The 20-Loss Club
No pitcher has lost 20 in a season since 1980, but that might
change in '98
Brian Kingman was sitting in a pub near his Phoenix home two
years ago, having drinks with pals while watching the Royals
play the Twins on TV. Then suddenly--thwack! Mark Gubicza,
Kansas City's starting pitcher that night, had his left leg
nailed by a line drive. There was a hush in the bar, and the
announcers revealed that Gubicza's leg was broken.
"Yeeeesssss!" screamed Kingman, instinctively. Gubicza, 4-12 at
the time, was out of commission. He would not lose 20 games.
"I guess that was a little heartless of me," says Kingman, whose
8-20 record for the 1980 Oakland A's makes him the last man to
lose 20 games in a season. "But I'm very protective of losing
20. It's my one claim to fame. It makes me special."
Alas, more than ever, Kingman's specialness is under fire. At
week's end six pitchers were on or near pace to lose 20:
Colorado's Darryl Kile (5-10, 4.51 ERA), Arizona's Willie Blair
(2-10, 5.05) and Tampa Bay's Dennis Springer (2-10, 5.47 ERA)
led the way, followed by Oakland's Tom Candiotti (4-9, 5.26),
Toronto's Juan Guzman (3-9, 5.77) and the White Sox' Jaime
Navarro (5-9, 5.72). Six other pitchers with eight losses apiece
also had a shot.
The old saw in baseball is that it takes a good pitcher to lose
20 games. "You've got to be pitching well to get enough starts
to lose those 20 games," says Jerry Koosman, a good pitcher who
went 8-20 with the 1977 Mets. "If someone loses 20, usually he
has poor offensive support or poor fielding behind him.
Sometimes both." Other good pitchers of recent vintage who have
hit the magic number are Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Phil
Niekro, and Cy Young winners Denny McLain and Randy Jones. In
fact, 204 times in this century pitchers have lost 20 or more
games in a season, and the list has as many quality pitchers as
consistent losers. Among the latter group you'll even find Hugh
(Losing Pitcher) Mulcahy--that's his nickname, you can look it
up--who went 10-20 in 1938 and 13-22 in 1940 with the Phillies.
Kile seems most likely to supplant Kingman, who is now 43 and
the manager of a check-cashing company. The best pitcher on
underachieving Colorado (32-44 at week's end), Kile gets very
little run support; through Sunday he had lost his last seven
decisions, during which the Rockies had scored eight runs for
him. His team plays poor defense, and his high salary--$24
million over three years--means he won't be removed from the
rotation. "I just pitch my best and see what happens," says
Kile, who joined Colorado as a free agent after seven years in
Houston. "But I don't think it would be a stigma to lose 20."
Springer, also halfway home, might not need to worry. Very
rarely do pitchers with such high ERAs stick in the rotation,
even on an expansion team. "I'm not overly concerned about him,"
says Kingman, who keeps tabs on the loss columns. "No offense to
Springer, but there's no reason for a manager to keep pitching
him, unless there's nobody else worth trying."
Kingman considers Blair the pitcher to watch. Much like Kile,
Blair used a big 1997 season (16-8 with Detroit) to land a hefty
free-agent contract. That means he'll probably keep getting
starts. Plus, a year ago he had all kinds of good fortune, and
this season he's had little. That has Kingman scared. "To lose
20, weird things have to happen, and they can never go your
way," he says. "The year I lost 20, I won on Friday the 13th and
beat Ron Guidry. Then I couldn't beat anyone else. You have to
find ways to lose. I was good at that. I hope no one else is."
A Jordanesque Performance
At the Chesterfield Mall in suburban St. Louis, they've got
everything from fashion (Dillard's) to sustenance (Orange
Julius) and every kind of Mickey Mouse outfit in between (the
Disney Store). Heck, Brian Jordan even found the key to stardom
there, as he strolled twixt the Sunglass Hut and the Gap Kids.
Last September, while Jordan was nursing a bad back and a broken
left wrist, he ran into track and field guru Bobby Kersee, the
husband and coach of Olympic great Jackie Joyner-Kersee, at the
shopping center. The two had met a few weeks before at a St.
Louis Blues game, but when Kersee had talked about how he had
the cure for what ailed Jordan, the Cardinals outfielder had
tuned him out. "After hearing everybody giving me miracle
workers and doctors to go see, I kind of blew him off," says
Jordan. At the mall, though, Kersee was more adamant. "I jumped
all over him," Kersee says. "I said, 'We need to get together.
You're about 15 pounds overweight. You're one of the best
athletes in sports. It's your career.'"
Those last three words got to Jordan, who agreed to spend the
majority of his off-season training under Kersee in Orlando,
along with Joyner-Kersee and Olympic sprint champion Gail
Devers. Jordan was put on a grueling regimen of walking,
running, stretching and weight work, going five days a week from
7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., breaking only for lunch. Since the
beginning of baseball season, Jordan has talked to Kersee every
day and usually sees him daily when the Cards are in St. Louis.
