CAN OF WORMS OPENED IN PITTSBURGH
Lawyers are fascinated by Pirates owner Malcolm Print's suit against Dave Parker seeking to rid the club of its $5.3 million deferred payment obligation to the outfielder. Pittsburgh attorney Robert Potter, a specialist in contract litigation for the firm of Titus Marcus and Shapira, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "The unique and most critical aspect of the case is Parker's admission that he used cocaine and that it affected his performance. It's the Pirates' biggest weapon in the case, and Parker's improved statistics since he joined the Cincinnati Reds will go right along with that. From a legal point of view, there's nothing wrong with the argument that he breached that part of his contract."
Questions can be raised concerning Parker's performance after he signed the five-year contract prior to the 1979 season. He did help Pittsburgh win a world championship that year. But after having hit over .300 for five straight seasons through '79, he hit below .300 the next four. He also got heavy. It can be argued that his admitted usage contributed to the decline of the franchise.
On the other hand, Parker suffered a number of injuries during the early '80s, and while he was overweight, no one ever accused him of not playing hard. And management has to share some of the blame for the alleged drug-related activity in the Pirate clubhouse, because it refused to confront a serious problem.
Prine's lawsuit could have some undesired effects. Baseball doesn't need another source of friction between players and management, especially a lawsuit that can be seen as a vendetta. Prine assumed the debt when he purchased the club last summer for a reported $22 million and, indeed, the Pirates' drug problems deflated the price. The people of Pittsburgh might feel Parker betrayed them, but Prine's move puts Parker in a sort of double jeopardy in light of Peter Ueberroth's disciplinary actions against him in February. "They sent the war planes out in the dead of night," said Tom Reich, Parker's agent. "This is outright war, and that's just what we're mobilizing for. No player will be unaffected by this onslaught."
BLOWING IT IN THE WINDY CITY
Because managing in Chicago this spring has been like living on death row, the futures of Tony La Russa and Jim Frey have been the focus of much attention. In La Russa's case, the concern is legitimate. One White Sox owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, tells friends that he has saved La Russa's job a number of times, but that he can no longer hold off partner Eddie Einhorn, a Billy Martin man. The problems of the Sox delight some baseball people. "What bothers everyone about that ownership is that it sacrificed loyal and competent people within the organization for show business," says one baseball executive....
While the Cubs continue to have trouble scoring, Frey has been annoyed at the speculation about his job. "I keep reading a quote from Dallas Green that not only is out of context but was said last summer," claims Frey, "so I'm not going to change."...Oakland's Jose Rijo, new protégé of Joaquin Andujar, struck out 16 and 14 batters in his last two starts. "This kid throws harder than anyone in the league," says Seattle's Gorman Thomas. The A's other sensation, Jose Canseco, had Reggie Jackson gushing after hitting two tremendous homers to the opposite field. "He hits 'em where I hit 'em," says Jackson, "except he's righthanded. That's scary."...Jackson, incidentally, was leading the league in batting, if only briefly, at .429....
The A's, who perennially have the most imaginative media guide, have outdone themselves with this year's cover, a movie theme entitled The A's Story, "based on an original story by Abner Doubleday."...Doctors feel that Kirk Gibson might have been better off breaking his left ankle than tearing ligaments, because speed is such an important part of his game. Gibson is being replaced by two players (Pat Sheridan and Brian Harper) who were released in spring training. So with the starting pitching out of sync, the burden to hold the Tigers together lies with Willie Hernandez, who has 67 saves in 78 opportunities since being traded to Detroit in March 1984.
ONE SCOUT'S FAVORITE: RYNE SANDBERG
One National League scout offers the opinion that if you took a standard free-agent scouting form, which uses a scale of one to eight in various categories, and graded every player in the league, the highest overall grade would go to the Cubs' Ryne Sandberg. "He'd get sevens for fielding, arm, running and hitting, five-and-a-half or six for power and eights for instincts and intangibles," says the scout. "There isn't another player who would grade as high in so many different categories. Not only that, but he's the type of person you would want in the center of your clubhouse, which is so important today with so many players asking out of the lineup."...Speaking of that, no one in Toronto seems to know what's keeping Damaso Garcia out of the lineup—his shoulder or his unhappiness over being dropped from first to ninth in the order. But the Jays are offering him all around both leagues trying to get a catcher or a pitcher. Maybe the team will perk up once Dave Stieb and Jimmy Key start pitching decently (the Jays were 2-5 in their first seven starts). But there's a strange air around the club. Looking at the Dodgers' worst start since 1927, one can't help but realize that their old trading magic has left them. Their only everyday players to come through the trade route are the injured Pedro Guerrero. Bill Mad lock and Ken Landreaux: Guerrero came a decade ago, Madlock was a salary dump and Landreaux is the first player they want to replace. Meanwhile, they've traded away Sid Fernandez (for Bob Bailor and Carlos Diaz), Rick Sutcliffe (Jorge Orta), John Franco (Rafael Landestoy), Ted Power (Mike Ramsey) and Jeffrey Leonard (Joe Ferguson)....
