Tom Kelly, loyal Minnesotan and the low-budget Twins' veteran
skipper, tries to make a winner of a club with 10 rookies
It wasn't like this four years ago, when leftfielder Marty
Cordova would enter the Twins' clubhouse, dart to his locker,
get changed and pray not to be noticed. That was back when a
rookie in Minnesota was not only rare but also a target. "Kirby
Puckett, he set the tone," says Cordova, the 1995 American
League Rookie of the Year. "He used to say rookies were made to
be seen, not heard." Now, however, says Cordova, Twins rookies
have more of an attitude. "I guess they can," he adds. "Look at
all of them."
It's hardly a positive sign of the times that the Twins are
carrying 10 first-year players. In fact, many would say it's
emblematic of everything that's wrong with the major leagues.
Low-budget team with $19 million payroll needs to save bucks.
Low-budget team eliminates vets. Low-budget team gets slaughtered.
One catch: Minnesota, 10-15 through Sunday, offers so much
that's good for the game. Torii Hunter, the rookie
centerfielder, still wakes up every morning and smiles. Why? "I
smile every time I can put on a Twins uniform," he says.
Leftfielder Chad Allen, a .262 Double A hitter last season,
calls people "Sir." Cristian Guzman, a 21-year-old shortstop,
runs the bases as if being chased by a starving cheetah. And how
can you not love righthander Joe Mays, 23, an undistinguished
minor league starter who has emerged as manager Tom Kelly's
primary long man? "I was lying in bed last night," says Mays,
who was 0-0 with a 5.25 ERA through Sunday, "and I thought, Man,
you're in Minnesota, playing for the Twins, pitching against the
best hitters in the world. It gives me chills!"
Kelly, the 13th-year Minnesota skipper who led the Twins to
World Series titles in 1987 and '91, also gets chills--of a
different kind. Before the season Los Angeles general manager
Kevin Malone asked Kelly if he would be interested in the
Dodgers' managerial vacancy. It could have been the perfect
gig--high salary, unlimited talent, major market. Kelly,
however, considers Minneapolis his home. Besides, he says,
"there's something to be said for loyalty." Even to a team
averaging 15,703 fans per game? "The city has been good to me. I
want to be good back." Hence, he's as much babysitter as
manager, hoping his town will learn to embrace his tykes. "The
hardest parts are the little things I used to take for granted,"
says Kelly. "When to take the extra base, hitting the cutoff
man. We've missed an astounding number of signs so far."
The centerpiece of these new Twins is Hunter, a Gerber-faced
23-year-old who dazzles one minute and drives Kelly bonkers the
next. Against the Red Sox on April 26, Hunter hit a
fourth-inning grand slam to lead Minnesota to a 6-2,
come-from-behind victory. Two days later, also against Boston,
he failed to tag up and advance from second to third on a fly
out. "Torii's high, high maintenance," says Kelly. He's also
high impact: Through Sunday, Hunter was batting .222 with 13
runs batted in but had already run into the outfield wall a
handful of times in the Twins' first 25 games. He, along with
fellow rooks Allen (.236, three homers, eight RBIs), third
baseman-DH Corey Koskie (.302, 12 RBIs) and first baseman Doug
Mientkiewicz (.273), provide Minnesota with enthusiasm for now
and hope for the future. "It's so much fun now, being around the
guys you come up with," says Mays. "Imagine how great it'll be
when we win."
Leyland Takes Charge
ROCKY START IN COLORADO
Barely a month into his first season as manager of the Rockies,
Jim Leyland has been through the ringer. On April 19 Leyland,
who guided the Pirates to three consecutive division titles
between 1990 and '92 and the Marlins to the '97 World Series
crown, sat slumped in his Coors Field office. His new team had
just completed a molar-grinding, three-runs-in-the-ninth win
over the Expos--one night after getting spanked for 20 runs by
the Braves. Said Leyland through a haze of Marlboro smoke, "I'm
going to look like Don Knotts and Telly Savalas all rolled into
one by the time this season is over."
Leyland was more relaxed last weekend in Pittsburgh--perhaps
because, with Colorado in the midst of a 13-game road trip, he
could count on two weeks away from the bizarro baseball world of
Coors. It may also have been because he was back in the city
where he enjoyed his first big league success and where he still
makes his home. Most likely, though, Leyland was just happy to
be settling into a groove. Sunday's 8-5 loss at Three Rivers
Stadium may have been the Rockies' second in three games against
the Pirates, but it marked the first time all season that
Colorado had played as many as six days straight. The Rockies,
who began the year as a dark horse in the National League West,
had a 9-10 record in April, during which they played the fewest
games in the majors and had unscheduled off days for reasons
ranging from rain to snow to the Columbine High shootings. "We
need to get out on the field," said Leyland.
