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Inside Baseball

June 14, 1999
June 14, 1999

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June 14, 1999

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AN A FOR EFFORT
The full-tilt play and hot bat of Garret Anderson have helped
keep the injury-plagued Angels out of a free-fall

This is an article from the June 14, 1999 issue Original Layout

Garret Anderson doesn't fit in the Angels' clubhouse, which
these days resembles an emergency room more than a major league
dressing room. In his five-year career Anderson hasn't spent a
day on the disabled list, and he's the only member of the
Anaheim outfield who played at least 150 games each of the last
three seasons. Over that span he averaged .294, nearly 12 home
runs and 81 RBIs--numbers that, combined with his showing up
every day, made him a cornerstone of this injury-ravaged team.

This season Anderson, 26, has increased his value. Through
Sunday he had started in all 56 of the Angels' games and hit
.296, as usual, but he'd already homered 12 times, which put him
on pace to double his career high of 16, and had driven in 32
runs, second on Anaheim to Mo Vaughn's 39. Thanks largely to
Anderson, the Angels, who were two games under .500 and 6 1/2
games behind the first-place Rangers in the American League
West, hadn't tumbled out of the race. "I don't think I'm a
different player," says Anderson, a corner outfielder who has
played center every game this season in place of the injured Jim
Edmonds. After rightfielder Tim Salmon went on the DL on May 4,
Anderson was moved from his customary fifth and sixth spots in
the order to cleanup, where he protects Vaughn. "I'm just
getting more recognition because a couple of guys aren't in the
lineup."

Ah, but he is different. The power surge is attributable in part
to adjustments in his swing. Anderson has worked with hitting
coach Rod Carew on keeping his hands and weight back, which has
kept him from lunging and allowed him to drive the ball more.
Also, for the first time Anderson, Anaheim's fourth-round draft
choice in 1990, who has been criticized throughout his career
for a lackadaisical style, appears to be playing all out. "No
one told him to, but I think Garret came in this year and said,
'I'm going to bust it,'" says Anaheim manager Terry Collins, who
yanked Anderson from a game last September for not running hard
after hitting a comebacker to the mound. "We time every hitter
to first base on every play, and not once has he not run a
ground ball out this year."

When Collins was trying to figure out how to cram Anderson,
Edmonds, Salmon and Darin Erstad into three outfield spots in
spring training, it was widely speculated that Anderson would be
the one traded or given DH duty. Anderson went to Collins and
asked if his reputation as a merely average defensive player was
the reason; Collins responded that that wasn't the rap about
which Anderson should be concerned. Soon, Angels coaches noticed
Anderson hustling to first and chasing balls in the outfield with
ferocity. When Edmonds went down before the season, Anderson took
over in center. Now he's an untouchable on the roster, and
Edmonds is the one likely to be shipped when he recovers.

Through Sunday, Anderson led American League outfielders in
putouts with 175, and despite an aversion to circus
plays--"Being 6'4", if I dive, all I'm going to do is get hurt,"
he says--he made a diving catch of a line drive by Jorge Posada
to prevent a run from scoring at Yankee Stadium in a 2-0 Anaheim
win in May. Anderson says he has always played hard. It's just
that his smooth style has masked his effort. Well, there's no
masking it any longer.

A-Rod's Return
SO FAR, SO (VERY) GOOD

Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez (below) has a message that
will surely terrify pitchers who saw the 437-foot rocket he
launched at Qualcomm Stadium last Friday night. "I don't feel
like I'm all the way back," says Rodriguez, who returned to the
Seattle lineup on May 14 after nearly six weeks spent recovering
from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. "I don't feel like
my explosion is there."

At week's end, Rodriguez had hit .370 with nine home runs in 21
games since returning to action, and before going hitless
against the Padres on Sunday he had had a 13-game hitting
streak, so it's more than a little scary to imagine his bat
being any more potent. The fast start is especially impressive
considering this was the first serious injury the 23-year-old
Rodriguez had suffered and the longest stretch of games he's
missed in four-plus years in the majors. "He was pretty
bewildered when it happened," says Seattle manager Lou Piniella.
"He's young, strong, virile, probably thought he was invincible.
It bummed him out."

"I never thought I was invincible," says Rodriguez, who had
helped the Mariners to a 13-8 record since his return. They were
15-17 without him. "I just never thought it would happen to me.
To have a knee injury out of nowhere was very frustrating."

