THE ROSE QUESTION
Lost in the avalanche of publicity over Pete Rose and his alleged gambling activities (page 13) is the fact that 1989 is supposed to be his make-or-break season as the Cincinnati Reds manager. If he fails to win in '89 with what many consider the most talented roster in the National League, Reds owner Marge Schott will have a hard time ignoring the pleas from her baseball people to get rid of Rose. Now there's a chance that commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti will do the dirty work for her.
No one questions Rose's ability to handle game situations—he is a brilliant strategist. The same cannot be said of his ability to handle players, which is a manager's primary concern. Rose has frequently come under fire for overusing pitchers, especially middle relievers. Righthander Ron Robinson has had three arm operations; lefthander Rob Murphy, who was traded to Boston in the off-season, warmed up nearly 400 times last year; and righty Frank Williams had bitter things to say about Rose after he was released by the Reds in December and picked up as a free agent by Detroit. Without Murphy and Williams, Rose will probably start warming up stopper John Franco earlier and earlier this season.
The worst rap against Rose, however, is that he is aloof. Unlike the Dodgers' Tom Lasorda or the Pirates' Jim Leyland, who talk to their players frequently, Rose is often as distant from them as he was from his teammates during his playing days, when the only thing that seemed to matter to him was his next at bat. First baseman Nick Esasky, who went to Boston with Murphy, criticized Rose for his "inability to communicate." Says former Cincy outfielder Dave Parker, "Pete is a———manager who never talks to anyone."
Rose's response is predictable. "All that communication———is excuses," he says. "Why should I have to go talk to players? No manager had to talk to me." What Rose fails to understand is that few players, if any, approach the game with the level of intensity that he had as a player.
Should Rose be suspended by Giamatti, several potential successors have been mentioned in the press. The best bet is Cincinnati third base coach Dave Bristol, who previously has managed and been let go by the Reds, Braves, Giants and Brewers. But many Cincy players feel that the appointment of Bristol would do nothing to alleviate the tensions on the team and that one of the other coaches, Tony Perez or Tommy Helms, would be a better choice. There has also been speculation that Schott, in a p.r. move, may try to lure former Cincinnati stars Johnny Bench or Joe Morgan back into the fold. Morgan might not be a bad pick. He, too, was once an undervalued player and should be able to empathize with the Reds' talented Eric Davis, Kal Daniels and Barry Larkin, who all feel they haven't received the respect they deserve.
THE INSIDE PITCH
The Dodgers are concerned about lefthander Fernando Valenzuela's comeback from shoulder surgery. He is throwing in the high 70's, and while he wasn't hit hard in his '89 debut, he gave up five runs in a 6-1 loss to the Braves. The Dodgers would like to see Valenzuela expand his repertoire of pitches the way then-Angel pitcher Frank Tanana did after he got injured. "The problem is that Fernando stubbornly refuses to make the adjustments," says a Dodger official. Meanwhile, the L.A. brain trust is delighted with the progress of its other wounded lefty, John Tudor, who had elbow, knee and shoulder surgery after the World Series. He may even be ready by the first week in June....
The Tigers are worried about righthander Jeff Robinson, who had to stop pitching last August because of a circulation problem. In his first outing this year, against the Rangers on April 6, he threw four wild pitches in five innings....
Montreal righthander Pascual Perez missed all of spring training because of his third stay at a drug rehab center. But he got out in time to start the Expos' third game of the season and pitched seven strong innings in a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh. Manager Buck Rodgers was reminded that in 1987 Expo outfielder Tim Raines sat out the first month, then returned May 2 and hit a grand slam homer. "Yeah," replied Rodgers, "but Tim worked out at a high school. Pascual worked out in an institution. Maybe we should have training in an institution."
The Wade Boggs-Margo Adams fiasco continues to haunt the Red Sox. On April 2 they had to switch to a charter flight for the opener in Baltimore because their commercial flight received an anti-Boggs bomb threat. On April 6 the Sox's plane was detained leaving Baltimore so that a dog could check their luggage for plastic explosives. The next day, when the team arrived at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, the Red Sox discovered that a local radio station had handed out free Margo masks to the crowd. "It started as a joke, and now it's getting to be a pain," said outfielder Randy Kutcher.
