Add the Tigers to baseball's list of financially troubled teams—at least as long as Tom Monaghan owns them. To make last month's payroll, Detroit had to borrow $5 million against a line of credit established by major league baseball. Tiger chief executive officer Jim Campbell insists that the sum was more "an advance" than a loan: Detroit had to pay its players for the month of May and had not yet received the first share of its annual $14 million network-television payout, which is due in mid-July. Times are tight for the Tigers, and Monaghan is strapped for cash because his main business. Domino's Pizza, is ailing.
Commissioner Fay Vincent said last week that so far this season 10 teams have borrowed against the $300 million line of credit. Some of these teams have greater debts than Detroit's, but because Domino's Pizza is doing so poorly, Monaghan's credit rating has been hurt and he can't get a short-term bank loan, as he could a couple of years ago. In the past Monaghan had sometimes used money from Domino's to pay the Tigers' debts. To improve his cash flow, Monaghan recently sold a number of antique cars, including a 1931 Bugatti Royale, for a reported $10 million.
Monaghan now has put the Tigers up for sale and has reportedly set a price of $125 million for the team. So far he has apparently had no firm offers, perhaps because the Tigers look like a shaky investment. According to an 81-page confidential financial report obtained by the Detroit Free Press, the Tigers made profits of $5.8 million in 1989, $2.1 million in '90 and $1.2 million in '91, but might lose money this year. In the meantime the team's payroll has gone from $17.5 million in '90 to $24.4 million in '91 and $27 million this year. It should continue to increase dramatically. Slugging first baseman Cecil Fielder, who signed for $4.5 million this winter, is eligible for salary arbitration after this season and for free agency after the '93 season. If the Tigers plan to keep him, they will have to pay him at least $30 million for five years.
June 21, 1992
Poor attendance doesn't help, either. The Tigers had averaged only 14,867 a game through last weekend. (Through Sunday, they were 27-35 and 11½ games out of first place in the American League East.) Granted, June, July and August are the best months for attendance for most teams, including Detroit, but with the Tigers struggling, there's little chance they will even match last season's sparse attendance of 1,641,661; only the Indians among American League teams drew fewer fans in '91.
A Catcher Catches Fire
In spring training Phillie manager Jim Fregosi said he wouldn't trade his catcher Darren Daulton, who hit a measly .196 in 1991, for the Padres' three-time All-Star catcher, Benito Santiago. Now we know why. Daulton has been the National League's best catcher in 1992.
Through Sunday he was batting .313, leading the league in RBIs (47) and was second in slugging (.598). The last National League catcher to top the RBI leaders this late in the season was the Expos' Gary Carter in 1984, the year Carter joined Johnny Bench and Roy Campanella as the only catchers ever to lead their league in RBIs. Daulton is on a pace to drive in 129 runs. When Carter knocked in 105 in 1986, it was the last time one of the league's backstops had as many as 90 RBIs in a season.
There are two keys to Daulton's success. He's now hitting to all fields, instead of trying to pull every pitch. And he's healthy—at least relatively healthy. "My body is beat up, but when you're behind the dish, you learn to play through that," he says. "You just hope nothing bad happens."
As it did last year. On May 6, 1991, Daulton suffered a broken left eye socket and various bruises in an accident in which teammate Lenny Dykstra slammed his Mercedes into a pair of trees. Dykstra was charged with drunken driving. The accident aggravated a neck injury Daulton suffered two weeks earlier when he was steamrollered by the Cardinals' Ray Lankford in a brutal collision at the plate.
"That was best lump I've taken," Daulton says, "but it wasn't as hard as the car crash." He tried to come back on May 21 but wasn't ready. A week later he was disabled again for three more weeks.
Though Daulton wasn't driving the night of the accident, he says he "also took some heat.... But I've done what I can to make up for it. I've done public service ads against drunk driving. Whatever bad image I had is pretty much gone."
From June 3 to 12, Daulton drove in a run in eight straight games—the first Phillie to do that since Mike Schmidt in 1984. He also had seven homers in a stretch of eight games that ended last Saturday, giving him 11 for the season—one short of his career high. And he was hitting .408 with men in scoring position and was only 10 RBIs shy of his career high.
"I'm having my best year," he says. "Part of it is because I worked so hard in the off-season. My body was so beat up, I basically had to rebuild it. I had my left knee operated on for the sixth time in the off-season. So I just went to the gym all winter. I didn't want to go into the season saying, 'Hey, I could have done more.' "
In one of the most inspiring comebacks of the season, Braves first baseman Nick Esasky is hitting home runs again. Long home runs. And while they have been hit for Atlanta's Triple A Richmond affiliate during a 20-day rehabilitation assignment that began on June 5, that hardly matters. The fact that Esasky can even lay a bat on a ball is reason enough for optimism. Esasky hasn't played in the majors since April 21, 1990, when his once promising career was halted by vertigo, possibly the result of a virus. Only five months earlier Esasky signed a three-year, $5.7 million contract as a free agent.
