INSIDE BASEBALL DESPITE INJURIES AND A NO-NAME ROSTER, MILWAUKEE IS IN THE THICK OF THE PLAYOFF RACE--STEALS OF THE DEALS-- TAMPA, CRADLE OF STARS

August 10, 1997

SOMETHING'S BREWING

Nine Brewers appeared on the ballot for last month's All-Star
Game, and those nine players combined couldn't muster as many
votes as Tony Fernandez, a part-time infielder for the Indians.
Brewers catcher Mike Matheny and second baseman Fernando Vina
each finished dead last at his position. Jeff Cirillo, the
team's token All-Star invitee, was 11th in the voting at third
base. "If I had my way, I'd have nine Ken Griffeys, five Roger
Clemenses and a bunch of $3 million players from Japan," says
Milwaukee manager Phil Garner. "But we've collected the best
talent we can at our salary level, and these no-names can play."

Indeed, these no-names have been baseball's hottest team
recently, having run off nine straight wins--Milwaukee's longest
streak since 1988--before losing to the Mariners last Saturday
night. In a span of just 30 hours on July 28 and 29, the Brewers
executed a triple play; helped pitcher Steve Woodard win his
major league debut with a 12-strikeout performance against
Clemens and the Blue Jays; and swept back-to-back doubleheaders
against Toronto to gain 3 1/2 games on division-leading
Cleveland in the American League Central. At week's end
Milwaukee was in second place, 3 1/2 games back.

Brewmeister Garner has molded a team in his own image: scrap
iron. The Brewers were winning even though they have scored the
second-fewest runs in the league. The team has very little
power--outfielder Jeromy Burnitz leads the team with 19
homers--and not a single .300 hitter. To Garner's surprise,
pitching has been his club's salvation. The staff had a 1.88 ERA
during the winning streak, despite the loss of ace Ben McDonald
to a season-ending rotator-cuff injury on July 17 and of closer
Doug Jones (who had converted 23 of 24 save opportunities) to a
lower-back strain that had sidelined him for 19 games before he
returned on Sunday. (Jones himself was a replacement for Mike
Fetters, last season's closer, who missed the first month with a
strained left hamstring.)

Injuries have decimated the team's offense as well. First
baseman John Jaha, the top RBI producer last season, hasn't
played since May 31 and is out for the year after undergoing
shoulder surgery, and outfielder Marc Newfield played in only 50
games before being shelved for the season with a shoulder injury
of his own. Vina and shortstop Jose Valentin have also missed
long stretches.

All this carnage leaves the team with an active-roster payroll
of about $12 million, only slightly higher than that of the
Pirates, baseball's bargain-basement darlings. "This team has
really got nothing to lose," says Milwaukee first
baseman-designated hitter Dave Nilsson, who at week's end had
hit 10 homers since the All-Star break. "We're playing hard and
hungry."

Considering the Brewers' 54-54 record through Sunday, Milwaukee
fans exhibit a healthy Midwestern skepticism about the playoff
prospects of a team that hasn't reached the postseason since
losing the World Series in '82. That's the longest drought in
the American League. The next two weeks are critical: Milwaukee,
which is last in the league in road victories, will make a tough
nine-game West Coast road trek through Anaheim, Oakland and
Seattle.

For now, though, these are heady times for the Brewers, who have
endured four straight losing seasons, in which they finished a
combined 95 1/2 games out of first place--a dismal period that
caused a frustrated Garner to consider leaving the team. "Some
philosopher said, 'There can be no passion without pain,'"
Garner says. "Or to put it in less existential terms, we've had
a hell of a lot of damage done to us lately. It's about time we
became the dider and not the didee."

HAUNTING DEALS

It's a baseball tale that strikes fear into any major league
general manager who is about to trade young prospects for an
established player. On Aug. 31, 1990, Boston general manager Lou
Gorman, desperate for bullpen help in a pennant drive, acquired
Houston middle reliever Larry Andersen in exchange for an
anonymous Double A third baseman who had hit only four home runs
in 136 games that season. Four years later that third baseman,
Jeff Bagwell, would be a Gold Glove first baseman and win the
National League MVP award.

A lot of prospects changed teams in trade-deadline deals last
week, and what follows is a scouting report on the players whose
departures are most likely to haunt their former employers in
the future.

--Jose Cruz Jr. Acquired by Toronto from Seattle for relievers
Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric, he is one of the best outfield
prospects in baseball. Cruz was enjoying a dazzling rookie
season in Seattle, where in just 49 games he hit .268 with 12
home runs, at an astonishing rate of one homer every 15 at bats.
As a Mariner the 23-year-old leftfielder had the advantage of
hitting in baseball's most ferocious lineup; with the Blue Jays,
who have the worst offense in the league, he will be asked to
carry a heavier run-producing load. No sweat. Last Friday night
Cruz belted a home run in his third at bat with Toronto.

