WISH THEY WERE HERE
The 1987 season opens without:
1) Roger Clemens, the only pitcher ever to win the Cy Young, MVP and All-Star Game MVP awards the same year;
2) Tim Raines, objectively the National League batting champion and subjectively the league's best all-around player;
3) Rich Gedman, the AL's premier catcher now that Lance Parrish is in Philadelphia;
4) Ron Guidry, Bob Horner, Tom Seaver, Bob Boone, Lonnie Smith, Dave Kingman, Tony Armas....
Few would argue with the owners' plaints that salary escalation has gotten out of hand, that players should perform each year and that teams should make money. But by trying to make up for 10 years of profligacy in such a short time, the owners have jeopardized the game's integrity. Sure, many players and agents needed a sobering shower, but the Clemens and Raines scenarios suggest that the victory most owners really want is over the field hands. Many teams don't seem to care that a rookie may be ready to step in and help; they make him start the season in the minors anyway so that, like Clemens, he ends up pitching 3[5/6] seasons to earn the three-year right to go to arbitration. The "business" people believe that players are no different from corrugated boxes, and they delight in turning the working-class public against the players. What does this say about the product? It says the owners believe the fans are so dumb they'll pay more to see Dave Collins than they did to see Tim Raines.
What did the Red Sox gain by deceiving Clemens into the belief that his two-year, $2.4M request was workable, then renewing him at a $500,000 salary and refusing to negotiate? About as little as Clemens is gaining by playing catch with Gedman in Katy, Texas. Neither side will feel the same way about the other again in what should have been a long-term relationship.
Why does baseball's richest team, the Dodgers, refuse even to talk to Raines? Why did the Athletics knuckle under to peer pressure instead of signing Gedman at a discount price? The owners are trying to make a point: We can break the players. But what they're actually saying is that they don't care—they don't care that they're denigrating the players, diluting the game, cheating the fans. The bottom line is that they don't care that the 1987 season is opening without the American League's best pitcher and catcher and the National League's best player.
AN UNDERHANDED METHOD
Seven years ago, Kent Tekulve helped fellow submariner Dan Quisenberry find the release point that made him the most productive relief pitcher of the '80s. Now another Tekulve tip, showing the Quiz that his left (landing) foot was no longer pointed directly at the batter, may have turned the Royals reliever around after an off-year. "In 1980, I created a Mercedes," says Tekulve. "Let's just say this is the 500-game checkup."
...According to Pirate bullpen coach Rich Donnelly, "One of the things scouts fail to do is judge a pitcher's pure athletic ability, as opposed to what he can occasionally register on a radar gun." Donnelly can speak from personal experience, having managed celebrated schoolboy David Clyde on three different teams in the '70s. Donnelly calls him "the worst athlete I've ever seen in the big leagues." At the other extreme is Rick Rhoden, the good-hitting pitcher that Pittsburgh traded to the Yankees over the winter. When Rhoden was with Los Angeles early in his career, he annually won the unofficial Dodgertown golf, one-on-one basketball and Ping-Pong tournaments. Last year while with the Pirates he 1) shot a 69 and a 67 the first two times out on a difficult golf course in Steubenville, Ohio, and 2) sank 147 consecutive free throws through a basketball hoop at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. "He's one of the best athletes I've ever seen," marvels Donnelly....
Sparky Anderson was upset that G.M. Bill Lajoie wouldn't use a No. 1 draft pick to sign Dave Kingman. Now Sparky has moved Alan Trammell into the cleanup spot, raising fears that Trammell could discombobulate his swing going for the long ball....
One of Anderson's pet peeves is the born-again religious movement that increasingly pervades clubhouses. "When a player tells me it was God's will that he struck out, I ask him, 'What did you do to tick God off?' " says Anderson. "All I know is that there are a lot more degenerates in the Hall of Fame than there are those guys."
...There isn't a player-management war everywhere. Texas G.M. Tom Grieve could have kept useful catcher Orlando Mercado at Oklahoma City just in case, but instead he sold him to Detroit to give the nine-year professional veteran an opportunity to start. "We'd love to have him as an insurance policy," said Grieve, "but there comes a time when what's best for the organization isn't fair to the player."
Virtually every scout in Arizona raved this spring about the San Francisco Giants. Their most impressive pitcher has been Kelly Downs, the 6'4" righthander who pitched well the last two months of '86. "He throws that split-finger as well as Mike Scott," says one scout. "But everyone on that staff should get down on his knees to Roger Craig every day." Perhaps this will be the year Craig is recognized as one of the game's best managers....
