In five years in the majors, Montreal righthander Charlie Lea has a 54-34 record with no losing seasons; in 1981 he threw a no-hitter against the Giants and survived a career-threatening arthritis scare. And lately, Lea has really hit his stride: He has a 23-7 mark since last Aug. 4 and is this season's winningest (14-4) pitcher. "I've become more aggressive," says Lea, who started and won the All-Star Game. "By throwing more strikes I may be giving up more homers, but most of them come with nobody on base." Says teammate Pete Rose: "He's a lot like Juan Marichal, who used to throw four or five pitches with control. I'd put Lea as one of the five best pitchers in baseball today." So why doesn't his name come up when the game's top pitchers are discussed? "It's because I pitch north of the border," says Lea.
Even by ballplayers' standards, the Seattle Mariners are inordinately superstitious. During one game, pitching coach Frank Funk and lefthander Matt Young were watching the clubhouse TV when Seattle staged a two-run rally. Afterward, Funk drew an outline on the carpet around where they'd been standing, and for the rest of the game they stationed themselves in the exact same spot each time the Mariners came to bat. Result: Seattle beat Texas 5-2.
When the opposition is hitting with two outs and a 2-2 count, off-duty pitchers Ed Vande Berg, Mike Moore and Mark Langston will turn their hats to the left to hex a lefthanded batter, and to the right if a righthander is at the plate. If the count goes to 3 and 2, they hold their caps under their noses.
Before every season, reliever Mike Stanton draws a face with a magic marker on his jockstrap. "I draw the kind of face that looks the way I want to pitch that year," he says. This year's face is mean.
Since winning 35 of their first 40 games, the Tigers have won only 25 of 48. Then last week they lost shortstop Alan Trammell to the 15-day disabled list with a shoulder injury. Yet the second-place Blue Jays have gained only 1½ games in the standings because of an old shortcoming: relief pitching.... Though the White Sox were 40-37 at the 1983 All-Star break and 44-40 at the 1984 break, don't assume they'll repeat as AL West champions. Chicago began the second half of this season by losing three straight to the Orioles. "Anybody who talks about last year gets fined," says manager Tony LaRussa.... With Bill Buckner's hot (.308) bat in the lineup since May 26, the Red Sox have gone 24-15, climbing from an undistinguished fifth in the league to first in team batting.... At the All-Star break every American League West team was coming off at least one win and every East Division team was coming off a loss.
Texas reliever Odell Jones is called Jonesenberry by his teammates because he's started throwing submarine-style, a la the Royals' Dan Quisenberry. Jones has also been throwing nearly as effectively as Quisenberry. In his first three appearances as a submariner, Jones has faced 28 batters and yielded nine hits, two walks and three earned runs.
The bubble, it seems, has burst in Cincinnati. After starting the season on a hopeful rebuilding note and climbing as high as second place, the Reds lost 44 of 79 games and were fifth in the National League West at the All-Star break, during which there was an astonishing 20% turnover on the team. Demoted to Wichita were pitchers Bill Scherrer and Charlie Puleo and catcher Dann Bilardello. Released outright was infielder Tom Lawless. Put on the 15-day disabled list was pitcher Frank Pastore. Called up were pitchers Brad Lesley, Keefe Cato and Jay Tibbs, infielder Skeeter Barnes and catcher Brad Van Gorder. And gone was any semblance of team harmony. "I won't put on a Reds uniform again," said Scherrer, who had a 2.74 ERA in 73 appearances last season but had a 4.99 ERA in 36 games this year. "It's discouraging to see guys hitting around .200 who keep on playing," said Lawless, a .250 batter who had been nailed to the bench while .214-hitting Ron Oester played. Oester, catcher Brad Gulden (.195), third baseman Nick Esasky (.192) and reliever Tom Hume (3-8, three saves, 5.92 ERA) somehow survived the purge.
