Ranger Luis Alicea, reemerged as a regular, is hitting better
Before a game against the Orioles last week, Rafael Palmeiro and
Pudge Rodriguez were talking hitting in a corner of the visitors'
clubhouse at Camden Yards, critiquing each other's stances,
exchanging tips and advice. After a few minutes they were joined
by Luis Alicea, which at first glance seemed like the governor of
Rhode Island sitting down at a summit between the leaders of
China and the U.S. Palmeiro and Rodriguez are two of the game's
best hitters; Alicea entered this season with a .254 average
during his 10 years in the majors. Racked by injuries, he had
only 164 at bats in 1999 and hadn't been a regular since '97.
It turns out that Alicea belonged in the conversation, and not
only because he was able to inform Palmeiro of a flaw he'd
spotted in Palmeiro's stride. A 34-year-old switch-hitter and a
backup for most of his career, Alicea has flourished as the
Rangers' regular second baseman this season. His .331 average and
.405 on-base percentage through Sunday were tops among American
League second basemen, and his .397 on-base percentage in the
leadoff spot (minimum 150 plate appearances) was the league's
second best. "Yeah, it looked pretty dead there for a while,"
says Alicea of his career after last year. "I knew this was my
After spending his first five seasons in the big leagues mostly
as a utility player with the Cardinals, Alicea broke through with
the Red Sox in 1995, making 130 starts at second, hitting .270
and going 6 for 10 in Boston's Division Series loss to the
Indians. Still, the Red Sox traded for Expos infielder Wil
Cordero in January 1996 and then released Alicea before Opening
Day so they could save five sixths of his $1.5 million contract.
"I lost a lot of confidence after that," says Alicea.
He spent the next two seasons with the Cardinals and the Angels,
starting 104 and 100 games at second, respectively, and hitting a
combined .255. Alicea signed in December 1997 with the Rangers,
for whom he was a backup at second and third in '98; he was set
to fill the same role last year before a laundry list of injuries
made '99 a nightmare. During the previous off-season his cornea
had been scratched during minor surgery on his right eye, forcing
him to skip late-winter workouts. In spring training he suffered
a small tear to a ligament in his left wrist, an injury that
hampered him all season, forcing him to pull off the ball during
his swing. Finally, in early September he strained his right calf
muscle and missed most of the season's final month.
Alicea had his wrist surgically repaired last October and
immediately began working out, forgoing his usual month off. When
Texas couldn't come to terms with incumbent second baseman Mark
McLemore, who signed with the Mariners as a free agent in
December, the Rangers gave Alicea a one-year, $750,000 contract.
"I always work out in the winter, but this year I worked harder
than ever," he says. "I threw every day and was hitting by
December, so I came into spring training comfortable. All the
work paid off."
"After Pudge, Luis has been our most consistent hitter," says
Texas manager Johnny Oates. "There comes a time in everyone's
career when he has to accept that he's no longer an everyday
player, and Luis might have thought he'd reached that point, but
he's extended his career."
He has also made himself a sleeper candidate to be the All-Star
Game backup to likely starter Roberto Alomar. "It would be great
to go, especially since my son [Ryan, 7] is old enough to
understand," says Alicea, who through Sunday was ninth in fan
balloting, 731,713 votes behind Alomar. "He made his [youth
league] all-star team, and he slept with the trophy."
Dad may soon know just how he feels.
Behind the Injuries
Issues of Substance
There's no doubt that baseball's collective growth spurt,
triggered by herculean weightlifting programs and a cornucopia
of nutritional supplements, has contributed to the past decade's
offensive explosion. Many in the game also suspect that it's
behind a similar increase in injuries. "To the extent that
players are bigger and stronger as a result of additives, that
would be a concern," says Sandy Alderson, executive vice
president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office,
"but I don't think there's any concrete evidence that there's a
link between injuries and players' size and strength."
