CHISOX DILEMMA: PUDGE DOESN'T WANT TO BUDGE
Life with the White Sox: The general manager showed up for games in uniform (HAWK 40), an owner was spotted scouting a B game one morning, and 14 ex-major-leaguers-turned-instructors scrambled around Sarasota, Fla., reminding some observers of the Cubs' old college of coaches. "The ideas that bounced around here have been tremendous," said manager Tony La Russa. Hawk Harrelson's approach has been innovative, untraditional and sometimes zany.
There was Carlton Fisk in leftfield, unhappy, overheard saying to Harrelson, "You're ruining my career for Joel Skinner." Tom Seaver was pitching, but was miserable, saying, "After 300, I'm seriously wondering if it's worth another season of being in Chicago." Harrelson tried to trade him to the Yankees or Red Sox, but La Russa kept trying to convince the Hawk not to trade his best pitcher. Now, despite every honest attempt by Harrelson to praise his manager, the death-watch has already begun. Hawk does revere Dick Williams.
One coach suggests that Fisk will be back behind the plate by the end of April, which Harrelson denies. "They say this is good for prolonging my career, but I've worked so hard on my conditioning that I never got tired catching," Fisk protests. "How come I hit 37 homers? Anyway, when Yaz got older, didn't they take him out of left-field? It's not like I lost the catching job; I just got up one morning and read that I was the leftfielder. Hawk even called me at 8:15 one morning and asked if I could play third base. And any time I even think about my chances at the Hall of Fame [among catchers Fisk is third alltime in homers, fifth in runs, seventh in RBIs and No. 15 in games caught], I'm supposedly selfish. This is like bringing Seaver over here, 27 games from his 300th win, and saying, 'Tom, we want you to be a middle reliever, and it'll only take you 15 years to get your 300th.' Now, by not catching all spring, it'll be hard to get back there. It takes time."
April 14, 1986
La Russa doesn't feel that the White Sox can afford to lose Seaver because his departure would put undue heat on the rehabilitating Richard Dotson and the rest of the rotation. La Russa has also expressed unhappiness at the release of outfielder Rudy Law, saying, "I'm a Rudy Law man.... I believe he's on his way to a great 1986 season. I just wish it were with us." La Russa has already had to endure two coaches being added and a phone line from pitching coach-broadcaster Don Drysdale's booth being installed without his consent. The unhappiness of the future Hall of Famers makes La Russa's hold on his job more tenuous.
IT'S BACK TO THE FUTURE FOR SOME SELECT VETS
Spring training was notable for extraordinary comebacks:
•Steve Carlton, Phillies. At 41, he has recovered so well from shoulder ailments and a 1-8 record that he was rewarded with the Opening Day assignment. He has a new screwball to go with his slider.
•Rick Burleson, Angels. He hasn't played in the field since 1983, but after a serious shoulder operation, then a frightening weight-lifting accident that separated his shoulder and left his hand numb for more than nine months, the 34-year-old Rooster hit .344 in spring training. He will open the season alternating between second and shortstop.
•Dennis Leonard, Royals. His last major league start was in May of '83, but after extensive reconstructive knee surgery and grueling rehabilitation, he is back to help K.C.
•Matt Keough, Cubs, and Rick Langford, A's. Here are two of the victims of Billy Ball. Langford led the AL in complete games in 1980 and '81, but has won only three games since 1982. Keough won 26 games in 1980 and '81, but he fell to 11-18 and 5-7, tried a knuckler, hurt his arm, was released and retired. He hasn't won a major league game since 1983. Langford has won a spot in the Oakland rotation, and Keough has become the first non-roster invitee to earn a job with the Cubs since Dallas Green took over the club.
•Joe Sambito, Red Sox, and Jim Kern, Indians. Sambito hasn't won or saved a major league game since 1982. He once was one of the game's premier lefthanded relievers with the Astros; then he had an unsuccessful stint with the Mets in 1985, partly because he did not have enough strength in his left hand to grip the ball properly. But in the spring he threw well enough to become the Red Sox' lefthanded short man. Kern has pitched just 25 innings since 1982 and was even scouting at one point. But he decided to give it one last try with the Indians and made the club after his fastball registered 91 mph on the gun.