First baseman Al Oliver said he'll ask the Giants to trade him to an American League team after the season to improve his chances for 3,000 hits (he has 2,847). Oliver cited lack of playing time as his reason for wanting out of San Francisco, but he's third among the Giants in at bats, with 301. More likely, he's worried that, despite his .296 average, he'll be benched when Jack Clark comes off the disabled list.... A Jugs gun recorded a fastball thrown by Cubs reliever Lee Smith at a record 101 mph.... When he couldn't sleep the night before a road game, Phillie rookie Jeff Stone felt he couldn't fall back on the old device of counting sheep. "There are no sheep in Pittsburgh," he said.... The Astros would appear to be lucking out in several ways. In three of his last four starts, Joe Niekro has narrowly missed being hit by line drives; Houston has 39 home games and only 30 road games scheduled the rest of the season. Yet on Friday the 13th the Astros lost 7-3 to the Phillies; afterward the giant screen in the Astrodome featured a movie: Friday the 13th.... At the All-Star break every National League East Division club was coming off a win and every West Division club was coming off a loss.
It's time to end an unresolvable debate and accept the All-Star Game as it is. Ever since commissioner Bowie Kuhn returned balloting for starters to the fans in 1970, critics have whined that "deserving" players have been losing out to "popular" players. Big deal? The managers are required to use their starters only for three innings, and the skippers select pitchers and subs themselves. But more to the point, the All-Star Game was always intended to be an exhibition, not a championship game. "The glamour of the game is the gathering, not the ball game," says Detroit pitcher Jack Morris.
The public understandably opts to see Ozzie Smith making his spectacular fielding plays and back flips and Reggie Jackson taking his mighty cuts, regardless of their batting averages. Even the players get in the mood. They relish asking each other to autograph bats and balls. "There's a special camaraderie that doesn't exist at any other time of the year," says Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez. And a special swagger, too. In a triumph of common sense, officials this year cleared the press from the area around the batting cage so the public could view hitting practice without being screened by reporters. And what did BP spectators see in San Francisco? A spectacular impromptu home-run contest between Jackson and Eddie Murray.
The 1984 All-Star doings would have been better still if American League manager Joe Altobelli and the National League's Paul Owens had named 45-year-old Yankee Phil Niekro and 19-year-old Met Dwight Gooden, respectively, as their starting pitchers. And why did Altobelli remove Bill Caudill, and what possessed Owens to replace Fernando Valenzuela after each pitcher had fanned the side? They deserved the opportunity to break Carl Hubbell's 50-year-old record of five consecutive Ks. What the All-Star Game needs is better stage-managing, not a new cast.
BALL PARK FIGURES
National League pitchers Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden and American League pitcher Bill Caudill each struck out the only three batters he faced in an inning of the 1984 All-Star Game, a feat performed only four times previously. The seven pitchers and their victims:
1984—Valenzuela, Dodgers (Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, George Brett)
1984—Dwight Gooden, Mets (Larry Parrish, Chet Lemon, Al Davis)
1984—Bill Caudill, A's (Tim Raines, Ryne Sandberg, Keith Hernandez)
1980—Jerry Reuss, Dodgers (Darrell Porter, Buddy Bell, Tommy John)
1955—Gene Conley, Braves (Al Kaline, Mickey Vernon, Al Rosen)
1952—Bobby Shantz, A's (Whitey Lockman, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial)
1948—Johnny Sain, Braves (Vern Stephens, Bobby Doerr, Hoot Evers)
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
CAL RIPKEN: The Baltimore shortstop went 10 for 21 as the Orioles won four of five games. He had four homers, a double, a triple, nine RBIs and five runs. His slugging percentage for the week: 1.190.
"I've been to five All-Star Games and pitched to four batters," said Yankee pitcher Phil Niekro, who, no doubt to the relief of American League catchers, saw no action in San Francisco despite his 12-4 record and league-leading 1.88 ERA. "The knuckleball gets me to the game and keeps me out of the game."