Bearish Times for the Cubs
Andre Dawson has hit a lot of big homers, but few have generated as much excitement among his teammates as number 381 did last Saturday in Cincinnati. His three-run blast in the first inning ended a string of 36 scoreless innings by the Cubs—12 short of the major league record, shared by the 1968 Cubs and 1906 Philadelphia Athletics—and sparked Chicago to a 10-3 win. "When Andre hit the homer, it was like, Finally, we can relax," said Cub first baseman Mark Grace. "You could sense it. It was over. We can have fun again."
It has not been a fun season for last-place Chicago, which through Sunday was 8-15 and already eight games out of first place. The rest of the year won't be much fun, either. The Cubs are not a good team and have little chance of becoming a good one anytime soon, even if they're not quite as bad as they were during their scoreless streak.
"A lot of teaching has to be done on this club," says manager Jim Lefebvre. "We're not going to be crushing the ball all the time. We've got to learn how to win when we're not hitting. We're going to do it until we get it right, or we might make some changes."
The Cubs have made a number of significant changes in the past two years, many of which have backfired. Most recently they traded veteran outfielder George Bell to the White Sox in the last week of spring training because, sources say, the front office didn't think Bell was a good influence in the clubhouse. So far the deal has turned out to be a steal for the Sox: At week's end Bell was hitting .333 and had a team-high 15 RBIs, and the two players for whom Bell was traded were struggling. Outfielder Sammy Sosa was batting .220 with only one RBI, and middle reliever Ken Patterson had a 3.86 ERA.
Cub general manager Larry Himes made the Bell deal with an eye toward the future, which is his custom. Before joining the Cubs, Himes built the White Sox into contenders by trading veteran players—most notably outfielder Harold Baines, a longtime favorite in Chicago—for younger ones. Himes left the South Side following the 1990 season, in part because he didn't get along with Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The Cubs hired him last November to replace Jim Frey, who was reassigned within the organization.
Himes brought in Lefebvre, who had managed the Mariners the previous three years. Lefebvre's intense, gung-ho style went over well in Seattle for a while, but by the end of the '91 season it had worn thin, and even though he had guided the Mariners to their first winning record, he was fired.
Lefebvre's ideas—he's high on daily meetings and constant instruction—haven't been embraced by a number of Cubs. He has instituted what he believes is a baseball first: an optional 9 a.m. "throwaround" for players before night games on the road. For the first throw-around, on April 28 in Atlanta, only Grace, Sosa, Doug Dascenzo and Derrick May showed up.
Naturally the Cubs' slow start hasn't helped morale, but the shuttling of players on and off the roster has only made it worse. After Bell was traded, veteran reliever Les Lancaster was released. Since the start of the season, six players have been sent back to Triple A, including outfielder Dwight Smith, who hit .324 in 1989 and finished second to teammate Jerome Walton in the Rookie of the Year balloting that year. Smith has been in a slump pretty much ever since. The purpose of the shuffling has been to help the offense, but at week's end Chicago was still hitting only .216.
More moves will surely be forthcoming. Rumors have begun again about trades involving shortstop Shawon Dunston. Dawson and pitcher Greg Maddux can be free agents after the season. Dawson has hinted at wanting to play for a contender in '93, because he has never been in a World Series.
With the Cubs' pitching even more hapless than their hitting, there will be no World Series at Wrigley in the foreseeable future. As of Sunday, Danny Jackson, the free agent flop of the 1990s, was 1-9 since signing a four-year, $10.5 million deal in November '90, and 0-4 this season. Former closer Dave Smith, who signed a two-year deal plus an option year for a total of $6.8 million in December '90, went 0-6 with six blown saves last year and is now a middle reliever. Mike Morgan, who signed a four-year, $12.5 million contract last December, won his first game of the season last Saturday.
The Cubs have no choice but to hope that the pitching turns around and that Dawson and All-Star second baseman Ryne Sandberg hit a lot of three-run homers. It's going to be a long season at Wrigley.
