1 Cleveland Indians They have the big bats again, but more important, they now have a deeper pen

March 29, 1999

Indians closer Michael Jackson played his first season of
professional baseball in 1984, a terrible, terrible time to be
1) named Michael Jackson and 2) named Michael Jackson and have
your identity blared from a P.A. system. So Jacko II devised a
plan. On one of his first days with Class A Spartanburg, then a
Phillies affiliate, Jackson--who had been called Michael all his
life--told the team's announcer to present him simply as Mike.
"The last thing I wanted was to hear Thriller every time I
pitched," Jackson says, laughing. "I figured I'd take care of it
ahead of time."

No such luck. Spartanburg smelled a marketing bonanza, and a
minor league team sensing extra attention is like Oliver Miller
sensing bacon. For Jackson's first appearance it was "Entering
the game, number 33, Michael Jackson"...accompanied, of course,
by a few bars of Rock with You. From that point on, Jackson
could not escape the sequined-glove references, the nonstop
blasting of Beat It in rival stadiums, the moonwalk requests and
the not-so-humorous "How's Tito?" humor. "It was really bad for
a while," he says. "I guess I should be happy Michael's not that
big anymore. People know me for me."

Which means that the 34-year-old Jackson is finally getting
respect for what he is: the leader of the American League's
toughest bullpen. "I don't know why it took Mike so long to get
his chance," says Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove, "but he has
as good a collection of stuff as anyone." That includes a
humming fastball in the low 90s and a slider that, says
Hargrove, "is absolutely deadly."

Strangely, Jackson has spent most of his 13-year major league
career--with the Phillies, Mariners, Giants, Reds and Mariners
again before joining the Tribe, in '97--in the setup role, an
anonymous man perfecting an anonymous task. He had always wanted
to finish games, but with such standouts as, ahem, Mike Schooler
in front of him, where was the opportunity? It wasn't until the
end of spring training last year, when Hargrove tired of closer
Jose Mesa's inconsistency, that Jackson got his shot. Forty
saves and a 1.55 ERA later, he's the most Dangerous Bad Pretty
Young Thing in the HIStory of...uh...Billie Jean?

In fact, on a team loaded with offensive stars such as
outfielders David Justice and Manny Ramirez and first baseman
Jim Thome, it's the bullpen--overlooked and
underappreciated--that makes Cleveland perhaps the only club
with a shot at dethroning the Yankees. Last season the Indians
put up pretty good offensive numbers (198 home runs, 811 RBIs)
even though Thome missed 35 games with a broken hand; catcher
Sandy Alomar Jr. batted only .235; and the feeble conglomerate
of Joey Cora, Shawon Dunston, Enrique Wilson and David Bell
manned second base. Since then the Tribe has acquired two
big-time bats in second baseman Roberto Alomar (Sandy's brother)
and outfielder Wil Cordero. (Alomar, who'll team with shortstop
Omar Vizquel to give Cleveland the most formidable double-play
combination in baseball, had a rare off year in '98.) Still,
it's the bullpen that will make or break Cleveland. Last season
Hargrove's collection of rubber-armed misfits had 47 saves,
fourth in the league. Most important, the pen offers Hargrove
flexibility. Unless the Indians pull a last-second trade,
they're a team of five righthanded starters. These are good
pitchers (vets Charles Nagy, Dave Burba and Dwight Gooden and
two of the most promising arms around, Bartolo Colon and Jaret
Wright) but righties nonetheless. "When you have a deep bullpen,
you can get by with all righties or all lefties starting," says
general manager John Hart. "They don't have to finish."

The Indians' pen includes:

--Paul Assenmacher, a cagey 38-year-old lefty with a league-high
589 appearances this decade. "With age," says Assenmacher,
"comes knowledge." Like how to pitch? "Like when to sleep."

--Jerry Spradlin, 31, the flamethrower righty who was acquired
in the off-season from Philadelphia for righthanded starter Chad
Ogea. Spradlin fanned 76 in 81 2/3 innings last year. He also
plays the drums. Says Jackson, "You can never have too many
characters in a bullpen."

--Paul Shuey, 28, the second player chosen in the 1992 draft. He
has yet to spend a full season in the majors, but the Indians
still think Shuey can be their closer of the future.

