WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CARDINALS?
For the first 172 games of the 1985 season, the Cardinals were the best team in baseball. Now, in a catastrophic turnabout, they are the worst, at least in the National League. "I've never seen anything like it," says manager Whitey Herzog. "These guys, who played so well last year, look like they've never seen a baseball before."
Hitting? The Cards scored three runs or fewer (not counting runs in extra innings) in 30 of their first 45 games. They have only three homers by lefthanded batters (one by Japanese League refugee Jerry White). Jack Clark went 20 games without an RBI. Willie McGee and Tommy Herr are batting .244 and .175, respectively. Pitcher Ray Burris has had just nine at bats as a Cardinal yet trails Herr 12-7 in RBIs. At their current pace, the Cards will hit 50 homers this season. Over one stretch, John Tudor and Danny Cox won one game in their combined 15 starts. "They're swinging at everything and playing terribly," says Herzog. "Even Willie and Ozzie [Smith] have gotten into it. They've lost about three games apiece with bad defensive plays. We find the damnedest ways to let games slip away. I would never have thought it possible."
"This team has been funny as far as intensity," says Clark. "Some days, we let it go. Other days, we kind of go through the motions like we're saying, 'Let's play nine and take our chances.' "
"I still think we'll start hitting and playing better and make it interesting," Herzog says. But get back into contention? "We're not good enough. We can't get anything going with our bullpen shot the way it is." Tim Conroy developed weakness in his shoulder, saw his fastball drop from 91 to 83 mph and was disabled. The staff is hurting: Ricky Horton is disabled with an elbow injury, Jeff Lahti is out until at least August after a shoulder operation, and Ken Dayley has stiffness in his elbow.
At least the people of St. Louis have retained some humor. When management stopped posting batting averages on the megaboard—"Let the fans figure them out, it gives them something to do," quipped Herzog—a group of youngsters paraded through the upper deck of Busch Stadium, displaying signs with updated averages.
The Cardinals are not the only fallen idols. On June 1, the four 1985 divisional winners were a combined 17 games under .500, while the four 1985 cellar dwellers were only 6 games under.
NO RELIEF IN SIGHT FOR THE DODGERS
Speaking of bad times, frazzled Dodger reliever Tom Niedenfuer has now given up 13 homers, including those playoff blasts by Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark, in 61‚Öì innings since last Sept. 4, and his collapse has left the Dodger pitching precariously thin. Niedenfuer's face these days shows the strain. Tommy Lasorda says, "I told him that great fighters get up off the canvas. He's got to do the same thing." Until he does, the Dodger manager essentially is left with only Ken Howell to use in pressure situations. In a three-game series in New York last week, three of the first four relievers used by Lasorda allowed homers to the first batter they faced. Ed Vandeberg's earned run average is 9.72 in pressure situations and 0.53 the rest of the time. Thoughts about trading pitching for a centerfielder have all but been tabled.... Niedenfuer gave up two grand slams last week. After the first one, by the Mets' George Foster on Tuesday, Niedenfuer hit Ray Knight on the elbow. Knight, who boxed in his youth, came charging out, and a melee ensued. Said Niedenfuer, "Just my luck. I pick a fight with a guy who fought in the Golden Gloves." ...The Twins are trying to find someone who will take reliever Ron Davis and his 9.68 ERA off their hands.... "This was an extremely encouraging year in terms of scouting high school talent," says Mets vice-president Joe McIlvaine, whose scouts concentrated exclusively on high schoolers (after all, only 29% of the players on the All-Star ballot were college drafts). "First, the level was better than I've seen it in years. Second, there are more black kids out playing than ever before. I think we're starting to attract the great athletes again." ...Giants manager Roger Craig finally benched rookie Will Clark when his slump left his batting average and strikeout percentage at an identical .260.... Remember in spring training when Gene Mauch thought this would be the best bullpen in Angels history? Well, with Donnie Moore, Stu Cliburn and Gary Lucas on the disabled list, Mauch is left with three rookies—Chuck (Don't Call Me Charlie) Finley, Todd Fischer, T.R. Bryden—along with castoffs Terry Forster and Doug Corbett. They had only five saves in the first two months.... But one Angel who has clearly blossomed is shortstop Dick Schofield. He hasn't made an error since last October and is hitting .256 with five homers. "He's one of those players who wants the ball hit at him," says Mauch. "And his instincts are rare." ...Sparky Anderson has made a conscious effort to be more of a dugout cheerleader. "I started doing something I've never done before," said Anderson. "I'm going to walk up and down in the dugout, instead of standing in front of the players. I'm going to ask each player to encourage the batter to get a hit. There's a new saying in baseball among managers: 'The game has changed and we're left bleeding in the corner.' "...Meanwhile, Willie Hernandez is now sporting glasses, which he claims are helping his control. The Tigers' pitching has started to come around in time to get them into what should be a wild four-team race in the AL East. The interdivisional scrum in June should be exciting.
