OLD HOME WEEK
The trade that brought Rickey Henderson back home to Oakland last week in exchange for middle relievers Eric Plunk and Greg Cadaret and outfielder Luis Polonia is a measure of how far general manager Sandy Alderson has brought the Athletics. In December 1984, Henderson was traded from Oakland to the Yankees because the Athletics figured they wouldn't be able to pay his free-agent price (the Yankees signed him for $8.6 million over five years). Last week, he was traded to Oakland because the Yankees wouldn't meet his price (reportedly $8.4 million over three years). "The deals are essentially the same, only in different directions," said Alderson.
What Alderson got for Henderson in 1984—Jay Howell, Jose Rijo, Tim Birtsas, Plunk and Stan Javier, all of whom are still in the majors—was a cornerstone of the franchise's reconstruction after the Charlie Finley era. It bought the Athletics time for the farm system to start developing, and some of the players Alderson obtained eventually were packaged to help get Bob Welch, Dave Parker and now Henderson again. When they dealt him, the A's were a second-rate team in a weak division, drawing 1.3 million fans. Now they're a first-place team in a strong division, drawing 2.3 million.
That they have the best record in the majors is remarkable considering that their disabled list includes the American League MVP, Jose Canseco; the league's top reliever, Dennis Eckersley; 17-game winner Welch; and shortstop Walt Weiss. With all those players due back by the All-Star break, the A's lineup will have Rickey and Dave Henderson hitting in front of Canseco, Mark McGwire, Parker, Terry Steinbach and Carney Lansford.
Henderson's return corrects Oakland's biggest weakness: the lack of a lead-off hitter. Polonia had only a .315 on-base percentage. "People say Rickey wasn't doing well in New York, but he was eighth in the league in on-base percentage [.392] and second in steals," said A's manager Tony La Russa. "Isn't that what he's supposed to do?"
Henderson was batting only .247, and, as usual, people accused him of malingering. That shouldn't be a problem in Oakland. Parker, Dave Stewart, Dave Henderson and Lansford are leaders who can help keep Rickey from becoming a center of controversy.
In contrast to Oakland's success, the once fearsome Yankees have now lost Henderson, Dave Winfield and Jack Clark from last year's lineup, and have Polonia, Jimmy Jones (5.46 ERA) and three middle relievers to show for them. Where are the Yankees going? They talk about pitching and defense, and they get Polonia, who is not noted for being a good fielder. They needed a right-handed power hitter and had to settle for a declining Jesse Barfield (a potential free agent) because they'd traded 24-year-old Jay Buhner for DH Ken Phelps. In less than a year, they've traded for three DHs (Phelps, Mel Hall, Steve Balboni), Barfield, two reserve players (Bob Brower, Tom Brookens) and a stockpile of middle relief pitchers.
Henderson may not be the player he was in 1985, but he is only 30 and is still the best leadoff hitter in the American League. He began to pay dividends last weekend, hitting a home run on Saturday and stealing three bases on Sunday. He says, "What I want most now is a World Series ring." It will be a lot easier to get it where he has gone this time than where he went in December 1984. Which says a lot about the management of both teams.
In some ways, Dwight Gooden's 24-4, 1.53-ERA, 268-strikeout season in 1985, when he was 20, was a curse, because it created such staggering expectations. Gooden is 24 now and—to put his career in perspective—he is the third-youngest pitcher, behind Bob Feller and Frank (Noodles) Hahn, to reach 100 wins; he has the highest career winning percentage (100-37, .730) of anyone with at least 100 decisions; he has allowed three or fewer runs in 94 of his 100 wins and has never at any point had a losing record—not even 0-1 to start a season. Still, the pitcher they called Dr. K doesn't hit double digits in strikeouts much anymore (he has done it twice in the last year and a half; he did it 26 times in his first two seasons), and there are whispers that he has lost something off his fastball. "Doc throws just as hard today as he did in '84 and '85 [when he averaged better than a strikeout an inning]." says Mets vice-president Joe McIlvaine. "But when he was 19 and 20, he was so loose and his fastball had extraordinary movement. As he grew and got bigger, he lost some of that movement, maybe because he isn't as supple. But he's still a great pitcher."