In three of his first five games for Richmond, Esasky hit homers, two of which went more than 400 feet, reminding some of the 30 homers he hit for Boston in 1989. A homer on June 9 went 60 feet up a light tower in left center; Richmond players wondered if the two homers teammate Andy Tomberlin belted that same night totaled as much distance as Esasky's one.
"It's a long battle, you know, and you go through a lot of changes," says Esasky, who still has bouts of dizziness. "The tips and downs, the not knowing what's going to happen. You get depressed, upset, frustrated. You don't know what's going on. It's weird. Then you start learning how to deal with it, to accept certain ways you feel. I mean, this may be the way I'm going to be for good, and I have to deal with that. But I wanted to see if I could play at this level. And I'll never know until I try."
When the 20-day rehab assignment is over, the Braves will have to make a decision on Esasky, but they could certainly use him in the number 5 spot, behind David Justice. In their pursuit of a second straight National League West title, which found them 3½ games out of first on Sunday, the Braves haven't gotten much help from first basemen Sid Bream and Brian Hunter.
What's the next step for Esasky? "I don't know, I really don't," says Braves general manager John Schuerholz, who insists that evaluating Esasky's progress isn't the same as figuring out the prognosis on someone with, say, a knee injury. "Who knows? In two or three days maybe this condition will revisit him. But so far he's done very well."
Before the start of the season, Oriole closer Gregg Olson was five saves away from being the youngest player to reach the 100-save mark. But instead of being content with that, he went to the Instructional League in Florida last October to work on his pick-off move and on delivering his pitches more quickly. He also worked on developing a sinker. On June 5, he entered a one-run game in the ninth inning against the Blue Jays with speedy Roberto Alomar at first. "Last year he would have just stolen second, but this time he never even tried," Olson says. Olson then got Joe Carter to ground into a double play—on a sinker. The result is that Olson had 17 saves in his last 17 tries through Sunday....
Our vote for the worst defensive outfielder in the American League goes to Texas's Kevin Reimer, who is both slow and iron-handed. At week's end he had committed eight errors and had botched a number of plays that were generously scored as hits. But he hits too well to be benched....
What pitcher has lost more games than any other in the 20th century? Nolan Ryan, with 280....
Giants manager Roger Craig said in spring training that Cory Snyder would be a very important player for his team this year. That drew a few laughs, but Craig was right. Snyder is the Giants' new cleanup hitter after a recent hot streak and is making a strong comeback after almost playing himself out of the game....
As of Sunday, Phillie reliever Mitch Williams had thrown 301 pitches in his last 13 innings. "It's a nightmare," says Darren Daulton, who has to catch him. "When he comes into a game at home and they play the Wild Thing song, that sets the tone for what's going to happen."
Between The Lines
A Hasty Conversion
Cub reliever Jim Bullinger, who had four saves last week, was a shortstop for four years in the Chicago system before becoming a pitcher in 1990. "I had to pitch in a game in July '89, and I struck out four guys in two innings," he says. "They wanted to switch me right there." In his first major league at bat, on June 8, Bullinger hit a homer to become the 10th pitcher to do that. "As I ran around the bases," he says, "I thought, How ironic, I was switched because I couldn't hit."
Kids, Do Not Try This at Home
Indians relief pitchers Kevin Wickander and Steve Olin engaged in a major league gum-chewing contest last week. On June 8, Wickander put 42 pieces of Bazooka bubble gum in his mouth at the same time, breaking pitcher Jesse Orosco's team record of 32. He bragged incessantly about it, so the next day Olin chewed 50. "It was like in Cool Hand Luke," said Olin, referring to the film scene in which Paul Newman ate 50 hard-boiled eggs. "I could barely close my lips. My cheeks were puffed out like a chipmunk's. I had to do it in four minutes, and I gagged a little bit." The next day Wickander chewed 55, and on Sunday the two chewed their way to a 71-all tie.
Feed Him with the Fork
Because of injuries, the Angels had only 23 players available against the White Sox on June 10, so pitcher Mark Langston, who had pinch-run for designated hitter Hubie Brooks in the ninth inning, had to bat twice in the final three innings of a 3-2 loss. He was the first Angels pitcher to bat since the DH rule was adopted in 1973. He struck out twice, each time with two runners on. Chicago pitcher Donn Pall threw Langston nothing but forkballs. "I'd never seen a forkball before," said Langston. Added White Sox announcer Ed Farmer, "He still hasn't. But he had some good hacks, better than some of the other Angels."
An Impact Player
Tiger outfielder Dan Gladden came off the disabled list on June 13, entered a game against Baltimore that night as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning and promptly was involved in the game's next five outs. He grounded into a double play for the first two outs of the inning. The Tigers then batted around, scoring seven runs and again bringing up Gladden, who made the third out on a fly ball to rightfield. In the top of the ninth the Orioles' David Segui singled and Chito Martinez tripled, but Gladden caught a fly ball hit by Chris Hoiles and threw out Martinez at the plate to complete a double play.
By the Numbers
•Padre Tony Gwynn didn't strike out from April 30 until June 10. During that period Tiger outfielder Rob Deer struck out 42 times.