Skip to main content
Original Issue

A Brand-New Leaf? No Problem

Joaquin Andujar promised to make amends in his first week with the A's, even to a certain AL umpire

Joaquin Andujar turned up at the Oakland A's spring camp in Phoenix last week, spewing mea culpas as if they were four-letter words. In time, the newly abashed Andujar assured all, he would make amends to everyone he had offended in more reckless times—and that would most definitely include American League umpire Don Denkinger, the man who banished him from the 1985 World Series. Why, on Friday Denkinger would be behind the plate for the spring opener with the Giants, and Andujar would have the perfect opportunity to apologize.

The pitcher, whose "favorite English word" had always been "youneverknow," had even adopted a new and more positive catchphrase: "No problem." Now, if there is anybody in all creation who is problem-free, it certainly isn't Joaquin Andujar. And considering what happened in his rematch with Denkinger, "youneverknow" would have been much more appropriate.

Andujar came to the A's facing not one but two suspensions from commissioner Peter Ueberroth—a 10-day shorty at the start of the season for his outrageous behavior in the final game of the '85 Series and a yearlong one for suspected drug use if he refused to fork over 10% of his 1986 salary (about $115,000) to a drug-prevention program, give 100 hours of himself in each of the next two years to community service and submit to drug testing. When Andujar first reported on March 4, he had not yet revealed what his response to the more severe of those penalties would be. "No problem," he said. "I'll be there when the bell rings," which, of course, because of the first penalty, he won't be.

When he finally showed up at the A's camp, the no-problem Andujar at least appeared to be a different breed of cat from the volatile tiger of a year ago. Sure, he was 10 days late, but that was no problem because manager Jackie Moore had told him it would be O.K. to be tardy just this once. "I wanted to make sure he had peace of mind," said Moore in one of the new season's more preposterous remarks to date, peace of mind being something the tempestuous Dominican has notably lacked in his 10-year major league career. But Andujar did seem peaceful under the Arizona sun. In an impromptu press conference after his first practice, he told a vast media assemblage that: 1) he has been told that the A's are a "bunch of real good guys"; 2) he still loves that "good man," his former manager, Whitey Herzog; 3) he considers himself to be a good guy as well, an assertion he was willing to back up with a bet of a million dollars "if you can find anyone in St. Louis who will say I'm a bad guy"; and 4) he will have "no problem" with Denkinger, who had to boot him out of the Series and into one of his suspensions for his truculent protest of balls and strikes in the seventh game.

The no-problem kid finished on a poetic note. When he disclosed that he had brought his former manager a box of cigars from the Dominican Republic, he was asked what, if anything, he would bring his new manager, the very decent Moore. "My heart...and my arm," he said.

There's no telling about the heart, but the arm seemed to be no problem. Pitching batting practice on his second day on the job, Andujar fairly whistled his fast-balls by the A's power boys, reducing the mighty young slugger Jose Canseco to harmless ground balls. Then came Dusty Baker, an old nemesis from National League days and one of the few A's Andujar knows personally. Dusty stomped into the cage shouting mock invective in Spanish. Andujar roared with laughter, and when Dusty fouled off a bunt attempt he shouted back, "I knew you'd screw that one up."

"Just throw the ball, Jack," Baker called out. "He hates to be called Jack," he confided in an aside to onlookers. This repartee continued until pitching coach Wes Stock instructed, "Just one more pitch, Joaquin." Andujar stared malevolently at Baker. "You ready for it?" he asked, starting his windup. "Throw the damn thing," said Baker. And Andujar did, a fastball that tailed tantalizingly away from the hitter. Baker missed it cleanly. They both laughed.

"I've always had fun hitting off Joaquin," Baker said afterward. "It's a challenge. He's a tremendous competitor, and he's never scared. And, hey, he's fun. He's not quite as crazy and temperamental as they say. He's not this bad guy that America has a vision of. Oh, he's crazy, all right, but not that crazy."

Crazy? Sandy Alderson, the A's general manager, took some needling after he acquired Andujar last December from the Cardinals in exchange for catcher Mike Heath and pitcher Tim Conroy. The A's already had one petulant eccentric on the roster in DH Dave Kingman. Why did they need another one? Then when Alderson said he hoped Andujar would prove a "role model" for the other A's pitchers, the hoots began in earnest. Anyone watching Andujar blow his stack in the Series would have trouble envisioning him as a role model for anyone outside a Friday the 13th movie.

The other day Alderson explained what he meant. For one thing, in winning 41 games the past two seasons, Andujar has won more games than all but one of the A's pitchers (Rick Langford) have in their entire careers. And for another, Andujar is a "nine-inning pitcher" who expects everyone on the staff to think in terms of complete games. He is a hard worker and, as Baker suggested, a fearless competitor. "I don't think, for example, that Joaquin will ever let Jose Rijo slip," said Alderson. "He'll stay on him, make him work. That's what I meant by role model." Indeed, within his first few hours in an Oakland uniform, Andujar had taken the 20-year-old Rijo, a fellow Dominican, aside and advised him that a pitcher who doesn't want to go nine "has no guts." Rijo, a top prospect, looked as if he were listening to a role model.

