Changes at the Bottom
Tight pennant races continued in all four divisions last week, but it was a couple of noncontenders who made the big news, announcing changes that could alter the baseball landscape for years to come. Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan (Domino's), on the verge of selling the Tigers to the Detroit Red Wings' owner and fellow pizza magnate Mike Hitch (Little Caesars), began the transformation of the organization by gracelessly firing chairman of the board Jim Campbell and club president Bo Schembechler. Bob Lurie, owner of the Giants, topped that by firing his town. He accepted a reported $110 million offer to sell his team to a group of investors who want to move the franchise from San Francisco to St. Petersburg.
The fact that Campbell, who spent 43 years in the Tiger organization, was not retained even as a transitional consultant shows how insensitive Monaghan is and suggests just how anxious the Tigers are to make a complete break from the past. Schembechler, who was brought to Detroit in 1990 by his "friend" Monaghan, didn't even receive the courtesy of a face-to-face adios. He was canned by fax. He has threatened legal action, claiming Monaghan promised him a position with the Tigers for at least 10 years.
Should the sale to Hitch go through as expected within the next few weeks, it will be a positive step for the Tigers. Ilitch is a man who knows marketing. He has turned the Red Wings into one of the more successful and entertaining teams in the National Hockey League. Monaghan, meanwhile, has never exhibited great business sense in running his baseball team. In trying not to be overinvolved in club affairs, he has ended up being too uninvolved.
Campbell's laissez-faire style didn't help matters in Detroit. He was so conservative, so old-fashioned in his ways, that he didn't react to the marketing changes of the 1980s and '90s. His philosophy was simple: Open the gates, and if we win, we'll draw. Little else was done to make a trip to Tiger Stadium attractive for fans. That will have to change.
Through Sunday the Tigers were 52-61 and barely holding off the Indians to stay out of last place in the American League East. They also had the second-highest ERA in the major leagues—only the Mariners' was worse. "Whoever takes over has a lot of work to do, an awful lot," says Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, referring to the fielding of a better team. "In the last four years we've averaged about 23rd or 24th in baseball in pitching. For us to even get to .500, we have to get to 15th or 17th in pitching." Asked if the Tigers are capable of winning before 1995, Anderson said quietly, "I don't know, I don't know how. The new owner might grab four or five free agents."
Because Detroit has struggled the past four seasons, attendance is down drastically. In the last two years the Tigers have explored options for a new ballpark that might lift the size of their crowds considerably, but those plans were put on hold indefinitely when Monaghan said he wanted to sell.
A new stadium was also the key to Lurie's decision to sell the Giants. In four separate elections in recent years Bay Area voters have refused to authorize the issuing of bonds to build a new stadium that would allow Lurie to move the Giants out of inhospitable Candlestick Park. Finally last week he threw in the towel and sold out to the investors from Florida.
But to complete the sale Lurie needs 75% of the National League owners and a majority of American League owners to approve the move of the team. Some American League owners have already objected to the idea of the National League's having two teams in fast-growing Florida—the expansion Marlins open in Miami next season—before the American League has one. However, one American League owner said, "I don't think there will be a big fight over it. I don't think it's as big an issue as people think."
Why? Well, if the Giants abandon San Francisco, the Bay Area would be left to the A's, which would almost certainly help their attendance. Also, when and if the American League expands again, there's always Orlando, which is growing faster than any Florida city.
Expo a Go-Go
The only National League East team with a chance of catching the suddenly resurgent Pirates is the Expos. Montreal's speed and aggressive play are the keys to its success. "With the right count, the right score, the right pitcher, we'll send anyone," says Expo manager Felipe Alou, whose team led the National League with 143 steals through Sunday but trailed Pittsburgh by 3½ games. "[Veteran catcher Gary] Carter has been caught stealing four times this year. The opposing team must look at me and say, 'This man is crazy.' But it's all part of the threat. It puts fear in other teams even when we're not stealing."
Cardinal manager Joe Torre shakes his head in awe and says, "Their speed is intimidating." Leading the way this season for Montreal have been the major leagues' top two thieves, centerfielder Marquis Grissom (55 steals) and second baseman Delino DeShields (40), who is making a late bid for National League MVP. Through Sunday, De-Shields had hit .381 in the 44 games since being inserted into the leadoff spot on June 24, raising his average to .315, and he took over the league lead in runs scored, with 73.
"We don't pay attention to the number of times a runner gets caught," says Expo coach Tommy Harper. "With a hitter, it doesn't matter that he makes out seven times out of 10; it's how much production he gets in those three. Anyone who follows those [baserunning] statistics hasn't been a pitcher in the ninth with a runner on base."
The Pickoff Artist
As aggressive as the Expos are on the bases, Alou admits that they "don't even try to run" against Phillie lefthander Terry Mulholland. That's how good Mulholland is at holding runners close. At week's end he was leading the major leagues with 12 pickoffs. It's a wonder more pitchers don't work on their moves to save some runs.
In Mulholland's 21 starts this season, only six base runners have even attempted to steal off him and only one was successful. That was current Phillie Stan Javier, who was then with the Dodgers, and Mulholland says that steal should have been scored as defensive indifference because Philadelphia was five runs ahead at the time, and first baseman John Kruk wasn't holding Javier on.
"I practice my pickoff move in the outfield sometimes, throwing against a wall, to keep it sharp," says Mulholland, who has also developed a slide-step move to make his delivery to the plate quicker. "When I throw over to first base, I start the ball out so it runs back into the runner and makes it easier for Kruk to make the tag."
