If you want to make it big, start a baseball version of the National Enquirer. Think of all the stories you could have reported in the first half of the 1989 season. Why, you could even pick an All-Star team just from the baseball "celebrities" who have recently appeared in supermarket tabloids. The seamy side of baseball has also been the subject of more Tonight Show monologues than at any time in history. "What do Pete Rose, Steve Garvey and the Breeders' Cup have in common?" one joke goes. "Rose bet it, and Garvey won it."
This is the year of the Margo Adams media tour. It's the year that American League MVP Jose Canseco got more attention for his driving speed than for his bat speed. It's the year that Yankee rightfielder Dave Winfield, sidelined with a back injury, made the front page of the New York Post for his uncommon marital woes. Above all, it's the year in which we learned more than we wanted to know about Rose and his unsavory associates. As one former Red said, "Sitting in front of my locker every day was like watching The Untouchables."
The news from the first half of the season hasn't been all bad, however. Frank Robinson and his Orioles have been playing out a fantasy so American that President Bush has forsaken the Rangers, the team his son George recently bought, to jump on the O's bandwagon. Jim Abbott, the Angels' one-handed rookie pitcher, has given us a rare kind of baseball hero. Mike Schmidt, the best third baseman ever, retired because he couldn't bring himself to accept money for what he considered a second-rate performance. San Francisco's Kevin Mitchell and Will Clark have reenacted the Mays and McCovey show, combining for 45 homers and 145 RBIs. A 19-year-old outfielder named Ken Griffey Jr. had a candy bar named after him, and players older than his father. Ken Sr., 39, had even sweeter rewards: Texas's 42-year-old righthander, Nolan Ryan, took three no-hitters into the eighth inning and led the majors with 148 strikeouts at the All-Star break; the White Sox' Carlton Fisk, 41, broke Yogi Berra's American League career home run record for catchers; and Giants ace Rick Reuschel, 40, was 12-3 with a 2.12 ERA.
The biggest surprises were the division races. At the break, four unexpected teams—the Expos, Giants, Orioles and Angels—were at the top of the charts, and the hottest races were in divisions the A's and Mets were supposed to have sewn up by now. Hold on to your hats, everybody, the fun has just begun.
July 16, 1989
This division used to belong to the Mets. But New York is an empire in decline, and the Montreal Expos are determined to take advantage of the Mets' weaknesses. After beating out New York in the trade war for lefthander Mark Langston in May, Montreal general manager Dave Dombrowski said, "We'll pay what we have to pay to win." So far he has lived up to his word, trading a dozen prospects to make a dash for the pennant.
The heart of the Expos' order may lack lefthanded power, but switch-hitter Tim Raines (.298) and righties Andres Galarraga (14 homers, 52 RBIs), Tim Wallach (.273) and Hubie Brooks (.267) rival any four-man attack in the division. With the addition of Langston (6-2 with the Expos) and the ascendance of reliever Tim Burke (17 saves), Montreal has a pitching staff that is the equal of the Mets'. "Some of our people don't get the attention they deserve," says manager Buck Rodgers. "I wouldn't trade Burke for any closer anywhere."
The New York Mets can't do what they did last year—play well in April and September and let the pitching carry them the rest of the way. Lefthander Bob Ojeda (5-8) has been inconsistent; righthander David Cone (6-5) had a monthlong slump: righthander Ron Darling (6-6) is no longer overpowering; and lefthander Sid Fernandez (7-2) has a limited repertoire. What's more, the Mets will probably have to do without their ace, Dwight Gooden (9-4), until mid-August because of a muscle tear in his right shoulder.
This has been a season of transition for New York. Highly touted rookie second baseman Gregg Jefferies hasn't turned into the next Joe Morgan, and rightfielder Darryl Strawberry is hitting .236. No wonder the Mets scored 3.89 runs per game in the first half. Think how abysmal that average would have been had third baseman Howard Johnson not hit 22 homers. Newly acquired centerfielder Juan Samuel should liven up the offense, but without Gooden, who's going to revitalize the pitching?
