O'S WOULDN'T THINK OF MOVING CAL
Six weeks into the season, Cal Ripken was hitting below .250 and the questions were being raised: Should a 6'4", 225-pound power hitter be playing shortstop, and why does he insist on playing every inning of every game?
These questions are hardly new. Last winter Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams said he wanted Ripken moved to third base, particularly after the acquisition of shortstop Joaquin Gutierrez from Boston. Some members of the organization suggested, before spring training, that Earl Weaver reassess his strong stand on the 25-year-old Ripken's sticking at shortstop, but Weaver—who made the move in July 1982, despite the reluctance of Ripken, then a rookie—refused to listen. "There isn't even a need to talk about it," Weaver maintains. "If we had a Mark Belanger and we didn't have a third baseman, that would be one thing. But we don't have a Belanger." Or a Gutierrez, for that matter. After only 12 at bats, he was put on the disabled list because of chicken pox. "Anyway, Ripken did at shortstop what Belanger, Luis Aparicio or any Hall of Famer ever did [he set an AL record for assists in 1984]. What's so bad about that? He's a great athlete. He's smart. He goes back on pop-ups better than anyone I've ever seen. Sure, he'll eventually move to save his bat, but he's 25. He's the All-Star shortstop, and not just because of his bat."
Ripken takes a great deal of pride in his ability to play short and says moving back to third would make him "feel like a spectator. Why do statistics apply to everyone but me in this case? I don't dive and do fancy things, but if you play where you're supposed to play, every play is routine." He learned some of that from the master, Belanger, who, claiming that diving for balls was a waste of half a step, rarely did so.
Ripken is one of the most intelligent players in the game, and for years he has sat in with pitchers and catchers in their pregame meetings. How long he can maintain the necessary mobility and flexibility at shortstop not even Weaver tries to predict. He has gained five pounds every year, and as he approaches 30, a fading mobility may force a move to third. Some feel that 638 straight games and more than 5,750 consecutive innings have begun to take their toll, although, again, both he and Weaver strongly disagree. "What good does three hours off do me?" asks Ripken, for whom life on the road consists of baseball, eating, baseball, sleeping and baseball. "One steaming hot day in Kansas City last summer, I saw him playing a shagging game in the outfield," recalls Weaver. "I told his father that maybe he shouldn't be doing it, that he might get tired. His dad said, 'The boy loves to play baseball. Baseball keeps him fresh.' " Soulmate Eddie Murray takes the same approach; the only games he has missed in the last two seasons have been because of family illnesses or deaths, and he has played in 96% of the Orioles' games since he came up in 1977.
"The way I look at it, we've played decently, and Eddie and Cal haven't started to hit," says Weaver. "I don't listen to silly things people say, because Cal Ripken is going to hit and be the All-Star shortstop."
A HELPING HAND FROM PAUL RICHARDS
Most baseball people thought that the late Paul Richards was a genius with pitching. But he applied his great mind to all facets of the game. Right before the Instructional League last fall, the Blue Jays' director for player development, Bobby Mattick, called Richards to ask him what he had done to help Jim Gentile cut down on his strikeouts when he was in the Baltimore farm system. Richards told Mattick that he made Gentile swing at every pitch every day in batting practice in order 1) to force him to make constant contact and 2) to get him out of the habit of swinging the same way every time. Mattick did the same to Glenallen Hill, an outfield prospect of extraordinary physical ability who struck out 212 times in 466 at bats at Class A Kinston, N.C. Hill then struck out only twice in his last 94 at bats in the Instructional League. He is now hitting .291 at Knoxville, with eight homers and 28 RBIs, and he has 39 strikeouts in his first 158 at bats. Hill has improved so much that people within the organization feel he could be in Toronto in September. The Jays already have three good outfielders who are all 26 years old, and their farm system is crammed with outfielders who are major league prospects, including Hill and teammate Silvestre Campusano. So don't be surprised if one of the current outfielders is traded for pitching in something like a George Bell-Danny Jackson deal, which the Jays and Royals have discussed....
Now that Dick Williams has taken over the Mariners, he has the distinction of managing both Jose Tartabull and his son Danny Tartabull. But he's not the first manager of both father and son. Richards managed Sam Hairston for four games in 1951 with the Orioles, and 25 years later he had Jerry Hairston with the White Sox....
Baltimore's Don Aase, who since the return of Weaver has 22 saves in 53 appearances, with a 2.04 ERA, is being clocked at 93 mph. The league is hitting only .149 against him. "He's practically unfair to hit against," says George Brett.