Red Sox general partner Haywood Sullivan has tried to defuse the tension by having the players discuss their concerns with Boggs. But the third baseman has made matters worse by refusing to stop talking to the press. As one player puts it, "If he'd only shut up, it might die down. But he won't give it a chance."
General manager Lou Gorman has been trying to trade Boggs for almost five months, and he may be forced to take far less than Boggs's value just to rid the team of the headache. Last week, he and Seattle general manager Woody Woodward were trying to hammer out yet another deal involving Boggs and prize lefthander Mark Langston, even though Langston, who can become a free agent in October, has said that "Boston is the one American League city I wouldn't want to live in." A Red Sox official said that if they can't trade Boggs, they may try to get him to accept counseling to help him through his ongoing ordeal.
THEY WERE FAMILY
About an hour before the Twins' opener, ace lefthander Frank Viola indicated that he planned to become a free agent at the end of the season and leave Minnesota because the club had not met his demand for a three-year, $8.1 million contract. (The Twins' offer wasn't exactly paltry: a three-year, $7.9 million deal, the same package Orel Hershiser got from the Dodgers. But Viola wanted $4.6 million of it before next season as a hedge against an owners' lockout in '90.) Then reliever Jeff Reardon blasted management for changing its offer from $3.1 million for two years, both guaranteed, to $3.45 million for two years with only the first year's $1.95 million guaranteed, in part because he had had a poor spring training. "They might as well trade us both," said Reardon. "It's a joke."
Manager Tom Kelly, who has nurtured a family atmosphere in the Twins' clubhouse, is worried that contract disputes may alter the team's attitude. First baseman Kent Hrbek, who can also become a free agent in October, summed it up: "Instead of baseball, we're talking about money again. What are we playing for? Sure you can make a lot of money in this game, but have a little fun. This ain't going to make it fun for [Viola]. I don't think it's good for the ball club. Instead of going out there and trying to do good for the team, a guy could be just trying to put numbers on the board. I think it's a bunch of crap."
Viola heard some boos in the Metrodome on April 4 when he lost the opener to the Yankees 4-2. And he had so much trouble concentrating that the Yankees' 8 and 9 hitters, Alvaro Espinoza and Roberto Kelly, got six hits off him. Three days later Viola, who was 0-2 at week's end, said he had reconsidered and would reopen talks with the Twins, but the damage may already have been done.
Two historic debuts occurred last week. On April 3, Seattle centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. became the first player to enter the majors while his father was still an active player. Ken Jr.'s first major league hit was a double, just as Ken Sr.'s had been. But the 19-year-old Griffey clubbed his two-bagger during his first at bat, against Oakland's Dave Stewart; his dad, who broke in with the Reds in 1973 and is back with them again this year, had to wait until his third at bat.
Five days after Ken Jr.'s debut, he watched an even more dramatic coming out—that of the Angels' one-handed pitcher, Jim Abbott, who was pitching his first major league game, against the Mariners in Anaheim. Unfortunately, it was not the 21-year-old Abbott's most memorable effort. He gave up six hits and six runs in 4⅖ innings, en route to a 7-0 loss. Of his 85 pitches, Mariner bats missed only two.
"I really didn't have my good stuff," said Abbott, in an understatement. "I was a little distracted by all the attention, and it's nice to have that out of the way. Now maybe I can look forward to just pitching."
California manager Doug Rader felt that Abbott did a "very creditable job," given the fact that he was followed everywhere he went by two dozen photographers, many of whom were from Japan, where Abbott is a hero. Rader disagreed with observers who felt Abbott's performance proved that he should have started in Double A, as was originally planned. "There was one story written that I was using Abbott to protect my butt, because I only have a one-year contract," said Rader. "Then there's talk of this being a publicity stunt. To me, all that is so incredibly distasteful. He could've pitched a perfect game, and it wouldn't have been different. He'll still have to prove himself. It's the long haul that counts."
A REAL WINNER
When the Cubs traded outfielder Rafael Palmeiro to Texas, one of the reasons they gave for doing it was that he didn't get any game-winning RBIs last year, even though he had 580 at bats. So what did Palmeiro do in his second game with the Rangers? He drove in the game-winning run in a 5-4 victory over the Tigers on an infield single to first base, which allowed centerfielder Cecil Espy to score from second. Palmeiro didn't get a GWRBI, however, because the stat, which is often meaningless, has been eliminated as an official statistic this season....
