Major league baseball's All-Star Game will be played on July 10 at Chicago's Wrigley Field. Most of the big-name players will be there, and rightly so. There are, however, other players who have made key contributions to their teams. They probably won't be selected for the game, but based on their play through Sunday's games, they deserve a nod anyway. Call them the hidden All-Stars.
American League: Carlos Quintana, RED sox. Remember Boston's chasm at this position in the spring? Quintana has filled it nicely, hitting .320 and playing better defense than anyone dreamed he could.
National League: Todd Benzinger, REDS. Though overshadowed by teammates Chris Sabo, Barry Larkin and Eric Davis, Benzinger at week's end had quietly driven in 39 runs, a disproportionate number of them in clutch situations.
American League: Jody Reed, RED sox. The 165-pound Reed is about half the size of the A's Jose Canseco, but he had more extra-base hits (27-23). He is also top-notch defensively.
National League: Jose Lind, PIRATES. He hit .305, with only three errors. Lind may be better on defense than the Cubs' Ryne Sandberg.
American League: Kurt Stillwell, ROYALS. Kansas City's indispensable player. Doctors thought he had suffered a season-ending back injury last week, but it was a kidney stone, and Stillwell returned to the lineup.
National League: Spike Owen, EXPOS. He has ordinary numbers except for his error total (2), but his leadership and timely hitting have been key to the Expos' surprisingly successful first half.
American League: Edgar Martinez, MARINERS. His .312 average after Sunday's game was a big improvement over the .236 Jim Presley hit for Seattle last season.
National League: Hip Roberts, PADRES. At 5'7", he's a little guy, but he has hit .297, with 26 extra-base hits and 20 steals.
American League: Junior Felix, BLUE JAYS. At times he has been a dog defensively, but he has hit like Senior Felix (32 extra-base hits and 42 RBIs).
Sammy Sosa/Lance Johnson, WHITE SOX. Though their outfield mate, Ivan Calderon, had better make the All-Star team, these guys won't. But Sosa's and Johnson's speed and defense have been a big reason why the Sox's pitching had the league's lowest ERA.
Candy Maldonado, INDIANS. Awful with the Giants last year-he batted .217—he signed with Cleveland as a free agent after the season; as of Sunday, he had one RBI fewer than San Francisco slugging star Kevin Mitchell (44-45).
National League: Billy Hatcher, REDS. His blazing start coincided with Cincinnati's lightning getaway. Acquired from Houston shortly before the season began, his speed (20 steals), bat (.307) and glove have filled a hole in leftfield.
Vince Coleman, CARDINALS. He was not an every-day player when the season began, but he has hit .299. And with 47 steals he is well on his way to winning his sixth straight stolen-base title.
Daryl Boston, METS. New York was desperate for a center-fielder when they grabbed Boston off the White Sox's waiver list on April 30. He has hit .280, and his good defense has been an important part of the Mets' resurgence.
American League: Mike Heath, TIGERS. Won't get much notice with Tony Pena, Carlton Fisk and Lance Parrish around, but Heath had a .335 average at week's end and is one reason why Detroit is doing better than expected.
National League: Mike LaValliere/Don Slaught, PIRATES. A terrific platoon with a .328 batting average and only 16 strikeouts. You've got to love a couple of catchers nicknamed Spanky and Sluggo.
American League: Greg Harris, RED SOX. Released three times, traded twice and sold once in the last eight years, he was 7-3 as of last weekend. Where would Boston be without him in the rotation?
National League: Jeff Brantley, GIANTS. San Francisco would be 20 games out without this workhorse. Because of his 1.50 ERA and 10 saves in 36 games, he is getting a lot of the action previously reserved for Steve Bedrosian.
BACK IN A FLASH
The leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year in the National League is outfielder Ron Gant of the Braves. Through Sunday he was hitting .309, with 15 homers, 33 RBIs, 15 doubles and eight stolen bases. He is still learning to play the outfield, but he is expected to make the All-Star team.
