From Bad to Worse
As the season winds down, the Mariners are shooting for a goal they've never reached in their 14-year history: a .500 record. If they fail to attain it this season—they had lost eight of their last nine and were teetering at 68-69 on Sunday—they will tie the 1919-33 Red Sox's and the 1953-67 Athletics' American League record for most consecutive years under .500, and move within one losing year of tying the major league mark set by the Phillies from 1933 through '48.
But even a winning record would do little to relieve Seattle's financial woes. After this season, nine Mariners will be eligible for arbitration: pitchers Scott Bankhead, Erik Hanson, Brian Holman, Mike Jackson, Randy Johnson, Mike Schooler and Bill Swift, and outfielders Greg Briley and Jay Buhner. Those nine are making $4.4 million among them this year. It will probably take more than $12 million to sign them all for 1992. Byway of comparison, the Indians had seven arbitration-eligible players going into this season. The combined salaries of the seven went from $5 million to $12 million. And those players weren't nearly as good as Seattle's.
The Mariners' payroll already has jumped from $8 million to $17 million since Jeff Smulyan bought the club two years ago. "Our gross revenue is lower than the payroll of three other clubs," says Smulyan. "We have not found a way to generate new revenue in Seattle. It's a great organization. We have a great young team. We have great fans. But does Seattle care enough to keep the team? Six years ago, local businesses said they'd buy 10,000 season tickets. They didn't. They didn't buy one. It's a bleak picture."
The pressure on Smulyan increased last week when it was revealed that Security Pacific Bank had told him to repay by Feb. 1, 1992 a $39.5 million loan, which he got to buy and operate the team, either by refinancing the loan or by selling the Mariners. Last Friday, Smulyan began meetings with members of the local government and the King County community in hopes of coming up with a plan to generate more revenue.
Don't count on Smulyan getting much support from businesses or local government. Don't count on him getting much help in local television revenue, either. According to Smulyan, the TV contract he is currently negotiating would pay the Mariners $2 million a year at best.
So, what is Smulyan's future in Seattle? "He has no future there; he can't make it," says one American League general manager. "I like Jeff. Everyone in baseball does. He's tried hard. The Mariners have increased attendance, but that's not enough. With a payroll going up, and with no support, he's got no chance."
It's looking more and more likely that the Mariners will try to move to Tampa-St. Petersburg within the next two years. That subject was not on the agenda at this week's meeting of major league owners in Baltimore, but you can bet that there was a lot of cloakroom discussion of Smulyan's plight.
No Experience Necessary
Last Thursday, before his 16th game as interim manager of the Blue Jays, Gene Tenace held his fourth team meeting. That's more meetings than Cito Gaston, the man Tenace is replacing, had called all season before he was hospitalized with an extremely painful herniated disk on Aug. 21. The Toronto players had better get used to such sessions, because Gaston may not return in 1991.
An interim manager has never guided a major league team to a pennant while filling in for a disabled manager, but it may well happen this year, largely because the Jays have overcome several injuries to key players. They've played most of the year without their best starting pitcher, Dave Stieb; third baseman Kelly Gruber missed one third of the season; and closer Tom Henke was out for seven weeks. Now they are being managed by Tenace, the team's batting coach, whose only previous managerial experience came in 1988, when the Class A Prince William (Va.) Yankees went 22-39 with him at the helm.
Tenace is loud, tough and unafraid to criticize his players, even to reporters. Gaston is quiet, calm and reserved, especially to reporters. "Gene is more vocal," says pitcher Jimmy Key. "He's the type of manager who, when you've done something wrong, will meet you in the dugout and tell you."
Some players fear that Tenace may be too abrasive. What happens if they stumble in September or in the playoffs, and Tenace starts blasting away at players who aren't used to being criticized? One player says Tenace is trying too hard, over-managing and too often stressing that the Jays need to "reach down deeper." According to the player, in one meeting Tenace told the Jays just to have fun, but then said, "The last 30 games will be a war."
