It's quiz time: Here are 10 questions about the 1996 Rockies.
Answer each one correctly and you get to take batting practice
at Coors Field, home of the homer.
1. Who will play center? a) Ellis Burks, b) Larry Walker,
c) Dante Bichette, d) Dikembe Mutombo.
Answer: b. A Gold Glove rightfielder, Walker graciously accepted
manager Don Baylor's invitation to move to center, replacing
Burks, who goes to left. This allows Bichette, who was a bad
leftfielder, to move to rightfield, his natural position. Walker
is so gifted, he'll probably have no problem with the switch.
But will he be able to throw out hitters at first base on
one-hoppers to center?
2. Bichette hit .340 with 40 homers and 128 RBIs in '95. Who was
the last NL player with numbers as good as or better than
Bichette's? a) Hank Aaron, b) Willie Mays, c) Duke Snider,
d) Ducky Medwick.
Answer: c. Snider had the numbers in 1954. Sure, Bichette was
helped by the thin air in Denver; nonetheless, he had a fabulous
season. There's no reason to believe he won't have another one.
3. Which Rockies newcomer will have the most impact this year?
a) Jeff Reed, b) John Habyan, c) Mike DeJean, d) Frank Funk.
Answer: d. The first three choices are the only players invited
to spring training who weren't in Colorado's organization last
year, but none are expected to be big contributors. Funk, the
team's new pitching coach, spent the last three years coaching
at Triple A Colorado Springs and knows the staff. Like Atlanta
pitching guru Leo Mazzone, Funk believes that his starters
should throw on the side twice between starts, not once. It
works for the Braves.
4. Who had the fewest complete games last year? a) Mike Mimbs,
b) Brad Radke, c) Steve Sparks, d) the entire Rockies staff.
Answer: d. Colorado pitchers had only one complete game (by
rookie Bryan Rekar), setting the major league record for fewest
complete games in a season. Also, Rockies starters reached the
eighth inning in only 14 games. By comparison, Atlanta's Greg
Maddux pitched into the eighth 18 times. "We wrote the book on
middle relief," Baylor says, laughing.
5. Who is the worst defensive second baseman in the NL? a) Jeff
Kent, b) Eric Young, c) Geronimo Pena, d) Delino DeShields.
Answer: b. Young, who will miss the first month of the season
with a broken right hand, has bad hands and bad feet in the
field. The Rockies won't miss him defensively, but they will
miss Young at the plate. Jason Bates, an above-average fielder,
will fill in until Young is healthy.
6. The '95 Rockies had four players with 90 or more RBIs. Which
NL team last accomplished that feat? a) the '77 Dodgers, b) the
'73 Braves, c) the '75 Reds, d) the '69 Reds.
Answer: b (Hank Aaron, Dusty Baker, Darrell Evans and Davey
Johnson). The '96 Rockies could do it again as long as Bichette,
Walker, first baseman Andres Galarraga and third baseman Vinny
Castilla stay healthy.
7. Which of the following pitchers has the fewest wins this
decade? a) Terry Mulholland, b) Bret Saberhagen, c) Mike Morgan,
d) Bobby Witt.
Answer: b. Saberhagen is 49-39 in the '90s and might not add
much to the win column this year. Despite a torn ligament in his
right shoulder, he chose not to have reconstructive surgery and
is trying to strengthen his arm through exercise. He hopes to be
back on the mound by midseason. Saberhagen, who has always been
a hard thrower, says, "I don't want to pitch like Frank Tanana,"
a former flamethrower who had shoulder surgery and transformed
himself into a finesse pitcher. Well, Sabes, Tanana won 35 games
between 1990-92 on mediocre teams.
8. Who is the NL's most underrated infielder? a) Ken Caminiti,
b) Mickey Morandini, c) Bret Boone, d) Walt Weiss.
Answer: d. Weiss is the best defensive shortstop in the league.
Last year he also stole 15 bases and had a higher on-base
percentage than NL MVP Barry Larkin.
9. Who is Colorado's closer? a) Curt Leskanic, b) Bruce Ruffin,
c) Darren Holmes, d) Steve Reed.
