Last Saturday, Angel manager Doug Rader slid his cap over his eyes and said, "I've never been so unsettled for this long in my life. From the first day of spring training—it stinks. I hate it."
At week's end, California—a team that some observers thought would win 100 games this season—was 12-20, had lost nine of its last 11 games and had fallen 11 games behind the American League West-leading Oakland Athletics. What's more, outfielder Dave Winfield, whom the Angels thought they had acquired from the Yankees on Friday, was, as he put it, in his "cab to limbo." New York neglected to clear the deal with him before announcing it. That angered Winfield, who as a 10-and-five player (10 seasons in the majors, the last five with the same team) has the right to reject any trade. However, there is an ambiguous clause in his contract that requires him to list seven teams each season that he either would consider being traded to or had authorized the Yankees to trade him to—depending on how one reads the clause. California was one of the teams Winfield had listed this year. Yet as of Monday he had refused to report to the Angels. An arbitrator was expected to decide this week where and when Winfield, who is no longer on the Yankees' roster, will play next.
The Angels, of course, hope it's in Anaheim. And soon. They have already called up reliever Cliff Young to replace pitcher Mike Witt, whom they sent to the Yankees in exchange for Winfield. California's 1990 plan didn't include dipping into the minors for pitching talent. Then again, it didn't call for a truncated exhibition season. "When we left spring training, the pitching wasn't right," says Rader. "We weren't in sync. No one was sure what he could do."
May 20, 1990
And no one has done much. The Angels are praying that Winfield, 38, not only reports but also becomes the standout player he was before missing last season because of back surgery. Angels general manager Mike Port says Winfield "was a great player, and he still may be a great player."
Winfield's performance so far this season (.213 average, two homers and six RBIs) isn't encouraging. But the Angels need him more for his leadership than for his bat. Until Saturday, when pitcher Bert Blyleven went into a tirade following a 7-1 loss to the Red Sox, nobody on the Angels had shown much emotion. It was as if everybody had already written off the season.
"One guy can't turn this——team around," said Blyleven, referring to Winfield. "Maybe he can breathe some life into our offense. Our offense is going through the motions. We don't even do batting practice right. For the first time in 20 years, I feel like I have to pitch a shutout to win. I'm tired of losing. But until everyone gets tired, we're going to keep losing."
In the off-season, Rader had hoped that free agent Robin Yount would be supplying California with, among other things, an injection of leadership this year. But Yount re-signed with the Brewers, leaving Rader with essentially the same everyday lineup that he had last October. And it has become clear that the 1989 Angels (91-71) played to their max and that the '90 Angels were overrated. Says Rader, "Every year you have to make a significant addition to your team, a personality change, or it will be virtually impossible to duplicate what you did the year before."
With Yount's return to Milwaukee, this season's significant addition became free agent pitcher Mark Langston, whom the Angels signed to a five-year, $16 million contract in December. But as of Sunday, he was 2-3 with a 3.46 ERA and had allowed 16 walks in his last 20 innings. Recently, California fans have begun to chant "What a thrill, 16 mil" when he pitches.
The Angels' woes extend far beyond Langston's mediocre performance. Blyleven, 17-5 last year, was 1-3 with a 5.21 ERA at week's end, and relievers Greg Minton and Bob McClure had been limited to a combined 6⅖ innings because of injuries. The pitching staff allowed five or more runs 15 times in the first 32 games, and it had only one complete game. Last year it led the American League with 32.
The rest of the lineup is even less promising. Shortstop Dick Schofield, who has been sidelined all season with a hamstring injury, probably won't play until mid-June. Donnie Hill, who was released in early August by Oakland's Triple A club, is the best second baseman. And centerfielder Devon White is looking less and less like a star every day. Sure, he had 24 homers and 87 RBIs in 1987, but that was the year of the live ball.
The Angels are looking to deal for a middle infielder, but not many are available. They would also like to trade for a pitcher. Should Winfield report, California will have a surplus of outfielders, and White is the most likely one to go because he has the most market value. But if the Angels trade White, Dante Bichette would have to play center, which could be a liability.
Winfield is slated to play right, even though his former teammate, leftfielder Luis Polonia, claims he can't play the outfield every day. Says Polonia of the Winfield trade, "I don't know what they [the Angels] are thinking."
The trade is clearly a last-ditch effort to save an illstarred season. Rader believes that Winfield can bring California the same kind of stability that Yount would have provided. Says Rader, "David has been through so much in New York, and it hasn't bothered him. He's a man."
