He's not the Fernando Valenzuela of old, not even close. But the newest lefthander in the Angels' rotation showed last Friday that he can still attract fans and, more important, that he still may have something to contribute in a pennant race.
Valenzuela's American League debut was rocky—he gave up nine hits and four earned runs in five innings of a 5-0 loss to the Tigers—but his fastball was clocked as high as 86 mph, his assortment of junk was baffling, he didn't walk anyone, and he struck out five. He also surprised Tiger manager Sparky Anderson. "Everyone was making it sound like he couldn't throw at all," said Anderson after the game. "But he can. Fernando has never been known as a Clemens, you know."
California isn't asking Valenzuela to be Roger Clemens, or even the Valenzuela of his prime, and that's why signing him (for a $300,000 base salary and a chance to earn as much as $1 million with incentives) made sense. He's the fifth starter on a staff whose first four starters have been as good as any in the league this year. "If he makes 20 starts, averages five innings a start, keeps us in games, that's all we need," says Angel manager Doug Rader.
How many fifth starters have been through six pennant races, as Valenzuela has? And who would California fans rather have in a key game in September, Valenzuela or rookie Scott Lewis, the former fifth starter, whose 1-5 record got him sent back to the minors last week?
California certainly should be involved in the pennant race. Through Sunday the Angels were 32-23 and 1½ games behind the first-place Athletics in the American League West. "I really like the Angels," says Anderson. "I like their defense. They have power. What they need to go all the way is the one reliever who can consistently get them to [closer Bryan] Harvey."
In light of all the injuries the A's have suffered, it's remarkable that they have played as well as they have. Oakland sustained what may turn out to be its most devastating injury when shortstop Walt Weiss went down last Thursday with torn ligaments in his left ankle. He will probably be out the rest of the year, so the Angels now have an even better chance to pass the Athletics.
California is especially strong in the one commodity most teams lack: lefthanded starting pitchers. Besides Chuck Finley (10-2 at week's end) and Mark Langston (7-2), the Angels have a revived Jim Abbott, who is back to thinking like a power pitcher. After an 0-4 start, Abbott had won five of six decisions through Sunday. Righthander Kirk McCaskill (6-5) is healthy again, and at week's end he had won four starts in a row. "Our starting pitching matches Oakland's," says California's designated hitter Dave Parker. "Maybe we even have an edge. The A's have three good starters. We have four."
The Angels hope the 30-year-old Valenzuela will make five. After going 13-13 with a 4.59 ERA and throwing a no-hitter for the Dodgers last year, Valenzuela was released on March 28 because Los Angeles thought its other starters were better. For almost two months, Valenzuela received no offers. "My reports say he's got nothing," said Padres general manager Joe McIlvaine when he was asked about Valenzuela in May.
California signed Valenzuela on May 20. He made three starts in the minor leagues without allowing an earned run in 17 innings. His debut appearance as an Angel drew 49,977 fans to Anaheim Stadium. The California front office estimates that 25,000 of those tickets were sold because Valenzuela was pitching, so even if they were all $3 general admission tickets, he made a nice down payment on his salary. The Angels made two errors behind him, but he's used to that: Last year the Dodgers committed 27 errors while he was on the mound. That tied L.A. with the Cubs, who made 27 errors behind Greg Maddux, for the worst defensive support of a pitcher in the league. California figures to help Valenzuela defensively more than the Dodgers did. And he figures to help the Angels with his experience and his savvy.
The Revolving Door Closes
The age of the recycled manager is over. Teams are no longer hiring from an old-boy network of candidates who have already managed several other teams. When Tom Runnells replaced Buck Rodgers as skipper of the Expos on June 3, Runnells became the fourth rookie manager to be hired this year. Of the last 10 managerial openings, seven went to men who had never before managed in the majors. In fact, 16 of the 26 current skippers are managing their first big league team. Only four managers—Bobby Cox, Jim Fregosi, John McNamara and Joe Torre—have managed three or more teams.
