WHAT A PHLOP!
If ever there was a team that belonged on a psychiatrist's couch, it's the Philadelphia Phillies. "I'm observing, trying to understand things," says Woody Woodward, who took over as general manager in October. "When the season started there was some question about our pitching and defense. But the one thing we figured to do was score runs."
Yet at week's end the Phillies not only were languishing at the bottom of the National League East with a 15-24 record, but also had fewer runs than any other team in the division. "It's kind of a sad deal," says catcher Lance Parrish of Philadelphia's third straight slow start. Other less-sympathetic observers have dubbed the Phillies "baseball's yuppie team" because of their cool, detached style of play. Says one opposing manager, "They play like they're all looking at themselves in the mirror."
Granted, second baseman Juan Samuel, a .269 career hitter coming into this season, has gotten off to a bad start at the plate—he was batting .223 at week's end. And third baseman Mike Schmidt recently went through an 0-for-30 slump after suffering a rib cage injury. But those failings alone shouldn't have such a disastrous impact with players like Parrish, first baseman Von Hayes and outfielder Phil Bradley in the lineup.
Don't expect Woodward to do anything hasty to improve the team. His first step will probably be to wait for a bidding war to break out among the contenders for some of his talent—notably pitchers Shane Rawley and Don Carman—and to use the players that the Phillies get in return to overhaul their lineup later this season. Then he will attempt to rebuild the team's once-legendary farm system.
The scouting department that was put together after former general manager Dallas Green moved the guts of the organization to Chicago in 1981 simply hasn't produced, despite promises of phenoms galore. Outfielder Jeff Stone, now with the Orioles, was supposed to be a superstar, but after five years with Philadelphia he was still playing the game as if it were a foreign sport. Rick Schu was expected to take over at third so that Schmidt could move to first, but after hitting .198 with runners in scoring position during his four seasons with the Phillies, Schu was traded this spring to Baltimore, where he had gone 16 for 81 and scored only two runs through Sunday. Catcher John Russell was a surefire slugger. But in 1987 he hit .203 for the Triple A Maine Guides, with seven homers and 24 RBIs, and last week he tried to beg out of the lineup because the fog was in and the wild fastballer Bobby Witt was starting for the Oklahoma City 89ers.
Will Woodward's cautious approach work for the forlorn Phillies? Perhaps. But if it doesn't, Philadelphia may have to perform some major surgery, trading in a lineup that looks good on paper for one that looks good where it counts—on the diamond.
YAWN OF THE WEEK
When Atlanta Braves general manager Bobby Cox announced Sunday that he had fired manager Chuck Tanner, who was in the third year of a five-year contract, and four of his coaches, it came as no surprise to those who have followed Tanner's ill-starred season. At week's end the Braves were 12-27 and entrenched in last place in the National League West. But it wasn't just Atlanta's poor start that sealed Tanner's fate; a litany of boneheaded decisions by him left many observers, including Cox, shaking their heads.
Tanner's latest faux pas occurred May 16 when he used gimpy-armed starter Zane Smith for one inning of relief in a 4-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds and then had to scratch Smith from his next start when he had stiffness in his left elbow caused by a bone spur. Cox was upset by Tanner's decision, not only because Smith is the Braves' best pitcher, with a 34-39 record over the last three years, but also because he's the best lure they have for making a major trade. Tanner was replaced by Russ Nixon, who had been managing the Double A Greenville (S.C.) Braves.
ONE FOR ALL
Third baseman Carney Lansford is the player the Oakland A's rally around—and not just because he's off to the best start of his career, hitting .388 through Sunday. "I never realized how good Lansford was until I got here," says leftfielder Dave Parker, who was traded to the A's in December. Adds Oakland manager Tony La Russa, "He plays at a pace that's so intense he almost plays too hard."
Lansford has never been selected to an All-Star team, even though he won the American League batting title in 1981 and has a career average of .295. If being a team player counted in the voting, however, Lansford would be a shoo-in every year. After the Athletics lost 4-1 to the Orioles on Friday the 13th, he invited his teammates to a postmortem at the bar of their Baltimore hotel. All but two showed up and Lansford picked up the tab, which came to $360.
The St. Louis Cardinals, who on May 18 reached .500 for the first time this season, started their turnaround when they acquired outfielder Tom Brunansky from the Minnesota Twins for second baseman Tom Herr. Brunansky knocked in 27 runs in his first 26 games with St. Louis; Herr's replacement, Luis Alicea, reached base in 25 of those games and scored 10 runs. "Brunansky is a much better player than we thought." says shortstop Ozzie Smith. "What was Minnesota thinking?"... Keith Hernandez calls the Mets' acquisition, in March 1987, of pitcher David Cone for disabled catcher Ed Hearn the "steal of the century." And who can argue? On May 17, Cone fanned 12 batters in a 1-0 win over the Padres. and Sunday he beat the Dodgers 5-2, bringing his record to 6-0 with an average of 8.55 strikeouts per nine innings. Says one National League scout, "There may not be a young pitcher in the league with a better assortment of breaking stuff."
Padre righthander Eric Show will never be accused of being just another face in the crowd. An above-.500 pitcher, he received a lot of unfavorable publicity in 1984 for being a member of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society and last year for beaning the Cubs' Andre Dawson. But Show has another side to him that few people know about. In the last year, for instance, he has:
•Appeared in a movie called The Patriot Game. "It's a political sci-fi thriller." he says. "I get shot in the face. I'm sure the people in Chicago will like it."
