Like all stadiums, Seattle's new Safeco Field has its bright
spots--and that's the problem
This is an article from the Aug. 23, 1999 issue
It didn't take Mariners lead-off man Brian L. Hunter long to
figure out that Safeco Field, Seattle's new dream stadium, is
less than 100% dreamy. In his second game there, a 1:05 start
against the Orioles on July 31, Hunter stepped into the batter's
box, dug in, took a few practice hacks and saw--nothing. "I was
like, Uh-oh," says Hunter. "When the sun is really strong, it
reflects off the wall in centerfield into your eyes. It's rough."
Although Safeco has won rave reviews for its beauty and fan
amenities, both vast improvements over the Kingdome, some
players are stewing over details of its construction. The wall
behind home plate is only two feet high, and on hot days, with
the stands full of white T-shirts in the stands, it's difficult
for infielders to see ground balls. In addition the ballpark is
oriented in such a way that during early-afternoon games the
centerfielder and rightfielder are often faced with an hour of
direct sun. But the killer, players agree, is the batter's eye,
the 35-foot-high, 90-foot-wide green wall in centerfield that
serves as a backdrop for hitters. According to John Palmer, the
Mariners' vice president of ballpark development, a smooth
finish was applied to the wall, instead of one with texture. "It
was an error," he says. "Soon we're going to put in an aggregate
that gives the paint texture and takes away any reflection."
Other recently opened parks have been similarly flawed. Two
seasons ago, when the Braves opened Turner Field, players
complained that the stadium lights shone into their eyes. The
angle of the lights was adjusted. At Coors Field a gap between
the stands and the scoreboard on the third base side allows
sunlight through that on occasion has blinded first basemen.
"When so much money goes into a stadium," says Palmer, "you want
it to be perfect." Next season the Astros, Brewers, Giants and
Tigers are scheduled to debut new stadiums. All four clubs are
sweating the details.
--Houston: Because the track that will hold Enron Field's
retractable roof is situated behind the outfield wall, the power
alley in left center is only 362 feet. "It was a problem," says
Earl Santee, senior vice president of HOK Sport, the Astros'
design firm, "because we want hitting a home run to be a little
more difficult [than that]." Solution? The designers added a
green monster--a 21-foot-high wall in leftfield. Says Santee,
"Now it's not so easy."
--Milwaukee: Bryan Trubey, the head designer for Miller Park,
says his stadium's Wrigleyesque, greenery-covered 40-by-80-foot
batter's eye will be glare-free. "It's great because it's
something organic, and it's something that won't cause a
problem," he says.
--San Francisco: Because Pacific Bell Park was to be built on a
small 13-acre lot right next to the bay, the Giants had little
flexibility. Hence, the short 307-foot rightfield line is offset
by a 24-foot-high rightfield wall and a 420-foot power alley in
right center. The Giants also hired an aeronautical engineer
from UC Davis to study wind patterns off the bay. In arctic 3Com
Park, the study revealed, there were 44 spots in the stands
deemed to be uncomfortable because of wind gusts. At PacBell
that figure should drop to four. "We designed this park to block
the wind," says Giants executive vice president Larry Baer. "The
original design had better views of the Bay Bridge, but we
turned it 45 degrees. After all, people have to [watch] games
--Detroit: Unlike at bare-bones Tiger Stadium, at Comerica Park
there will be two levels of private suites. Instead of using
special glass to avoid a reflective glare, Jeff Spear, the
senior project designer for Comerica, says his company installed
the suites far enough under overhanging bleachers so that rays
won't reach the windows. The dugouts were also elevated, so
that--again, unlike in Tiger Stadium--players can actually see
the action while seated. "Somehow," says Spear, "we thought that
could be important."
Whither Tim Johnson?
NO MEXICAN HOLIDAY
The manager of the Diablos Rojos del Mexico is sitting in his
Mexico City hotel room. The one with the cement walls. The one
with the water he never, ever drinks. The one 2,000 miles from
Toronto. It's an early-summer morning, four hours before he must
head to the ballpark he hates and manage a team he never thought
he'd be managing. Sometimes, Tim Johnson admits, his gut tells
him to go home to Kansas--to get as far from the Mexican League
as possible. "What am I doing here?" he asks, rhetorically.
"Honestly, I'm not sure."
Johnson's career began to unravel last year when, near the end
of a season in which he guided the Blue Jays to a surprising 88
wins as a rookie skipper, Johnson was exposed as having
fabricated his accounts of serving with the Marines in Vietnam.
(In fact, during his time in the Corps, he never got closer to
combat than training troops in Southern California.) The
revelation created a media firestorm, and during spring training
this year, with the heat still on and Johnson's relationship
with his players and coaches deteriorating, Toronto general
manager Gord Ash dismissed Johnson. "Tim is a good person and a
good manager," says Ash, "but this was an issue of how credible
he was, and it wasn't going away."
