A Matter of Style
The A's Rickey Henderson finally got stolen base No. 939, on May 1, to pass Lou Brock as the alltime leader, but Henderson was upstaged that night by the Rangers' Nolan Ryan, who pitched his seventh no-hitter (page 42). There was something symbolic about that. The 44-year-old Ryan is one of the few true heroes left in baseball, a beloved player who began his career in an era that wasn't dominated by cash, cockiness and controversy. Henderson isn't a bad guy; he's just part of the new breed of players who too often say and do the wrong thing at the wrong time. The actions of Ryan and Henderson after their respective record-setting performances were especially telling.
Following the no-hitter, a humble Ryan was given a bottle of champagne by Texas manager Bobby Valentine as a token of the team's appreciation. Ryan then did his usual 30 minutes of postgame exercising. Even his opponents across North America cheered him.
By contrast, following his record theft, of third base, in the fourth inning of a game against the Yankees in Oakland. Henderson lifted the base in the air and paraded around the field. He was graciously congratulated by Brock, who then had to stand by as Henderson proclaimed, "Lou Brock was a great base stealer, but today I am the greatest of all time." Padres reliever Larry Andersen said Henderson's display "made me want to puke." The Athletics then gave Henderson a Porsche for his achievement.
Without question Henderson is the premier leadoff man in history. What makes his stolen-base mark especially impressive is his power: When he set the record, he had almost as many homers (166) as the next four active stolen-base leaders combined (171). It's just too bad that Henderson and the rest of today's petulant stars aren't more like Ryan.
New Spirit of St. Louis
Rex Hudler, the Cardinals' hard-charging utilityman, stood looking at his teammates in the lively St. Louis clubhouse before a game against the Braves last week. "It's as if they washed these walls clean, scrubbed the place," he said.
Last year the Cards' clubhouse was lifeless. Too many players—including Vince Coleman, Willie McGee and Terry Pendleton—had been in St. Louis too long. "Maybe the hungriness wasn't here; maybe there was a comfort zone," says pitcher Bryn Smith. Indeed, nothing can make a team more listless than players who have lost that hunger. Whitey Herzog resigned as manager last July 6 when he saw that he could no longer motivate his players.
Joe Torre was hired as his replacement, and the rebuilding process began. McGee was dealt to the A's on Aug. 29. Pendleton and Coleman were not re-signed and joined other teams as free agents in the off-season. Torre was left with a number of young, unproven players at key positions, but they have played with newfound enthusiasm. The Cardinals went 13-8 in April, their most wins in that month since 1982. Through Sunday's games, they were in third place, only 1½ games out of first, with a 14-11 record. Clearly, the Cards are hungry again.
"While I was away, people kept telling me how tough it is to manage these days," says Torre, who spent six years as a broadcaster for the Angels after being fired as Atlanta's manager following the 1984 season, even though he had guided the Braves to one first-place and two second-place finishes the three previous seasons. "But I don't see that with this team. We've been a distraction to teams. They don't know what we'll do, but they know we'll do it hard. These guys have been a manager's dream. You have to tap them on the shoulder and say, 'Hey, the game is over.' "
Late-inning rallies are a sign of a team that doesn't give up. Last year St. Louis was 2-79 when it trailed after eight innings. At week's end, the Cardinals had already won three games when they were behind through eight.
Rookie outfielders Bernard Gilkey and Ray Lankford have given St. Louis a spark, as has rightfielder Felix Jose, who was acquired in the McGee trade. Jose was hitting .313 through Sunday. Todd Zeile has emerged as one of the best hitting third basemen in the league, despite having to make the move from catcher to a new position.
In addition, a couple of old guys are lending a steady hand. First baseman Pedro Guerrero, 34, is still a quality RBI man, and reliever Lee Smith, 33, has been all but unhittable. He has saved 25 or more games in each of the last eight seasons. At week's end he was 2-1 and 9 for 10 in save tries this year. He has even pitched the equivalent of a perfect game, retiring 27 straight hitters in eight appearances from April 14 through 30. "You can't be better, or even as good, as Lee's been," says Torre.