The Chicago Cubs are another story. Almost everyone picked them to finish at the bottom of the division, but at the break they were in second place, 1½ games behind Montreal. Chicago doesn't owe its success primarily to its stars but to unknowns like outfielders Lloyd McClendon, Dwight Smith and Jerome Walton. McClendon, 30, a minor league veteran acquired from the Reds during the off-season, was called up on May 15. "He got off the plane at 11 a.m. and hit a homer at 2:15," says manager Don Zimmer. The Cubs desperately need another power hitter. But a more pressing concern is whether closer Mitch Williams (22 saves. 1.93 ERA) will stay hot in the second half or turn wild, as he has done before.
The St. Louis Cardinals have the core of a solid pitching staff. Righthander Todd Worrell (11 saves, 1.21 ERA) and lefthander Ken Dayley (seven saves, 2.93 ERA) are two of the best bullpen stoppers in the game, and Joe Magrane (9-6), Jose DeLeon (8-8, 109 strikeouts). Ken Hill (5-4) and Scott Terry (6-7) make up a fair rotation. But the Cardinals need at least one more frontline starter and another big bat to stay with the Expos and Mets. Look for manager Whitey Herzog to start reconstructing the team before the end of the year—that is, if the front office gives him the money to do it.
What happened to the Pittsburgh Pirates? "People were wondering what's been wrong with us," says manager Jim Leyland. "Well, we haven't had our team on the field. It's tough to beat anyone with the injuries we had." Pittsburgh is showing signs of life, however. Righthander Doug Drabek (6-6) and lefthander John Smiley (7-4) have developed into a strong one-two punch in the rotation, and Triple A veteran Bill Landrum (11 saves, 0.23 ERA) has filled in gallantly for Jim Gott as closer.
In less than a year, general manager Lee Thomas has given the Philadelphia Phillies a complete make-over. Indeed, only eight Phillies remain from the team that went into last year's All-Star break. "We still have a ways to go," says manager Nick Leyva, "and the disappointments on the pitching staff have made us look worse than we are. But we're a much better team now, in terms of talent and attitude. You'll see a different team in the second half."
This was supposed to be a three-way race involving the world champion Dodgers, the "new" Padres and the talented Reds. Now the question is. Can anybody catch the San Francisco Giants? The key to San Francisco's success, according to manager Roger Craig, is a revamped pitching staff. Craig's most important moves were converting reliever Scott Garrelts (6-3) into a starter, making a reliever out of Mike LaCoss (1.81 ERA in relief) and acquiring Steve Bedrosian, one of the best closers in the business, from the Phillies. "The Giants have great balance." says Pirate coach Rich Donnelly. "They have veteran starters, they have left-right balance in the bullpen, they have defense. People say they don't have much in the bottom half of the order. Who cares? With [Brett] Butler, [Robby] Thompson, Clark and Mitchell, they can score four runs in one whack. That's enough."
The Cincinnati Reds should be the Giants' biggest worry, but, like many other teams, Cincinnati has been hurting. Lefthander Danny Jackson, who was 23-8 last year, went 5-9 in his first 16 outings before going on the DL June 18 with a sore left shoulder. The league's best outfield—Kal Daniels, Eric Davis and Paul O'Neill—has started only 26 games together because of injuries. And casting a shadow over everything is the Rose question. Still, Cincinnati has a lot going for it. The outfield is healthy again. Barry Larkin has established himself as the best shortstop in the game. The John Franco-Rob Dibble bullpen duo is unmatched. And Jackson came back last week and pitched six strong innings against the Mets. Now all the Reds need is for the Rose case to be resolved quickly so that they can get down to playing some serious baseball.
The Houston Astros went into the season on the skids. Yet, at one point the Astros won 16 of 17 games, and by the break they were in command of second place. How have they done it? "Basically, we've won with lesser-name guys carrying the load," says manager Art Howe. Middle relievers Danny Darwin (2.13 ERA) and Larry Andersen (0.67 ERA) have turned into what Leyland calls "the best long combination in the league," and lefthander Jim Deshaies (8-4) has been fooling batters all year with 83-mph high fastballs.