It's hard to make any more than an anecdotal connection between
injuries and supplements, but there's no denying that injuries
are on the rise. According to a study done by Giants trainer Stan
Conte, the average number of players placed on each team's
disabled list during the course of a season rose steadily from
10.2 in 1989 to 13.4 in '98, an increase of 31.4%. The average
number of player-days lost per team each year jumped from 570 to
742 in that span. Further, despite significant advances in sports
medicine and in strength and conditioning techniques, players
didn't recover any faster. In '89 the average DL stint lasted
55.9 days; nine years later that figure was 55.3 days. "You would
think these guys are in better shape, so there should be fewer
and shorter-lasting injuries," says Conte. "The problem is
determining what the cause-and-effect relationship is."
Conte hypothesizes that the injury scourge is a result of overly
muscled players not balancing their strength regimens with proper
flexibility and so-called functional exercises (i.e., exercises
involving movements that might be used in baseball). Other big
league experts, however, blame the supplements that have become
as common in clubhouses as shower shoes. Three weeks ago Cubs
manager Don Baylor speculated that a good number of the many
hamstring injuries around baseball were "artificially
induced"--that is, caused by the use of muscle-building
substances. Indians skipper Charlie Manuel echoed that sentiment.
"A lot of players these days take supplements," Manuel said last
month. "I'm not going to say that they're illegal drugs, but they
can lead to dehydration. The players using them don't get enough
water in the body, which can lead to muscle problems."
Baseball has no rule against players' using popular
over-the-counter supplements such as creatine and
androstenedione. (Despite studies that have linked andro to heart
disease, liver damage and the production of estrogen, the
commissioner's office, citing a need for more tests, decided in
February not to ban it.) It's the suspected use of illegal
steroids that has many trainers and executives especially
worried. "I don't know what's in [players'] bodies anymore, and
some of it is probably more powerful than over-the-counter
stuff," says Cubs strength and conditioning coordinator Mark
Wilbert. "That's a problem baseball has to address."
Padres general manager Kevin Towers agrees. For two seasons San
Diego has tested its minor leaguers for steroids, and Towers says
it's time the same be done at the big league level, something to
which the players' association is opposed. "I think this stuff is
more rampant in major league clubhouses than alcohol, tobacco and
other drugs," Towers says. "What we need to do as an industry is
as much testing as we can."
"It's impossible to say how widespread the use [of illegal
steroids] is without a testing program," says Conte, "but when
you see a guy leave in October weighing 190 pounds and come back
in the spring at 240 with 30 pounds of muscle, you suspect he had
Karros Keeps Going
Dodgers' Mr. Consistency
In February, Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros, for whom
midsummer trade rumors had become as much a part of life as
flossing, signed a three-year, $24 million contract extension
with Los Angeles, a deal that--in theory--finally guaranteed he
would not be going anywhere soon. Did that change things for
Karros? "I haven't approached this season differently, and I
don't plan to," said Karros last week. "But we'll find out when
July comes around. That's when I usually start hearing things
about trades, anyway."
In persona and in performance, Karros, now in his ninth full
season with the Dodgers, makes a metronome look erratic. He's one
of only 18 players who have averaged at least 30 home runs and
100 RBIs over the past five seasons, and he's clicking again this
year. His 20 home runs through Sunday led all National League
first basemen not named McGwire, and his 59 RBIs were the sixth
most in the league. Both figures put him on pace to obliterate
his career highs of 34 homers (set in 1996 and matched in '99)
and 112 RBIs (set last year). Along with outfielder Gary
Sheffield (20 homers, 58 RBIs) he has helped keep Los Angeles
within striking distance of first place in the National League
West. "Before I got here, everybody told me Eric probably drives
in more clutch runs than anybody on the ball club, and it's
true," says manager Davey Johnson, who took over in L.A. after
the 1998 season. "Other names get more exposure, but he's been
As usual, Karros's exploits this year--which include setting the
L.A. record for career homers--have gone largely unnoticed. The
only player of the aforementioned 18 never to make an All-Star
team, last week he wasn't even in the top 10 in fan voting for
first basemen. "I'd be disappointed if I wasn't [missing from
the top 10]," Karros, 32, said. "I'd like to play in an All-Star
Game for the experience, but that's not really what I'm playing
for now. I'm playing to get to a World Series."
