Buddy, Can You Spare a Vote?
Since the All-Star Game is for the fans, it really shouldn't be annoying that the Dodgers' slumping and injured Darryl Strawberry leads National League outfielders in the fans' voting, while the league's top hitter, Tony Gwynn of the Padres, is fourth. Or that the A's Mark McGwire leads American League first basemen in the balloting, while Frank Thomas, who is having a better season for the White Sox, is seventh.
Though we certainly don't want to tell anyone how to vote, we have come up with our own All-Star team of players who could use a little fan support. The players on our list have all played at least five years in the big leagues and have had respectable, if not standout careers, but have never made an All-Star team. Not all of them will make the team this season—and maybe they don't all deserve to—but we would like to suggest that fans, instead of punching out a ballot for someone who's going to receive a million votes, get behind these long-overlooked candidates.
OUTFIELD—Joe Carter, Blue Jays. The major league runs-batted-in leader for the last five years, Carter has four 100-RBI seasons, one more than Billy Williams and as many as Willie McCovey, both Hall of Famers. If Carter drives in 100 runs this year (he had 50 RBIs through last weekend), he will be the first player to do so for three different teams in three consecutive years. Through Sunday he was having a torrid June, hitting .378, with 11 homers and 25 runs batted in. With the All-Star Game in Toronto this year, he is a lock to be named to the team, but a heavy voter turnout will be necessary to move him up to a starting spot from sixth in last week's tally.
OUTFIELD—Brett Butler, Dodgers. He has filled a glaring hole in the Los Angeles lineup by batting .275 with 15 steals as leadoff hitter and has played a Gold Glove centerfield. At week's end he had the most runs (898), the most steals (373) and the second-most career hits (1,496) among the active players who have never been named to an All-Star team.
OUTFIELD—Dave Henderson, A's. Oakland manager Tony La Russa calls him "the least-publicized great player in our league." Henderson is the leading candidate for this year's American League Most Valuable Player award; he was hitting .325 with 16 homers and 47 RBIs at week's end.
CATCHER—Brian Harper, Twins. He deserves a vote for determination alone. Harper, 31, has been released three times since making his major league debut in 1979. But he blossomed after joining Minnesota for the 1988 season. Through Sunday he has batted .311 as a Twin. For this season he was hitting .340.
FIRST BASE—John Kruk, Phillies. He has hit over .290 in four of his five major league seasons and has a career average of .290; at week's end he was batting .289 with 48 RBIs for the season. Among active National League players with 2,000-plus at bats, only Will Clark, Pedro Guerrero, Tony Gwynn, Barry Larkin, Willie McGee, Eddie Murray and Lonnie Smith have higher lifetime averages than Kruk.
SECOND BASE—Jim Gantner, Brewers. He holds the American League record for the highest career fielding percentage (.985) by a second baseman. He has the most hits (1,540 through last week) among active players who have never been All-Stars. A .267 hitter so far this year, he made an amazing recovery in 1990, at age 36, from a serious injury to his left knee.
THIRD BASE—Terry Pendleton, Braves. A solid player for seven years with the Cardinals, Pendleton's intelligent play, sparkling defense and .300 average in his first season with Atlanta have helped turn the Braves around.
SHORTSTOP—Greg Gagne, Twins. He is the best shortstop in the American League this year, if you don't count the Orioles' Cal Ripken. Gagne's .276 average and steady defense (only four errors) should land him a spot on the team.
DESIGNATED HITTER—Kirk Gibson, Royals. He is the only player to be a league MVP (National League, 1988) and never make an All-Star team. He has the most homers (203) among active players who have not been All-Stars and is one of only 13 players in history to hit 200 homers and steal 200 bases. Gibson's numbers this season (.236, 11 homers, 32 RBIs through Sunday) may not get him on the 1991 team, but he deserves a vote.
