Last year the Kansas City Royals hit more homers, 168, than ever before and scored fewer runs, 715, than any other American League team. "What does that tell you?" asks manager John Wathan.
It tells you that the '87 Royals could trot all right, but they weren't much for running. So, as he begins his first full year at Kansas City's helm, the 38-year-old Wathan—who, as a catcher for the Royals in 1982 and '83, stole 36 and 28 bases, respectively—is trying to get the club to return to its old running ways. Willie Wilson is flying in the leadoff spot, and Wathan has Kevin Seitzer, Kurt Stillwell and almost everyone else in the lineup ready to run—something the Royals got away from after Whitey Herzog was fired following the 1979 season.
Wathan's aggressive managing style makes sense. In recent years, Kansas City has been content to play conservative American League-style baseball in the league's only National League-style (carpeted and expansive) park. Wathan wants to establish a home-field advantage in Kansas City the way Herzog did (and has done again in St. Louis). In their first 16 games this spring, the Royals stole 28 bases.
March 28, 1988
"We have power," says Wathan, who counts on George Brett, a slimmed-down Steve Balboni, Danny Tartabull and possibly pigskin hobbyist Bo Jackson—who has worked hard to keep his job and has had a good spring—for the long ball. "But we want to establish our old aggressive style and make the big hitters all the more productive."
The Phillies have been trying desperately to trade for a shortstop now that Steve Jeltz, who had more errors (14) than RBIs (12) last year, has made seven errors in his first seven spring training games. They have been talking to Boston about rookie Jody Reed, to the Yankees about Bobby Meacham and to the White Sox about a blockbuster trade that would involve Ozzie Guillen. Philadelphia has also been pursuing lefthanded hitters, including Houston's Dennis Walling, L.A.'s Franklin Stubbs and Baltimore's Jimmy Dwyer.
The team's most immediate problem is the possibility of opening the season without Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian, who was sidelined and has lost eight pounds in a battle with walking pneumonia. For the last few seasons the Phillies have made a habit of going through April and May doing what third baseman Mike Schmidt calls "our dance with .500." It looks as though they're getting ready for another dance.
The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, would like to deal Leon Durham, with his $1.35 million salary, and give first base to rookie Mark Grace, who has batted .338 in two full minor league seasons and is described by one scout as "the latest in Don Mattingly-Wally Joyner clones." Several scouts got together last week in Arizona and agreed that Grace was the best-looking Cactus League rookie hitter, that Seattle's righthander Mike Schooler was the best new pitcher and that Oakland looked like the best team and Cleveland the worst.
Dallas Green's legacy to the Cubs is a farm system loaded with such outstanding prospects as Grace and Dwight Smith, but the former G.M. is still being criticized for his style. New manager Don Zimmer said this spring, "It was hard for the players to have any fun when the general manager and his assistant were on the roof every day, taking notes and trying to pick out things people were doing wrong." Green, now looking for a job, again ripped former Cub manager Gene Michael as "the worst mistake I ever made." Michael, now a Yankee scout, fired back: "He didn't make a mistake hiring me. He made a mistake in not listening to me. He's got a big mouth, the big buffoon."
MAKING THEIR PADRE(S) PROUD
Scouts rave about San Diego's Alomar brothers, catcher Sandy, 21, and infielder Roberto, 20, sons of Padre coach and former major league infielder Sandy Alomar Sr. The Padres already have a young catcher of quality, last year's NL Rookie of the Year, Benito Santiago. "Everyone loves Santiago," says Dodger scout Jerry Stephenson, "but he throws changeups compared to Sandy. Alomar might catch and throw better than anyone who's come along in 20 years." For his part, Roberto has had a sensational spring, but the Padres would still like him to open the season at Las Vegas.
HIGH AND DRY
One of the best stories of the spring involves Montreal pitcher Floyd Youmans, whose off-the-field activities have kept him from becoming one of the best and brightest in the National League. Youmans, a (Tampa) Hillsborough High School teammate of the Mets' Dwight Gooden, spent time in an alcohol rehab center after last season, lost over 10 pounds and is now throwing as well as ever. "Don't say that I'm a recovered alcoholic, because it's an ongoing struggle," he says. "The most interesting thing to me is that when you're an alcoholic, you don't listen to anyone. This spring, I've found out how much fun it can be when you get coached."
In answer to those who dismiss Montreal's pitching, the Mets' Keith Hernandez says, "Dennis Martinez has the best stuff of any righthander I've ever faced." And when 6'10" lefthander Randy Johnson pitches, the mound-to-plate distance seems to shrink to Little League proportions. If Johnson and righthanders Brian Holman and John Dopson join Youmans and Martinez in the starting rotation by midseason, the Expos might trade a veteran pitcher, perhaps Bryn Smith, who has drawn interest from the Twins.
THE NEW LEFT
Pete Rose may take the Cincinnati Reds north with seven lefthanded pitchers: Dennis Rasmussen, Danny Jackson, Tom Browning and either Guy Hoffman or rookie Norm Charlton in the starting rotation; and John Franco, Rob Murphy and Pat Perry in the bullpen. "It helps to be lefthanded in the National League to slow down running games," says Rose. "Also, 99 out of 100 switch-hitters are better left-handed because they get so many more swings there than they do from the right."...
Yankee owner George Steinbrenner wasn't pleased that Dave Winfield, in his new book, Winfield, a Player's Life, claimed Steinbrenner reneged on a promise to contribute $300,000 to the Winfield Foundation, a charitable organization serving underprivileged youths. But don't believe the rumors that George is planning to platoon his newest scribe in rightfield with Jose Cruz. Winfield missed nine games this spring because of a sore lower back....
One of the first things righthanded reliever Lee Smith did when he joined the Red Sox was to get Wade Boggs's chicken recipe book, Fowl Tips, and put himself on a diet consisting mostly of the meat the Chicken Man made famous. How well is Smith throwing? In his third outing, against Baltimore, he struck out the side with 13 pitches—all fastballs—to three left-handed batters....
The first player born in the '70s to show up on a major league 40-man roster is Toronto shortstop Jimy Kelly, born July 16, 1970 in the Dominican Republic. This will be Kelly's fourth full professional season. Since he was signed, Major League Baseball has enacted a rule that mandates that a player must be 17 before he can turn pro....
When he was asked to explain why the Padres won't finish last again, San Diego pitcher Mark Grant answered wryly, "Everyone knows how tough it is to repeat."