There is probably no team in this decade that has had more pitchers self-destruct than the Oakland Athletics. It began with the Billyball rotation of Rick Langford, Mike Norris, Steve McCatty and Matt Keough, all of whom blew out. Then the A's acquired or drafted a bunch of strong young arms: Jose Rijo, Tim Birtsas, Eric Plunk, Darrel Akerfelds, Tim Belcher, Stan Hilton. But the only ones who'll make the current staff, even after the loss of Vida Blue to retirement, Joaquin Andujar to a strained forearm and Moose Haas to a bad shoulder, are Plunk and Rijo. "We've even been struck down below in our farm system," says general manager Sandy Alderson, referring to prospects Kirk McDonald (possibly out for the season with a knee injury) and Dave Otto (a stress fracture in his shin). "I wish we knew what the story is."
...On the other hand, the Mets pitching just gets better. Though they develop some great ones, they have also traded for three of their five prized starters and two of their lefthanded relievers. Last week they got another promising pitcher, David Cone, from Kansas City for catcher Ed Hearn and journeyman pitcher Rick Anderson. The move seemed positively prescient because two days later reliever Roger McDowell suffered a hernia that will keep him out of action for at least six weeks....
The Texas development people want manager Bobby Valentine to give Jerry Browne a longer trial at second, but Valentine insists that they get a veteran at the position. So the Rangers offered outfield prospect Bobby Brower to Montreal for Vance Law, but the Expos inexplicably rejected the deal. Glen Hubbard of the Braves is also a possibility. Some in the Rangers camp would like to sign Bob Horner to play third and move Steve Buechele to second, but Horner had better not hold his breath waiting for a call....
Oakland hitting instructor Bob Watson worked hard all spring trying to get Jose Canseco to cut down on his 175-strikeout swing. He especially wants Canseco to take a different approach with two strikes on him, the way Rico Carty used to do. The results so far? In his first 53 at bats, Canseco hit .396 and struck out only five times....
With 26-year-old Mike Ramsey making dazzling defensive plays, the Dodgers have slowed their search for a centerfielder. Now they are concentrating on unloading pitchers Jerry Reuss and Alejandro Pena, both of whom they feel will break down once again....
When the Orioles optioned second baseman Billy Ripken to Rochester, he was outhitting big brother Cal by 177 points (.333-.156). He had also impressed the organization with his fielding. Said one member of the baseball staff, "He makes the double play better than anyone we've had since Bobby Grich."
...Dodger outfielder Mike Marshall wasn't too concerned about an 0-for-10 slump, saying, "I read where Mr. [Al] Campanis said I couldn't mentally handle a slump. So I'm practicing."
...Bo Jackson made significant progress with the Royals this spring, so much so that the NFL may have to give up on him. He's hitting .269 with three homers, and though he is still a wild swinger, he shows more and more signs of harnessing his great talent....
Many scouts weren't all that impressed by Shawn Abner, the first pick in the '84 draft, whom the Mets sent to the Padres in the deal for Kevin McReynolds. "He's going to be a good player—15 homers, a decent centerfielder—but he isn't the great player everyone thought," says one scout....
The Yankees probably will go north with 11 pitchers but only because their situation is so muddled. Rhoden is nursing a muscle pull in his back, and reliever Tim Stoddard has a tender shoulder. If you don't think George Steinbrenner is serious about keeping his payroll in line, consider that he turned down Steve Trout, who was having a sensational spring with the Cubs, because of the three years and $2.85M left on his contract.
BAD NEWS CUBS
Cubs manager Gene Michael is serving notice on the National League that his pitchers will be coming inside. "I'm announcing right now that the Cubs are going to be different this year. We're using the whole plate. I'm telling the umpires that's the way it's going to be, that when we're throwing inside, we're just keeping the hitters honest. I'm also telling them that we're not going to head-hunters, and we don't expect teams to headhunt us. I don't believe in that, never have."
...Until Harry Caray completely recovers from the stroke he suffered in February, WGN in Chicago will hand his microphone to various celebrities. Brent Musburger will handle the Cubs' April 7 opener, and he'll be followed by, among others, comedians Bill Murray and George Wendt, broadcasters Bob Costas, Ernie Harwell, Bryant Gumbel and Pat Summerall, and Stan Musial. Says Caray, who's practicing at his Palm Springs home with Cub tapes from last season, "I think it's a great idea."
...Braves general manager Bobby Cox won a major power struggle last week, removing pitching coach Johnny Sain, manager Chuck Tanner's man, and replacing him with minor league instructor Bruce Dal Canton. "A lot of clubs have been asking about Bruce, and we were getting afraid we'd lose him," says Cox. Privately, the G.M. was disturbed at the lack of progress made by the Braves' young pitchers....
Another Cox move, inviting 42-year-old Graig Nettles to camp, is paying off splendidly. Not only has Nettles proved adept at first base, but he is also hitting a ton. On Sunday he hit three home runs off Baltimore pitching....
Carlton Fisk is getting some work in at first and third for the White Sox. Says Fisk, "I played third a whole season in high school. Of course, the season was only 11 games."
