No one could have expected the Red Sox to have another year like 1986, when they came within one strike of being the world champions. That team was composed of aging every-day players and what amounted to a six-or seven-man pitching staff. Management didn't seem to help in the off-season when it forced MVP Roger Clemens to hold out, held off free-agent Rich Gedman and failed to replace any of the five members of the '86 team absent from the '87 Opening Day roster. Oil Can Boyd hurt his arm, Jim Rice's deteriorating knee worsened and the bullpen self-destructed. "Everything was negative," said second baseman Marty Barrett.
But without acquiring a single player—not even a minor league backup catcher—from another organization since Aug. 19, 1986, the defending AL champions have rebuilt themselves and seem likely to be a power for the remainder of the decade. The Boston media, which have regarded the club with disdain since its dreadful start, don't seem to realize that New England fans are more optimistic going into September 1987 than they were a year ago, when they worried about another lead being blown. When the Sox returned from a recent 4-5 road trip, fans were lined up on Yawkey Way for tickets.
The reason for the optimism is simple: new blood. Since Gedman's season ended with a thumb injury in July, the Sox have been playing four rookies. Centerfielder Ellis Burks, with 21 steals and 19 homers since coming up in May, is the most exciting player the club has produced in two generations. Sam Horn, the 6'5", 240-pound DH, dubbed the Fenway Fridge by the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy, became what Joe Sambito called "an instant folk hero," with nine homers in the first 22 games he started, after hitting 30 at Pawtucket. Outfielder Mike Greenwell has hit better than .320 and knocked in a remarkable 66 runs in 286 at bats, while catcher John Marzano has five homers (one more than Gedman, Marc Sullivan and Danny Sheaffer combined). Furthermore, outfielder Todd Benzinger has shown flashes of being a Pat Tabler-like hitter, and on the immediate horizon are two potential front-liners, outfielder Brady Anderson and shortstop Jody Reed. Burks and Anderson give the Red Sox speed they have not had in years. Now, says Barrett, "there is as much enthusiasm around here as I've ever felt."
Says converted first baseman Dwight Evans, "What we have is a good blend of players with talent and players with all kinds of experience." It should be noted that Evans's leadership has a lot to do with it. He is among the league's top five in homers (in fact, he has more HRs than anyone in the AL over the last six seasons), batting, doubles, on-base percentage, slugging, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases.
Pitching is still the biggest problem. "They begin," says Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, "with as good a pair of starters as anyone has, in Clemens and Bruce Hurst. It's easier to build when you have that. Most teams have whole staffs of fifth starters." Boyd is expected back after minor shoulder surgery, young Jeff Sellers shows promise, and Wes Gardner has bounced back from shoulder surgery with a win and four saves in his last five appearances.
Manager John McNamara has to figure out how he can keep Horn and Rice, whose defense has gone the way of his speed, in the lineup at the same time, as well as how to get Rice hitting again. He has a paltry 25 extra-base hits, fewer than Steve Lombardozzi.
Ken Griffey Jr., the No. 1 pick in the June draft, has a .320 average with 14 homers for the Mariners' Bellingham club of the Northwest League. "He is just the player and the person we thought he was," says Seattle G.M. Dick Balderson. The No. 2 pick. Twins pitcher Willie Banks, is having a rough time. He is 1-8 with a 6.99 ERA and 28 wild pitches for Elizabeth-ton of the Appalachian League....
If the Padres' Tony Gwynn and John Kruk finish 1-2 in the NL batting race, they will be the first teammates to do so since Giants Willie Mays and Don Mueller in 1954. Yankees Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield finished 1-2 in the AL in 1984.
It came as little surprise when the Royals fired Billy Gardner with 36 games to play. With the best potential starting pitching in the AL, the Royals were only 3½ games behind the Twins at the time and still seemed the favorites to win the division. But K.C. management felt that Gardner's style was too rigid for Royals Stadium, that he had some trouble handling pitchers and had buried the team's only reliever (Dan Quisenberry), and that the team had no life.
