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AL WEST

April 04, 1988
April 04, 1988

Table of Contents
April 4, 1988

Books
Final Four Preview
Figure Skating
Baseball 1988
Reminiscence
Nostalgia
Point After

AL WEST

The last time Don Baylor played for the Oakland athletics, in 1976, the team did early workouts at Indian School Park in Scottsdale, Ariz. Imagine his surprise this spring when he showed up at the park and found himself surrounded by San Francisco Giants. Baylor politely excused himself, leaving behind a number of crestfallen Humm Babies, who thought for a moment they had acquired a new teammate.

This is an article from the April 4, 1988 issue Original Layout

The Athletics, who now work out at Scottsdale Community College, are especially happy to have Baylor on their team again, because it seems as if you can't make it into the World Series nowadays without him. Several teams made a pitch for Baylor, but Oakland got him, largely because manager Tony La Russa called him five times.

Baylor is just one of the many new Athletics general manager Sandy Alderson acquired in a frantic off-season. The list includes another larger-than-life figure, the Reds' Dave Parker; two pitchers, Bob Welch and Matt Young, from the Dodgers; and three free agents, second baseman Glenn Hubbard, catcher Ron Hassey and outfielder Dave Henderson. Parker and Baylor will team with Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire—the last two AL Rookies of the Year—to give Oakland the most devastating power quartet in the game. The Athletics also have another promising Rookie of the Year candidate—Walter Weiss, who will be replacing Alfredo Griffin at short.

Welch solidifies what could be a fine pitching staff. Dave Stewart was one of only two 20-game winners in the majors last year, and lefthander Curt Young appears to have recovered from his biceps injury. If Storm Davis does not come through, Oakland will turn Matt Young, Steve Ontiveros or Rick Honeycutt into a full-time starter. The bullpen is solid, with Dennis Eckersley, Gene Nelson and Eric Plunk, who is the embodiment of the phrase "fire-balling righthander."

If Oakland has a weakness it's on defense, especially in the outfield. Neither Canseco nor Parker will win a Gold Glove this year, so the centerfielder will be a busy man. For that reason, defensive standout Stan Javier may beat out Henderson and Luis Polonia for the job. Nevertheless, Oakland is a much-improved team. How much? Maybe enough to get Baylor into his third straight Series.

The KANSAS CITY ROYALS missed out on getting Baylor, but they did solve their No. 1 problem by trading for Cincinnati shortstop Kurt Stillwell, who will wear, appropriately enough, No. 1 on his jersey. "He may be the best shortstop we've ever had," says veteran first baseman George Brett.

The Royals had to give up pitcher Danny Jackson to get Stillwell. But they replaced Jackson with Floyd Bannister of the White Sox, so their starting pitching is still the strongest in the league. For relief, they have Ted Power, who came over with Stillwell from the Reds, and Dan Quisenberry and Gene Garber, two righthanders who are fourth and sixth, respectively, on the alltime save list.

Many clubs are weak in catching, and K.C. is no exception. The Royals tried to get free agent Carlton Fisk, but he turned down their offer, which was slightly higher than the $700,000 he accepted to resign with the White Sox. So Kansas City will have to go with journeyman Jamie Quirk or career minor leaguer Larry Owen, who is one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

As always, Brett is the key to the offense. And he is eager to reclaim his preeminent status. "I may not make it into the same sentence as Don Mattingly or Wade Boggs," he says, "but I at least want to be in the same paragraph." The Royals were so worried about Brett, who is coming off two "subpar" .290 seasons, that they asked him to get his eyes examined this spring. Nothing wrong, said the doctor, and the next day Brett hit a double, a three-run homer and a grand slam against Boston.

Brett also seems ready to assume more of a leadership role. One day this March he quietly lectured Bo Jackson on the importance of running out pop-ups. Later that afternoon Jackson laid down a beautiful bunt and uncorked a tremendous off-balance throw. If Bo is still having trouble deciding between baseball and football, the Royals have one thing in their favor. They have a better chance of making the playoffs than the Raiders do.

That the MINNESOTA TWINS won the division in 1987 may have been a bigger fluke than their victory in the World Series. They were superbly suited for the short haul—good power hitting, excellent defense, a couple of top-notch starting pitchers and two solid relievers. They finished atop the American League West with 85 wins mostly because the other teams in the division fell on their faces. In 1986, 85 victories was good enough for third place.

