BASEBALL

October 01, 1989

GIANT STEPS

Scouts following the Giants agree that the three biggest factors in San Francisco's rise to the top in the National League West this year have been 1) the combination of general manager Al Rosen and manager Roger Craig, 2) the two-man wrecking crew of Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell, who through Sunday had combined for 69 homers and 234 RBIs, and 3) the Candlestick advantage.

"No club works harder than the Giants, from the front office down to the batboys," says one scout. "They're the only team ever to have four guys working each game with headsets. They position the defense on every pitch, and they steal signs. And their pitchers execute scouting reports to perfection. It all stems from the top. Rosen is the only G.M. who sits in back of the screen or in his skybox and tells his assistant [Ralph Nelson, who wears a headset] how to position players."

As for Craig, baseball purists would love to watch him match wits with the Cubs' Don Zimmer in the playoffs because they're both so unpredictable. (And those purists will almost certainly get their wish: San Francisco's magic number was down to two and Chicago's to three as of Sunday night.) Indeed, Craig and Zimmer came up with many of their unusual tactics together when Craig was working as a coach for Zimmer in San Diego in 1972, and Zimmer as a coach for Craig in '87 in San Francisco. Craig will call a pitchout on any count, mainly to intimidate opposing managers. Zimmer loves to send runners with the bases loaded, one out and the count 3 and 2. And both will put on the hit-and-run at any time.

Clark, the Giants' No. 3 batter and perhaps the best hitter in the game, and cleanup man Mitchell have been phenomenal at knocking in the Giants' No. 1 and No. 2 batters, Brett Butler and Robby Thompson, respectively. But the rest of the starting lineup isn't that impressive. Matt Williams has 17 homers in only 79 games as a dead fastball hitter, but the Cubs should be able to neutralize him by feeding him breaking balls.

The big worry for the Giants is injuries. Not only did Clark bang up his right leg on Sept. 21, but many of the pitchers are also hurting. Righthander Don Robinson is trying to come back from a right knee injury; ace Rick Reuschel is, in one scout's opinion, "throwing about 75 percent"; and righthander Kelly Downs is still recuperating from a sore right shoulder. The same scout says relievers Steve Bedrosian and Craig Lefferts "aren't throwing the ball well at all. Both look as if they're hurt."

Meanwhile, Chicago is worried about centerfielder Jerome Walton's strained hamstring. Like Butler, Walton is his team's offensive catalyst, and he can be dangerous against the Giants, particularly if Terry Kennedy is behind the plate.

Finally, there's Candlestick. Says one scout, "That park is the biggest home-field advantage in the majors, because no one wants to play there. Don't even look at the flags. The wind swirls in several directions at once, and balls blow in from the corners. [Chicago leftfielder] Dwight Smith could get hit right between the eyes."

HISTORY LESSON
The results of regular-season matchups rarely foretell what will happen in the playoffs. The Mets were 10-1 against the Dodgers last year, and look what happened to them. One reason the playoffs are different is that managers tend to bear down harder on the weaknesses of opposing players. If the Blue Jays (page 48) make the playoffs, for instance, their opponents will run like crazy on Mookie Wilson if he plays right and Lloyd Moseby in left, because they both have weak arms. Conversely, the playoff format will allow other teams to cover up their flaws. The Cubs should be able to get by with their three-man rotation of Mike Bielecki, Greg Maddux and Rick Sutcliffe. And if the Orioles win the American League East title, they can use their aces, Jeff Ballard and Bob Milacki, in five of the seven games and bring in closer Gregg Olson to protect every lead. For the record, the Cubs were 6-6 against the Giants in the regular season, and both the Blue Jays and Orioles were 5-7 against the Athletics, whose magic number was two after Sunday's action.

