SPARKYS TINKERING WITH THE TIGERS
From the outset of spring training, the one American League team that seemed the most stable was Detroit. The Tigers had the best starting pitching in the division, right? Their everyday lineup was set, right? The biggest concern was keeping key players like Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson healthy.
Then near the end of spring training, Sparky Anderson began tinkering. He called up players from Nashville and considered releasing veterans like Dave Bergman and John Grubb to make room for Scotti Madison and Harry Spilman. The season wasn't two weeks old when Sparky declared his established lineup—which had Lou Whitaker and Trammell one-two in the order—"useless" and inserted Dave Collins and Darnell Coles in those spots; Collins has never batted over .266 for a team that played on grass, while Coles was .214 lifetime entering this season. Anderson used 11 different lineups in the first 11 games, including one with Spilman, who was a free agent until mid-March, batting cleanup. Then Sparky said he might bench Whitaker against most lefthanders because the second baseman has hit .224 against lefties and .301 against righthanders since the beginning of the '84 season. Sparky has his regular power hitters bunting, he keeps making home-run champion Darrell Evans guess where and when he'll be playing and he puts Collins everywhere in the outfield.
Anderson's biggest concern in the early going, however, is his starting pitching. In their first nine games, before Frank Tanana shut down the Indians, the vaunted starters allowed 44 earned runs in 49‚Öî innings. Even in those games, though, the Tigers were 5-4, which says something about how good the rest of the team is. When proven winners like Jack Morris and Dan Petry return to form. Sparky can stop overmanaging.
April 27, 1986
As teams tried to work into the rhythm and routine of the season, the first weeks seemed to add two contenders to the American League East troika of New York, Toronto and Detroit. The Orioles' pitching, which came through with a franchise-high 4.38 ERA last year, seems to be coming back. Earl Weaver made a conscious effort to get his starters more work (around 40 innings) than any group of starters in spring training so that they would get off quickly, and his plan has worked. Mike Boddicker, who is so durable that he has failed to get decisions in only nine of 96 career starts, has regained his control to such an extent that umpire Steve Palermo said last week, "His strikes almost aren't strikes, and his balls almost aren't balls." Mike Flanagan is throwing in the 89-to-90-mph range, the hardest since he won the Cy Young Award in 1979 and began suffering a series of frustrating injuries.
The most dominant starting staff in the division may belong to Boston—if the right shoulder of Roger Clemens holds up after he passes 100 innings. In their first 10 outings, Clemens, Bruce Hurst, Oil Can Boyd, Al Nipper and Tim Lollar allowed only 53 hits in 77 innings, just once failing to get to the seventh inning with three or fewer runs allowed. The bullpen is another matter; the heralded eight-player trade with the Mets has produced one pitcher on the disabled list and three reserves at Pawtucket.
THE PHILLIES COUNT ON ANIMAL MAGNETISM
They call themselves the Animals, they wear A's on their caps and uniform socks and they even have their own fight song. They're a group of Philadelphia Phillies that punctuated spring training with outrageous behavior, and they're helping to soften the traditionally starched atmosphere of that clubhouse. The Animals were born on a long bus ride from Vero Beach to Clearwater, with Steve Carlton the unlikely ringleader. Later, at a team party at a Clearwater hotel to watch the final game of the NCAA basketball tournament, someone suddenly yelled, "Food fight!" and the group proceeded to throw everything in sight. Then came a rollicking flight from Tampa to Cincinnati to open the season. More bedlam. "As long as there isn't damage or problems, I'm all for it," says manager John Felske. On most road trips, the Phillies are met at the airport by two buses. According to Felske, there is now a "nerd" bus and an "animal" bus. Though membership in the Animals varies, the regulars include pitchers Carlton, Steve Bedrosian, Larry Andersen, Kevin Gross and Don Carman: outfielders Glenn Wilson and Joe Lefebvre; catcher Darren Daulton and third baseman Mike Schmidt....
At 25, Robin Yount seemed a certain Hall of Fame shortstop; at 30, he's in centerfield. Shoulder surgery took four years off the career of Rick Burleson. Trammell and Ozzie Smith live on the fault line of serious shoulder damage. "Shortstops have the most wear of anyone but pitchers, and the strain may be worse," says shoulder expert Dr. Arthur Pappas of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. "They often don't warm up properly and then have to make high-pressure throws from different angles and places where they can't get set. It's not surprising that so many have the problems they do."...Tim Raines admitted at the end of last season that he was disappointed at stealing "only" 70 bases. The Expos told him he needed to do two things to get into the Rickey Henderson-Vince Coleman stratosphere: run early in the season and run early in counts....