WHAT'S ON THIRD?
The Blue Jays' Kelly Gruber (10 homers through Sunday) and the Mets' Howard Johnson (seven) are off to explosive starts. Beyond those two, though, there's a serious shortage of power-hitting third basemen.
Consider these players who started at third on May 8: Wally Backman, Mike Blowers, Scott Coolbaugh, Rene Gonzales, Craig Grebeck, Charlie Hayes, Randy Kutcher, Mark Lemke, Tony Phillips, Rick Schu, Dale Sveum and Curtis Wilkerson. How many homers do they each average a year? Fewer than three. That's a far cry from players like Mike Schmidt, who hit 548 career homers, or Graig Nettles (390) or Ron Cey (316).
"The position has changed," says one veteran scout. "Teams used to put a guy over there who could hit homers and knock in runs, even if the team had to give up something defensively. But little guys play there now. The production has gone down."
Schmidt retired last year because, as he said at the time, his level of play had dropped so much. Yet the day he quit, May 29, he was leading National League third basemen in RBIs and had six homers. Last season only three third basemen hit at least 20 homers—Johnson (36), the Pirates' Bobby Bonilla (24) and the Angels' Jack Howell (20)—and now that Bonilla has moved back to the outfield, the list may get shorter.
Backman, Bonilla's replacement at third, has sparked the Pirates, but at week's end he had only eight career homers. The Tigers signed Phillips to play third for big money, even though he was a utility infielder with just 33 lifetime home runs. The Dodgers have often used Mike Sharperson (zero career homers) at third, and through Sunday the Royals' Kevin Seitzer had gone 134 games without a multi-RBI game. Meanwhile, the Cubs have been platooning Wilkerson (four career homers) and journeyman Luis Salazar.
Not everybody is aware of the power drain. "I haven't noticed a change in the position," says K.C.'s George Brett, who played third base before switching to first three years ago. "But I have better things to do than figure out what John McGraw hit in 1906."
Mark Langston isn't the only player who struck it rich in last winter's free-agent market and is now struggling:
•Royals pitcher Mark Davis (who signed a four-year, $13 million deal) has been so ineffective as a closer (7.24 ERA through Sunday) that manager John Wathan has moved him to middle relief. Davis's teammate Storm Davis (three years, $6 million) was 1-4 with a 6.08 ERA.
•Indians first baseman Keith Hernandez (two years, $3.5 million) was hitting .212 and talked about retiring at the All-Star break. He has since retracted that statement.
•Yankee pitcher Pascual Perez (three years, $5.7 million) was 1-2, and a strained right shoulder has limited him to three starts.
•Mariners first baseman Pete O'Brien (four years, $7.6 million) was hitting .174 when he was sidelined on May 3 for at least six weeks with a broken right thumb.
•Braves first baseman Nick Esasky (three years, $5.6 million) was batting .171 with no RBIs when he suffered a strained shoulder on April 21.
Then there are the Expos. They lost Langston, Perez and righthander Bryn Smith to free agency, but at week's end they were in third place in the National League East with an 18-14 record. If Montreal had resigned that trio, young pitchers Mark Gardner, Steve Frey and Bill Sampen probably wouldn't have made the roster. They are making the major league minimum salary—$100,000 apiece—but they won consecutive games on May 6, 7 and 8.
With righthander Rick Sutcliffe probably out for the season after surgery on his shoulder, the Cubs are searching for pitching (as well as for a third baseman). They have discussed a deal with the Yankees that would send Luis Salazar and outfielder Dwight Smith to New York for pitcher Greg Cadaret, third baseman Randy Velarde and minor league outfielder Bernie Williams....
The Giants are trying to get pitching help by using infielders Jose Uribe and Ernest Riles as trade bait. San Francisco offered Uribe to the Angels for pitcher Chuck Finley. Not surprisingly, the Angels didn't bite....
Look for the Padres to trade pitcher Eric Show (0-5, 7.88 ERA after giving up seven runs in 2‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings to the Expos on Sunday). Show is upset about not being prominently featured in a Smokey the Bear calendar given away by San Diego, and he didn't endear himself to his teammates when he said after his fourth loss, on May 8, "I was probably good enough to win three of those games if I played for the Oakland A's. But I don't."