The Blue Jays are winning that war; at week's end, they had stretched their lead over the Red Sox in the American League East to 5½ games. Moreover, Toronto was 13-6 since Tenace took over.
One member of the organization thinks Tenace is as good a skipper as Gaston, and despite his inexperience, Tenace is growing more comfortable in the job every game. "Cito and I are very similar in our hitting philosophies and our managing philosophies, but we're not totally alike," says Tenace. "I'm very aggressive. When someone makes a mistake, I confront the individual. You can't win championships by making a lot of mental mistakes. That's the way I was taught by Dick Williams." Tenace helped Williams win his first World Series with Oakland in 1972 by hitting .348 with four homers and nine RBIs while winning the MVP award.
When asked if he was worried that he could be too assertive, Tenace said, "I'm discreet about it. I don't jump in a guy's face and embarrass him in front of anyone. They're professionals. They're looking for leadership. They're looking for someone who'll criticize them. When I played, I didn't mind constructive criticism from the manager."
Phoning It In
By hiring Whitey Herzog to run their baseball operation, the Angels, who at week's end were next-to-last in the American League West, almost insured that they will be contenders in 1992. There's no better talent evaluator than Herzog, who becomes the No. 2 man in the organization behind owners Gene and Jackie Autry. But his hiring—he got a three-year contract worth approximately $800,000 a year—has one strange wrinkle: Herzog said he wouldn't live in California, so, with the help of a fax machine, he will run the Angels out of his home in suburban St. Louis.
Herzog had talked with representatives of the expansion Colorado Rockies about running that team but jumped at California's offer. Herzog inherits a club that isn't far from contention and that has a good manager in Buck Rodgers. The Angels may yet finish in the cellar, but if they do they would be the first last-place club with three 15-game winners: Chuck Finley (17-8 through Sunday), Mark Langston (16-7) and Jim Abbott (16-8). Since 1900, only seven last-place teams have had two 15-game winners.
Still, work needs to be done. The day after announcing Herzog's hiring, California released designated hitter Dave Parker, who, at 40, finally looks as if he's finished. First baseman Wally Joyner can be a free agent after the season; Herzog will have to persuade him to stay with the Angels. Shortstop Dick Schofield will also be eligible for free agency, but he wants to remain with California. Catcher Lance Parrish and third baseman Gary Gaetti both look to be past their primes. The farm system is thin, so Herzog, a fearless trader in the past, will certainly be active on the telephone.
Chicago's Other Comeback Kid
Lost in the hoopla over Bo Jackson's comeback—as of Sunday, he was 4 for 19 in his first six games—was the remarkable return of White Sox rookie righthanded pitcher Roberto Hernandez. On Sept. 2, the same night that Jackson returned to the majors, Hernandez made his big league debut. He started and pitched seven innings, allowing only one hit in a 5-1 win over the Royals. His performance came only three months after he underwent an 8½ operation to remove two blood clots from his right forearm. At first, Hernandez's doctor, James Yao, thought Hernandez's arm might have to be amputated, but it was saved by transplanting a vein from his right leg into his forearm. "When the doctor told me the day before the operation that I might lose my arm, tears poured out of my eyes," says Hernandez, 26. "He told me if I had kept pitching, there was a very good chance I would have had a stroke. He told me there was a 50-50 chance I would pitch again. At that point I didn't care. I just wanted to keep my arm."
Brewer infielder Jim Gantner's home run on Sept. 3 against the A's ended the longest active streak of at bats (1,762) without a home run. The homer was Gantner's 45th of his career but his first since 1987. It came during the "home run inning" of a Brewers radio promotion and earned a lucky listener $1,250. Three days later Gantner homered again....
Through Sunday, Phillie pitcher Jose DeJesus had struck out in 13 straight official at bats, one short of the major league record set by the Cubs' Bill Hands in 1968 and equaled by San Diego's Juan Eichelberger in 1980.