THAT'S WHY THEY ARE CALLED THE STRANGERS
As the season began, the Texas Rangers had an outfielder (Pete Incaviglia) trying for his first professional hit and a pitcher (Bobby Witt) in search of his first professional victory. Texas opened with rookies with a total of four major league victories—Jose Guzman, Edwin Correa and Witt—as their first three starters. In the bullpen as setup men to Greg Harris, who's ambidextrous but will pitch only righty for now, were rookies Dwayne Henry and Mitch Williams. The minor league numbers for Williams are 28 wins, 36 losses, a 5.20 ERA, and 537 strikeouts and 479 walks in 504 innings, only 33 of which he has logged above the A level. "We realize that we're taking something of a gamble, and I'd be a liar if I didn't say there was some concern in the back of my mind," says Texas general manager Tom Grieve, "but they have a lot more ability than our alternatives." Correa, a 19-year-old stolen from the White Sox, has only two victories this side of Appleton. Witt, the next-door neighbor of Red Sox owner Haywood Sullivan, was 0-6, 6.43 in Tulsa after leaving the University of Oklahoma last June, but Grieve says, "His fastball is in the mid-90s, his slider is 86-87, and if he throws strikes, he'll win."
HEREAFTER, THE APRIL FOOLS' DAY MASSACRE
By the time April 1 was over, there were more than two dozen veterans looking for employment. Clubs had to release the players with non-guaranteed contracts by 2 p.m. on April Fools' Day or be liable for their entire 1986 salaries. So out the door went Houston reliever Bill Dawley; Indians catcher Jerry Willard; Yankees pitcher Phil Niekro; Mariners second baseman Jack Perconte; infielder Onix Concepcion, outfielder Pat Sheridan and pitchers Mike Jones and Joe Beckwith of the Royals; outfielder David Green and pitcher Ray Burris of the Brewers; and what seemed like half the battered '85 Braves pitching staff. Many of the cuts may be traced to the unanimous and penny-wise decision of the clubs to go with 24-instead of 25-player rosters, although the 24-man experiment may last only until the Mets, Cardinals or Yankees lose two in a row. "I'll give it until May 15," says agent Alan Hendricks. The Braves ate up $3.45 million in salaries with the departure of Len Barker, Pascual Perez, Terry Forster and Rick Camp, who were 9-31 last season. Forster appeared to have lost his fastball, having gone without a strikeout in 10 innings this spring. Manager Chuck Tanner named Perez—who is 4-17 since his baseball war with the Padres in August 1984—as his fourth starter, then released him a week later. Feel no pity for Perez, who, after going 1-13 in '85, missed two winter meetings with G.M. Bobby Cox, then this spring was late to practice thrice and a team meeting once. Complaining of an upset stomach, he took off the day before Bloody Tuesday.
KANSAS CITY FRETS OVER BRET, ETC.
The Royals don't say much about it, but they will be watching Bret Saberhagen's delayed first start with some concern. He had to pass on the opener because of shoulder stiffness, and while the general feeling is that he was behind the other pitchers simply because of the flu, the fact remains that he missed most of his senior year in high school because of shoulder tendinitis. Saberhagen admits that his off-season on the banquet circuit may be partly responsible. "I don't think I'm quite as prepared as I was last year," he says. "That might have something to do with [the stiffness]." ...
The Mike Easler-for-Don Baylor deal between the Red Sox and Yankees was the first all-DH exchange. Boston was 21-27 in games started by opposing lefthanders last season, and by getting Baylor—who has a .350 average with 17 homers in 82 games in Fenway Park—the Red Sox add a righthanded threat to the lineup as well as what manager John McNamara hopes is a unifying force in the clubhouse. Regular Yankee watchers feel that the departure of Baylor will hurt the club internally, especially by depriving Rickey Henderson of a positive influence. But the lefthanded-hitting Easier could surprise some people in the Stadium. The ordained minister has always been a left-center hitter, and in his first year in Boston he batted .375 in Fenway as pitchers worked outside. Last season he saw inside fastballs and slumped to .249 at home. However, he spent the last month and all of spring training working on pulling that pitch. He bade farewell to the Red Sox with a tremendous pulled homer off Dwight Gooden....
Another Yankee concern: How much will Joe Niekro's bitterness about Phil's release—"They used him to sign me"—carry over into the season?...While Cal Ripken Jr. keeps hearing that he should be moved to third base, he shrugs it all off and adds to his record of 5,457 consecutive innings at short. "It gets tiresome just talking about it," says Ripken. "In a game where stats are so important, they seem to be overlooked in my case. Nobody thinks you're a shortstop unless you're flashy. People don't understand that all the plays are routine when you play where you're supposed to play."...
Earl Weaver asked Eddie Murray to exercise leadership as captain by driving teammates like Lee Lacy and Floyd Rayford. In turn, Murray went to Weaver and asked him to ease up on some of his teammates. Murray is one of the handful of players in the game who can get away with that sort of thing.
JAMES HOYT WILHELM IS ONLY 62, ETC.
The knuckleball is coming back into vogue in the American League. Hough and the Niekros are three of the prime practitioners, and minor league veteran Tom Candiotti, who was released by the Milwaukee organization, led the Puerto Rican League in strikeouts after developing one; he was set to open the season as Cleveland's fourth starter. In addition, Detroit's Walt Terrell threw 20 in a game in the final week of spring training and plans to use the knuckler more and more. And Boston's Al Nipper mixes it in with his other pitches; his pitching coach, Bill Fischer, thinks Nipper may be the Joe Niekro of the '90s....
