Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado has blasted off to a stellar
Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado was taking ground balls
before an exhibition game against the Yankees this spring when
he waved hello to New York manager Joe Torre, who was watching
from the first base dugout. "See you in April," Delgado said,
referring to Toronto's first scheduled series against the
Torre, who will serve as manager for the American League All-Star
team next month, responded, "I'll see you in July, too."
"It was nice that he said that," Delgado, who has never played
in an All-Star Game, says now, "but if I don't do my part, it
won't matter what he says."
Through Sunday, Delgado, a lefthand-hitting, 27-year-old
slugger, had done more than enough to make Torre look prescient
and himself an early MVP candidate. He led the league in home
runs (24), slugging percentage (.741) and on-base percentage
(.451); was second in runs (55); was tied for second in RBIs
(63); and was sixth in hitting (.349). Nevertheless, it appears
Delgado, seventh among American League first basemen in fan
voting, will need to be a manager's choice to make his first
All-Star team. "I'd like to see him do it," says Blue Jays
manager Jim Fregosi, offering Delgado's 1999 numbers for added
support (.272, 44 homers, 134 RBIs, 113 runs), "if only so the
rest of the baseball world sees what kind of a player this guy
Whiplashed pitchers have long known of Delgado's power, but this
season he has developed into a more complete batter as well as a
clutch one. "I remembered him being a dead-pull hitter," says
Marlins catcher Mike Redmond, who watched Delgado rip four hits,
including an opposite-field homer and a double, in three games
against Florida earlier this month. "Now he uses the whole
Indeed, half of Delgado's home runs this season had been to
center or left. On June 7 he beat the Braves by hammering a
grand slam to left. Two days later he jump-started Toronto's
13-3 win over the Expos with a two-run rocket to left center in
the first, after Montreal had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the
inning. "He's to the point where he doesn't try to yank
everything," says former Blue Jay and current Dodger Shawn
Green, a close friend who still speaks to Delgado several times
a week. "He'll take what the pitcher gives him."
"A year ago everybody shifted to the right side against him,"
says Toronto general manager Gord Ash. "You can't do that
Fregosi credits that versatility as a hitter, along with
Delgado's increased patience--he'd walked once every 6.4 plate
appearances this season, compared with once every 7.9 last
year--to "natural maturity," but Delgado has also been helped by
new hitting coach Cito Gaston, who managed Toronto when Delgado
made his major league debut in 1993. Says Tampa Bay's Fred
McGriff, who played under Gaston on the Blue Jays for two years,
"With Cito, Toronto hitters are going to have a good idea of
After last season Delgado was intent on signing a one-year
contract so he could test the free-agent market this fall; amid
rumors that he would be traded, he agreed to a three-year, $36
million deal, but only after Ash included a quirky clause that
allows Delgado to demand a trade after this season if he doesn't
like the Blue Jays' prospects. If he asks out and Toronto can't
swing a deal by Feb. 15, Delgado will become a free agent. "Both
sides got what they wanted: Carlos has a year to assess our team,
and we can get something in return if he's traded," says Ash, who
four weeks before the signing had shipped fan favorite Green to
the Dodgers. "It was important for the team and to let fans see
someone who wants to play here."
Delgado says he won't think about his option to leave until after
the season. Meanwhile, with Green and veteran first baseman David
Segui, with whom Delgado competed for playing time last year, out
of the picture, he's settling into a role as the Blue Jays'
biggest bopper. "People get used to seeing you around, so you
become a leader," says Delgado, who in 1998 was named Toronto's
captain, "but if you don't get any hits, you can be around for 20
years and no one will look at you."
Blue Jays fans hope they'll be looking at him for years to come.
Houston Has A Problem
Astros at a Crossroads?
The Astros' sorry performance--through Sunday they had the worst
record in the majors (22-40) and trailed the Cardinals by 12
games in the National League Central--has Houston general
manager Gerry Hunsicker scratching his head, though not mincing
his words. "We know we lost players in the off-season," says
Hunsicker, referring to lefthanded starter Mike Hampton and
outfielder Carl Everett, both of whom were traded last December,
a year before they could become free agents, "but we expected to
be a contending club. This team has significantly underachieved.
We've had breakdowns in every area."