Go back five years, to June 3, 1986: Twelve managers were with their first team, while seven were with at least their third team. Go back 10 years, to June 3, 1981: Fourteen managers were with their first team, while nine were with at least their third team. "Everyone is looking for a Jim Leyland, a Tony La Russa, young guys not from the old school," says Montreal pitcher Rick Mahler. "If a team hires, say, Don Zimmer or Dick Williams, he's set in his ways. Old-school guys don't have much patience with young guys."
Rookie managers don't make much money, either. The four hired this year—Runnells, Johnny Oates of the Orioles, Jim Essian of the Cubs and Hal McRae of the Royals (page 54)—together make about $800,000. Veteran skippers Whitey Herzog and Davey Johnson, whose names are often mentioned whenever a manager is fired, each would command a salary almost that high.
Dave Dombrowski, 34, the Montreal general manager who fired Rodgers, says young, organization-bred skippers like the 36-year-old Runnells are being hired partly because "general managers are younger; they can relate more to a younger guy." Runnells is now the youngest manager in baseball; Rodgers is 52. Right now, only seven managers are 50 or older. On June 3, 1981, 12 were. There were also 12 on June 3, 1986.
Rodgers was one of the game's best and most popular managers. If he had a flaw, it was being too soft on his players. "Runnells won't be happy when we lose," says Dombrowski. "It was too comfortable here. We weren't down as most clubs would be after going through what we went through [10 losses in 11 games before the firing]. After a win or a loss, you couldn't tell much of a difference."
On Monday, the National League expansion committee recommended to the baseball owners that Miami and Denver be awarded new franchises. That put an end to a strange week on the expansion front. The expansion committee had been scheduled to make its recommendations on Wednesday, and a vote of the owners was to have decided the matter later that day. But then the 10-man owners' committee, which is supposed to review the expansion committee's choices, requested—and got—a delay for further study of the expansion cities' qualifications.
One owner said the delay, which could have been as long as a month, was requested because the owners' committee didn't want to just rubber-stamp the findings of the expansion committee: "We don't want the expansion committee to come in at 9 a.m. and say, 'Hey, these are the cities, now decide.' "
Last weekend, however, some members of the owners' committee apparently began to feel that the delay was unnecessary, and they asked to have the matter put back on the agenda for the owners' meeting this week in Los Angeles. So in a letter to all 26 teams the expansion committee made its endorsement of Denver and Miami on Monday. The owners are expected to accept eventually the expansion committee's recommendations when they vote, but one owner said Monday that he was annoyed that the expansion committee had made its recommendations public before getting the approval of the ownership committee.
Help Is on the Way
As of Sunday the Twins were the American League's hottest team, winning eight straight games behind terrific pitching, especially by Scott Erickson, who was 9-2. Minnesota's weakness has been hitting, but the Twins may have helped themselves in a big way in the June amateur draft. The first two players Minnesota selected were Stanford first baseman Dave McCarty, Baseball America's College Player of the Year, and Creighton third baseman Scott Stahoviak, who, one scout says, "is as good a hitter as I saw this year." Because the Twins have Kent Hrbek at first base, they will try McCarty in the outfield. Stahoviak's defense is questionable, but the Twins hope he can (ill the gaping hole they've had at third since losing free-agent Gary Gaetti this winter.
It was heartwarming to see the ovation Phillie outfielder Dale Murphy got on June 4, when he returned to Atlanta for the first time since the Braves traded him last season. Murphy, one of the nicest players in major league history, was honored in a pregame ceremony. "It's a good thing I didn't have to come to bat in the first inning," he said after the game, "or I might have been the first player to have to call timeout to wipe tears out of his eyes."...
Tiger hitters are striking out at a torrid pace, but Detroit's pitchers aren't getting into the swing of things. Through Sunday they had failed to strike out a batter in four games this season. The other 25 big league pitching staffs had a total of seven no-strikeout games.
