Upon arriving at Bank One Ballpark for a game last week, Arizona
lefthander Brian Anderson, the Diamondbacks' first pick in the
expansion draft and one of their most popular players, was
shooed away by stadium security guards who failed to recognize
him and denied him access to the players' entrance. "Third time
that's happened," says Anderson. "Guys are freakin' clueless."
Annoyed but undeterred, Anderson walked halfway around the
complex to Friday's Front Row Sports Grill, which overlooks
leftfield. He cut through the restaurant, worked his way down
through the stands, jumped a fence or two and--finally--snuck
into the clubhouse. "I'm not the only guy this happens to," says
Anderson. "Guess when your team's new at this, you should expect
a few problems."
A few, maybe. But nearly a third of the way through their
inaugural season, the Diamondbacks, touted as the Expansion Team
Most Likely to Dominate the Free World two months ago, are
stumbling through a lot worse than the occasional clubhouse
lockout. At week's end Arizona was 15-34 and, despite winning
six of seven recently, a threat to break the '62 Mets' record
for futility (40-120). "It's disappointing," says Anderson,
himself a disappointing 1-6. "I'm not going to lie--I expected
this group to do a lot more."
So did manager Buck Showalter, whom managing general partner
Jerry Colangelo hired nearly 2 1/2 years before Opening Day to
build the Diamondbacks. Yet despite meticulous planning and an
oft-obsessive attention to detail (name another team with a
300-page guide to baseball fundamentals and player behavior),
Showalter's personnel decisions have, for the most part, turned
out poorly. Of the team's 14 first-round expansion draft picks,
five are in the minors, two are injured, one was traded and zero
have provided any sort of consistent production.
May 31, 1998
Veterans picked up through trade and free agency have had mixed
success. While third baseman Matt Williams (nine home runs, 27
RBIs, $9.5 million salary this year) and righthander Andy Benes
(3-4, 4.29 ERA, $6 million) have been solid acquisitions,
shortstop Jay Bell (.219, five homers, $6.8 million) and
righthander Willie Blair (2-7, 5.30, $3.3 million) have been
Arizona is worst in the National League in doubles, stolen
bases, home runs allowed and strikeouts (most by the hitters and
fewest by the pitchers) and second-worst in batting average and
grounding into double plays. The bullpen has already blown six
saves in 14 opportunities. In search of a winning combination,
Showalter used 30 different lineups in the first 43 games.
"We're extremely young, and when you're young, you're supposed
to learn from tough times," says utilityman Andy Fox. "We've
been learning a lot."
Perhaps the toughest lesson has been humility. Before the season
started, general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. predicted that
Arizona could finish with a .500 record. That bravado, combined
with Colangelo's wide-open wallet and Showalter's imperiousness,
didn't sit well with many owners and general managers, who now
love to refer to Arizona mockingly as, "the team that invented
"Those guys make me sick," says one rival G.M. "You talk about
the Dodgers organization being arrogant. They've got nothing on
these guys. I already told my manager that if he has a chance to
run it up, do it."
"It's hard to forget some of the things they said," adds Reds
manager Jack McKeon. "About how they're doing it the right way,
and how they're the most prepared group ever."
Colangelo's latest embarrassment came last week, when HBO's Real
Sports with Bryant Gumbel aired a harsh segment on the funding
of Bank One Ballpark, much of which came from a sales tax
increase that cost Maricopa County taxpayers an average of $62
each. The piece ended with Colangelo storming off the set in a
huff, saying, "You know this is bulls---."
He meant the interview. The subject could have been his team's
play. --Jeff Pearlman
Piazza on the Move
METS GET INSTANT CREDIBILITY
As Todd Hundley strolled down the hallway to the Mets' clubhouse
in Shea Stadium two hours before last Saturday's game against
the Brewers, he found himself in the path of a rabid pack of
reporters. Hundley, the Mets' All-Star catcher who has not
played since having reconstructive surgery on his right elbow
last September, had resumed taking batting practice just a few
days earlier, but the horde had no interest in asking him how it
felt to swing a bat again. No, the scribes were on their way to
meet the team's new catcher, and they nearly trampled the old
one to get there.