DON'T LOOK BACK
The team the Orioles are looking at in the rearview mirror is Toronto. "We're relaxed and playing the way we should have all along." says Blue Jay veteran Rance Mulliniks, reflecting on the fact that Toronto had the worst record in baseball before manager Jimy Williams was replaced by Cito Gaston in mid-May. "Things are rolling positively for the first time in a while." Indeed, during the seven-day stretch from June 16 to 22, the Jays came from behind to beat Seattle twice, beat the Angels in extra innings, then went to Oakland and beat the A's in extra innings. Getting Tony Fernandez healthy has been a major factor in the surge, as has the blossoming of second baseman Nelson Liriano and centerfielder Junior Felix. "We may not have some of the big names that we once did," says Gaston. "But we've got five switch-hitters in there when Manny Lee is at third base." That lineup, a Gaston innovation, puts Kelly Gruber in rightfield, where he has played as well as anyone in the American League.... The Jays didn't gain any immediate ground on Baltimore because the O's have gone 26-12 since May 17. Much of the Orioles' success is attributable to their bullpen, particularly rookie Gregg Olson. In those 38 games, Olson appeared 16 times, allowing eight hits and a run in 17.1 innings, while striking out 21. Overall, the bullpen was 13-8, with a 3.32 ERA and 23 saves through last weekend. (It had 26 saves all last year.)... There is speculation that White Sox general manager Larry Himes's job is on the line, although he has had only 2½ years to rebuild the farm system. Himes is no favorite with his players because of his ban on the consumption of alcohol in the clubhouse. So last week, when Carlton Fisk hit his 307th homer and broke Yogi Berra's American League record for catchers, Fisk took a chance by toasting his feat with champagne in the clubhouse. Asked who sent him the champagne, Fisk replied, "It wasn't Larry."... For a decade, the Red Sox team motto has been "25 guys, 25 cabs" (actually, these days it's "24 guys, 17 cabs and seven limos"). On June 22, the night after Boston pitchers were raked for 19 hits by Texas, Mike Smithson hit Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmeiro with a pitch. The entire Texas dugout charged onto the field. The only Boston player who immediately ran out to meet them was Joe Price. "We have a bunch of wimps on this team," Mike Green-well told Nick Cafardo of the Quincy Patriot Ledger. "When are we going to act like a team and stop acting like a bunch of sissies?"
BETWEEN THE LINES
CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN
Angel reliever Bob McClure is such a slugabed that he goes by the nickname Dr. Rot, and even has a DR ROT license plate on his truck. "I like to lie around the house, watch TV and rot out before I go to the park," says McClure. He wants to start a line of inactive wear for others who like to rot around the house. He plans to call the clothing "rotwear."
When Juan Samuel was traded from the Phillies to the Mets for Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell on June 18, it was supposed to be a rebirth for all three players. Well, four days after the deal was made, Samuel's wife gave birth to a girl. Dykstra's wife is due any day now too. And, yes, McDowell's wife is pregnant.
JUNIOR CIRCUIT CLOUTS
Switch-hitting Toronto rookie Junior Felix hit the first pitch he faced in the major leagues for a home run, hit the first inside-the-park grand slam in Fenway Park since 1961 and hit another Fenway homer a dozen rows up the runway beyond the home bullpen, where, as Boston manager Joe Morgan said, "only Ted Williams used to hit 'em." Last week, Felix hit a homer into the upper deck in right center in Anaheim Stadium, an area where, Angel manager Doug Rader said, "only Reggie Jackson used to hit them."
"If he's Junior Felix," said Oriole scout Ed Farmer, "I'd like to see Senior Felix."
ONE MAN'S ALL-STAR BALLOT
American League: Alvin Davis, Seattle, 1B; Julio Franco, Texas, 2B; Gary Gaetti, Minn., 3B; Cal Ripken, Balt., SS; Ruben Sierra, Texas, Kirby Puckett, Minn., and Bo Jackson, K.C., outfield; and Mickey Tettleton, Balt., catcher.
National League: Will Clark, S.F, 1B; Ryne Sandberg, Cubs, 2B; Howard Johnson, N.Y., 3B; Barry Larkin, Cinn., SS; Kevin Mitchell, S.F, Tony Gwynn, S.D., and Von Hayes, Phil., outfield; and Mike Scioscia, L.A., catcher.
THE CAP-AND-GOWN MAN OF THE WEEK
Braves first baseman Gerald Perry had a bonehead doubleheader against the Reds on June 21. In the first game, while arguing with first base ump Gary Darling about a safe call on an attempted play, he allowed Cincinnati's Lenny Harris to score from third. In the nightcap, Perry raced from first to home as a one-out line drive was caught by Reds leftfielder Kal Daniels. Double play.
•The Red Sox were supposed to hit more home runs after batting coach Walter Hriniak left, and they have. They are five homers ahead of last year's pace, 47-42, despite having hit only one in their last eight home games and four in their last 18.
•Bob Boone, who is 18 days younger than Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, batted .250 in his 20's and 30's, and has hit .295 in his 40's.
•A pessimistic note to L.A. fans: The Dodgers have never trailed by more than seven games and come back to finish first. On June 24 they were 8½ out.
•When Rick Reuschel won his 12th game, on June 21, his control was so good that in 7‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings he threw 66 pitches, 52 for strikes.
•Giants second baseman Robby Thompson last week climbed to fifth in the NL in slugging, at .498—the highest figure for any middle infielder in the league—and at the same time dropped to eighth in the All-Star balloting.
•How badly has Pittsburgh missed reliever Jim Gott? The Pirates have lost 11 of the 35 games in which they led or were tied after the eighth inning.