A DODGER BLUES
While the Dodgers took batting practice in Candlestick Park on Aug. 11, a grim story was unfolding on the video screen in leftfield. Righthander Tim Leary, who had been dealt by Los Angeles to the Reds three weeks earlier, was in the process of beating the Astros, 6-1, while the key player he had been traded for, outfielder Kal Daniels, was recuperating in L.A. from his fifth knee operation.
How quickly things change. Last year Dodger general manager Fred Claire appeared to be the reincarnation of Branch Rickey as he wheeled and dealed his way to the World Series. This year he looks more like Spec Richardson, the former general manager of the Astros and Giants who made some of the worst deals in history. The Daniels fiasco was Claire's crowning touch. Indeed, with leftfielder Kirk Gibson out for the season to undergo surgery on his injured left leg and rightfielder Mike Marshall still troubled by chronic back stiffness, the Dodgers' first-string outfield will probably miss more games than it plays. On Tuesday the out-field was composed of Franklin Stubbs, hitting .284, in left, Billy Bean (.133) in center and Mike Huff, making his first major league start, in right. The Dodgers could have fielded that combination without giving up one of their best pitchers.
The tale of woe began when second baseman Steve Sax fled L.A. for the Yankees in the off-season, saying "Claire never showed me any respect" during contract negotiations. His departure left a hole at the top of the order that the Dodgers are still trying to fill. Then Claire picked up first baseman Eddie Murray from Baltimore in a multiplayer trade, but Murray (.240, 13 homers, 69 RBIs) hasn't been able to carry the team. In March, Claire traded outfielder Mike Devereaux, who had been a disappointment to the Dodgers, to the Orioles for pitcher Mike Morgan. At first it looked like a positive move. But Devereaux has turned out to be a pleasant surprise, hitting .275 with six home runs and 30 RBIs, while Morgan has gone 7-11, despite his 2.53 ERA. In addition, pitcher Fernando Valenzuela has been slow coming back from shoulder surgery, and lefthander John Tudor started only three games, for a total of 8‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings, before his left shoulder, operated on in the off-season, gave out again.
Claire has taken a lot of heat in the L.A. papers for failing to study the medical data on Daniels or Tudor before acquiring them. In the case of Daniels, the criticism is justified because Claire was warned by his scouts before the trade that Daniels had had four knee operations, but Claire opted to take the risk anyway. The Tudor trade, however, is another story. If the Dodgers had not acquired Tudor, who went 4-3 with a 2.41 ERA in '88 after the trade, they would never have made it to the playoffs. Even if Tudor hadn't figured in six Dodger victories down the stretch, the trade would have made sense because it freed the Dodgers from their No. 1 albatross—infielder Pedro Guerrero.
Another thing Claire has been criticized for is his evaluation of talent. When broadcaster Al Downing asked him why he traded Guerrero's half-brother, utilityman Domingo Michel, to Detroit for Bean, Claire replied, "Michel is an American League-type player." So what are Gibson, Murray, catcher Rick Dempsey, shortstop Alfredo Griffin, second baseman Willie Randolph, outfielders Mike Davis and John Shelby, and Bean—all of whom came over from the American League?
Claire seems to have a soft spot for players who are (or soon will be) candidates for the new 35-and-over league, such as pitcher Pete Falcone, who is with the Dodgers' Double A club in San Antonio, and outfielder Ken Landreaux, who is on their Triple A team in Albuquerque. One reason Claire signed Falcone and Landreaux is that the Dodgers' once successful farm system is not as deep as it used to be. Until this year the Dodgers have had a laughable record in the June draft, going all the way back to 1983.
But don't shed any tears for Claire. He still has pitcher Orel Hershiser, whose career ERA (2.72) is now lower than Sandy Koufax's (2.76). Valenzuela also seems to be returning to form, now that he has learned a new cut fastball from pitching coach Ron Perranoski and catcher Mike Scioscia. If the Dodgers can pick up a pitcher like Mark Langston or Mark Gubicza in the free-agent market and acquire a leadoff hitter and perhaps another bat, they could be back near the top in no time. After all, how strong can their division—the National League West—be if the current leader, the Giants, had to resort to signing lefthander Bob Knepper (4-11, 5.73 ERA) and, even worse, using him as a starter?