METS MANAGER TAKING SHORTCUTS
Mets manager Davey Johnson, the man who made Hubie Brooks a shortstop in 1984, continues to defy critics by playing both Howard Johnson and Kevin Mitchell at short, even with Rafael Santana healthy. Johnson was batting .235 (12 for 51) in 15 games (14 starts) at shortstop. He has hit safely in all but five of the 14 starts. Mitchell is 4 for 13 in three starts at short, having hit safely in each. Santana has started 15 games at shortstop. "I always felt that if it wasn't a total liability, go with the best offense you can put out there," Johnson argues. "It never made much sense to me to start your best defensive team, get behind and then have to pinch-hit." But last week the Mets lost two games when Mitchell and Johnson failed to make plays Santana would have....
There was quite a bit of bloodletting in Boston last weekend as the Red Sox and Rangers fought for first in their respective divisions. Saturday Oil Can Boyd hit Don Slaught of Texas in the face with a pitch, fracturing his nose and cheekbone, and Sunday Larry Parrish spiked Boston pitcher Al Nipper, opening a deep gash in his knee that required surgery....
Even though Tony La Russa fought hard to keep Tom Seaver, he admits that "if we can't catch up in the race, Seaver could be the key to the Eastern Division race—whoever gets him, Boston or New York." Seaver's fastball was recently clocked at 89 mph....
One deal the Yankees regret was giving Don Baylor to Boston for Mike Easier. The Yanks were under .500 in games started by opposing lefties, while scoring less than four runs in those games. Baylor's leadership, meanwhile, "changed this entire team around the day he walked in the clubhouse," says Roger Clemens. Recalling that the White Sox almost had Baylor for Carlton Fisk, La Russa says, "Baylor is one player I've always dreamed of managing. The minute he retires, he'll have teams beating down his door trying to get him to manage." One ex-Yank adds that Phil Niekro is nearly as significant a clubhouse loss as Baylor, saying "If he were still there, Ed Whitson would be salvageable."
...Speaking of teams having problems against lefties, the Tigers won only two of the first nine games they started against southpaws, and they're now trying to deal Dave LaPoint for a righthanded hitter. Two years ago, with a young, set lineup, people figured that the Tigers were good for years. Ditto the Blue Jays last year. But the moment doesn't last very long. Now, with a barren farm system, the Tigers are in a state of transition (15 transactions in the first six weeks) with almost nothing to trade....
One of the areas that Twins manager Ray Miller tried hardest to improve was his middle infield, which turned the second-fewest double plays in the league last season. This year, with Steve Lombardozzi and Greg Gagne, they're near the league lead. With the underappreciated Gary Gaetti having a big year at third, the Twins have come up with one of their best all-around infields. "Lombardozzi turns the double play as well as anyone I've ever seen," claims Miller. "He reminds me of Chuck Cottier."
...If they had won half of the dozen games their bullpen has blown, the Twins would be near the top of the AL West....
Dodgers vice-president Al Campanis journeyed down to Anaheim to take a peek at Boston outfielder Tony Armas because the Red Sox are trying to peddle him and come up with a centerfielder with range....
The Reds were brutally honest in dispatching Kal Daniels back to Denver, trying to awaken the touted rookie. "He cost us at least four games in the outfield," said G.M. Bill Bergesch. "I want to talk to the scouts who said he was a great outfielder. Are they looking at the same player I am?" Added Pete Rose, "Kal has to realize that there's more to this game than hitting. We had reports his work habits were poor. I had hoped we could change that. We didn't."
CANDY IS DANDY IN THE PINCH
Last season, no pinch hitter had more than three home runs. The Giants' Candy Maldonado already has three, going 7 for 14 in a pinch-hitting role, and the Giants have equaled their 1985 total of five pinch homers as a team. Why? Hitting instructor Jose Morales, whose 123 career pinch hits are third on the alltime list, has been lecturing all the potential extra men on pinch-hitting since the start of spring training....
The Mariners are concerned about the unexplained loss of 13 pounds by Tartabull, now on the disabled list....
The Phillies are talking to the Mariners about a deal that would send Von Hayes to Seattle for a pitcher (the M's offered Matt Young, but the Phils want Mark Langston) and an outfielder....
Peter Ueberroth's regime has taken some criticism for its turn toward corporate sponsorship, but corporate marketing vice-president Joel Rubenstein assures people that we won't see the day when there's a Burger King World Series or any such honky-tonking of the grand old game. "Al we have are five corporate sponsors at this point," says Rubenstein, "and each one promotes the game, puts money back into some aspect of it. With some of the sponsors they had before [Gillette, Rolaids], teams were getting nothing out of it. This is a form of revenue sharing—all 26 teams share equally." One corporate sponsor is the Equitable Life Assurance Company, which has backed the oldtimers' games, one of which brought Joe, Dominic and Vince DiMaggio together last weekend in Boston....
Last year, 56 of Don Mattingly's 145 RBIs came in the person of Rickey Henderson. Recently, when Henderson went 0 for 18, Mattingly went 17 at bats without an RBI. "When Rickey's on base," says Mattingly, "he makes a good pitcher fair and a fair pitcher bad by the way he rattles them."
