When this season ends, so will his playing days, Third Baseman Johnny Bench, 35, of the Reds announced last week. "I want to be remembered as the greatest catcher who ever played," said Bench, who hasn't caught regularly since 1980. "I wanted that when I was 19 years old."
Bench certainly has the credentials: He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1968 and its MVP in 1970 and '72; he won 10 straight Gold Gloves and has hit 383 homers—a record 324 of them as a catcher. Bench's 1983 batting average of .271 through Sunday was three points higher than his 15-year career figure.
"I decided about three weeks ago, even though I was hitting .320 and the ball club had shown signs of progress, that it wasn't as much fun," said Bench. He felt he could no longer play the game "to the degree that I expect of myself and that a lot of people expect of me. Knowing I wasn't the Johnny Bench of the past in a lot of respects, I felt this was the time to finish up." Before he leaves, though, Bench says he'll take his familiar position behind the plate at least one more time.
Montreal's Bryan Little may be the only big-leaguer ever to stand on both sides of the plate in one at bat and not finish up the plate appearance. After San Francisco righthander Fred Breining threw two balls to Little, Giants lefthander Gary Lavelle was brought in. Little switched to batting righthanded, fouled off two sacrifice bunt tries and was replaced by Pinch Hitter Jim Wohlford, who flied out.
After 3,256 at bats in the big leagues, the Yankees' Steve Kemp was pulled for a pinch hitter last week. With the score 5-5 and one out and two on in the ninth against Cleveland lefty Neal Heaton, Manager Billy Martin sent up righthand-hitting Lou Piniella, who drove in the game-winning run.
"It was an awkward feeling," said Kemp, who has struggled at the plate since severely bruising his right shoulder in an outfield collision the first Saturday of the season. Kemp was hitting .244 when Piniella batted for him.
"You know, after I had established myself and after I had faced so many lefties in my career doing it, I thought there was a chance that I could do something that a whole lot of players don't do. I thought I could go through my career without being pinch-hit for. But with the Yankees having so much talent, it really helped soften the situation. Obviously, Billy did the right thing."
By homering and singling during his 11-5 win over the Braves last week, Dodger Pitcher Fernando Valenzuela stretched his hitting streak to six games and raised his average to .289.... Twice recently Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda has had to notify players that their father had died. On June 6 the sad news was for Shortstop Bill Russell, three days later for brothers Steve and Dave Sax.... After being thrown out of a big league game for the first time, Mariner Manager Rene Lachemann apologized thrice to umpires Steve Palermo and Dave Phillips and said they were the two best umpires in the American League. Lachemann has a special appreciation for umps, having worked as an attendant in the umpires' dressing room at Dodger Stadium as a kid.... The Expos, who allowed 78 unearned runs last season—an average of almost one every other game—have improved their defense so much that at week's end they had given up only 15 in 55 games this year. That's by far the best such figure in both leagues.... After Ryne Sandberg of the Cubs began using teammate Larry Bowa's bats, which are half an inch shorter and half an ounce lighter than his own, he promptly hit in 13 of 15 games and drove in 11 runs.
Toronto Reliever Stan Clarke's major league debut was a clinker. On the lefthander's very first pitch, Rickey Henderson of the A's stole second. On his fourth delivery Clarke balked. On his fifth, Henderson streaked for home as Mike Davis laid down a bunt. Clarke slipped as he came off the mound toward the ball, bobbled it and lost his cap. Henderson scored, but at least Clarke threw out Davis. Then, after loading the bases on two walks and a single, Clarke was yanked.
The trade of Centerfielder Gorman Thomas to Cleveland by defending American League champion Milwaukee last week was highly unpopular with Brewer fans. On the day of the deal—Thomas and pitchers Jamie Easterly and Ernie Camacho were sent to the Indians for Centerfielder Rick Manning and Pitcher Rick Waits—the Brewer switchboard logged 1,620 calls. About 80% of the callers complained about the swap. Thomas, a two-time American League home run champ, had become almost a folk hero during his six seasons there.