BETWEEN THE LINES
•No. 1 on Nixon's Enemies List
Until June 4, Braves outfielder Otis Nixon had played 661 major league games without getting hit by a pitch. But when the Phillies' Wally Ritchie hit him on the left knee, the speedy Nixon didn't take it well. He charged the mound, kicked Ritchie in the stomach and then got in three shots to Ritchie's head in the ensuing scuffle. "He hit me twice," said Nixon, claiming the pitch before the one that struck him on the knee had brushed the back of his right leg. "I've never been close to being hit, so when he hit me twice, I knew he was throwing at me." Nixon was suspended for four games and Ritchie for one. Both players are appealing the suspensions.
•Can Anybody Here Play This Game?
A new contender for the Worst Game of the Year award was played on June 5 in Atlanta, where the Phillies beat the Braves 12-11 in 12 innings. The game lasted four hours and 45 minutes. It featured 17 walks, seven errors, five wild pitches, 21 runners left on base and one ejection. Philadelphia pitcher Tommy Greene pinch-hit in the 10th. Phillie pitcher Pat Combs was supposed to pinch-run in the 12th, but he couldn't be found; he was in the bathroom. Instead, pitcher Terry Mulholland pinch-ran, even though he had a sprained left knee. Atlanta pitcher Jeff Parrett had to bat in the 12th because no healthy every-day players were left on the Braves bench. He walked on four pitches from Jose DeJesus. Somehow, the Phillies won.
•He Rises to the Occasion—and Kills ItTiger pitcher Frank Tanana, 37, is a real killjoy. He threw a shutout to beat the Mariners in the first game ever played at the Kingdome, in 1977. He did the same thing against the White Sox to spoil the opening of the new Comiskey Park this year. He retired Minnie Minoso in Minoso's two comebacks with the White Sox, in '76 and '80. Then, last Friday, Tanana pitched another shutout to spoil Fernando Valenzuela's debut with the Angels. "What it all means is he's old," said Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, smiling.
•But How Much Pepto-Bismol Was Sold?
The longest game of the season—six hours, 28 minutes long—was played last Thursday, when the hometown Royals beat the Rangers 4-3 in 18 innings. Kansas City set an American League record for runners left on base (25) in a game, and the two teams tied the major league mark for most runners left on base (45). But the 38,523 fans in attendance may have set a record too. Jim Cundiff, general manager of concessions at Royals Stadium, reported these sales figures: 8,970 regular hot dogs, 2,818 colossal hot dogs, 3,077 Polish sausages, 448 bratwursts, 982 hamburgers and cheeseburgers, 587 barbecue sandwiches, 1,496 slices of pepperoni pizza, 478 slices of deluxe pizza, 4,424 orders of nachos, 4,169 malts, 1,101 sundaes, 1,922 Snickers bars, 56 Italian sausages, 75 chicken sandwiches and 63,610 beverages. As always, beer was not sold after the eighth inning.
•By the Numbers
*On June 4, A's reliever Dennis Eckersley walked his first batter of the year—on a 3-2 pitch to Milwaukee's Greg Brock. Since September of last season, Eckersley had faced 123 batters without giving up a base on balls.
WHEN THE PRESSURE IS ON
Will Clark, Giants
Brook Jacoby, Indians
Tony Gwynn, Padres
Barry Bonds, Pirates
Andre Dawson, Cubs
Jesse Barfield, Yankees
Harold Reynolds, Mariners
John Kruk, Phillies
Chris James, Indians
Carlos Quintana, Red Sox
Ron Gant, Braves
Kevin Mitchell, Giants
Pete O'Brien, Mariners
Todd Zeile, Cardinals
Sid Bream, Braves
Tom Brunansky, Red Sox
Mike Greenwell, Red Sox
Craig Worthington, Orioles
Eric Yeiding, Astros
Delino DeShields, Expos
RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION
Minimum 75 at bats in clutch situations from start of 1990 season through June 8, 1991
SOURCE: STATS, INC.