On April 3, Yankee manager Dallas Green said of reliever Rich Gossage, "The Cubs didn't want him, why do I?" Two days later general manager Syd Thrift told reporters that he had invited Gossage to come to New York for a tryout....
When the Cubs' new bullpen stopper, Mitch Williams, loaded the bases and then struck out the side on Opening Day to save a 5-4 win over the Phillies, pitcher Paul Kilgus, who came over with Williams from the Rangers, told Cubs manager Don Zimmer, "You'd better drink a lot of milk this season. Mitch is Ulcer City."
BETWEEN THE LINES
MIDEAST TRADE TALKS
During the Orioles' opener against the Red Sox, which was attended by Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, it was suggested to Baltimore general manager Roland Hemond that as a gesture of international goodwill, he should make a trade for Pittsburgh's Triple A shortstop Sammy Khalifa, who is of Egyptian descent, and broadcast the deal on the message board during the seventh-inning stretch. Hemond rushed back to his box and called Pirate general manager Larry Doughty but couldn't make a deal. "He wanted too much," said a disappointed Hemond. Did Doughty ask for Israel Frias, an Oriole minor league catcher?
When Detroit's Jack Morris and Texas's Charlie Hough started against each other April 4, it was the meeting of two veterans who are first and second in the American League over the past seven seasons in wins (126 for Morris, 111 for Hough), complete games (97-84) and strikeouts (1,305-1,128). The Rangers won 4-0, and Hough is now 3-1 against the Tiger ace.
San Diego rightfielder John Kruk, who is 5'10" and weighs 200 pounds, refers to himself and his outfield partners, Carmelo Martinez (211 pounds) and Tony Gwynn (205 pounds), as the Three Gorditos. Gorditos is Spanish for Fat Boys. Says Padres pitcher Greg Booker. "John Kruk is the luckiest man in baseball. He not only has his number on the back of his uniform, but his picture, too." Kruk wears number 8.
STUPID PET TRICK
The Athletics' promotions department, in its continuing effort to revive Connie Mack's symbol for the team, hired an elephant to throw out the first ball for the home opener. During practice the pachyderm had shown some decent stuff, but because of the noise from the capacity crowd in Oakland-Alameda County Stadium, it was unable to hear its trainer's commands and dropped the ball after a long windup with its trunk.
•Kansas City's Mark Gubicza may have an Opening Day jinx. After losing his first major league opener, 4-3, to Toronto on April 3, he revealed that his only three losses in high school came in opening games.
•Former Dodger pitchers Hough, Jerry Reuss, Rick Sutcliffe, Dave Stewart, Brian Holton and Tommy John all posted opening game victories, while Tim Belcher lost L.A.'s opener to the Reds, 6-4.
•The American League scores on Opening Day, April 3, were 2-1, 3-2, 4-3 and 5-4.
•The cover of the Braves' media guide features pitchers Tom Glavine and Pete Smith. They were 14-32 last season. But then, Atlanta's starters were a combined 32-80.
•Despite the Mets' reputation for having a deep farm system, only one of their starters, two relievers and five position players were developed in their organization.
•No wonder the Padres stunk up the joint during their first two home games. Before the opener, 19 skunks were captured at Jack Murphy Stadium.
•Kansas City's George Brett and Frank White are starting their 16th consecutive season together, the longest run of any two active teammates.
•The Royals had only 20 official at bats in their 3-2 win over Toronto on April 6. The record for fewest at bats in a full game is 19, set by the Orioles at home in 1964.
•Millionaire free agents Bruce Hurst, Andy Hawkins, Dave LaPoint, Rick Mahler, Nolan Ryan and Tom Niedenfuer combined to allow 43 hits and 32 runs in 27⅖ innings in their '89 debuts.
ERA ISN'T EVERYTHING
If pitching is 90% of the game, pitchers with comparable earned run averages should have comparable won-lost records, right? Not so, as the records of these pitchers last season illustrate. To win games, you gotta have runs.
SOURCE: STATS, INC.