Instead Johnson went away, all the way to Mexico City. Last week
the Red Devils, who were 74-43 during the regular season,
advanced to the second round of the league playoffs. His
players, says Johnson, are baseball nomads--mostly Double
A-level talent--none of whom speak English; he speaks Spanish
pretty well. "You can't have an ego and be in my situation, not
when you go from the luxury of SkyDome to here, " says Johnson,
who lives at a local hotel, while his wife, Patty, lives in
their new house in Clay Center, Kans. "We take 18-hour bus
rides, and the toilet clogs and the ride becomes three hours
longer so people can get out and piss."
Ask him how it came to this, and Johnson is seemingly stumped.
He won't discuss the lies anymore--"It's old news," he says--but
clearly he has no love for members of the media who pursued the
story. "People started taking real hurtful cheap shots to get
laughs," he says.
When the Red Devils contacted Johnson after his firing, he
didn't jump at the opportunity. He had piloted Hermosillo of the
Mexican Winter League from 1989 to '92, and he was well aware of
the conditions. Deportivo Del Seguro Social Stadium is in such a
poor section of Mexico City that night games begin at 6:30 so
fans can return home before dark. Johnson never wears jewelry in
public. The streets, he says, "can be absolutely frightening."
Johnson didn't take another big league job simply because nobody
offered him one. "You hope Tim gets another chance," says Ash,
"but who knows."
"I accepted this job, in part, because I thought I could get
away from everything that happened," Johnson says. "I'm a
baseball person--it's been my life for 32 years. I've always
held the belief that as a manager, the bottom line is wins and
losses. Does one mistake mean I should never get another
Pee Wee Reese, 1918-1999
First things first: Harold Henry (Pee Wee) Reese, who died last
Saturday at 81 after a long battle with lung cancer, was a
superb player. That fact was sometimes obscured by the acclaim
poured on his Brooklyn Dodgers teammates, including Jackie
Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo,
Don Newcombe, Preacher Roe, Carl Erskine and others. But Reese,
the Dodgers' shortstop from 1940 through '56 (except for three
years he spent in the Navy during World War II), was captain of
those stellar Brooklyn teams and very much the leader.
At Ebbets Field his locker stood in the center of the small,
crowded clubhouse, along with an old wooden rocking chair
someone had put there as a nod to Reese's leadership. The 5'10",
160-pound Reese was an excellent fielder--so good that in 1948,
after the Dodgers acquired shortstop Billy Cox, a brilliant
glove man, they made him a third baseman--and a capable hitter.
His offensive statistics are sometimes dismissed as ordinary,
but from '46 through '56, a span during which Brooklyn won six
pennants, Reese averaged 40 extra-base hits a year, 97 runs and
65 RBIs. Eight times in his career he finished among the top 10
in the National League MVP vote.
Still, Reese is best remembered for the role he played in
helping Jackie Robinson break baseball's color barrier during
the 1947 season. In spring training, when Robinson was still in
Brooklyn's minor league system, Reese was asked to sign a
petition drawn up by Dodgers outfielder Dixie Walker stating
that the undersigned would not play for Brooklyn if Robinson was
brought up. Reese refused to sign, the rebellion was quashed,
and Robinson was promoted. During the season Robinson took
terrible verbal abuse from rival fans and ballplayers, and was
even shunned by some of his teammates. Reese, a white
Southerner, played cards with Robinson and before large crowds
displayed friendship toward him on the field. On one famous
occasion he put an arm around Robinson's shoulders. "There were
times when I went over to talk to him on the field," Reese told
Roger Kahn, "thinking that people would see this and figure we
were friends and this might help Jack." Robinson never forgot
In sports, to say someone has class is in many ways the highest
compliment. Pee Wee Reese was the epitome of class. --Robert
Padre Catching Up
THE NEXT PUDGE?
During an Aug. 2 game in St. Louis, Padres rookie catcher Ben
Davis bounced two throws past second base and into centerfield.
The next day, he launched another ball into the outfield. The
following afternoon he got to the park early and worked on his
throwing with manager Bruce Bochy, a former big league catcher.
Through Sunday he had made no more errant throws.
Many in the San Diego organization believe that Davis, 22, can
be a defensive catcher of the caliber of the Rangers' Ivan
(Pudge) Rodriguez. A lanky 6'4", 215 pounds, Davis doesn't have
Rodriguez's snap release, but his arm is so strong that in 46
games through Sunday, he had thrown out 13 of 38 runners.
"As good as he is," says Bochy, "Ben gets out of sync
sometimes." Bochy has started a program designed to mold Davis,
who was hitting .289 with three home runs, into a defensive
force. Davis and Bochy point to two areas that affect Davis's
throwing the most: footwork and release point. Upon releasing
the ball against an attempted steal, Davis often has his feet
too close together for good balance. Bochy says Davis also leans
his body ahead of his arm on throws, hurting his accuracy.