--Jason Varitek. Acquired by the Red Sox from Seattle in the
deal for closer Heathcliff Slocumb, the switch-hitting catcher
has yet to fulfill the immense promise he showed at Georgia
Tech, where he was the Baseball America '93 College Player of
the Year. Now 25, Varitek strikes out too much and has not hit
better than .262 in three minor league seasons; before the trade
he had a .254 average with 15 homers at Triple A Tacoma. Varitek
became expendable because he wasn't going to displace Mariners
catcher Dan Wilson, but he will be given every chance to take
over behind the plate in Boston, where he could be reunited with
a former Yellow Jackets teammate, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

--T.J. Mathews. Before going to Oakland from St. Louis in the
Mark McGwire deal, the hard-throwing righthander was insurance
for the Cardinals in case 42-year-old closer Dennis Eckersley
finally wore out. Mathews, 27, is an intense competitor who was
suspended from this season's first six games for admitting he
intentionally hit the Reds' Bret Boone with a pitch in spring
training. In his three seasons with the Cardinals, he had a 2.49
ERA and eight saves and had struck out nearly one batter per
inning. In Oakland he might be groomed to take over for another
aging closer, Billy Taylor, who is 35.

--Mike Caruso. Picked up by the White Sox from the Giants in the
deal for pitchers Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez and Danny
Darwin, the 20-year-old shortstop has the greatest potential of
the six prospects traded by San Francisco. Caruso, the Giants'
second pick in the '96 draft, was batting .333 with 24 doubles
and 50 RBIs at Class A San Jose. He is still at least two years
away from the major leagues, but he may develop into a more
powerful version of veteran Chicago shortstop Ozzie Guillen.

BASEBALL'S HOTBED

Inscribed on the wall behind home plate at the Jefferson High
baseball field in Tampa are the names of the seven Jefferson
alumni who have played in the major leagues. Two of them, the
Yankees' Tino Martinez and the Astros' Luis Gonzalez, played
first base and second base, respectively, for the 1985 Jefferson
Dragons. Another alum, Atlanta first baseman Fred McGriff,
squared off against Martinez in the World Series last season.
During the Series McGriff saw Yankees pitcher Doc Gooden and
playfully reminded him of a mammoth home run a 17-year-old
McGriff had launched off him in a high school game. Gooden
pitched for Tampa's Hillsborough High, where his team included
future big league pitchers Floyd Youmans and Vance Lovelace. All
of which is another way of saying that, per capita, no other
city in the U.S. turns out as many good baseball players as Tampa.

Among the other current major leaguers from Tampa are Twins
righthander Brad Radke, Astros outfielder Derek Bell, Mets
outfielder Carl Everett, Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs and
Marlins rightfielder Gary Sheffield. In fact, there are so many
Tampa natives in the big leagues, it sometimes seems as if there
isn't enough room for all of them. In June 1993, Sheffield was
traded from San Diego to Florida, displacing fellow Tampa native
Dave Magadan from his starting job at third base. Three days
later, Magadan was dealt to Seattle, where he would be managed
by his cousin, Lou Piniella, who is also from Tampa. "If you
sketch out an all-Tampa team, you've got Cy Youngs and batting
champs and plenty of World Series rings," says Pop Cuesta, the
Jefferson High baseball coach for the past 28 years. "That team
would be very competitive in the major leagues today."

Tampa is one of the few cities left in the U.S. where interest
in baseball exceeds interest in football and basketball. Two of
the top 40 picks in this June's amateur baseball draft are from
Tampa, and just last week a Pony League team of 13-year-olds
from Tampa won the Pony 13 national championship.

To explain the phenomenon, players and scouts talk about Tampa's
warm weather, which allows kids to play baseball year-round; the
depth of local youth programs; the excellent coaches at every
level; and the passion for baseball that is a tradition in the
area. Says Gonzalez, "When I was growing up, baseball was a top
priority, not football, not soccer, not even school. As far as
we knew, 2 plus 2 was two balls and two strikes."

This passion could give a huge boost to the expansion Tampa Bay
Devil Rays, who begin play next season. If nothing else, the
team should have an advantage in scouting the rich talent pool
in its own backyard.

"It's special, being from Tampa," Sheffield says. "It's like a
fraternity. When you're from Tampa, people know you're a serious
ballplayer."

COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT PAULUS/AP Nilsson shows the scrappy, down-and-dirty style of the Brewers. [Dave Nilsson in game]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)