RIGHT DOWN HIS ALLEY
Until this year Giant pitcher John Burkett was best known for being a terrific bowler (215 average) and a terrible hitter (.018 in 1992). However, by becoming the first National League pitcher to win 10 games this season, Burkett, a 28-year-old righthander, has finally gained recognition as, above all, a good pitcher.
Burkett's hot start—10-2, 3.30 ERA after last Saturday's win over the Astros—ran his career record to 49-29, a .628 winning percentage for a San Francisco team that was only 278-277 (.501) from the time Burkett made the major leagues for good, in April 1990, through Sunday.
He's not overpowering and doesn't have one outstanding pitch he can rely on, but Burkett does have superb control, as his 16 walks and 66 strikeouts in 103⅖ innings through last week attest. He changes speeds beautifully, and he rarely throws a ball straight down the middle. "There are about three or four pitches in a game that a pitcher has to make to win the game. I'm pretty good at doing that," he says. "I'm not afraid of any hitter. I know when to challenge and when to back off."
The 6'3", 211-pound Burkett didn't consider making baseball a career until he grew four inches and gained 40 pounds between his sophomore and junior years of high school in Beaver, Pa. Before then he wanted to be a pro bowler—so much so that he worked at an alley his sophomore year and rolled 100 games a week. But the next year his high school baseball coach encouraged him to work fewer hours so he could pay more attention lo pitching.
The Giants selected Burkett in the sixth round of the June 1983 draft, but despite a few standout minor league seasons, he needed seven years to stick in San Francisco. The reason: his sometimes questionable work ethic. "I get on him a lot about things like stretching or working on bunting," says Giant manager Dusty Baker. "John's kind of a happy-go-lucky guy. But after what it took for him to get to the big leagues, he's determined now."
Baker also believes that Burkett's concentration on the mound is related to his bowling. "In bowling you focus on the mark on the lane," Burkett says. "In baseball I look at the catcher's mitt. I don't see the hitter, the umpire, nothing."
Burkett, who has rolled four perfect games and has competed in Professional Bowlers Association tour events, doesn't bowl much anymore. Even so, he says, ill walk through the outfield before games, and guys on the other teams will show me their bowling form. Mike Sharperson [of the Dodgers] told me, I'm going to take you on in bowling.' I told him, 'You don't want to do that.' "
Sharperson would lose—as have most hitters who have taken a shot at Burkett this year.
The Goon Squad. That's what Yankee coach Frank Howard nicknamed the part-time New York players who got stuck taking most of the long bus trips during spring training and, upon reaching their destination, ripped "into opposing pitchers. A number of Gooners have continued to contribute to the Yankees' success during the regular season, but catcher Mike Stanley, outfielder Dion James and first baseman-catcher-outfielder-DH Jim Leyritz have helped the most as New York has remained on the tail of the front-running Tigers in the American League East. Says Stanley, the self-appointed leader of the Gooners, with a smile, "Without us this team would be scuffling."
Stanley, 29, who played from 1986 to '91 with the Rangers, signed a minor league contract with the Yankees on Jan. 21, 1992. A month into this season he replaced Matt Nokes as the regular catcher on the strength of his superior defensive skills, but he has come through at the plate as well, hitting .308 with eight homers through Sunday.
James, 30, was picked up by New York after the Indians released him in 1990. He got extra playing time this year because of injuries to outfielders Danny Tartabull and Bernie Williams, and at week's end he was batting .306, including .323 when he has filled in as leadoff hitter.
Leyritz, 29, was the Yanks' Opening Day catcher in 1991, but by May 17 of that year, after struggling at the plate, he was back with Triple A Columbus. He blasted the Yankees for sending him down without giving him more of a chance. "I never expected to be seen again in New York," Leyritz says.
But he stuck with the Yanks all of last year and hit .257. This season the need for a righthanded DH, coupled with an injury to first baseman Don Mattingly, has given Leyritz more starting time. Through Sunday he was hitting .331 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs.
The Goon Squad has given the Yankees one of the most versatile teams in the league. While the cleanup hitters were batting .223 through Sunday, the players hitting eighth in the order were batting .329; while the number 3 spot in the order had produced 26 RBIs, the leadoff spot had produced 47.
How's this for a bullpen by committee? The last seven saves by the Rockies through Sunday were credited to six different pitchers, live of whom got their first saves of the season. On June 15 Colorado needed five relievers to get the last five outs of a 12-4 loss to the Dodgers. The next night the Rockies needed four relievers to get the last four outs of a 7-6 win over Los Angeles....
The Angels called up pitcher Hilly Hathaway on June 16. His full name is Hillary Houston Hathaway. "It's my dad's name," he says. "I don't know how much further back it goes, and I don't want to find out."...
Tom Glavine of the Braves threw a 79-pitch complete game last week, becoming only the fourth pitcher since the start of the 1987 season to throw fewer than 80 pitches in a nine-inning complete game. On April 27 the Pirates' Tim Wakefield threw 80 balls in a game.
Minor League Note of the Week: The St. Paul Saints of the fledgling Class A Northern League use a 40-pound pig named The Saint to deliver baseballs to; the home plate umpire four times a game. I Owned by animal trainer and Saint fan Dennis Hauth, The Saint carries the balls in a pouch and is led around on a leash by; Hauth's 17-year-old daughter, Tiffany. I "He's a union pig, so he only works weekends," says team president Mike Veeck, I who clearly shares the promotional genes of his late father, Bill Veeck. "Next he'll deliver drinks."
On Opening Day, The Saint won over the crowd when he showed up in top hat and tails. First-place St. Paul nearly sold out a three-game series last weekend, I drawing 13,123 fans, and The Saint deserved at least some of the credit for the big turnout. "He's getting seasoned," says Veeck, "which might not bode well for; him at the end of the year."
MARTHA JANE STANTON
By throwing strikes as often as he once rolled them, Burkett won 10 games before any other pitcher in his league.
After The Saint goes marching in to home plate, he gets to pig out with owner Hauth.