DRAFT ON TAP
On June 4, 5 and 6, Major League Baseball will hold its annual free-agent amateur draft. More than 1,500 players will be selected, but only about 10% of them will ever play in the big leagues. Guaranteed, a few so-called can't-miss players will not make it. Guaranteed, a few obscure late-round picks will be standouts in three to five years.
Consider this: Two of the top relievers of all time—Dan Quisenberry and Kent Tekulve—were never drafted. Neither were Bobby Bonilla, Tommy Herr, Claudell Washington and a number of other players who have enjoyed productive major league careers. Jose Canseco wasn't chosen until the 15th round of the 1982 draft. Don Mattingly went in the 19th round in '79, after three future NFL quarterbacks—Jay Schroeder, Dan Marino and John Elway—were chosen. "Projecting how players will do is a crapshoot," says Joe McIlvaine, the Mets' vice-president for baseball operations. "It's even more unpredictable when you have a strong high school draft year."
Which is what baseball has this spring. Most observers agree that overall this is a thin year for talent and that, unlike recent drafts, which produced several college players who went almost straight to the majors (e.g., Bo Jackson, Gregg Olson, Jim Abbott and Ben McDonald), this year's draft will be dominated by schoolboy players who will need seasoning. "There's been a shrinking of available players the last 10 years, which is why we have 40-year-old catchers today," says Joe Klein, vice-president of player development for the Royals. "It's cyclical, but this is definitely a down year."
Todd Van Poppel, a righthander from Martin High in Arlington, Texas (page 54), is the prize of this year's crop, but he says he will play for the University of Texas before turning pro. If the Braves, who have the first pick, don't take him, one of 10 other players could go No. 1: catcher-third baseman-pitcher Shane Andrews (Carlsbad [N.Mex.] High), outfielder Tony Clark (Christian High, El Cajon, Calif.), shortstop Tim Costo (University of Iowa), outfielder Carl Everett (Hillsborough High, Tampa), righthander Alex Fernandez (Miami-Dade Community College South), outfielder Adam Hyzdu (Moeller High, Cincinnati), shortstop Chipper Jones (The Bolles School, Jacksonville), catcher Mike Lieberthal (Westlake Village [Calif.] High), righthander Kurt Miller (West High, Bakers-field, Calif.), first baseman Mark Newfield (Marina High, Huntington Beach, Calif.).
Will any of them become stars? Who knows? But baseball has to be concerned that so many of the country's top athletes would rather play another sport professionally. McIlvaine says that baseball aggressively pursues two-sport athletes, but "there's no question that basketball and football are the glamour sports. It's difficult to convince them to give up the glamour now and wait to get it later."
Of this year's premier choices, Clark, who is 6'7", is considering playing basketball at Arizona, and Jones and Hyzdu have been recruited to play football by a number of colleges. "Clark is the guy baseball has to key on," says Klein. "That's what the industry needs. He looks like another Darryl Strawberry."
However, just because a kid is a terrific athlete doesn't mean he can be a big league baseball player. Consider Danny Ainge, who batted .220, with 128 strikeouts in 665 at bats in three seasons for Toronto before quitting to play in the NBA. Former Baltimore reliever Tippy Martinez was once asked what he threw Ainge to get him out. "Strikes," said Martinez.
THE HALL CALLS
The accolades keep pouring in for A's slugger Jose Canseco. "He's kind of in a class by himself," says Milwaukee manager Tom Trebelhorn, who watched Canseco hit a pair of homers against the Brewers in a 13-1 Oakland rout on May 24. "I don't know about players from a long time ago, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone quite like him—a guy that strong with a bat that quick. When he's going well, he's a fellow who you think can hit a homer every at bat.
"He hits homers to left, center and right. He can destroy timid pitching; you have to pitch him tough every time. If you show any sense of fear, he will thrive on it."