Compounding that frustration was Rodriguez's worry about
when--or if--he would get back to full speed and have the
confidence to push himself the way he did before the injury, a
torn meniscus. Some of that anxiety was alleviated by teammates
Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez, both veterans of the operating
room, who assured Rodriguez that he could make a complete
recovery. Fans helped, too. "I got so many letters from doctors
and lawyers and other people out there, people who said they had
had their knees scoped and that I would be back in no time," he
says. "That was very encouraging."

Rodriguez says he feels no pain in the knee now but figures he's
still about a month away from being fully comfortable and
consistent at the plate. Still, a day after hitting that
monstrous home run in San Diego, he looked fine scampering from
first to third on a single to set up the Mariners' first run in
a 3-2 loss to the Padres. "I've been doing well, but
inconsistently," says Rodriguez. "I could be doing much better."

Attendance Woes
BEDEVILED IN TAMPA BAY

Consider the Devil Rays at the end of last week: They had the
major league home run leader (Jose Canseco), a venerable star
chasing his 3,000th hit (Wade Boggs), a Tampa-born slugger
enjoying a resurgent year (Fred McGriff) and, until enduring a
2-8 stretch that included being swept at home by the Marlins over
the weekend, were even playing decent baseball that had them
hovering around .500.

Yet Tampa Bay had experienced a 32% drop-off in attendance this
year--485,902 in its first 25 home dates compared with 714,309
through the same number of games in 1998, when the Devil Rays
joined the American League. Only Tampa Bay's expansion cousins,
the Diamondbacks, had lost more customers in that time, yet
Arizona had still outdrawn the Devil Rays by more than 321,000.

What's wrong? Several things, not the least of which is an
antiseptic, domed ballpark that has all the ambience of a
warehouse. Fans have also been turned off by Tropicana Field's
location in St. Petersburg, which on game nights can be an
hour's drive from Tampa. The Devil Rays estimate that only 12%
to 15% of their ticket buyers make the trek from Tampa, which
has a population of 285,000. That means the team is relying
heavily on the less-populous (236,000) St. Petersburg to fill
seats.

Then there's owner Vincent Naimoli, who has drawn public ire by
reportedly talking in private about moving the Devil Rays to
Tampa--even though they still have 26 years remaining on their
Tropicana Field lease. "We are not going anywhere," he said
publicly in May. Naimoli may also have chased off marketing
wizard Mike Veeck, whom he hired last October after attendance
for Tampa Bay's first season fell about 500,000 short of its
goal of three million. The son of Bill Veeck, the outrageous
former owner of the Indians and White Sox, Mike hadn't had time
to make his mark before abruptly quitting last month. Veeck says
he resigned to spend more time with his seven-year-old daughter,
Rebecca, who is ill, and has refused to criticize Naimoli, and
he agreed to stay on as a consultant to the team.

Naimoli has already hinted that, with Tampa Bay's season-ticket
base down to 13,500 from 21,600 in 1998, and projected total
attendance this year of just 1.7 million, he may lose money and
thus be unwilling to go on a free-agent spending spree this
winter. That's not likely to cause crowds to spike anytime soon.

Canning Coaches
WHO SHOULD TAKE THE FALL?

All the ingredients for a managerial change were stewing on the
Mets last week: an eight-game losing streak, a team rich in
payroll and playoff expectations tumbling below .500, players
sniping about playing time and tabloids calling for blood. Yet
when New York general manager Steve Phillips wielded the ax last
Saturday, he spared skipper Bobby Valentine and instead chopped
away at Valentine's staff, relieving pitching coach Bob Apodaca,
hitting coach Tom Robson and bullpen coach Randy Niemann of
their duties. "I truly hope that Bobby gets this thing going in
the right direction," Phillips said in announcing the firings.
"My thought is this is giving him a better opportunity to be
successful."

General managers have been increasingly generous with such
opportunities recently. Time was, managers were fired because
teams couldn't get rid of all their players; lately, team execs
have been sparing high-priced skippers with guaranteed contracts
and hitting players closer to home by axing coaches, with whom
players have far more daily contact than they do with managers.

Four skippers--the Rockies' Don Baylor, the Tigers' Buddy Bell,
the Blue Jays' Tim Johnson and the Dodgers' Bill Russell--have
been fired since the start of the 1998 season. By contrast, 22
teams replaced at least one coach between the start of last year
and Opening Day '99, including L.A., which then bounced new
pitching coach Charlie Hough on May 26. "The unfortunate thing
is, we haven't been pitching well and he has to take the fall for
us," said Dodgers closer Jeff Shaw. "I'm sad to see him go."

