When 57-year-old George Bamberger resigned as manager of the hapless Mets last week to be replaced by Coach Frank Howard, 46, he said, "I don't want to suffer anymore." Clearly, he's better off without the Mets. But the Mets also may be better off without him.
Even considering Bamberger's renowned expertise in working with pitchers, it seems strange that Mets General Manager Frank Cashen wanted Bambi back this season. Cashen had to coax him out of retirement for the '82 season, when the Mets went 65-97; he had to persuade him to return this year; and he had to dissuade him from resigning last month. Bamberger's heart just wasn't in the job.
He might have been able to manage a serious contender, a team of veterans on which the most important part of the job is keeping everybody happy. But with a bad team like the Mets, the manager has to transmit a sense of urgency about winning to the players. Bamberger may have suffered with every loss, but the players knew the job wasn't the most important thing in his life. After all, he spent three off days this season in his Florida home and told everyone how enjoyable those days were.
As one Mets employee said a few weeks ago, "How do you think some of these guys will play when they know the manager doesn't care and won't be back next year?"
Pitcher Dennis Leonard of the Royals, whose 6-3 start was his best ever, may be through for the season after surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left knee.... Less likely to impair Kansas City's pennant aspirations was the damaged knee cartilage suffered by Trainer Mickey Cobb. While Cobb was out for four days, Paul McGannon, the trainer with the Royals' Omaha farm team, was brought up for a cup of coffee.... Two Oakland infielders fizzled in brief trials: First Baseman Kelvin Moore hit .193 and Shortstop Tony Phillips .223. Moore is out of a job, and although Phillips will stay at short. Manager Steve Boros feels his weak arm will eventually require a shift to second.... A's Outfielder Dwayne Murphy doesn't like Boros' reliance on computer stats. Says Murphy, "Things are computerized enough. I hate to see it happen in baseball."...Cliff Johnson, Toronto's designated hitter, whacked his ninth homer last week, exceeding last year's output by Blue Jay DHs.
Big-leaguers, aware that bats break more easily these days, are correct when they say bats aren't what they used to be. However, Rex Bradley, the major league rep for the Hillerich & Bradsby bat manufacturers, insists the trouble stems mostly from the way today's players want bats contoured. And Bradley feels that, in a way, the hitting of California's Rod Carew has contributed to the problem.
"Carew wants a bat with the biggest barrel, the smallest handle and 31 ounces," says Bradley. "The good Lord doesn't grow timber like that. Most players want bats like Carew's because they feel it might help them hit like he does."
Bradley says the white ash used for bats "is as good as ever" and that fragility has increased partly because so much wood has to be trimmed for the skinny handles on Carew-type models. "And if you want a big barrel, you need a light piece of timber," Bradley adds. "It's not as dense as a heavier piece. Consequently, it's not as good."
Here are two good young outfielders to keep tabs on: Kevin McReynolds, 23, of the Padres and Ricky Nelson, 24, of the Mariners. McReynolds, a righthanded hitter, last year batted .376 in 90 games in Class A and .352 in 40 games at Double A. After hitting .372 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 52 games at the Triple A level this spring, McReynolds last week homered in his first game for San Diego. The lefthand-hitting Nelson, who was batting .343 in Triple A ball before being brought up by Seattle on May 17, set a Mariner rookie record by hitting in 12 straight games.
San Diego's bullpen, which had been 0-10, picked up two victories each from Gary Lucas and John Montefusco.... "He scares me to death," says Atlanta Manager Joe Torre of Pitcher Phil Niekro, 44, who twice in recent weeks has slid into home headfirst.... In the belief that more work may get his sinker to sink again, the Giants shifted Greg Minton from No. 1 righthanded short reliever to unglamorous long man.... Outfielder Von Hayes, who came to Philadelphia from Cleveland in exchange for five players, continues to have problems. Hayes has been nagged by injuries and through Sunday was hitting .179. "The thing that bothers some people is that he's a helmet and bat thrower," Phillie Manager Pat Corrales says. "I don't care for that, either."