In a remarkable 11-game stretch, from May 14 through May 26, Canseco went 22 for 49 with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. At week's end he had 18 home runs—including an estimated 500-foot shot that hit the top of Windows restaurant in straightaway centerfield at Toronto's SkyDome—47 runs batted in and 11 steals. This put him easily within range of a 50-homer, 125-plus-RBI season, and it's not at all inconceivable that he'll become baseball's first 50-50 (home runs and steals) man.
Oakland skipper Tony La Russa says that if Canseco plays as long as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron did, "he'll be in their echelon." Athletics third baseman Carney Lansford, a 13-year veteran, goes a step further. "I think he's the best player ever to play this game," says Lansford. "I've played with a lot of Hall of Fame players, and none of them were close to him."
SHOCK OF THE NEW
If you searched for the two players who were least alike, you might well come up with White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk and Yankee outfielder Deion Sanders. Fisk, 42, is known for his hard work and quiet professionalism. Sanders, 22, is a showboat who has worn dollar signs on his baseball socks and chains around his neck. No wonder the two clashed during a New York-Chicago game on May 22.
In the third inning Fisk yelled at Sanders after Sanders had failed to run out a pop-up. You don't often see a player scold an opponent for a lack of hustle. Fisk later said, "There's a right way to do things and a wrong way. He chose the wrong way. They talk about Yankee pride. They talk about Yankee pinstripes. The guys who went before him must be turning over in their graves to watch this——. The Yankees used to be America's team. Now maybe it's the Cubs or the Braves. It's certainly not the Yankees, not with that kind of stuff going on."
As of Sunday, Sanders was 7 for 36 (.194) with two steals and seven runs scored since being recalled from Columbus on May 21 to hit leadoff and get New York's offense started. He certainly got Fisk started. Sanders, who is black, told Fisk, "Hey, man, slavery is over. I don't need you to tell me what to do."
Fisk and Sanders didn't come to blows, but the benches emptied. "It was kind of silly," said Yankee reliever Greg Cadaret afterward. "Here we are, running out of the bullpen alongside the guys from Chicago's bullpen, and we're supposed to fight them when we get to the plate?"
It has been a good year for relief pitchers. At week's end, seven closers were on a pace to save at least 40 games: the Indians' Doug Jones (15), the White Sox's Bobby Thigpen (14), the A's Dennis Eckersley (13), the Twins' Rick Aguilera (13), the Phillies' Roger McDowell (12), the Mariners' Mike Schooler (12) and the Tigers' Mike Henneman (11). Only seven pitchers in history—Steve Bedrosian, Mark Davis, Eckersley, Quisenberry, Jeff Reardon, Dave Righetti and Bruce Sutter—have saved 40 games in a year. Righetti holds the record (46). Jones and Thigpen could save 50 at the rate they're going.
Still, there's a misconception that saves are indicative of outstanding relief pitching. That's not necessarily so. For example, McDowell entered a game in San Diego on May 16 with a 6-3 lead. He allowed four hits and two runs in one inning of work, Philadelphia won 6-5, and he got a save. The Expos' Tim Burke had 11 saves through Sunday, but had a 3.79 ERA and had allowed 32 base runners in 21‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings. "I hate to say it," says Pirate pitching coach Ray Miller, "but if you throw hard and up in the strike zone—and hitters are in the position where they have to swing the bat—you can get a lot of saves if the manager just gives you the ball."
This is not a plea for a new method of assessing relievers; baseball already has too many statistics as it is. But keep in mind that at week's end Jones had permitted only two earned runs in his 18 appearances, and Eckersley had yielded only one in 16 appearances. All saves are not created equal.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
The Cardinals scored fewer than three runs in 17 of their first 45 games. "A pathetic attack," says St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog. "Having undisciplined 'ping' hitters is a terrible thing." As of Sunday, the Cards had been shut out seven times and had thrown five shutouts. "Did we win our five shutouts?" asked Herzog. Rookie catcher Todd Zeile, who is sliding toward .200, is one culprit. "He's really fighting himself," says Herzog. "He leads the league in 'hang with 'ems.' The more you tell him to relax, the worse it gets." ...Speculation is increasing that the Red Sox will deal outfielder Mike Green-well and minor league third baseman Scott Cooper to the Braves for pitcher Tom Glavine, outfielder Dale Murphy and another player....