Another Day at the Office
The promotion of 19-year-old catcher Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez from Double A Tulsa on June 19 gives the Rangers a solid defensive catcher for the first time since Jim Sundberg was in his prime in the early 1980s. On June 20, Rodriguez hit a two-run single in the ninth inning of a 7-3 win over the White Sox and gunned down two Chicago runners who were trying to steal. "His arm is a seven-plus on a scale of eight," says Texas pitching coach Tom House. "He's as good as any I've seen."
But Rodriguez will long remember his first day in the major leagues for other reasons. He was married at 8:30 that morning in Tulsa to his girlfriend, Maribel Rivera, who like Rodriguez, is from Puerto Rico. He and Maribel then flew to Chicago. Rodriguez arrived at Comiskey Park at 3:45 p.m., went over the hitters and caught the full nine innings.
"His honeymoon came after the game," says House. "The cutest scene was in the clubhouse. He was standing there without any clothes on at his locker, surrounded by about 25 media people. When he finally saw that there were three female reporters there, he turned red. He didn't know what planet he was on."
Rodriguez doesn't speak English well, but his adjustment to the major leagues should be made easier by the fact that four of the Rangers' best players, Ruben Sierra, Juan Gonzales, Rafael Palmeiro and Julio Franco, are Latin. The Rangers also have coach Orlando Gomez around to help Latin players communicate.
Still, Rodriguez's youth makes the transition to the bigs a bit tougher. He is the youngest every-day major league player since Robin Yount appeared in 107 games at shortstop for the Brewers at age 18 in 1974. The last major leaguer under 20 to catch more than 25 games was Johnny Bench, who caught 26 games in 1967, when he was 19.
They Might Not Be Giants
After getting swept in three games by the Giants over the weekend, the underachieving Cubs may lay claim to the (dis)honor of Bust Team of the Year, but for now that title still belongs to San Francisco. After all, the Giants were the first team to lose 40 games this season, and, through Sunday, only the Astros had a worse record in the National League. If someone had told Giants general manager Al Rosen before the season that this would be the situation in mid-June, Rosen says, "I would have said that the person needed a straitjacket."
Despite San Francisco's struggles, Rosen says, "this is not a time for panic. This is a better club than it has played." Rosen says he has no intention of making a major trade, partly because such a deal would involve one of his three big hitters: Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell or Matt Williams. "I'll feel very comfortable opening next year with them," says Rosen.
Over the winter the Giants committed $33 million to free agents—outfielder Willie McGee and pitchers Bud Black and Dave Righetti—to stay competitive with the world champion Reds. But San Francisco was 14 games behind the Dodgers through Sunday. Still, it hasn't been the free agents who have killed the Giants. An injury to Mitchell's left knee and a rash of other aches and pains suffered by pitchers Kelly Downs and Scott Garrelts have hurt San Francisco, but Rosen says the Giants' biggest trouble this season "has come from a lack of hitting."
At week's end San Francisco had scored two or fewer runs 30 times this season. That's way ahead of its pace in 1990, when it scored two or fewer runs 47 times all year. The Giants hit rock bottom last week when Cardinals catcher Rich Gedman, who was 1 for 29 entering the game, hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning to give St. Louis a 3-2 victory.
"That didn't do my pysche any good," said Rosen. "That game was a microcosm of our season."
Reds pitcher Jose Rijo broke his right ankle while trying to steal second base on June 20 against the Expos. He will be out four to six weeks, a crushing blow for Cincinnati, which has been woefully short on starting pitching; only Rijo and Tom Browning have been reliable. The Reds might be forced to trade reliever Randy Myers or second baseman Mariano Duncan for a starter. As for Rijo trying to steal, he's an athlete. He enjoys running. It was a scoreless game. There's no reason to second-guess manager Lou Piniella's strategy of sending Rijo in that situation....
Not one of the first 12 picks in the June free-agent draft has signed. A number of general managers are worried about collusion among the players' agents, who naturally want to get their clients as much money as possible....
