Of all the offensive records that are destined to be smashed in
this year of hitting dangerously, perhaps the oldest is Earl
Webb's record of 67 doubles, set in 1931 for the Boston Red Sox.
At week's end Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez was
threatening the 65-year-old mark with his 44 doubles, putting
him on a pace for 75. "It would be nice to get in the record
books for something," Martinez says with a smile.
Martinez is one of the best righthanded hitters of his era,
entering this season with a lifetime average of .313, including
batting titles in 1992 (.343) and '95 (.356). But because he
has been hurt so often, he might never receive the respect he is
due. He played in only 42 games in '93, due to an injured left
hamstring, and missed the first month of '94 after getting hit
on the right wrist in his first at bat of the season. Martinez
gave the Mariners another scare last Saturday when, starting in
the field for the first time this year, at third base, he
collided with catcher John Marzano on a pop-up and had to leave
the game--though as it turned out he was not seriously injured.
It seems as if every year some player makes a run at Roger
Maris's home run record, but rarely does anyone challenge Webb.
In the last 35 seasons only nine players have hit 50 or more
doubles in a season: Hal McRae (54), John Olerud (54), Don
Mattingly (53), Wade Boggs (51), Mark Grace (51), Frank Robinson
(51), Pete Rose (51) and Albert Belle and Martinez, who each hit
52 last year.
July 28, 1996
Webb finished his seven-year career with 155 doubles, so nearly
half came in his record-breaking season. "Until his name started
coming up recently," Martinez says, "I'd never heard of him."
Legend has it that late in 1931, Webb occasionally slowed down
running out a potential triple, turning it into a double and
thereby padding his total.
Webb was helped by playing at Fenway Park, which in 1931 didn't
yet have the Green Monster but did have a sloping embankment in
leftfield called Duffy's Cliff--named for Sox leftfielder Duffy
Lewis--that made balls coming off the wall behind it especially
hard to play. Martinez is helped by playing 81 games at the
Kingdome, a good doubles park because it has hard, fast turf
plus an easily reachable 23-foot-high wall in rightfield. "I'll
hit fly balls to right that are outs in other ballparks but are
off the wall at home," says Martinez.
Most great doubles hitters, including Martinez, have one thing
in common: They use the whole field. In batting practice, unlike
many hitters who try to see how far they can hit the ball,
Martinez mostly hits the ball the other way. In games his
doubles go from foul line to foul line. And they are all honest
two-baggers. He doesn't run very well, so there are no leg hits
in his total.
But Martinez, who led the major leagues in runs and was third in
total bases through Sunday, can beat a team with the home run
when he has to. "Most of the time I'm looking to hit the ball up
the middle, and that's where the majority of my doubles come
from," he says. "All I'm trying to do is stay on top of the ball
and not get under it. Then I can drive it. But I have one stance
I use when I'm looking for a pitch to hit for a home run to
leftfield. I lower my hands to try to get the ball in the air."
At week's end he had 22 homers.
Breaking Webb's record is not overly important to Martinez.
"It's not like playing in a playoff game," he says. He certainly
won't slow down on the bases, turning triples into doubles, as
Webb supposedly did. "Maybe on the last day of the season, if
the game's not on the line and I needed one more double to break
the record, I'd stop," he says, before adding with a grin, "I
don't get a lot of triples anyway, you know."
A NEW BIG FISH
The only thing fans know about new Marlins manager John Boles is
that he has bug eyes. "My wife called me after my first game as
manager [on July 11] and said, 'Have you seen yourself on ESPN?
I can't believe the way your eyes look,'" Boles said last week.
