One of the season's biggest disappointments has been the performance of the Giants, and the reason for San Francisco's sluggish start is obvious: a slumbering offense that was last in the National League in hitting (.244) and 10th in scoring at week's end. San Francisco, which led the league in batting (.276) and was second in runs last year, had scored 59 fewer times than the Dodgers this season, which explained L.A.'s three-game lead in the National League West. "We know we're going to start hitting," says Giant closer Rod Beck, "but it's like, Come on, let's do it!"
Clearly the Giants miss first baseman Will Clark, the free agent who signed with the Rangers last November. Through Sunday he was hitting .371 with 42 RBIs for Texas, compared with the .254 and 18 RBIs provided by Todd Benzinger, his replacement in San Francisco.
But the player the Giants miss most is second baseman Robby Thompson, who was hitting .202 with a homer and five RBIs in 104 at bats before going on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder on May 12. Manager Dusty Baker says Thompson is indispensable to San Francisco, "whether he's hitting .320 or .120," because of his leadership and desire.
June 5, 1994
Thompson was the best second baseman in the league last year, hitting .312 with 19 homers and 65 RBIs—a season for which he was rewarded with a three-year, $12 million contract. However, there is concern among the Giants' management as to whether Thompson will ever regain that form, given what happened to him late last season: On Sept. 24 he suffered a broken left cheekbone when hit in the face by a pitch from the Padres' Trevor Hoffman. Then, in spring training, he was hit on the top part of the helmet by the Rockies' Mike Harkey. Thompson has admitted that he thinks about the beanings when he's at the plate.
Former Red Sox second baseman Doug Griffin was never the same after being hit in the head by a Nolan Ryan pitch in 1974, nor was former Oriole centerfielder Paul Blair after he was hit in the face by a Ken Tatum pitch in '70. But Thompson is a gritty competitor who will stop at nothing in his bid to overcome both the beanings and his shoulder injury, which could keep him sidelined for another two to six weeks.
The Braves needed a righthanded hitter, and the Reds needed a lefthanded hitter, so they swapped centerfielders on Sunday: Deion Sanders went to Cincinnati for Roberto Kelly and Class A pitcher Roger Etheridge. But wait. Sanders said it was not that simple. He said his clashes with Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz played a role in the deal.
"You know he's getting back at me. There's no way else to explain it," said Sanders, who was pulled out of chapel to be informed of the deal. He told Brave manager Bobby Cox, "I love you to death," and then looked at Schuerholz and walked away. Schuerholz vehemently denied Sanders's accusation.
During the 1992 World Series, Sanders promised the Braves that football wouldn't interfere with baseball, but he played a Sunday-afternoon game for the Falcons and then arrived late at the ballpark before the Series game that night and was fined heavily. Last season Sanders was placed on the disqualified list from April 29 to May 21 for leaving the team—which he did partly because of the death of his father but mostly because he was moping about his lack of playing time. Sanders returned only after Schuerholz gave him a contract extension worth $11 million. This year Sanders was the only player to miss the Braves' two mandatory off-field functions: photo day and a luncheon with Atlanta businessmen.
Schuerholz is too good an executive to trade a player out of spite. After all, the Braves opened an every-day spot for Sanders by not re-signing free agent Otis Nixon last winter. And Atlanta has needed a righthanded hitter since leftfielder Ron Gant broke his leg on Feb. 3 and was subsequently released. Through Sunday, Atlanta was 6-6 against lefthanders this year and was hitting .259 against them compared with .275 against righties.
Kelly, who was averaging .302 at week's end, gives the Braves a solid righthanded bat with more power, but he is barely average defensively, isn't the stolen-base threat that Sanders is, and doesn't walk enough and strikes out too much for a leadoff hitter.
This season the Braves were expecting a little more from Sanders, who had 23 hits in his last 101 at bats before the trade to drop his average to .288 (.214 against lefthanders). But the Reds, in losing seven of their last eight at week's end, had blown a 3½-game lead in the National League Central and had fallen into a tie for first with the Astros. Cincinnati general manager Jim Bowden, never one to hesitate to make a move, especially if his team is struggling, went for Sanders.