Answer: a, b, c and d. Leskanic will get the first chance to be
the go-to guy, but they'll all work about 80 games.
10. Where will the Rockies finish this year? a) first,
b) second, c) third, d) fourth.
Answer: b. They don't have the arms to keep pace with the
Dodgers, especially given the iffy status of Bill Swift, who is
coming off shoulder surgery (he's expected back by Opening Day).
The Rockies are a great hitting team, though, so they have a
good shot at a wild-card spot.-T.K.
COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA COVER PHOTO [Varies by region] Mountain Man Dante Bichette and Colorado reach for the top
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Colorado relies on slugging, but it also needs Galarraga's steady hand at first. [Andres Galarraga in game]
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Team Statistics (NL Rank in parentheses)
Batting Average .282 (1)
Home Runs 200 (1)
ERA 4.97 (14)
Fielding Pct. .981 (4)
Pop, but No Pomp
Dante Bichette certainly posted MVP-type numbers in 1995, but
the Reds' Barry Larkin was voted that honor by the Baseball
Writers Association. It was the ninth time since baseball's
current MVP awards were established in 1931--but the first time
since the 1961 season--that a player with credentials at least
as good as Bichette's in each of the Triple Crown categories did
not win his league's MVP award.
MVP-Caliber Seasons That Weren't
BA HRs RBIs MVP winner,
1931 Babe Ruth .373 46 163 Lefty Grove,
31-4, 2.06 ERA
1931 Lou Gehrig .341 46 184 Lefty Grove,
31-4, 2.06 ERA
1932 Babe Ruth .341 41 137 Jimmie Foxx,
.364, 58 HRs, 169 RBIs
1934 Lou Gehrig .363 49 165 Mickey Cochrane,
.320, 2 HRs, 76 RBIs
1936 Hal Trosky .343 42 162 Lou Gehrig,
.354, 49 HRs, 152 RBIs
1937 Joe DiMaggio .346 46 167 Charlie Gehringer,
.371, 14 HRs, 96 RBIs
1954 Duke Snider .341 40 130 Willie Mays,
.345, 41 HRs, 110 RBIs
1961 Norm Cash .361 41 132 Roger Maris,
.269, 61 HRs, 142 RBIs
1995 Dante Bichette .340 40 128 Barry Larkin
.319, 15 HRs, 66 RBIs
PLAYER TO WATCH
Drafted by the Twins as an outfielder in 1990, catcher Jayhawk
Owens is a good receiver with a good arm (he threw out five of
eight runners in limited duty last year) and a great-sounding
name. Owens, whose full name is Claude Jayhawk Owens II (both of
his parents are of Native American ancestry), was better known
as Jay a few years back--until his pals convinced him that
Jayhawk was the way to go. Owens has never caught more than 97
games in any pro season but has more power than last year's
starter, Joe Girardi, who was traded to the Yankees in November.
Last August in his first start for Colorado, Owens went 4 for 4
with two home runs.
PROJECTED LINEUP With 1995 Stats
BATTING ORDER BA, HRs, RBIs, SBs
2B Eric Young* .317, 6, 36, 35
LF Ellis Burks .266, 14, 49, 7
RF Dante Bichette .340, 40, 128, 13
CF Larry Walker .306, 36, 101, 16
1B Andres Galarraga .280, 31, 106, 12
3B Vinny Castilla .309, 32, 90, 2
C Jayhawk Owens .244, 4, 12, 0
SS Walt Weiss .260, 1, 25, 15
2B Jason Bates .267, 8, 46, 3
OF Quinton McCracken(R) .361 BA in AAA
C Jeff Reed[**] .265, 0, 9, 0
STARTERS W-L, ERA
RH Bill Swift 9-3, 4.94
RH Kevin Ritz 11-11, 4.21
RH Marvin Freeman 3-7, 5.89
RH Bryan Rekar 4-6, 4.98
RH Armando Reynoso 7-7, 5.32
RELIEVERS SAVES, ERA
RH Curtis Leskanic 10, 3.40
LH Bruce Ruffin 11, 2.12
RH Darren Holmes 14, 3.24
RH Steve Reed 3, 2.14
*Will begin season on disabled list
[**] New acquisition (R) Rookie