A Blessing for the Padres
When third baseman Gary Sheffield reported to the Padres after his trade from the Brewers on March 27, "he was smiling like the devil," says San Diego manager Greg Riddoch. "I told him, 'I've seen a lot of pictures of you, but I've never seen you smile." I told him that he didn't have to carry the team, that he should just do what he's capable of doing. He hasn't stopped smiling since."
After four years of scowling and snarling in Milwaukee, Sheffield, 23, finally seems comfortable and relaxed, and he's starting to display more of his vast ability. Through Sunday he was leading the National League with 12 RBIs and had matched his home run total of a year ago with two. Defensively, Sheffield has also played well, perhaps at last answering the Padres' prayers for someone to fill the hole at third that has troubled San Diego throughout its 23-year history.
Sheffield's unhappiness in Milwaukee, much of which he brought on himself, began when the Brewers drafted him out of Tampa's Hillsborough High as the sixth selection in the first round of the 1986 draft. "The day I was drafted, I didn't like the situation," says Sheffield. "I'm from the South, and I had to go to the Midwest. Everything you asked for in Milwaukee, you didn't get. Ask for good weather, you don't get it. Ask for a good playing surface, you don't get it. Ask for a first-class organization, you don't get it."
Though Sheffield was drafted as a shortstop, he didn't play there much after Bill Spiers arrived in Milwaukee in 1989. Spiers was a better defensive player, so Sheffield was shifted to third. "Their mind was set," says Sheffield. "Spiers was up a couple days and the job was his. I always had to take a backseat."
Too often, however, Sheffield was the guy who created the seating chart. He refused to run sprints with his teammates after a game during spring training a year ago and was fined by former general manager Harry Dalton. His petulance alienated his teammates. "He had the worst attitude of any player I've ever seen," a former teammate said this spring.
Sheffield had been critical of Dalton and former manager Tom Trebelhorn for several years, but it was his outburst this spring—he claimed Trebelhorn and Brewers owner Bud Selig had urged him to play hurt last year—that may have triggered his trade to San Diego for pitcher Ricky Bones. "It was always, "You have to do this, you have to do that,' " says Sheffield. "They put so much pressure on me, I played with a lot of anger."
When he did play, that is. Injuries limited him to 95 games in 1989, 125 in '90 and 50 in '91. In August 1990 he spent three days in an Arlington, Texas, hospital with an illness that still remains a mystery. Trebelhorn visited Sheffield in the hospital, stayed with him for four hours and even brought him a pizza, yet two days later Sheffield couldn't remember the visit. "I was exhausted," says Sheffield. "I was in my room. I blacked out. The doctors said it might be spinal meningitis, then they said it might be something else. It was weird." Despite all of Sheffield's injuries, Trebelhorn, now a coach with the Cubs, says Sheffield "played hard and played hurt. The most frustrating part for me was not getting out of Gary what I know is inside him. But he wasn't the most helpful guy to get it out of, either."
So far, things are different in San Diego. "I don't know what problems he had in Milwaukee, but he has been great here," says Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn. "He's been willing to work, to listen. I don't foresee any problems, either. He has filled the bill here on all counts."
And he's done it with a smile.
A Career Gone South
Pirate lefthander Jerry Don Gleaton, now with his third organization in six months, recently quoted another much-traveled lefthander, Keith Comstock, as saying, "No matter if you're horrible, if you're lefthanded, they still want you." That is, unless you're Fernando Valenzuela, who recently signed to pitch for Jalisco in the Mexican League, reportedly for $10,000 a month. He is scheduled to make his first start on April 28. Jalisco manager Roberto Castellon also didn't rule out the possibility of using Valenzuela, a good-hitting pitcher, as a pinch hitter or even as a DH at times this year.
Valenzuela obviously believes he can still pitch, but last year, when he was released by the Dodgers and failed in a short stint with the Angels—he gave up nine runs in 6⅖ innings in his two starts—no other team was willing to give him a chance. He was offered a job by the Dodgers to be a spring training instructor this year, but he turned it down.
Some baseball people believe Valenzuela is actually closer to 35 years old than the 31 at which he is listed. But the main reason he's out of the majors is not his age; it's because he was overworked for so long that he's simply worn out. At age 18, he worked 205 innings in the minors. He led the National League in innings pitched at age 20 with 192 and threw 285 innings at 21. After 1986, his sixth full season, he was 25 years old and he had 24 more wins than Tom Seaver had at the same age, but Valenzuela had thrown 461‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® more innings. Seaver finished with 311 wins. Valenzuela won only 42 games after '86, finishing with 141. Barring a miraculous turnaround in Mexico, he probably won't win any more. That's a shame.
Victory Goes to the Swift
It may be time for National Leaguers to reevaluate the December trade that sent pitchers Billy Swift, Mike Jackson and Dave Burba from the Mariners to the Giants for outfielder Kevin Mitchell and pitcher Mike Remlinger. San Francisco may have difficulty scoring runs without Mitchell, but Swift has been absolutely brilliant for the Giants.
"When that trade was made, all the National League guys thought it was a steal for the Mariners," says one American League scout. "But the American League people knew about Billy Swift and how good he really is." In his first three starts Swift was 3-0 with a 0.70 BRA and two complete games—two more than he had in 24 starts with Seattle in 1989 and '90. His 90-mph fastball and hard sinker have dominated National League hitters.