A deep-into-October run is about the only thing Karros, the
Dodger with the longest continuous tenure, hasn't experienced.
Los Angeles last won a playoff game in 1988. Since the start of
the '92 season, for which Karros won the National League Rookie
of the Year Award, L.A. has had two owners, three general
managers, four managers and 44 shortstops. In all the tumult he
has emerged, despite his low-key presence in the clubhouse, as
this generation's Mr. Dodger, the point man of efforts to get a
franchise that stumbled through the 1990s back on track. "He's a
leader, no question," says third base coach Glenn Hoffman. "His
strength is showing people how to do something, not telling them
how to do it."
"I see a guy who's matured and developed as a ballplayer and a
person," says Los Angeles righthander Orel Hershiser. "Being more
of a vocal leader is something he's gravitated to over the last
Karros's clubhouse rise has been mirrored by his climb up the
club leader boards. On June 13 he hit his 229th homer, breaking
Ron Cey's L.A. team record. "That was a good moment for Eric to
see he's appreciated here," says Hoffman. "The fans brought him
out for a curtain call. That's the first time I've seen that
happen in my three years here."
"The moment was nice," says Karros, "but right now that's not my
focus. I understand the tradition here, what it means to come up
through the organization and play here. One thing I haven't seen
is us getting to a World Series. Hopefully I'll see that here."
Lee's Florida Foibles
Homerless at Home
In 1905 the New Orleans Pelicans won the Class A Southern
Association pennant with an 84-45 overall record despite having
to play their second-half home games on the road to escape an
outbreak of yellow fever that gripped the Big Easy. Marlins first
baseman Derrek Lee would drool at the thought of such scheduling.
Through Sunday he had hit 31 of his 35 career home runs (89%) on
the road, the largest home-away disparity in major league history
among players with at least 30 homers. All 12 of Lee's dingers
this year had come away from home--in fact, he hadn't launched one
at Florida's Pro Player Stadium since August 1998. His homes away
from home? Any park in Pennsylvania: In 23 games at
Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium and Pittsburgh's Three Rivers
Stadium, Lee has 11 homers and 27 RBIs.
It's not just his power stroke that deserts him in front of
friendly fans. Through Sunday, Lee's career average on the road
was an uninspiring .251, but it was better than the .217 he'd hit
at Pro Player. "It's even hard for me to believe," says Lee, who
on Sunday wrapped up a nine-game road trip on which he went 8 for
28 with four homers and 11 RBIs. "The only thing I can think of
is maybe somewhere in the back of my mind at Pro Player, I'm
thinking, Don't hit it to right center."
Pro Player's 385-foot right centerfield power alley and 345-foot
rightfield line can be intimidating, but Lee, a righthanded
hitter, usually pulls the ball when he hits for power: Eight of
his 12 homers this season were hit to the left of center. "Maybe
he gets charged up on the road," says Florida manager John Boles.
"It must be a psychological factor."
The Wild Ones
June 23-25: Padres at Reds
Remember those Little League rallies, when a batter would reach
first, then circle the bases as pitch after pitch rolled to the
backstop? San Diego's visit to Cincinnati might refresh your
memory. Through Sunday the only team wilder than the Padres, who
had thrown 34 wild pitches, were the Reds, who had uncorked 50
and were on pace to top the major league record of 94, set by the
1986 Rangers. This series should have no shortage of base runners
either: Cincinnati had issued the second most walks in the
National League (317), San Diego the sixth most (276). Subplot?
The Padres' Matt Clement vs. the Reds' Scott Williamson for the
wild-pitch lead. Through Sunday, both had 12.
