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CLEVELAND INDIANS

March 31, 1997
March 31, 1997

Table of Contents
March 31, 1997

Figure Skating
Baseball Preview 1997

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Revisionist history will state that Matt Williams was traded for
Albert Belle. The truth is that Williams went to the Indians in
a trade with the Giants on Nov. 13 and Belle left Cleveland as a
free agent seven days later. But for all practical purposes,
Williams is viewed by Tribe fans as Belle's replacement, a cross
that Williams is reluctant to bear. "I don't think that my
teammates expect me to hit 50 homers and knock in 150 runs,"
Williams says. "I'm not trying to fill Albert's shoes, because
there's no reason to put myself through that. I could never do
what he did for the Indians. How could anyone?"

This is an article from the March 31, 1997 issue Original Layout

Williams, a four-time National League All-Star third baseman,
should not be so humble. Had it not been for a pair of freak
injuries--a broken right foot caused by a foul tip in 1995 and a
right shoulder injury suffered while trying to break up a double
play last year--that cost him 125 games, Williams would have put
up Belle-like numbers the past two years. Belle hit .314 with 98
home runs and 274 RBIs over that span, while Williams hit .316
with 45 homers and 150 RBIs. Projecting Williams's figures over
the same number of at bats that Belle had, Williams was on pace
for 75 homers and 250 RBIs despite being surrounded by an
inferior lineup in San Francisco.

Off the field, the 32-year-old Williams is the anti-Belle. He is
a throwback who reported to the Indians' spring training camp in
Winter Haven, Fla., with the pitchers and catchers on Feb. 15,
anxious to begin rehabilitating his shoulder and meet his new
teammates. Williams's locker was located in the same corner of
the clubhouse in which Belle used to dress. Unlike last year,
when that area was treated as a no-man's land, this spring there
were often players clustered there, chatting with Williams, who
would sometimes hang around for hours after a game, gathering
tidbits on opponents in his new league. "Matt is a magnet for
other guys because he doesn't have a superstar attitude," says
Indians reserve infielder Robby Thompson, who was Williams's
teammate for 10 seasons with the Giants. "He just wants to excel
at his job every day and then blend in with the crowd."

Joining a new team in a new league was a disorienting experience
for Williams, who had spent a decade in San Francisco and
repeatedly stated that he wanted to play his entire career
there. But five months ago Giants general manager Brian Sabean
called Williams to inform him that he had been traded to the
Indians. "I was shocked because I didn't see it coming,"
Williams says.

A month later he visited Cleveland for the first time. While he
met with the Indians' brass, his wife, Tracie, picked out a
house just outside the city. It's a place that Matt won't spend
any time in until a week into the regular season. But he isn't
as concerned with his living arrangements as he is about how he
will handle his first showdown with Roger Clemens, Mariano
Rivera or some other pitcher he has never faced. "I feel like
it's the first day at a new school and everybody is staring at
the new kid in class," Williams says. "For me it's like being a
rookie again, except that I'm a little too old to be the Rookie
of the Year."

--T.C.

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER MATT WILLIAMS Former Giant Has a Big Burden

THE LINEUP

CF Kenny Lofton
210 hits were most by a Tribe hitter since Earl Averill in '36

2B Tony Fernandez
Sixth player to be tried at second since last July 29

1B Jim Thome
In '96 broke skipper Mike Hargrove's club walks mark (123)

3B Matt Williams
Despite injuries, has had seven straight 20-homer seasons

DH Julio Franco
At 35 he may play some second base for first time since '92

RF Manny Ramirez
Led American League with 19 outfield assists last year

LF Brian Giles
Will be a regular after batting .355 in 51 games in '96

C Sandy Alomar
In '96 played in more than 89 games for first time since '92

SS Omar Vizquel
Tender shoulder could hinder his defense again this year

Ace Charles Nagy
Has a 29-7 record since June 28, 1995

Closer Paul Shuey
Will fill in until rape charge against Jose Mesa is resolved

STAT FACT

Jose Mesa was one of 19 pitchers who finished with at least 25
saves last season, but he entered only three games with runners
on base. That was the lowest total of games with inherited
runners among those 19 pitchers, followed by the Reds' Jeff
Brantley (five) and the Yankees' John Wetteland (eight). The
closers who entered the most games in which they inherited
runners were the Red Sox's Heathcliff Slocumb (23) and the
Braves' Mark Wohlers (21).

STAT FACTS BY ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU