The Yankees have the worst record in the American League East, but George Steinbrenner, who has made nine managerial changes since the middle of the '78 season, has given Yogi Berra a vote of confidence. Poor Yogi. Votes of confidence are often preliminary death sentences, and who executes more managers than George?
"This should be clearly understood. Yogi Berra is not going anywhere," Steinbrenner said in a statement issued last Friday. "Now is not the time to give up on Yogi Berra."
But if the Yankees keep losing this week, Steinbrenner may decide the time has come. And if not soon, he could still strike before the end of the season. Considering Steinbrenner's track record, it seems highly unlikely that Berra will last the year. Fact is, he's probably the wrong man to manage this Yankee team.
Berra has the misfortune to supervise an ill-matched mélange that is last in the American League in fielding and is also going through a brutal hitting slump. Berra's virtue is patience—give him a pat hand and he probably won't mess it up, which isn't as easy as it sounds.
This Yankee team, however, has too many DHs and first basemen and is going through a crisis of confidence after too many years of meddling by the owner. What is needed is a manager with a dynamic personality—a Chuck Tanner or Tommy Lasorda clone—to convince players they're better than they actually are. Berra is a sweetheart, but he's about as dynamic as Mister Rogers.
A trio of Houston Astros paid a costly visit to a hospitalized friend last week. The patient was utility man Denny Walling, who wrenched his back fielding ground balls in batting practice before a game with the Reds on May 2 and was taken to Cincinnati's Christ Hospital for treatment and tests. Between 2:30 and 3 a.m., three "concerned" teammates, pitchers Joe Niekro, Frank DiPino and Mike Scott, talked themselves into Walling's room with a couple of get-well six-packs tucked away. The little surprise party might have gone undetected, but later that day a doctor called Astro G.M. Al Rosen and told him that the hospital couldn't conduct some tests because Walling was suffering "dizziness," caused partly by a combination of muscle relaxants and alcohol. Rosen called a team meeting and reportedly said, "I'm going to go sit down in Flea's [manager Bob Lillis's] office and the people involved better be man enough to come in and pay a $250 fine." Moments later, the players trooped into the office with their checks in hand. "Sorry, Al," Niekro said. "We sure messed that one up."
Dave Concepcion played third base in six recent Reds games, with Tom Foley at shortstop. Concepcion, who'll be 36 next month, has lost considerable range the past few seasons and is wondering about his future. "You think they're trying to tell me something?" Concepcion said. "Like I'm too old for shortstop?"
The Indians had just lost their fourth straight game and manager Pat Corrales wanted to let them know just how displeased he was. So after a lengthy tirade he resurrected an old Gene Mauch ploy and tipped over the postgame buffet, spilling Swiss steak, gravy, mashed potatoes and bread over the floor of the visitors' clubhouse in Baltimore. When reporters entered the manager's office, Corrales greeted them with a wide smile and said, "I dumped the food. I didn't want the players to gag on it. I know if I ate it after watching what I saw, I would've thrown up."
Still, you can fool some of the Indians some of the time. "He was so mad," said one rookie, "he was walking up and down talking about the mistakes we made. He kept kicking a garbage can back and forth. I was shaking. I thought he was going to go over the edge and choke somebody.
"I knew what was going to happen. He took a look at that food, and I could see the look in his eye. It's too bad, too, because I was hungry. It smelled good."