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL JASIENSKI The 34-year-old Alicea, a .254 batter before this season, was averaging .331 through Sunday.
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR.
COLOR PHOTO: MLB Since 1995, Karros has averaged 30 homers a year.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO/MLB Lee might reach home at home, but he has yet to homer there this year.
in the BOX
June 17, 2000
Marlins 4, Pirates 3
Home was no safe haven in Pittsburgh last Saturday. In the
eighth inning the Pirates' Wil Cordero fouled a ball into plate
umpire Greg Bonin's mask, just in front of his chin. Bonin
keeled over and lay motionless for several minutes before he was
removed from the diamond on a stretcher and hospitalized with a
concussion. An inning later, with Florida ahead 3-2,
Pittsburgh's John Vander Wal, trying to score from first on a
double, plowed into catcher Mike Redmond just as the relay
arrived at the plate. The collision sent Redmond and the ball
flying--and the game into extra innings. Redmond, who suffered a
sprained right knee, was also carried off on a stretcher.
The game was won on another painful play at the plate. With the
bases loaded in the top of the 11th, Florida's Alex Gonzalez
drove in the winning run when he was clipped by Rich Loiselle's
For the third time in the past four seasons Yankees manager Joe
Torre will guide the American League All-Star team. During his
18-year playing career as a catcher, first baseman and third
baseman with the Braves, Cardinals and Mets, Torre (below, left)
was chosen to participate in nine All-Star games. That's the most
selections among active skippers. Here's a look at the 13 current
managers who were named to at least one All-Star team as players,
along with their career stats. --David Sabino
HITTERS TURNED AVG. HR RBIS SB SELECTIONS
Joe Torre, Yankees .297 252 1,185 25 9
Jim Fregosi, Blue Jays .265 151 706 76 6
Buddy Bell, Rockies .279 201 1,106 55 5
Davey Johnson, Dodgers .261 136 609 33 4
Davey Lopes, Brewers .263 155 614 557 4
Felipe Alou, Expos .286 206 852 107 3
Phil Garner, Tigers .260 109 738 225 3
Dusty Baker, Giants .278 242 1,013 137 2
Mike Scioscia, Angels .259 68 446 29 2
Don Baylor, Cubs .260 338 1,276 285 1
Mike Hargrove, Orioles .290 80 686 24 1
Lou Piniella, Mariners .291 102 766 33 1
PITCHER WINS LOSSES ERA STRIKEOUTS SELECTIONS
Astros 139 123 3.30 1,493 2
the HOT corner
Don't come between the Cardinals and their dinner. Disgusted by
a lackluster effort in a loss to the Tigers on June 10--St.
Louis's seventh loss in 10 games--manager Tony La Russa declared
the postgame supper spread off-limits to his players. Before
losing to the Dodgers on Sunday, the hungry Cardinals had won
six straight since the food ban and vaulted to a 6 1/2-game lead
in the National League Central....
Amid the talk of a fire sale swirling around the disappointing
Orioles, one scout who has been following Baltimore says, "I see
[outfielder] B.J. Surhoff looking in the stands before every
game to see which clubs came to see him. He needs to get out of
there. I think anybody's available [on that team]."...
How dire is the Indians' arm shortage? Last Friday they signed
Jaime Navarro, who was released by the Brewers in April after
starting the season 0-5 with a 12.54 ERA and had been pitching
in the Rockies' farm system. One of Navarro's former teammates,
White Sox lefthander Jim Parque, told the Chicago Tribune last
week, "Jaime's a good guy, but when it came to team, he was more
about I." Navarro started Sunday against the Tigers and didn't
get the decision in a 9-4 Cleveland win....
Angels leftfielder Darin Erstad, who had 107 hits through
Sunday, reached 100 in his team's 61st game. Only one major
league player--Heinie Manush of the Washington Senators, who did
it in his club's 60th game in 1934--has attained the century
For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis
from Tom Verducci, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.