The Twins did little in the off-season except invite a few cast-off pitchers to camp. Their candidates for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are Joe Niekro, who's coming off an embarrassing year (5.33 ERA, apprehended for scuffing on Aug. 3), Steve Carlton, an old dog trying to learn a new changeup, and Charlie Lea, whose sore shoulder has limited him to one major league inning since 1984. Minnesota also needs a lefthanded reliever. Its best hope is Tippy Martinez, who has pitched a total of 16 innings the past two years.

On the positive side, Minnesota was the only team in baseball to commit fewer than 100 errors last year, and its defensive lineup remains intact. Furthermore, no player had what might be called a career year in "87. The Twins also possess an attitude that is different from that of other world champions: They still think of themselves as underdogs. None of them wrote books, and few did endorsements. When Gary Gaetti was told that the only endorsement offer Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian received was a public service announcement for neutering pets, he said, "Well, that's one more than I got."

As for why so many teams have failed to repeat, Gaetti said, "You know, I thought about thinking about that during the off-season, but then I decided, What the hell. Let's just go out and play. I certainly wouldn't mind doing it over." Chances are, he won't.

The TEXAS RANGERS are probably not as bad as they were in '87, when they lost 87 games. Then again, they're probably not as good as they were in '86, when they won 87 games. Their weakness is pitching; more specifically, finding the plate. Only five teams in major league history walked more men than the Rangers did last year, and as pitching coach Tom House succinctly put it, "We stunk."

The major problem was lack of experience—Edwin Correa is only 21, Bobby Witt 23 and Jose Guzman 24. One day this spring, 18-game winner Charlie Hough, who at 39 last year became the oldest pitcher ever to lead the American League in innings (285‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬®), sat in the clubhouse watching Guzman and Correa play with a remote-control pickup truck. "We could have a hell of a staff," Hough said, "if those guys ever mature."

The everyday lineup deserves better. The best of the lot is unheralded rightfielder Ruben Sierra, who last year became only the sixth player in history to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs before his 22nd birthday. Some are already comparing him with his idol, Roberto Clemente. "It's a good comparison," says Ranger manager Bobby Valentine. "Except that Ruben's off to a better start than Clemente." If Valentine's young pitchers turn out to be equally precocious the Rangers might make a pennant drive. But don't count on it.

One morning this spring, SEATTLE MARINERS owner George Argyros approached manager Dick Williams and asked, "Have you got your plan for this year?"

"Do the best with what you got," replied Williams.

Some Seattle fans are afraid that Williams won't do even that much. This is his third and, he says, final year with the Mariners. By this time the autocratic Williams has usually worn out his welcome.

Last season the Mariners had their best winning percentage ever (.481), and this time they have the talent to pass the .500 mark. They look particularly good around the horn, with catchers Dave Valle and Scott Bradley (17 homers, 96 RBIs between them in '87), first baseman Alvin Davis (29 homers, 100 RBIs), second baseman Harold Reynolds (.275, 60 steals), shortstop Rey Quinones (.276 with 12 homers) and third baseman Jim Presley (24 homers, 88 RBIs). Presley's home run production may go down, however, because the Mariners, who are trying to emphasize speed this year instead of the long ball, will raise the leftfield wall to 17 feet, by adding on six-foot Plexiglas sections.

Seattle's lead flinger is Mark Langston, who won 19 games and who led the American League in strikeouts for the third time in four years, but his backup band is Question Mark and the Mysterians. In order for the Mariners to stay in contention, they will need strong comebacks by Yankee reject Steve Trout and Mike Moore, who lost 19 games in '87. Otherwise, Williams might be gone before midseason.

For years baseball fans have been saying that the CALIFORNIA ANGELS are too old, but this year's club is quite young, even if catcher Bob Boone is 40. "It's Disneyland in here," said one Angels beat writer, referring to the absence of grousing veterans in the California clubhouse.

It would be fantasyland to think that the Angels have enough pitching to climb back to the top. They re-signed Mike Witt, and Kirk McCaskill may resume his winning ways after having elbow surgery. But beyond those two, California doesn't have much.

With a little more than a week to go in spring training, Gene Mauch decided to retire as manager, leaving the team to Cookie Rojas. Mauch, who had managed a record 26 seasons without a pennant, wasn't about to get to the World Series with this club anyway.

