Larry Dolan’s eight years as owner of the Indians have not been a joyride, but it’s getting smoother. So let’s sit down with him and reflect on this journey which he undertook late in life. He is now 76. Four years ago he quietly passed the torch to his son, Paul, who succeeded him as president running the day-to-day business of the ballclub.
“I’m no spring chicken,” said Dolan. “I had to be convinced he wanted the job and that he was capable of doing the job. That’s no longer an issue. He has been effectively doing the job of owner for a couple years now. I do these kind of things (interviews). He does the work.”
And what path is the family patriarch embarking on?
“I will, as a good general once said, just fade away,” Dolan said, quoting General of the Army Douglas MacArthur upon his retirement more than 50 years ago.
Before Dolan fades away, we must get his views on the highs and lows.
“I feel, for the first time, we are really doing the job that can be done,” he said the other day. “I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of that.
“I can’t go anywhere without people coming up and saying, ‘Thank you.’ I’m doing what needs to be done. So I’m enjoying it immensely. I appreciate the attention.”
A few years ago fans were saying other things and the sportswriters were worse.
“Nobody has patience for rebuilding. Some of the things, frankly, were hurtful,” Dolan said. “Certainly after the Colon trade. Largely in the media. But I know some of these guys. They’re passionate. They care.”
The Colon trade was controversial at the time, but it paid off. He would do it again. The Indians sent pitcher Bartolo Colon to Montreal for centerfielder Grady Sizemore, pitcher Cliff Lee, first baseman Lee Stevens and second baseman Brandon Phillips. Stevens and Phillips are gone. Colon later won a World Series ring with the California Angels.
“With Colon we would have stayed a middling team. We wanted more than that,” said Dolan. “We had to pay a price. There were some questions about Colon’s durability. They proved to be somewhat true.”
Brandon Phillips was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, where he has become a genuine star.
“I have difficulty every time I look at the Cincinnati stats. We could have done that better,” Dolan admits.
On the other hand, the Indians were skeptical of Phillips’ attitude. They were not sure he would fit in. There are two i’s in Phillips. On this ballclub there are no i’s.
“I feel real comfortable with the second basemen we have, Cabrera and Barfield,” said Dolan.
So what’s the deal he regrets most?
“That big slugger from Texas,” said Dolan.
The Indians signed Juan Gonzalez in 2001 and he had a good year. He hit .325 with 48 homers and 140 RBIs.
“It was a reaction to not signing Manny. That money should have been spent on pitching. We spent a lot of money the first two years foolishly. We were much like the others. I realized in 2001 we were going in the wrong direction.”
Dolan’s best deal, he believes, was elevating Mark Shapiro to general manager after John Hart left. There was no romance between Hart and Dolan. They both knew it. Dolan inherited Hart when he bought the club. Those relationships often don’t work.
“Mark Shapiro wrote the blueprint for success. He wrote it. He and Chris Antonetti. We backed it up,” said Dolan.
That leads us to manager Eric Wedge, who enjoys total support from Shapiro and Dolan.
“I can’t tell you how many times I would have done different than Eric. But every time those things came up, upon further review, I would have been wrong,” said Dolan.
What about Joe Borowski?
“Ninety percent of the people will say, no, don’t bring him in. But look at the stats. He’s been wonderful.”
Dolan acknowledges it will be difficult to keep C. C. Sabathia when he becomes a free agent after next season.
“Yes. It will be. It depends on what some of my dear owners do. We’ll offer him a good amount of money. More than that, the stability of the franchise. He’s matured. He has a family. We have a chance.”
“But his agent will say the same thing. He has a family. He must get as much money as he can,” I countered.
“The agent will be doing his job,” said Dolan. “We’ll give him every chance to stay.”
How will be the Indians improve next year’s team?
“Pitching,” said Dolan. “We need more pitching. This team will all be back next year. We haven’t even touched the upside potention. But we’ll get a lot more pitching.”
Dolan was largely instrumental in bringing labor peace to baseball for the first time in decades because he brought the two sides together amicably at the negotiating table. It was a skill he learned over years of practicing labor law, among other things.
“If you were 20 years younger, would you consider being the commissioner of baseball?” I asked.
“It would be a challenge,” he said. “I sort of like the idea of being 20 years younger.”
With the Indians safely in the hands of his son Paul and Shapiro, what’s next for Dolan?
“We like to travel and I like to read,” he said.
“Do you read sportswriters?” I asked.
“I used to, but it’s not a good idea,” he said.
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and a sportscaster for Channel 8. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.