THE PHOLLIES CONTINUE
The man-bites-dog story of the week comes out of Philadelphia. Phillies owner Bill Giles went into the clubhouse after the team returned from a bad West Coast trip and told the players not to worry about manager John Felske being fired or about wholesale changes being made. "I realize that I have a reputation for being impatient," says Giles, "and with the talk shows and papers filled with rumors about the manager and trades, I wanted to help the club relax. We haven't played well, but we've had a lot of bad luck, too." Gary Redus has been lost for two months and Juan Samuel is still hurting from rib cage and leg injuries, so the top of the order has been wiped out. In addition, the bullpen tandem of Steve Bedrosian and Don Carman is only now beginning to throw as aggressively as it can. "I got into some bad habits starting in Atlanta, both mechanically and mentally," says Bedrosian. "I've got to charge in, and I wasn't doing it." Giles admits that he needs a quality starter, but he won't trade a young regular for a veteran pitcher, no matter how many offers he gets for Von Hayes, Samuel or the struggling Glenn Wilson.... One player bothered by the tinkering is Mike Schmidt. "Third base sometimes seems foreign to me," admits Schmidt. "First base seems so easy it's like a DH day, but I don't feel comfortable anymore at third." ...Last year Boston reserve catcher Marc Sullivan knocked in one teammate—two homers, three RBIs. In eight days this season, he knocked in two by getting hit by pitches with the bases loaded. The second came after Don Baylor was hit for an AL-career-plunk-record 200th time, leaving him 43 short of Ron Hunt's major league record. Sullivan revealed that he has talked to Baylor about getting hit. "You definitely pay attention to the way he does it," Sullivan said. "I kind of roll into the pitch. He just stands there straight and takes it. If it helps you get on base and helps win a game, and if you're not going to get hurt, why not take it?" ...In Jose Canseco's latest batting practice feat, he hit a ball that bounced off the leftfield roof in Tiger Stadium and another that cleared it. Only two men, Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard, have done that during a game. Canseco has been moved into the cleanup spot.... The Dodger defense has often been a nightmare, but don't blame Steve Sax. Not only is he hitting .326 but he also has only two errors. "For the first time in three years I'm enjoying the game the way I did when I was a kid," Sax claims. "I was so wrapped up in what I thought I could be as a player that I let the pressure of it all get to me." ...It has been a good year for young American League second basemen, most notably Oakland's Tony Phillips, Boston's Marty Barrett and Minnesota's graceful Steve Lombardozzi. But the All-Star representative undoubtedly will be Willie Randolph of the Yankees, who seems to get better offensively with age. He has hit .322 in the second spot behind Rickey Henderson. Of course, that's not a bad place to hit. Don Mattingly batted .355 behind Henderson last year, .311 in the third spot.... Pirates manager Jim Leyland had two clubhouse blowouts in less than a month ("If I'm going to suffer, they're going to suffer along with me"), and Johnny Ray walked out of the second meeting, saying, "I've heard this before." Then Leyland took issue with the team's We Play Hardball promo. "We can't say we play hardball, I'm tired of that bleep," he said. When the Pirates brought up Barry Bonds from Hawaii, Leyland was asked if general manager Syd Thrift was considering any other recalls. "Tommy Sandt," cracked Leyland. Sandt is the Hawaii manager.... The 24-man-roster comedy continued last week. Thrift didn't realize he had to use waivers to demote outfielder Trench Davis, so Bonds sat around for four days after his recall to keep the roster at 24. When Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman had to go home for four games to attend his father's funeral, the club stuck with only one catcher (Sullivan) rather than violate the owners' informal agreement to keep the roster at 24.... Former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill finally quit the Montreal Concordes after three concussions and signed with the Indians to play shortstop in Class A.
CAREW DESERVES A CURTAIN CALL
On Monday, Rod Carew announced his retirement, saying he would turn down an offer from the Giants in order to remain at home with his family and to pursue business opportunities. The shame is that Carew never got a proper sendoff from the Angels or the fans. Even on the day he got his 3,000th hit, he had to share headlines with Tom Seaver.... Last Tuesday, Boston was leading the Indians 2-0 in Cleveland Stadium when, with one out in the sixth inning, Red Sox rightfielder Dwight Evans protested that the fog was making playing conditions impossible. Crew chief Larry Barnett then had Indians coach Bobby Bonds hit fungoes to determine whether or not it was playable. Commendably honest Evans caught the first ball, but Bonds's next effort sailed into the stands. Barnett decided to complete the inning, which ended when Tony Armas, guessing the flight of a Mel Hall drive off the bat, stabbed the ball against the fence. "I didn't catch it, it caught me," said Armas. The game was halted for 1:42. Fifteen minutes after Barnett called the game, declaring the Red Sox winners, the fog lifted. "When you build a stadium on the ocean, you can expect ball games to be fogged out," said that noted geographer, Oil Can Boyd.... Atlanta shortstop Rafael Ramirez went from April 23 to May 28 before drawing a walk (his third of' 86), and when asked why it is that Latin players seem to be such free swingers, he replied, "A walk won't get you off the island." ...When Joe Cowley of the White Sox struck out the first seven Rangers on May 28, the Arlington Stadium scoreboard announced that he had broken a record held by pitchers Pete Falcone, Andy Messersmith, Bert Blyleven, Ray Culp and John Hiller. When the game ended, Culp walked up to Cowley with a baseball, asking for his autograph. He was at the game to see former Boston teammate Carlton Fisk.
