Inside Baseball

April 20, 1998
April 20, 1998

Table of Contents
April 20, 1998

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Inside Baseball


This is an article from the April 20, 1998 issue Original Layout

Last Friday morning Montreal manager Felipe Alou scanned the box
scores and league leaders, tracking the progress of his former
Expos. He checked out second baseman Mike Lansing and
rightfielder Larry Walker, the 1997 National League MVP, of
Colorado; righthander Pedro Martinez, last year's NL Cy Young
Award winner, of Boston; closer John Wetteland of Texas; and the
rest of a virtual All-Star team of recent Montreal expatriates,
clucking over each one like a proud papa. In fact, one of them,
Houston's Moises Alou, is his son. "I root for all of our former
players to succeed," Alou says. "It gives this franchise
something to brag about. Our team may be moving further and
further away from a World Series, but at least some of our past
players are getting a chance at rings."

When Alou arrived at Montreal's Olympic Stadium later that
afternoon, he had to face the reality of his current roster: a
team with a $9 million payroll that is made up largely of
players who ought to be in Double A; a team that had just
snapped a season-opening string of seven straight defeats, the
longest such streak in club history; a team with the league's
second lowest batting average (.228 through Sunday); a team that
had scored half as many runs as its opponents; a team whose
general manager, Jim Beattie, has admitted that it cannot
contend in the East Division this season.

"For weeks we've been hearing everybody burying us, and we fell
into the trap of trying to prove them all wrong," said Expos
utilityman F.P. Santangelo before last Friday's game against the
Cubs. "We need to stick together so we don't fulfill everybody's
low expectations."

On the game's first pitch, Cubs reserve outfielder Brant Brown
launched a home run. The next two Cubs walked before former Expo
Henry Rodriguez cracked a three-run homer in his first plate
appearance back at Olympic Stadium. It was his fourth homer of
the season, which equaled the Montreal team total at the time.
Eight of the first nine Chicago hitters reached base, and six
scored. In the second inning the Cubs' Mark Grace hit a foul
pop, and catcher Chris Widger and third baseman Scott
Livingstone pursued it. When Widger tossed his mask, it hit
Livingstone's shin and caused him to miss the catch. In
Montreal, there's a fine line between comedy and tragedy.

Just 9,982 fans suffered this and more, in a stadium that has
all the cheer of a mortuary. Many were listening to the
Canadiens on the radio, thus missing the theme from Titanic
piped in between innings, a subtle reference, perhaps, to the
Expos' future. Team president Claude Brochu is struggling to
sell $50 million worth of seat licenses he says he needs to
finance a downtown stadium and keep the Expos in Montreal.
"We're gaining momentum as the deadline looms and people begin
to realize the team might move away," said Brochu as the Expos
fell behind 10-0. Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary,
Brochu believes "there's a better than 50-percent chance that
the Montreal Expos will remain the Montreal Expos."

Rodriguez finished the game 5 for 5 and received the evening's
only standing ovation. In losing 13-0, the Expos got only three

After the game Rodriguez said he had wanted to stay in Montreal.
But like most of the other current stars who are former Expos,
the club couldn't afford to pay him what he was worth, and he
was traded in December for Miguel Batista, a righthander with 21
appearances in the major leagues. "I was disappointed to leave,
and I didn't come back hoping to put it in their face,"
Rodriguez said. "It makes me feel bad to see old friends go
through this."

Alou didn't seem particularly discouraged, the sign of a manager
who has either transcended or surrendered after just nine games.
He chalked up his serenity to his days as a skin diver in his
native Dominican Republic. "Before a dive I would have these
nightmares about being swarmed by sharks, but during the dive I
never thought about them," Alou said. "I worried a lot this
winter about how we couldn't compete, but once the season
starts, you manage the club. You just can't worry about the
sharks anymore."

Burks's Plan

When agents go to sleep at night, this is what they dream of:
representing a well-respected player who is eligible for free
agency after a season in which he became the only major leaguer
not named Hank Aaron to amass at least 40 homers, 200 hits and
30 stolen bases in a single season.