Colorado's offense has been as spotty as its schedule. In their
five appearances at Coors the hitters scraped out a sea
level-like total of just four dingers. They also lost three games
in which they allowed four runs or fewer, something they didn't
do for the first time last season until May 7.
Leyland, a master communicator and motivator with previous
teams, seemingly has yet to get a handle on--or begin to
shape--Colorado. "It's been a longer process than I thought," he
says. "In spring training I was just hanging around, trying to
get a feel. Just now I'm starting to say a little more, because
I feel like I know the players better."
"I think he's still learning about us," says Rockies outfielder
Dante Bichette, who was hitting .274 with just two homers
through Sunday. "When he gets to know the team and the personnel
a little better, I think he'll start to manage more and more."
Through Sunday, Colorado, sparked by lefthander Brian Bohanon's
surprising 4-0 record and rightfielder Larry Walker's
three-game, 15-RBI binge, had won three out of five and, with
nine homers in that span, was showing signs of awakening from
its lumber slumber. Not a moment too soon: Rockies fans had
gotten antsy waiting for Leyland, who became the highest-paid
manager in the game when he signed a three-year, $6 million
contract last October, to work his magic and kick-start a team
that fell out of the National League West race by the All-Star
break last year. It didn't help that the players who batted
third in the order hit .133 with just three RBIs in the seven
games that Walker spent on the disabled list to start the
season. Still, it had to be a bit shocking for Leyland to hear
boos at Coors in April. "Expectations here are high, and they
should be," he says. "The fans have been patient, and now they
want results. We need to win something for them."
The Book on Glavine
TOO SHARP TO CUT IT
In his new how-to book, Baseball for Everybody, Braves pitcher
Tom Glavine reminds readers that when faced with failure, "you
start making changes and you start succeeding." While writing
those words, Glavine, the National League Cy Young Award winner
in 1991 and '98, surely never imagined his credibility with his
Little League-aged target audience would be tested so soon. He
opened this season with an 0-3 record before getting a
complete-game 5-4 win over the Pirates on April 28.
With his 5.19 ERA through Sunday approaching the jacket price of
his book, Glavine scurried back to the drawing board. The
problem, as he sees it, wasn't his control; in fact, with just
nine bases on balls in five starts, he had issued nearly one
fewer walk per nine innings than he had last season. Rather,
explains Glavine, he'd thrown too many hittable strikes--and
they were being hit. Glavine surrendered 41 hits in his first 34
2/3 innings, including 10 for extra bases. "Every mistake I've
made I've gotten hurt by," he said last Saturday.
Glavine thinks that those mistakes--one of which was transformed
into Marlins pitcher Livan Hernandez's first major league home
run on April 23--resulted from mechanical problems. Rather than
landing his front foot roughly even with the outside corner (to
a righthanded batter), he was stepping a few inches toward the
middle of the plate. The result was that he wasn't throwing
across his body as he used to, and his 89-mile-an-hour fastball
and darting changeup had lost their movement. "My pitches were
staying flat; they weren't sinking or moving the way I wanted
them to," said Glavine.
How does someone with two Cy Youngs and four 20-win seasons
suddenly lose his motion? Blame the umps--or at least all the
talk in spring training about the umpires' making changes in the
strike zone. Glavine, who, when successful, starts hitters with
a pitch that's an inch off the plate and moves farther out as an
at bat goes on, has long been a poster boy for pitchers who
benefit from generously wide zones. The talk of a new, tighter
zone spooked him. "I haven't noticed that much of a difference
in the way games are called," he says, "but I subconsciously
felt that, Hey, I've got to get some pitches over the plate
more. That's why I started stepping toward the plate more, and
then I just got into some bad habits. Regardless of how they
call strikes, I can't afford to pitch down the middle."
Brett Tomko Demoted
Reds righthander Brett Tomko, 0-1 with a 7.76 ERA in five
starts, was banished to Triple A Indianapolis last week after a
tiff with the Cincinnati coaching staff. Pitching coach Don
Gullett had told Tomko to work the Phillies inside on April 28;
instead, Tomko pounded away at the outside, as he had done all
season. The result: four Philly homers in four innings. The Reds
think Tomko (13-12; 4.44 last season) has been taking too much
pitching advice from Phillies' ace Curt Schilling, whom Tomko
befriended during an All-Star tour of Japan last fall. Said
Gullett to a reporter from the Dayton Daily News, "I told Tomko
when we sent him down, 'You're not Curt Schilling. We wish you
were, but you aren't.'"
For complete scores and stats, plus more from Tom Verducci and
Jeff Pearlman, go to www.cnnsi.com.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Allen, who hit just eight homers in Double A last year, already has three in the majors in '99.
COLOR PHOTO: TIM PARKER/REUTERS Leyland's hopes are mounting.
COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE Glavine's 0-3 start sent the two-time Cy Young winner back to basics.
Last year at this time Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez had visions
of breaking Hack Wilson's single-season RBI record (190); this
season, like some other big-run producers, Gonzalez has less
reason to dream. Here's how 1998's most efficient RBI men (in
terms of at bats per run driven in) have fared in '99, through
PLAYER, TEAM 1998 ABS/RBI 1999 ABS/RBI
1. Mark McGwire, Cardinals 3.46 6.00
36 at bats since his last homer
2. Juan Gonzalez, Rangers 3.86 4.90
.313 with runners in scoring position in 1998; .216 in '99
3. Manny Ramirez, Indians 3.94 3.28
Already has 10 multi-RBI games this year. Beware, Hack
4. Albert Belle, Orioles 4.01 5.53
Mr. Clutch? With bases empty, hitting .333; with runners on,
5. Sammy Sosa, Cubs 4.07 7.25
Lacking power and punch: only four homers, all of them solo
6. Jeff Kent, Giants 4.11 8.45
5.0 at bats/RBI before Bonds was hurt, 17.7 since
7. Tino Martinez, Yankees 4.32 8.30
Fast starter had 63 April RBIs in '97 and '98, but just nine
8. Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners 4.34 3.75
Grand slam barrage last week turned his stats around
9. Vinny Castilla, Rockies 4.48 8.00
Played only five games at Coors RBI factory so far
10. Barry Bonds, Giants 4.53 3.42
Had league-leading .805 slugging percentage before going on DL
SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU
in the BOX
April 29, 1999
Mariners 22, Tigers 6
The Detroit pitching staff caught heat for its role in Seattle's
22-6 pounding of the Tigers, and deservedly so. Six of the 10
Mariners who walked or were hit by a pitch scored, and two of
those freebies were granted with the bases loaded. Without the
handouts, Seattle might have been held to a more, ahem,
respectable total of 14 runs.
But don't lay all the blame on the pitchers. With one out in the
bottom of the fifth, runners on first and third and the Tigers
leading 6-2, Detroit starter Dave Mlicki did his job: He got
Edgar Martinez to hit a bouncer to third baseman Dean Palmer,
who should have started an easy double play. But Palmer bobbled
the ball, retired nobody and opened the floodgates to Seattle's
team-record 11-run inning.
the HOT corner
Have the Rangers lost their focus? Once just happy with a
playoff-worthy record, Texas now seems way too intent on
matching the Yankees. Before spring training, Rangers owner Tom
Hicks sent a letter to each of his players saying that while
winning the American League West would be dandy, the goal was to
outgun New York. So what's happened? By blowing a ninth-inning
lead on April 27, Texas suffered its 23rd loss in its last 30
games against the Yanks. The Rangers split the next two games,
and now have lost their last 12 series with New York, dating to
July 1996. That includes 10 in the regular season and two in the
playoffs. "We want to get to the point where we can beat them,"
Texas general manager Doug Melvin says. "We can't just keep
saying, 'We played them close.'"...
Before he signed with the Brewers last Thursday, Hideo Nomo had
an early-week tryout with the Indians. Says one Cleveland
source, "He had nothing." Milwaukee disagreed. After Nomo went
seven innings without allowing a run, while striking out seven,
in a minor league start on Sunday, the Brewers said he would be
called up to start on Friday....
The 24 players on the Reds' Triple A Indianapolis roster have an
average age of 28.76 years. The 25 players on the Reds' roster
have an average age of 27.95 years....
Though righthanded reliever Mel Rojas has devolved from future
superstar with Montreal in 1990 to superbust with the Cubs, Mets
and Dodgers, Tigers general manager Randy Smith hasn't lost hope
in the newly acquired middle reliever--even after Rojas allowed
11 runs in 1 2/3 innings against the Mariners on April 29. "Mel
has some problems," says Smith, who's paying a small share of
Rojas's $4.5 million salary this year (L.A. is stuck with the
rest), "but there's talent there. Besides, he's not that big of
a risk for us. If he does well, we're happy. If not, we tried."...
Shortstop Pat Meares, who agreed to a contract extension last
Friday that will keep him with the Pirates through 2003, knows
how to make a good impression in a new town. The deal could have
been done sooner, but Meares, who joined Pittsburgh as a free
agent in spring training and started the season on the disabled
list with a sprained wrist, felt funny about signing while hurt
and asked general manager Cam Bonifay to delay negotiations
until he got off the DL....
McGwire-Sosa fever seems to have broken. Through Sunday, the
Cardinals and Cubs were seventh and 10th, respectively, in
National League road attendance....
A food company, Grist Mill, has released Albert Belle's Slugger
Cereal. Eat it or else.