BABE RUTH JR.?
On May 1, Braves pitcher Derek Lilliquist hit two homers in a 5-2 win over the Mets. The same night, Expo pitcher Zane Smith's pinch-hit double in the 13th inning beat Houston 2-1. Every time a pitcher does something remarkable with a bat, the thought occurs: Why don't any major league pitchers double as every-day players?
It's not that there aren't any good prospects. John Olerud, the Blue Jays' rookie designated hitter, batted .464, hit 23 homers and went 15-0 in 1988 for Washington State. A's pitcher Rick Honeycutt was an All-America first baseman at Tennessee who was drafted in '76 by the Pirates. That season, he played 59 games at first base and was a regular starter for Class A Niagara Falls. He batted .301 with four home runs and had a 5-3 pitching record with a 2.60 ERA. Another Oakland prospect is slugger Jose Canseco. According to his teammates, he can throw 90 mph and has a good knuckleball.
Olerud has the best chance of anyone to become the first full-time two-way player since Babe Ruth, who batted .312 with 40 homers and went 22-12 with a 2.55 ERA as a pitcher-outfielder for the Red Sox in 1918 and '19. Olerud made his major league debut as a hitter last September and went 3 for 8 in six games. In the off-season, he worked on his pitching in the Instructional League, and though he showed promise as a hard-throwing lefthander, Toronto manager Cito Gaston subsequently told him to concentrate on hitting. Says general manager Pat Gillick, "If I had my way, I would have done it with John [made him a two-way player]. But I would have gone against the advice of most of the organization."
May 13, 1990
Gaston says he might let Olerud pitch in a blowout. He needs more work than that, though, to become a regular on the mound. He hasn't pitched in three months, and the longer he stays away from pitching, the less lance he'll have of becoming a two-way player.
Says Oriole manager Frank Robinson, "The game has gotten away from using its imagination. Baseball people are afraid to go against the grain. They're afraid they'll be criticized. It's not just pitchers. How often do you see any position change anymore? I'm not talking about making a second baseman into a shortstop. When's the last time you saw an outfielder changed into a catcher? A first baseman into a catcher? A centerfielder into a shortstop, as the Dodgers did with Bill Russell? When an outfielder is moved to the mound, he's usually a nothing-type player."
Most of the objections to the two-way-player concept are groundless. Take the most common plaint: There isn't enough time to work at both.
"Bull," says Robinson. "You make time."
"I agree," says Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn. "There's always lots of time for hard work. What better things do players have to do? Play cards? Sign baseballs?"
Some people in the game believe that hitting too often can lead to injuries for pitchers. A's righthander Scott Sanderson, who admits he's a terrible hitter, says the arm "needs recovery time after a start; swinging a bat won't help your shoulder much."
Others fear that pitchers will get hurt running the bases. "I don't think about that," says Robinson. "When I was a manager in the National League, I told my pitchers to run hard. They should be in as good a shape as everyone else. When you take it easy, that's when you get hurt."
Pitchers tend to be babied too much. Last month, Pirate starter Bob Walk caught the first pop-up of his seven-year career. Why? Largely because of baseball's silly tradition of not letting pitchers go after pop-ups, even if an infielder has to dive across the mound to make the play.
Most pitchers are told to forget about hitting when they turn pro, even though they may be better batters than some nonpitchers. Honeycutt believes that if he had continued to practice batting after he moved from the National League to the Mariners in 1977, he might have become a two-way player in the majors. Sanderson is skeptical. "I don't think it can be done," he said recently. "There's a tremendous difference between being a good athlete and being a good pitcher."
As Sanderson spoke, Canseco was standing nearby. Could he be a two-way player? "Yes," Canseco replied. "In the future, I can see it: 40 homers, 40 steals, 20 wins."
Funny. Now, seriously.
"I'm serious," said Canseco. "I could."
Padres catcher Benito Santiago is off to a hot start. As of Sunday, he was second in the National League in batting, with a .380 average, and his defense has never been better. Santiago underwent a rigorous conditioning program in the off-season, but more important, he has a new attitude.