Two years ago Rockies centerfielder Ellis Burks was that client.
But instead of auctioning himself to the highest bidder,
Burks--in a move that no doubt had the Scott Borases of the
world decrying the insanity of it all--decided to re-sign with
Colorado for two years at a not-so-gaudy $8.8 million. His
reason was simple: Burks and his wife, Dori, had agreed that
their three children would stay in Denver schools no matter
where Ellis signed. "I wanted to be around my kids," he says. "I
wanted to see them grow up."

Next winter Burks can again be a free agent, and if the first
two weeks of the 1998 season (six homers, 15 RBIs and a .375
average through Sunday) are any indication, he will have another
set of eye-popping numbers on his resume. But this time he
should be prepared to listen to other teams' offers, because no
matter how much he might want to remain with the Rockies, coming
to terms with them won't be as simple as it was last time.

The potential obstacle is Burks's desire to change positions.
"Playing center takes too much of a toll on my body," says
Burks, who will be 34 in September and suffers from chronic back
pain. "The centerfielder has to back up every play, you're
constantly moving. I want to play two or three more years, and
playing left- or rightfield would help."

He is itching to turn over centerfield to 22-year-old Edgard
Velazquez Clemente, whose .281 average and 17 homers in Triple A
last year would have made his uncle Roberto proud. In fact, if
staying with the Rockies means staying in centerfield, Burks
says he will leave Colorado.

Here's the rub: Rightfield is manned by Larry Walker, who last
year became the second player not named Hank Aaron to amass at
least 40 homers, 200 hits and 30 stolen bases in a single
season. Leftfield is patrolled by Dante Bichette, a three-time
All-Star. Bichette, like Burks, can become a free agent after
the season and, like Burks, is in no hurry to leave Colorado. No
other player has benefited from playing in Coors Field more than
Bichette. In five years with the Rockies he has hit .367 with 99
homers and 375 RBIs at high altitude. Closer to sea level, those
numbers drop to .261, 46 and 196.

Unless Colorado wants to go the slo-pitch softball route and
play with four outfielders--which, given its pitching, might not
be a bad idea--the team will almost certainly not re-sign both
Burks and Bichette. The man in the unenviable position of having
to pick between the two fan favorites is general manager Bob
Gebhard, who says, "We'll address all that at the end of the

Until then, Burks and Bichette agree they must keep their minds
free of distraction. "We're not stupid," says Bichette. "We see
what's going on, but we need to stay focused and help this club."

Burks, for his part, is primarily interested in getting through
the season in one piece. He has averaged just 117 games per big
league season, and last year a host of maladies kept him out of
43 games, including a 27-game stretch during which the Rockies
went 9-18 and fell out of the pennant race. This year he feels
just fine. "I'm always going to have my nagging injuries," he
says. "But just once I would like to see what kind of numbers I
could put up in 162 games." --Mark Bechtel

Mariners' Leaky Pen

After Seattle's bullpen squandered a three-run eighth inning
lead in a 10-9 loss to Cleveland on Opening Day, manager Lou
Piniella quickly defended his relievers, saying, "Give these
people a chance. They're going to pitch well. I've said it
before and will say it again."

The Seattle newspapers chose a slightly less optimistic tack,
with headlines that ranged from POISON PEN to HERE WE GO AGAIN.

In '97 the bullpen blew 27 save opportunities and nearly cost
the Mariners a playoff spot. Nonetheless, after failing to
pursue free-agent closer Randy Myers, who had expressed interest
in playing in Seattle, the Mariners chose to stand pat, hopeful
that their late-season acquisitions--failed closers Mike Timlin,
Paul Spoljaric and Heathcliff Slocumb--would be effective.

But the bullpen's collapses continue unabated. After Bobby Ayala
yielded a game-winning two-run homer to Yankees outfielder Chad
Curtis on April 8, the Seattle relievers began to get defensive.
"I can see the headline--TIGHT GAME, BULLPEN LOSES IT,"
Spoljaric said. "It's not fair. Every time you pick up the
paper, you see all the negativity. It's a horrible feeling when
you go out there and bust your butt and things don't work out."