"From Triple A to here, it's night and day," says Davis, who was
called up on June 23. "In the minors it's physically tougher,
because pitchers are all over the place. But mentally, up here
is crazy. There are so many things to worry about. I understand
how a catcher could suddenly forget how to throw. I need to
concentrate, relax and play hard. Pudge is the best. I'm just a
For complete scores and stats, plus Tom Verducci's mailbag, go to
PHIL GARNER, who was fired by the Brewers last week after
seven-plus years and just one victorious season, was not only
the franchise's winningest skipper (563 victories) but also its
losingest (617 losses). With Garner--fourth on the managerial
tenure list--gone, here are the active skippers who have served
the longest with their clubs, with their records through Sunday.
MANAGER, TEAM FIRST GAME RECORD
1. Tom Kelly, Twins Sept. 12, 1986 973-1,042
Like his Twinkies, he isn't going anywhere soon
2. Bobby Cox, Braves June 22, 1990 869-577
Seven division titles make him the most secure skipper
3. Mike Hargrove, Indians July 6, 1991 696-570
Struggles with pitching staff but is headed to fifth straight
4. Felipe Alou, Expos M May 22, 1992 583-565
Turned down Dodgers' off-season overtures to stick with sure
T5. Dusty Baker, Giants April 6, 1993 531-494
Although team has slipped, reputation as game's top mind has
T5. Lou Piniella, Mariners April 6, 1993 518-502
As long as Woody Woodward is general manager, Sweet Lou seems
T7. Bruce Bochy, Padres April 26, 1995 389-359
Remarkable job in 1999 considering heavy losses from '98 World
T7. Johnny Oates, Rangers April 26, 1995 398-350
Gets Texas into the playoffs, where it's a horrid 1-6
T7. Jim Riggleman, Cubs April 26, 1995 358-389
Chicago's dive from 1998 wild-card berth to division cellar
could cost job
T10. Art Howe, A's April 1, 1996 281-322
Leading candidate for American League Manager of the Year
T10. Tony La Russa, Cardinals April 1, 1996 304-301
Has lost the "genius" tag from his A's days, but he'll be
back next season
in the BOX
Aug. 15, 1999
Angels 10, Tigers 2
Sure, the Tigers, who through Sunday had struck out 776 times
(second in the American League to the Blue Jays), are wild
swingers, but that didn't diminish the feat of Angels lefthander
Chuck Finley, who became the first pitcher to strike out four
batters in an inning twice. (He also did it against the Yankees
on May 12.) After Detroit centerfielder Kimera Bartee singled in
the bottom of the first, Finley whiffed Deivi Cruz, Juan
Encarnacion and Dean Palmer, but Palmer took first when the
third strike, a wild pitch, got past catcher Ben Molina. Tony
Clark went down swinging to end the inning.
the HOT corner
Wade Boggs chose on Aug. 8 to make a serious pitch to remain
with the Devil Rays: He spoke out in the press, declaring that
"3,000 hits is not a termination point....
You'll have to rip the shirt off me." Tampa Bay holds an option
for next year at approximately $750,000 and says it will make a
decision in the off-season. The Devil Rays, who played young
third baseman Bobby Smith much less frequently than they would
have so Boggs could reach 3,000 this year, may be ready to let
When Reds first baseman Sean Casey learned that Shane Whiteman,
a 22-year-old fan whom he had befriended, had lost his
stepfather to a heart attack in June and that Whiteman could not
afford a funeral, Casey offered to pick up the tab. Whiteman
initially refused but relented on the condition that others in
the community benefit as well. Thus Casey appeared at a Dayton
memorabilia shop and signed 600 autographs for $10 apiece, the
money going toward funeral costs....
In seven games and 26 at bats against the Rangers this year,
Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado is batting .538 with six
home runs and 12 runs batted in, including 11 for 17 (.647) with
five homers and 10 RBIs in a recent four-game series in Texas.
His 13 career homers at The Ballpark in Arlington are tops among
Braves righthander John Smoltz's ailing elbow has made it too
painful for him to throw a slider from his normal delivery, so
he has come up with a three-quarters curve to keep pressure off
the joint. He unveiled it on Aug. 9 in a 5-3 victory over the
Astros. "It's like facing a different pitcher," says Houston
second baseman Craig Biggio. "You face a guy for however long
with one arm angle, then he changes everything." ...
The Tigers have inquired about a trade for Rangers slugger Juan
Gonzalez, but he says that Comerica Park, opening next season
with a distance of 402 feet from home to left center, would be
too roomy for his liking....
Through Sunday the Mets were 136-101 since the arrival of Mike
Piazza, acquired in a trade with the Marlins on May 22, 1998;
the Dodgers were 117-123 since trading Piazza to Florida seven
Forget about Tony Gwynn's becoming a DH to extend his career and
run up his hit total. "I'm a National League guy," he says. "It
would be weird to make a living DH'ing. That's a lonely life."
Gwynn says hit No. 3,006, which he got on Aug. 10, was important
because it gave him 3,000 without the six hits he has had as a
DH in interleague play.