As the New Orleans Sazeracs were being slaughtered 20-2 by the last-place Jackson Hammerheads on Monday, a thought formed in the minds of owner/GM Jeff Wiggins and manager George Knox: enough is enough. Although the Sazeracs are off to a solid start for an expansion team, hovering around the .500 mark, several players have clearly struggled, and rumors of a breakdown in team discipline are rampant. In the weak of their humiliating defeat, Wiggins and Knox made a major roster shakeup, demoting some underperformers and trying to get the team’s party-hearty culture under control.
“Overall, I’m happy with how our team’s performed so far,” said Wiggins. “But there’s a handful of guys who aren’t performing up to what we expect, and some guys who are clearly more focused on partying than playing. That doesn’t fly around here.”
Topping the list of demotions was starter Norm “Rattler” LaForce, who started the infamous Monday game. LaForce allowed eight runs over 4 1/3 innings, which put him at 0-3 with a 13.21 ERA on the season. Worse yet, according to team sources, LaForce is one of the heaviest partiers on the team, regularly staying until closing time at the bars and clubs of the Big Easy.
Knox confirmed that the team has ordered LaForce to enter alcohol rehab before he reports to the minors. “On the field, Norm wasn’t getting it done. But it’s off the field where we’ve been really worried about him. New Orleans is a city full of temptation, and Norm has been enjoying it a little too much. Can’t have him doing that anymore.”
LaForce denied that he had a problem with alcohol. “That’s a bunch of crap,” he told reporters. “I’m sure as hell not the only guy on this team who spends time hanging out on Bourbon Street. But I’ve had a bad start to the year, so it was easy to make an example of me. It sucks being the scapegoat.”
Taking LaForce’s slot in the rotation will be left-hander Zeke Foster. The 24-year-old Foster pitched out of the bullpen for Silver City last year, where he compiled a 4.91 ERA over 24 appearances.
New Orleans also sent down a pair of relievers, lefty Hal Gilreath and righty Barrett Turbeville. Both of them appeared in the infamous 20-2 beatdown, and both have struggled mightily this year. Gilreath’s ERA sat at 11.00 at the time of his demotion, while Turbeville’s sat at 8.22. Both of them also were reportedly among the clique of hard partiers on the team, although neither was nearly as much of a problem as LaForce. Neither Gilreath nor Turbeville have been ordered to go to rehab.
Taking their slots in the bullpen are a pair of right-handers, Jon Esquibel and Bradley Slinger. Esquibel, a 21-year-old rookie out of Idaho A&M, is a hard thrower with a reputation for being somewhat homer-prone. Slinger, 25, pitched in Jackson last year and went 4-2 with a 3.16 ERA before going down in August with a partially-torn rotator cuff. He managed to avoid surgery, strengthening his arm through rehab.
According to Knox, Esquibel is expected to take on Turbeville’s late-inning duties, while Slinger is likely to see work as a long man.
In addition to shaking up the pitching staff, the Sazeracs also made a change in the backup catcher role, sending down Dave Chavez and calling up Dustin Gould. Chavez has a reputation as a strong defender, but he looked utterly overmatched at the plate, going 1-for-12 during his brief time with New Orleans. Knox confirmed that Chavez was being sent down solely for performance reasons, and that the team was not concerned with his extracurricular activities.
Wiggins noted that further changes could be coming, especially if certain team members don’t curtail their nightlife activities. “I don’t mind guys going out and having fun,” the owner said. “That’s what New Orleans is all about. But when it gets out of control and starts affecting your performance on the field, that’s when I mind. Hopefully everybody got the message.”