Another disaster occurred last Friday in Boston, after Randy
Johnson had struck out 15 batters in eight innings and left the
game with a comfortable 7-2 lead. Four Seattle relievers faced
seven Boston hitters in the ninth inning. The result: zero outs.
All seven Red Sox scored, the final four runs coming on a grand
slam by Mo Vaughn off Spoljaric. On Sunday the bullpen blew two
late leads to extend the Mariners' losing streak to five. At
week's end Seattle relievers were 0 for 3 in save situations,
had an 8.27 ERA and had allowed 67 base runners in 32 2/3
innings. The Mariners were 3-8 despite scoring 76 runs in 11

Somebody had to pay. On Monday, Seattle fired pitching coach
Nardi Contreras, replacing him with advance scout Stan Williams.

Reich Stuff

During baseball's 1994-95 strike, then U.S. Labor Secretary
Robert Reich found himself trapped between players' union
executive director Don Fehr and acting commissioner Bud Selig.
In his recently published memoir, Locked in the Cabinet, Reich
succinctly summed up the two.

On Fehr: "He's a chubby man with small eyes and a perpetual
scowl. He is also stubborn, pugnacious, distrustful and very

On Selig: "He is slightly stooped and pale, with thinning hair
and a perpetual scowl. He is also stubborn, pugnacious,
distrustful and very rich."

On the relationship between Fehr and Selig: "Both men talk
endlessly in monologues that never quite respond to questions
asked or comments given. Each is convinced that the other is out
to screw him. Neither will budge. If there is a hell, it's a
small room in which one is trapped for eternity with both of
these men."

For complete scores and stats, plus more news from Tom Verducci
and Tim Crothers, go to

COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN GREEN BACKSLIDING The Expos--even budding star Vladimir Guerrero--are going nowhere fast this year. [Vladimir Guerrero and and opposing player in game]COLOR PHOTO: DAVID GONZALES/CLARKSON & ASSOCIATES MOVIN'? Burks would rather be in right. Or left. [Ellis Burks in game]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER NO RELIEF The Mariners' bullpen, with Slocumb as closer, had zero saves through Sunday. [Heathcliff Slocumb pitching]


In an April 7 game at San Diego, Reds pitcher Pete Harnisch had
cruised through eight shutout innings, allowing just four hits
and striking out four, when he was lifted by manager Jack
McKeon. Closer Jeff Shaw then squandered a 2-0 lead in the ninth
before allowing the Padres to win the game, 3-2, in 10 innings.
Why didn't McKeon let Harnisch go for the shutout? "I was
actually tempted to pull Harnisch after seven because I wanted
to get him out of there on a positive note," McKeon said. "We
left him in for another inning, but I wasn't going to do it
again in the ninth. He was nearly at 100 pitches [96], and we
had Shaw, the best saves guy in the league last year, ready. I'd
make the same call again right now."


Despite reports that Mike Piazza's contract negotiations with
the Dodgers were on hold after he turned down a six-year, $80
million offer last week, both sides are still hoping to reach an
agreement by the end of April. L.A.'s latest offer: six years,
plus an option year, $85 million guaranteed ($95 million, if the
option is exercised). Piazza is still holding out for a
seven-year, $105 million contract. Likely compromise: a
seven-year guaranteed deal worth about $94 million.

The Marlins' Dynasty Is Dead

In case you hadn't heard, Florida will not be repeating its
unlikely run of last year. No team that started the season 1-9
or 0-10 (the Marlins were 1-11 through Sunday) has won the World
Series. This chart summarizes the won-lost records after the
first 10 games of the season for teams that went on to win one
of the 93 world championships.

0-10 0
1-9 0
2-8 4 1914 Braves, 1935 Tigers, 1977 Yankees,
1991 Twins
3-7 4 1925 Pirates, 1934 Cardinals, 1969 Mets,
1973 Athletics
4-6 7 Most recent: 1975 Reds, 1979 Pirates, 1985
5-5 10 Most recent: 1963 Dodgers, 1978 Yankees,
1980 Phillies
6-4 20 Most recent: 1989 Athletics, 1993 Blue Jays,
1996 Yankees
7-3 26 Most recent: 1987 Twins, 1988 Dodgers,
1995 Braves
8-2 13 Most recent: 1953 Yankees, 1956 Yankees,
1997 Marlins
9-1 8 Most recent: 1984 Tigers, 1990 Reds, 1992
Blue Jays
10-0 1 1955 Dodgers