The CHICAGO WHITE SOX are also a team of the future. To that end, they traded Bannister, Richard Dotson and Jose DeLeon, who together pitched 646 innings last year. In contrast, their new rotation of Rick Horton, Dave LaPoint, Jack McDowell and Melido Perez finished the season with a total of only 262 major league innings. The bullpen stopper will be poet Bobby Thigpen, who sent this reply to a $70,000 contract offer this winter: "As I sit home this offseason / I wonder what the hell is the reason / Why the club wants to be unfair / Underpaying a player who can produce and care." The Sox replied in wooden prose, renewing him at that figure anyway.

Horton, who studied economics at Virginia, gave this assessment of his new team: "I'm happy we're undervalued as to market projections. You might want to classify us as a growth stock with a lot of untested assets. We're not blue chip yet, but it's a volatile market."

No doubt the Sox will have a few Black Mondays along the way.

PHOTOBILL FRAKESRuben is the unsung hero of the division. He's off to a better start than Clemente.
SIERRA HAD 30 HOMERS IN 1987
PHOTOV.J. LOVEROThe Twins' attitude differs from other world champs'. They still see themselves as the underdogs.
CAN GREG GAGNE & CO. GRAB IT AGAIN?
ELEVEN ILLUSTRATIONS

THE A'S HAVE IT

Oakland is the West's best in SI's position-by-position rankings

LF: Oakland A's

1. DAVE PARKER Oak.
2. Pete Incaviglia Texas
3. Mickey Brantley Sea.
4. Bo Jackson K.C.
5. Dan Pasqua Chi.
6. Johnny Ray Cal.
7. Dan Gladden Minn.

CF: Minnesota Twins

1. KIRBY PUCKET Minn.
2. Devon White Cal.
3. Willie Wilson K.C.
4. Oddibe McDowell Texas
5. Lance Johnson Chi.
6. S. Javier—L. Polonia Oak.
7. H. Cotto—M. Kingery Sea.

RF: Texas Rangers

1. RUBEN SIERRA Texas
2. Jose Canseco Oak.
3. Danny Tartabull K.C.
4. Tom Brunansky Minn.
5. Glenn Wilson Sea.
6. Ivan Calderon Chi.
7. Chili Davis Cal.

DH: Cicago White Sox

1. HAROLD BAINES Chi.
2. Brian Downing Cal.
3. Larry Parrish Texas
4. Don Baylor Oak.
5. Ken Phelps Sea.
6. Gene Larkin Minn.
7. S. Balboni—J. Eisenreich K.C.

C: Oakland A's

1. TERRY STEINBACH Oak.
2. S. Bradley-D. Valle Sea.
3. Bob Boone Cal.
4. Carlton Fisk Chi.
5. Tim Laudner Minn.
6. Jamie Quirk K.C.
7. Mike Stanley Texas

3B: Minnesota Twins

1. GARY GAETTI Minn.
2. Kevin Seitzer K.C.
3. Carney Lansford Oak.
4. Jim Presley Sea.
5. Steve Buechele Texas
6. Jack Howell Cal.
7. Ken Williams Chi.

SS: California Angels

1. DICK SCHOFIELD Cal.
2. Ozzie Guillen Chi.
3. Rey Quinones Sea.
4. Kurt Stillwell K.C.
5. Greg Gagne Minn.
6. Walter Weiss Oak.
7. Scott Fletcher Texas

2B: Kansas City Royals

1. FRANK WHITE K.C
2. Harold Reynolds Sea.
3. Jerry Browne Texas
4. Glenn Hubbard Oak.
5. Mark McLemore Cal.
6. Steve Lombardozzi Minn.
7. D. Hill—F. Manrique Chi.

1B: Oakland A's

1. MARK McGWIRE Oak.
2. Wally Joyner Cal.
3. George Brett K.C.
4. Kent Hrbek Minn.
5. Pete O'Brien Texas
6. Alvin Davis Sea.
7. Greg Walker Chi.

STARTERS: Kansas City Royals

1. KANSAS CITY
2. OAKLAND
3. MINNESOTA
4. SEATTLE
5. TEXAS
6. CALIFORNIA
7. CHICAGO

RELIEVERS: Minnesota Twins

1. MINNESOTA
2. OAKLAND
3. KANSAS CITY
4. SEATTLE
5. TEXAS
6. CHICAGO
7. CALIFORNIA