A month after he blasted Cub fans in a profane tirade, Chicago Manager Lee Elia shoved a TV cameraman out of his office. Because such behavior is out of character for Elia, he was asked if the pressure of having one of the worst teams in the majors was getting to him. "I don't like that word," Elia said. "I hear people say the pressure is getting to me. But it's not. Something, somehow is going to frustrate anyone. Sometimes I feel I'm being invaded as a person." He added that the Elia who has been exploding "isn't me." Elia concluded by saying, "People from my church, people who know me, can't believe it."
After the 1982 baseball season, Dodger Reliever Steve Howe spent five weeks at The Meadows in Wickenburg, Ariz. for treatment of alcohol and cocaine addiction. Last week Howe, who has won or saved nine games this season and has a 0.00 ERA, checked into the CareUnit Hospital in Orange, Calif. for more drug treatment. "Steve could have gone right down the toilet this weekend," Howe's agent, Tony Attanasio, said. "It takes guts to admit a mistake the first time. It takes more guts to admit it the second time."...Considering Howe's difficulties, it may be appropriate that the Dodgers were among the first players to hear about the dangers of illegal betting, drugs and unsavory persons from federal agents last week. Expanding a program that's already used in the NBA, representatives of the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency also talked to Cleveland players.
Former Astro and Yankee executive Tal Smith is traveling with the Mariners as a special consultant to owner George Argyros. Argyros says Smith will help "evaluate our system and help form a structural plan for long-term development of our farm system, as well as help improve us at the big league level." Another of Smith's duties is to observe Seattle players he may have to belittle when he represents the club in postseason arbitration cases.
After hearing that Willie Mays had called him "the most complete player in the game today," Montreal Centerfielder Andre Dawson homered in his next two games.... During a 3-2 victory over the Pirates, the Cubs got six outs on four pitches, ending the second with a triple play and retiring the side in the next inning on three pitches.... The Pirates' five-game winning streak to start the season looks like an accident now. Without it, their percentage for the season would be .310, the worst in baseball.... It's a strange thing to say about a team that includes some of the best-known hitters in the game, but Garry Matthews of the slumping Phillies believes "Pitchers have no fear of our club anymore. They get ahead of us throwing strikes and then get us out on bad pitches."
Houston Pitcher Nolan Ryan, who was expected to return to the mound early this week, did a lot of rehabilitation work in the family swimming pool. While recuperating from a left hamstring pull, Ryan "ran" for about 15 minutes every day in the shallow end and treaded water for a few minutes more in the deep end.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
ANDRE DAWSON: The Montreal center-fielder went 14 for 31 including a 5 for 5 performance to raise his average to a league-leading .347. He had three home runs and eight RBIs and scored 12 runs.
LUMBER WITHOUT SLUMBER
The Atlanta Braves aren't the least bit impressed with Rod Carew's pursuit of a .400 season (page 74). After all, they have Terry Forster. The lefthanded reliever got his seventh save of the year in an 8-1 win over St. Louis last week and also slapped a single through the infield to maintain his season average at 1.000 (3 for 3) and raise his career mark to .424 (28 for 66). "I'm not a good hitter. I'm lucky," Forster says. "I just try to be aggressive. At this level, the ball is always around the plate. If you're swinging, you'll get hits."
Forster has always enjoyed batting. The White Sox signed him in 1970 as a first baseman-pitcher out of Santana High in San Diego. "The Sox sent me down to their farm team in Appleton, Wisconsin, and early on we had a practice game against Duluth. I started at first base for Duluth and went 2 for 3. The last three innings I pitched for Appleton and struck out nine guys. After the game, they told me, 'You're going to be a pitcher.' "
Forster keeps his batting eye sharp in the off-season by hitting against pitching machines and he takes extra b.p. early in spring training to strengthen his left wrist and to build calluses on his left hand for—he says—pitching.
If you're a cleanup hitter, I'm a brain surgeon," yelled a fan in Chicago to 5'10", 177-pound Phil Garner, who really is Houston's No. 4 batter. After walloping a home run to help the Astros win 12-10 that day, Garner shouted at his detractor, "What time's the operation?