"I had no idea I looked like Marty Feldman. So I told [Marlins
coach] Rusty Kuntz to take the left eye and [coach] Joe Breeden
to take the right eye. I told them, 'Forget the game--you guys
are in charge of my eyes. Make sure I don't look like a space
Boles, 47, is no space cadet. He is bright, open and honest. He
has a master's degree in educational administration and is a
former grammar school teacher who once aspired to be a
principal. Now he is the principal for 25 players who have badly
underachieved this season, which led to the firing of former
manager Rene Lachemann on July 7. "But we're not dealing with
who threw the first snowball," Boles says. "It's a little more
Boles played at Lewis University, a Division II school in
Romeoville, Ill., and was later head coach at St. Xavier
University in Chicago (from 1973 to '79) and at Louisville (from
'80 to '81). He went to work in the White Sox system as a minor
league manager in 1981. There he got to know Tony La Russa, then
the White Sox manager and the leader of a group of White Sox
managers, coaches and executives called the Brain Rain. During
rain delays in spring training the group would gather in the
clubhouse and talk about nothing but baseball, mostly strategy,
for hours. "It's not like we looked forward to rain," says
Boles, "but it was fun." Says La Russa, "I always learned
something from John Boles."
Baseball knowledge is one thing, but now more than ever,
managing is about getting the most out of players, commanding
their respect. Boles managed 5 1/2 seasons in the minor leagues
and in winter ball, but much of his career has been spent in
player development, and until July 11 he had never worn a major
league uniform. Without a major league background, a manager can
have credibility problems among today's players. After the '85
season Boles was a leading candidate for the third base coaching
job with the White Sox, but Ken Harrelson, then Chicago's
general manager, was against it, saying Boles wasn't a "big
league guy." In his wallet Boles still carries the tattered
newspaper clipping, with yellow highlighting on Harrelson's quote.
Boles is big league now. At week's end his team had won six of
its last seven games, improving his record to 7-4. And his
players are responding to his leadership. "It's early, but what
he has done is right and fair," says pitcher Al Leiter. "He's
trying to unify us. With simple things, like everyone stretching
together, and everyone standing on the top step of the dugout
for the anthem. Plus, he says, 'If you don't play hard, forget
the fine--you just won't play.' That hits home."
It wasn't entirely Lachemann's fault that the Marlins were 39-47
and 14 games behind the Braves in the National League East when
he was canned. But the team was the lowest-scoring outfit in the
game, and Lachemann got a reputation for managing too
cautiously, playing the same lineup almost every night. Perhaps
his players got a little too comfortable. Boles has used his
bench more, and there's an uneasiness on the team now, which
might be a good thing.
Boles says he is not awed by the job or uncomfortable with it.
He was happy as the Marlins' vice president of player
development and twice turned down the managing job before taking
it this time around. "I've been in umpteen major league camps,"
he says. "I've been on the field every day for 20 years, I never
sat behind a desk. My business is to train managers. And I've
been around some good ones, too: Buck Rodgers, Jim Leyland, Tony
La Russa. You don't have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer
for some of that to rub off. Hey, Bill Walsh never played in the
NFL but he was a great coach."
Boles's appointment is not without precedent either. Earl
Weaver, who is being inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager
on Aug. 4, spent only 80 games in a major league uniform as a
coach before being named manager of the Orioles in 1968. Joe
McCarthy, another Hall of Fame manager, never spent a day in a
big league uniform before he was named skipper of the Cubs in
1926. Boles might not become another Weaver or McCarthy, but
he's more than just a bug-eyed manager. "Once the laughing dies
down about my eyes," Boles says, "I'm sure people will start
laughing about some other part of my anatomy."
The Indians and Orioles did Eddie Murray a favor on Sunday when
they worked a trade that sent him to Baltimore in exchange for
lefthander Kent Mercker, and now Murray may fulfill his fervent
wish: to hit his 500th home run for the Orioles, the team for
which he started his brilliant career in 1977. The deal was made
at the behest of owner Peter Angelos, who wanted to see Murray
end his career in an Orioles uniform. But privately the move was
not embraced by Baltimore's general manager, Pat Gillick, or its
manager, Davey Johnson.
There was a good chance that if the Orioles hadn't expressed
interest in Murray, Cleveland might have released him. At age 40
he is no longer able to play the field and, with only 12 homers
at week's end, he is no longer hitting with the authority that
enabled him to hit 491 home runs through last weekend. Most of
his at bats recently have gone to Jeromy Burnitz, who hit a pair
of homers on Sunday. It didn't help that Murray had been angry
at Cleveland general manager John Hart all season because he
felt that Hart lowballed him in contract negotiations last
winter, paying him $2 million for 1996, a $1 million pay cut.
