Rookies and veterans lacking stretch-run experience aren't the only ones who succumb to the pressures of a pennant race. It's crunch time for managers, too. Recently, they have been feeling the heat, and it has caused some pretty odd behavior.
Lou Piniella, whose Reds as of Sunday had lost 21 of their last 36 games and had seen an 11-game lead in the National League West reduced to 6½ games, has been the most volatile manager. His troubles started two weeks ago, when he traded barbs, and then apologies, in the press with San Francisco manager Roger Craig. On Aug. 21, as Cincinnati continued to tumble, Piniella held a closed-door clubhouse meeting during which he told his team the story of the tortoise and the hare. "We've been the hare all year, and now we've got to be the turtle," he said. Reds pitcher Rick Mahler said, "It made a lot of sense. I especially liked it when he acted out all the characters."
The sight of Piniella bunny-hopping through the Cincinnati clubhouse couldn't have been any better than his imitation of Earl Weaver later that night. During an argument with umpire Dutch Rennert after Rennert had called Cincinnati's Barry Larkin out in a close play at first base, Piniella flung his cap, then picked up first base and threw it about 18 feet. He chased down the base and tossed it another 35 feet.
That's nothing new for Piniella, who has always been temperamental. But some people think that Piniella may be more nervous than ever because as a first-time National League manager, he must make more decisions on pitching changes than he did as skipper of the Yankees. Keep in mind that after the first game of the season, Piniella was telling Reds general manager Bob Ouinn that he was already running short of pitching and needed an 11th and maybe a 12th pitcher.
The Dodgers' Tommy Lasorda has seen it all in his 15-year managerial career, but on Aug. 21, even he was left muttering over and over, "I can't believe it, I can't believe it," after Los Angeles blew an eight-run lead in the ninth inning to lose 12-11 to the Phillies. The Dodgers led 11-1 in the sixth inning, when Lasorda began benching his starters. The move exploded in his face—and prevented L.A. from closing to within 5½ games of the Reds—when rookie shortstop Jose Offer-man committed two errors in the ninth, which kept Philadelphia in contention until pinch-hitter John Kruk hit a three-run homer to tie the game and Carmelo Martinez hit a run-scoring double to win it two batters later.
Other than hurling a few objects in the dugout that night, Lasorda was too stunned to get angry until a reporter asked him if he felt like screaming. Lasorda threatened to throw his desk at the reporter. He should have thrown it at the three relievers who blew the lead: Dave Walsh, Tim Crews and Jay Howell.
The manager who seems to be handling the pressure the best is Pittsburgh's Jim Leyland (SI, Aug. 27). He has blown up with the best of them, but he told his players at a meeting after the All-Star break that no matter what happened in the second half, he wasn't going to start smoking cigarettes again, and he wasn't going to Hip over the post-game buffet table anymore. "We have a mature team. I don't have to do that now," says Leyland.
The low-key approach has worked for him. The Pirates are playing aggressively on the field and staying loose in the clubhouse. At week's end, they held a three-game lead over the second-place Mets in the National League East. Leyland's theory for the stretch run is simple: "Stay with what we've done all year."
He has not had any reliever appear in more than two straight games and, according to pitching coach Ray Miller, "He won't the rest of the year, cither." Nineteen Pirate pitchers have won a game this season. Leyland's strength as a manager is his willingness to use all his players. "Give everyone the chance to be the hero," he says.
So, which way is best. Piniella's or Leyland's? "You can look at that two ways," says Leyland. "A guy who [loses his temper] sends a message that he's extremely competitive. That can be a very good thing. But it's not for me."
Cincinnati first baseman Todd Benzinger contends that Piniella's fire and ire are just what the Reds need. "'Teams tend to take on I he characteristics of the manager," he says. "His ranting and raving might be a negative for his life span, but it's good for this team."
If nothing else, the city of Cincinnati got a kick out of Piniella's base tossing. Two days after his outburst, The Cincinnati Enquirer held a base-throwing exhibition downtown. Seventy-five people, including the mayor and a TV anchorwoman wearing high heels, threw a base farther than Piniella did.
This year 25 sons of former major leaguers have played in the majors. It's believed to be the largest number ever to play in one season. Moreover, another eight sons of current and former big leaguers were selected in the June draft. Why so many?
"I don't know, but here's a theory," says Royals general manager John Schuerholz, who has five sons of former major leaguers on his roster. "[For some time now], players have been making so much money, they don't have to go from their [baseball] job to the factory after the season the way they did in the old days. They have the luxury to take four months off and be an instructor for their sons. They can build them a batting cage, buy equipment—in addition to the genetic benefits [they give them]."
Last season Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. became the first father-son combination to play in the majors at the same time. Now a movement may be afoot in Seattle to unite Ken Sr., who last week was waived by the Reds, and Ken. Jr. to play for the Mariners in September.