The Astros sent Gerald Young to their Triple A club in Tucson on May 22. A fixture in centerfield for Houston the last couple of years, Young was hitting .179 at week's end, after batting only .233 in 1989. "I hope he goes down with the right attitude," says Astro manager Art Howe. "Sometimes a shock to your system helps." ...White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen is having an All-Star season (a league-leading .355 average with nine stolen bases through Sunday), but he's realistic about chances of his being voted by fans to this season's American League team. "No one knows who I am, so I'd have to kill all the other shortstops," he says. "I'd have to take care of Cal Ripken, Alan Trammell, Tony Fernandez and Kurt Stillwell."
BETWEEN THE LINES
Pirate teammate Gary Redus calls him the Doctor of Glove. Pittsburgh coach Rich Donnelly calls him the True Value Man. In the minors he was nicknamed Emmett, after the fix-it man on The Andy Griffith Show. He's Bucs reliever Bob Patterson, and he can fix most anything. "He's coming over Saturday to upholster my couch," said Donnelly last week.
Mostly, Patterson repairs baseball gloves. He has fixed 25 or 30 this year. In April, former teammate Tom Prince's favorite (and only) catcher's mitt split. Patterson stayed up until 3 a.m. mending the two-inch tear in time for that game. An industrial technology major—"that's shop," he says—at East Carolina, Patterson has also developed a new glove oil. "I can't divulge the formula," he says. "That's my million-dollar patent."
HALL OF SHAME
Those slow home run trots are annoying, aren't they? The Yankees' Mel Hall took 33 seconds to circle the bases after hitting a homer in a 12-0 win over the Twins on May 23. The next time Hall came to bat, Minnesota pitcher Tim Drummond threw close to his head, prompting Hall to have words with Twins catcher Brian Harper. After the game, Hall, who this spring had said that he thought he could whip Mike Tyson, said, "His [Harper's] chance against me is slim. He's better off going out and getting hit by a car."
Said the Twins' Kirby Puckett, "It's the slowest trip I've seen in seven years. If somebody on our team did that, TK [Twins manager Tom Kelly] wouldn't play him the rest of the season. I mean, was he afraid he would pull a hamstring?"
Replied Hall, "I hit the ball 440 feet. What am I supposed to do? Sprint?"
HOLD THE ANCHOVIES
The Expos were flying from San Francisco to Montreal on May 21 when they learned that they would have to refuel in Cleveland. Expo media relations director Richard Griffin decided it would be a good idea to have pizzas for the team during the layover. Using a phone on the plane at around midnight he found a 24-hour pizzeria. He told the pizza man, "I know I'm out of your delivery area, but there will be a good tip in it." The man said, "Where are you?" Griffin said, "In a plane over Minneapolis." Eight large pizzas were waiting for the Expos when they landed at 1:30 a.m.
BY THE NUMBERS
•The A's Rickey Henderson picked up the 892nd stolen base of his career against the Indians on Saturday to equal Ty Cobb's 62-year-old American League record. Henderson had played only 1,511 games, while Cobb needed 3,033 games to amass his total. Next up: Lou Brock's major league record of 938 steals.
•In the Cubs' 2-1, 16-inning victory over the Reds on May 22, Chicago's hot-hitting outfielder Andre Dawson set a major league record by drawing five intentional walks. Three of them came with first base occupied.
•As of Sunday, the Blue Jays' Kelly Gruber had hit 12 of his 13 homers at home. The record for most home runs at home in one year is 39, set by Detroit's Hank Greenberg in 1938.
•Brewers reliever Dan Plesac allowed seven runs in the ninth inning against the Mariners on May 21. He had not yielded more than two runs in a game since Sept. 7, 1987. When asked the last time he had been hit so hard, Plesac said, "When I was 12 and stole $20 from my father's wallet."