Amid heavy-duty spring hoopla, a focused McGwire has picked up
where he left off
For a man considered to be baseball's bastion of truth and
integrity, Mark McGwire is one hell of a liar. "Nothing at all,"
was his reply to the simple, somewhat silly question, What about
this year's spring training is different from last year's? "It's
the same as always." This was roughly 30 seconds after McGwire,
en route to the visitors' clubhouse at Dodgertown in Vero Beach,
Fla., was greeted by a throng of 100 or more fans--including one
woman who'd waited six hours for an autograph--pushing and
shoving one another against a metal fence. McGwire played 4 1/2
innings in Sunday's game against L.A. When he didn't jog out to
first base for the bottom of the fifth, half the 6,694 in
attendance seemed to suddenly blow away.
Nothing at all?
"I still don't know how he deals with it so well," says
outfielder J.D. Drew, the Cardinals' rookie phenom. "Everywhere
Mark goes, people are yelling his name, asking for a minute.
You'd think spring would be more laid back. Not for him."
McGwire insists he doesn't mind. Really. "This is all part of my
job," he says, "and I love my job." However, McGwire cannot go
to a mall, take a stroll, catch a movie--even in the sleepy town
of Jupiter, Fla., where the Cardinals are based. "I'm not into
swimming or fishing," he says. "I don't do much here."
One thing he does do is hit home runs. In seven games he had
five dingers in only 14 at bats, including two blasts on Sunday
against Dodgers lefty Carlos Perez. His first-inning homer
barely cleared the leftfield fence. His second, a shot worthy of
the Apollo program, smacked off the scoreboard in right center
and fell to a grassy knoll. A dozen kids swarmed to the ball
like pigeons after a bread crumb. Keith Barrett, a skinny
17-year-old, pushed two tykes out of the way, threw an elbow,
dived headfirst and came up a winner.
"No way I'm sellin' this baby!" Barrett screamed.
One hundred dollars? someone suggested.
"I'll never sell this ball. Never."
Same as always. Right, Mark?
Joe Torre's Cancer
YANKEES HOPE AND COPE
On his first full day as the third baseman on a Yankees team
without a manager, Scott Brosius assured himself that things
would be O.K. Then, just to be certain, he prayed.
Last week's announcement that Joe Torre was suffering from
prostate cancer and would miss at least the rest of spring
training jolted the New York clubhouse. (Don Zimmer, 68, Torre's
close friend and bench coach, will run the club while Torre is
away.) Will Torre's absence have an impact on the Yankees'
performance? Unlikely. The team that won an American League-
record 114 regular-season games last year possesses a remarkable
self-sufficiency, a by-product of Torre's hands-off,
trust-the-players approach. As catcher Joe Girardi says, "Once
you're on the field, you focus on the game. That's how it works."
Perhaps no Yankee took the news of Torre's illness harder than
Brosius, a sensitive man whose mother died of lymphoma in 1989
and whose father, Maury, was treated recently for colon cancer.
While many on the team were numbed by Torre's situation, Brosius
speaks of cancer like a human Merck Manual. He knows the ins and
outs, the good days and bad days, the victories and, in his
mother's case, the defeats.
"My first reaction to Joe's news was shock, but my second thought
is, No matter what people say, this is not a baseball story,"
Brosius says. "This is about a man with decisions that have to be
made about life. Joe Torre is a husband, he's a father, he's a
person before he's the manager of the Yankees."
Brosius spent part of his off-season visiting with seriously ill
children. He recalls one girl, just nine years old, with tumors
throughout her body. There was a boy, 16, dying of brain cancer.
"You can't try and figure cancer out," he says. "Why does a
nine-year-old girl have it, and some 80-year-olds who've smoked
their whole lives don't? It's not a predictable disease."
The Yankees say they will not use Torre's cancer as a rallying
cry for the season. The players consider this a situation that
will pass, an illness, not an ending. "Joe's a very strong
person," says reliever Darren Holmes. "Every day we'd see him
lifting weights, working on the stair climber. He's in good
shape, and they caught it early. We expect the best."
MARLINS' ODD MAN IN?
Mark Fidrych talked to the ball. Al Hrabosky talked to himself.
Bill (Spaceman) Lee was known to wear a propeller beanie onto
the field. A.J. Burnett has...nipple rings. "Hurt like you
wouldn't believe," the 22-year-old Arkansan says of having his
accessories installed. "I once had knee surgery, and it didn't
compare. The nipples were five seconds of torturous pain."