The problem here is that in the last part of the '85 season, Andujar himself had trouble going the distance. After winning his 20th game on Aug. 23, he won only one of his next 12 starts through postseason play, averaged only about five innings a game and racked up an atrocious 6.47 ERA for that dispiriting stretch. No problem at all, said Andujar last week. Pitchers have slumps just like everyone else. Unfortunately, late-season slumps are nothing new to him. It took Andujar four tries to win his 20th game in '84. Moore and Stock are both convinced that last year, at least, Andujar simply wilted in St. Louis's late-summer broil. "I believe he was just worn out," says Stock. "All that heat and the artificial turf. Our ball park will be good for him. It's cool. We've got heavy grass, big foul areas where balls that might go into the stands in other parks can be caught and heavy night air that keeps the ball from carrying. And we're a good defensive club. He'll like it in Oakland. Anyway, when you come down to it, 21 wins is 21 wins, no matter when they come."

And the renowned temper? No problem for his teammates. "Everybody's got a temper," says shortstop Alfredo Griffin, who is Andujar's next-door neighbor in their mutual hometown of San Pedro de Macoris. "It depends on the situation you get into. With Joaquin, he lost his at a bad time—in the last game of the World Series."

"Look at it this way," says Baker. "When you're a 21-game winner and the seventh game is your chance at redemption for a bad Series and a bad playoff, you want the ball. So when does he get it? With the score 9-0. And he's the fourth guy out of the bullpen. I could tell he was upset when he went out there. I was watching that game on TV with my brothers, and as soon as he came out there, I said there was a good chance he'd just explode." He did, bumping and threatening Denkinger so ferociously he was packed off the field. For that matter, Andujar seems to reserve some of his foulest tantrums for a World Series audience. In the seventh inning of the last game of the '82 Series, he was carted away by umpire Lee Weyer after a shouting match with Milwaukee second baseman Jim Gantner. Andujar does not come by his reputation for cantankerous-ness undeservedly.

He is aware of it, that's certain. When he finally did get around to accepting the commissioner's punishment on the drug accusation last Friday, he used the occasion to apologize in a prepared statement to "the fans of America, the Dominican Republic and especially of St. Louis for my conduct in the seventh game of the World Series." He was "frustrated," he explained, by the sixth-game loss (which an admittedly bad Denkinger call contributed to) and "by the course the seventh game was taking." He hoped his old fans in St. Louis would remember him for happier times. He leaves that city, he said, "with nothing but fond memories." And now he wants to get Oakland into the playoffs.

The Cardinals, for their part, say they'll miss Andujar. "I know he's crazy," says Herzog, "but he really does have a heart of gold." Says shortstop Ozzie Smith, "He is still my amigo. People just sort of took him wrong."

In repose, Andujar hardly seems an angry young man. For that matter, at 33, he isn't even a young man anymore by baseball standards. He is aware of what people have been saying about him, but "it's no problem. It doesn't bother me, because I know who I am. You have to satisfy yourself. What's past is past. I admit I was upset in the Series. That just wasn't the time I wanted to get into the game. But what was I going to do? I came there to pitch. Now I'm here. I know I can help this club—help the other pitchers. I'm throwing as hard as ever—93, 94 miles an hour. And I'm not afraid to throw that fastball. If you hit it, you hit it. No problem. I pitched only five innings in winter ball because I cut my finger with a knife making a salad. Took 10 stitches. But it's fine now. I'm ready. I know I'm gonna pitch a lot of innings. There's no way I'm gonna get tired." The next day he was to see Denkinger for the first time since their October dustup. "Anybody can make a mistake," Andujar said. "He made one in the sixth game. I made one in the seventh. I'll talk to him about it."

In fact, Andujar had assured the world at large that he, a changed and contrite man, would apologize to the umpire in person. Denkinger, embarrassed by the whole affair and beleaguered through much of the winter by crank calls and letters from Cardinal fans, was as anxious as Andujar avowedly was to put the incident behind him. Certainly, he would accept an apology if one was offered, he said. No, as it were, problem.

And what do you know? As Denkinger stood at home plate awaiting the start of the exhibition season in Phoenix Municipal Stadium, who should approach him, lineup card in hand, but his former antagonist. Surprisingly, however, Andujar made no apology. "He didn't say anything to me except that he would talk to me after the game," Denkinger said. That was fine. Andujar didn't want to make a public spectacle of the apology. They would talk about it in the relative privacy of the A's dugout.

And so, by prearrangement, Denkinger sauntered over to the dugout after the final out. But, hey, there was a problem. There was no Joaquin. He had left the ball park a full 10 minutes before the end of the game. Denkinger walked off, looking peeved. "If he wants to apologize, he'll know where to find me," the umpire said.

Well, a man can atone for only so many sins in one day, even one who has supposedly turned over a new leaf. Otherwise, you got problems.



Though the pitcher told the media he would apologize to Denkinger, he did nothing of the sort when they did come face-to-face.



[See caption above.]



The commissioner says Andujar must do a 10-day stretch at the start of the season.



Joaquin practices his good-neighbor policy on Griffin, who lives next door back home.



Some say Andujar's poor second half indicates he's in the twilight of his career.