In his first four seasons, Santiago was perceived as moody, uncommunicative and selfish. He was also an undisciplined hitter, and in 1989, he became the first catcher to lead the majors in errors three years in a row. All that's history now. For the first time in his five-year career, Santiago spent the winter in San Diego instead of his native Puerto Rico, and that helped him become more acclimated to his adopted city. He started seeing a psychologist as well. "I've improved myself in every way," says Santiago. "I had put too much pressure on myself. I've learned how to relax my mind. My mind is finally clean."
Santiago credits teammate Jack Clark, whom he calls "a great man," for helping him achieve inner peace. Clark says that all he told Santiago was to be less critical of himself and to realize that even on a bad day, he's better than most players. "Most guys," Clark adds, "can't do what he can do."
WHAT A RELIEF!
Even though the Cardinals were in last place in the National League East at week's end, many observers consider them the favorite in the division now that they have acquired reliever Lee Smith from Boston in exchange for outfielder Tom Brunansky. With closer Todd Worrell out until at least July with an elbow injury, St. Louis needed a short man, and Smith (four saves, 1.88 ERA with Boston) is one of the best.
In early April, Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill said he would never swap Brunansky for Smith. However, when Brunansky said last week that he would enter the free-agent market after the season, the deal was sealed. Smith, who said before the trade he wouldn't return to Boston in 1991, can also become a free agent in the off-season—and there's a good possibility he may leave if Worrell's elbow heals.
The deal, which ended Gorman's 506-day trading drought, should help the Red Sox, too. Using both Smith and Jeff Reardon as closers wasn't going to work, and Boston desperately needed an additional righthanded bat. Although he's off to a slow start, batting .158 with the Cards, Brunansky loves Fenway Park. While playing for the Twins between 1982 and '88, he had 10 homers in 32 games at Fenway. By contrast, he hit only 11 in 159 games at St. Louis's Busch Stadium.
But Brunansky won't solve Boston's most glaring weakness—starting pitching. The Sox used eight different starters in the first 17 games—one more than the Angels used all of last year. It wasn't a good sign that Boston started a reliever, Greg Harris, on April 28, then turned to him again on May 2, after only three days' rest.
The Royals' astounding collapse—as of Sunday they were 7-16 and 10½ games out of first in the American League West—can be blamed on many factors. However, Kansas City's vaunted starting rotation deserves to be at the top of the list. At week's end, the Royals' five regular starters had only four wins among them, and their combined ERA was 4.74. All this would not be so alarming if the Royals' off-season spending spree (including a contract extension for righthander Bret Saberhagen and. sizable contracts for two other starters, Mark Gubicza and Storm Davis) hadn't raised the Royals' payroll to a major league high $22.2 million.
THE NEXT CEDENO
White Sox manager Jeff Torborg may have overstated the case when he said last week that "there is no better right-fielder in the game" than Sammy Sosa. But Sosa, who was hitting .269 through Sunday, seems to be the real thing. One American League coach says the 21-year-old Sosa reminds him of Cesar Cedeno at the same age. Someday, the Rangers will regret having let Sosa go to get DH Harold Baines last July....
The Angels are planning to use newly acquired outfielder Luis Polonia as their regular leftfielder despite his questionable fielding. Remember what pitcher Dennis Lamp said two years ago: "If you hit Polonia 100 fly balls, you could make a movie out of it—Catch-22."
...The key player the Yankees got in the Polonia deal was outfielder Claudell Washington, who now has been traded in each of the last three decades. Minnesota's Jim Dwyer is the only other active player who can make the same claim.
The game will sorely miss one of its classiest, funniest and most effective players, reliever Dan Quisenberry, who retired on April 29. Said Quiz the day he quit, "I've looked in the mirror a lot the last couple days. Mostly I just saw a guy who needed a shave and brushed his teeth."
