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THE FEISTY PHILLIPS HAS IGNITED THE WHITE SOX BELLE STRIKES SOUR NOTES HOFFMAN A RELIEF IN SAN DIEGO

June 10, 1996
June 10, 1996

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June 10, 1996

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THE FEISTY PHILLIPS HAS IGNITED THE WHITE SOX BELLE STRIKES SOUR NOTES HOFFMAN A RELIEF IN SAN DIEGO

A SHORT FUSE

This is an article from the June 10, 1996 issue

There's a fire that has burned inside White Sox leftfielder Tony
Phillips since he was a safety on his football team in the ninth
grade, the smallest guy on the field, who loved to hit the
biggest guy as hard as he could. That intensity helped get
Phillips to the major leagues, and it's one reason why whatever
club he plays for seems to improve when he joins the team. Case
in point: the White Sox, who were lackluster disappointments
last season (68-76), but were 34-20 at week's end and playing
with significantly more desire than a year ago.

There's also a downside to the emotional approach Phillips
takes, though. His fire has raged out of control at times this
year. In spring training he retired, then unretired two days
later. On May 15 in Milwaukee he came out of a game in the sixth
inning, changed into his street clothes, went behind the
bleachers in leftfield while the game was still in progress and
punched a fan who Phillips says had been heckling him. He was
cited for disorderly conduct and was fined $5,000 by the
American League, a fine that he is appealing. The day after that
incident he had to be restrained by teammates after first base
umpire Chuck Meriweather called him out on a pickoff play. And
last week Phillips had to be held back from charging the mound
after being plunked by a pitch from the Blue Jays' Frank Viola.

"It's my will to win. I've had that attitude since I was the
small guy getting knocked around as a kid," says the 5'10",
175-pound Phillips. "I was taught by old-school guys when I came
up with the A's [in 1982]--Carney [Lansford], [Dave] Parker,
[Joe] Morgan, [Davey] Lopes. Man, those guys were hard. I was a
nice guy when I came up, and they taught me this is not a nice
game. You've got to do whatever it takes to win. That's what
it's all about."

Through Sunday, Phillips was hitting .302, was tied for third in
the American League in runs (45), had 33 RBIs (second highest in
the majors for a leadoff hitter) and had an on-base percentage
of .431. And the White Sox, who were doing little more than
showing up for the games at the end of last season, are
flourishing. Now they come to play every night. And if anyone
doesn't, Phillips is quick to jump on him. "Oh, that's easy. I
have no problem with that," says Phillips. "If someone is
slacking, I'm on him."

Meanwhile, the sluggish Angels (27-27 through Sunday), whom
Phillips played for last year but who passed up the opportunity
to sign him as a free agent, aren't the same without him. "We
miss his spunk, his attitude," Angels DH Chili Davis said
recently. "Some guys have a presence that rubs off on other
guys, and we don't have that presence now."

Phillips says his behavior this year--other than belting the
fan, which he regrets--has been no different from previous
years. In 1993, when he was with Detroit, he picked a fight with
Twins pitcher Scott Erickson during batting practice. (Erickson
had thrown at him the night before.) The next season he was
ejected for arguing a strike call on another hitter, Tiger
teammate Alan Trammell. Last year he got in a fight at the plate
with Boston catcher Mike Macfarlane after Macfarlane told him to
"get in the batter's box" while Phillips was arguing with the
umpire.

"This happens every year with me--I get ejected three times a
year," Phillips says with a laugh. "Bobby Brown [the former
American League president] and I have a great relationship. I
still send him a Christmas card every year. Nothing has changed
with me. The only mistake I made this year was with the fan.
I've been heckled before, but in 15 years never like that. I
thought moms were untouchable. But I don't apologize for
anything else that's happened this year."

For a while this spring it looked as if the 37-year-old Phillips
wouldn't be playing baseball this season. On Feb. 27 he left the
Sox and announced that he was retiring, but in fact he was
bothered by the relatively modest offers he received in the
free-agent bidding last winter. After a strike-shortened season
in which he hit 27 homers, scored 119 runs, had 113 walks and
earned $4.37 million, he wound up signing a two-year deal worth
$3.6 million, and it bugged him that he didn't get more.
Following a long talk with Giants manager Dusty Baker, a good
friend, Phillips reconsidered his retirement, and he has been
his old fiery self ever since.

The White Sox couldn't be happier. Says reliever Roberto
Hernandez, "Some people may think Tony goes too far, but that's
his personality. We needed someone like him. Now we think we can
take on Cleveland."

