THE RABBIT'S BITE
In the last month one of the cries around baseball has been: Where are the hitters? The Dodgers have eight good starting pitchers and still haven't been able to make a trade for a hitter. The Padres, who have used nine different people in the fifth spot in the order, haven't been able to package a decent pitcher (Eric Show) with a young catcher (Benito Santiago or Sandy Alomar) for someone to knock in some runs. The Red Sox are so punchless that they are 2-11 in Fenway against lefties. The Astros, Braves, Cubs, Cardinals, Mets, Yankees, Tigers, Orioles and Blue Jays have also been shopping for power.
"Where are the big guys who can hit the ball out of the park?" asks Dodger scout Jerry Stephenson.
Two years ago the big question in baseball was: Where's the pitching? That's because 1987, the year of the juiced-up baseball, was the biggest home run season ever. "A lot of guys who weren't home run hitters hit them that year and fooled a lot of people," says Detroit general manager Bill Lajoie.
Look at the Dodgers. They got John Shelby cheap when the Orioles gave up on him because of a lack of hitting. Shelby hit 21 homers in less than a full season in L.A., and the Dodgers thought they were set in center for years to come. Since the 21-homer season, Shelby has hit only 11 more. Through last Saturday, he had seven RBIs this season. And the Dodgers are now searching desperately for his replacement.
Shelby is not unique. Wade Boggs hit 24 homers in '87; he has had seven since. Wally Joyner hit 34; he has had 15 since. Tim Wallach had 26 then; 15 since. Rafael Palmeiro hit 14 in 221 at bats, and the Cubs thought he would be a home run hitter; when he stopped hitting homers, the Cubs got down on him and traded him to Texas, where he has been a very good line-drive hitter.
All told, 171 players hit 10 or more homers in 1987, and 94 of them had their career highs. Seventy-four of those players haven't hit as many in 1988 and '89 combined as they hit that season.
So, was that a rabbit ball in '87 or not? "They told us the balls weren't juiced up," says Whitey Herzog. "It was a joke."
PAIN, NO GAIN
BOSTON RED SOX: Placed Carlos Quintana, outfielder, on the 15-day disabled list; moved Ellis Burks, outfielder, from the 15- to the 21-day list; moved Dennis Boyd, pitcher, from the 21- to the 30-day list.
These were one team's woes on June 22, a fairly typical day, on which five major leaguers were put on the disabled list and four players came off. As of that day, there were 91 players disabled—almost enough to stock four expansion teams. In the first half of the season more than 190 players have spent time on the disabled list, including enough of the game's stars to make up a pretty good All-Star team: Dave Winfield, Eric Davis, Jose Canseco, Paul Molitor, Alan Trammell, Marty Barrett, Kent Hrbek, Carlton Fisk, Teddy Higuera and Dennis Eckersley (photo inset). "What's this game come to when we've got a daily newspaper feature called 'injury update'?" asks Dr. Lewis Yocum, the Angels' orthopedist, who has worked with the Trainers Society to monitor baseball injuries.
Baseball didn't keep disabled-list statistics until three years ago, but if you think things are crazy these days, you're right. The Brewers have had five starting pitchers on the DL, as have the Giants (page 18). Last weekend the Red Sox had six players on the DL; they had only five the entire 1974 season. The Tigers have already lost 14, more than their combined total for '70 through '72.
"There are a lot of reasons for the rise in injuries," says Yocum. "A big one is recognition. Fifteen years ago we might not have been able to recognize the problem. We know a lot more today. Also, clubs are more cautious because their investment in players is so much greater, and players are naturally more cautious because they know so much is at stake. It's silly to risk serious damage if 15 days will cure a problem."
Yocum believes that unsupervised weight training is another factor. "The key word here is unsupervised" he says. "Weight training programs are great if they're done right, but too often they're not."
There is an additional consideration, and that is the playing surface. "The artificial-turf factor is difficult to measure, but when our club has finished a trip to Minneapolis, Kansas City and Seattle, we hear a lot of complaints," says Yocum.
"I hear a lot of people say, 'These guys aren't as tough as they used to be,' " says Yocum. "It's far more complex than that—but the injuries still are a concern because so many owners feel they're not putting their best players on the field."