Mother Knows Best
Amid all the clamor created by Deion Sanders's flashy April, it has been easy to overlook the other Sanders among the National League's hitting leaders. Reds centerfielder Reggie Sanders (no relation to Deion) has quietly made himself a top candidate for Rookie of the Year. Through Sunday, Reggie was hitting .321 with two home runs and eight steals in nine attempts. "He's strong, and he can fly," says Pirate pitching coach Ray Miller.
Sanders, 24, has struggled on defense, especially with balls hit directly over his head. But that's to be expected. He was a shortstop in his first two pro seasons, 1988 and '89, and was moved to the outfield to protect an injured shoulder and ankle. Keep in mind, too, that Sanders never played Triple A ball: He jumped straight to the majors after hitting .315 last year in Double A.
Sanders gives part of the credit for his success to his mother, Thelma, who lives in Florence, S.C. He calls her almost every night. "I got all my talent from my mom," says Sanders. "She was a great Softball player, and she watches a lot of the games that we play and knows what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong. She helps me."
It was not, however, Thelma's idea that her son remove the gold tooth that had brightened his already gleaming smile. He did that on his own this spring. "I just felt that, with me probably being in the public eye more this year and with more kids watching, it would be a good idea," says Sanders.
He'll leave the flash to that other Sanders.
Will Delino Deliver?
Delino DeShields of the Expos is unquestionably a terrific talent, but after a disappointing '91 season—in which he batted .238, led the league in strikeouts with 151 and made 27 errors, tops among National League second basemen—DeShields has started poorly again this year. By week's end he had raised his average to .275, but he had struck out 23 times (putting him on pace for 169 strikeouts this season) and had been caught stealing six times in 11 attempts. Plus he had failed to handle some routine plays at second and had six errors.
DeShields has been bounced around the Montreal batting order, at times hitting first, second, third and seventh. However, on April 30, three days after manager Tom Runnells installed him in the number 2 spot, behind leadoff man Marquis Grissom, DeShields responded by going 4 for 5. "You know guys aren't happy when they have to change spots in the order so often," says DeShields. "I asked him to put me in one spot regularly. I'm happy now."
Now it's time to produce.
The Yankees, who were 14-10 at week's end and two games out of first, are playing with enthusiasm and hustle under new manager Buck Showalter. Leading the way has been 5'9", 165-pound second baseman Andy Stankiewicz, 27, a career minor leaguer who has played so well (hitting .333 in the leadoff spot) that Pat Kelly, who was considered New York's second baseman of the future, will probably not win his job back when he comes off the disabled list later this month. Stankiewicz was left off the Yanks' 40-man roster this spring, making him eligible to be taken by another team. "I don't think they were worried about losing me," said Stankiewicz. "I wouldn't have been worried, either." ...On April 29 Dodger centerfielder Brett Butler's string of errorless games ended at 207—only 35 games short of Cub outfielder Doug Dascenzo's National League record, set between 1988 and '91. Fielding records, though, can be misleading. Dascenzo started only 140 of the 242 games during his streak; he was a late-inning defensive replacement in many others. Butler started and finished almost every one of his games. More revealing than errorless games is chances accepted without an error; during their streaks Butler accepted 487 chances and Dascenzo 442....
Here's Royals outfielder Brian McRae on whether the pain he's feeling because of Kansas City's poor play (K.C. was 4-19 through Sunday) is greater when he looks at the pain his father, manager Hal McRae, is enduring: "It's not a lot of fun even when we're winning, with all the questions about playing for your father. But it's a little easier to put up with when you win. It really gets on your nerves when you lose." ...The Mariners' Kevin Mitchell went through April without a home run, his first homerless month since September 1984, when he batted only 14 times....
It seems impossible, but with one bunt single this year, lumbering Detroit catcher Mickey Tettleton had more bunt base hits this season than Montreal rocketman Marquis Grissom has had in his career....