That they have. At week's end Houston, which has finished a
season with an earned run average of 4.00 or higher only six
times in its 38-year history, had the National League's
third-worst mark at 5.34. Closer Billy Wagner, who blew a total
of eight saves the last two seasons, had already coughed up
seven and had an ERA of 5.47. Leadoff hitter Craig Biggio, a
seven-time All-Star, was hitting just .267. Not once all season
had the Astros won more than two in a row.
The question is what to do about the tailspin, which has sparked
trade rumors--outfielder Moises Alou's name has popped up most
often--and speculation about manager Larry Dierker's job
security. Hunsicker insists Houston won't be blown up even if it
fails to get on track. That's partly because a trade-deadline
auction isn't feasible: Many veteran Astros, such as Alou,
Biggio and first baseman Jeff Bagwell, have no-trade clauses. "I
don't think a significant overhaul makes sense," says Hunsicker.
"Rebuilding is something you do when an organization is in a
state of panic and disarray. This isn't about not having talent.
It's about the talent we have not playing up to its ability."
Still, Hunsicker concedes that Houston is "in transition," an
odd state for a club that has won three straight division titles
and just opened a new ballpark. Two fifths of the starting
rotation and four positional players began the season with less
than two years' experience in the majors. The reliance on youth
was created by a need to keep the payroll down to help pay for
previous seasons' successes: Drayton McLane, determined to field
a competitive team before his new stadium opened and willing to
pay what it took to do that, failed to turn a profit in each of
his first seven seasons as owner. Enron Field has created new
streams of revenue, but for now that income is earmarked to pay
past expenses, not current talent.
Hunsicker insists Dierker's job is safe, too, though Dierker
understands the whispers. "I'm not looking over my shoulder, but
I am realistic," he says. "Everybody is a little embarrassed by
this, and everyone is a little responsible, including me."
Bottom Line Is The Bottom Line
Sosa Isn't Smiling
Cubs manager Don Baylor met with disgruntled slugger Sammy Sosa
on June 7, and the two apparently agreed to put their public
bickering behind them and move on, as Sosa said, "like father,
like son." Even in the Chicago clubhouse some doubt the
sincerity of the Baylor-Sosa cease-fire. Says outfielder
Glenallen Hill, "They said what needed to be said, and now it's
like, 'You go this way, and I'll go this way.'"
The friction at least nominally arose over Baylor's implying
that Sosa wasn't working hard enough on defense, and the
question by the end of the weekend was which way Sosa would go.
Would he finish his contract, which expires after the 2001
season, in Chicago, or would he be traded (Yankees? Mets?), as
general manager Ed Lynch suggested Sosa might be if a deal could
be made that would improve the Cubs (26-37 through Sunday)?
Predictably, the issue boils down to money. Sosa may have his
problems with Baylor, but what really has baseball's erstwhile
most happy fella so chapped is his $11 million salary, which is
now only 10th highest in the big leagues. Sosa's agent, Adam
Katz, said as much last week by comparing Sosa's eventual free
agency to recent showdowns involving other superstars.
"The club has to make a determination with a player who is 18
months from free agency," Katz said. "The way the business is,
[the team has] to figure this thing out or [it will] get into the
Griffey situation. It can be devastating to a club."
Clueless in Seattle
Travels with Rickey
It's Rickey Henderson's world; everyone else is just living in
it. Last month Henderson, having signed with the Mariners after
the Mets released him, was taking his first batting practice with
his new teammates when he encountered Seattle first baseman John
Olerud wearing a batting helmet. "What's up with the helmet?"
Henderson reportedly inquired.
"I wear it all the time," said Olerud, who has worn a helmet
whenever he has been on a baseball field since suffering a brain
aneurysm in 1989.
"I'll be damned," said Henderson. "I used to play with a guy in
New York who did the same thing."
"That," said Olerud, who was a teammate of Henderson's on the
Mets for all of 1999, as well as on the Blue Jays for part of the
1993 season, "was me."
June 16-18: Angels at Orioles
The stars are aligned for Mo Vaughn to have a big weekend in
Baltimore. First, he gets to hit at one of his favorite fields:
His 15 home runs at Camden Yards are the most he has hit in any
American League stadium other than Boston's Fenway Park and
Anaheim's Edison Field. Plus, he'll see pitchers he's feasted on
throughout his career. Vaughn's career averages against the
Orioles' three scheduled starters--Sidney Ponson, Mike Mussina
and Scott Erickson--are .421, .339 and .328, respectively.