THE REAL THING
Pirate manager Jim Leyland wasn't surprised that the Cubs were on top of the National League East at week's end. "They are the best team up the middle," he said. "[Damon] Berryhill is the best catcher in the league; Ryne Sandberg is the best second baseman, period; Shawon Dunston is playing great at short; and [center-fielder] Jerome Walton has done a great job. That's a tough combination to beat, especially when Sandberg gets a taste of the race." Indeed. Sandberg took off last week with six homers in five consecutive games. When it comes time to pick the best player of the decade, Sandberg should be among the leading vote getters. Says Cub manager Don Zimmer, "I've managed him for two years and I've never seen him make a mistake defensively." ...Three National League managers rate the league's best catchers in the following order: 1) Berryhill, 2) Montreal's Nelson Santovenia and 3) Scioscia. "Santovenia and Scioscia are about the same defensively," says one manager. "But Santovenia has a little more power." ...For years the ideal body type for a baseball player was thought to be the sleek, well-proportioned physique of someone like Toronto outfielder Lloyd Moseby. But SI's Steve Wulf suggests that short and pudgy may be the body type of the future. After all, San Francisco's Kevin Mitchell, who leads the majors in homers and RBIs, is 5'11" and weighs 210 pounds, and two of the best players in the game are Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett (5'8", 210 pounds) and Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn (5'11", 205 pounds). "It used to be that if a scout turned in a guy with a body like Gwynn or Puckett, they could be fired," says scout Bob Harrison. "Now at least we can put on the report: 'Reminds me of Puckett.' "
While trying to explain why he took his scouts off the road a month ago, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner said, "All scouts do after the [June] draft is pad their expense accounts." Besides insulting the scouts, that remark revealed once again why Steinbrenner can spend more money than any other owner and come up empty-handed most of the time.
Scouting is important not only in the spring but also later in the year for making trades—remember the Fred McGriff-Dale Murray deal, George?—and acquiring talent in other ways. Look at some of the steals the Blue Jays have made thanks to their scouting system. Not only did they grab outfielder George Bell, third baseman Kelly Gruber and infielder Manny Lee in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings, but in the minor league phase of the same draft they also picked up two righthanded pitchers, Mauro (Goose) Gozzo and Tom Gilles, who had been left available on Double A rosters by their respective teams—the Royals and the Twins—and were selected for $12,000 each. Since moving over to the Toronto organization, Gozzo and Gilles have gone a combined 21-5 for Knoxville and Syracuse. Gozzo, who has Jim Clancy's sinker and Pete Vuckovich's wild demeanor, made his major league debut on Aug. 8 and beat the Rangers 7-0. Gilles, a converted infielder who was originally drafted by—who else?—the Yankees, is pitching well enough for Syracuse that he will probably be called up by Toronto in September.
BO DID IT
Kansas City outfielder Bo Jackson may be versatile, but there's one sport he hasn't mastered—bowling. When King Louie Lanes sponsored a pregame bowling tournament at Royals Stadium, Bo knocked down just 22 pins in three frames, finishing last, behind third baseman Kevin Seitzer and pitcher Bret Saberhagen, who knocked down 34 and 27, respectively.
That's O.K. The big guy has a big heart. When the Royals were in Boston in July, Jackson promised three clubhouse kids that he would send them basketball shoes. And he didn't forget. On Aug. 9, a package arrived at Fenway Park for the clubbies containing three pairs of Nikes, courtesy of Bo.
Several scouts think that pitcher Rich (Goose) Gossage, who signed with the Yankees last week after being released by the Giants, may be able to make a comeback, sharing the closer role with Dave Righetti. "Goose is still throwing in the 90s, but with [Steve] Bedrosian and [Craig] Lefferts in the bullpen, he couldn't fill that role with the Giants," says Yankee scout Stan Williams. "He is an adrenaline pitcher. He just doesn't function well as a middleman or when the game isn't on the line."
The Yankees picked up Gossage before his waivers cleared, and the Red Sox, the Cardinals and the Braves grabbed pitcher Greg Harris, pitcher Ricky Horton and in-fielder Ed Romero, respectively, as soon as they were released by their previous clubs. That's a good indication of how the talent has been thinned out by injuries. On the rosters of the 17 teams still in contention, there are more than 50 players who have been released at one point in their careers, including six with the Red Sox.