OH NO, CANADA
The Expos swept the Mets and moved into first place but were still trying to swing deals for a reliever and a left-handed hitter (Montreal is offering Hubie Brooks around). They are apparently very eager to win this year in order to overcome the team's second-class image. But it may be easier to win than to change some players' perceptions about playing in Montreal. Mark Langston has told his former Mariners teammates that while he likes the players and atmosphere around the Expos, he and his wife aren't planning on signing a long-term deal. "It's like a foreign city," Langston told one player. No kidding.... When the Blue Jays traded Jesse Barfield and inserted Junior Felix into the starting lineup, it seemed to turn the team around. Felix, a former track star in the Dominican Republic, is the American League's quickest player going from home plate to first base, and he has power and flair. However, he also seems to have upset several American League umpires, who have spread the word that he's trouble. "Until he learns to keep his mouth shut, he's going to have every close call go against him," says one ump.... The Orioles are growing increasingly concerned about the ability of their starting pitchers to hold up through the dog days, when their regular schedule will be crowded with seven makeup games. They are hoping that Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling can come up from Rochester and help out. In one turn around the rotation last week, the five starting pitchers allowed 39 hits and 26 runs in 19‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings.... Lee Thomas's goal when he took over as the Phillies' general manager was to change the personality of the team from cool to at least tepid. His acquisition of centerfielder Len Dykstra from the Mets is his best deal yet. Dykstra made three sensational catches and scored 10 runs in his first two weeks as a Phillie. Beyond that, he has given the club a spark plug in the leadoff spot and a player Philadelphia fans can identify with.... Roger Clemens doesn't complain about the tendinitis in his shoulder. "I can learn to pitch with it, and I have," he says. But while Clemens has performed well for Boston—through last Saturday he was 8-6 with a 3.06 ERA—he has not been the dominating pitcher he was from 1986 until August '88. "Last year he would top out at 97 or 98 mph on my gun," says one scout. "This year, in the five starts I've seen him, he's topped out at 94. He also has moved his release point more over the top, which may be why his fastball isn't running up in the strike zone as it once did." When the Brewers beat him last week, Molitor saw a change in Clemens. "He was throwing well, but he never used to throw that many breaking balls," said Molitor. "The zip on his fastball wasn't what we're accustomed to." ...The best middle reliever in baseball this year has been Cincinnati's Rob Dibble, who was 6-3 and had 86 strikeouts in 56⅖ innings through last Saturday. Dibble has thrown pitches that were clocked at 100 mph, and he's gaining a wildman reputation for the way he stomps around the mound and takes the hardest swing in the league while batting. He's no politician, either. Asked if he was going to endear himself to Tommy Lasorda so he could make the All-Star team, Dibble said, "I can't stand the Dodgers. I have no animosity toward the players. It's just the Dodger tradition, them thinking they're America's team."
BETWEEN THE LINES
WHY THEY INVENTED THE DH
•Padres pitcher Bruce Hurst had a hit in his second National League start, then was 0 for 32, including 26 strikeouts. "It's the worst slump of my career," said Hurst. He had never had a regular-season professional at bat before this season.
•Last week Reds reliever Kent Tekulve singled against the Braves' Joe Boever for his first hit since Aug. 9, 1982. It lifted Tekulve's career batting average to .083.
THE LEGEND OF MITCH
Cubs reliever Mitch Williams spotted a rat on the field at Wrigley last week, got a bat and crushed it. "I always was a lowball hitter," said Williams.
THINK OF IT ON A GRAPH
Have the Cubs been inconsistent? They started the season winning eight out of 10, lost eight of their next nine, won eight of 11, lost five in a row, won 16 of 22, lost six of eight, won five in a row, then lost seven straight (through June 28).
SECRET OF THEIR SUCCESS
George Bush dropped by to watch the Orioles play at Memorial Stadium on June 28, and the O's beat the Blue Jays 2-1. That made the Orioles 2-0 with Bush watching in Baltimore and 3-0 overall (Bush went to an Orioles game in Anaheim earlier this season). "I didn't vote for him last time, but I will the next time," said manager Frank Robinson. "I don't see why he can't come see us two or three times a week," said pitcher Brian Holton. "He can't be that busy."
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Trader Jack McKeon of the Padres sent his son-in-law, Greg Booker, to the Twins for Fred Toliver on June 28. If that seems coldhearted, there is historic precedent for such a deal: In December 1968, Dodger general manager Al Campanis traded his son Jim to Kansas City for two minor leaguers.
THE USUAL JUNE WEDDING
Seattle first base coach Rusty Kuntz wanted his marriage to Salli Elmore, on June 22, to take place on top of the Kingdome roof, but he had to settle for a ceremony at home plate because of problems with the insurance. Kuntz then had another problem. He brought along only one witness and needed two, so a member of the Mariners' grounds crew had to fill in.
•If the Dodgers' Mike Morgan ends the season leading the National League in earned run average and has a losing record (he now has a league-leading 1.69 ERA and is 5-7), he will follow Joe Magrane (of the Cardinals) and Nolan Ryan (with the '87 Astros) as the third straight ERA leader in the NL to finish under .500.
•Dale Murphy has stranded 75 runners in scoring position in the Braves' first 79 games.
•Phillie shortstop Steve Jeltz reached base 15 times in 17 plate appearances last week—this from a player who went 17 for 170 in one stretch last season.
•Those glamorous Orioles lead the American League in six categories: most intentional walks received, most sacrifice hits, fewest errors, fewest unearned runs allowed, fewest walks allowed, fewest hit batsmen and most triple plays executed (1).
•Sparky Anderson sent in a pinch hitter for Fred Lynn in three consecutive games, on June 25, 27 and 28. Lynn previously had been pinch-hit for twice in his career, in 1974 and 1975.
CLUTCH HITTERS AND CRUTCH HITTERS
The Braves' Gerald Perry last week ended a string of 163 at bats without an RBI; the string began on April 23. This season, Perry has come to bat with 93 runners in scoring position and knocked in 11. Through last Friday these were the most productive and least productive hitters with ducks on the pond.
RUNNERS DRIVEN IN
RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION*
*Minimum 75 Runners in Scoring Position