Units united on April 17 in the visitors clubhouse at Tiger
Stadium. Randy Johnson, the Big Unit, met Ryan Anderson, the
Young Unit, in what is believed to be the only possible summit
of two 6'10" lefthanded earthlings who can throw a baseball 95
mph. Anderson, a senior pitcher at aptly named Divine Child High
in Dearborn, Mich., had his picture snapped with Johnson, and
then the towering twosome talked for 20 minutes. "Randy told me
about how a pitcher who is tall and lefty has some great
advantages, and I stammered a lot," Anderson says. "It was a
huge thrill to be around my baseball idol, the guy I've
patterned myself after."
Anderson, the Major League Scouting Bureau's top-ranked high
school prospect entering the June 3-5 amateur draft, looks like
a carbon copy of his mentor. By studying the Mariners ace at
work, Anderson has adopted Johnson's windup and other mechanics.
He wears Johnson's uniform number 51, and he throws gas that has
become legendary in southwestern Michigan. So much so that when
Anderson arrived at Carleton Airport High in April for his
season opener, he was greeted by two Carleton coaches
brandishing baseballs and asking for his autograph.
Through Sunday, Anderson was 4-2 with two saves and a 0.79 ERA
this season. Playing in a 3-2 league (three balls for a walk,
two strikes for a strikeout) with seven-inning games, Anderson
had pitched 44 1/3 innings and allowed just seven hits, walking
28 and striking out 118. "Ryan is just an overpowering force on
the mound," says Divine Child coach Greg Green. "You realize how
special he is when the opposing crowd cheers wildly anytime a
batter gets a piece of the ball."
On May 9, with Detroit owner Mike Ilitch and general manager
Randy Smith in attendance, Anderson threw a no-hitter and got
all 21 outs on strikeouts. Only twice did a batter muster so
much as a foul tip. "Because of his height and his fastball, you
can't help but think of Randy Johnson when you watch him," says
Smith, who has scouted Anderson in three games. "He is unusual
because most high school kids his size have trouble walking and
chewing gum at the same time, but Ryan is polished and has good
control. He pitches more like a 6'3" guy."
The Tigers own the first choice in the draft, and Smith admits
that Anderson is among a half dozen possible selections. There
will be pressure from fans in the Motor City to draft Anderson,
who lives less than 20 miles from Tiger Stadium. "I believe he
will be drafted first by the Tigers, and I'll be very
disappointed if he's not," says Anderson's father, Gus, who was
born and raised outside Lansing and at one point had attended 21
straight Tigers home openers. "I know Ryan badly wants to be a
If Anderson goes first in the draft, he might command the same
$2 million signing bonus that the Pirates paid Clemson pitcher
Kris Benson, the top pick last June. Asked what a 17-year-old
might do with all that loot, Anderson shows that he also has the
flakiness commonly attributed to southpaws. "I'd like to own a
zoo," says Anderson, who already tends to eight pets--a cat, a
dog, a bird, two turtles, two fish and a hedgehog named Cyril.
"But first I'd like to pitch in the World Series."
HANGING IN THERE
As a public service for those fans fortunate enough not to have
witnessed it, we present the pitch-by-pitch report of a
monumental at bat by the Royals' Bip Roberts against Tigers
righthander Felipe Lira on May 18. There was one out, and Tom
Goodwin was on first base in the bottom of the first inning.
Lira's first pitch to Roberts is fouled off. Called strike two.
Pitchout, but Goodwin is not running. Foul ball. Foul ball. Foul
ball. Foul ball. Foul ball. Foul ball. Foul ball. Foul ball.
Foul ball. Foul ball. Pitchout, but Goodwin steals second
anyway. Foul ball. Foul ball. Foul ball. Groundout to second base.
"I didn't know what to throw anymore," Lira said later. "I kept
throwing all my pitches, and he kept hitting foul balls."
The at bat featured 18 pitches as well as nine pickoff throws to
first and six aborted attempts by Goodwin before he stole second
base. The single plate appearance lasted 14 minutes. "That wore
me out," said Roberts, who finished the game 0 for 5. "I felt
lazy the rest of the day."
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
"There is no justice," David Justice was saying last week, just
when it appeared there was hardly anything but Justice. The
Indians leftfielder was addressing how he had become a human
headline. For, much to his own surprise, Justice has been a
major part of two of the biggest off-the-field stories in
baseball this season: the Trade that sent him to Cleveland and
the Contract that will pay him $28 million over four years. As
if that weren't enough, he has earned plenty of ink on the
field, leading the American League in hitting at week's end with
a .395 average. "It's not that I'm doing anything intentionally
to grab the spotlight," Justice says. "Stuff like this just
always seems to happen to me."
Justice's newsworthy season began on March 25 when the Braves
sent him and centerfielder Marquis Grissom to Cleveland for
centerfielder Kenny Lofton and reliever Alan Embree in a
blockbuster deal. "A few minutes after the trade Dave and I got
together and said, 'Time to go, we're no longer wanted here,'"
Grissom says. "Dave wasn't totally shocked to be traded, but
he'd been with that team his whole career, so that will affect
As a result of the deal Justice, who once replaced Atlanta icon
Dale Murphy, was forced to patrol the turf recently vacated by
Cleveland fan favorite Albert Belle. In his first American
League game Justice cracked a triple and a two-run homer, making
the transition to his new team as easily as metamorphosing from
a Brave to an Indian. He has pieced together an All-Star-caliber
early season, ranking first in the league in slugging percentage
(.763), second in on-base percentage (.492), third in total
bases (116), fifth in homers (14) and tied for seventh in RBIs
(37). He had reached base with either a hit or a walk in 42 of
his 43 starts through Sunday.
