The Mark Langston affair, which reached its climax last week with the lefthanders trade to the Montreal Expos, sums up George Argyros's tenure as owner of the Seattle Mariners. The deal was bungled and shortsighted. As one AL executive puts it, "Argyros doesn't view himself in terms of winning, only in terms of profit."
Argyros never intended to sign his best pitcher, who is in the last year of his contract. He offered Langston a $7.1 million, three-year deal 10 days after Langston told Mariners manager Jim Lefebvre he was so fed up with Argyros that he would never re-sign with Seattle. Argyros covered himself by making the offer to Langston only hours before closing the May 25 deal with the Expos. When Langston declined the offer, the M's shipped him to Montreal for pitchers Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris—about half the value Seattle could have received from an earlier deal.
Seattle general manager Woody Woodward knew in January that signing Langston was hopeless, so he negotiated to trade him and outfielder Jay Buhner to the Mets for third baseman Howard Johnson and pitchers Sid Fernandez, David West and Kevin Tapani. Argyros vetoed the trade twice. In mid-May, Woodward arranged a three-way deal with Toronto and Atlanta that would have brought Seattle four quality pitchers—Zane Smith, Tommy Greene, Al Leiter and Alex Sanchez. In return, Langston, Mariners outfielder Henry Cotto and Braves infielder Jeff Blauser would have gone to Toronto and George Bell to Atlanta. Argyros killed that when he refused to allow Toronto to talk to Langston's agent about extending his contract. Finally, as the strain of the daily trade rumors began to affect both Langston and the team, the choices came down to the Mets (now offering pitchers Rick Aguilera, West, Tapani and Blaine Beatty) and the Expos' three-pitcher package. Argyros wanted to thwart Langston's expressed desire to go to the Mets or a California team, and sent him to Montreal.
Holman, 24, is a righthander and is considered a good prospect. Johnson, 25, started the season with the Expos but was 0-4 with a 6.67 ERA in six starts, and was sent down to Triple A Indianapolis. He is 6'10" and has a great arm, but is a well-known space cadet; once, while watching an '87 Expos-Braves exhibition game in West Palm Beach, Fla., Johnson had to have his roomie, John Trautwein, explain who Henry Aaron was, and then asked, "Why isn't he in the lineup today?" Harris, 24, is considered by the Expos to be the best of the three; they think he could be an overpowering short reliever.
The Mets are particularly upset about the Langston trade, because Montreal is now the one team that can go into a three-game series and—with Langston. Dennis Martinez and Kevin Gross or Bryn Smith—match the Mets' pitching. Already the Expos probably have a better lineup than the Mets. No other National League club can match Tim Raines, Hubie Brooks, Andres Galarraga and Tim Wallach as run producers. The Mets are now trying to get another hitter.
Meanwhile, if Langston plays out his contract and becomes a free agent next fall, he could wind up back in the American League, mowing down Mariners. "Nothing changes," says former Mariners coach Deron Johnson of Seattle's history of hapless trades. "If they'd just left things alone and kept their players, they might be the best team in the league."
Much attention has been focused this season on the feats of Texas's Nolan Ryan and the Yankees' Tommy John, but California's Bert Blyleven, 38, is now in his 20th major league season throwing a curveball that, like Ryan's fastball, will be remembered 20 years from now as one of the great pitches of all time. One would expect all those curveballs to have taken a toll on his arm after 4,527⅖ innings, but Blyleven seems unaffected. "I don't have the same bite on the curve I had 15 years ago," he says. "But it has never bothered my arm."
Blyleven believes he can pitch effectively for at least another three years, which would give him a shot at 300 victories (he has 258). His .531 lifetime winning percentage is .027 higher than that of the teams he has pitched for. By comparison, Ryan's lifetime percentage of .522 is .015 better than that of his teams.
BIG MAC ATTACK
On May 19, Glenn Wilson had lunch at a McDonald's in Houston. That night he got the only Pirate hit off Mike Scott. The next day, Wilson ate at McDonald's again. He went 2 for 6. So Wilson kept eating at McDonald's in Houston and then in Atlanta, and was 12 for 27 in six games.
Last Friday he ate at a McDonald's on his way to the stadium in Pittsburgh. When he walked into the clubhouse, he found that a local McDonald's outlet had delivered 50 Quarter Pounders, along with French fries and milk. "I'll see if it works," Andy Van Slyke said, and in an effort to change their luck, several Pirates joined him.
The Pirates were watching the Cubs and Reds on television as they dined, rooting against first-place Chicago. As Cincinnati's Luis Quinones was announced as a pinch-hitter, Wilson waved a Quarter Pounder at the TV. Quinones singled.
Alas, that night the Pirates lost to Houston 4-2. But McWilson went 3 for 4.
STARS OF '90S
One of the reasons the College World Series, which begins June 2 in Omaha, has become so popular is the number of teams capable of winning the championship. Unlike the 1965-74 era—when Arizona State and USC dominated—this year's regional tournaments began with 15 or 20 of the 48 participating teams capable of going all the way. Indeed, two of the best teams in the country—Texas A & M and Mississippi State—were upset in the regionals by LSU and North Carolina, respectively. Fresno State was another top contender that was eliminated early. As of Sunday, some of the strong teams remaining were Arizona, Miami and Wichita State.
A number of potential major leaguers should be at the Series. Some players to watch in Omaha—and in the free-agent draft on June 5:
•Joe Grahe, 14-4 with a 2.74 ERA at Miami this year, is an exciting pitching prospect, as is Alex Fernandez (15-1, 1.60).
•Scott Bryant, an outfielder/DH for Texas, has knocked in 106 runs and will be an early pick. Fellow Longhorn Kirk Dressendorfer, a righthander, is an ace (15-2. 152 strikeouts in 144⅖ innings).
•Arizona pitcher Scott Erickson (18-2) and catcher Alan Zinter (.359, 18 homers) are likely picks in the first or second round.
•Eric Wedge of Wichita State, a catcher, has hit 21 homers and is expected to be picked in the second round.
•Ben McDonald, LSU's ace, will probably be the first player chosen in the draft.
•Kyle Abbott of Long Beach State was 15-2 and should be the first lefthanded pitcher picked.
A FLAT BREW
The Brewers finished second to the Athletics in team ERA last season, but this year their starting pitching is a mess. The team's original rotation—Teddy Higuera, Juan Nieves, Don August, Bill Wegman, Mike Birkbeck—has won five games. Higuera, who has made only four starts, has been hampered by minor injuries and is still recovering from back surgery in January. Nieves is on the disabled list—and is probably out for the year—after being told that he needs surgery on his left shoulder. Higuera and Nieves are both lefthanders. They have been replaced by righthanders Bryan Clutterbuck (2-1) and Chris Bosio (6-3). "One big problem is that all the current starters are so similar—righthanders with average fastballs, sliders, curveballs," says catcher B.J. Surhoff. "By the middle game of a three-game series, hitters are right on them because they're not getting different looks."
...Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog on Reds shortstop Barry Larkin: "Of all the young players in the league. I think he's the most outstanding in all phases of the game. He's going to hit with power, hit for average and play a good shortstop. If you were starting a team in the National League, I think you'd take Larkin and Will Clark. Plus Darryl Strawberry, because he's still young, and Eric Davis. But I almost think I would take Larkin first."
...Opposing coaches and managers take cheap shots at pitching coach Tom House's exotic workout programs, especially his practice of having pitchers throw footballs. House has been fingered for the troubles of Bobby Witt (4-4, 6.00 ERA) and the shoulder injuries to Edwin Correa and Jose Guzman—two pitchers who don't even practice his unusual techniques. "Voices of ignorance, says manager Bobby Valentine of House's critics. One man who knows something about throwing a fastball, Nolan Ryan, has his 17-year-old son, Reid, working with House and using his program, including the football....
Frank Wills, called up by Toronto on May 15, explains life in the big leagues: "The game is played with a round bat and a round ball, the players run around the bases, and what goes around comes around."
Big mouth: It's Palacios's way of having a ball.
KIRK SCHLEA/ALLSPORT USA
With Langston, Montreal has the pitching to challenge the Mets.
¬¨¬®¬¨¬©THE TOPPS COMPANY, INC.
Happy 73rd to the A's ex-manager.
BETWEEN THE LINES
YOU MAKE EVERYTHING...GROO-VEEE
Cub reliever Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams walked two batters, hit two more, balked and threw a wild pitch in the seventh inning of a game against Cincinnati on May 21—and didn't allow a run.
He started the inning by getting Todd Benzinger to fly out. Williams hit the next batter, Jeff Reed, and then he picked Reed off first. In succession came another hit batsman, Lenny Harris: a wild pitch that was followed by a walk to pitcher Rick Mahler; a balk and then a walk of Chris Sabo, which loaded the bases before Joel Youngblood flied out.
By the end of the inning, Reds manager Pete Rose was wearing a batting helmet in the dugout. "Just another day in the legend of Mitch Williams," said Williams.
GOOD NEWS FOR LEFTIES
Charles Scoggins of the Lowell (Mass.) Sun recently determined that of the 69 former major league players who have committed suicide, none was a lefthanded pitcher. Indeed, why would a lefthander ever despair; there is always work available. Pete Falcone, for instance, is 35 and has been out of the major leagues since 1984, but he was signed by the Dodgers last week and assigned to their Albuquerque farm team.
HARD STORY TO SWALLOW
Utilityman Rey Palacios of Kansas City never lets a ball eat him up. On the contrary. Palacios has the astonishing ability to eat the ball—or at least to hold a baseball inside his mouth. He won't say how or why he developed this peculiar ability, but he demonstrated it on cable TV in Texas last week before a game against the Rangers. When Palacios removed the baseball, the announcer, Norm Hitzges, asked him if he was a two-sport athlete and then tossed him a football.
The Brothers Ripken—Cal Jr. and Bill—made a point of watching The People's Court on the television in the visitors' clubhouse at Comiskey Park on May 24. The case that day involved a dispute between two 10-year-old boys over the famous Bill Ripken baseball card that shows Ripken holding a bat with an obscenity written on its handle. One kid sold it to the other for $1, but the father of the kid who sold it wanted it back after learning it was worth a great deal more. Judge Wapner was confused. "You mean to tell me that one Bill Ripken baseball card is worth $50?" he said. "His brother is much more famous than he is." Wapner ordered the kid who bought the card for a buck to give it back.
TALES OF THE BRIGHT SIDE
When Blue Jay rookie Alex Sanchez walked the leadoff hitter in his first major league game, on May 23, catcher Bob Brenly paid a visit to the mound. "Well," said Brenly, "you've got your first big league hitter out of the way and you've still got your no-hitter, kid."
•Doug Jones has broken the Cleveland Indians' record for career saves (53) set by Ray Narleski in the mid-1950s. Jones now has 55, nine more than the Yankees' Dave Righetti collected in '86 alone. But that's not the worst career record for a major league team. The Mariners' mark is 52, and the Rangers' is 37.
•Texas's Buddy Bell and Detroit's Gary Pettis have the most at bats this year without an RBI (52). Bruce Benedict of Atlanta is right behind them (46).
•Philadelphia shortstop Steve Jeltz's streak of 1,357 at bats—spanning five years—without a home run ended when he hit one off San Diego's Walt Terrell on May 21.
•The Orioles were in last place every day of the 1988 season, but they are the only American League East team that hasn't spent one day in the cellar in 1989.