MANAGER ROULETTE

There seems to be a split among Mets brass on whether to dump manager Davey Johnson. General manager Frank Cashen respects Johnson's record, but vice-president Joe McIlvaine isn't happy with Johnson's disregard for fielding ability, his obsession with home runs and his failure to discipline his players. Johnson didn't help his case when he got into a flap with outfielder Darryl Strawberry after fining him and outfielder Kevin McReynolds for leaving the bench in the ninth inning as the Mets tried to rally during a 10-6 loss to the Cubs on Sept. 18. "They had been doing it all season," says one manager. "You can't start enforcing rules because you're losing in September." Because of the rift, Johnson's fate will most likely be decided by president Fred Wilpon....

The Red Sox plan to solve their managerial problem by keeping manager Joe Morgan and trying to lure his former Boston College teammate Mike Roarke away from the Cardinals to be the pitching coach....

The Athletics are concerned about shortstop Walt Weiss's right knee and pitcher Dave Stewart's right shoulder. Weiss has been reluctant to make quick shifts on his bad knee, which was operated on in June. As a result, the A's defense isn't quite the same, even though Mike Gallego has played well. Team defense depends a lot on rhythm, and Weiss sets the tempo for the A's. Stewart has some stiffness in the rotator cuff area that, he says, "feels like a charley horse." Nonetheless, he beat the Twins 5-2 last week, to run his record to 20-9....

Pirate coach Rich Donnelly threw batting practice Sept. 21 to Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, Paul Coffey and Dan Quinn. Asked how he thought they would hit, Donnelly quipped, "I'll bet they're all lowball hitters. If I roll it up there, they'll kill it."

PHOTOAPRosen competes as hard in his executive box in San Francisco as he did in the batter's box in Cleveland. PHOTOEDGAR BOLANOS[See caption above.] PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERHerzog, the architect of dynasties, is our man's Man of the 1980s.

THE ALL-DECADE TEAM

Who were the stars of the '80s? Certainly Mike Schmidt, who hit 313 homers in the decade, and Rickey Henderson, who had stolen 836 bases through Sunday, deserve that distinction. But the real star of the '80s—the Man of the Decade—was not a player but a manager: Whitey Herzog. In the '80s, the task of putting together a winning team became more complex than simply buying up a bunch of big names a la George Steinbrenner. Herzog understood that better than anyone. When he took over the Cardinals in June 1980, they were in last place. Since then he has led them to three World Series, the most for any team in the decade. And his previous creation, the Royals, won three division titles and the American League pennant twice.

That said, here are my selections for an all-1980s team, with Herzog, naturally, at the helm:

FIRST BASE
Eddie Murray (Orioles, Dodgers)
He has led the majors with 996 RBIs (through Sunday).

SECOND BASE
Ryne Sandberg (Phillies, Cubs)
In a class by himself.

THIRD BASE
Mike Schmidt (Phillies)
The best ever to play the position. Even better than Wade Boggs, who has the highest average for the decade (.352).

SHORTSTOP
Ozzie Smith (Padres, Cardinals)
Though only a .261 hitter, he dominated like no one else.

LEFTFIELD
Rickey Henderson (Athletics, Yankees)
With his steals, on-base average (.404) and slugging (137 homers), the best decade for a leadoff man ever.

CENTERFIELD
Robin Yount (Brewers)
Forget his .305 average or his 80-plus extra-base-hit seasons in '80 and '82. Yount plays the way you dream your son would.

RIGHTFIELD
Dale Murphy (Braves)
With his 308 homers and five Gold Gloves, he edges out Dave Winfield, Dwight Evans and Andre Dawson.

CATCHER
Gary Carter (Expos, Mets)
A probable first-ballot Hall of Famer. But you could also make a case for another Cooperstown candidate, Carlton Fisk.

RIGHTHANDED PITCHER
Jack Morris (Tigers)
No other righty has come within 25 wins of this war horse, who has 162.

LEFTHANDED PITCHER
Fernando Valenzuela (Dodgers)
The winningest southpaw of the '80s (128 wins) carried L.A. until his shoulder wore out last year.

RELIEF PITCHER
Jeff Reardon (Mets, Expos, Twins)
The decade's save leader with 263.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)