Last week Justice faced reporters once again when his scalding
start netted him a contract extension that will carry him
through the 2002 season. Along with Justice's deal, Cleveland
also signed Grissom and first baseman Jim Thome to long-term
extensions, all of which added up to an $81.1 million commitment
to three players.
Indians manager Mike Hargrove joked that the franchise locked up
Justice so he could never again break Cleveland's heart, as he
did with his game-winning homer in Game 6 of the '95 World
Series. "We all remember David ending our dream season with that
one swing," Hargrove says. "No matter what happens this year,
I'm glad Dave's on our side now."
When Justice is asked about a possible World Series reunion with
Atlanta this fall, he smiles at the prospect. "I wouldn't be a
bit surprised to see that happen," he says, "and if it does
happen, I'll bet I hit a home run against the Braves to beat
them and win the Series for Cleveland. I really believe that.
Like I said, that's the kind of stuff that happens to me."
THIS COULD GET UGLY
Somehow in the rare stolen moments when Felipe Lira wasn't
pitching to Bip Roberts last week, he found time to take batting
practice. After watching Lira bunt unsuccessfully for several
minutes, Tigers coach Jerry White asked, "Uh, Felipe, do you hit
righthanded or lefthanded?" Lira promptly stepped to the left
side of the plate, and his bunting suddenly improved
dramatically. However, when Lira began swinging away, he shifted
back to the right side. How would Lira's baseball card read?
Bats right, bunts left?
This nonsense is part of the preparation for interleague play,
which beginning on June 12 will require American League pitchers
to bat in regular-season games for the first time since the
designated hitter was instituted in '73.
"I just don't want to make a big fool of myself," Brewers
lefthander Scott Karl says. "Batting feels real foreign right
now. There are a lot of cobwebs on my swing."
Judging by the last 10 World Series, during which baseball used
the same format it will employ for interleague play, Karl won't
be alone if he does end up making a fool of himself. American
League pitchers--like their National League counterparts--have
struggled miserably in their World Series plate appearances
(chart, page 76). While many American League pitchers have never
batted in the majors, there are some refugees from the National
League with hitting experience. Of the current American League
pitchers with a minimum of 100 plate appearances, Anaheim's
Allen Watson (.255 career hitter), Detroit's Omar Olivares
(.229) and Cleveland's Orel Hershiser (.214) pose the greatest
threat, while Seattle's Jeff Fassero (.077) and Texas's John
Burkett (.088) are little more than mannequins in batting gloves.
Rangers manager Johnny Oates may or may not be alluding to
Burkett when he says that two pitchers on the Texas staff are so
clueless, he would like to avoid sending them up to bat at all
costs. "We've identified them, but we're not naming them," Oates
says. "They're so bad, I won't even let them take batting
THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST
Two months into the '97 season the most surprising team to see
in last place was San Diego, and the most disappointing player
on that team is Greg Vaughn. Having signed a three-year, $15
million contract last winter, Vaughn was hitting just .178 at
week's end and has become a target for the normally mellow
Padres fans. "I'm used to heckling on the road, but to get it at
home, I'd be lying to say that it doesn't bother me," says
Vaughn, who plays leftfield.
These days Vaughn will take his hits any way he can get them. At
week's end he had seven homers and just 13 RBIs, due primarily
to a feeble .094 average with runners in scoring position. Since
coming to San Diego from Milwaukee in a trade last July, Vaughn
was batting just .193 through Sunday and had struck out once in
every 3.7 at bats. It's a real mystery for a guy who hit .280
with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs in 102 games with the Brewers last
season. "It's a humbling game, and he's being humbled," Padres
manager Bruce Bochy says. "He's got the world on his shoulders."
There has been speculation that Vaughn was more comfortable in
the American League, where the breaking ball is more prevalent,
or that he is best suited to be a designated hitter. But the
facts are that Vaughn has never hit higher than .267 in any full
season, and he has always been prone to slumps. Padres hitting
coach Merv Rettenmund believes Vaughn's troubles are mechanical,
advising him that he isn't planting his left foot quickly enough
when striding into the ball. Says Rettenmund, "When you're
swinging the way he has been, it's not the pitcher."
Alas, Vaughn has not been the Padres' only concern. The team has
already lost 176 game days to the disabled list, more than half
of the time it lost all last season. San Diego has placed 11
players on the DL, including third baseman Ken Caminiti, '96
National League MVP; outfielders Steve Finley and Rickey
Henderson; first baseman Wally Joyner; and the team's top two
starting pitchers, Joey Hamilton and Andy Ashby. "The key for us
is getting everyone healthy," says Caminiti, who at week's end
was sidelined with a strained right hamstring. "You hate to put
yourself in a hole that's impossible to get out of. We're not
there, but it's as deep as I want to go."
San Diego, the defending National League West champ, hopes to
compete at full strength in the second half, with a confident
Vaughn as a solid run producer. "I've never been through
anything like this," says Vaughn, who flew home to Sacramento on
a recent off day to consult with a personal hitting coach. "I
know I've been thinking about it, and that doesn't help. I just
have to trust in myself, man. I'm battling my butt off."
NO KINGS OF INTERLEAGUE SWING
When regular-season interleague play begins on June 12, the
designated hitter will be used in games played at American
League stadiums and pitchers will bat in games at National
League parks. The last 10 World Series have been contested under
the same rules, but during that time there has been very little
cumulative difference between the leagues in the batting
performance of either pitchers or DHs.
TEAM AVG. AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO
AL .081 62 3 5 2 0 0 3 3 29
NL .158 57 4 9 2 0 0 2 3 23
AL .239 113 14 27 5 1 5 17 9 20
NL .225 111 14 25 2 0 5 18 10 18
Source: Elias Sports Bureau