Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Chico Incident

The Roster Change report for this date in 1991 included the following transaction:

SIX PACKS activate Jose Offerman from the Reserve List, waive Chico Walker (waive period ends 8-20).

I seemingly innocent and innocuous roster move, but one that would have a significant impact on the Six Packs’ season and one that their owner Kelly Barone would regret for the rest of his CFCL career. Of course, for the rest of the CFCL, it was a moment that we fondly recall as “The Chico Incident”.

Before we get into the details, let’s meet the players.

Jose Offerman was a highly-touted Dodger prospect (at the time ALL Dodger prospects were highly touted) that the Six Packs had drafted into their minor league system in 1989. In 1990, Offerman had hit .326 with 60 SB in AAA.

He came up to play with the Dodgers late in the 1990 season and the Six Packs activated him at that time. They resigned him the following year and Offerman was up and down between the majors and the minors a couple times. When he was sent down on June 4, the Six Packs reserved him and called Chico Walker from the Free Agent Pool.

Chico Walker was a 32-year-old pinch hitter/utility player who had kicked around with the Cubs and Red Sox, and Angels, but hadn’t played in the majors since 1988. In 1991 he returned for a second stint with the Cubs and started the season as their #1 pinch hitter. But between Walker’s modest success in that role and the utter futility of the Cubs’ Opening Day third baseman, Gary Scott, soon Don Zimmer was writing Chico’s name in the starting lineup more often. Chico also played some OF and even filled in for Ryne Sandberg at 2B on occasion. In the end, Walker got over 100 more ABs in 1991 than in any of his other 11 big league seasons.

When the Six Packs called him up on June 4, Walker was hitting .273 with 2 HR, 10 RBI, and 3 SB. Over the next couple months, Walker hit .299 for the Six Packs, with one homer, 12 RBI, and 6 SB.

Then, on August 13, the Six Packs were faced with a decision. The Dodgers had recalled Jose Offerman from the minors and the Six Packs had to cut either Offerman or Walker loose.

In 1991, the CFCL did not have 40-man rosters that would allow teams to shuffle players between Active and Reserve. Players who were on the DL or sent to the minors by their NL teams could be reserved, but when they returned, their CFCL owners had to cut either that returning player or the player who took his place on the roster.

So Six Packs owner Kelly Barone was forced to choose between the journeyman Chico and the prospect Jose. Walker wasn’t setting the world afire, but he was at least performing at an acceptable level. And while Offerman had a world of potential, he had hit about .170 in his major league career to that point.

To complicate matters, the Six Packs were embroiled in one of the tightest pennant races the CFCL had seen to date, with 4 points separating the top 4 teams in early August. Here’s how the top of the standings looked at the time Kelly was weighing his Chico vs Jose options:
  1. Six Packs        65
  2. Bald Eagles     62.5
  3. Lambchops     61.5
  4. Copperfields   61

As we saw at the top of this post, Kelly apparently felt secure enough in his 2.5 point lead and chose to keep Offerman over Walker. It was a move, when the final 1991 stats were counted, that the Six Packs would deeply regret.

The final CFCL standings had the Bald Eagles on top, ahead of the Six Packs and Lambchops by a single point. The category rankings were tight, though, and after the season, in reviewing what had gone wrong, Kelly determined that if he had kept Chico Walker active and waived Offerman instead, he would have gained the extra points he needed to pass the Eagles and finish in first.

Here are the final 1991 Standings (click to embiggen):

It was a decision that haunted Kelly for years. For proof of this we have this bit of video from the 1995 CFCL Draft. In the clip, the Draft comes to a halt as Kelly recounts “The Chico Incident” much to the amusement of the rest of the league.

The whole thing starts with Kelly recalling how he ended up with Gary Scott at 3B in the 1992 draft because “there were no other third basemen.” That story was recounted on this blog as The Brett Barberie Incident.

I apparently had my Incidents confused and very innocently asked if the whole Gary Scott thing was part of “The Chico Incident”. Kelly reacts almost violently: “No, that’s not the Chico Incident and you know it! You just wanted to bring it up!”

This is an interesting clip, because not only do we get the details of the Chico Incident, but we also mention The Brett Barberie Incident, The Ramon Martinez Incident, and The Kevin McReynolds Incident. Four incidents for the price of one!

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