The quick thinking of L.A. scout Charlie Metro probably saved the life of pitcher Tom Niedenfuer last Tuesday. "I thought we had lost him," Metro said.
While waiting for a teammate in the lower lobby of the Dodgers' hotel in Cincinnati, Niedenfuer felt excruciating pain from a kidney stone. Wanting to return to his room to lie down, he got on an elevator that happened to stop at the next level, the hotel's upper lobby. Waiting to get on was Terry Johnson, the Dodger beat reporter for the Torrance Daily Breeze.
"I'm in trouble," Niedenfuer told Johnson. "I'm losing it." Then he passed out in Johnson's arms.
"I was yelling, 'Get a doctor!' " Johnson said. "Then, about a hundred feet away I saw Charlie, and I yelled for him. He was the only person I knew there."
Metro rushed over, saw that Niedenfuer had stopped breathing, and started to give him artificial respiration. Then Metro realized that Niedenfuer had swallowed his tongue. He pried open Niedenfuer's mouth, and while Johnson kept the tongue free, resumed the artificial respiration.
"For what seemed like 100 years," Johnson wrote later, "Niedenfuer didn't breathe."
Niedenfuer regained consciousness a few minutes later and, after receiving treatment from a Dodger trainer, was taken to the hospital, where he spent the night. Three nights later in Atlanta, he worked a scoreless inning in the Dodgers' 10-4 win.
After a month of persuading, baseball's Player Relations Committee boss, Lee MacPhail, finally got the owners to ratify a drug abuse plan that had been worked out by a group of owners and players eight weeks ago. That's good news, to be sure, and MacPhail's victory may have significance beyond the drug issue.
If next year's negotiations on a new Basic Agreement are to proceed smoothly, MacPhail, who will head management's team, must be able to operate with an understanding that the owners will ratify the deal he makes with the Players Association. That MacPhail won over the hard-line owners holding out for a tougher program is a promising sign.
Because he has learned to stop chasing so many pitches out of the strike zone, Baltimore's Eddie Murray is knocking in runs at a 135-a-year clip. Murray, who has had 111, 110 and 116 RBIs in the last three 162-game seasons, has 63 RBIs in 253 at bats, a league-leading 51 walks and only 35 Ks. In his seven previous seasons, he never had more walks than strikeouts.... The Rangers' Larry Parrish is off to the best start of his career with a dozen homers and 50 RBIs. He had a streak of 11 straight games with an RBI broken last Friday night by the A's.... The White Sox' Britt Burns, a short reliever the first five weeks of the season, is having problems in the rotation. He has lost seven straight starts after winning his first.... On the other hand, the Rangers' Charlie Hough, after a 2-6 start, has been the best starter in the league the last month. He's 5-0 with five complete games and an eight-inning no-decision in his last six starts and has allowed seven earned runs in 53 innings (1.19).... When Dave Kingman came back from the DL (knee) recently, he was wearing a light knee brace for support. He thinks it has helped his hitting. "It forces me to keep my weight back," says Kingman, who has five homers, 13 RBIs and only 7 Ks in 39 plate appearances since his return.... When the Royals, losers of 10 of their last 14, sank to last place last week, it was the first time in their 16-year history they had been in the cellar so late in the season.... Red Sox rookie Roger Clemens, who struggled in his first six weeks as a big-leaguer, is starting to live up to his advance billing. Last Friday night Clemens struck out nine and allowed six hits while beating Toronto 8-1. "Clemens is the hardest thrower of any starter in the league," says Houston scout Gordon Lakey, "and no other hard thrower has that good a curveball."
The Natural is playing leftfield for the Phillies and his name is Jeff Stone. He is a 23-year-old blur from the tiny town of Kennett, Mo. in the Ozark Mountains, and he never used indoor plumbing until he reported to the Phillies' minor league complex in Bend, Ore. in 1980.
Stone, who was called up from Class AAA Portland last week after Joe Lefebvre went on the DL with torn cartilage and ligaments in his right knee, stole 307 bases in three previous seasons in the bushes. Before he was signed in 1979 as an undrafted free agent, Stone told the Phillies that all he wanted was $500 and a handshake with Pete Rose. He got two grand, a car ride to a Phils game in St. Louis and the handshake.