But there was some surprise when John Wathan, 37, was named as Gardner's successor. As late as October 1985, Wathan was still a popular Royals teammate, and he had only five months' managerial experience in Triple A. But the most interesting aspect of the story was that hitting coach Hal McRae turned down a chance to be the fourth black manager in major league history. "I want a fair shot," said McRae, who gave up playing for full-time coaching on July 20. "I didn't think I could get that in 36 games, especially 36 games at the end of the season. You've got to remember that this ball club hasn't done that well this season, and it's been very inconsistent. They wanted a miracle, and I wanted Fort Knox." In other words, McRae wanted security, which all managers need these days, and assurances that he was in charge.
NOT SO ROSY
Then there is Pete Rose, who is now taking some heat for the Reds' failure to improve their pitching after experiencing a 10-game shift in the standings—from five up to five down—in less than three weeks. Ron Robinson was angry about being removed for a pinch hitter in a game against the Cardinals that the Reds led 7-4 and eventually lost 9-7, and he blasted Rose: "There is obviously a communications gap between the pitching coach [Scott Breeden] and the manager. Pete outmanaged himself in this game, trying to show he is a better manager than Whitey Herzog." Rose aired out Robinson in the manager's office and in a team meeting following the next day's loss, after which Robinson said, "I guess Pete can't take criticism. He sure criticizes [the pitchers] enough." Meanwhile, Mario Soto had pain in his shoulder throwing on the side and may be done for the year....
Cubs G.M. Dallas Green appears close to dismissing manager Gene Michael. Green also addressed his team last week, brandishing these stats: The Cubs were last in the NL in sacrifice flies, despite having the third-best team batting average in the league, and they had scored nearly 80 runs fewer than the Cardinals, despite being first in total bases and home runs....
On Aug. 24, Vince Coleman hit a ball off the top of the left centerfield fence at Busch Stadium, thereby coming as close as possible to getting his first major league out-of-the-park homer. Two days later he lifted one over the rightfield fence. He had gone 1,720 at bats without a fence clearer....
The rebuilding of the Braves has begun after the trades of Doyle Alexander and Gene Garber, with David Palmer soon to follow. Atlanta's new staff leader is Zane Smith, who won only one game last season after July 8. Smith was 14-7 through last weekend.
Cynics offered these observations on the Reds-Yankees swap of Bill Gullickson and Dennis Rasmussen: 1) 64 gopher balls traded places; 2) Reds G.M. Bill Bergesch finally traded for a pitcher and, while it saved the Reds more than $700,000, it cost the team its biggest winner; 3) George Steinbrenner, just a month after saying "you can never have enough lefthanded pitching in the American League East," traded a southpaw for a righty. But the change of scene should be good for both pitchers. Gullickson is a horse, something the Yanks badly need, and Rasmussen gets away from the Bronx Cuckoo's Nest. This is the third time that Bergesch has traded for Rasmussen, but not the first time the Yankees had a chance to deal Rasmussen for Gullickson. In 1985, Montreal wanted Rasmussen, Joe Cowley, Henry Cotto and Rich Bordi for Gullickson and an outfielder named Andre Dawson.
By virtue of his astounding streak of saves in 17 straight chances and 30 out of 34, Toronto's Tom Henke is very much an MVP and a Cy Young candidate. We're sorry to have to point out that the Rangers, who have virtually no bullpen, traded away both Henke and Dave Righetti—two straight Firemen of the Year. Oh, yes, Texas also traded this year's leading winner, Oakland's Dave Stewart, for Rick Surhoff.
Boone is catching up to a record.
If Kruk (right) keeps hitting, the Padres won't be left in the dust next year.
Vince finally became a fencebuster.
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A happy 41st to one class-A guy.
