They were March lions, poised to dominate the AL East. But in mid-May the Cleveland Indians were back home in last place, largely because of a pitching staff that was not only the worst in the league (5.32 ERA) but also the least promising, having more members over 40 than under 25.
So now rival executives are snickering at Cleveland general manager Joe Klein's off-season refusal to trade one of his hitters for pitching. "They acted as if they didn't need any," says one G.M. Another faulted Klein for his lack of interest in a deal that would have sent third baseman Brook Jacoby to Detroit for pitcher Dan Petry, saying "Joe doesn't realize that pitching is so scarce today that a team usually has to give up two or three everyday players for one pitcher, not vice versa, as in the past."
"You didn't hear me predicting any pennant," Klein says in his own defense. "We're not as bad as we've played. The starting pitching is getting better, and if Ernie Camacho gets straightened out and Scott Bailes [moved to the bullpen] gets our relief situation corrected, we're capable of winning 22 out of 30 and getting into the pack. But last winter I understood that we still had a ways to go. My plan then was no different than it is now. At the end of this season, when we have one more shift of kids coming up from the minors, we'll decide which one or two everyday players we trade for pitching. With those deals and a couple of the arms we have in our system, we'll be ready to make our move."
Two more sluggers in Buffalo should be ready to join Joe Carter and Cory Snyder in the Indians lineup by September. They are third baseman Eddie Williams (who has 10 homers already) and infielder Jay Bell.
Klein notes that the Yankees (Rick Rhoden, Charles Hudson) and Mariners (Scott Bankhead) were the only clubs to make trades for frontline starters over the winter. "I fully appreciate how difficult it is to deal for quality pitching," he says. "Everyone talks about the lively ball and points to the homers, but look at the quality of pitching around. It's as bad as it's ever been."
HERE'S THE PITCH
You want pitching? The punchless White Sox will deal pitching. They are seriously discussing a Richard Dotson-for-Tom Brunansky trade with Minnesota and will eventually be looking to move Floyd Bannister's contract to an interested party like Toronto. The Blue Jays have spent six months trying to overspend for a top starter. The Angels are also in the market, offering the likes of Gary Pettis....
Dave Stieb's fastball has been clocked at more than 90 mph in two consecutive starts for the first time since August 1985. While his numbers don't yet reflect it, Stieb says he is close to his 1983-85 form because he is trying to stretch out the muscles in his arm with fast-balls. Says one scout, "He threw so many breaking balls his muscles shortened and he lost his fastball. That happens to a lot of pitchers."
The mess in San Diego gets worse each week. Larry Bowa has already had 15 heated postgame clubhouse meetings (the best manager in the game, Whitey Herzog, hasn't held one postgame clubhouse meeting in 14 years). A May 13 tirade ended with Bowa and rookie Stanley Jefferson engaged in a one-push fight, just days after Bowa and starter Andy Hawkins had exchanged un-pleasantries in the papers. Ace reliever Lance McCullers is worn out after getting up to throw nearly 100 times in the first 37 games. "And they thought they had it tough with Dick Williams," chuckles Seattle scout Rick Sweet. Padre pitching is in shambles: The staff ERA is 5.42, the worst in the majors, and the club has been outhomered 52-20. G.M. Jack McKeon is offering Hawkins, Dave Dravecky, Storm Davis and Eric Show around for a bat and some young pitchers. McKeon may have a taker for Hawkins and/or Dravecky in the Reds, and the Yankees may take back Rich Gossage, who desperately wants out of San Diego.
Bowa, meanwhile, is contending with Philadelphia's much-maligned John Felske and the White Sox' Jim Fregosi in the managerial walk-the-plank contest....
The Yankees are trying to get catcher Ron Hassey back for the third time, this time from the White Sox. The Dodgers are shopping stiff-shouldered Tim Leary, Alejandro Pena and Tom Neidenfeuer (along with his '88 option, worth $850,000) for an outfielder like Boston's David Henderson....
Juan Samuel is emerging as the new star in Philadelphia. He hit safely in 20 games in a 21-game stretch through May 14. For the season he was batting .396 with men in scoring position and led the Phils in six major offensive categories.
With Kirk McCaskill out after an elbow operation; John Candelaria, having trouble with his back and with the law (he was arrested on May 14 for the second time in a month on suspicion of drunk driving) and on the DL, talking about retirement; and Donnie Moore also in pain, the Angels' pitching has fallen on hard times. Last week the Halos rushed Bryan Harvey up from the Texas League. Never heard of him? Harvey signed three years ago at an Angel tryout camp after a softball career with the renowned Howard's Furniture team from North Carolina. Harvey was a softball outfielder, but his fastball has been clocked at 97 mph.
IS THAT ALL?
Ramser Correa, the 16-year-old brother of Ranger pitcher Edwin Correa, says he will sign for nothing less than $225,000, plus a promise that he not be asked to pitch between sundown Fridays and sundown Saturdays (he's a Seventh-Day Adventist), plus a guaranteed major league contract by 1990, plus an invitation to major league spring training next February, plus a $7,500 bonus for making the big leagues, plus four round-trip plane tickets from Puerto Rico to a destination on the mainland annually for five years, plus an '87 black Corvette for himself and a Cutlass Supreme for his father....
Fred Claire is solidly seated as Al Campanis's replacement, so Tommy Lasorda knows now that his dream of being the Dodger general manager isn't going to be realized. Lasorda wants a G.M. job and will leave the Dodgers if anyone makes an offer....
