With tears in their eyes the Dodgers talked of having to play
without their centerfielder, Brett Butler, who last week was
found to be suffering from throat cancer. "We can fold the tent
or have this propel us forward,'' said pitcher Tom Candiotti,
who has been Butler's teammate for seven years, first with the
Indians and now in Los Angeles. "I know Brett wouldn't want us
to feel sorry for ourselves. If he saw us sulking, he'd fly here
[to St. Louis] and scream at us. If he couldn't yell, he'd yell
at us through an interpreter. That's how he is.''
Butler, his hoarse voice barely audible over the phone following
the tonsillectomy that revealed the cancer, perked up last
Friday when he was told that his courage had inspired his
teammates. "I can't believe they'd lie like that," he said from
his house in Duluth, Ga. Then he laughed. Typical Brett Butler.
Nothing can get him down. "I've faced adversity before," said
the 38-year-old Butler, whose cancer is life-threatening.
(Statistically he has a 70% chance of survival.) "When I had an
eye injury in '86, the doctors told me there was a 70 percent
chance I wouldn't get my sight back. I was five feet, 89 pounds
as a freshman in high school, everyone thought I was too small
to play. I've met a lot of people with more ability than I have,
but I've never met anyone with more drive and desire. God
instilled that in me. I'm going to attack this cancer with the
same vigor as I have everything else. It is etched in my soul.''
The cause of the cancer is unclear. Doctors said that perhaps it
resulted from secondhand smoke--Butler's parents were both heavy
smokers--or from the chewing tobacco and snuff that Butler used
for three years early in his career. Butler described his habit
in a 1986 story in HouseCalls, a magazine produced by University
Hospitals of Cleveland for the community. He said when he
developed a sore in his mouth from snuff, he would just put a
pinch in another part of his mouth.
Butler quit 15 years ago when he saw a 10-year-old boy dipping
snuff. He told the kid he should stop, and the kid said he would
stop when Butler did. So Butler quit. But his comments in
HouseCalls have taken on an ironic cast now. "I wish I'd never
used [smokeless tobacco],'' he said in the article. "I'm just
glad I haven't had any health repercussions from it. There's no
doubt you're at greater risk for cancer or other problems if you
use it, but people think it won't happen to them."
The news of Butler's illness shocked the baseball world,
prompting several players, including Reds pitcher Jeff Brantley,
Brewers outfielder Greg Vaughn and Orioles pitcher Kent Mercker
and catcher Greg Zaun, to give up smokeless tobacco. Los Angeles
first baseman Eric Karros, who learned the news when Butler
telephoned him on May 7, was so choked up he couldn't speak.
Rookie Roger Cedeno, who will replace Butler in centerfield,
wept repeatedly when talking about his mentor.
The Dodgers are a shaken team, and it doesn't help that they've
had one of the worst offenses in the National League in the
first six weeks of the season, which explains why they were a
disappointing 18-20 through Sunday. Los Angeles lost its first
two games in the aftermath of the announcement about Butler but
then held a players-only meeting before last Friday's game in
St. Louis. The message: Play with more fire. The Dodgers won
their next two games. Said L.A. closer Todd Worrell, "Brett's
going to be missed. His outspoken leadership and his experience
were huge. And he's one of the best leadoff men in baseball."
He has been since 1982. Only five players in this century--Ty
Cobb, Eddie Collins, Honus Wagner, Tim Raines and Lou Brock--have
exceeded the combination of batting average (.291) and stolen
bases (542) that Butler has put together.
Butler still holds out slim hope of playing this year but says,
"It's as if that chapter is done." Immediately after his cancer
was diagnosed, he told one doctor that he would never play
baseball again; he has since softened that stance. He'll know
more after surgery on May 21, but he's prepared for the
possibility that his career is over. "I was prepared two years
ago," he says. "For a guy like me, to be 38 years old and have
played 16 years in the major leagues, that is already a modern
YANKEE GOES HOME
The season is likely over as well for Yankees pitcher David
Cone, who underwent surgery last Friday to repair an aneurysm--a
ballooning of an artery caused by a weakening in the vessel
walls--in his right shoulder. Cone said that in his last two
starts, on April 22 and May 2, he had thrown as hard as he ever
had but had suffered from numbness in the fingers of his
pitching hand. The numbness disappeared after Cone had an
operation that took pieces of a vein from his left thigh to
repair the damaged artery. Still, the recovery will be a long
one, even for a warrior like Cone.
Despite losing Cone, New York has one of the better rotations in
the American League--though that's not saying much--especially
since Dwight Gooden had made three good starts in a row at
week's end. But the Yankees surely will seek another pitcher
this summer. They'll be looking at Royals ace Kevin Appier, who
can be a free agent after this season, and no doubt the Angels
and the Orioles will eye him as well. The small-market Royals
are vigorously trying to re-sign Appier, but he's already making
$5.05 million this year. K.C. might not be able to afford to
Last Saturday, Marlins pitcher Al Leiter took his wife, Lori,
and their 14-month-old daughter, Lindsay, to lunch at a Chinese
restaurant in his hometown of Plantation, Fla. After the meal
Leiter opened his fortune cookie. It read SOON YOU'LL BE SITTING
ON TOP OF THE WORLD. "I said, 'Hmmm, interesting,' and I kept
it," says Leiter. That night, while beating the Rockies 11-0,
Leiter threw the first no-hitter in Marlins history and the
first of the 1996 season.
Leiter walked two, struck out six and didn't come close to
yielding a hit. It was his first no-hitter since he threw four
of them in his senior year at Central Regional High in Bayville,
N.J., in 1984. "So I go on ESPN radio after the game and my
mother calls in, you know, for Mother's Day,'' says Leiter. "She
was in tears. So we talked. We talked about meat loaf."
The no-hitter ran Leiter's record to 6-2 and lowered his ERA to
2.33. The quick start has justified the Marlins' signing him to
a three-year, $8.6 million deal in the off-season. "[Florida
general manager] Dave Dombrowski took some heat for supposedly
spending too much on me," says Leiter, who claims to have had
better offers from three other teams but to have chosen the
Marlins because they are based so close to his home. "That was
drummed up by the media. But the people who know baseball--the
players, scouts, etcetera--they kind of know what I'm about."
Until 1995, when he went 11-11 with the Blue Jays, Leiter, 30,
was mostly about being injured. Last year was the first in 12
pro seasons that he won as many as 10 games or pitched as many
as 180 innings. He led the American League in walks (108) and
wild pitches (14) but finally fulfilled some of the promise that
made him a second-round pick of the Yankees in '84.
With his no-hitter he's now sitting on top of the world in
Miami. "I'm going to keep that fortune," Leiter says. "I'm going
to carry it around with me from now on."
A's outfielder Ernie Young entered Oakland's game last Friday
against the Twins with three home runs in 164 career at bats and
clouted three more before the night was over. He is believed to
have had the fewest career home runs of any player ever to hit
three in a game.... Expos outfielder Rondell White is on the
disabled list with a bruised kidney suffered when he crashed
into the fence at Coors Field after a brilliant catch on April
27. "It's been some year," White said. "I was the hitter on
Opening Day when [umpire] John McSherry died."
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Los Angeles will miss Butler in both the lineup and the clubhouse. [Brett Butler bunting]COLOR PHOTO: JEFFREY BOAN/AP With the Marlins' first ever no-hitter, Leiter paid a big dividend on his hefty contract. [Al Leiter pitching]