The curious saga of shortstop Rey Quinones, whom Ted Williams once called "the best young player to come out of the Red Sox system in 20 years," may be drawing to a close. Several teams were interested in Quinones after he was released by the Pirates on July 22, but he informed them he doesn't want to play.... The Yankees' Double A team in Albany has one of the best records in baseball (81-36), but Eastern League scouts list only one of its everyday players as a surefire prospect: outfielder Bernie Williams. The two pitchers the scouts think have promise are righthander Scott Kamieniecki (10-8, 3.69 ERA) and lefthander Steve Adkins (11-0, 1.45 ERA). Adkins, who has an outstanding knuckle curve, is a Lee Guetterman clone.... The Mets instituted a series of predraft tests to measure prospects' aptitude and ability to make snap decisions. The player with the highest rating was Auburn first baseman Frank Thomas, who was drafted by the White Sox. Two with the lowest ratings were the Pirates' No. 1 pick, shortstop Willie Green, and one of the Mariners' first-round picks, pitcher Scott Burrell. The Mets took Old Lyme, Conn., catcher Brook Fordyce in the third round because of his high scores. He is now considered one of their two best catching prospects.... Oakland shortstop Walt Weiss says, "Defensive timing takes longer to get back than hitting timing. Every spring my defensive game is always the last thing to come around."...Last season Cleveland righthander Tom Candiotti was 6-0 after coming off the disabled list in August. This year he has gone 4-0 since returning from the DL on July 17. Quipped Cleveland manager Doc Edwards, "I think we'll make his going on the DL an annual event."
BETWEEN THE LINES
COACHING, JAPANESE STYLE
Earlier this year former Red Sox slugger Larry Parrish, who is now playing in Japan with the Yakult Swallows, put his fist through a window after a frustrating batting practice. A few days later team officials gave him a life-sized dummy with PARRISH written on it. "Here," an executive said. "If you want to get mad at yourself, take a swing at this."
Cub manager Don Zimmer is currently doing a radio commercial for Popeyes Chicken and another one for the Nutri/System diet plan. Says Pirate skipper Jim Leyland. "Zim gets paid to eat and to diet."
Things get weirder by the day in Cincinnati. The Reds' game with the Braves on Aug. 5 was held up by—would you believe?—a milking contest. Well, first there was a little rain, which caused a 55-minute delay. Then, just as the weather cleared, a small herd of cows appeared on the field at Riverfront Stadium for the pregame Farmers' Night festivities. True to form, Cincy pitcher Norm Charlton won the milking contest, but the Braves won the game 7-1.
On Aug. 10, Oakland manager Tony La Russa inadvertently wrote out two different lineups for a game against the White Sox. The one he handed the umpire had catcher Ron Hassey batting seventh and second baseman Tony Phillips eighth; the one he kept in the dugout had their order reversed. La Russa realized his mistake in the second inning, when Phillips came up to bat in the seventh spot. He hit a ground ball to first for the third out. La Russa was worried that the White Sox would discover the foul-up after Hassey or Phillips got a hit and would ask the umpire to disallow it because the A's had batted out of turn. So before the third inning, La Russa explained his predicament to home plate umpire Larry McCoy and, at McCoy's direction, sent Phillips out for another at bat. This time he walked.
LIFE BEGINS AT 35
Atlanta slugger Darrell Evans's two-run blast against the Padres on Aug. 12 was his 192nd home run since he turned 35 in 1982. That put him third on the alltime post-35 list, behind Henry Aaron (245) and Babe Ruth (198).
After 110 games, the Padres' record was 55-55. They were 26-26 at home, 29-29 on the road, 14-14 against lefties, 41-41 against righties, 28-28 against their Western Division rivals and 27-27 against teams in the NL East. When informed of his team's unusual statistics, San Diego manager Jack McKeon said, "At least we're consistent."
•San Francisco outfielder Kevin Mitchell reached the 100 RBI mark on Aug. 10, the earliest anyone has gotten to that level at any time in the '80s.
•Houston reliever Bob Forsch allowed a total of 25 hits and 17 runs in 8‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings in two consecutive appearances.
•In the Mets' first 11 games after the trade for Minnesota ace Frank Viola on July 31, their starting pitchers were 7-0, with a 1.71 ERA.
•Last week the Orioles tied the record, set by the 1975 Pirates, for the worst stretch by a team that remained in first place: 5-17.
RUNNERS LEFT ON BASE PER GAME
Marty Barrett, Red Sox
Mike Greenwell, Red Sox
Ellis Burks, Red Sox
Jim Rice, Red Sox
George Brett, Royals
SOURCE: STATS, INC.