St. Louis has yet to play the Pirates or the Mets, so it's far too early to say whether the Cardinals can keep up this pace. But even when they lose, they go down trying. "You can see a glow in these guy's eyes," says Bryn Smith, 35. "I don't feel old around here. They put the excitement back in you. It makes you believe you can win. I get good butterflies again. It's neat jumping around with these guys."
A Giant Dilemma
San Francisco manager Roger Craig is a master juggler of pitchers, but he has run out of ways to help his stumbling staff, particularly the starters. When healthy, the Giants' pitching is average at best, but injuries have turned the staff into one of the worst in the majors. At week's end San Francisco had the highest ERA (4.38) in the National League, and the Giants were in last place in the West with a 9-15 record.
"I read where the A's used the same starting rotation all last summer, and I used 26 pitchers last year," says Craig. "I've tried everything, except pitching myself. I went out to the mound the other day, and [second baseman] Robby Thompson said, 'Did you bring your glove?' The pitching is really worrying me. We just don't have one big guy—like [the Mets' Dwight] Gooden—to stop a losing streak."
Dodger centerfielder Brett Butler, a former Giant, concurs. "When John Burkett is your number one pitcher, and you've got to pitch him on three days rest, it's got to be tough," said Butler.
Things got tougher for San Francisco when Rick Reuschel, 41, went on the disabled list two weeks ago with an injured left knee. The day before, Scott Garrelts had gone on the DL with an injured right elbow. Craig yanked another veteran, Mike LaCoss, from the rotation on May 1 after LaCoss allowed 11 runs in three innings in his two most recent starts.
Other pitchers who were being counted on to help have struggled. Trevor Wilson hasn't developed as quickly as San Francisco had hoped he would, and Bud Black, the $2.5 million-a-year free-agent acquisition who had an 83-82 career record going into this season, was 2-3 at week's end. So the search for new arms continues. Even with their tremendous hitting, the Giants can't challenge for the division title unless they significantly improve their pitching.
April Is the Cruelest Month
Both leagues have Player of the Month awards. Here's our candidate for the worst player of the month for April: shortstop Eric Yelding of the Astros. He batted .191, had no RBIs in 68 at bats, scored only four runs despite hitting leadoff, walked but twice, missed signs at least twice, was called out at first for running inside the baseline and fell for the hidden-ball trick.
After another of his brethren got fired, Braves general manager John Schuerholz shook his head and said, "G.M.'s are getting it first now. not the managers."
The cause of Schuerholz's dismay was the dismissal of Mike Port, whom the Angels canned on April 30 and replaced with Dan O'Brien. Since August 1990, Nick Leyva of the Phillies is the only field manager who has gotten the ax, but five general managers have been fired, reassigned or have resigned under pressure. With more and more teams suffering financially, owners now seem to be pressuring middle management to get the right players and, more important, to get them for the right price.
A general manager should be fired if he has done nothing to improve his team. But that wasn't the case with Port. Since the start of last season, he had acquired, among others, Junior Felix, Gary Gaetti, Dave Parker, Luis Sojo, Dave Winfield and Luis Polonia. Further, California was 9-10 the day he was let go, hardly a disastrous start. Port had been with the Angels for 13½ years, but he was fired because of "philosophical differences" with club president Richard Brown. Brown is a lawyer, not a baseball man. Port's treatment by California is yet another indication of how big money is changing baseball.
Player in a Pinch
The Mets are grumbling (what a surprise, huh?) about manager Bud Harrelson's constant lineup changes. Harrelson also didn't endear himself to his players when he canceled his pregame radio show because he thought the program's host, Howie Rose, was asking too many negative questions. "He closes his door now and wants us to answer the questions," said one player.
Another complication may be brewing over the future of reserve leftfielder Mark Carreon, who through Sunday had eight home runs in 66 career at bats as a pinch hitter. Three of those homers had come this year, which was more than every-day players Carlton Fisk, Mark McGwire and Darryl Strawberry had altogether. The Mets have a shortage of hitting. They should see what Carreon can do playing every day.