COLOR PHOTO: BERNIE NUNEZ/SPORTS IMAGERY Committed now to using the whole field--and beyond--Delgado has 24 homers and a .349 average.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL The struggles of mainstays such as Biggio have thrown the Astros into a swoon.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL
in the BOX
June 10, 2000
White Sox 4, Cubs 3
Even a blind pig finds the occasional acorn. With two outs and
Cubs runners on the corners in the eighth inning, White Sox
reliever Sean Lowe, trying to protect a one-run lead, jumped to
an 0-and-2 count on Sammy Sosa. Before delivering his third
pitch, Lowe tried the tired fake-to-third-throw-to-first pickoff
move that elicits boos even from Little League crowds. Surprise:
The ploy didn't work, and Lowe set up for another two-strike
delivery to Sosa.
White Sox bench coach Joe Nossek suspected the Cubs might try a
delayed steal to get a second runner in scoring position and
signaled for the tactic again. Lowe did it and caught Mark Grace
napping off first to end the Cubs' threat. Grace later insisted
Lowe balked by not stepping toward third on the fake. Said Lowe,
"I wasn't even trying to get him. I wasn't trying to trick
the HOT corner
Tony Gwynn, who has gone 9 for 24 as a designated hitter in six
interleague games this season, has rethought his once vehement
opposition to prolonging his career by becoming a full-time DH.
"I enjoyed it," says Gwynn, 40, whose wobbly left knee keeps him
out of the lineup some days. Would he consider moving to an
American League team to stave off retirement? "It depends on if
I could still be productive," says Gwynn."If it ever came to
that, I probably would."...
Yankees and American League All-Star manager Joe Torre named
Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild, whose job security has been
in question much of the season, as one of his All-Star coaches.
Asked what he would do if Rothschild lost his job in the next
month, Torre said, "I guess I would still have him, but wearing
a sport coat and tie."...
Cuban defector Adrian Hernandez--nicknamed El Duquecito for the
resemblance of his pitching style to that of Yankees ace Orlando
Hernandez--was less than impressive in his first start for New
York's Double A affiliate. Hernandez, who like El Duque has a
high leg kick and pitches from a variety of arm angles, threw
consistently in the mid-80s. "He's tricky, polished and
gimmicky," one scout says. "He'll be a hit for a while, but the
league will catch up to him. He may be a bust."...
What's worse: no fans in the stands, or the ones who are there
cheering for the visiting team? "It feels as if we should be
wearing gray uniforms," Marlins outfielder Preston Wilson said
after the Red Sox received a standing ovation during the first
of the team's two wins in Miami last week. "I'm embarrassed."
Can't Find My Way Home
Even with all the runs being scored, some players still have
trouble getting home. Through Sunday the major leaguer least
likely to score was the Mets' Rey Ordonez. Before going on the
DL with a broken left forearm on May 30, Ordonez had scored 10
times in 155 plate appearances, a rate of one run every 15.5
appearances. When Ordonez did get on base by any means other
than an error, he scored only 23.8% of the time, the third-worst
rate in the majors among players with at least 150 plate
appearances. The Padres' Carlos Hernandez (above) was the least
likely to make it home, scoring only 19.6% of the times he got
on. Who's the most likely to score? The Giants' Barry Bonds, who
had circled the bases after a quarter of his plate appearances.
PLATE TIMES APPEARANCES
PLAYER, TEAM APPEARANCES ON BASE RUNS PER RUN
Rey Ordonez, Mets 155 42 10 15.5
Carlos Hernandez, Padres 150 51 10 15.0
Benji Gil, Angels 161 44 11 14.6
Vinny Castilla, Devil Rays 234 60 16 14.6
Alex Gonzalez, Marlins 225 45 16 14.1
Harold Baines, Orioles 153 45 11 13.9
Mickey Morandini, Phillies 195 61 15 13.0
Brad Ausmus, Tigers 227 79 18 12.6
David Bell, Mariners 209 59 18 11.6
Dmitri Young, Reds 228 70 20 11.4
For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis from
Tom Verducci, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.