At week's end the next best pitcher in the majors (minimum 100 innings) at preventing stolen bases was Texas's Kevin Brown, who had allowed four steals in 14 attempts. The worst in the major leagues were the Mets' David Cone (31 steals in 36 tries) and the Yankees' Scott Kamieniecki (19 steals in 21 attempts).
Crash in the Fast Lane
Red Sox designated hitter Jack Clark may be having the most trying season any major leaguer has endured in some time. His mother has been suffering from heart disease, and her illness has forced him to leave the team and fly to the West Coast three times. His swing, one of the most feared in baseball before this year, has been awful—through Sunday he was hitting .210 with four homers. He has been booed unmercifully at Fenway Park. He has received cortisone shots for pain in both his shoulders. Boston has tried to deal him, but his slump, his age (36) and his contract (he has one year left on a three-year, $8.7 million deal) have rendered him almost untradable.
And if all that wasn't bad enough, Clark recently filed for bankruptcy in Santa Ana, Calif., listing $6.7 million in debts. "He had some expensive hobbies, and I think they got ahead of him," says Clark's attorney, Fletcher A. Robbe of Long Beach. Among the revelations in the bankruptcy petition: Clark lost about $1 million in the past year on a drag racer he owns and has spent a small fortune on the other 18 automobiles he bought, including a 1990 Ferrari that cost $717,000 and three 1992 Mercedes-Benzes costing between $103,000 and $143,000 each. He still owes money on 17 of the cars and is liable for about $400,000 in federal and state income taxes.
Clark has said this year that all his troubles haven't allowed him to concentrate totally on baseball. He admits he hasn't been prepared mentally to play every night. "I did it to myself," he said last Saturday, his lips quivering at times. "I got hit on my investments as a lot of people did. What happened is cut-and-dried. It's simple. It's not the end of the world. I got a lot of baseball left in me."
Don't look for the Expos to get Dodger pitcher Bobby Ojeda for the stretch run. The Pirates claimed Ojeda on waivers, blocking any chance of his going to Montreal....
White Sox centerfielder Lance Johnson ended the week with the majors' longest hitting streak this season, 23 straight games through Sunday. During that stretch, he batted .451 (41 for 91) with 13 multihit games, including six in a row. Johnson's best hitting streak before this was 14 games in 1990....
The Cardinals are expected to release outfielder/first baseman Pedro Guerrero before the season ends. Guerrero, who has one homer this year, has been hampered by injuries, and he angered manager Joe Torre by being two hours late for a game last week in Pittsburgh. Torre sent him back to St. Louis on a commercial flight instead of allowing him to take the team charter....
Red pitcher Greg Swindell is expected to test the free-agent market after the season. He is miffed that Cincinnati has not offered him a long-term contract....
Phil Garner has done a marvelous job in his first year as the manager of the Brewers, who were hanging on in the American League East race at week's end, 4½ games behind the Blue Jays. Milwaukee designated hitter Paul Molitor compares Garner with Minnesota manager Tom Kelly for his ability to relate to players. Garner's rules for his pitchers are simple. "You can't pitch for me if you can't throw strikes," says Garner. Through Sunday pitcher Chris Bosio had three walks in his last 65⅖ innings....
A number of Royal players predicted good things for reliever Mark Davis, 31, the 1989 NL Cy Young winner who went 9-13 with a 5.32 ERA in 2½ years with Kansas City before his trade to Atlanta last month. "He's got great, great stuff. He's got his old curve-ball back," said one Royal player. "But you have to baby him. If I were his manager, I'd call him in my office every three days and tell him how good he is, but he can't do that himself."
...Seattle second baseman Harold Reynolds became the first negative triple double player this year: He reached double figures in caught stealing, errors and grounded into double plays (12-10-10).
Between The Lines
Another First for Nolan
Ranger pitcher Nolan Ryan was ejected for the first time in his 26-year career last Thursday against the A's. Plate umpire Richie Garcia said Ryan had intentionally hit Oakland's Willie Wilson with a pitch in the eighth inning. Ryan had cursed Wilson after the Oakland outfielder tried to take him deep with a big swing and a miss an inning earlier. Wilson then tripled, however, and cursed Ryan back when he got to third. When Wilson came up again, Ryan hit him on a 1-and-1 count. "Willie has some problems if he thinks he can scream obscenities at people and not have them say something back," Ryan said, neglecting to mention that he got the verbal fireworks going. Wilson's reply: "You can't do anything against him or he gets mad. I respect Nolan, but I lost respect for him for doing that.... Me and Nolan are two different things. I'm a guy who's gone to jail, I'm the bad guy, the eight ball. He's the legend. But he can [throw at you] and hurt you, and nobody can do anything to him."
On Aug. 6, San Diego's Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff became the first teammates to hit back-to-back homers twice in the same game since the Cubs' Ernie Banks and Dee Fondy did it in 1955. Fondy, a scout with the Brewers, was on hand when Sheffield and McGriff performed the feat. "The way those two are going, they'll probably do it again," said Fondy.
They Keep Knuckling Under
With a 9-5 win over the Twins, White Sox pitcher Charlie Hough, 44, joined Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana as the only active 200-game winners. He is the 90th pitcher in major league history to reach that plateau. "Gee, only 90 pitchers ever did it, and to do it with my talent is incredible," said Hough, a knuckleballer who took longer to attain 200 wins—almost 23 years—than any of the other 89.
By the Numbers
•A's outfielder Jose Canseco joined Billy Rogell (1938 Tigers), Mel Ott (1943 Giants) and Eddie Stanky (1950 Giants) as the only players in history to walk in seven consecutive at bats. Canseco had five walks in one game, on Aug. 4, against Texas, and two more in his first two at bats on Aug. 5, also against the Rangers. On his third at bat in that game, he had a 3-and-0 count before striking out.