--Steve Reed, 33. The sinkerballing righthander struggled (6.66
ERA) after coming to Cleveland from the Giants last July 23 in
the Mesa deal. Recovered from last September's surgery to remove
a blood clot in his right wrist, he should be good for his usual
60-70 appearances.

--Ricardo Rincon, 28, a Mexican who boasts the invaluable
experience of not only having 14 saves last season but also of
getting them in Pittsburgh. If you can make it there....

"If your bullpen's good, it has guys who have done and seen
everything," says Assenmacher, who, having been traded over the
past 10 years for both Kelly Mann and Karl Rhodes, qualifies.
"There are so many situations you're going to see. Having seen
them already, that helps."

LaToya couldn't have said it any better. Oops. Sorry, Michael.
Mike.

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON By signing another Alomar, the Tribe has added a first-class bat at the only position where its offensive production last season was second-rate. COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (AL rank)
1998 record: 89-73 (first in AL Central)

Batting Average .272 (6)
Runs scored 850 (6)
home runs 198 (7)
opp. Batting avg. .274 (8)
Era 4.44 (5)
Fielding Pct. .982 (6)

Fraternal Order

Roberto and Sandy Alomar Jr. were teammates with the Padres in
1988 and '89. This year they'll become the eighth pair of
brothers since 1900 to play together with two major league
teams. (Lloyd and Paul Waner are the only two to do so with
three clubs: Pirates, Braves and Dodgers.) The list the Alomars
now seek to join--brothers who have been teammates in the
postseason--is below.

Team Brothers How They Fared in the
Postseason

1996 Cardinals Alan and Andy Benes Lost National League
Championship Series

1996 Padres Tony and Chris Gwynn Lost National League
Division Series

1969 Braves Hank and Tommie Aaron Lost National League
Championship Series

1962 Giants Felipe and Matty Alou Lost World Series

1942-44 Cardinals Mort and Walker Cooper Won World Series
('42, '44), lost
Series ('43)

1934 Cardinals Dizzy and Paul Dean Won World Series

1927 Pirates Lloyd and Paul Waner Lost World Series

Next Up...

The future was not always obvious to Richie Sexson. At Prairie
High in Brush Prairie, Wash., he was all-state in baseball,
football and basketball. He considered a hoops career. "Then I
played in a summer league game in L.A.," he says. "Chris Webber
and Jason Kidd were there, and I was exposed for what I was: a
6'6", 175-pound geek." Now, after filling in for injured first
baseman Jim Thome last season and smashing 11 home runs in 174
at bats, Sexson, 24, has a good shot at becoming Cleveland's DH.
"How many kids grow up wanting to be a big leaguer?" he asks.
"There's Dave Justice and Doc Gooden--guys I worshiped as a kid.
Now I'm part of the team."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Mike Hargrove (ninth season with Cleveland)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Kenny Lofton L 54 .282 12 64 54
SS Omar Vizquel S-R 114 .288 2 50 37
2B Roberto Alomar[1] S-R 78 .282 14 56 18
1B Jim Thome L-R 31 .293 30 85 1
RF Manny Ramirez R 16 .294 45 145 5
LF David Justice L 37 .280 21 88 9
3B Travis Fryman R 83 .287 28 96 10
DH Wil Cordero[1] R 170 .267 13 49 2
C Sandy Alomar Jr. R 210 .235 6 44 0

BENCH

IF Richie Sexson R 262 .310 11 35 1
OF Mark Whiten S-R 283 .283 6 29 2
C Einar Diaz (R)* R 296 .313 8 63 3
IF Enrique Wilson S-R 311 .322 2 12 2

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Bartolo Colon 57 14 9 6.6 1.39 3.71
RH Dave Burba 68 15 10 6.5 1.37 4.11
RH Charles Nagy 92 15 10 6.4 1.50 5.22
RH Jaret Wright 97 12 10 6.0 1.53 4.72
RH Dwight Gooden 150 8 6 5.8 1.39 3.76

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Mike Jackson 17 1 1 40 0.88 1.55
RH Steve Reed 157 4 3 1 1.03 3.14
LH Ricardo Rincon[1] 174 0 2 14 1.22 2.91
RH Jerry Spradlin[1] 181 4 4 1 1.02 3.53
LH Paul Assenmacher 299 2 5 3 1.55 3.26
RH Paul Shuey 264 5 4 2 1.35 3.00

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS:
Innings pitched per start WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning
pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Triple A stats Combined AL and NL stats

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)