Despite having vowed earlier in the week--to the media, to fans
and to Hundley himself--that the Mets were not trying to acquire
Mike Piazza from the Marlins, general manager Steve Phillips
last Friday traded minor league outfielder Preston Wilson,
Double A lefthander Ed Yarnall and Class A lefthander Geoff
Goetz to Florida for the slugging backstop. Phillips had
initially been adamant that there would be no deal for Piazza
because, he said, the team already had a catcher--albeit one who
won't return to the lineup until sometime after the All-Star
Ultimately the Mets were willing to put themselves in the
awkward position of possibly having to squeeze out one of their
best and most popular players because they were suffering at the
gate and needed an extra bat to make a run for the National
League wild-card spot. An indication of how bad things were in
Queens came last week, when a scheduling fluke had both the Mets
and the Yankees at home from Tuesday through Thursday. While the
front-running Bombers were packing 'em in against the Orioles
(32,783 per night), the second-place Mets were hosting the Reds
in front of a quiet gathering of family and friends (14,053 per
However, Piazza's arrival at Shea last Friday attracted 32,908
fans, including some 13,000 who bought their tickets after the
trade was announced, and the following afternoon the Mets had
their first sellout since Opening Day 1993. (According to
manager Bobby Valentine, the electricity in the stands carried
over into the dugout, as even stoic first baseman John Olerud
got into the act during last Saturday's 3-0 win over the
Brewers. "In the fifth inning, he said, 'Let's go guys,'"
These may be exciting times for the Mets, but they face the same
dilemma the Dodgers did before they traded Piazza to the Marlins
on May 14: Can they sign Piazza, who becomes a free agent after
this season and is seeking a seven-year contract in the
neighborhood of $105 million? If they do, they must either trade
Hundley or find a way to get both men in the lineup every day.
If they don't, then Hundley gets his old job back when he's
healthy, and New York is out at least two prospects who could be
in the majors next spring.
Phillips says that even if he knew that Piazza wouldn't
eventually re-sign with the Mets, he still would have made the
deal. "The worst-case scenario is that we don't sign him, but we
get two [compensatory] draft picks for him, and we will have had
the benefit of his services for 120 games this season," says
Phillips. "If that's the case, I still think it's a deal worth
So why was Phillips so reluctant to pull the trigger at first?
He has a history of almost making big deals--his near
acquisitions last off-season included Kevin Brown, Gary
Sheffield and Pedro Martinez--but in the case of Piazza, Mets
ownership gave him a not-so-subtle nudge. On Thursday co-owner
Fred Wilpon was on a New York sports talk radio program and said
his team had at least four offers on the table that would land
them a star, signaling Piazza-hungry fans that if they didn't
get their man, it was Phillips's fault, not his.
Whether or not Phillips's hand was forced, the fact that he
finally pulled off a big trade was not lost on the fans, one of
whom paraded around Shea last Saturday carrying a sign that
read, GIVE THE METS A HAND FOR A GUTSY MOVE. That show of
intestinal fortitude has given this punchless team a much-needed
bat, but it also has guaranteed that the summer will be filled
with much angst in the media: about re-signing Piazza, about
where to play Hundley when he comes off the DL and about who is
running the ship--the G.M. or the owners.
Well, at least it all ensures that New Yorkers will, for the
first time in a long time, be talking about the Mets. As the
Yankees have frequently shown, off-the-field turmoil can do a
For complete scores and stats, plus more news from Tom Verducci
and Tim Crothers, go to www.cnnsi.com.
If her fellow owners can persuade Marge Schott--who is serving a
two-year suspension for racially insensitive remarks--to sell
the Reds, one man who would be interested in heading up a group
to buy the team is Frank Robinson. An adviser to Major League
Baseball, Robinson is eager to advance minority hiring. As the
first minority managing partner he would have a chance to open
the front-office door to blacks and Latinos. Relations between
Robby and the Reds, edgy after the team unloaded him in a 1965
trade, have never been better, following a ceremony to retire
his number 20 last Friday.
Q & A
Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina has handled every one of his
4,015 major league chances through Sunday with the same piece
of tattered leather. While most big leaguers go through at least
one glove per season, DiSarcina has been strictly monogamous for
nearly a decade.
Where'd you get that thing?
In the instructional league, in 1988, from Bob Clear, one of our
instructors. My first year using it was '89.
What kind of glove is it?
A Mizuno JIC 6. It was discontinued, though. I'd quit if that
glove got lost. I'd go home.
Superstitious about it?
I don't let anybody work on it or touch it unless I have to, and
I only use it in games.
Do you coddle it in the off-season, slather it in neat's-foot
oil, wrap a ball in it?
Nah. I throw it in my baseball bag. I don't want to see it in
Ever smell the glove?
Never taken a whiff.
Why the attachment?
It's been with me since Day One. It feels good on my hand. It
fits like a glove, man.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
On May 11 Cardinals manager Tony La Russa moved Ray Lankford out
of the cleanup spot and into the two hole to try to jump-start
his bat. The move worked out well enough for Lankford, who hit
.316 batting second, but things weren't as peachy for Mark
McGwire, who bats third for St. Louis. With Brian Jordan hitting
behind him instead of Lankford, McGwire fell into a slump
similar to the 5-for-27 skid he suffered batting in front of
Jordan earlier in the season. Last Saturday, La Russa wisely
returned Lankford to cleanup, behind McGwire, who proceeded to
go 3 for 4 with two homers. The next day Big Mac went yard for
the 16th time in the 27 games Lankford--his lucky charm--had hit
fourth. McGwire had seven homers in 17 games hitting in front of