BETWEEN THE LINES
PITCHER OF THE WEEK
Montreal second baseman Vance Law, who has now played every position except catcher. He had often asked to pitch, and on Wednesday manager Bob Rodgers used him to pitch the ninth inning of a 10-1 loss to San Diego. Law responded by retiring Tony Gwynn, Kevin McReynolds and Marvell Wynne—the only time the Padres went down in order all night—with a fastball clocked at 86 mph and a slider. "He had better stuff than anyone else we faced," said Gwynn. Afterward, Law called his father, Vernon. "My earned run average is lower than yours," he boasted. Vernon (Deacon) Law won 162 games with a 3.77 ERA for the Pirates.
THE BOBO HOLLOMAN AWARD
To White Sox rookie lefthanded reliever Joel McKeon, who didn't allow a hit in the first 8‚Öî innings of his career until K.C.'s Jamie Quirk singled.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
•"We have a Mexican, a Hawaiian, a German and a couple of guys who don't know where they're from or where they're going."—Dodger catcher Mike Scoscia on his pitchers.
•"Every player who was in the American League when I last managed here 11 years ago is either a coach, a manager or a member of the California Angels."—Seattle manager Dick Williams.
•"The more French women I meet, the more French I learn."—Montreal shortstop Hubie Brooks.
THE JOHN HANCOCK AWARD
To Bill Madlock, who always signs baseballs under NL president Chub Feeney's signature. "He's fined me more than any other player, so I've earned the place," says Madlock.
EXCUSE ME, MR. NETTLES
Met infielder Kevin Mitchell, 24, got to third base May 25, turned to Padres third baseman Graig Nettles, 41, and said, "My dad says hello."
"Who's your dad?" said Nettles. Mitchell then reminded Nettles that he and Earl Mitchell were backcourt partners on the San Diego High School basketball team of 1960-61.
BLACK AND WHITE IN COLOR
Frank White threatened to walk off the field the next time Kansas City official scorer Del Black calls another error on him, claiming that Black has added "seven or eight errors" a year to his totals. The threat, which came after a Black-ruled error, was White's second such warning in two weeks.
•Giants catcher Bob Melvin completed the first two months with a higher batting average (.184) than on-base percentage (.182). He accomplished this rare feat by having no walks, no hit-by-pitches and one sacrifice fly. In his 70th at bat, Melvin also scored his first run.
•The Phillies went from April 28 to May 25 without once going through the batting order without someone striking out. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Peter Pascarelli described their strikeout-filled West Coast trip as "Fanned Across America."
•Seattle third baseman Jim Presley is on a 195-strikeout pace.
•As of June 1, Braves catcher Ozzie Virgil hadn't been above .178 all season. More, of the 13 wild pitches thrown by Atlanta pitchers, 12 have come with him behind the plate.
•Orioles third basemen have 17 errors and nine RBIs. Brooks Robinson's top error season was 18 in 1974.
•Willie Mays Aikens is hitting .455 with 32 homers and 95 RBIs in Mexico, where he makes $2,500 a month.
•On Wednesday, Cleveland's Don Schulze went into the sixth inning with a two hitter and a 2-0 lead over the Red Sox. Nine pitches later, he was behind 5-2.
•With the bases loaded, Baltimore's Eddie Murray is now 55-for-125 with 14 homers and 185 RBIs.
•In the first 18 games after Earl Weaver moved Fred Lynn to third in the batting order and Cal Ripken to fifth, sandwiching Eddie Murray, the O's were 15-3. Lynn and Murray hit a combined .386 with 10 homers and 36 RBIs.
•Seven of Seattle DH Ken Phelp's first 13 hits were homers.
•In successive starts, Oakland's Jose Rijo threw 171, 152 and 150 pitches and was subsequently demoted to the bullpen. The 150 total came in 6‚Öì innings.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the National League is hitting 24% more home runs than it did last year at this time, while the AL is 8% higher. In comparing the ratio of at bats to homers in '86 with that for the entire '85 season, we find most of the increase concentrated in a few teams, most notably Minnesota, Milwaukee, Montreal, Pittsburgh and San Diego. While there has been the inevitable speculation about a livelier ball, the cause might just be the livelier bats of people like Kirby Puckett, Hubie Brooks and Steve Garvey.