Logic says the Astros will fold. But they have stayed close despite leadoff batter Gerald Young's .232 average and lefthander Bob Knepper's 3-9 record. If those two have a strong second half and ace Mike Scott (14-5) keeps winning, the Astros should remain in the race.
Tom Lasorda, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is looking more emaciated every day. Some think it's his diet, but a more plausible explanation is that watching the Dodgers bat has ruined his appetite. Lasorda thought that acquiring first baseman Eddie Murray from Baltimore would improve the offense, but Murray has hit only three homers since the middle of May, and L.A.'s two other sluggers, outfielders Kirk Gibson and Mike Marshall, have been hurt most of the year. As a result, the Dodgers have scored fewer runs than any other team in baseball.
The rest of the picture is rosier. The pitching staff is leading the league with a 2.84 ERA, and the defense is the best that Lasorda has had in 13 years in L.A. Says one manager. "Look up at the end of August, and the Dodgers will be three or four out and ready to move."
From the outset, the San Diego Padres have played like the Padres of old. Roberto Alomar is leading all National League second basemen in errors with 18, and McKeon has tried more than 10 players behind cleanup batter Jack Clark, who is on a pace to get 130 walks and 100 hits. When McKeon was asked how many of his players have been disappointments this year, he replied, "About 18." The Padres are a good second-half team, however, and if lefthander Dennis Rasmussen (3-6) comes back to life, their pitching should be good enough to get them over .500.
Who's the best pitcher in the National League? If you ask the hitters, they will tell you John Smoltz of the Atlanta Braves. In fact, in Smoltz (11-6) and Tom Glavine (8-5), the Braves have what may be the best one-two combination in the league. They don't have much beyond that, however, except for leftfielder Lonnie Smith, who is hitting .343 and making a stunning comeback. The Braves plan to spend the second half searching for a catcher and a third baseman, and trying to teach butterfingered Ron Gant how to play the outfield. Good luck.
If you like vanilla tapioca, this is the race for you. Sure, the Baltimore Orioles are a wonderful rags-to-riches story. But look at some of the categories in which they lead the league: fewest walks allowed (220), most walks received (340) and fewest errors (41). "Watching the Orioles is like watching a basketball team that's playing well together," says Blue Jay general manager Pat Gillick. "Defense is a rhythm, team thing, and everyone's hustling and trying to outdo one another. It's great to watch."
Pitching is the key to whether the O's hold on. The rotation of Jeff Ballard (10-4), Jay Tibbs (5-0), Bob Milacki (5-8) and Dave Schmidt (8-8) got off to a strong start, but the last few turns have been shaky. So Robinson brought up righthander Pete Harnisch from Rochester last week and plans to move up righthander Curt Schilling after the break. "They say you should go with veterans down the stretch," says Milwaukee catching instructor Andy Etchebarren. "But sometimes kids with good arms can carry you. Bring 'em up in July, and they're fresh in August."
Should the Orioles falter, the team most likely to put together a division-clinching drive is the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers, however, must tighten up their defense—they committed a league-high 90 errors in the first half—and strengthen their crippled pitching staff. Ace Teddy Higuera (3-3), who was out for the first month with a herniated disk, is shaping up, and manager Tom Trebelhorn hopes that his hard-throwing rookie, Jaime Navarro (1-1), will catch fire. Milwaukee should get better run production, too. The coaching staff is confident that shortstop Gary Sheffield (.251, four homers) will hit .300 with eight to 10 homers in the second half.
The American League West managers pick the Boston Red Sox as the sleeper in the East. "They've got the best players," says Minnesota skipper Tom Kelly. Perhaps, but they don't have lefthander Bruce Hurst anymore, and righthander Mike Boddicker has lost faith in his fastball. What's left is Roger Clemens and a lot of inconsistency.