Some managers too often play "by the book." Doing so eliminates second-guessing, but it isn't always the best strategy. Take the Aug. 20 game between the Rangers and Mariners at Arlington Stadium. With Texas trailing 5-2 in the seventh inning, righthanded-hitting Pete Incaviglia of the Rangers came to bat with runners at first and second and nobody out. Incaviglia was mired in an 0-for-24 slump, and was facing Mike Jackson, a hard-throwing righthander. According to one Ranger, Incaviglia "has not pulled a ground ball over third base in the last five years."
The "book" says to guard the line in late innings to prevent an extra-base hit. So, as he usually does, Seattle manager Jim Lefebvre went by it. With Mariner third baseman Mike Brumley standing on the third base line, Incaviglia rolled a puny grounder between third and shortstop for a single, igniting a three-run rally. If Brumley had been positioned normally, Incaviglia's grounder might have been a double-play ball. Then, with two out in the seventh, Brumley, still hugging the line, was late getting to a grounder to his left. Brumley booted it, allowing the tying run to score, and the Rangers went on to win 6-5.
Then there's Minnesota manager Tom Kelly, who says, "I've never read the 'book,' but I know it's out there." Kelly is daring and aggressive, and will violate the book in certain situations. "Columbus took a chance," he says.
Regarding second-guessers, Kelly says, "If you're afraid, get a dog and drag it around with you. Some managers get into a losing streak and then go strictly by the book. If it says bunt, they bunt because they don't want to hear about it later."
On Aug. 19, Kelly put four infielders on the right side against Toronto's Fred McGriff, a lefthanded pull hitter. McGriff beat the strategy with a line-drive single to right center, but Kelly defended the overshift. "Why, in our ballpark [with the short rightfield fence] would he want to hit the ball the other way?" said Kelly. "I should have put a short fielder out there, too, like in softball."
PERILS OF YOUTH
Atlanta, with all its young players, just keeps getting worse. The Braves are on pace to become the first National League team since the 1944 Brooklyn Dodgers to finish with an ERA a full run higher than the league average. The problem isn't manager-general manager Bobby Cox, but speculation persists that he won't be back next year, in either capacity....
Some talented pitchers just can't handle the pressure of late-inning relief. One appears to be Seattle's Mike Jackson, who as of Sunday had blown nine saves in 11 tries this season....
The Cardinals' decision to move Willie McGee to rightfield and put rookie Ray Lankford in center is another sign that McGee won't be in St. Louis next season. He's eligible for free agency, and the Cardinals don't appear too concerned about losing the possible winner of the National League batting crown....
With an eye toward 1991, the Angels are working out Dave Winfield at first base and outfielder Dante Bichette at third. That increases the chances that first baseman Wally Joyner will be traded in the off-season. California needs a third baseman. Jack Howell, who is at Triple A Edmonton, isn't the answer....
Red Sox catcher Tony Pena is such an unorthodox free swinger that he sometimes takes a couple of steps toward the ball before swinging. "I call it the Curly Shuffle," he says. Still, Pena had two three-walk games last week, which is as many as he had in his first 10 years in the major leagues....
San Diego Charger defensive end Burt Grossman is writing a no-holds-barred column for the San Diego Union. He has been especially tough on Padres third baseman Mike Pagliarulo, calling him a "stiff" and "Paglisomething."...Last Saturday at Tiger Stadium, Detroit first baseman Cecil Fielder hit homers number 40 and 41, off Oakland's Dave Stewart, and the second blow cleared the roof in leftfield. Only Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard had ever accomplished that feat. Through Sunday, Fielder had 108 RBIs, which means that he has a chance to drive in more runs than the top two Tiger RBI men (Lou Whitaker and Chet Lemon) had between them last year (132)....
The game between the A's and the White Sox at Comiskey Park on Aug. 20 was played on a very wet field. Before the game, Oakland centerfielder Dave Henderson said he hoped that no one would get hurt. In the first inning he tried to make a sliding catch of a fly ball and suffered a cartilage tear in his right knee. Henderson underwent arthroscopic surgery and will probably miss the rest of the season....
Those plucky White Sox just won't leave the mighty A's alone. "They can't shake us," says Chicago general manager Larry Himes. "We're like a bad headache. They wake up in the morning and we're there. And aspirin won't do any good."
BY THE NUMBERS
•Through Sunday Blue Jay shortstop Tony Fernandez had more triples (16) than the Yankees (15) or A's (15).
•San Francisco reserve infielder Ernest Riles was 11 for 29 (.379) with four homers and 12 RBIs as a pinch hitter, and 16 for 81 (.197) with three homers and seven RBIs in his other appearances.
WHEN THEY ARE GOOD...
As starters, these pitchers are very good on their best days but horrid when they lose.
Kevin Tapani, Twins
Trevor Wilson, Giants
Melido Perez, White Sox
Mark Gardner, Expos
Jimmy Key, Blue Jays
MAJOR LEAGUE AVERGE
Minimum five wins and five losses through Aug. 25
SOURCE: STATS, INC.