Braves G.M. Bobby Cox may acquire his former Toronto pitcher Luis Leal and try to rehab his fastball. Cox also would like to pick up old friend Doyle Alexander, who has asked the Blue Jays to trade him. But they can't for now, not with Dave Stieb and Jimmy Key off to such bad starts (23 runs in 19‚Öî innings over their combined first five outings). There has been speculation that Stieb's start and his 85-mph readings on radar guns indicate a recurrence of the elbow stiffness that plagued him last September, but more likely he's still building up his arm after spending so much of spring training working on an off-speed curveball that will allow him to throw fewer hard sliders, which put a lot of pressure on his elbow....
One of the perils TV announcers now face is that people with satellite dishes can hear the between-innings comments instead of the commercials. Brooks Robinson learned the hard way. He questioned the "blood and guts" of Storm Davis when he came out of a game. Soon thereafter Robinson received an angry letter from Davis's mother, who lives in Jacksonville....
The Yankees tried to talk the Indians into trading lefthander Heal Heaton. but when Cleveland demanded either Dan Pasqua or Brian Fisher, the discussions ended....
The Orioles were getting so edgy about Eddie Murray's slow start—he didn't get his first RBI or extra-base hit until his ninth game—that they had his eyes checked. Vision wasn't Murray's only problem. He sprained his ankle in a pickup basketball game this winter, was told he could run normally on it in spring training, reinjured it and simply wasn't ready when the season started. In three games against Texas over the weekend, Murray was 7 for 12, with two homers and seven RBIs....
Indians scout Birdie Tebbetts compares Cleveland rookie catcher Andy Allanson with the late Jim Hegan, considered by many to be the finest defensive catcher of the last 40 years. Tebbetts himself wasn't exactly Choo Choo Coleman....
The San Jose update: The Bees have added five Japanese players to Steve Howe, Ken Reitz, Darryl Cias, Daryl Sconiers and Lorenzo Gray. Mike Norris has already been released because of erratic behavior. Cias and Reitz are living in a room at the ballpark. Cias painted a portrait of Charles Manson on the door. "I thought it might brighten up the room," said the former A's catcher.
DO THEY REALLY NEED THE 25TH MAN?
Really, now. Managers are talking about Mike Gallego, Bill Stein and Ed Jurak when they scream about how tough it is without the 25th player. Weaver says going from 25 to 24 "cheapens the product." Players Association director Don Fehr says the owners' move "demonstrates that they're not really interested in winning." Granted, the entire idea is less of a cost-saving device than a show of management power, but didn't the Blue Jays win the most games in the American League last year while carrying Manny Lee and Lou Thornton, who were there just because they had been drafted out of A leagues? "You don't really need more than 22 or 23 players in this league," says White Sox vice-president Ken Harrelson. "At that number, you get more time for the guys on the bench, and they perform better."
The National League is another story. "It's different for me because I platoon a lot and my bench is built from necessity," says the Mets' Dave Johnson, who last week used pitcher Rick Aguilera to pinch-hit when he had two positional players, Barry Lyons and Tim Corcoran, available. The Phils almost became the first team to break ranks last weekend when catcher Daulton sprained his ankle. They flew minor league catcher Joe Cipolloni into New York, but Daulton's injury wasn't severe enough to force him to miss more than a day or two.
With increasing frequency, pitchers are being used as pinch hitters. Montreal's Buck Rodgers used Dan Schatzeder twice in three days. The first time he batted for Jeff Reardon he walked and scored the winning run to give Reardon the victory. Two days later, he singled, stayed in to pitch and tripled. Jim Gott has been used twice by the Giants, and the Padres sent Mark Thurmond lo the plate as a pinch hitter. This is actually an old custom: As recently as 1974, Ken Brett pinch-hit 13 times for the Pirates; in 1971 Gary Peters was used 18 times by the Red Sox.