BETWEEN THE LINES
KING OF THE CROUCH
When Bob Boone crouches behind the plate for the 1,919th time in his 16-year career this month, he will break Al Lopez's major league record for games caught. Lopez, a 19-year veteran (1928-47) who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977, had his busiest year in 1934, when he caught 140 games for the Dodgers. The 39-year-old Boone has topped that figure seven times. Since he turned 34, Boone has averaged 144 games a season; Lopez, after turning 34, averaged 88. Boone's .251 lifetime batting average is 10 points lower than Lopez's, but he has more homers (98 to 52) and RBIs (731 to 652) and will have played more big league games at the sport's toughest position than anyone—likely qualifications for the Hall of Fame. Not bad for a guy who was moved from third base to catcher at Reading in 1971, leaving the hot corner for the Phillies' second-round draft pick that year, another Cooperstown-bound fellow named Mike Schmidt.
THE FIELDER'S CHOICE
Jack Clark has a good chance to become the first player in major league history to leave the batter's box 300 times in a season without having hit a fair ball. Through last weekend Clark had been walked 128 times and had struck out 127 times. Houston's Jimmy Wynn set the record of 293—148 walks, 142 strikeouts and three hit by pitches—in 1969. Babe Ruth's highest total was 263 in 1923, featuring 170 walks.
"Is that anything like the 30-30 club?" Clark asked.
HEY KIDS, WHAT TIME IS IT?
It's just too much for the owner to pass up: a chance to needle both American League president Dr. Bobby Brown and the Yankee rightfielder. Each day the notes provided to the press by Yankee p.r. director Harvey Greene—surely on orders from above—contain this reference to Dave Winfield: "Since playing 13 innings in the All-Star Game, Winfield is batting...." The ravings are aimed at Brown—no pal of George Steinbrenner's—because of his obsession to win the All-Star Game and at Winfield...just because. Oh yes, since the All-Star Game, Winfield has batted .223 with 3 home runs and 16 RBIs.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
•Reds owner Marge Schott, on Cincinnati's season: "The only good thing about it is that if it doesn't work out, it isn't my fault."
Doyle Alexander is 3-0—and the Tigers are 4-0 in his starts—since the pitcher was acquired from Atlanta on Aug. 12. Toronto, on the other hand, is 0-3 in Phil Niekro's starts; the Yankees are 1-5 in Steve Trout's starts; the Twins are 4-9 in Joe Niekro's starts and 1-4 with Steve Carlton on the mound.
•Prior to the September call-up, the Pirates used 43 players, the Yankees 42 (5 short of their 1982 club record), including 12 starting pitchers, while the Texas Rangers used 19 pitchers and 17 positional players. The Giants used 40 players. Since Al Rosen became the San Francisco G.M. on Sept. 18, 1985, the Giants have used 66 players; only 8 remain from Rosen's original roster.
•Even though he was an active player as recently as 1985, Kansas City's John Wathan is only the third-youngest of the majors' 37-year-old managers. Minnesota's Tom Kelly is three months younger than Texas's Bobby Valentine, who is seven months younger than Wathan. There are now 12 managers younger than 46-year-old Pete Rose.
•Early in the 1985 season, Willie Upshaw was Toronto's cleanup hitter. This year he has batted in every position in the order except cleanup.
•Three of Tony Armas's last four homers have come off Phil Niekro. The Angels' outfielder has now hit 226 homers and drawn 191 unintentional walks in his career.
•Kevin (Mr. Sandman) Gross's ERA before he was charged with having sandpaper in his glove was 4.77. In his four starts since apparently going smooth, it has been 2.63.
•On Aug. 26, the Dodgers used five pitchers and the Mets three in the eighth inning—and the Dodgers scored the only run. L.A. may now hold the record for most pitchers used in a scoreless half-inning.
•During the time that Paul Molitor was hitting in 39 straight games and batting .415, red-hot Philadelphia outfielder Milt Thompson hit .470.