Deion's hype has always been greater than his actual performance. Now, out of the spotlight of superstation TBS, it will be interesting to see if his ability can justify the hype. Says Sanders, ever undaunted, "Maybe I'll take the whole show to Cincinnati and play for the Bengals, too."
Padre general manager Randy Smith flew to Texas last Thursday to see his Ranger counterpart, Tom Grieve, but not for trade talks between the two teams. They met to discuss Grieve's 18-year-old son, Ben, a power-hitting centerfielder at Arlington Martin High. A's general manager Sandy Alderson had visited the Grieves the week before, and Oakland was expected to take Ben with the second pick in this week's amateur draft. The first pick belonged to the Mets, who were expected to select Florida State pitcher Paul Wilson. The Padres held the third pick.
Ben's impending early selection meant that for the first time, a father and son would have been first-round picks in the June draft, with Tom having been the opening-round choice of the Senators in 1966. Tom says that being a general manager should help the negotiations go smoothly for Ben, who wants to turn pro. "We're not interested in waiting until Ben is in a car on his way to TCU," Grieve says, alluding to negotiating ploys by recent top picks, who threatened to go to college if they didn't get million-dollar bonuses. "I have no scoreboard on how high his bonus has to be, but if you're ever going to stand up for someone and not sell him short, it's your family."
The last time that a baseball executive's son was drafted in the first round came in 1977, when catcher Terry Kennedy, son of then Cub general manager Bob Kennedy, was taken by the Cardinals with the sixth overall pick. The Cubs drafted 12th that year—to Terry's relief. Terry's older brother, Bob Jr., had played in St. Louis's minor league system in the early '70s when his father was the Cards' director of player development, a situation that proved uncomfortable for Bob Jr. So when it came Terry's time to be drafted, he was wary. "I asked my father, 'Are you going to take me?' " Terry says, laughing. "He said, "Sure I am.' I told him, 'I can't play for you.' Then he said, 'I've got to take you. Then I'll trade you.' I said, 'Promise?' "
On May 25 the Royals' Kevin Appier performed quite a feat, striking out 13 Rangers in 5⅖ innings. He was then removed from the game because he had thrown 108 pitches and had endured a 49-minute rain delay in the fourth. According to pitching records traced back to 1986, no pitcher in the major leagues in that time had pitched less than six innings in a game and had that many strikeouts. Even Nolan Ryan never did it in his long career....
Juiced Ball Note of the Week: Through Sunday the American League was hitting .275, which put it on pace for its highest season average since 1950, when the league's batters hit .271. In '87, another season supposedly played under the influence of a juiced ball, the league average was .265.
Between the Lines
The Downside. What a year for streaks, most of them bad. The Brewers had a 14-game losing streak, which was finally broken last Friday when they beat the Mariners 5-2. The Padres lost 13 in a row earlier this year, and the A's 12 in a row. Before this season there had been only three losing streaks of 12 or more games since the beginning of the 1990s. Milwaukee ended its nosedive on the night that Robin Yount Weekend began at County Stadium. Yount, who retired after last season, talked to his former teammates before the game. An inspirational speech? "No," he said in typically understated fashion, "I just said hello."
Bombarded. On May 24 Mariner starter Greg Hibbard gave up 15 hits in his six-inning stint during a 10-1 loss to the A's. The last pitcher to allow more hits in a game than Hibbard did was the Astros' Bob Forsch (18 hits in seven innings) on Aug. 3, 1989.
Still a Swinger. With the Dodger bench depleted by injuries, rookie reliever Darren Dreifort was summoned from the bullpen to pinch-hit for pitcher Al Osuna in the 10th inning of a 5-5 game against the Pirates last Friday. Dreifort, who hit .327 with 22 homers last year as a pitcher-DH at Wichita State, made his first major league at bat a memorable one: He singled to drive in the winning run. At week's end Dreifort, who was L.A.'s first-round pick in the 1993 amateur draft and has never played in the minors, had six saves and a hit in the big leagues. "All I need is a win," he said.