The Sox are a strange team, to say the least. Why have they hit only nine homers in their last 24 games at home? And how can they be 2-11 against lefty starters in Fenway? Says one Boston player, "We've got too many guys who worry more about what's in the newspapers than who's pitching."
That the New York Yankees reached the break at .500 is remarkable. After all, they haven't found comparable replacements for Winfield, Jack Clark or leftfielder Rickey Henderson, who was traded to Oakland in June. The Yanks have also gone through 13 starting pitchers. "It's hard figuring out exactly where we're headed," says first baseman Don Mattingly, who after struggling in April is now batting .313. Manager Dallas Green's verbal hammering of his players and the lack of starting pitching and power-hitting could be the story by September.
The Cleveland Indians have been as big a letdown as the Brewers and the Red Sox. "Our pitching and defense have been about what I thought they'd be," says manager Doc Edwards. "But our offense has been a big disappointment." The Indians had the league's lowest on-base average in the first half, and centerfielder Joe Carter, rightfielder Cory Snyder and third baseman Brook Jacoby are hitting a combined .246, with 33 homers. "If we can get the big guys hot, we can still make a run," says Edwards. If they don't get hot, Doc may not be around much longer.
The Toronto Blue Jays have lots of talent, but after watching some of their "stars" swing at bad 3-and-1 pitches and botch routine double plays, you realize that they are never going to learn to play the game. That's why Gillick's new strategy is to focus on youngsters, like righthander Todd Stottlemyre and catcher Greg Myers, and to build a team tailor-made for the capacious SkyDome. "We're going to let the kids play," says Gillick, who is obviously tired of hearing about how much talent his club has. "Maybe we aren't that good."
The Detroit Tigers got old, and they got unlucky. If starters Jack Morris (2-7) and Jeff Robinson (1-1) had had normal first halves, the Tigers might still be in the race. But both Morris and Robinson are on the DL, and by the time they return, it will be too late. Some advice for manager Sparky Anderson: Remember the Orioles. That might get you through September.
Who would have guessed that this would be the most exciting race in baseball? A large part of the reason, of course, is that the Oakland Athletics have turned out to have a soft spot or two. But even when Canseco, closer Dennis Eckersley and shortstop Walt Weiss return from their injuries, it's not going to be easy for the A's. As manager Tony La Russa points out, "These other teams [the Angels. Royals and Rangers] are not flukes. They're not going to go away."
The Athletics are suffering from a case of post-World Series blues. Center-fielder Dave Henderson's batting average is down 65 points from last year, third baseman Carney Lansford has only 18 RBIs, and first baseman Mark McGwire is on a skimpy (for him) 30-homer pace. One of the keys in the second half will be Eckersley. When he gets back, La Russa can return relievers Rick Honeycutt, Gene Nelson and Todd Burns to their roles as setup men and stabilize the rotation. Another player to watch is Rickey Henderson, who has already begun to ignite the offense. Still, La Russa is cautious about the future. "We've got a lot to work with when we get our team back," he says. "But there's no guarantee we'll perform as well as we did last year."
The resurgence of the California Angels would be the success story of the season if it weren't for the Orioles. The Angels were 75-87 and 29 games out of first at the end of last year. At the break they were 52-33 and led second-place Oakland by 1½ games. "This is a very different team, because it's relaxed for the first time in years," says third baseman Jack Howell. The credit for that goes to manager Doug Rader, who is known for his crazy antics, and to the influence of veterans like righthander Bert Blyleven (a.k.a. the Joker).
The Angels' rotation is formidable. In addition to Abbott (8-5) and Blyleven, who is leading the league with a 2.15 ERA, it includes lefthander Chuck Finley (10-6), righthander Kirk McCaskill (9-5) and Mike Witt (7-7), who has regained his confidence after a slow start. Last year the Angels' staff had the worst ERA in the division (4.32); now it has the league's best (2.89). Can California win? Yes, if closer Bryan Harvey's fastball comes back. Otherwise, the bullpen is the big question mark.
