go on down the road.”
Blase, Oakes and infielder Chad Sterbens are the only Mavericks left from the opening-day lineup.
Wendt said the carousel is coming to a stop for the position players. He cited exceptions, such as if a player they are interested in is cut from a Single-A team or if a Maverick gets injured.
Pitching, though, is unfinished.
“We’re going to try to improve the pitching,” Wendt said. “We’re always looking at pitchers.”
Jim Gentile, who replaced Jack Clark as manager, said he has noticed a more relaxed attitude in the dugout.
“They like (a stabilized roster) much better,” Gentile said. “That’s why I think we’re going to get a little cohesion here. I like playing them at the same position instead of switching them around.”
Oakes had a similar opinion, saying, “It’s easier on the players’ minds knowing that the roster is supposed to be sealed up, and they can just go out and play.”
Whether the increase in stability translates into an increase in victories remains to be seen, but Gentile remains positive. The Mavericks resume play against Springfield on Friday night at Taylor Stadium after the three-day All-Star break.
“I think we have a good ballclub,” Gentile said. “I’m hoping we can come back in the second half and shake off whatever we have now.”
The Mavericks went 4-24 under Clark. Under Gentile, they’re 6-16. The Mavs closed out the first half in encouraging fashion. Monday marked the first time this season the Mavs won consecutive games.
Wendt said that he is pleased with Gentile’s performance.
“Jim’s a first-class guy,” Wendt said. “He’s a very positive guy with a lot of baseball knowledge.”
Jack Clark said he would like to return to the Mavericks’ bench in 2005, but whether the Mavericks will return has not been determined.
“It’s too premature,” Wendt said.