...Last week Willie McGee made his first plate appearance since his off-season knee surgery. On the very first pitch he saw, he swung and broke his bat as he popped up into a double play. Said his manager, Whitey Herzog, "I don't compare it with Ted Williams coming back from the service."
Clemens helped Gedman on with his gear before they worked out in Katy, Texas.
Tekulve tried to help his fellow submariner Quisenberry regain his saving form.
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A happy 50th to the one and only Vulture.
BETWEEN THE LINES
HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD
Roger Craig has been hired as a consultant for the film version of the John R. Tunis book The Kid from Tomkinsville. Craig had another brush with the movies in 1973, when he was hired to play an old pitching star throwing to his son. Unfortunately, he says, "the night before they were going to film it, I had a bad back and couldn't get out of bed. I had a back operation, and the movie never got made."
Dodger owner Peter O'Malley sent a T-shirt to George Steinbrenner emblazoned with I READ BOWIE'S BOOK across the front. The message refers to former commissioner Kuhn's book, Hardball, in which Kuhn gives Steinbrenner a few shots. O'Malley made the T-shirt the medium for his message because the Yankee owner sent shirts reading BOWIE'S BOBO to Kuhn supporters during the bitter fight over his ouster in 1985. Steinbrenner wore the new shirt into manager Lou Piniella's office, pointed to the message and said, "I should throw up all over it."
SCENE OF SPRING
White Sox owner Eddie Einhorn was in the Mets' dugout before an exhibition game in St. Petersburg, getting a baseball autographed.
BILL BUCKNER DIDN'T ENTER
At the baseball decathlon in Palm Springs this winter, Eric Davis, Vince Coleman, Bo Jackson, Tim Raines and Brett Butler were among those who participated in three races: home-to-first, first-to-second and second-to-home. Raines won the first two, and Jackson won the second-to-home.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"I think we'll get snow before we get Raines."—Seattle's Dick Williams.
"I used to be the toast of Toronto. Now I'm the jelly."—Blue Jays outfielder Lloyd Moseby, the subject of numerous trade rumors.
"I honestly believe I can be as good as Roger Clemens."—Giants pitcher Jim (28-40) Gott, who, last June 24, had a shoulder operation similar to the one Clemens had in 1985.
"I can't figure out how anyone in the American League West finishes as high as .500. I guess the only reason is that they have to play one another."—Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog.
Vince Coleman, who was cut down 14 times in 121 steal attempts last season, was thrown out in 6 of his first 11 attempts this spring.
Bob Klapisch of the New York Post may be the first beat writer since ex-Twin Charlie Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press to have struck out at least two of his subjects. While pitching for Columbia, Klapisch fanned Ron Darling of Yale and Mike Stenhouse of Harvard.
While Roger Clemens takes a stand not far from the Alamo, we give you 10 of baseball history's best holdouts:
Mike Hines is considered the first. A mediocre catcher for the Boston Red Stockings, he sat out 1886 and 1887 rather than play for the Providence Grays. He returned to Boston in 1888 to hit .125.
Amos Rusie, who had averaged 30 wins a year over six seasons for the New York Giants, refused to pitch in 1896 because of a $200 fine owner Andrew Freedman levied for contrived reasons. Rusie returned, in 1897, only after the other National League owners chipped in to pay his 1896 salary.
Turkey Mike Donlin, who was the Babe Ruth of his day, literally staged two holdouts (1906-07, '09-10), forsaking the New York Giants for vaudeville.
Babe Ruth, the Turkey Mike Donlin of his day, held out in 1918 and 1930. Ruth was demanding a $100,000 salary in '30 but settled for $80,000 on the eve of the season. Asked how he could justify making more than President Hoover, Ruth gave his now famous reply: "I had a better year than he did."
Edd Roush sat out the entire 1930 season rather than play for the New York Giants' manager, John McGraw. Roush resumed his career with his beloved Reds the next year.
Joe DiMaggio, coming off a near Triple Crown season in 1937, asked the Yankees for $40,000, $4,000 more than Lou Gehrig's wage. The 23-year-old DiMaggio settled a week into the season for $25,000.
Sandy Koufax joined with Don Drysdale as a holdout entry against the Dodgers in 1966. They threatened to become actors but came to terms just before the season started.
Curt Flood, angered at being traded from St. Louis to Philadelphia, unsuccessfully brought suit against baseball's reserve clause in 1970. While awaiting the outcome, Flood caroused in Copenhagen.
Vida Blue, coming off a Cy Young Award in 1971, sat out the first three weeks of '72, working for Dura Steel Products rather than for A's owner Charlie Finley. Blue returned and went 6-10.
Reggie Jackson, just traded to the Orioles, held out for 25 days of the '76 season before deciding to play out his option. Then he signed with the Yankees.