Can this be? Minnesota's Kirby Puckett had seven home runs in his first 80 at bats after coming into the season with a total of four homers in 1,248 ABs. All have been off tough righthanders, yet he had not hit one off a righty in his two seasons. "I've always told people that I can hit home runs but they never believed me," says Puckett. "Pitchers know now that if they hang a pitch to me, they're going to have to deal with it." His manager, Ray Miller, still wants Puckett to concentrate on being a leadoff hitter. "He's strong enough to hit 20 or more in a season, but I hope he doesn't start thinking about it."...Wade Boggs has claimed (SI, April 7) that the distance from the mound to home plate in Royals Stadium was 56'6"—or four feet shy of regulation. When Boston made its first trip into Kansas City last week, groundskeeper George Toma handed Boggs a tape measure. Boggs marked the distance and sure enough, the tape indicated it was short four feet. Toma had doctored the tape and is still chuckling....
The Red Sox' concern about Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd was heightened last week when he went on a tirade after his teammates and management suggested that he calm down on the mound. After losing 6-0 in Kansas City, Boyd—who often taunts opposing batters—said, "I've got 32 beautiful teeth, but I ain't smiled yet. That wasn't the Can. That was Dennis Boyd. I'm the Can. They broke my spirit."...After Montreal pitcher Dan Schatzeder had a single, a double, a triple and a walk in his first four plate appearances this season, Whitey Herzog suggested the Expos put him at first base. "He can't field any worse than [Jason] Thompson," said Herzog.
THEY WONT LET GEORGE DO IT
The great majority of AL managers would rather walk George Brett than let him beat them. In his first 16 games, Brett has been walked 20 times, and at that rate he would end up with 203 passes for the season, easily surpassing the record of 170 set by Babe Ruth in 1923. "I know we're going to walk him 60 times ourselves," says Twins manager Ray Miller....
Is it possible that the Indians will move? Last week American League president Bobby Brown said the Indians couldn't enter into any long-term lease on a proposed domed stadium in Cleveland without an escape clause. Some feel this is because the team's home attendance is so bad. Officially, the three-game series with the Orioles at Municipal Stadium April 21-23 drew 9,804, but observers doubted that more than 4,500 people actually attended the games. The Orioles' take from the April 22 game was so paltry that Baltimore G.M. Hank Peters cracked, "We could have done better scheduling an exhibition game with the Yankees in Fort Lauderdale."...Meanwhile, the Giants, who didn't know where they would be playing until the last week of January, created a big stir in San Francisco by winning 10 of their first 14 games. When restaurateur Guillermo Muniz drove in to deliver his customary postgame clubhouse spread April 20, he got caught in a traffic jam. So instead of arriving in the seventh inning as usual, he got there half an hour after the game, forcing Padres players to munch on miniature candy bars and cereal. The Giants topped 20,000 on five consecutive dates, drew more than 26,000 for a weekday game with the Dodgers and had a Cap Day walk-up sale of 23,000. The biggest changes in the Giants? Enthusiasm and better defense, particularly in the infield....
The Phillies think Garry Maddox's distinguished career may be over because of a recurring back problem. That has forced them to rush in Chris James, little brother of Craig, the Patriots' running back. Still, the Phils are looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder as well as a starting pitcher.
RANGER PITCHERS ARE AT HOME WITH HOUSE
The Ranger pitchers call him "Professor Gadget." Tom House, who had bit parts in Hogan's Heroes and The Graduate, is nearly finished with his doctorate in psychology. He has written two books on baseball. He is bringing psychology, biomechanics, nutrition, physiology and his own practical experience from six-plus major league seasons to his job as pitching coach of baseball's youngest—and hardest-throwing—staff. Even with Charlie Hough out for the month of April, the Rangers stayed over .500 with a Big Three of Jose Guzman, Edwin Correa and Bobby Witt, who had six career starts and 62 years of age among them. The Rangers are keeping two more hard-throwing rookies in the bullpen, Dwayne Henry and Mitch Williams.
"We're looking to 1988," says House, "and we felt these kids are so talented that we had nothing to lose." The Rangers knew Guzman was ready—Earl Weaver says "he must have learned to pitch in heaven." They had an idea about Correa after seeing him pitch in the Puerto Rican League after his acquisition from the White Sox. Witt and Williams, who had a combined total of 209 walks in 167 innings last year, made mechanical changes with House in the Instructional League last fall. "It's amazing what House has done with everyone here," says Witt, who on April 22 won his first game since beating Kansas for Oklahoma in collegiate ball last May.
BETWEEN THE LINES
DEVIL WITH THE BLUE DRESS
Detroit outfielder Dave Collins had words with Boston pitcher Al Nipper on April 21 after Nipper hit him with a pitch. After the game, Nipper was still upset at Collins's reaction and said, "If he doesn't want anyone pitching inside, put a dress on him."
Two days later, Collins arrived at Fenway Park and found a blue dress hanging in his locker with COLLINS 29 on the back. There was an accompanying card signed, "Hugs and pitches, Al." Collins then tried on the dress and walked around the clubhouse.