The Padres' Goose Gossage, who slumped to 22 saves with the Yankees last year, has eight already in '84, but Dodger scout Mike Brito wasn't impressed when he put the radar gun on the Goose recently. Gossage, Brito says, never topped 90 mph. "He has lost his speed, and you can tell him I said so." For whatever it's worth, Gossage averaged more than one strikeout per inning in each of the past four seasons but has only 13 in his first 21 innings this year.... Goose's teammate Alan Wiggins, who's making a difficult transition from leftfield to second base, committed nine errors in his first 28 games. He has had a ton of trouble with "the medium-speed balls where I have to decide if I should charge or play back. Everyone thought my biggest problem would be turning the double play, but it hasn't been."...Braves first baseman Chris Chambliss, a first-rate fielder, has six errors already. Last season he had only five in 126 games.... Gary Carter is having trouble throwing out base stealers. Through the Expos' first 26 games, 21 of 32 would-be thieves were successful, as compared with 11 of 25 in the first 26 games last year.... Dave Parker hasn't hit a homer since his first at bat in spring training, and his teammates have started a pool on when the first dinger will come. Dann Bilardello's guess is Sept. 31, 1986. Sept. 31?
The Chicago Tribune Company must have been shocked recently when Cubs manager Jim Frey appeared in a front-page picture promoting a contest in the Trib's rival Sun-Times. The headline with Frey's photo shouted: LOOK WHO'S PITCHING WINGO. And the copy read, "Jim Frey, manager of the Chicago Cubs, owned by the Tribune Co., happily displays a Sun-Times Wingo card."
The game was a blowout even though it ended after only two men had come to bat. It was the Rangers against the Blue Jays in Toronto April 30, and the game was called because of winds that were gusting up to 60 mph. "When they played the national anthems," said Don Denkinger, the chief of the umpiring crew, "you couldn't even stand without being pushed over."
"It was just blowing you off the mound," said Jays starter Jim Clancy, who retired those two batters on a groundout and a strikeout. "They would've been calling balks all night on anyone in the stretch position."
Atlanta rightfielder Claudell Washington wanted to have the best year of his career in 1984 after going through a drug rehab program for cocaine abuse in the off-season. So far, so good. Washington, batting leadoff, has been the Braves' most productive player, batting .333 with seven homers, 21 RBIs, eight steals and 21 walks. "I knew I had to get off to a good start," he says, "or the boo-birds would be right there dropping one-liners on me. It's a long time since it has been a pleasure to come to the ball park."
Against everyone else the Royals' Dan Quisenberry has a career ERA of 2.18. Against the Brewers, it's 6.63. Quisenberry set a major league record in 1983 with 45 saves. This season he has seven saves, one win and two losses. The defeats were inflicted—you guessed it—by the Brewers. "Fortunately," he says, "none of their line drives have hit me."
When Giants manager Frank Robinson talked openly about quitting during his team's recent nine-game losing streak, Chili Davis said, "Frank isn't a quitter. He never quit on anything—except me."
Davis hit only .233 last season and became a forgotten man this season but, lo and behold, on Friday night in St. Louis, there was Davis back in the lineup, leading off and getting two hits in a 2-0 Giants win. Robinson was desperate. He has used seven leadoff men this season—Davis among them—and they had a collective batting average of .200 prior to Friday night's game.
Teammate of the Week, that's good ol' Bert Blyleven. The Cleveland pitcher was charged with two earned runs in a 3-0 defeat in Baltimore last week when right-fielder George Vukovich and second baseman Tony Bernazard misplayed a ball to short right that fell safely and was ruled a hit. After being pulled for a reliever, Blyleven called the press box to argue the call and try to stick Vukovich, who had touched the ball, with an error to help his ERA. Nevertheless, the official scorer refused to change his decision. Blyleven called the American League offices in New York the next day, but that didn't do him any good either. Because no rule interpretation was involved, the officials there refused to intervene. That's the ol' team spirit, Bert.
Though he has no formal training as an artist, Seattle reliever Mike Stanton enjoys painting landscapes and wildlife near his Georgia home. His water-based acrylics sell for as much as $2,000 each.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
MIKE WITT: The California righthander had two complete-game victories as the Angels won four of six and moved into first in the AL West. Witt surrendered but two runs, one earned, and struck out 13.
"It makes you wonder," said Atlanta third baseman Bob Horner after a separated shoulder put him on the disabled list for the fourth consecutive year, "if there isn't somebody out there sticking pins in a voodoo doll."