The Astros are concerned about their underappreciated star, Jose Cruz, who had arthroscopic knee surgery last week. With Terry Puhl out because of an ankle sprain, Houston opened the season with an outfield of Billy Hatcher, Kevin Bass and Tony Walker or Eric Bullock. This is one club that may pay the price for years of unwillingness to change....
Several of the Pirate coaches wanted to keep rookie outfielder Barry Bonds despite his lack of professional experience (half a year), and you can be fairly certain that he will be back from Hawaii by midseason. "He will hit more homers over his career than his father did," asserts Pittsburgh pitching coach Ron Schueler. Bobby Bonds clubbed 332....
Speaking of relatives, the scouts in Florida claim that Dwight Gooden's nephew, Gary Sheffield, will be one of the first dozen picks in this June's amateur draft. Sheffield is a pitcher-shortstop at Gooden's alma mater, Hillsborough High in Tampa. While he has been clocked at 88 mph, his 11 homers in 17 games have scouts thinking of him as a third baseman. How good a hitter is he? In last year's alumni game, Sheffield got a hit off his uncle. Of course, Gooden got two hits off Sheffield....
Gooden, who was second to Houston's Mike Scott among NL pitchers with nine RBIs last season, bet Marty Noble of Newsday that he would homer on Opening Day....
Tom Lasorda has felt the sting from publicity over his friendship with Joe DeCarlo, who reputedly has had ties to organized crime (SI, March 10). It now turns out that the Office of the Commissioner approved a media credential to the National League playoffs last October for DeCarlo. Rich Levin of the commissioner's office says, "The request didn't come through the normal channel, i.e., our office. It was local." But Peter Ueberroth's staff had the final right of refusal....
Ueberroth still has not decided whether to allow Steve Howe to pitch for San Jose, an unaffiliated club in the California League. When one club wanted to give Howe a tryout this spring, the commish killed the idea....
Scouts in Arizona were puzzled at the passive play of the Padres' Kevin McReynolds. "He still hasn't recovered from the broken wrist at the end of the '84 season," says one....
Don't expect that George Hendrick will last long as the Angels' rightfielder. Darrell Miller, Cheryl's older brother, may get a shot at the position before long.
Happy 59th birthday, Don Mueller, and happy 45th (or 46th), Pete Rose.
BETWEEN THE LINES
SIGN OF THE SPRING
Please do not annoy, torment, pester, plague, molest, worry, badger, harry, harass, heckle, persecute, irk, bullyrag, vex, disquiet, grate, beset, bother, tease, nettle, tantalize or ruffle the animal.
Wild Animal Park
Over Kirk Gibson's locker, courtesy of Dan Petry, who obtained it from the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
THEY BUILT THIS CITY ON ROCK-'N'-ROLL
(It certainly wasn't baseball.)
The Giants' infield of Will Clark, Rob Thompson, Jose (Don't Call Me Gonzalez) Uribe and Chris Brown averages 24 years of age and 77 games of experience. One NL scout calls the Thompson-Uribe double-play combination "Webster's future definition of 'mediocrity.' " When Brown—who has a reputation for hypochondria—was struck in the face by a ground ball and rolled on the field in apparent distress, a teammate sidled up to Glenn Schwarz of the San Francisco Examiner and cracked, "A fly must have landed on his neck."
TAGS OF THE SPRING
Sammy (Frank Zappa) Khalifa of the Pirates, for his spacey nature. Runner-up: Darrel (Kool FM) Akerfelds of the A's, so named for his 94.5 earned run average.
QUOTES OF THE SPRING
•"It doesn't matter if his shoulder's sore. He doesn't throw anyone out anyway."—Sparky Anderson on Kirk Gibson, who had one assist in 298 chances last year.
•"I'll probably go work in a casino [in Puerto Rico] like my father and be a dealer. Right now I feel like if a guy like Buddy Biancalana can beat me out of a job at shortstop, I can't play no more."—Shortstop Onix Concepcion, released by Kansas City.
•Reliever Al Holland failed to make the Yankees after reporting five pounds under his prescribed weight and ballooning to 10 pounds over within 10 days.
•Giants reliever Greg Minton lost 26 pounds on a diet of "no more tequila or late-night room service."
WHAT IS BASEBALL COMING TO?
•Nor only did Reds owner Marge Schott include a bio of her Saint Bernard Schottzie in the media guide before the bios of Pete Rose and general manager Bill Bergesch, but the Reds' ticket calendar includes no pictures of players, not even of Rose. Instead, there are 12 shots of Schottzie, including one in a Santa Claus outfit.
•Entertainer Pia Zadora will become a part owner of the Portland Beavers this week.