That's one thing the Kansas City Royals shouldn't have to worry about. The Royals' bullpen has been a pleasant surprise, especially middlemen Tom Gordon and Jeff Montgomery, who have combined for a 16-3 record and 2.36 ERA, and closer Steve Farr (16 saves). The same can't be said for the rotation. K.C.'s frontline starters, Bret Saberhagen (8-4), Mark Gubicza (8-6) and Charlie Leibrandt (5-8) have been barely adequate, and the loss of lefthander Floyd Bannister to rotator-cuff surgery leaves the Royals with a big gap at the No. 4 spot.
Outfielder Bo Jackson, who's on a 40-40 pace, has been carrying the offense. To go all the way, the Royals will need a big stretch drive from first baseman George Brett, who missed 35 games after tearing up his right knee in April. If that happens, this race could get interesting in September.
Everything the Texas Rangers have done since last season has turned to gold, including signing Ryan (10-4), making former starter Jeff Russell (20 saves) the closer and working hard to get outfielder Ruben Sierra (.330, 65 RBIs) back on track. The Rangers are trailing because knuckleballer Charlie Hough (5-10) and outfielder Pete Incaviglia (.215, six homers) have failed to produce. If Hough and Incaviglia get hot, the Rangers could win as many as 90 games—a substantial improvement over their 70-91 record in '88.
Every time someone writes off the Minnesota Twins, they shellac the A's, Rangers or Royals. The Twins had a nasty contract hassle with ace Frank Viola and lost first baseman Kent Hrbek for two months with a dislocated left shoulder. However, while the Twins remain a fiery team, it may be too much to expect them to keep patching up a rotation that replaced Blyleven with Shane Rawley (4-7).
The Seattle Mariners have a modest goal: to finish over .500 for the first time in their sad history. Manager Jim Lefebvre has changed Seattle's defeatist attitude with the infusion of youngsters such as Griffey and infielder Omar Vizquel. Lefebvre has also gotten a major contribution from All-Star outfielder Jeffrey Leonard (.271, 15 homers). Now that Mike Schooler (20 saves. 1.65 ERA) has proven himself as a stopper. Seattle's shot at .500 will depend on how well its young pitchers work behind their top starter, Scott Bankhead, who's 8-4.
The Chicago White Sox are in their usual state of disarray. "We've got to make some moves." says manager Jeff Torborg, whose pitching staff boasts the league's worst ERA (4.89). Says pitcher Bill Long, "I'm confused, they're confused, and everyone on the club is confused." That about says it all.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
CY YOUNG AWARD
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
KEN GRIFFEY JR.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
If 1987 was the Year of the Homer and '88 was the Year of the Balk, '89 is shaping up to be Year of the Picher
Runs per game
Will Clark 1987 Fleer Card
June 1, 1988 $1.75
June 1, 1989 $13
(in same period)
Shutouts on the rise again
Home runs per game
R.I.P.: THE COMPLETE GAME
Percentage of starts that have gone the distance
FANTASY VS. REALITY
Attendance through July 2
"Field of Dreams" and "Major League" 24,080,881*
Major League Baseball 26,192,360
*Derived from gross sales figures.
The worst NL hitting slump since '68
Balks per game
IT'S A STEAL
National League's reign is ending
Attempts per game Success rate
'87 AL 2.21 69.2%
'87 NL 2.69 71.0%
'88 AL 1.95 68.7%
'88 NL 2.60 71.0%
'89 AL 2.10 68.0%
'89 NL 2.49 67.2%
Game Winning RBIs
RISE OF THE WEST
Western divisions' winning percentages
FOR THE BIRDS
Baltimore Oriole caps sold by New Era
1989 (as of March 31) 18,300
Compiled by Stats, Inc.
All '89 statistics through the All-Star break, unless otherwise indicated
FINALLY THE BIGGEST DROP-OFF OF ALL