•Recorded a jazz album. Show, who's an accomplished musician, takes his guitar on every road trip.
•Recorded a pop single with a female singer named Cinnamon. It's a remake of the old Brenton Wood tune Gimme Little Sign.
•Run his own musical instrument company. Guitar Exchange, and a publishing firm called EVS Music.
What Show needs now is for his teammates to start making music with their bats. Before Sunday's game against the Phillies, which the Padres won 9-2, they had scored only 11 runs in his eight starts.
When the Milwaukee Brewers' Robin Yount, who had 2.264 hits at week's end, was told he could tie Pete Rose's record of 4,256 if he played for 12 more years (or until he's 44) and averaged 158 hits a season, Yount said, "We're in a different class. There's no comparison. If I'm still around in seven or eight years, come back and we'll talk about it."...
Last Thursday the White Sox had third baseman Kenny Williams fill in for rightfielder Ivan Calderon, who was out with a stiff shoulder—thus putting a temporary halt to one of baseball's least successful personnel experiments. As an outfielder last year, Williams hit .281 with six errors in 115 games. This year in his first 33 games playing primarily at third, he hit .143, the lowest average of any major league regular, and committed 14 errors....
Cubs manager Don Zimmer on leadership: "The idea that you have to have a team leader or team captain is the most overrated thing in baseball. I have three of the most quiet guys in baseball—the right fielder I Dawson], the second baseman [Sandberg] and third baseman [Vance Law]. They don't say three words in a week. All they do is go out and play their game, play hard, play hurt. To me, that's leading."
BETWEEN THE LINES
IT'S ONLY MONEY
When the Atlanta Braves released infielder Damaso Garcia last week and paid off the remainder of the $1.3 million they had contracted to pay him for 1987 and '88, it meant the team had spent $185,714.30 for each of the seven hits Garcia had in the two seasons. To replace Garcia, the Braves signed 35-year-old Jerry Royster, who was attending a broadcasting school in West Palm Beach, Fla. Some youth movement. The last three players the Braves have recalled—Royster, Juan Tyrone Eichelberger III and Jose Alvarez—have a combined age of 101.
With the Yankees and Mets both in first place at week's end, New Yorkers are already talking about a Subway Series in October. Imagining how baseball crazy the city will become if that happens, Yankee pitcher Rick Rhoden said, "It won't be far to travel, but we'll have to make the trip in an armored truck."
THE HEAT IS ON
During the broadcast of a 4-0 loss to the Texas Rangers on May 18, Toronto television station CTV conducted a phone-in poll, asking the question: "Would firing Jimy Williams solve the Blue Jays' problems?" The response: 882 yes votes, 431 no's. The Toronto Sun ran a similar poll last week and got the exact same number of anti-Williams calls. Was it a coincidence or could there be a conspiracy in the works?
MAN OF MANY TALENTS
In their 39th game, on May 17, the San Francisco Giants became the last team in the National League to get an outfield assist, when leftfielder Harry Spilman's throw home was cut off by third baseman Kevin Mitchell and relayed to second to get Philadelphia's Steve Jeltz. Spilman, normally a utility infielder, had played the outfield only one other time in the majors, on May 3, 1980. In addition to getting the assist, he let a blooper fall in for a double and made an error on a single by Juan Samuel, allowing him to advance to second.
Talk about durability. In their combined 27-plus complete major league seasons, Detroit's Darrell Evans and Jack Morris have yet to be put on the disabled list, while Alan Trammell and Frank Tanana have each been disabled only once in a combined 24 years. That quartet plus eight other key Tigers—Doyle Alexander, Mike Henneman, Guillermo Hernandez, Chester Lemon, Gary Pettis, Jeff Robinson, Walt Terrell and Lou Whitaker—have served a total of 14 stints on the DL. That's less than Milwaukee's Paul Molitor (9) and Kansas City's George Brett (8) have between them.
•The Cardinals' Jose Oquendo played seven innings at first base on May 14, then pitched four innings. In the next two games he started in center and at third. So far this year he has played every position except leftfield and catcher.
•Identical twins were winners for the Giants organization on May 17. Monte Phillips threw a six-hit shutout for the Class A San Jose Giants in an 11-0 win over the Bakers-field Dodgers, while his brother Lonnie picked up a win in relief for the Class A Clinton (Iowa) Giants in a 1-0 victory over the Peoria (111.) Chiefs.
•The Mets have scored 71 runs in the 10 games Dwight Gooden has started, an average of 7.1 runs per game. In their other 31 games, the Mets have accumulated 132 runs, or only 4.3 per game.
•Oakland pitcher Matt Young has been ejected from two games even though he was on the disabled list. He has been thrown out for yelling at the umpires from the dugout.
•In the White Sox' first 39 games, their leadoff hitters have gotten first-inning hits only five times.
•The opposition batted .206 against Jeff Sellers in the Boston pitcher's first five starts, but he was 0-4.
•On May 18 the Tigers scored the winning run over the Brewers on a ninth-inning balk, the seventh time this season a balk has contributed directly or indirectly to a Detroit victory.
A CLUB OF ONE S OWN
If Oakland's Jose Canseco continues at his current pace, he'll become the first player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season. Here s how his totals compare with those of four other players looking to join the 40/40 club.
1988 STATS AS OF 5/21
1988 STATS AS OF 5/21
KIRK GIBSON Dodgers
BO JACKSON Royals
DARRYL STRAWBERRY Mets
JOE CARTER Indians
JOSE CANSECO Athletics
SOURCE: STATS, INC.