NO MORE DOUBTS
When the California Angels hosted the Equitable Old-Timers' All-Star Game at Anaheim Stadium on July 9, rookie lefthander Jim Abbott was the player that all the veterans wanted to meet. Warren Spahn came into the Angel clubhouse two nights before the game to introduce himself to Abbott. And on the morning of the Old-Timers' Game, a group of Hall of Famers arrived early to see him. Bobby Doerr brought a baseball for Abbott to sign. Ernie Banks asked Abbott if he could have his picture taken with him. "This is incredible," Abbott said.
California manager Doug Rader disagreed. "He may be the most remarkable individual I've ever known in baseball," said Rader. "Beside it all, he's just a red-blooded kid who's one of the guys in the clubhouse. It's been wearing at times. He's had to answer some of the dumbest, most undignified questions I've ever heard, but he's handled everything with dignity and grace. And he's one helluva pitcher."
Keep in mind, too, that Abbott has exhibited this maturity despite having no minor league experience. The last six pitchers to go from college directly to the majors—Mike Adamson (Orioles), Steve Dunning (Indians), Pete Broberg (Senators), Burt Hooton (Cubs), Dick Ruthven (Phillies) and Eddie Bane (Twins)—had a combined career record of 345-392, and only Hooton had a lifetime winning percentage over .500.
But Abbott, who was 8-5 at week's end, has simply been the best rookie starter in baseball. His pitching coach, Marcel Lachemann, says, "All the questions about him have pretty much been put aside. Some people worried that he couldn't field bunts. But he's been doing that all his life, and he's good on them. They worried that he'd get killed on a ball through the middle. If there's anything he has trouble with, it's the ball hit sharply through the box, but a lot of pitchers have that problem. They said he couldn't hold runners on. He had trouble early on, but he's learned a slide step, and he's getting better all the time. Most important, he has proved he has quality major league stuff—a great breaking ball, pitches inside to righthanders—and he seems to throw his best pitches when he's in jams."
Abbott is self-effacing about all the compliments he has received. "Dealing with the adjustments to the major leagues while dealing with the attention has been made easier because the players, manager and coaches have accepted me as one of the guys from the outset," he says. "No one got worried when I didn't win my first couple of starts. No one panicked when I had an off day. I happened to come to the right situation."
As the right pitcher and the right person.
STARS ON THE BLOCK
Blue Jay president Paul Beeston is among those in the Toronto organization who are ready to unload outfielder George Bell because of his recent outbursts. First, Bell told the Blue Jay fans to "kiss my butt." Then he insulted the working people who criticize him by saying that "I make two million dollars a year, and I don't have to go to work at 6 a.m." The Jays would like to trade Bell for a right-handed power hitter, but so far they haven't had any luck.
The Braves, meanwhile, tried to interest the Mariners in a trade for centerfielder Dale Murphy. One of Atlanta's selling points was that by returning to the Pacific Northwest—Murphy grew up in Portland. Ore.—he might come out of the season-long slump in which he has been mired.
As of Sunday, Murphy was struggling along with a .248 batting average, and his meager home run output (6) was only the third-highest on the team, behind Lonnie Smith (14) and Andres Thomas (10). "Murphy's probably the worst hitter on the Braves right now," says one National League scout. "He [misses] mediocre fastballs from a third of the plate on out."
•California first baseman Wally Joyner, who hit 34 homers in 1987, had three through Sunday. "He's not really a home run hitter," says Angel hitting coach Deron Johnson. "Everyone hit them in '87 with the juiced-up baseball. He's a line-drive alley hitter who should hit 10 to 15 homers, but early in the season he got messed up trying to hit them out to please people."
•Lefthanded stopper Dan Plesac, the Brewers' most indispensable player, was 0-2, with only one save in the last seven weeks of the 1987 season, and he had one loss and one save in three appearances over the final six weeks of '88. As a result, people are wondering whether he has the stamina to pitch effectively for a full season. That bugs Plesac, who at week's end had a league-high 22 saves. 'Two years ago, I got hurt crashing into a wall shagging fly balls," he says. "Last year I had tendinitis. That just happened. I'm fine now, and the way I'm used. I'm not wearing out."
•Philadelphia shortstop Steve Jeltz, who has a .215 lifetime average in his 4½ years of major league service, was batting .289 as of Sunday. He also had three homers after not having hit one since 1984. Why the sudden production? The answer is Dickie Thon, whom the Phillies added to their roster at shortstop this year to push Jeltz.
A GIANT EGO
San Francisco first baseman Will Clark, on accusations that he is arrogant and cocky: "Maybe I am, but I'm not going to change. That's the way I feel when I'm walking to the plate, which is no more than a confidence factor. I'm not insecure, and I'm also not falsely modest. The only thing that gets to me is when a writer talks to me for a long time, then writes that I'm arrogant and talk too much. But I'm not going to change, because if I did. I think it would change the way I hit."
RED SOX BLUES
Two weeks ago the Red Sox signed Wade Boggs to a three-year. $7.3 million contract to make it easier to trade him. They would have moved him to Atlanta had the Braves been willing to part with prize lefthander Kent Mercker, righthander Tommy Greene and infielder Jeff Blauser.