After five years in pro ball, Stone still hasn't lost his innocence. To wit:
•When he arrived in Venezuela for winter ball, he asked, "Is this the same moon that shines at home?"
•When asked one day if he wanted a shrimp cocktail, he said, "No thanks, I don't drink."
•And when he went 0-4 at Shea Stadium in his first game with the Phillies after having taken a red-eye flight from Portland, he said, "I have jet legs."
As expected, two teams in the American League were sold last week. On Friday night in Minneapolis, Calvin Griffith signed a letter of intent to sell 52% of the Twins to Carl Pohlad, a local banker. The-Twins had been the last family operation in the game, but Calvin, who is 72, will work in the front office, most likely as an evaluator of young talent. That was always his forte. And David LeFevre, a New York lawyer born and raised in Cleveland, bought controlling interest in the woebegone Indians.
Rookie Gerald Perry is on the verge of moving Chris Chambliss from first base to the Braves' bench.... Steve Garvey was moved out of the Padres' cleanup spot after driving in only 11 of 30 runners from third base with less than two out.... After a hot start, Kevin McReynolds, another Padre muscleman, has three RBIs in his last 52 at bats and 15 in his last 148, an ominous stat for a player in his first full year in the bigs.... The two best players in the NL this year? A pair of Cubs—Ryne Sandberg and Leon Durham—according to Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog.... While the Cubs were losing six of seven games recently, their only winner was ex-Indian Rick Sutcliffe, the new starter in town.... When the Phillies' Jerry Koosman beat the Mets, his first team, last week, it gave the 41-year-old lefty a win over every club in the National League.... The Giants' Johnny LeMaster complained loud and long when he was dropped from the leadoff spot, and he's hitting .282 (22-78) since being moved back to the top spot. Look for him to finish the season hitting his usual sub .250.... Pedro Guerrero, a big bopper, has only 26 RBIs, and that's almost as big a reason for the Dodgers' struggles as their long injury list. Greg Brock, an early-season flash in '83, is batting .224 and in danger of losing his first base job to Franklin Stubbs, who was called up from Albuquerque last week for the second time this year. L.A. made room for Stubbs by waiving veteran Rick Monday.... The Dodgers are also doing a bad job of stealing bases—47 in 91 attempts.
I keep hearing that baseball will expand in the next few years. I say to myself, "Are these bozos for real, or what? There's not enough talent to go around for 26 teams!" Then I remember the greed factor and the initiation dues charged to new franchises, and I get very nervous. It makes me wish I was dictator. I would not expand. I would contract.
My modest proposal goes like this: The American League can do very well with 12 teams. Since the league expanded to 14 in 1977, the schedule has been a mess, and 50 players who belong in Class AAA have been masquerading as major-leaguers.
My first act as dictator would be to decree the Mariners out of existence. Sorry, Seattle, I know ownership has been incompetent since Day One, but you still don't care about your team. Also, baseball would be rid of the Kingdome, and the fewer domes, the better. The other candidate for extinction? The Indians, of course. Think of the pain Cleveland fans, the ones who show up, have endured the last 25 years. Think of the pain the players—they have to show up—go through. Let's put the poor wretches—fans and players—out of their misery. Yes, let's disband the Mariners as an object lesson to incompetent owners and dome-builders, and let's disband the Indians as an act of mercy.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
RYNE SANDBERG: The Cubs' second baseman batted .556 with three homers, nine RBIs and nine runs. In a 12-11, 11-inning win over the Cards, he was 5 for 6 with two home runs and seven RBIs.
BALL PARK FIGURES
An important statistical measure for relief pitchers reveals their ability to convert save opportunities into saves. A save opportunity exists whenever a reliever finishes a game while 1) pitching the last three innings or more, regardless of the score; or 2) protecting a lead of three runs or less for at least one inning; or 3) pitching with the tying run on base or on deck. As the list below shows, the league leaders in saves (S) are not necessarily the best at cashing in save opportunities (SO).
Willie Hernandez, Det
Dan Quisenberry, KC
Bill Caudill, Oak
Bob Stanley, Bos
Rollie Fingers, Mil
Ron Davis, Minn
Al Holland, Phil
Jesse Orosco, NY
Bruce Sutter, StL
Jeff Reardon, Mont
Lee Smith, Chi
Goose Gossage, SD