Pitchers Bobby Witt of the Rangers and Randy Johnson of the Mariners are extremely talented, but until they learn to throw strikes more often, they will not become consistent winners. At week's end Johnson had walked 29 hitters in 33‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings, Witt 28 in 34. Both are 27 years old. They've been around too long to keep hurting themselves with walks....
Oriole first baseman Glenn Davis won't need surgery on a painful nerve condition in his neck, but he will be out for a month and probably will be limited to designated hitter duty when he returns. That helps Baltimore defensively, because Randy Milligan will play first base, his natural position, instead of leftfield. But what happens if Sam Horn, who as of Sunday already had four homers as the DH against righthanders, is still on a tear when Davis returns? Horn can't play defense....
How can it be that Jack Clark and Kevin Maas are not on the All-Star ballot?...Phillie leftfielder Von Hayes, who's in a slump, is being booed at Veterans Stadium. The Phillies desperately need pitching. The Royals had better find another hitter, or they might drop out of the race in the American League West. A Hayes for pitcher Tom Gordon swap makes a lot of sense.
Henderson's celebration after his record steal marked him as anything but the greatest.
Having Lee Smith as a bullpen elder statesman has been a big relief for the young Cardinals.
¬¨¬®¬¨¬©THE TOPS COMPANY, INC.
A happy 57th birthday to ol' Daddy Wags, a 1961 Angel original.
BETWEEN THE LINES
An August Occasion
When the Brewers played the White Sox on May 1, Milwaukee's Don August was supposed to be the "extra, extra emergency backup pitcher," as he put it, because he had a tired arm from his previous outing four days earlier. But when the game went into the 15th inning with the score tied 6-6, August got the call. The fourth batter he faced, Ozzie Guillen, sent August sprawling with a line drive off the right side of his head. "I had to get up," said August, "we didn't have anyone else left to pitch." He allowed three runs in the 15th, but the Brewers came back with three in their half of the inning. Milwaukee finally won 10-9 in the 19th inning, and August got the victory. "I went from a goat—and almost a dead goat—to a hero," he said.
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Last Friday, Giants centerfielder Willie McGee's three gloves were stolen from the visitors' clubhouse at Shea Stadium, so against the Mets the next day he used New York centerfielder Vince Coleman's. The two players, who were teammates in St. Louis for six seasons, simply left the glove in center at the end of each half inning, Little League-style. "They were fined by their respective kangaroo courts," said San Francisco catcher Terry Kennedy. "We fined Willie $2 an inning. The Mets fined Coleman $5 for each catch Willie made."
There's Nothing Like the First Time
Rangers bullpen coach Orlando Gomez, 44, labored in baseball's bush leagues for 27 years as a player, scout, manager and coach before attending his first major league game, on Opening Day this spring. "I didn't even come close to getting to a big league game," said Gomez. "When my name was announced, it was as if I wasn't standing on the ground. I choked up. I had tears in my eyes. I realized a dream come true."
A Game to Remember-Almost
Chris James of the Indians drove in nine runs in a 20-6 victory over the A's last Saturday. He's the 22nd player in history to drive in nine or more in a game and the first player with nine ribbies since Eddie Murray knocked in nine for the Orioles in 1985. "I hit a three-run homer in the first, a three-run homer in the second, and after that, I can't even remember what happened," said James, who singled in a run in the fourth and hit a two-run single in the eighth but still fell short of the major league record for most RBIs in a game (12), set by "Sunny" Jim Bottomley of the Cardinals in 1924.
Just to Show You It Can Be Done
Last Friday, the same night that the Tigers and Rangers took over two hours to play the first four innings of their game—which went 11 innings and lasted 4:16—the Pirates beat the Astros 1-0 in 1:45. That's the shortest nine-inning game in the National League since 1984. "If we hadn't had the three minutes between innings, I could have been home to see the last episode of Dallas," said Pittsburgh bullpen coach Rich Donnelly.
By the Numbers
•Last Friday the Dodgers snapped a five-game winning streak by the Phillies. Before that victory string, Philadelphia had gone 548 games—since August 1987—without winning five games in a row.
•The A's have beaten the Yankees 16 straight times. The major league record for consecutive victories by one team over another is held by the Orioles, who won 23 games in a row from the Royals in 1969 and '70.