LA LA LAND
In the wake of the Al Campanis gaffe and subsequent exile, the Dodgers must now deal with the sobering fact that their team is not what it used to be. The organization is in deep trouble, and the people at the top must separate myth from reality.
Los Angeles owner Peter O'Malley hasn't said how he intends to structure the post-Campanis front office. Fred Claire, whose background is in marketing and public relations, stepped into the breach and made it clear that he believes he is in charge. But the prevailing thought is that when manager Tom Lasorda can handpick his successor—preferably Rangers manager Bobby Valentine—he will take the G.M. chair. If Claire assumes permanent charge and brings in a strong personnel director, Lasorda might have to look elsewhere. After Campanis left, Lasorda got Claire to agree to release pitcher Jerry Reuss and sign Mickey Hatcher.
The new front-office boss, whoever he is, must give the organization a total overhaul. Once the Dodgers had platoons of talent streaming out of Albuquerque and San Antonio; now they have frighteningly few prospects. Farm director Bill Schweppe is retiring at the end of the year, and scouting director Ben Wade is under fire for the club's recent propensity to draft mediocre college players like Tastee-Freez thrower Erik Sonberg (who was chosen over Roger Clemens), Dennis Livingston and Dave Anderson. In the spring of 1980, scout Mike Brito, who signed Fernando Valenzuela, brought a little-known high school kid named Eric Davis into Dodger Stadium for a workout before a group of scouts, including Wade. To this day, Brito maintains that Davis put on quite a hitting and baserunning show, but still the Dodgers ignored Brito's recommendation and let the Reds take Davis on the eighth round of the subsequent June draft.
It was no accident that the Dodgers lost their first five games. If their starting pitching doesn't shut down the opposition and Pedro Guerrero isn't in the lineup, they simply aren't very good.
UEBIE DOOBY DO
As if the game didn't have enough image trouble these days, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth is taking broadsides for helping to settle Clemens's contract dispute with the Red Sox. "You're going to see a lot of players sit out and wait for him to step in next year," says Indians superstar Joe Carter. "Why did he step in there, but not when Kirk McCaskill, Tom Henke or I walked out?" Says Henke, "What are Tony Fernandez and Carter, chopped liver?" The clubs are upset too. "We held the line and renewed some players for less than they deserved," said one general manager, "and now he breaks the line for Clemens. It could lead to chaos." With easily reachable incentives, Clemens expects to get close to the $2.4M for two years that he sought, but, he says, "The commissioner had less to do with the negotiations than has been reported. He really just got them started."...
The first week's candidate for comeback of the year is Blue Jays first baseman Willie Upshaw, who hit a third of his 1986 home run total of nine in the first five games. "I got my swing messed up for more than two years trying to adjust to getting pitched away in August of 1984," says Upshaw. More significant was a two-year bout with a bad wrist, which he typically refused to complain about....
Cleveland's pitching situation, like that of all their AL East rivals, is troublesome, but the Indians must also worry about the effect of the cold weather on knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Tom Candiotti. Niekro has traditionally had some trouble gripping the ball with his fingertips in cold weather, and Candiotti is trying to make a gradual transition from a fingernail grip to a fingertip one. Fortunately for Niekro, the weather was unseasonably warm for his first start in Toronto, where he combined with Steve Carlton to beat the Blue Jays 14-3. It was the first time two 300-game winners had pitched for the same team in the same game. Together, Niekro, who is 48, and Carlton, who is 42, have 42 years of major league experience and 635 major league victories....
Not only did Darryl Strawberry get off to a big start with homers in his first three games at Shea Stadium, but he also seemed genuinely touched by the Dwight Gooden mess. Strawberry wore Gooden's uniform pants on Opening Day because, "I'm dedicating the season to him and my son, Darryl Jr. Every time I go up to the plate I'll be thinking of them. I intend to have a good year and shut a lot of jerks up." By the design of management, Gooden's name wasn't mentioned in the Opening Day ceremonies, when each of the defending world champions came out to accept his World Series ring.
The broken thumb that newly acquired catcher Tony Pena suffered in his Pittsburgh homecoming is a significant setback to the Cardinals' desire to get a jump on the Mets while Roger McDowell and Gooden are out. Even though the Pirates didn't land any big names for Pena, they've received good reviews for acquiring rightfielder Andy Van Slyke, catcher Mike LaValliere and pitching prospect Mike Dunne for the perennial All-Star catcher. "It could be a dangerous trade for us because we gave up so much," claims Cardinal second baseman Tommy Herr. Those who feel the Pirates pulled off a very good trade make these points: 1) Van Slyke is the best defensive outfielder in the league and is blossoming as a hitter; 2) LaValliere can handle a strong young pitching staff; 3) Dunne has a chance to be a frontline starter; and 4) all those games that Pena has caught in this decade have taken a toll on his defensive skills. Still, one NL scout counters, "Whitey Herzog got the best defensive catcher in the league, a horse that plays every day and can hit. Van Slyke has all five tools—and can't play."...
Phillies manager John Felske has abandoned the notion of resting Lance Parrish a couple of days a week to protect his infamous bad back. "I realize that in regard to my back I have something to prove," says Parrish, "but it's not something that's among my major concerns. I feel great, and it's a subject I'm rather tired of talking about."...
The Giants' season was only five games old when Matt Williams was recalled from Phoenix and installed at shortstop in place of the injured Jose Uribe. Williams, San Francisco's first pick out of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas last June, and Angels righthander Willie Fraser were the best rookies in the Cactus League this spring....
