When he fractured his leg after crashing into a fence in Anaheim 12 years ago, Bobby Valentine, who might have been a star, became a survivor. He immediately began preparing himself for a managing job. Most recently he was third base coach of the Mets. Last Friday night in Chicago, Valentine, 35, became the youngest manager in the majors, succeeding Doug Rader as skipper of the Rangers, the team with the worst record in baseball. Though Valentine lost his debut 4-2, he couldn't help but be caught up in the excitement of his first game. "In between a couple of innings I said to myself, 'This is it, this really is it,' " Valentine said afterward. "It finally happened."
Officially, Valentine has no managing experience on any level. But, for three weeks in 1976, he was interim player-manager for Hawaii in the Pacific Coast League. "I had a short meeting with the guys before my first game," Valentine said. "I told them, 'Play hard, have fun, and I'm batting third.' "
Valentine will not insert himself into the lineup this time, but he will put centerfielder Odibbe McDowell in the leadoff spot. The former Olympian and 1984 College Player of the Year was batting .400 in Triple A. Valentine also restored Dave Stewart, who did not get along with Rader, as the bullpen closer. "This is it," Valentine says. "I'm confident." There are still the Rangers, though. They lost two of three to the White Sox.
Tim Flannery, who bats lefthanded, and Jerry Royster, who bats righthanded, have been sharing the second base job for the Padres since Alan Wiggins turned himself in for drug rehabilitation. Flannery and Royster are also platooning on the phone.
Call the Flannery household when no one is home and you hear Royster's voice on the answering machine saying, "This is Jerry Royster. Tim isn't home right now because a righthander is pitching against the Padres. Please leave your name and message and Jerry will get back to you."
Call the Royster household when no one is home and you hear Flannery's voice on the machine saying, "This is Tim Flannery. Jerry isn't home right now because a lefthander is pitching against the Padres. Please leave your name and message and Tim will get back to you."
How quickly they forget department. The fans in Milwaukee really gave it to future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers after he allowed five ninth-inning runs in a 6-3 loss to the A's. Fingers came back from elbow surgery last year and is trying to return from back surgery this season, but his numbers have been bad: three saves, four blown saves and a 7.15 ERA. "If I pitch like that," Fingers said, "I deserve to get booed."
How quickly they forgive department. Another reliever in trouble, the Twins' Ron Davis, was expecting the worst when he got back to Minnesota after losing three straight games in the bottom of the ninth. Following the third loss, 9-8 to the Yankees, Davis was reduced to tears and said, "It's the lowest point of my life. I know I'm going to get killed when I get back home."
But apparently Twins fans read the newspaper accounts of Davis's torment, and when he came in from the bullpen in the ninth to hold a 7-4 lead against the Tigers Thursday, the fans gave Davis a standing ovation. He responded by striking out the side.
Two of the best rookies this spring were Shawon Dunston, the phenom who took the Cubs' shortstop job away from a bitter Larry Bowa, and Chris Pittaro, the unknown from Double A who impressed Tiger manager Sparky Anderson so much that Sparky wanted to move Lou Whitaker to third base to accommodate Pittaro. Well, Dunston is back in Triple A after hitting .194 and making nine errors, while Pittaro, who became the Tigers' Opening Day third baseman when Whitaker balked at moving, is on the bench with a .237 average and six errors.
Bowa and Chris Speier succeed Dunston, and Tom Brookens replaces Pittaro. Dunston, 22, was too raw, and the pressures of being the shortstop for a division winner were too much. "He was laboring," said manager Jim Frey. "Every at bat was an ordeal."
Pittaro, 23, who had very little experience at third, hit early but struggled in the field. When Pittaro went 3 for 22 recently, Sparky sat him down explaining, "If I'm getting no production either way, I might as well have defense."
Gary Pettis definitely makes the Angels go. He has hit .300 (21 for 70) with 17 runs scored in the club's 21 wins, and .189 (10 for 53) with five runs scored in the 15 losses. Pettis is 22 for 22 this year as a base stealer.... Oriole lefty Scott McGregor, with a 10.71 ERA in his last five starts, needs some weight work to strengthen his left forearm and shoulder. His fastball would have a hard time getting arrested for speeding.... Dan Quisenberry struggles no longer. The Royals' stopper had his problems early, but he allowed two hits and no walks in five straight outings, helping the Royals to a six-game winning streak.... When switch-hitting Royal Willie Wilson hit his 18th career homer, against Keith Creel, last week in Cleveland it was his first over the fence as a lefthander and the fifth overall.... Angel manager Gene Mauch is not enamored of the hot-dog antics of Boston righty Oil Can Boyd. He calls him Dipstick Boyd.... White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk hit homer No. 237 to pass Gabby Hartnett for fourth on the alltime catcher's list and earlier had become only the fifth modern catcher to steal 100 bases.... Detroit's Willie Hernandez had 32 saves in 33 save opportunities last year, earning the AL MVP and Cy Young award. This year he's 9 for 9 with two wins, no losses and a 1.75 ERA.... When the Mets beat the Giants 3-2 in 12 innings Friday, it gave them a 23-1 record in extra-inning games, a streak that began July 26, 1983. They lost 8-2 in 10 innings to the Giants the next night.... The trade of Lonnie Smith to K.C. isn't the only move the Cardinals made last week. Neil Allen has lost his stopper's job, and Darrell Porter, who's hitting .149 and throwing .000 (base stealers are 17 for 17 against him), will no longer do all of the catching. When someone asked Whitey Herzog if he thought Porter would come around, the manager said, "I'm hoping. Patience is great, but patience can get you fired." ...Astro shortstop Dickie Thon, floundering in his attempt to come back from last year's beaning, has been put on the 15-day disabled list at his own request. According to G.M. Al Rosen, Thon "expressed his concern over his playing ability. He's had continued problems with blurred vision. His career is in jeopardy."
The umps teach the new manager the ropes after getting his Valentine's Day lineup card.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
DARRELL EVANS: The Tigers' first baseman, in danger of losing his regular status, raised his average from .171 to .247 by hitting .414 with four HRs and 11 RBIs. His week included a pair of 4-for-4 games.
"We got so much now I don't think we should bother with a party," says the Yankees' Dave Winfield about fine money collected by kangaroo court judge Don Baylor. The loot is supposed to pay for an end-of-season bash, but Winfield has a better idea: "Let's just get a Burger King franchise, or buy everyone an annuity."