In the Mets' case, the coaching staff may have also been a pawn
in front-office politics. Because Valentine reportedly has the
backing of co-owner Fred Wilpon, Phillips had to find another way
to make it clear that he was unhappy with the Mets' performance.
"The manager doesn't choose his staff in most organizations,"
said Phillips, who promoted three men from within to fill the
vacant slots. "The manager takes what he is given and tries to
make the most of it. That's what Bobby is doing." We'll see.

For complete scores and stats, plus more from Tom Verducci and
Jeff Pearlman, go to www.cnnsi.com.

COLOR PHOTO: JEFF A. TAYLOR/REUTERS Benched last year for dogging it, Anderson has played--and played hard--in every '99 game.COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACECOLOR PHOTO: SPORTS IMAGERY Tampa Bay's big drop-off in attendance is attributable in part to its drab stadium.

in the BOX

June 4, 1999
Cubs 5, Indians 4

"Let's play two!" was once the Wrigley Field mantra; this season
it's "Let's turn two!" The stage for the Cubs' ninth-inning
rally off Indians closer Mike Jackson last Friday was set early
in the game, when the Cubs' infield snuffed Tribe rallies with
double plays in the second and fourth innings. Through Sunday
the Cubs had turned 56 DPs, seventh-best in the National League.
In 1998 they had a league-worst 107 for the season.

Continuity at shortstop has been the main reason for the
improvement. Last season three players--Manny Alexander, Jeff
Blauser and Jose Hernandez--played at least 40 games at short.
Hernandez, who started one of the DPs against the Indians, has
been a full-time starter this year and has finally created some
chemistry with second baseman Mickey Morandini.

the HOT corner

Add the Royals' Jeff Montgomery to the list of established
closers who are struggling. Montgomery, who had a 6.35 ERA and
had blown three of his seven save chances through Sunday, was
demoted last week by manager Tony Muser, who says Kansas City
will go to a closer by committee. "I came back here to close,"
said Montgomery, who during the off-season re-signed with K.C.
as a free agent. "I had a chance to go other places as a setup
guy for a heck of a lot more money. Tony has never been on a
major league mound and doesn't know how it feels not to be
sharp. But he's the manager, and we'll do what he says." ...

Righthander Mark Portugal, 36, returned to the Red Sox last
weekend after a four-day absence. After being roughed up for six
runs in three innings by the Tigers on Memorial Day--leaving him
3-3 with a 5.33 ERA--Portugal, who is divorced, cleaned out his
locker, returned home to Barrington, R.I., and contemplated
retiring to spend more time with his three children. "It was
like I was a Saturday afternoon father," Portugal told The
Boston Globe, adding that his family concerns had affected his
recent performance....

It's getting hard to see the A's on the cap of Oakland
rightfielder Matt Stairs, a wrestling and hockey nut. On the
back Stairs is wearing the initials of Owen Hart, the WWF
wrestler killed in a ring accident on May 23, whom Stairs had
met. He also pays tribute to the recently retired Wayne Gretzky
with a 99....

Barry Bonds is recovering from April 20 elbow surgery more
quickly than expected and could return to the Giants' lineup
sooner than the original target date of July 1. Bonds and
assistant trainer Stan Conte said last week that Bonds could
play now if he were needed in a playoff series....

Two days after Angels second baseman Randy Velarde publicly
ripped manager Terry Collins for lifting Velarde's green light
to steal bases when Mo Vaughn is at the plate, a cadre of
unnamed Anaheim players met with general manager Bill Bavasi to
express concern over news that the superintense manager was
about to receive a contract extension. Some among the Angels,
presumably prospective free agents, reportedly told Bavasi that
they're so upset with the job Collins has done that they'd
consider leaving after the season if Collins stays....

Indy 500 winner Kenny Brack, a Swede, knew nothing about
baseball before coming to Shea Stadium on June 1 to throw out
the first ball at the Mets-Reds game. Awed by a routine Pokey
Reese fly ball during batting practice, Brack asked, "Do they
ever hit one over the blue wall?"...

Darrin Fletcher's blurred vision seems to have cleared. The Blue
Jays catcher, who was hit in the right eye by a ball during BP
on May 1, homered twice in his return to action on June 2 and
hit .368 in his first five games.