JUICE UP THE ARMS
There are whispers that this year's baseball might be juiced. Blue Jay bench coach Gene Tenace says the ball is smaller and wound tighter than last year's. "It feels like a Titleist," he says. The numbers seem to support his claim: The runs-per-game average as of April 18 (9.17) was higher than in all but two of the last 25 years at the same point in the schedule (chart, right).
But there is no conspiracy between major league owners and Rawlings—the company that produces the baseballs used in the big leagues—to liven up the game. "Why would we want a rabbit ball?" asks one American League owner. "All that would do is jack up the players' stats, which would jack up our losses in salary arbitration."
No, it's not the ball that's causing the big numbers. It's good hitting combined with a lot of bad pitching.
•The Tigers became the first team since the 1950 Red Sox to score 20 runs twice in a season, when they beat the A's 20-4 on April 13 and the Mariners 20-3 four days later. In the first of those games, Oakland reliever Mike Mohler, who was 3-8 last year at Double A Huntsville, was pounded for eight runs in 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings and issued three of the 12 walks given up by A's pitchers. In the second game, Seattle rookie Dave Wainhouse gave up seven runs in one inning. Detroit hadn't scored 20 runs in a game in 56 years.
•Eight teams walked 10 or more batters in a game.
•Each of three relievers—Darren Holmes of the Rockies, Chuck McElroy of the Cubs and Edwin Nunez of the A's—faced three batters, walked them all and then was taken out of the game.
•The Brewer bullpen, which had the lowest ERA (2.78) of any relief staff in 1992, was rocked for 25 earned runs in its first 20⅖ innings for a 10.89 ERA.
•The Expos allowed 58 runs—11, 11,9,9,9 and 9—in a six-game stretch between April 8 and 14.
•The Rockies' pitchers were torched for 51 runs in Colorado's first seven games, including a 19-9 loss to the Expos. The altitude at Denver's Mile High Stadium, where the ball really carries, was only partly to blame.
•The Blue Jays' Jack Morris, a 21-game winner last year, pitched a total of 11 innings in three starts this season, allowing 29 hits and 21 earned runs (17.18 ERA).
•The Orioles' Fernando Valenzuela, starting a major league game for the first time since June 1991, was horrible in an 8-3 loss to the Rangers on April 13. He allowed five hits and six earned runs, walked two, hit a batter, threw two wild pitches and made a throwing error in 2‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings. His fastball was clocked between 78 and 80 mph, and his screwball wasn't working. Texas batters swung and missed on only three of Valenzuela's 62 pitches.
But don't tell the Braves and the Reds—who were expected to be two of the National League's most potent lineups—that the pitching is bad or that the ball is juiced. In nine games from April 9 to 17, Atlanta scored just 13 runs. The Braves' starting lineup for last Saturday's game was made up of players hitting .200, .186, .341, .179, .150, .125, .174, .152 and .250. The Reds (3-9 through Sunday) had scored only 33 runs in their first 12 games.
Last Thursday, Red Sox outfielder Andre Dawson hit his 400th career home run, becoming the 25th player in history to reach that plateau. Is he a Hall of Famer? Yes. Based on his career stats alone, Dawson deserves to be voted into the Hall one day: .282 average, 1,433 RBIs, 310 stolen bases, eight Gold Gloves (and a great throwing arm), eight times selected to the All-Star team, and National League Rookie of the Year (1977) and Most Valuable Player ('87) awards. He has had 50 or more extra-base hits in a season 13 times, a feat surpassed in National League history by only Hank Aaron (18 times) and Stan Musial (16). Also, Dawson and Willie Mays are the only players in history to hit 400 homers and steal 300 bases.
But Dawson's career has been about a lot more than numbers. He is a leader, the consummate professional on and off the field for almost 20 years. That should count for something.
ROYAL HOT SEAT
It's only a matter of time before the Royals fire manager Hal McRae. Kansas City, which lost 16 of its first 17 games last season, was 3-9 through Sunday, having scored three or fewer runs in seven of 12 games. He hasn't been a good manager, he hasn't enjoyed the job, he doesn't communicate well with players, and he's uncomfortable managing his son Brian, Kansas City's centerfielder. McRae wants to return to being a hitting coach, which is the job he does best. This would be a firing that would make everyone happy.
One American League owner says he doesn't expect a new commissioner to be named until December. Some owners don't want a commissioner until then because he might interfere with the ongoing labor negotiations with the players. "Some of us are looking for a marketing man to be the next commissioner," the owner says. "But I think we need a leader first. Anything to do with marketing will be tossed out the window if we don't get the labor issue settled." ...The first two five-hit games this season were by second basemen: Expo Mike Lansing and Padre Tim Teufel. Last year Lansing played in Double A (Harrisburg, Pa.), but he made it onto the big club as a backup shortstop. When Montreal second baseman Delino DeShields missed almost two weeks with the chicken pox, Lansing filled in at second, hit three homers and drove in 10 runs.... This spring Dodger catcher Mike Piazza got a tip from Marlin catcher Benito Santiago on how to quicken his release on throws to cut down base stealers. Through Sunday, Piazza had thrown out 11 of 15 runners attempting to steal.
Minor League Note of the Week: Dave LaPoint, 33, who didn't play last year because of personal problems, is pitching for the Twins' Triple A affiliate in Portland, Ore., the ninth minor league stop in his career. He also has pitched for nine major league teams, the last having been the 1991 Phillies. If he's recalled by the Twins and starts a game for them, LaPoint will become the first pitcher who played his entire career in this century to start games for 10 different big league teams.
What a week for Mariner shortstop Omar Vizquel: On April 11 he received the first intentional walk of his five-year career, and two days later he hit his first grand slam. Last year Vizquel entered July with five RBIs and finished the season with 21.
By the Numbers
The Rockies drew 374,659 for their first six home games, at 76,037-seat Mile High Stadium. The A's drew 306,763 for the entire 1979 season....
Last Thursday the Tigers' Sparky Anderson won his 2,000th game as a major league manager. The other six managers in the American League East combined had won 857 games at week's end....
Through Sunday, Ranger outfielder Juan Gonzalez, 23, had two multihomer games this year to give him 10 for his career. Babe Ruth had 72 multihomer games in his career, and Gonzalez is on the same pace as Ruth.