That also pretty much describes an at bat against the Marlins
righthander, whose reputation--for his 97-mph fastball as well
as his wackiness--is spreading through the Grapefruit League. In
addition to the nipple rings, Burnett sports silver hoops in
both ears and an abstract blue tattoo on his left biceps. His
favorite band is Marilyn Manson. His favorite baseball team?
"I'm not quite sure," he says earnestly.
"He's a little different," says Florida pitching coach Rich
Dubee. "But the kid has an arm."
Oh, yeah--pitching. At Class A Kane County (Ill.) last season,
Burnett went 10-4 with 186 strikeouts in 119 innings. His
fastball has, in the words of catcher Jorge Fabregas, "a whole
lot of pop to it." Burnett also throws a knuckle curve in the
high 80s and a well-developed changeup. Marlins manager John
Boles invited Burnett to spring training with the idea of
sending him to Double A or Triple A. But with each impressive
performance this spring, Burnett has made Boles's
decision--Devil Rays refugee Dennis Springer or Burnett as his
fifth starter--more difficult. Burnett struck out four of the
seven University of Miami batters he faced in his first
appearance, and he went 2 2/3 innings without allowing a run
against Montreal on March 10. "He'll have to have an absolutely
knockout spring training to stay with us," says Boles. "But so
Growing up in North Little Rock, Burnett played catcher, third
base--everything, it seemed, but pitcher. Even in high school,
at Central Arkansas Christian, although, Burnett says, he could
throw in the low 90s, coaches didn't use him on the mound. Then,
in 1995, at the end of his senior year, he pitched four games.
At one of those, a seven-inning shutout against Russellville
High, a Mets scout happened to be in the stands. That June, New
York picked Burnett, a pitcher for all of three weeks, in the
eighth round of the draft. Burnett went to Florida in February
1998 in the Al Leiter deal.
"I dreamed of playing baseball, but as a position player," he
says. "I could always throw pretty hard, but I never thought this
would happen. It's weird, isn't it." Weird is the word.
End of the Road
LISTACH'S BROKEN PROMISE
Not long after he hit .290, stole 54 bases and was named the
1992 American League Rookie of the Year, infielder Pat Listach
was offered some wisdom by a Brewers teammate. "That was the
worst thing you could do," said third baseman Kevin Seitzer, who
as a rookie in '87 had stroked 207 hits. "You've put the bar at
a high level. From now on you either reach it every year, or
you're a disappointment."
At the time Listach thought Seitzer was kidding. Listach was 25
years old with a sparkling future--Milwaukee's shortstop of the
'90s. Nearly seven years later Seitzer's look on the dark side
seems all too accurate. "I wouldn't flat out say that having
that rookie season hurt my career," says Listach. "But sometimes
I'm not so sure." He is 31 now, and last Thursday, after
spending the first few weeks of spring training as a nonroster
invitee with the Reds, he was released. Listach may have come to
the end of his baseball road after playing for seven
organizations, having two knee operations and missing out on one
At Milwaukee's home opener in '93, Listach received a resounding
ovation from the County Stadium crowd his first time up, but he
suffered hamstring injuries in June and September and missed 64
games. The next season he appeared in the first 16 games, went
on the disabled list with tendinitis in his left knee and didn't
play again. Although he came back to appear in 101 games in '95,
Listach batted just .219. "You know, I never hit .290 before I
was a rookie," he says. "I didn't expect to hit that high every
year. But everyone else expected me to."
On Aug. 23, 1996, Listach was traded with reliever Graeme Lloyd
to the Yankees. When an MRI a few days later revealed that he
had a broken right foot, Listach immediately went on the
disabled list. He was issued Yankees pinstripes but never played
an inning for New York. On Oct. 2, Listach was sent back to
Milwaukee, and the Yankees went on to win the World Series. From
that point on, Listach's life has been a whirlwind of buses and
planes as he has bounced around the minors and the big leagues
as the property of the Astros, Indians, Mariners, Phillies and
He thought he was a lock to make Seattle's roster last season
but was cut during the final week of spring training.
"Devastating," he calls it. "I did everything they asked, hit
.300 in spring, worked my tail off." He stops. "Sometimes, I
wonder if it's all worth it."
Listach hit a combined .219 in two Triple A stops last season.
Clearly, he does not have the range or speed he had early in his
career. Yet he has still not considered an alternative
occupation. "I can still run, I can still hit," he says. "I love
baseball too much to stop trying."
