When Jack McKeon of the Padres signed a three-year, $1.3 million contract last week to stay on as manager, it signaled the beginning of the end for club president Chub Feeney. After the season is over, San Diego's owner, Joan Kroc, will reportedly fire Feeney, the former National League president who took charge of the Padres in June 1987. She will replace him with a general manager, who she hopes will get along better with McKeon than Feeney has over the last two seasons. The aim: to turn the much-improved Padres into a pennant contender next year.
How quickly things can change. A few months ago it seemed that Feeney was firmly in control of the team and that McKeon was headed out the door. But since Trader Jack replaced Larry Bowa as the Padres' field manager on May 28, San Diego has amassed the third-best record in the National League (57-44 through Sunday). And Kroc now acknowledges how valuable McKeon, who was the architect of the pennant-winning Padres of 1984, is to San Diego's future.
Meanwhile, Feeney has been an embarrassment to Kroc because of the way he runs the Padres. Last week Feeney got into a shouting match outside the Padres offices with agent Jerry Kapstein over one of Kapstein's clients, righthander Andy Hawkins, who is eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season. Afterward, Kapstein recalled negotiating righthander Lance Mc-Culler's contract and said, "Chub told me in the spring, 'This is my final offer. I'm going to renew his ass unless you accept my offer by nine o'clock tonight' [meaning that the club could renew his contract for as little as 80% of his previous year's salary]. I decided rather than talk to Chub on the phone I would meet him face-to-face at his condominium. Mrs. Feeney met me at the door about 10 minutes to nine [that night] and said, 'I'm sorry, Chub has gone to sleep.' "
September 25, 1988
As might be expected, Feeney has a somewhat different memory of what transpired between him and Kapstein. "I never said that [about renewing his ass]," he says. "What's got into Jerry? He's full of spleen."
This is an important time for San Diego. According to most scouts, the Padres' McCullers (10 saves, 2.31 ERA at week's end) and southpaw Mark Davis (27 saves, 2.03 ERA) are the best righthanded-lefthanded bullpen combination in baseball. But McKeon, who will still have a strong voice in personnel, may lose two of his starters, Hawkins and righthander Eric Show, to free agency this fall. To get the speed and the cleanup hitter the Padres need, McKeon will also have to decide soon which of the Padres' superb young catchers he'll trade—23-year-old Benito Santiago, the 1987 National League Rookie of the Year, or 22-year-old Sandy Alomar Jr., the best minor league catcher this season. One National League scout predicts that Santiago will be sent packing: "Alomar handles pitchers better, he's a far better fundamental catcher, and Santiago has an ego the size of Jack Murphy Stadium."
To give the Mets lineup more punch, manager Davey Johnson would like to move Howard Johnson permanently, who heretofore has played mostly at third base, to shortstop. But HoJo doesn't have much range at that position, so the manager has had to use the weak-hitting Kevin Elster at short when lefthander Bob Ojeda, who gets more of his outs by ground balls than any other New York starter, pitches. As a result, if the Mets face the Dodgers in the playoffs, here is what New York's infield will look like:
•Against L.A. righthanders Orel Hershiser and Tim Leary (unless Ojeda is starting for the Mets), New York will use Wally Backman at second, Johnson at short and Gregg Jefferies at third. In games pitched by Ojeda, Jefferies will play second, Elster short and HoJo third
•Against Dodger lefthander John Tudor (unless Ojeda starts), Tim Teufel will play second, HoJo short and Jefferies third. With Ojeda pitching, Teufel will be at second, Elster at short and Jefferies at third.
The one constant is Jefferies. But that shouldn't come as a surprise: Through Sunday he has had more extra-base hits in the three weeks since he was called from the minors than Backman has had all season.
Last week Gaylord Broadcasting, Inc., which owns 33% of the Rangers, decided to exercise its option to purchase majority owner Eddie Chiles's 58% interest in the team, thereby thwarting a bid by Bill Mack and Frank Morsani to buy the Rangers and likely move them to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. Some American League owners are opposed to the deal because Gaylord operates a superstation (KTVT in Dallas), but insiders expect the sale to be approved by the league because baseball's new television contract will probably include a package with a cable network, such as USA or ESPN, which would significantly reduce the number of games available for superstations to broadcast.
