April 15, 1996
April 15, 1996

Table of Contents
April 15, 1996



MAJOR LEAGUE baseball was at it again: First, it ordered the
earliest start in history (March 31); then it scheduled some of
the first week's games in cold-weather cities like Chicago,
Cleveland and New York, while teams from Los Angeles and San
Diego opened on the road. So it was no surprise that seven games
were postponed the first week of the season because of inclement
weather. "There's no reason for it," said Dodgers manager Tommy
Lasorda. "I'm disgusted. The games should be opening up in
warmer climates and domed stadiums."

This is an article from the April 15, 1996 issue Original Layout

Last Thursday, L.A. played at Chicago's Wrigley Field in
conditions the Bears would have found challenging: 34 degrees
with 19 mph winds at game time and then sleet and snow later in
the afternoon. Rock salt was spread to melt the frozen walkways
in the stadium, and it was so cold that the players' spikes were
coated with ice. Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa wore a balaclava under
his cap, and Chicago outfielder Scott Bullett and pitcher Jaime
Navarro each gave a clubhouse boy $100 to go to the concession
stands and buy stocking caps for the entire team. "He bought all
I had," gift shop employee Jane Stepanaitis said of the
clubhouse boy. "I had to go to the other gift shop for more."

Why do the majors schedule their games as they do? "In two-team
markets [like Chicago and New York] we try to alternate every
year so one team opens at home and one on the road," says
National League senior vice president Katy Feeney. "Also,
warm-weather teams don't like April and May dates [kids are
still in school] any better than anyone else. You can't treat
warm-weather teams unfairly."

Solutions? There are no easy ones, but to start the season a
week later let's consider shortening the season to 154 games
again, playing the World Series into the first week of November
and scheduling a couple of doubleheaders for each team (there is
only one twin bill slated for 1996). But the chance of more
teams agreeing to lose home dates--and lots of money in the
process--by playing two is as slim as seeing snow in Southern


During opening week there were 17 games in which one team scored
at least 10 runs, including one in which the weak-hitting
Brewers torched the Angels for 15 runs and 22 hits. The
Cardinals and the Mets overcame six-run deficits, and the A's
erased a seven-run lead. Even four-time Cy Young winner Greg
Maddux of the Braves got roughed up--the Giants scored five runs
against him on April 1.

Get used to it. Offense will continue to dominate for several
reasons: Pitching is generally awful; hitters are bigger and
stronger than ever; and many of the new ballparks are small and

Pitching-poor teams such as the Giants, the Mariners, the
Phillies, the Rangers and the Rockies will try to slug their way
to the postseason. Colorado did it last year, earning the
National League wild card despite a club ERA of 4.97, the
highest in history for a team that qualified for postseason
play. In fact, four of the six highest ERAs for postseason teams
came last season from Colorado, Boston (4.39), Seattle (4.50)
and the Yankees (4.56).

Even so, Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane says, "there weren't
better pitchers in the past--we have better hitters today. Mo
Vaughn would crush those old pitchers. Today's hitters are
rippled, they're studs."

Whatever the reason--and almost certainly both weaker pitching
and brawnier hitting have played a role--the National League ERA
for the last three seasons has been 4.04, 4.21 and 4.18 (no
other three-year period in the league's history has seen numbers
that high), while the American League ERA for the last two
seasons has been 4.80 and 4.71 (there have been no other
back-to-back ERAs in the league that high). This year's Opening
Day pitchers were the weakest group in years, dubiously led by
the Tigers' Felipe Lira (9-13 lifetime) and the A's Carlos Reyes

It wasn't long ago that many teams broke camp with only 10
pitchers, sometimes fewer because of off days and possible
rainouts in April. But managers have so little confidence in
their pitchers these days that 21 of 28 teams began this season
with more than 10, and the Rockies and the Yankees started with

In an attempt to help the pitchers, the strike zone was expanded
this year, but according to both hitters and pitchers there has
been no change in how the umpires have called the game.


Hats off to 41-year-old shortstop Ozzie Smith. He wasn't
expected to make the Cardinals this year, yet if Smith had not
had a slight hamstring pull, he would have started ahead of
26-year-old Royce Clayton on Opening Day. This spring Smith's
defense was spectacular as always. His chronically weak right
shoulder, which was surgically repaired during last season, is
stronger, and his throwing is better.

"I've been questioned all my life; this was no different," says
Smith. "I get a kick out of it." Once he gets healthy, Smith
will share time at shortstop with Clayton.


Everyone who sees Mets rookie shortstop Rey Ordonez gushes about
his defense. On Opening Day he took a short-hop relay throw 50
feet behind third base and gunned a one-hop strike to the plate
from his knees to nail Clayton at the plate. Indians coach Toby
Harrah, who managed Ordonez last year at Triple A Norfolk, says,
"He made more great plays in one year than I saw in my 16-year
career." ... The first throw made this season by Royals
shortstop Jose (35 errors with the Dodgers in 1995) Offerman
went flying into the stands for an error.... Speaking of errors,
the Red Sox, the worst fielding team in the American League last
year, made eight (four by second baseman Wil Cordero) in their
first five gamesÑall losses.... White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice
became the first player to strike out five times on an Opening
Day, going 0 for 5 against the Mariners on March 31.



Hot Feet I. Pirates rookie righthander Francisco Cordova throws
in the low 90's, but according to Pittsburgh bench coach Rich
Donnelly, he throws even harder with his shoes off. "We're going
to paint white laces and the Nike logo on his feet; then he'll
throw barefoot and no one will ever know," Donnelly said with a
laugh. "He turned down 12 shoe contracts; he didn't need them.
He's the Barefoot Contessa." Shod, Cordova worked three
scoreless innings in relief last week.

Hot Feet II. On April 2, in the 1,097th game of his major league
career, the Tigers 250-pound first baseman, Cecil Fielder, stole
his first base, reinstalling former catcher Russ Nixon as the
player with the longest career (906 games) without a steal. "I
could hear him coming," second base umpire Tim Tschida said of
Fielder's feat. "I was dumbfounded. I didn't know how to act."
The new active leader in games played without a stolen base is
Expos catcher Darrin Fletcher, who has played 487 games without
a steal through Sunday.

COLOR PHOTO: FRED JEWELL/AP Sosa kept warm--and avoided the tag of the Dodgers' Mike Piazza--at frigid Wrigley Field. [Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza]