Here's our lineup of the most underachieving players of the
As baseball celebrates its All-Stars this week, let's not forget
that for every player having a season in the sun, there's
another laboring under a cloud. Here then are our
Anti-All-Stars, baseball's overachievers in the category of
underachieving. All of the following players began the '98
season with lofty promise. As the numbers show--stats are
through Sunday's games--none of these guys has come close to
living up to expectations.
Catcher Charles Johnson, Dodgers. Coming off a breakthrough
season with the world champion Marlins, he is hitting just .205
with 80 strikeouts, second most in the league. Johnson endured a
particularly arid 0-for-35 stretch in the period around his May
15 trade from Florida to Los Angeles, which earned him the rare
distinction of being a bust on both coasts. On defense, the man
who committed no errors in '97 has five this season.
First baseman Fred McGriff, Devil Rays. Eyebrows lifted when
Tampa Bay acquired the Crime Dog from Atlanta in the off-season
for a paltry $20,000 in cash. McGriff's disappointing eight
homers and 42 RBIs (and his salary of $5 million) indicate that
the Devil Rays got hoodwinked. A cleanup hitter in name only,
McGriff went one stretch of 111 at bats without a homer and a
span of 23 games with just one RBI. The words crime and dog both
could be used to describe his play this season.
Second baseman Mike Lansing, Rockies. Colorado traded three
pitching prospects to get Lansing and then signed him to a
four-year, $23.3 million contract, only to watch him go 16 for
100 in May. The same player who cracked 20 home runs for the
Expos last season has just four homers and 26 RBIs in '98 and
has spawned a new term in Denver: the reverse Coors Field effect.
Shortstop Mark Grudzielanek, Expos. After tying a major league
record for shortstops with 54 doubles last season, he has hit
only eight this year. Meanwhile, the perpetually disgruntled
infielder has already committed a league-high 18 errors, not
including the time he called his own team a "laughingstock."
Third baseman Kevin Orie, Cubs. Hoping to generate better power
numbers after a promising rookie season in '97, he tinkered with
his swing this spring. The result: He brought new meaning to the
expression sophomore slump, hitting just .184 with two homers in
42 games before being sent to the minors on May 27. Orie has
since returned but has failed to silence the echoes of legendary
Cubs third base washout Gary Scott. (Dishonorable mention goes
to Mariners third baseman Russ Davis, who leads all major
leaguers with 25 errors.)
Outfield Brady Anderson, Orioles; Jose Cruz Jr., Blue Jays;
Lance Johnson, Cubs. Anderson, who is still haunted by the
expectations generated by his extraordinary 50-homer season in
'96, got off to a horrendous .077 start in his first 16 games
while battling injuries. His body and batting average (.220) are
still hurting. Cruz hit 26 homers in '97 and finished second in
the American League Rookie of the Year balloting, but he
unraveled this season after pitchers realized he couldn't hit a
curveball. Batting .214 with three homers after 52 games, he was
demoted to Triple A Syracuse. Johnson is on the trading block in
Chicago, which is no shock considering he's hitting .115 and is
getting paid $4.9 million this year and will get $5.1 million in
'99. He has languished on the disabled list since late April
with a mysterious inflammation of his right hand. (This just a
year after he missed 39 games because of shinsplints.)
Designated hitter Frank Thomas, White Sox. A .300 hitter in each
of his eight big league seasons and the defending American
League batting champion, he is frustrated to be hitting just
.275 and has complained that the umpires have unfairly enlarged
his strike zone. His mortal power numbers (14 homers, 55 RBIs)
have led him to change his own nickname from the Big Hurt to
Five O'Clock Frank because he's doing his best work in batting
Starting pitcher Hideo Nomo, Mets. His numbers have declined
steadily since his Rookie of the Year season in '95, but nobody
could have predicted he would be designated for reassignment by
Los Angeles and then traded to the Mets. Amid reports that his
fastball has lost its pop and that he's tipping his pitches,
Nomo is 2-8 with a 4.90 ERA and isn't even the best Japanese
pitcher on his team.
Closer Mark Wohlers, Braves. After saving 97 games in the last
three seasons combined, he has only eight saves and a 5.63 ERA
in '98. He had lost so much control over his pitches in June
that he asked to be sent to the minors, where he is rebuilding
his delivery and consulting a psychologist. On July 1 he yielded
five hits, including two homers, walked three and gave up six
runs in two thirds of an inning against the Charlotte Knights.
(Dishonorable mention must go to the entire Mariners bullpen,
which has blown 15 of 27 save opportunities.)
PLIGHT OF THE G.M.'S
When Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley offered Fred Claire the
general manager's job in April 1987, Claire accepted on one
condition. Says Claire, "I said, 'Peter, I've got to have
complete responsibility, because if they run me out of town, I
want to be sure they run me out for the right reasons.'"
O'Malley agreed and, says Claire, never once second-guessed him
in the next 11 years in which O'Malley owned the team.
So imagine Claire's dismay in May when the Dodgers' new Fox
ownership negotiated the Mike Piazza trade and didn't bother to
tell Claire until the deal was done. When team president Bob
Graziano phoned Claire to tell him of the trade, the stunned
general manager told Graziano he planned to resign. Claire
reconsidered but was fired a month later, ending the longest
reign of any active major league G.M.