"This year, to make a change, they decided to do it with players," said Brewer Third Baseman Paul Molitor, attempting to put the trade into perspective. "Last year it was Buck Rodgers and Harvey Kuenn [the former was replaced by the latter as manager in June]. Harry [Brewer General Manager Harry Dalton] is trying to get something shook up on this ball club, just trying to change the complexion of the team [which was in sixth place, 5½ games out of first, in the American League East at week's end]. This gives us a little different chemistry. The old one was getting a little stale. It's hard to stay at the top if you stand pat. Something like this could make all the difference in the world."
Here's American League Umpire Ken Kaiser's list of today's most polite players, in no particular order: Rod Carew and Tommy John of the Angels, Cal Ripken of the Orioles, Butch Wynegar of the Yankees and George Brett of the Royals.
Angel Executive VP Buzzie Bavasi, 68, had a shouting match with Reliever Luis Sanchez, 29, in the Angels' clubhouse last week. It all began when Bavasi angrily confronted Sanchez about a damaging hit he gave up on an 0-2 pitch. "He cursed at me," said Bavasi. "He's got the best arm on the team, but we've been babying him too long...." California's Rick Burleson, perhaps the most outstanding all-around shortstop in the American League before he tore his right rotator cuff 14 months ago, has started what he hopes will be the last phase of his recovery. Burleson began a 20-day rehabilitation program at the Angel farm club in Edmonton last week by fielding flawlessly in three games and going 2 for 8 at the plate through Sunday.
Milwaukee righthander Pete Vuckovich, whose career was feared to have been ended by a torn rotator cuff, has had some of his batting-practice pitches clocked at 80 mph.... George Brett of the Royals is out at least five days with a broken toe, his 19th disabling injury or illness since 1977.... St. Louis Outfielder Lonnie Smith was batting .311 last week when he became the latest in a procession of big-leaguers to admit to drug problems; he entered a three-week therapy program.
Met Reliever Jesse Orosco, who pitched two shutout innings in Chicago last week, is no mere flash in the 'pen. In 51 appearances since last July 21, the 26-year-old lefty has pitched 94 innings, yielded 69 hits, walked 22, struck out 68, won seven games, saved eight others and had a 1.65 ERA.... The Mets' Dave Kingman, who beat the Expos 4-2 with a two-run homer in the 17th inning last week, has gotten all but five of his 22 RBIs with his 11 home runs.
Among the 918 high school and college players drafted by major league clubs last week were two sons each of two former big league pitchers, Tony Cloninger and Camilo Pascual. Pitcher Darrin Cloninger was drafted by San Diego, and his brother Michael, also a pitcher, by Minnesota. Outfielder Adalberto Pascual was chosen by Baltimore, and his brother Camilo, a pitcher, by Oakland. The Yankees, who had coveted Stanford Quarterback John Elway before he chose pro football, took another signal-caller during the draft. He's Turner Gill, the Nebraska quarterback in the fall and shortstop in the spring.
White Sox rookie Ron Kittle, who had slammed 13 home runs through Sunday, was hit twice by Angel pitchers last week. So it seemed to be a clear case of retaliation when Chicago pitchers sent California's Ron Jackson and Doug DeCinces sprawling to the dirt to avoid being hit. Said Chicago Manager Tony LaRussa, "I'm not going to watch him become a sitting duck for American League pitchers. We were just trying to pitch them about like they're pitching us."
WHO'S KING OF THE Ks?
Houston's Nolan Ryan, who passed Walter Johnson as baseball's career strikeout leader on April 27, isn't abdicating as King of the Ks without a fight. Philadelphia's Steve Carlton passed Ryan on June 7 by striking out five Cardinals, and he increased his lead to 11 in a Saturday win over Pittsburgh. But on Sunday, in only his second start after coming off the disabled list, Ryan mowed down 11 Padres to tie Carlton with 3,535 Ks. Ryan's five-hit, 4-0 shutout was all the more impressive because it marked the first time he had ever pitched a complete game without walking anyone. Over to you, Steve.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
LOU WHITAKER: The Tiger second baseman was 17 for 35, scored nine runs and drove in six with two game-winning RBIs. Among his hits were four doubles, three triples and two homers.
BALL PARK FIGURES
1. Mordecai Brown
2. Ed Walsh
3. Walter Johnson
4. Grover Alexander
5. Christy Mathewson
6. Rube Waddell
7. Eddie Plank
8. Bob Gibson
9. Juan Marichal
10. Nolan Ryan