A's pitcher Dave Stewart is struggling, mostly with the control of his forkball. He has allowed six or more runs in a game six times this year; he did that only six times in his previous 59 starts before 1991.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Quit While You're Ahead, Raffie
Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard was credited with a stolen base and a caught stealing on the same play in a game against the Phillies on June 19. Belliard was on first and Greg Olson was on third when the batter, Tom Glavine, missed a bunt attempt. Olson got hung up between third and home and a rundown ensued. Olson and Belliard wound up on third base together, so Belliard headed back toward second with the Phillies in pursuit. Then Olson broke for home and got into another rundown. Finally, Olson and Belliard both ended up on third again, and Belliard was tagged out—that's the caught stealing. But for going from first to second on the play, Belliard was also credited with a steal. "If I went back to second, do I get another steal of second, too?" asked Belliard.
If at First You Don't Succeed....
After Reds rookie infielder Chris Jones got nine hits in his first 14 major league at bats, good for a .643 average, he called home to Liverpool, N.Y., to tell the family. "My dad played football in the service, but he's pretty raw when it comes to baseball," said Jones. "I said, 'Hey, Dad, I'm hitting .600.' He said, 'What's the matter, aren't you concentrating?' "
The Quintessential Journeyman
When Skeeter Barnes, a 34-year-old utilityman, was called up by the Tigers from Triple A Toledo on June 14, he joined his 14th team since turning pro in 1978. He enjoyed playing for the Reds the most, because "I got to live at home, in the same room I grew up in." In Barnes's first at bat with Detroit, on June 14, he homered. His next hit, two days later, was a home run. Those two homers and five RBIs in his first week with the Tigers surpassed his best previous major league season's high in both categories. "I'll do whatever any team asks," he said. Barnes, however, was sidelined after pulling a hamstring last Friday.
They Also Serve Who Don't Hit a Lick
Who says you have to get a lot of hits to be productive? Expo outfielder Dave Martinez went 0 for 10 in two games against the Astros last week but helped win both games 3-2 in extra innings. On June 17 he tied the score with a sacrifice fly in the ninth and then tied it again in the 11th with an RBI groundout. On June 18 he had two assists in the 12th inning when he gunned down Mark Portugal at third and Craig Biggio at home. He called the ovations he received from the Montreal crowd his "most emotional moment since I got married."
They Also Serve, Part II
On June 19 Twins outfielder Shane Mack came to the plate in Baltimore in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and the score tied 4-4. He swung at only one pitch, which he missed, but before his at bat ended in a walk, the bases were empty and Minnesota had scored three runs. The runners came home on three wild pitches and a throwing error by Oriole reliever Gregg Olson.
By the Numbers
•Braves pitcher Tom Glavine had a higher batting average (.313) than ERA (2.18) through Sunday. That's a rarity today, but between 1910 and '25 the Washington Senators' Walter Johnson had 13 seasons—including 10 in a row—in which he had a batting average higher than his earned run average. He also finished his career with a higher batting average (.236) than ERA (2.17).
•The Royals' Kirk Gibson hit his first grand slam last week, with his 203rd career homer. Thus the active coleaders for most home runs without a slam became the Orioles' Glenn Davis and the A's Rickey Henderson, with 170 each.
Nothing kills a rally faster than a double-play grounder. We looked at all force-out situations from the beginning of the 1990 season through June 22 of this year and found that these were the hitters most likely to drive a stake through a big inning.
DOUBLE PLAYS GROUNDED INTO
Dan Gladden, Twins 24
Greg Myers, Blue Jays 21
Pat Borders, Blue Jays 20
Jose Lind, Pirates 31
Dale Murphy, Phillies 32
Tony Pena, Red Sox 32
Carlton Fisk, White Sox 21
Mike Pagliarulo, Twins 17
Willie Randolph, Brewers 19
Harold Baines, Athletics 24
Players with at least 80 opportunities
SOURCE: STATS, INC.