Word of the potential contract has prompted rumors that Braves owner Ted Turner, who is the proprietor of superstation WTBS, might be interested in selling his club to Mack and Morsani, sending the Braves to Tampa-St. Petersburg.
Ten years ago Indians center-fielder Joe Carter, who will probably finish with more than 20 homers, 20 stolen bases and 100 RBIs for his third straight season, nearly signed with the Red Sox as an undrafted free agent out of high school. He decided to go to Wichita State instead because he had already accepted a football scholarship there. Carter is now a lifetime .376 hitter in Fenway Park, with 12 homers in 101 at bats. Asked if he ever thinks about what it would be like to play for Boston, he replied, "Only 162 times a year."...
As of Sunday, the Yankees and Blue Jays were discussing a blockbuster trade: first baseman Don Mattingly and rightfielder Dave Winfield for first baseman Fred McGriff and outfielder George Bell....
A major shake-up is likely in Houston at the end of the season. One rumor has outfielder Billy Hatcher and pitcher Bob Knepper moving to the Expos for third baseman Tim Wallach, but several teams, including the Braves and the Dodgers, have also put in bids for Wallach....
How badly do the Pirates need a short-stop? At week's end, their troika of Felix Fermin, Al Pedrique and Rafael Belliard had more errors (19) than RBIs (16)....
When the Expos' 6'10" Randy Johnson made his debut in Olympic Stadium Thursday, thus becoming the tallest pitcher in major league history, it reminded Montreal's public relations whiz Richard Griffin of former Expo Bill (Spaceman) Lee. In the game notes for Thursday, Griffin wrote, "Johnson is the tallest pitcher the Expos have ever had from USC, but not the highest."
Shortly after Reds lefthander Tom Browning struck out Dodger pinch hitter Tracy Woodson to nail down a 1-0 perfect game on Friday night, a representative of the Hall of Fame called up Browning and requested the hat he wore and an autographed ball from the game. "My lucky hat? Sure I'm going to give 'em my lucky hat," Browning said later with a wink. "And they aren't getting the ball, either, not the one I struck Woodson out with. They'll get one of the other ones."
Browning had reason to be protective of his souvenirs. His one hour, 51-minute masterpiece was only the third perfect game of the modern era in the National League. The other two were Phillie righthander Jim Bunning's 6-0 win over the Mets in 1964 and Dodger lefthander Sandy Koufax's 1-0 defeat of the Cubs the following year. Coincidentally, Browning wears the same number as Koufax (32) and lives in Fort Mitchell, Ky., which is part of the district that Bunning now represents in Congress.
Browning almost had a no-hitter on June 6, but it was broken up by the Padres' Tony Gwynn, who got a hit with one out in the ninth. Browning didn't realize last week he had a perfecto going until the start of the eighth inning. Until then he was caught up in a battle with Dodger starter Tim Belcher, who was in the process of producing a three-hitter. "He was pitching as well as I was, pitching a hell of a game," Browning said of Belcher. "That helped me maintain my intensity, because we were only ahead 1-0. Any mistakes might have cost us the game."
Browning's performance was nearly flawless. Of his 102 pitches, 72 were strikes and 30 were balls. He hurled first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 27 batters and didn't let any batter get more than two balls. "For once, I had total concentration," he said. "It never drifted once. I was consistently on the corners, and they were up there hacking. Every pitch was where I wanted to throw it."
Reds owner Marge Schott left the game in the sixth inning to go home and take care of her dog. But the next day she presented Browning's wife, Debbie, with a full-length mink coat. Browning was also inundated with congratulatory telegrams from all over, including one from commissioner Peter Ueberroth. There was one disappointment, however. "I haven't heard from President Reagan," he said. "Being from California, he's probably a Dodger fan."