OVERBOARD BELLE

There's a difference between being fiery and being just plain
out of line, and Indians leftfielder Albert Belle proved again
last week that he can't make that distinction. Despite orders
from both acting commissioner Bud Selig and American League
president Gene Budig that he seek counseling to curb his anger
and aggression, Belle is getting worse. On May 28 he hit homer
number 21 in Texas, and asked team officials if they could
retrieve the ball for him. The fan who caught it was later
brought to the Cleveland clubhouse to meet Belle, and the fan
said he would gladly exchange it for an autographed ball. Belle
refused, then cursed the man, leaving embarrassed public
relations officials to apologize to yet another disillusioned
baseball fan. Then, last Friday night, Belle was in the middle
of an ugly bench-clearing brawl in Milwaukee that had its roots
in a base-running play an inning earlier, when Belle threw a
vicious forearm to the face of Brewers second baseman Fernando
Vina. Technically it was a legal play, but the forearm was a
disgraceful cheap shot that sent the 5'9" Vina flying. Vina
thought Belle had broken his nose and later said, "Belle is a
time bomb ready to explode. He's out of control."

And there's no one to stop him. He doesn't listen to anyone in
the organization--including Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove, who
has tried and failed to get through to him. Those who have dealt
with him say he listens to one person only, his mother.
Recently, Indians pitcher Dennis Martinez was on the mound ready
to start an inning, but Belle wasn't in leftfield. He was still
in the dugout and trotted out to his position belatedly. The
Indians tolerate that behavior because Belle is one of the best
hitters in baseball, a Triple Crown candidate as well as a
threat to break Roger Maris's record of 61 homers.

The incident in Milwaukee, however, will hurt the Indians. After
Belle flattened Vina in the eighth, Brewers pitcher Terry
Burrows hit Belle with a pitch in the ninth. So before the
bottom of the ninth Belle apparently told relief pitcher Julian
Tavarez to throw at a Brewer. Tavarez threw behind the head of
Milwaukee catcher Mike Matheny, who charged the mound, starting
the brawl. In the melee that ensued, Tavarez slammed umpire Joe
Brinkman to the ground. On Monday, Budig announced five-game
suspensions for Belle, Tavarez and Matheny, citing Belle for
actions that "not only threatened injury to an individual but
also led to the later disruption of the game."

Baseball is to be congratulated for its prompt decision in this
case, letting Belle know that he must take responsibility for
his actions. Meanwhile, chalk up two more black marks on Belle's
record, two more reasons to believe that while he may be a great
player, he's also simply a bad guy.

A BLESSED PADRE

At week's end the Padres had opened a 5 1/2-game lead on the
Dodgers in the National League West, and one of the big reasons
was the steady relief work of closer Trevor Hoffman. The
hard-throwing righthander had a 3-2 record with 11 saves, a 1.44
ERA and 40 strikeouts in only 25 innings. But his life's story
is even more remarkable than his pitching.

When Hoffman was six weeks old, he had to have one of his
kidneys removed because an arterial blockage had formed there.
As a kid growing up near Anaheim, he wasn't allowed to play
football or wrestle, but he played most other sports. He
especially loved baseball because his brother Glenn, who was
nine years older, became the shortstop for the Red Sox when
Trevor was 12. "I was the perfect age," Trevor says. "I'd hang
around the clubhouse, wear his hat, his shoes, even though they
were 10 sizes too big."

When he wasn't following Glenn, or his other brother, Greg, a
high school basketball coach, he was going with his father, Ed,
to Angels games. For 15 years Ed Hoffman was the famous singing
usher at Angels games. Before that, he sang with the Royal
Guards, a troupe that performed all over the world. "We get our
professionalism from him," Trevor says. "But none of us kids can
carry a tune. It's pretty sad, because my father [who died a
year and a half ago] was great." Trevor's mother, Mikki, is a
former ballerina who was born in England. "She says we get our
athleticism from her," says Trevor.

Hoffman planned on playing shortstop in the major leagues after
leading the University of Arizona team in hitting in 1988 with a
.371 batting average, 35 points better than teammate J.T. Snow,
who's now the Angels first baseman. The Reds drafted Hoffman in
the 11th round the next year, but after 103 games in 1990 for
Class A Charleston, Hoffman says, "I had made 35 errors and my
average was just over the Mendoza Line. I couldn't hit a slider.
I knew I wasn't going to knock Barry Larkin out of a job with
the Reds."

So it was suggested to Hoffman by Charleston manager Jim Lett
that he might try pitching. He did--with amazingly good results.
In '91, his first season on the mound, he threw a total of 47
2/3 innings at Cedar Rapids and at Double A Chattanooga, and he
had a 1.89 ERA and 75 strikeouts. He had such a live arm that
the Marlins selected him in the 1992 expansion draft. A year
later he was involved in the five-player trade that sent third
baseman Gary Sheffield from San Diego to Florida.

Hoffman, 28, saved 20 games in 1994 and 31 last year despite
pitching most of the season with a rotator-cuff tear in his
right shoulder. Most pitchers would have opted for surgery, but
Hoffman pitched through the pain--without complaint or alibi. He
had surgery in the off-season, the pain is gone, and he's
pitching as well as any closer in the league. He throws in the
low 90's, with a tight curveball and a terrific changeup, which
makes his fastball look as if it's going 110 mph. He learned the
changeup last year because he didn't have his best fastball. "It
was a good pitch last year," says catcher Brian Johnson. "This
year, it's a weapon."

Even sweeter to Hoffman than the Padres' first-place standing is
the news that his wife, Tracy, a former Buffalo Bills
cheerleader, is expecting the couple's first child in August. "I
proposed to her during the '93 Super Bowl," Hoffman says. "I was
about 30 rows up in the stands. I held this [marry me] sign
up--she saw it, but she thought I was kidding. At the end of the
third quarter I tried to get down to the field. The usher
stopped me. I said, 'Dude, I'm going to propose to my girl.' I
showed him the sign; he said, 'Right on, man.' I made it down to
the field, got down on one knee and proposed. They got it all on
the big screen. She was flabbergasted. The Bills got their butts
kicked, but she wasn't too worried about that."

DO YOU THINK I'M SEXY?

Some young players have the look of impending stardom. One to
keep an eye on is A's third baseman Jason Giambi, who one day
just might win a batting championship. At week's end he was
hitting .323--helped by a 19-game hitting streak, the second
longest in the majors this year, that ended on May 1. Even
though he had only 54 big league games under his belt entering
the season, he has displayed a terrific eye and the ability to
make adjustments at the plate. A second-round pick out of Long
Beach State in the 1992 draft, Giambi, 25, has hit wherever he
has gone in the minors too, including .342 last season at
Triple A Edmonton.

In the Arizona Fall League two years ago, Giambi became good
friends with Michael Jordan, who was with the White Sox's club
that also trained in the Phoenix area. They hung out after games
and played a lot of basketball. "He'd always pick me to be on
his team," Giambi said. "He wasn't going full speed, but he
still wouldn't miss a shot. If we were ever losing, we'd throw
it to him and just say, 'Score,' and he would."

What makes Giambi unique is his philosophy on hitting, which
isn't straight out of the Charlie Lau school. He first delivered
his theory to a group of teammates in a Chicago bar last year
and recently expanded upon it in the visitors' clubhouse in
Baltimore. "You've got to feel sexy at the plate," he says. "It
has nothing to do with sex, though. It's a confidence thing.
Baseball can be pretty boring over 162 games. You've got to have
something to use to your advantage. So you have to think when
you go to the plate that all eyes turn on you, like a beautiful
woman who walks into a room. Barry Bonds has got that. He knows
he's the best. You've got to have confidence in yourself--feel
sexy at the plate."

SHORT HOPS

National League umpire Bruce Froemming was out of line last week
when he called a press conference to tear into Expos pitcher
Jeff Fassero, who was off base the night before when he publicly
criticized the work of Charlie Williams, a member of Froemming's
crew. Among other things, Froemming said, "He's 3-5, making
two-plus million dollars a season. He should concentrate on
improving his record and let the umpires do their job." He went
on to say, "This is typical sour grapes from a guy who is
struggling and looking for an alibi." Sure, umps are entitled to
feel unjustly criticized by players, but the game's integrity
depends on the belief that every player will get fair and
objective calls from the umpires. Froemming's personal attack on
Fassero now raises questions about whether Fassero can get just
that....Reliever Lee Smith, who was traded last week from the
Angels to the Reds, joins his seventh big league club and his
fifth in the last four seasons. At week's end Smith had pitched
in 955 games without appearing in a World Series. Only Lindy
McDaniel (987 games from 1955 to '75) pitched in more without a
World Series appearance. Don't look for Smith's streak to end
this year, either.

COLOR PHOTO: RON VESELY Phillips won't back away from controversy, but there have been times when he has gone too far. [Tony Phillips talking to umpire]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Hoffman's sterling relief work has helped the Padres build an early lead in the NL West. [Trevor Hoffman pitching]

THE PHILLIPS FACTOR

To measure the impact Tony Phillips has on a team, a good place
to start is with these statistics: runs scored per game, before
and after he joins a club. He may not be the sole reason for all
the changes charted below, but it's not an accident that teams
become more productive after he joins them and less so after he
leaves.

Before With After
Phillips Phillips Phillips

Tigers '89 '90 '95
3.81 4.63 4.54

Angels '94 '95 '96
4.72 5.52 4.67

White Sox '95 '96 [--]
5.21 6.11* [--]

*Through Sunday.