How far has Gant come? Last season he hit .170 while striking out 49 times in 204 at bats before the Braves sent him way down to Class A ball in Sumter, S.C., in June. Gant's swift turnaround can be traced to a number of reasons. He played second and third base for the Braves from 1987 through '89, but his bad hands made him a defensive liability. He's more comfortable in the outfield. Also, he is hitting third, not leadoff, which has allowed him to be more aggressive at the plate. But Atlanta hitting coach Clarence Jones says the biggest reason for Gant's improvement is his change of attitude. The assignment to Sumter lasted only two weeks—Gant quickly moved up to Triple A Richmond—but it appears to have given him a jolt.
"His head wasn't right, but his head is definitely right now," says Jones. "He wasn't working, he wasn't growing mentally. It's easy to get here, it's hard to stay here. He realizes that now."
Gant agrees: "The year I went through last year really opened my eyes. When I was in A ball, it was strange. I said, Hey, what's going on here? I knew I could play in the major leagues. But this game is 90 percent mental. I wasn't thinking right at all. But now I am."
WHAT A ROOK!
Figure this one out. Expos outfielder Larry Walker had only 47 major league at bats before this season, but he is not eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award. Cardinals catcher Todd Zeile had 82 at bats, but he can win the award. Why? Walker spent the entire 1988 season on Montreal's disabled list, but because he was on the major league roster that year, he is technically not a rookie. Walker was on the 40-man winter roster when he got hurt playing in the Mexican League, and disabled players cannot be sent to the minors. According to the rules written by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and ratified by major league baseball, a player who spends more than 45 days on a big league roster during a season is not a rookie.
"It's not fair," says Walker, who was hitting .256, with eight homers and 23 RBIs through Sunday and would be a long shot to win the award anyway. But Expo public relations director Richard Griffin and the Players Association are fighting for Walker's eligibility. In late May, Griffin presented his case to Bill White, the National League president, who then took up the matter with Jack Lang, the executive secretary of the BBWAA.
"You can't have it both ways," says Lang. "How can a player who gets one year in the pension plan and one year closer to free agency and arbitration still be a rookie?"
Lang says he did give White a chance to make an exception for Walker, but "[White] told me, 'No, no I don't want to make an exception.' "
Lang and White are correct in thinking that a change in the rules would be unfair to others who have been in Walker's position. But, this unfairness aside, does it make sense to keep a rule that penalizes players who get no competitive advantage by just sitting on a big league roster? Perhaps it's time for the rules to be rewritten to say that unless a player spends at least 45 days on the active roster—not the disabled list—he would still qualify for Rookie of the Year.
On June 28, Expo lefthander Zane Smith was struck twice by balls hit by the Cubs. The second one, hit by infielder Domingo Ramos, struck Smith in the right knee and bounced on one hop back to catcher Nelson Santovenia, who threw Ramos out at first—an extremely rare 1-2-3 putout....
With his 73rd straight errorless game on Sunday, Oriole Cal Ripken Jr. broke the major league record for consecutive games in a season without an error by a shortstop, set by Eddie Brinkman of the Tigers in 1972. Ripken's streak almost ended at 67, though, because Bill Stetka, the official scorer at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, charged him with an error for failing to catch a relay throw, for which he had to leap, in a game against Cleveland on June 26. The next day, Stetka talked to the players involved and reversed his call, charging Oriole centerfielder Mike Devereaux with a throwing error....
The collapse of the Brewers' pitching staff wasn't unexpected, given its injuries, but the shelling of ace reliever Dan Plesac is baffling. For the last four years, Plesac had been one of the game's best closers; through Sunday, his ERA this season was 5.57. After being removed from only three games in the last two years, he has been taken out of eight this season.
BETWEEN THE LINE
The Blue Jays' Tom Lawless doesn't have a hit this season. In fact, in three of the last five years he has been the last nonpitcher in the major leagues to get a hit. But, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog says respectfully, "Tom Lawless has gotten more out of his hits than anyone in history. He got 10 hits in three years for us, but he has two World Series rings." Actually, Lawless had 35 hits in his four years (1985 to '88) in St. Louis. In 1987 he waited until Aug. 12 for his first hit. which was on his 16th at bat. He finished the season with two hits and then hit a three-run homer off the Twins' Frank Viola in Game 4 of that year's Series. Now a utility man for Toronto, Lawless, 33, has 6½ years service time and 109 hits in 519 at bats. Through Sunday he had been to bat only nine times in '90, but he still draws a salary of $250,000. He also has the distinction of being the only man ever to be traded for Pete Rose, which happened when Lawless went from the Reds to the Expos' organization in '84. "In 15 years I'll be an answer to a great trivia question," says Lawless of the trade. "Come to think of it. I could probably go into a bar right now and make a lot of money on that question."
WIFE OF THE YEAR
Reliever Tom Niedenfuer probably would have been picked up by the Cards anyway, but after he was released by the Mariners near the end of spring training, the first phone call on his behalf to St. Louis was made by his wife, actress Judy Landers. "I've always had a lot of nerve," says Landers. She called Herzog in the afternoon on April 7, and he finally got back to her at 1 a.m. the next day. She identified herself as Judy Landers. "I'm not sure whether or not he knew I was Tom's wife, but I just wanted to let him know Tom was available," she says. When she picked up Niedenfuer at the airport the next day and told him what she had done, says Landers, "he almost killed me. But when we got home, there was a message from Whitey. So maybe calling him wasn't such a bad idea after all."
Red Sox reliever Rob Murphy called it the weirdest outing of his career. It was almost midnight on June 27 at rain-soaked Fenway Park when he entered a game against the Blue Jays in the eighth inning with Boston ahead 9-5. Two of Murphy's warmup pitches slipped out of his hand and bounced into the stands, one on the first base side, the other on the third base side. "Just wanted to keep the fans alive," says Murphy, who was lifted after giving up a single to Fred McGriff and hitting John Olerud with a pitch. "See what the fans who went home early missed?"
Craig Grebeck, a 5'6", 145-pound in-fielder for the White Sox, has sized up the rest of the American League and determined that he is indeed the league's smallest player. Grebeck is the same height as the A's Mike Gallego, but Gallego weighs 173 pounds. "I gladly hand my title to him," says Gallego. Grebeck recently ordered a sweat suit from a sporting goods rep who had come to the Sox's clubhouse. When asked what size, Grebeck said, "Infant medium. If it's too long, I'll take up the hem."
BY THE NUMBERS
•Cub second baseman Ryne Sandberg hit 14 home runs in June, one short of the major league record for the month, shared by Babe Ruth (1930), Bob Johnson (1934), Roger Maris (1961) and Pedro Guerrero (1985). All other National League second basemen combined for 16 homers in June.
•Three active players have 2,500 career hits: the Royals' George Brett and the Brewers' Dave Parker and Robin Yount. The last two got number 2,500 off Yankee pitcher Jimmy Jones—Yount's on July 2, 1989, Parker's on June 27 of this year.
•At the end of last week the Twins' Allan Anderson, the Cardinals' Joe Magrane and the Orioles' Jeff Ballard were a combined 7-30. Last season the three finished 53-27.
ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL
With 361 homers and only 369 strikeouts, Joe DiMaggio epitomized an era when hitters were more selective than they are now. Current sluggers can't touch his 1.02 strikeout-to-homer ratio.
Don Mattingly, Yankees
George Brett, Royals
George Bell, Blue Jays
Kent Hrbek, Twins
Eddie Murray, Dodgers
Claudell Washington, Yankees
Lloyd Moseby, Tigers
Frank White, Royals
Keith Hernandez, Indians
Chili Davis, Angels
150 or more home runs through June 30
SOURCE: STATS, INC.