THAT'S NO BULL ABOUT TARTABULL
Seattle G.M. Dick Balderson still gets angry letters protesting the release of Jack Perconte, despite Danny Tartabull's sensational start and figures from the Elias Sports Bureau, which show that in 1985 Perconte was the worst player in baseball at getting runners home from second base. Tartabull hit four homers in the first week—two more than his dad, Jose Tartabull, hit in 1,857 career at bats—and was an early leader in homers, RBIs and total bases. He homered off Don Sutton after Jose called Danny with a scouting report; Jose had faced him, too. "What's impressed me about Danny isn't the offense," says Balderson, "but the way he's handled himself around second base. He has outstanding hands and he's going to be a very good defensive second baseman." ...Speaking of sensational starts, Dave Parker hit four homers in his first six games; in his first two years in Cincinnati, he did not homer once in April. "He's not just carrying the team, he's carrying the entire league" gushes Pete Rose. The fact that Rose postponed his return from the disabled list may be a subtle way of taking a further look at a lineup that has impressive rookie Tracy Jones in left and Nick Esasky at first.... Rose may be ending the reign of Ted Power as his short man. He went to Ron Robinson and Scott Terry with two games on the line last week without even getting Power up.... George Brett was walked 16 times in his first 11 games, so the Royals might have to trade one of their great young pitchers for a hitter. "I sure hope we don't have to," says Dick Howser. "We won last year with pitching, and this year it's even better," says catcher Jim Sundberg, citing the return of Dennis Leonard and two minor-leaguers on the verge, Scoff Bankhead and David Cone. "Jim Turner told me 20 years ago that you never should trade a good pitcher," says Howser. His problem, with Danny Jackson ready to return, is choosing which starter to put in the bullpen so Leonard can stay in the rotation. "The reports two years ago were that the kid pitcher on our staff best suited to a short role would be Saberhagen," says Howser. "I'm not that crazy." ...In 1982, San Francisco fans selected an alltime Giants team in conjunction with the club's 25th anniversary in that city. Since then, pictures of the members of that team have adorned the press room. This year, three of the pictures have disappeared: those of Frank Robinson, Tom Ha Her and Jim Davenport. All have been fired by the Giants in the last two years.... Boston fans always have one scapegoat, a la Mike Torrez, Dennis Eckersley and Mark Clear. At the Red Sox home opener, Bob Stanley was booed during the introductions, booed when he was brought into the game and booed unmercifully when he exited after giving up three run-scoring hits. After the game, he moved his locker to Scapegoat Corner, the spot previously occupied, in order, by Torrez, Eckersley and Clear.
starts giving you your meal money one day at a time"—Dodger pitcher Jerry Reuss, after hearing rumors that Ed Whitson's agent, Tom Reich, was arranging a Reuss-Whitson deal with the Yankees.
THE JOAQUIN ANDUJAR QUOTES OF THE WEEK
•"I could be a DH in this league. I'd hit 15 homers"—as he watched balls fly out of the Metrodome.
•"You are a great pitcher with a 6.00 ERA in this dome"—after giving up three earned runs in 6‚Öì innings in his first Metrodome start.
THE JUNK FOOD WAR
San Diego-area Arby's restaurants offer a free roast beef sandwich to any fan with a ticket stub from a Padres one-run victory at home. In their first home stand, the Padres, who are owned by McDonalds, won five one-run games. By last weekend, Arby's officials estimated, they had given away more than $150,000 worth of food.
One of the highlights of the Red Sox yearbook is a list of individual preferences. Jim Rice listed his favorite book as Golf Digest. Marty Barrett's favorite song is the national anthem. Dwight Evans's greatest achievement is "driving a car in Boston for 13½ years without a dent." One player listed his favorite book as A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
The Dickens enthusiast?
Oil Can Boyd.
When the Indians unveiled their new visitors' on-deck circle kneeling mat, which lists all opposing teams, they discovered they had spelled the Seattle club as "Meriners." In addition, pitcher Jamie Easterly's name was spelled "Easterley" on his home uniform. He realized it on April 15. He had been wearing the shirt since April 11.
•In the Padres' first 11 games, their leadoff hitters did not score a run. Rookie second baseman Bip Roberts was 0 for 14 and didn't get a ball out of the infield until his 14th at bat. The leadoff hitters were 4 for 14 stealing bases.
•The Royals and Cardinals may have met in the World Series, but the only books that have come out on them are quickie paperbacks from Contemporary Books of Chicago. The Mets and Yankees each finished second, but hitting the bookstores to open the season were hardcovers on Dave Johnson, Keith Hernandez, Lou Piniella, Phil Niekro and the first 24 years of the Mets.
•On March 28, the Yankees traded Don Baylor to Boston and released Phil Niekro. On April 17, Niekro pitched seven scoreless innings to beat the Yankees in his Indian debut, and Baylor hit an eighth-inning grand-slam homer to give the Red Sox a 6-2 victory over Kansas City.
•As bizarre as it may seem, the Dodgers have lost 47 of Fernando Valenzuela's last 93 starts.
•The Pirates won five straight from April 11 to 19, something they hadn't done since 1984.
•The Phillies farm system has Morganna (Utica) and Pia Zadora (Portland) as owners, a righthanded pitcher named Jimi Hendrix and an outfielder named Michael Jackson.
Here's a Top 10 of Sparky Anderson's more outrageous statements:
1) "Chris Pittaro is the best rookie I've had in 15 years."
2) "Mike Laga will make you forget about every power hitter that ever lived."
3) "We'd have to have a staff of nine Dwight Goodens for Mickey Mahler not to make this team."
4) "Don Gullett is going to the Hall of Fame."
5) "Kirk Gibson is the next Mickey Mantle."
6) "If you don't like Dave Rucker, you don't like ice cream."
7) "Barbaro Garbey is another Roberto Clemente."
8) "When he's right, Freddie Norman is the best lefty in baseball."
9) "Mike Ivie has the hitting mechanics of Steve Garvey."
10) "Doug Baker is among the six best shortstops in baseball."
WP: Witt 4