The Sox desperately need pitching help. When lefthander Bruce Hurst signed with San Diego as a free agent in the off-season, that left righty Mike Boddicker as Boston's No. 2 starter, behind Roger Clemens. But Boddicker started 3-6, and lost so much confidence in his fastball that hitters were sitting on the eight varieties of his curveball. Pitching coach Bill Fischer has gotten him to throw his fastball for strikes again, and at week's end. Boddicker had won four of his last five starts to improve his record to 7-7. "My breaking balls are obviously a lot more effective when I'm ahead in the count," he says. Still. Boston badly needs a lefty starter.... Montreal will miss shortstop Spike Owen, who went on the DL on Sunday with a sprained ankle. Expo owner Charles Bronfman called Owen "our MVP" through the first half of the season. Despite a .242 batting average, Owen has solidified the Montreal infield. He isn't quick, but he is a more effective fielder on the turf at Olympic Stadium than he was on the grass at Fenway Park, where he played for the Red Sox from 1986 to '88.... The Dodgers may have lost John Tudor for good. While trying to get loose before a July 7 game at Wrigley Field, he threw 149 pitches but then had to leave the game after just 10 pitches. Tudor, who was placed on the DL the next day, was considering retirement at the end of this season, and now the decision may have been made for him. Last fall he had elbow, shoulder and leg surgery on the same day. Afterward, the surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe, told Tudor his shoulder was "held together by a string."...Several teams have approached the last-place Tigers about pitchers Frank Tanana and Doyle Alexander, but general manager Bill Lajoie refuses to hold a fire sale. One bright spot on the horizon is shortstop Travis Fryman, who is hitting .264 with seven homers and 40 RBIs for Detroit's Double A team, the London (Ontario) Tigers. Some scouts consider Fryman the best prospect in the Eastern League. His arrival would allow the Tigers to move aging Alan Trammell to first. With Lou Whitaker manning second base, Detroit would then have three quarters of a strong infield while Lajoie tries to reconstruct the rest of the team.... Frank Robinson's outburst against umpire John Shulock and his threat to resign over alleged unfair treatment from the umps only hurt his position as the Orioles' manager. Robinson is an intelligent man who has done a superb job with the O's, but he has a tendency to fly off the handle at times. Now, he has put his team in a difficult position with American League umpires.
One sidelight to the tirade was the story in the Baltimore Sun the morning of the incident. It featured a picture of Robinson under the headline: HAPPY, RELAXED AND IN FIRST PLACE.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Brewers outfielder Glenn Braggs swings so hard that he has broken three bats across his back on his follow-through this season. Former Oriole slugger Jim Gentile used to do the same thing, so he wore a pad across his back.
THE NEW MATH
When Oriole pitcher Kevin Hickey changed his uniform number from 23 to 45, reporter Tim Kurkjian of the Baltimore Sun asked him why. "It's closer to my age," said Hickey.
"But you're listed as 33," said Kurkjian.
"Well, that's why I got an F in math," replied Hickey, who many have long suspected is actually 36 years old, and not 33.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
The Yankee rotation is made up of Andy Hawkins and a load of question marks: Dave LaPoint? Clay Parker? Chuck Cary? Greg Cadaret? Consider some of the Yankee pitchers who have been sent packing in recent years: Rick Reuschel, Tim Belcher, Jose Rijo, Ed Whitson, Jim Deshaies, Mike Morgan, Doug Drabek, Dennis Rasmussen, Jay Howell and Tim Burke. At week's end, that group had a combined record of 69-53 for the season with a 2.78 ERA and 37 saves.
YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN
When Montreal manager Buck Rodgers returned to his hometown of Anaheim to serve as a coach for the National League All-Stars, the official bat he was given had his name spelled R-O-G-E-R-S.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
The Franconas, Tito and his son Terry, hold the father-and-son record for most major league teams played for. Tito played first base and outfield for nine clubs between 1956 and '70. Terry, now a first baseman with the Brewers, has played for five teams.
WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME
Consider the plight of Junior Noboa, who plays second base for the Expos' Triple A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians. Through July 15 he led all of professional baseball with a .386 batting average, yet he couldn't crack the Montreal roster, which has three second basemen, Tom Foley, Rex Hudler and Damaso Garcia. This isn't the first time Noboa has been blocked. In 1985 he hit almost .500 for Cleveland in spring training, but Tony Bernazard still beat him out, and Noboa was sent down to the Indians' Triple A team, the Maine Guides. Bernazard was traded in July '87, but Noboa struggled that year because of a case of food poisoning he had contracted during the off-season in his native Dominican Republic. So Tommy Hinzo became the Cleveland second baseman. Noboa was ready when Hinzo faltered in '88, but the Tribe moved Julio Franco from shortstop to second to save his arm. Noboa asked to be traded, and he ended up in the Angel system, behind talented second basemen Johnny Ray and Mark McLemore. In December 1988, Noboa signed with the Expos as a free agent. Noboa, 24, has toiled 8½ years in the minors. At least he has one consolation this season. Because of his hot start with the bat, his teammates have given him a new nickname: Lucky.
•Minor leaguers seem to be hanging on longer for a trip (or a return trip) to the majors. The average age of the players at last week's Triple A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio, was 26½. The oldest was Buffalo's Steve Henderson, 36, who played for the Mets, Cubs, Mariners and A's.
•Last year the Athletics won eight games that went 13 innings or longer. As of Sunday, they had not won a single extra-inning game.
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD
Pity the poor middle reliever. He toils without glory while his bullpen partner, the stopper, gets the saves, the acclaim and the seven-figure salary. So we have devised a formula using the "hold"—a save opportunity that's passed on to another pitcher—to see which middle men have been the most effective this year. For this comparison, relievers with 10 or more saves are considered stoppers and have been excluded:
Wins Saves Holds
Blown Saves* Losses
Ken Dayley, Cardinals
Rob Dibble, Reds
Jeff Montgomery, Royals
Calvin Schiraldi, Cubs
Steve Wilson, Cubs
Chuck Crim, Brewers
Mark Williamson, Orioles
Greg Minton, Angels
Todd Burns, Athletics
Bob Stanley, Red Sox
Jeff Brantley, Giants
Danny Darwin, Astros
Through July 15
SOURCE: STATS, INC.