The prankster, to nobody's surprise, was teammate Dave LaPoint.
JUST A COINCIDENCE
The Minnesota baseball team has the same number of nonwhite players as the Minnesota hockey team. The Twins have Kirby Puckett and Alejandro Sanchez; the North Stars, Tony McKegney and Dirk Graham.
NICKNAME OF THE WEEK
Don (Luis Tiant) Mattingly. He got the nickname last week when he claimed that his April 20 birthday was his 24th, not his 25th as listed in the Yankee media guide. He said he would produce his birth certificate as proof.
THE TOPPS MAN OF THE WEEK
Yankee reliever Brian Fisher checked into the team's Kansas City hotel the night of April 20. Waiting for the players was a horde of autograph seekers, and Fisher, who had been struggling on the mound, was about to sign his own baseball card when he noticed something. "I saw what I was doing wrong this year," said Fisher. "I had my elbow outside, and that was causing me to open up too quick. I wasn't getting the same power."
The next night Fisher retired all five batters he faced.
THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME
When Pirates pitcher Don Robinson went on the disabled list with strained knee ligaments, Ray Krawczyk was recalled from Hawaii. In his first appearance, he suffered sprained knee ligaments and also had to be DL'd.
Krawczyk had earned the promotion with a 15.19 ERA in the Pacific Coast League. He was replaced in Pittsburgh by Bob Patterson, who worked his way back from Hawaii with a 16.62 ERA.
HEADLINE OF THE WEEK
BAY AREA ON TOP OF BASEBALL WORLD (CLIP AND SAVE)
The San Jose Mercury News, April 22, with the Giants and A's in first place.
THE LIFE OF A BACKUP CATCHER
Texas catcher Geno Petralli received an order of bats from Louisville Slugger last week, but the signature on the bats wasn't his.
It was that of his father, also named Geno, a career minor leaguer who last played in 1953. Hillerich & Bradsby still had his signature card on file and had pulled the wrong one.
•Buddy Bell hit four homers in 84 games for the Rangers before being traded to Cincinnati. His replacement, Steve Buechele, has hit nine in a 36-game stretch from last September to last week.
•Reliever Tom Henke was called "gutless" by manager Doug Rader in Texas and was allowed to go to Toronto out of the free-agent compensation pool when the Rangers signed Cliff Johnson. Henke's career record for the Blue Jays against Texas: five games, four saves, one win, 5‚Öî innings, no runs, no walks and 11 strikeouts.
•Minnesota's John Butcher threw 171 pitches in a nine-inning outing last week. Butcher took a 3-2 lead into the 10th against Seattle, then saw his imminent victory become a defeat on nine Mark Portugal pitches.
•Eddie Murray with the bases loaded (career): 54 for 120 (.450) with 12 doubles and 13 homers.
•A grounds crew official at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto admitted last week that because of an engineering boo-boo, the rightfield line that is marked 323 feet is really 315 feet. If the park had been laid out correctly, Jim Sundberg's homer in the ALCS would have been an out and the Blue Jays would have been in the World Series.
Take heart, minor leaguers Ricky Barlow and Glenallen Hill. Barlow, a former first-round pick of the Tigers who has a 3-29 record in his last two years in the minors, and Hill, who batted .210 with 211 strikeouts for the Blue Jays' Class A team in Kinston, N.C. last year, might be interested to know that these current major leaguers also had some memorable minor league seasons:
•Jim Gott, P, San Francisco. In his first season as a pitcher with Calgary of the Pioneer League in 1977, he was 3-4 with an ERA of 9.55 in 65 innings, allowing 71 hits and 83 walks.
•Dwayne Murphy, OF, Oakland. In his second full pro season, at Burlington, Iowa in 1974, he hit .220 with two homers and 10 RBIs.
•Don Aase, P, Baltimore. In 1972, his first pro season, he was 0-10 with a 5.81 ERA for Williamsport, Pa.
•Willie Upshaw, 1B, Toronto. He batted a combined .192 with three homers and 26 RBIs in 113 games for Oneonta and Fort Lauderdale in his first two minor league seasons.
•Mark Clear, P, Milwaukee. After signing with the Phillies in 1974, he went 0-7 with an 8.65 ERA for Pulaski—and got released.
•Steve Yeager, C, Seattle. In his first pro season, at Daytona Beach in 1968, he batted .153 with one home run and six RBIs in 59 games.
•Ron Guidry, P, New York. His winning percentage in the majors is .694, but in 1974, his fourth minor league season, he was 2-4 with a 5.26 ERA for West Haven of the Eastern League. That winter, he was available to any team in the minor league draft, but went unclaimed.
•Rafael Ramirez, SS, Atlanta. After signing in 1976, he batted .177 in the Gulf Coast League and made 32 errors in 49 games.
•Mitch Williams, P, Texas. In 132 innings last year, split between Class A and Double A, he walked 165 and had an ERA of 5.25.
•Brad Gulden, C, San Francisco. He signed with the Dodgers in 1975 and went to Bellingham, Wash., where he hit .163 and made 33 errors in 66 games as a catcher.