The Baltimore Orioles may have found much-needed bullpen help in former starter Ken Dixon. He always had a great arm and a serious lack of concentration, so manager Cal Ripken put him out in the pen, let him just throw the ball, and in 10 days he was 2-0 with two saves. The other Baltimore relievers had 5 saves in 15 opportunities. Eddie Murray tells friends he is as unhappy as he has ever been, and he still is on a pace to top 40 homers and 120 RBIs....
Dick Williams has this to say about Milwaukee Brewers rookie catcher B.J. Surhoff: "He reminds me of a young Carl Yastrzemski. This kid doesn't hold his bat quite as high as Yastrzemski did, but he has a lot of the same mannerisms."...
Oakland A's manager Tony La Russa is reaching the end of his patience with Joaquin Andujar, who refuses to go to the minors on injury rehab.
When the Orioles sent Floyd (Honey Bear) Rayford to the minors two weeks ago, he was three days short of completing five years of major league service. Reaching that milestone would have made him eligible for free agency and allowed him to collect his $248,000 major league salary for this year. Had Rayford known that, he says, he could have taken the allowed 72 hours to report to Rochester and the extra time would have been credited to his service record. Rayford feels the Orioles deliberately deceived him; instead of the club reading him his (Willie) Miranda rights, they gave him a reassignment sheet to approve while on a team plane from Minneapolis to Chicago....
The best throw of the week was by frustrated Tiger third baseman Darnell Coles who, after grounding out to stretch his hitting slump to 4 for 63, heaved the infield ball the next inning over the Tiger Stadium roof. That meant Coles threw a ball out of a park this year before he hit one out.
By stretching his arm, Stieb has made strides toward regaining his form.
Samuel's star is rising in Philly.
If Surhoff has enough Yaz in him, maybe he can revive the reeling Brewers.
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Count 'em: 37 birthday candles.
BETWEEN THE LINES
JOTTINGS FROM THE JOINT
Denny McLain writes a monthly column for the Detroit-based Sports Fans' Journal from the Talladega, Ala., federal prison, where he is serving a 23-year sentence for racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and drug trafficking. His May column is titled "It's Time To Defend the Owners."
A FEW DOME IDEAS
Toronto's domed stadium, which is scheduled to open in 1989, will be known as the SkyDome. The name was chosen from among 12,878 entries in a name-that-dome contest. Some of the losing suggestions: the Pierre Truedome, Dome Kopf, Dome Perignon, Tax Payer Gets Ripped Off Again Dome, and Home T Dome T.
JUSTICE GENE MAUCH AND THE LAW
On the afternoon of May 12 in Detroit, Gene Mauch was recounting how he used to study the rule book when he was a manager in Puerto Rico. "I'd visualize situations, searching for loopholes," he said. "There were many more loopholes then."
In the third inning of that evening's game, with Angels on first and second, Detroit's Dan Petry threw a pitch that catcher Mike Heath momentarily lost in the dirt before scooping it up with his mask. Mauch immediately charged first base umpire Rick Reed, claiming that Heath had violated a rule. Reed and home plate ump Durwood Merrill agreed. The violation? Rule 7.05(d) forbids a player from deliberately obstructing a thrown ball with any part of the uniform. Heath, who says he has used his mask to scoop up balls for nine years, was charged with an error, and both runners were awarded the required two bases. Mark McLemore was waved home from second, and Brian Downing went from first to third, later to score on an error. Those were the only Angel runs in a 15-2 loss.
THE LIVELY BALK DEBATE
National League president Bart Giamatti has directed his umpires to crack down on pitchers who don't come to a complete stop following their stretches and before delivering. As a result, through last weekend, NL umps had called 72 balks, compared with only 26 in the American. NL base stealers still had a 68% success rate, same as in 1986.
•Off-season pickups Charles Hudson, Rick Rhoden, Pat Clements and Cecilio Guante had 14 of the Yankees' first 24 wins and just five of their first 13 losses. Hudson was the first Yankee pitcher to start off 5-0 since Doug Bird in '81.
•Five of the 10 pitchers on the Astros staff—Mike Scott, Jim Deshaies, Nolan Ryan, Larry Andersen and Dave Smith—are averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Houston is on a pace to eclipse its 1969 major league record of 1,221 strikeouts.
•Texas beat Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton and Tommy John in consecutive games. Proving that youth can get the better of experience, the Rangers' 39-year-old Charlie Hough beat 300-game winners Niekro and Carlton back-to-back.
•Against Toronto on May 12, Kansas City rookie Bill Pecota went 4 for 4 with his second homer, tying him for second (with four others) for the club lead. The next night he was optioned to Omaha.
•Red Sox reliever Joe Sambito has held 29 of the 30 leads he has inherited over two seasons.
•The Dodgers' farm system is so bad the best player they could recall from Albuquerque to replace Mike Marshall was Ralph Bryant, who was hitting .202. Bryant whiffed on three pitches in each of his first two Dodger at bats.
•How bad is the Phillies' starting pitching? In their first 22 home games they allowed 23 first-inning runs.
•During a five-game stretch in their disastrous losing streak, the Brewers went 1 for 47 with runners in scoring position.
•Lance Parrish was going to stop opponents from running on the Phillies, right? He and his backup, John Russell, have thrown out only two of the first 40 base stealers. Bob Boone was run out of Philly because opponents stole successfully on 83% of their tries. In five years with California, however, he has thrown out more than half of those who have run on him. This proves again that bases are stolen on pitchers more than on catchers.
•Not only are the Niekro brothers within one win of the Perry brothers' record for combined victories, but Phil Niekro is also one win shy of Gaylord Perry, and Joe Niekro is tied with Jim Perry at 215.