The Orioles had expressed interest in trading for Murray during
the off-season, and Murray was eager to return to the team for
which he had hit 333 home runs. But the negotiations ended when
Gillick and Johnson joined the Orioles last fall, because they
wanted to rotate different players in the DH spot and they knew
Murray could no longer play first base. Now Murray is expected
to be Baltimore's primary DH, and that may make a happier camper
of Bobby Bonilla, who earlier in the season made no secret of
his unhappiness over not getting to play the field. "This is
best for Eddie,'' says Hart. "He'll hit his nine homers. He's
not finished. And he'll be a positive influence in the clubhouse."
Mercker, 28, was a bust for the Orioles, who traded two minor
league pitchers to the Braves in the off-season to get him and
then signed him to a contract that would pay him $2.8 million
this year. Mercker lost his spot in the starting rotation in
mid-June and thereafter went nearly a month without pitching. He
finished his stay in Baltimore with a 7.76 ERA, and the Orioles
had to agree to pick up $300,000 of his remaining 1996 salary to
clinch the deal with the Indians. "His mechanics are a
disaster," Hart says. "His confidence is down. But two years ago
he was one of the most promising lefthanders in the National
League." Mercker is expected to go to the minor leagues to find
his lost delivery and his old velocity. Murray is going to the
Hall of Fame. And now there's no doubt that he'll go in wearing
an Orioles uniform.
A NEW STRAW STIRS
The team that had the best record in the American League at
week's end, the Yankees, has also been the most solid,
fundamentally sound team in the league. The Yanks look
unstoppable in the American League East, and in the middle of
that smart, crisp play has been none other than Darryl Strawberry.
In the final game of a recent four-game sweep in Baltimore,
Strawberry singled, stole second, then scored the first run of a
4-1 win. The next day, in the first inning of the series opener
in Boston, Strawberry scored from second base on a force-out at
second. Surprised? "I'm not," Strawberry says. "I've always
played that way. I like playing all phases of the game. But I
appreciate it more after all I've been through." He's been
through substance-abuse rehab three times in five years, and
he's been cut loose three times in the last three years, most
recently by the Yankees themselves after Strawberry had a
lackluster stint with the team during the last two months of the
But he showed a willingness to return to the minors, where he
hit .435 with 18 homers in 29 games for the St. Paul Saints of
the independent Northern League before the Yankees signed him in
early July, and he's back in the big leagues. He still has a
quick bat, which he displayed in Baltimore when he blasted two
homers in a 7-5 victory. One was a signature Strawberry
homer--he went down and golfed a low fastball over the wall in
rightfield. Those were his first two hits after going hitless in
his first 10 at bats. Since then he has gone 10 for 34 through
Sunday, with eight RBIs and 10 runs scored.
"Sometimes I do stand in the middle of the diamond and think,
Thank you Lord, thank you George, thank you Yankees for giving
me another chance," Strawberry says. "I didn't think I'd ever be
back in the big leagues."
Kudos to National League president Leonard Coleman for clamping
down on suspended owner Marge Schott of the Reds. After hearing
reports that she was meddling in the day-to-day operations of
the team--prohibited by the suspension agreement she signed with
Major League Baseball in June--Coleman told her to send a memo
to Reds employees saying she would not be around the offices
very much. Instead Schott sent out a memo that she would not be
disappearing. So Coleman banned her from Riverfront Stadium
indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of the season. For the Reds
organization, the further she is from Riverfront, the better.
Since her suspension was imposed, attendance is up in
Cincinnati. On July 29 there will be a Celebration of Diversity
night at Riverfront in which people of different ages, cultures
and ethnic backgrounds will be treated to a night of
multicultural entertainment....Any contender looking for a big
boost to its lineup might pick up the Brewers' Greg Vaughn for
the right package of prospects. Vaughn led the majors in RBIs
with 92 through Sunday, and he will be a free agent at the end
of the season, so he will be in line for a hefty raise. His $5.8
million salary already represents more than 25% of the
parsimonious Brewers' payroll.