Swift, exclusively a reliever last year, says, "What surprises me the most is that I've been able to pitch so many innings so soon. But my arm feels strong." Giants manager Roger Craig says Swift reminds him of Rick Reuschel, the former Giants' ace who had a superb sinker.
Meanwhile, Mitchell is struggling. He was supposed to fill a cleanup hole that produced only 16 homers last year for the Mariners. He was supposed to pound away at the cozy Kingdome after 4½ years at Candlestick Park, one of the toughest home run parks in baseball. Instead, Mitchell was hitting .217 through Sunday, with no homers and as many runs scored (three) as Swift.
For the first two weeks of the season the most productive hitter in baseball per at bat was an unlikely player—Pirate outfielder Cecil Espy, who, through Sunday, was 8 for 11 with seven RBIs. As a pinch hitter, he was 4 for 4 with six RBIs, including a two-run double last Friday and a three-run triple on Saturday against Philadelphia. (The Cardinals' Gerald Perry and former Dodger Chris Gwynn led all pinch hitters last season with 13 RBIs apiece.) This is the same Cecil Espy who batted .127 with no extra-base hits and one RBI in 71 at bats with the Rangers in 1990. "Even I'm surprised," says Espy....
Angel manager Buck Rodgers says his closer, Bryan Harvey, "is as good as there is. And I've had Rollie Fingers and Jeff Reardon when they were firemen of the year." What makes Harvey so unhittable is this: His nasty split-fingered fastball dives out of the strike zone, and his 90-mph fastball sails up out of the strike zone. There's nothing in between for a hitter to swing at....
Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser, who didn't allow an unearned run in the 112 innings he pitched last year, gave up his first of the season April 13. Look for it to be the first of many with the defense he has behind him....
Phillie leftfielder Wes Chamberlain will probably drive manager Jim Fregosi crazy. Chamberlain has great talent, but "he plays leftfield like I pitch," says Phillie wild-man reliever Mitch Williams. And his erratic play isn't limited to defense. Chamberlain recently took the Phillies out of an inning when he forgot how many outs there were and failed to run out a double-play grounder.
Sheffield's solid glovework and change in attitude have been godsends for the Padres.
Valenzuela will try pitching in Mexico, but the twilight of his career may already be over.
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April 23, 1962: Jay Hook is the winning pitcher in a 9-1 defeat of the Pirates as the Mets triumph for the first time in their history, after losing nine straight.
Between The Lines
Opportunity Knocked...and He Knocked Back
Padres outfielder Kevin Ward, 30, who spent 8½ years in the minors before making it up for 44 games with San Diego last season, was very nearly sent down to Triple A Las Vegas on April 13 after the Padres signed free-agent outfielder Gary Pettis. But San Diego assistant general manager John Barr told Ward to wait a couple of hours before leaving for Vegas, just in case the Padres made a deal. "My chances were slim and none," says Ward. Then San Diego traded outfielder Thomas Howard to the Indians, and kept Ward on the roster. Ward caught a flight to San Francisco to rejoin the Padres and the next night pinch-hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning against the Giants, helping to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 win. "Just another crazy chapter of my baseball career," says Ward.
Learning the Hard Way
Oriole reliever Mike Flanagan, who is known for his good control, learned to throw strikes when he was seven years old. He pitched then to his 72-year-old grandfather, who couldn't move quickly. "He'd hold the mitt over the middle of the plate," says Flanagan. "If I threw too far inside or outside, he couldn't reach it. And if he missed, I'd have to chase it. So, I learned to hit the target."
He's Hard to Get a Handle On
One of the more interesting names in box scores this season is that of Archi Cianfrocco, a third baseman-first baseman for Montreal. His full name is Angelo Dominic Cianfrocco, but he goes by Archi. In the Expos' media guide, that's misspelled as Arci, and the phonetic spelling of his last name is incorrect (he pronounces it see-an-FROCK-ko, not the guide's kee-un-FROHN-koh). Cianfrocco got his first major league hit on April 11, a three-run single against the Mets. After the game, a partially disrobed Cianfrocco was invited to do the postgame show on radio in New York. He asked Expo media relations director Richard Griffin just before the show, "Do I have to wear my pants?"
"No," said Griffin, "it's on radio. They can't see you."
Heaven Help the Small-Market Teams
An agent joke making the rounds of major league baseball may say a lot about the state of the game:
An agent was out taking a walk when God came up alongside him. The two started to chat about baseball.
"God, when will we ever see another .400 hitter?" the agent asked.
"Not in your lifetime," answered God.
"What about a 30-game winner. When will that happen again?"
"Not in your lifetime," answered God.
"What about revenue sharing? When will the big-city owners agree to revenue sharing to help the teams in smaller cities?"
God smiled and said, "Not in my lifetime."
By the Numbers
•Last Friday the Twins' Bill Krueger threw the first shutout of his career in his 116th start, snapping the longest streak without a shutout among active pitchers. The major league record for starts without a shutout is held by Roy Mahaffey, who had a string of 128 for the Pirates, A's and St. Louis Browns from 1926 to '36. The new active leader is the Blue Jays' Todd Stottlemyre, who, through Sunday, hadn't thrown a shutout in 104 starts.
•Phillie rookie shortstop Kim Batiste made four errors in one game last Friday. That gave him twice as many as the Blue Jays had in their first 12 games.