The work has paid off. Hitting behind Mark McGwire, a healthy
Jordan is having a career season, leading the league in batting
(.350 through Sunday) while also hitting for power (14 homers
and 49 RBIs). All this after a season in which he hit .234 and
missed 115 games due to injury. "I'm in the best shape of my
life," Jordan says. "I'm feeling good and letting my talent take
The impact of Jordan's newfound fitness could reach beyond the
diamond. Jordan gave up a pro football career in 1991 after
three seasons as a safety for the Atlanta Falcons to devote
himself to baseball, but now he is pondering a return to the
gridiron. "I've increased my speed and my endurance, and I feel
great," he says. "I didn't feel this good when I played
football. I ran a 4.6 40 when I played football; now I'm at 4.4
Jordan will become a free agent after the season. He is giving
strong consideration to then putting on the pads for the last 10
games of the NFL season (he has drawn interest already from the
Philadelphia Eagles and the San Diego Chargers) before returning
to the diamond full time.
That a 31-year-old man who has battled injuries nearly every
season of his career would risk his baseball future to play half
a season in a sport he hasn't played competitively in seven
years might sound self-indulgent, or even silly, but Jordan has
never been able to shake his love of football. "I miss the
camaraderie, I miss the aggressive attitude," he says. These
days the only thing he rams into is the occasional outfield
wall, and he longs to take a shot at a moving object. "I miss
the contact," he says, smacking his hands together and grinning
from ear to ear. --Mark Bechtel
The New Dodger Way
Earlier this year, after Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch purchased
the Dodgers for more than $300 million, leading many baseball
insiders to bemoan the further corporatization of baseball, Los
Angeles general manager Fred Claire and manager Bill Russell
both seemed almost naive about the deal's implications. "The
players won't see any difference under Fox," said Claire, who
signed a three-year contract in August '97. "The baseball
operations are pretty much the same as they always have been."
"They want to keep the family tradition going and everything the
Dodgers stand for," added Russell. "I don't see big changes,
like everyone expects, right away."
In a sense, he was right. It took Fox two months to trade
catcher Mike Piazza, the team's best player. It took another two
weeks to unload pitcher Hideo Nomo, a fan favorite. And on
Monday, three months after Fox purchased the team from the
O'Malley family, Claire and Russell were handed their pink
slips. They were replaced on an interim basis by team vice
president Tommy Lasorda and Triple A Albuquerque manager Glenn
"[Claire and Russell] always gave 100 percent to their jobs,"
said Bob Graziano, the Fox-appointed team president. "[But] the
fact of the matter is that we haven't been getting our job done."
If there was any question whether the Dodgers would continue to
operate under Fox as they did under the O'Malleys, the answer is
now abundantly clear. The truth is, the days when an owner could
run a club the way Peter O'Malley did--with a sense of noblesse
oblige, standing by the Dodger Way while his team failed to win
a pennant for nine years--have been over for a long time, and
that reality is just dawning on many in the L.A. organization.
Baseball has changed, and O'Malley, increasingingly marginalized
in ownership circles and forced to compete against multinational
corporations with ever greater resources, finally sold the team
and got out.
L.A. was a lifeless 36-38 as of Sunday despite a $57 million
payroll. The new Dodger Way will not include standing idly by
while the team underachieves.
On the Comeback Trail
The People v. Carl Everett
Last summer Carl Everett was enjoying the best of his three full
big league seasons. He was getting a substantial number of at
bats for the first time. He was hitting with power and
establishing himself as an aggressive outfielder for the Mets,
one popular with teammates and fans alike as a
do-whatever-it-takes type of player.
Then, on Aug. 6, everything stopped. A Shea Stadium child-care
worker noticed a disturbing number of bruises and welts on the
body of Everett's six-year-old daughter, Shawna. Mets officials
were alarmed enough to contact the New York City Administration
for Children's Services, which took custody of Shawna as well as
Carl IV, Everett's five-year-old son. Everett and his wife,
Linda, were charged in family court with child abuse. Judge
Richard Berman ultimately found the couple guilty of child
neglect, ruling that Linda had inflicted "excessive corporal
punishment" and that her husband had failed to stop her. Shawna
and Carl IV were placed in foster care, and Everett--whose wife
admitted in court that she and her husband had disciplined the
children with a belt--became the center of a New York tabloid
storm. "In New York, if it's in ink, it's true," says Everett,
27, who was traded to the Astros for pitcher John Hudek last
December. "New York is a gruesome city that doesn't look for the
truth. They just want to sell a story."
Everett won't go further than that in talking about last year.
Ask him about his new baby girl, born last month, and don't even
expect him to tell you her name. "I lost some trust after that,"
he says of his New York experience. "I could tell my whole
story, and it probably wouldn't come out right." The one thing
he will discuss, however, is fresh starts. Coming off that
nightmare season, in which he finished with a .248 average, 14
homers and 57 RBIs, Everett now feels renewed.
In April, after Carl and Linda attended therapy sessions and
signed an agreement promising not to use corporal punishment,
Carl IV returned home; Shawna, Everett's daughter by another
woman, is living with her maternal grandmother. For Houston,
meanwhile, Everett is living up to the potential that made him
the Yankees' first-round pick in the 1990 draft. At week's end
he was batting .342 and led the Astros in on-base percentage
(.422). "Carl needed a fresh start," says Houston second baseman
Craig Biggio. "He's been nothing but a good addition. I don't
know all that happened in New York, but it's the past."
Maybe so, but the past still haunts him. Recently Judge Berman
publicly criticized the Everetts for skipping not only
counseling sessions but also a June conference at which they
were to discuss their case. And though he has been received
warmly in Houston, reporters around the league still regularly
ask Everett about his parenting.
"I'm a great father," says Everett. "I love my kids more than
For complete scores and stats, plus more news from Tom Verducci
and Tim Crothers, go to www.cnnsi.com.