Claire's story is symbolic of the diminished stature of the
general manager. In recent seasons, then Yankees G.M. Bob Watson
watched team owner George Steinbrenner execute personnel
decisions, and Baltimore G.M. Pat Gillick found some of his
deals blocked by owner Peter Angelos. "You used to have G.M.'s
who were with a team forever, like Jim Campbell [with Detroit],
Harry Dalton [with Milwaukee] and Frank Cashen [with Baltimore
and later the Mets]," says Florida general manager Dave
Dombrowski. "But as time goes on, baseball continues to become a
business-entertainment industry, and the G.M.'s job becomes more
demanding. You have to deal much more with budgets, long-term
contracts, more ownership involvement. Back in the '70s you were
just the baseball guy."
"We're all accountable, and the price of winning has risen,"
says Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan. "Twenty-five years
ago, if you came in last place, the owner might say, 'O.K.,
we'll regroup.' But those days are gone."
Given the experiences of Claire, Gillick and Watson, SI asked
baseball's general managers the following question: "Would you
rather be the G.M. of a team with unlimited resources and
meddling ownership, or the G.M. of a team that guarantees you
control over all baseball decisions but has limited resources
and the prospect of competing for a championship only every four
or five years?"
It is a sign of the backlash against intrusive owners that of
the 24 G.M.'s who responded, 14 voted for control of all
baseball decisions, while only eight voted for unlimited
resources. (Two abstained.)
Says one large-market National League general manager who voted
for control, "If ownership has an unlimited budget and says, 'We
want to win,' you can put together the best club on paper and it
doesn't guarantee you're going to win. You don't want to have
somebody looking over your shoulder every second, because not
everything that a general manager does is going to turn out
But at least one American League G.M. who is hamstrung by a
small budget feels differently. "I'd like to believe if I had
the resources, I could build a winner," he says. "I'd rather go
to the park every day knowing I had a chance to win. If I could
do that, I'd roll the dice with the owners."
Says Claire, who has seen both sides, "The job has changed so
much that even a guy with 30 years in an organization might get
fired. You better win, and you better say and do the right
things. And you better hold on to your hat, because it's going
to be a rocky ride."
NEWS FLASH FOR GORDON
Tom Gordon of the Red Sox was tied for the American League lead
with 25 saves at week's end, which is particularly notable
because Gordon seems to have little idea what a save is. A
starter for most of his first nine seasons, Gordon had just
three saves before becoming a closer for Boston last August, and
he admitted on April 29 that he didn't understand the rules that
govern a save situation. He got his ninth save that day in an
8-4 win over the Angels after entering the game with two outs
and two runners on base in the ninth inning. He retired Cecil
Fielder on a fly-out and was credited with a save because the
tying run was in the on-deck circle. "I couldn't tell you how
that worked," Gordon said later. "[Dennis] Eckersley was trying
to explain it to me when we came in the clubhouse, but I really
don't even want to know."
After saving a June 17 game at Comiskey Park, Gordon still had
no clue. With the Red Sox leading 6-5, he came into the game
with one out and a runner on base in the eighth and retired the
next two hitters. Boston scored six runs in the top of the ninth
to take a 12-5 lead, and Gordon then closed out the win by
holding the White Sox scoreless in the bottom of the ninth. "I
thought in the eighth inning that I had a chance for a save," he
said afterward, "but when we scored six runs, I thought I was
Apparently Gordon isn't the only closer who lacks a firm grasp
of the stat by which relievers are most commonly measured. Just
listen to several of his peers.
The Rangers' John Wetteland (22 saves): "I get real confused.
Sometimes I ask my teammates if it's a save situation."
The Giants' Robb Nen (25 saves): "I was a starter coming up, so
I haven't really kept up on all the ways to get a save. I still
don't realize whether I've gotten a save or not. Somebody has to
tell me. If it's a save, fine, but I'm not worried about it."
The Mariners' Heathcliff Slocumb (three saves): "I didn't know
until recently that you had to pitch a complete inning to get a
save. [He's wrong, of course.] And isn't there something about
pitching the fifth inning of a rainout?" No.
The Angels' Troy Percival (25 saves): "I made a bet with Lee
Smith on what was a save and what wasn't. I lost 50 bucks. Then
I learned the rules."
For complete scores and stats, plus more news from Tom Verducci
and Tim Crothers, go to www.cnnsi.com.
THE 3,000 K CLUB
On Sunday the Blue Jays' Roger Clemens became only the 11th
pitcher to strike out 3,000 batters in his major league career,
when he whiffed seven Devil Rays in a 2-1 Toronto win. Here's
where he stands when the members of this elite group are ranked
according to strikeouts per nine innings.
PITCHER SEASONS CAREER K'S K'S/9 INNINGS
Nolan Ryan 27 5,714 9.55
Roger Clemens 15 3,002 8.55
Bob Gibson 17 3,117 7.22
Steve Carlton 24 4,136 7.14
Tom Seaver 20 3,640 6.85
Bert Blyleven 22 3,701 6.70
Ferguson Jenkins 19 3,192 6.39
Don Sutton 23 3,574 6.09
Gaylord Perry 22 3,534 5.94
Phil Niekro 24 3,342 5.57
Walter Johnson 21 3,508 5.33
SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
Twins righthander Bob Tewksbury may have figured out a way to
take the sting out of Mark McGwire's bat. Against the Cardinals
on June 28, Tewksbury threw three blooper pitches to McGwire
clocked at 44 mph each. McGwire took one for a ball, dribbled
the next one to first base for a groundout and popped to first
on the last one. In their other encounter a runner was on first,
so Tewksbury couldn't use the blooper, and McGwire singled. "I
couldn't wait to face him," Tewksbury said. "I can't throw the
ball by him, but I can throw it slow. I can throw 44, then I can
throw 83. That's a big variance."
McGwire grinned after each blooper. "I was hoping he would keep
throwing them," he said. "I was going to swing at all of them."