WILL STARS COME OUT?
Now that the players' association has accepted a drug-testing
system similar to the Olympics' for use in a World Cup-style
baseball tournament, major league officials expect to get the
two-week event staged next March with selected players leaving
spring training to play in Cup games. Look for 16 countries to be
represented in a pool-play format. Premier teams, such as the
U.S. and the Dominican Republic, will most likely play in
warm-weather or domed major league stadiums while lower-profile
teams will be assigned to minor league parks.
Like golf's Ryder Cup and tennis's Davis Cup, baseball's
international competition will be successful only if major stars
participate--Barry Bonds of the U.S. hitting against the
Dominican Republic's Pedro Martinez, for instance. Good luck.
Some players may deem such intense competition in mid-March to be
an injury risk. Others may run from the drug tests. After rosters
are submitted 45 days before the competition, players are subject
to unannounced tests--even at home. The tests will be more
stringent than Major League Baseball's, as Angels righthander
Derrick Turnbow and Expos leftfielder Terrmel Sledge have found
out. They say legal supplements caused them to flunk drug tests
in the Olympic program in 2003. An international tournament could
be a bonanza or, if star players opt out, an embarrassment.
ALL'S NOT LOST IN APRIL
The Yankees rallied with four wins to end April with a winning
record for the 13th straight year. But all is not lost for the
month's losers. Since 2000 nine of the past 32 playoff teams
began the season with a losing record in April, including the
past two world champions, the 2003 Marlins (14-15) and the 2002
Angels (11-14). But here's the bad news for the Mariners (8-15 in
April) and the Giants (10-14): Of the past 100 teams to make the
postseason (excluding 1995), only three did so after starting May
more than three games under .500. Here are the three worst April
records for playoff teams in full seasons since 1985.
Team, Year April Final Finish
1. Athletics, 2001 8-17 102-60 Lost in Division Series
2. Blue Jays, 1989 9-16 89-73 Lost in ALCS
3. Tigers, 1987 8-12 98-64 Lost in ALCS
CALL ME ESTEBAN
Early indications are that Padres righthander Ismael Valdez may
be this year's Esteban Loaiza. The well-traveled Valdez, 30, who
entered this season with an 88-94 career record and a cut-rate
contract ($800,000), is on track to have a breakout season
similar to the shocker pulled off by Loaiza, a fellow Mexican, in
2003. Loaiza, who was 69-73 entering last season, went 21-9 for
the White Sox. Valdez worked with the Sacramento Kings' strength
and conditioning coach and a sports psychologist in the
off-season and is off to a 3-1 start for San Diego.
1. Need one more reason that Barry Bonds will break Hank Aaron's
home run record? His steady development into an extreme fly ball
hitter has reached new heights. In 23 April games he hit more
home runs (10) than ground balls (9).
2. Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs is maturing into a more consistent
player, but he's not yet worthy of manager Dusty Baker's praise
as being one of the best three or four third basemen in baseball.
You have to take Alex Rodriguez, Scott Rolen, Eric Chavez, Troy
Glaus, Mike Lowell and Hank Blalock before Ramirez.
3. The Padres got a steal in reliever Akinori Otsuka, 32, whom
they scouted only by videotape and signed to a two-year, $1.5
million contract after winning his rights in the Japanese-U.S.
posting system. Scouts rave about the nasty downward bite on his
COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE (BONDS, JETER) BONDS
COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE (BONDS, JETER) JETER
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS HARDY/WIREIMAGE.COM (VALDEZ) VALDEZ