...Indian fever didn't last long in Cleveland. After their winning streak was ended by the White Sox, they lost 19-2 to Texas, and Jim Kern had to duck a bottle thrown at his head....
What Whitson is to the Yankees in the South Bronx, Rick Aguilera has become to the Mets in Flushing Meadows. Fans have been savagely booing the young righthander, who has allowed nine homers in 19‚Öì innings....
The Red Sox are leading the league in ERA. The last time they led the AL for a season was in 1914, Babe Ruth's rookie year.
BETWEEN THE LINES
VISITING CLUBHOUSE MAN OF THE WEEK
Oakland's Steve Vucinich, who had his phone torn out by Boston's Bill Buckner, then watched helplessly as Toronto's George Bell demolished a plastic chair and the Jays' Damaso Garcia set his cap, uniform and undershirt on fire in the bathroom.
ROGER LaFRANCOIS REDUX
The Red Sox sent catcher Dave Sax to Pawtucket on May 16, 34 games into the season. He was the only man on a major league roster since Opening Day who never played.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION MAN OF THE WEEK
Ozzie Smith, who on May 14 went from first to home on three consecutive pitches by Fernando Valenzuela: wild pitch, wild pitch, passed ball.
THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR CHEMISTRY
To Earl Weaver. When it was suggested in a newspaper that the Orioles lacked chemistry, he wrote on a blackboard in his office: 3RHR + GPG = WINS. That means three-run homers plus good-pitched games equal wins.
"That's chemistry," lectured Earl.
IT'S EASY TO CONFUSE A WHALE WITH A PERCH
The Fleer bubble gum card of Houston reliever Charlie Kerfeld lists him at 5'11", 175 pounds. Kerfeld is 6'6", 245. "I haven't weighed 175 since I was in seventh grade," says Kerfeld. The vital statistics apparently belong to minor league infielder Chuck Jackson.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
•"A manager uses a relief pitcher like a six-shooter—he fires until it's empty and then takes the gun and throws it at the villain."—Royal reliever Dan Quisenberry, who failed to finish a nine-inning game for the first time in 67 tries.
•"What are we supposed to do? Replace the first seven guys in the order?"—Cards G.M. Dal Maxvill, on his club's slump.
•"Since the overthrow of the government, the workers are happier and they're doing a better job."—Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti, on why the baseballs made in Haiti seem to be livelier this year.
•"This could be the start of a dynasty."—San Francisco outfielder Chili Davis, on the Giants' fast start.
EAT TO WIN
Harry M. Stevens Inc., the concessionaire, services four teams: the Mets, Red Sox, Giants and Astros. On May 15, all four were either in first place or in a virtual tie for first.
•In the first six weeks of the season, Cubs pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and Dennis Eckersley have won only when they themselves have hit home runs. Teammate Steve Trout's two wins came when he had game-winning RBI singles.
•With 53 homers in the first 17 games, Wrigley Field is on a 253-homer pace, which would break the record of 248 set by the Wrigley Field in Los Angeles in 1961. Without Eli Grba, no less.
•There were howls when the Royals acquired Argenis Salazar to replace Buddy Biancalana at shortstop, but Salazar is extending a club record with 34 consecutive errorless games.
•In 1985, Dennis Lamp was 11-0 for Toronto. In his last 10 appearances he is 0-3, allowing 27 hits and 18 earned runs in 10‚Öì innings.
•How bad has the St. Louis slump been? Through May 17, Willie McGee was leading the team in RBIs with 14. Cardinals pitchers had 12.
•Charlie Hough of Texas has decisions in 32 consecutive starts.
•The Rangers' 36-year-old manager, Bobby Valentine, is younger than three of his players—Hough, Tom Paciorek and Toby Harrah.
•Tommy John, 43 on May 22, got 17 of 21 outs on ground balls in his second start for the Yankees.
•John Felske has been above .500 for exactly one day in his Philadelphia managerial tenure.
•When Braves third baseman Ken Oberkfell beat the Expos May 15 with a 10th inning, three-run home run off Dan Schatzeder, it was the second homer of his career against a lefthanded pitcher in 3,014 at bats. The other came off Chris Welsh on Aug. 29, 1981.
When the Yankees changed pitching coaches Saturday, replacing Sammy Ellis with Mark Connor, it marked the 20th pitching-coach shift in George Steinbrenner's 14 years as owner. The roll call, year by year:
1975—Ford, Cloyd Boyer
1977—Boyer, Art Fowler
1978—Fowler, Clyde King
1979—Tom Morgan, Fowler
1982—Jerry Walker/Jeff Torborg, Williams, King, Ellis
1985—Connor, Bill Monbouquette
Before he was replaced in 1974, Turner had been the pitching coach for eight straight years.