THE ROB PICCIOLO WATCH
While others follow more obvious milestone chases, Picciolo fans will be watching Twins outfielder Alejandro Sanchez, who has 195 major league plate appearances without a walk. Picciolo had 25 walks in 1,720 career appearances.
Professional wrestler Randy (Macho Man) Savage—managed by the lovely Elizabeth—played the outfield and caught for two years in the Cardinals' system under the name Randy Poffo. He was released by the Cards after the 1973 season when he batted .250 in 116 at bats for Orangeburg of the Western Carolinas League. His manager at Orangeburg was Jim Piersall, which may explain a few things.
•The only player the Cleveland Indians have remaining from their five-for-one deal for Von Hayes with the Philadelphia Phillies on Dec. 9, 1982 is shortstop Julio Franco.
•Boston catcher Marc Sullivan, son of proud owner Haywood Sullivan, went 13 at bats without hitting a fair ball this spring.
•The three players who were most routinely booed in their home ballparks during spring training were Ron Cey of the Cubs, Joggin' George Hendrick of the Angels and George Foster of the Mets.
•Red Sox infielder Dave Stapleton's annual descending batting averages since 1980: .321, .285, .264, .247, .231, .227. How many other players can claim such consistency?
TEN TRADES THAT SHOULD BE MADE
1. Outfielder George Bell, shortstop Santiago Garcia, catchers Ernie Whitt and Jeff Hearron, and pitchers John Cerutti and Omar Bencomo from Toronto to Pittsburgh for catcher Tony Pena, lefthanded reliever Pat Clements and outfielder R.J. Reynolds. Pena would be an acknowledged star in Toronto, and Reynolds could get by in left until Silvestre Campusano is ready—which won't be long.
2. Pitchers Rick Aguilera and Doug Sisk from the Mets to San Francisco for pitchers Scott Garrelts and Mike Jeff-coat. One National League scout asserts that if Garrelts starts 30 games, he'll set a record for most pitches thrown in a season. So, if the Giants are in such desperate need of a starter, why not Aguilera, who is one of the best young righthanders in the league? Garrelts, meanwhile, would give the Mets an outstanding bullpen.
3. Outfielder Jim Rice and pitcher Sammy Stewart from Boston to Milwaukee for third baseman Paul Molitor. Molitor can play center and would give Boston a leadoff hitter. Rice could use the change as much as the Brewers could use a cleanup hitter, and reuniting him with his best friend, Cecil Cooper, would be good for both.
4. Outfielder Andy Van Slyke and pitchers Greg Dunn and Rick Ownbey from St. Louis to Texas for pitcher Charlie Hough and outfielder Gary Ward. The Cardinals' greatest need is a quality righthanded starter who can replace Joaquin Andujar's innings. Hough is still one of the better pitchers in the American League. The Cardinals can afford to platoon John Morris with Ward in right field. The Rangers would love to have Van Slyke instead of Ward, who will be a free agent at the end of this season.
5. Outfielder Von Hayes from Philadelphia to Los Angeles for pitcher Bob Welch. With Pedro Guerrero lost for a while, the Dodgers need another outfield bat as badly as the Phillies need a starter.
6. Outfielder Chili Davis and pitcher Mike Krukow from San Francisco to the Yankees for outfielders Dan Pasqua and Jay Buhner and pitchers Doug Drabek and Dennis Rasmussen. Krukow is a solid starter who's best with a winner, and the Giants would be getting four future players. Then the Yankees trade....
7. Davis, pitcher Ed Whitson and the cash to cover Whitson's salary to K.C. for Danny Jackson. The Yankees would have Ron Guidry, Jackson, Krukow, Joe Niekro and Bob Tewksbury—the greatest Yankee from Penacook, N.H. since Red Rolfe—in their rotation. Davis could become a star in Kansas City.
8. Outfielder Andre Dawson from Montreal to the Cubs for outfielders Jerry Mumphrey and Pookie Bernstine and pitcher Steve Trout. Dawson deserves grass and a hitter's park, and he hits much better in the daylight.
9. In a seven-team trade of backup catchers, Montreal sends Tom Nieto to Cleveland for Chris Bando. The Indians pass Nieto on to San Diego for Bruce Bochy. The Padres ship Nieto to Boston for Marc Sullivan. The Red Sox give Nieto to Cincinnati for Sal Butera. The Reds deal Nieto to the White Sox for Marc Hill. Chicago moves Nieto to Atlanta for Bruce Benedict. The Braves dispatch Nieto to Montreal for Dann Bilardello. The Expos outright Nieto to Indianapolis and recall Mike Fitzgerald.
10. Tony La Russa from the White Sox to Baltimore for Earl Weaver. The Chicago owners would thus have the high-profile manager they've wanted, and Edward Bennett Williams would have a junior partner.