When Mariners catcher Dave Valle put a gratuitous punch tag on Angel rookie Chad Curtis after Curtis scored the go-ahead run in an April 26 game, a brawl ensued. No one was seriously hurt, but Valle took an oral beating after the game. "With Dave Valle you can expect that," said California reliever Scott Bailes. "He trips guys when he doesn't have the ball, and he slams tags on people for no reason. It's not just this team that feels that way about him. Ask any other team in the league." Said Angel catcher Lance Parrish, "Valle tries to cheap-shot more than anybody I've ever seen."
The struggling Cubs have too many overpaid and underachieving pitchers, like Morgan, and too few proven hitters, like Sandberg (above).
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May 7, 1957: A line drive by the Yanks' Gil McDougald hits Indians ace Herb Score in the right eye. Score will hang on until 1962, but he will be far less effective.
Between The Lines
Prophet of Doom
Before last week's series against the Twins, A's rightfielder Jose Canseco joked with the press about the troubles he has had playing rightfield in the Metrodome. "You know what a Gold Glove outfielder I am," he said sarcastically. "The Twins are probably thinking, Hit the ball to Canseco. It will be a triple." Sure enough, in the third game of the series, Minnesota's Kirby Puckett lofted a fly ball to right. Canseco charged it, stopped short and watched the ball bounce over his head for a triple.
The Gods Must Be Crazy
Pirate pitcher Bob Walk recently gave a theological discourse on how "the gods of baseball run the game." For example, says Walk: "The gods will let you get away with scuffing a ball to get out Darryl Strawberry with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning. But if you scuff a ball to get out a .180 hitter with two outs and nobody on, in a game you're leading by six runs in the eighth inning, you'll pay for that later on."
A Brush with Greatness
Turk Wendell, a renowned flake who pitches for the Triple A Iowa Cubs, doesn't like chewing tobacco. Instead, he has been chewing black licorice on the mound since college. Wendell admits, though, that "it leaves an ugly stain." Last Saturday, TURK'S QUIRKS T-shirts went on sale at Iowa's home games. The shirts include a caricature of Turk on the mound holding toothpaste and a toothbrush, with strands of licorice hanging out of his mouth. Because he chews so much licorice, Wendell brushes his teeth after every inning.
A Week That Will Live in Infamy
Former Padres relief pitcher Jeremy Hernandez had one of the alltime bad-luck weeks. It began on April 23, when his truck was stolen for the second time this spring, from his hotel parking lot. In it were Hernandez's TV, VCR, portable phone and golf clubs. The next night, while still with the Padres, he was the losing pitcher in a 16-inning game against the Reds. The day after that he had another ineffective outing, and on April 26 San Diego sent Hernandez down to Triple A Las Vegas. But that wasn't the end of his woes. Two days later he was called back to San Diego because of an injury to pitcher Larry Andersen. But when Hernandez got to San Diego, the Padres told him that they weren't going to put Andersen on the disabled list after all. So Hernandez was sent back to the minors. "I hope my luck changes," he says. "If it gets any worse, I don't know what I'm going to do."
If You're Scoring at Home...
Pittsburgh outfielder Andy Van Slyke has determined the official scoring for the odd play on April 25 in which a grounder by the Pirates' Jay Bell hit teammate Kirk Gibson's helmet, which was lying between first and second base (SI, May 4). The ball bounced to Cub second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who scooped it up and threw to third baseman Chico Walker, who threw to shortstop Luis Salazar. Salazar then tagged out Gibson, who, thinking the ball had rolled into rightfield, was headed for third base. "Score it 7½ -4-5-6," said Van Slyke.
By the Numbers
•Blue Jay pitcher Todd Stottlemyre's 1-0 shutout of the Angels was his first in 105 major league starts. It left Boston's Greg Harris with the most starts (96 through Sunday) among active pitchers without a shutout.
•On May 1 the A's Rickey Henderson, whose career began in 1979, stole his 1,000th base. In the last 17 years the Red Sox have had 999 steals.