...The Tigers' Jack Morris isn't the pitcher he once was, but he should be applauded for continuing his workhorse pace. Morris walked seven and struck out none against the Brewers in one of his two starts last week—the first time in his 14-year career that he has thrown a complete game without a strikeout....
At week's end Kelly Gruber was second to Detroit's Cecil Fielder in home runs in the American League. But not even Gruber gives himself much chance of overtaking Fielder, who had 13 homers. "It's like Sugar Ray Leonard fighting Muhammad Ali," he says. "It's a fight I can't win. If I win the home run title, everyone in the world and his dog would be surprised."
BETWEEN THE LINES
Twins backup catcher Junior Ortiz ended an 0-for-34 slump by getting a single off Cleveland's John Farrell on April 28—his first hit since Aug. 11. After he extended his streak to three games by exploding for two hits against the Indians on May 9, Ortiz said, "Only 58 more and I break Lou Gehrig's record." Sorry, Junior, the record belongs to Joe DiMaggio, not Gehrig, and the Yankee Clipper hit safely in 56 straight games, not 60.
ONE PITCH IS ALL IT TAKES
On May 7, Brewers reliever Chuck Crim came into the first game of a three-game series against the Tigers in the eighth inning, gave up a single to Cecil Fielder on his first pitch and then was taken out. The next night, Crim entered in the eighth again, got Tracy Jones to ground out on the first pitch and was removed. The night after that, Crim was brought in to start the ninth, but the game was called because of rain before he threw any pitches. "At this rate, I can pitch in 140 games," said Crim after the third appearance. "At least I know I can throw strikes. Next time I might start the guy off with a ball so I can assure myself of throwing two pitches."
Leftfielder Bernard Gilkey of the Triple A Louisville Redbirds got three hits in the third inning of an 18-4 win over the Nashville Sounds on May 9. Only one major leaguer in this century has hit safely three times in an inning—Gene Stephens of the Red Sox, in 1953. Gilkey is believed to be the third minor leaguer to have done so. "When I heard that, it freaked me out," said Gilkey, but he was even more impressed to hear that in 1930 Gene Rye of the Class A Waco (Texas) Cubs hit three home runs in an inning. Gilkey's barrage consisted of two singles and a homer off three different pitchers. Louisville pitcher Mike Hinkle also had two hits in what turned into a 16-run inning. "That's why I had three," said Gilkey. "I had to get more than a pitcher."
LOOK SHARP, BE SHARP
Boston reliever Rob Murphy was so upset with the way he pitched the eighth inning on May 7 in Seattle—during which he gave up a single, two walks and a two-run double—that he raced into the clubhouse and shaved off his 10-day-old beard. Then he returned to the mound and threw a scoreless ninth inning to earn his first save of the season in the Red Sox's 5-4 win. "I had to do something," said Murphy. "I needed to change my frame of mind. I went through four razors. But I came out a new man. I added a foot to my fastball."
California's Mark Langston hasn't done much on the mound lately, but his show-biz career is taking off. Langston will provide the voice of the nuclear computer in a cartoon called Captain Planet and the Planeteers, which will begin airing in September on TBS. Langston may also get to do the lead role, Captain Planet. Tom Cruise had the part, but he dropped out after a few episodes. Langston's competition for the job is said to be Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson.
BY THE NUMBERS
•Are saves meaningless? Cincinnati's Norm Charlton, one of the top relievers in the National League, got the first save of his major league career on May 6. It came in his 90th appearance.
•How bad is San Francisco's pitching? On May 11, Phillie pitchers Ken Howell and Don Carman together went three for five in a 10-6 win over the Giants. Before that game, Howell and Carman had a combined career batting average of .059.
•Through Sunday, Pirate catcher Mike LaValliere had not struck out in 53 at bats. During the same period, Oriole catcher Mickey Tettleton had fanned 37 times in 83 at bats.
•Last year the Orioles won 18 of the final 23 games started by Jeff Ballard and Bob Milacki. This year they have lost nine of those two pitchers' first 13 outings.
•At week's end, the four teams Dave Parker has played for—the Pirates, Reds, A's and, now, the Brewers—were all in first place.
IN NO POSITION TO WIN
Don't count on Padres catcher Benito Santiago, who was hit ting .354 at week's end, or Reds shortstop Barry Larkin (.365) to win the National League batting crown. It has been 48 and 30 years, respectively, since a catcher or a shortstop won the title in either league.
LAST BATTING TITLE
SOURCE STATS, INC.