As the Padres lost their five opening games, including the first three by one run to equal the 1975 Dodgers' NL mark, Larry Bowa's infamous temper moved under the magnifying glass. Bowa had what must have been a world-record 14 clubhouse meetings in spring training. Says one scout, "The commissioner is going to have to make a seat-belt law for the guy."...
Before negotiating a million-dollar Japanese contract, Bob Horner entertained a $3,001-a-month offer to be the home DH for Charlotte of the Class AA Southern League. Owner Frances Crockett also wanted Horner to gain 20 pounds and perform in wrestling shows she promotes. The offer included a private batting practice pitcher, his own dressing quarters, the meal and beverage of his choice after games, free meals at local restaurants and bonuses if he broke team and league home run records.
Toronto may claim baseball's most cerebral bullpen as lefthanders Jeff Musselman and John Cerutti have economics degrees from Harvard and Amherst, respectively. Cerutti, whose senior thesis was entitled "The Termination of Contracts in Major League Baseball," asked Musselman what his thesis was on. "I was a baseball player," replied the Harvardian. "I didn't have to write one." Seriously, Harvard econ majors aren't required to write theses....
Mason and Dixon—Mike Mason of Texas and Ken Dixon of Baltimore—were the opposing starting pitchers on April 9, the 122nd anniversary of Lee's surrender at Appomattox....
In the Braves' 12-4 win over the Mets on Sunday, Dion James of the Braves lofted a routine flyball to left in Shea Stadium, but the ball hit a dove, and both bird and ball fell in front of Kevin McReynolds for a double. The "hit" later set up a two-run homer by Dale Murphy. At first it was reported to be the first bird killed by a batted ball in major league history, but there have been others. Interestingly enough, a ball hit by Eric Davis killed a bird during a Class A Northwest League game in 1981....
Some other strange things happened in the first week. Royal shortstop Buddy Biancalana hit the first righthanded home run of his big league career against Floyd Bannister of the White Sox, and Oriole DH Alan Wiggins hit his first lefthanded homer in the majors off Cleveland's Ken Schrom. When Wiggins got back to the dugout, teammates gave him a cold shoulder, the traditional salute for such a rare occurrence....
The night before the season opener in Detroit, Yankee catcher Joel Skinner went to a Red Wings game. While standing in the concession line between periods, Skinner noticed a fan in a Yankee cap behind him in line. "You going to the game tomorrow?" asked Skinner. The fan said he was. Skinner then asked if he had good seats. The fan said he did, box seats down the third-base line. Then the fan asked Skinner if he was going to the game. When Skinner nodded yes, the fan asked about Skinner's seats. Said Skinner, "I have a good seat. I'm right behind home plate."...
Happy 75th birthday, Fenway Park and Tiger Stadium (formerly Briggs Stadium and Navin Field), not to mention a happy 71st to Wrigley Field. April 20 is a great day for baseball lore.
OPEN AND SHUTOUT
If it were only a one-game season, Braves righthander Rick Mahler would be this generation's Cy Young. His 6-0 victory over Philadelphia on Tuesday was his third shutout and fourth win against no losses on Opening Days. He also stretched his scoreless streak to 34 innings over four opener starts. Mahler, who last year led the NL in losses (18), is only 58-59 with a 3.96 ERA in non-openers.
Matt Stark, Toronto's 6'4", 225-pound rookie catcher, did his off-season training in a Marine program at Camp Pendleton. His favorite routine was a combat exercise called W.Y.E.—Waste Your Enemy.
THEY ACTUALLY PLAY NINE INNINGS?
By the time the Giants rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Padres 4-3 on Opening Day in Candlestick Park, San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein and baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth had already climbed into their limos and left.
When Brewer rookie B.J. Surhoff went to pick up a rental car provided by Milwaukee owner Bud Selig's Chevrolet dealership, he collected the keys and hopped into the luxury model parked outside the ticket office. The keys didn't fit. The car Surhoff assumed was his actually belonged to Selig. Surhoff was directed to the compact across the lot.
•Willie Randolph played in his 12th consecutive Yankee opener. The lineup for the first, in 1976: Mickey Rivers, CF; Roy White, LF; Thurman Munson, DH; Chris Chambliss, 1B; Oscar Gamble, RF; Graig Nettles, 3B; Randolph, 2B; Rick Dempsey, C; Jim Mason, SS. Catfish Hunter was the Yankees' starter in a 5-0 loss to Milwaukee at County Stadium. Hank Aaron was the Brewers' DH.
•Baltimore Oriole catcher Terry Kennedy is the only active player who belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research.
•Toronto's bullpen (Tom Henke, Mark Eichhorn, Jeff Musselman, Jose Nunez, John Cerutti) makes a combined $700,000—$600,000 less than released reliever Bill Caudill.
•The only current Expos developed in the Montreal organization are second baseman Casey Candaele, first baseman Andrès Galarraga, infielder Wallace Johnson, pitcher Randy St. Claire and third baseman Tim Wallach.
•Baltimore's Scott McGregor has failed to last five innings in 20 of his last 68 starts.
•The first Cardinal to steal a base in each of the last three seasons has been Joaquin Andujar, Mike Heath and Tony Pena, respectively. This is a team with Vince Coleman and Willie McGee.
•There are 12 managers younger than Pete Rose and 14 younger than Phil Niekro.
The St. Louis Cardinals had the best record in spring training this year (17-6), but manager Whitey Herzog said, "We won too many games. Usually I like to play .500 in Florida." Should Whitey be worried? Here are the spring training champions from 1977 to 1986 and their regular-season division finishes:
*Cumulative record in AL East