WHAT'S UP, DOC?
An attendant in the Yankees' clubhouse handed a baseball to
pitcher Kenny Rogers last week so that Rogers could autograph
it. The ball was already covered with his teammates' signatures.
"There's no place for my name," Rogers said. How symbolic.
There's no place for him in the New York rotation, either.
Only in the wacky world of the Yankees could a club go after the
third-winningest lefthander in baseball the last three years
(Rogers had 44 wins with the Rangers), sign him to a four-year,
$20 million contract as a free agent and then drop him from the
rotation in favor of Dwight Gooden, who had won a total of 15
games in the last three years and didn't pitch at all in 1995
while serving a one-year suspension for drug use. Maybe the
running gag on Seinfeld isn't a joke at all; maybe George
Costanza does work for the Yankees.
New York says Gooden is in the rotation because he has never
been a full-time reliever, as Rogers has, and because the
Yankees want to see firsthand how Gooden fares against major
league hitters, not Triple A batters in Columbus. "I need to
witness [his comeback]," says New York manager Joe Torre.
The Yankees are hoping Gooden discovers some of his old magic,
but he didn't have a good spring and was 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA
after his first two starts. Over the past 10 years alcohol and
cocaine abuse plus assorted injuries have repeatedly taken him
away from the game and eroded the skills that made him a major
league phenom at 19.
New York's attempt to determine whether Gooden is still a big
league pitcher has already done damage to Rogers's delicate
pysche. Rogers is a very emotional and sensitive player who
hasn't always adjusted easily to change. He comes from tiny
Dover, Fla., where he grew up working on his father's berry
farm. He was so raw when he was drafted by Texas in 1982 that he
didn't even know how to throw from the stretch with runners on
But with a strong arm and the development of his curveball and
his confidence in the last few years, he turned into one of the
top pitchers in the game, and he might have expected to be
treated as such when he signed with New York last winter.
Instead, he wound up in the bullpen. At week's end he still had
not pitched for the Yankees and had traveled to Tampa for
extended spring training, just to get some work before his
scheduled start on April 23. "I'm trying not to make it a total
waste of time," he said before leaving for Tampa. "I'll get to
sleep at my parents' house. I'll catch a big bass in the pond,
wake up in the morning and go pitch."
The pleasure Rogers takes in small-town life makes people wonder
if he's suited for the rigors of playing in New York. He never
had to pitch in a critical, pressure-packed game during his
time in Texas. When he does get his opportunity to work in New
York, what frame of mind will he be in, and how sharp will he
be? And will he be looking over his shoulder if he gets lit up
in any of his early starts? The Rangers offered him a four-year,
$17.5 million contract last winter. Perhaps he should have taken
Having put himself on the disabled list on April 7, Phillies
catcher-turned-leftfielder Darren Daulton probably won't play
again because of the relentless pain in his right knee, which
was reconstructed in the off-season (his left knee has been
operated on eight times in his 12 seasons with Philadelphia).
And Twins centerfielder Kirby Puckett might be out most of this
season--or, worse, his career may be over, too--because of
blurred vision in his right eye caused by the onset of glaucoma.
"The game needs these guys," says Minnesota manager Tom Kelly.
"They add substance and credibility. The game takes a step
backwards without them, and it can't afford to take a step
Daulton and Puckett, each in his own way, are two of the game's
most respected team leaders, and leadership is a commodity in
frighteningly short supply these days. Daulton, 34, inspired the
Phils by example, catching nine innings on a regular basis,
despite two deteriorating knees. But he wasn't afraid to take a
teammate aside and straighten him out when it became necessary.
He told Gregg Jefferies last year to think more about the club,
rather than how many hits he got. Daulton was also the player
who faced the tough Philadelphia media every night while most of
his teammates hid. "It's a crushing blow for that team," says
Pirates manager Jim Leyland.
Daulton tried to make a go of playing the outfield this spring
but after only five regular-season games he went back on the
disabled list. "Nobody can bring to that club what Dutch
brought," says former Phillies outfielder Gary Varsho, referring
to Daulton by his nickname.
Nobody on the Twins will soon replace the 35-year-old Puckett,
either. "We play some games at home at 12:15 in the afternoon,
and Kirby comes rolling in about 7:30 in the morning, full of
life," says Minnesota hitting coach Terry Crowley. "I always
thought we'd win those games just because of him. And he usually
got three hits, and we'd win." There's no friendlier, more
effervescent player in baseball than Puckett, and his teammates
have fed off that. Yet one morning late in spring training,
Puckett woke up and could barely see out of his right eye. The
condition is improving, but very slowly. Until it improves
significantly, Puckett won't be able to play.
THE UMPIRE STRIKES BACK
The death of overweight umpire John McSherry on Opening Day was
a signal for many umps to get in better condition. But one of
them is already in fighting shape--literally. Pacific Coast
League ump Ted Barrett, who is 6'4" and 240 pounds and has
worked about 100 American League games as a fill-in the past two
years, is also a former boxer who once sparred with George Foreman.
As an amateur, Barrett had a 36-6 record, including a loss to
Riddick Bowe in 1987. When he became an ump seven years ago, he
was told by baseball's Umpire Development Program to give up
boxing, which he did, though not right away. "I'd show up with a
couple of black eyes," he says. "I think they knew."
Barrett, 30, still serves as a sparring partner in the
off-season, and most Pacific Coast League players know about his
boxing career. "Hitters will look at me and say, 'Now don't get
mad at me, but I don't think that pitch was a strike,'" Barrett
says, with a laugh. Former Tigers manager Sparky Anderson got
upset with a call last year, and Barrett thought Anderson was
going to come after him. "But he just walked by me and gave me
the zipper motion on his mouth," says Barrett. "[Umpire] Jim
Joyce asked me after the game, 'What have you got on Sparky? Did
you threaten to kick his ass?'"
Dodgers ace Hideo Nomo struck out 17 Marlins last Saturday night
in a 3-1 win. In the last four seasons, only the Mariners' Randy
Johnson, who struck out 18 Rangers in 1992, had more K's in a
single game. Against Nomo, Greg Colbrunn, Charles Johnson and
Kurt Abbott, the 6-7-8 hitters in Florida's lineup, struck out
nine times in nine at bats, on a total of 42 pitches....Now that
Chan Ho Park is in the L.A. rotation, don't expect him to be
leaving anytime soon. Park, who gave up one hit while pitching
five innings in his first start, on April 11, has exceptional
stuff....The White Sox need a cleanup hitter to protect Frank
Thomas. On Sunday, Thomas was walked three times, giving him 12
bases on balls already this season--more than one a game. He was
hitting .386 at week's end, but only six of his 17 hits were for
extra bases. Danny Tartabull, who the Sox hoped would bat fourth
and make it hard to pitch around Thomas, got off to a 3-for-33
start this year. Until Harold Baines drove in four runs last
Saturday, White Sox cleanup men had had fewer RBIs (two) than
Cubs pitchers (five) this year.