...How desperate is the need for pitching? Joe Hesketh (6-4, 5.77 for Montreal last year) and Jerry Reed (7-7, 3.19 for Seattle) were snapped up by the Braves and the Red Sox, respectively....
In his first year as a manager, former major league catcher Chris Bando is overseeing the Brewers' Class A team in Stockton, Calif. His team bolted to a 19-1 start and was 24-6 through Sunday. "This is more fun than I had as a player; no team I was on ever started out 19-1," says Bando, who played most of his nine-year career with the Indians....
As expected, the first week in which the umpires were supposed to enforce the glove rule—it outlaws any glove longer than 12 inches from the heel to the tip—passed without incident. Cub skipper Don Zimmer calls the rule "a joke." And Philadelphia outfielder Von Hayes says, "I think players with longer arms should have to wear smaller gloves, and players with shorter arms should be able to wear longer gloves. Like Brett Butler. He's got those little leprechaun arms, so he should be able to wear a glove that's 24 inches long."
BETWEEN THE LINES
ONE MAN COMBO
Todd Cason, a righthander for Saint Leo (Fla.) College, recently started four times in six days. How did he do it? Well, whenever he got tired, he just put his glove on the other hand and pitched lefthanded. Cason is ambidextrous, but he does almost everything lefthanded. This year he pitched lefty about 10% of the time en route to a 12-9 record. He has been clocked at 85 mph throwing righthanded and 82 mph lefthanded. According to the rules, Cason can't leave the field and change gloves in the middle of an inning. Nor can he switch hands in the midst of pitching to a batter. "I don't get confused, but my catcher does," says Cason. "Once he didn't know I had switched until I was into my windup." His dream is "to pitch lefthanded all the time," he says, because "lefthanders get away with a lot more."
WHAT, ME WORRY?
Now that noted sluggers Felix Fermin and Gerald Young have each homered this year, Minnesota's Albert D. Newman has the most consecutive at bats among active players without hitting a home run (1,138). "Fans are cheering for me to hit one when I'm in the on-deck circle," says Newman, "but I don't even hit them in batting practice." Newman hit two home runs the first ten days of his junior season at San Diego State, in 1981. Since then, he has had only two: one in '82 while playing for the Double A Memphis Chicks, and the other in '86 as an Expo. On the same day as the second clout, Bob Horner hit four homers for the Braves. "It kind of overshadowed my blast," says Newman. And "something weird" is bound to happen when he connects again. "I'll get drilled the next time up," he predicts, "because I'm going to do a very slow trot around the bases."
At week's end, Oriole reliever Gregg Olson had gone 29 straight appearances without allowing a run. By contrast, the Royals' Mark Davis, who was unhittable down the stretch last year, had allowed 13 runs in his last 30 appearances. Olson had a streak of 41 scoreless innings—the longest in the American League since Luis Tiant's 41 in 1968. The last time Olson had given up a run was on July 31. "It's hard to believe with all the runners I've scattered over the bases that I find a way to get out of it," said Olson. "I don't think of it as a streak. Cal Ripken [the Orioles' shortstop, who on Sunday played in his 1,275th consecutive game] has the Streak. This is just a little run."
BY THE NUMBERS
•Through Sunday, Bo Jackson had 17 singles, four doubles and one homer for a total gain of 870 yards so far this season.
•Mariner outfielder Jeffrey Leonard took 34 seconds to circle the bases during one of his two leisurely home run trots against the Angels last Thursday.
•At week's end, the slumping Cal Ripken had fouled out to first base eight times in his last 11 games—once more than he did in all of 1982, his rookie season.
•Against Texas on April 29, Kansas City's Jeff Montgomery struck out the side on nine pitches in the eighth inning. He is only the eighth pitcher in American League history to accomplish that feat and the first to do it in a relief appearance since Jim Bunning in 1959.
•Boston's Wade Boggs struck out three times in three at bats on May 1 against Seattle's Randy Johnson. Only three other pitchers—Edwin Correa, Jack Morris and Phil Niekro—have fanned Boggs three times in a game.