Charles Johnson, the four-time National League Gold Glove winner
and new Orioles catcher, is a quiet man. In the spring training
clubhouse in Fort Lauderdale, he speaks softly and rarely. But
bring up his former team, the Dodgers, and the decibel level
That's because Johnson believes he was unfairly ripped by Los
Angeles senior vice president Tommy Lasorda during the general
managers' meetings in Naples, Fla., last November. Lasorda
complained that Johnson had ignored the team's request to play
in the Arizona Fall League and work on his hitting. "We wanted
him there," Lasorda said. "Charles should be a much better
The comments stung Johnson. "That never happened, absolutely,
positively never did," the catcher says of the request Lasorda
cited. "He never called to ask me to go. He never even called to
congratulate me when I won the Gold Glove. I try hard to
cooperate with the organization and do what's right. They
tarnished my reputation. It was a slap in the face."
Why didn't Johnson voice his objections at the time? "Not too
many people asked me," he says.
Johnson, 27, who shortly after Lasorda's comments was traded to
Baltimore in a five-player, three-team deal that sent catcher
Todd Hundley from the Mets to the Dodgers, spent the winter at
home in Fort Pierce, Fla., working out and caring for his new
son, Brandon. In four-plus major league seasons Johnson has
established himself as perhaps the game's finest defensive
catcher. However, his offense, which appeared to be on the
upswing in '97, when he hit .250 with 19 home runs and 63 RBIs
for the Marlins, has regressed.
In addition to hitting just .218 combined for Florida and L.A.
last year, Johnson has let his strikeout totals increase each
season, whiffing 129 times in '98. He swings wildly and often
without much thought. Baltimore hitting coach Terry Crowley says
his new pupil needs to focus less on hitting for power, more on
going deeper into the count. "If Charles can have tough at bats
and make the pitcher work," he says, "it'll be a successful
Ever the student, Johnson says he is excited by the challenge of
playing in the American League. He's already making mental notes
on the tendencies of the Orioles' pitchers. "At first I'll rely
a lot on my instincts," he says. "To really know a pitcher, it
takes a year of working together. You're always learning. The
thing I like here is that it's a veteran staff, so I can follow
their lead and feel comfortable. What I worry more about is
learning the opposing hitters."
It's good that he doesn't have much time to dwell on the past.
Everything that happened to him in '98, including Florida's
sending him to L.A. in the blockbuster Mike Piazza deal last
May, still rankles. "I thought I'd be with the Marlins for
life," says the Florida native and former University of Miami
All-America. "It's a reminder that baseball is a business."
Just how hard up are some teams for lefthanded pitching? Los
Angeles asked 38-year-old Fernando Valenzuela to come to
Dodgertown and battle for a bullpen gig. Valenzuela, out of
baseball last season, declined....
One of Padres general manager Kevin Towers's priorities this
winter was to unload reliever Randy Myers and his $6 million
salary for 1999. Last August, Towers made the mistake of
acquiring Myers, 36, from the Blue Jays. His thought at the
time: Don't let the Braves get him. His thought now, after Myers
put up a 6.28 ERA in San Diego and closer Trevor Hoffman was
just re-signed to a four-year, $32 million extension: Help!...
Copies of Heat, the recently released autobiography of Indians
righthander Dwight Gooden, were scattered throughout the
Cleveland clubhouse. Don't expect the Tigers' Gregg Jefferies to
ask the author for an autographed copy. In the book Gooden
recalls his former Mets teammate as "a baby" who'd "been catered
to his whole career."...
Third baseman Pete Rose Jr. is in the Dodgers' camp after his
father called G.M. Kevin Malone and asked for the favor. Rose
Jr., 29, who made his major league debut with the Reds in
September 1997 and was cut loose a month later, says he thinks
he'll make L.A.'s major league roster. According to team
officials, Pete Sr. has a better chance....
Milton Bradley, a 20-year-old outfielder in camp with the Expos,
says his favorite game is Scrabble.
The Real Class of '92
Infielder Pat Listach (above), who was released last week by the
Reds (his seventh organization in the last 2 1/2 years), was the
overwhelming choice for American League Rookie of the Year in
1992. However, more than a few of Listach's peers have gone on
to outshine him. Here's a sampling of how some of those other
rookies from '92 have fared.
PLAYER, '92 TEAM POS. LOOK AT HIM NOW
Derek Bell, Blue Jays OF As an Astro: 17 homers, 113
RBIs in '96; 22 and 108 in '98
Scott Brosius, A's OF-3B '98 World Series MVP
Damion Easley, Angels 3B-2B Averaged 24.5 homers and 86
RBIs last two years with Tigers
Pat Hentgen, Blue Jays P '96 American League Cy Young
Roberto Hernandez, P Averaged almost 30 saves a
White Sox year last six seasons
Kenny Lofton, Indians OF Five-time league leader in
steals is .311 career hitter
Jim Thome, Indians 3B-1B Averaged 36 homers over last