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Inside Baseball

Aug. 21, 2000
Aug. 21, 2000

Table of Contents
Aug. 21, 2000

Inside Baseball

Will to Win
Hot-hitting Oriole-turned-Cardinal Will Clark has helped keep
St. Louis flying while Mark McGwire has been out

This is an article from the Aug. 21, 2000 issue

With a beer in one hand and eye black smeared across his cheeks,
Will Clark roamed the Milwaukee County Stadium visitors'
clubhouse last Saturday afternoon, chirping to teammates, doing a
few interviews and generally glowing in the aftermath of his
12th-inning, bases-loaded walk, which scored the winning run in a
2-1 Cardinals victory over the Brewers. He paused to look up at a
nearby television, on which a recap of the Reds' 3-0 defeat of
the Cubs that afternoon was playing. Jason LaRue, Cincinnati's
young catcher, had been the hero. "Jason Laaahroooo!" Clark said
in his trademark high-pitched cackle. "Who the f--- is Jason
LaRue?"

Despite his lack of knowledge about players in the National
League Central, Clark, who was acquired from the Orioles at the
July 31 trading deadline to bolster the Cardinals' lineup in the
absence of injured slugger Mark McGwire, has made himself at home
in St. Louis. Through Sunday the struggling Cardinals (64-53, but
only 13-17 since the All-Star break) had seen their once-sizable
lead over the Reds reduced to 4 1/2 games, but Clark was on fire,
having hit .400 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in his first 11
games for St. Louis. "What he's been doing, we've needed," says
centerfielder Jim Edmonds, who had batted just .205 with two
homers in August. "It was important to get someone else who could
give us a jolt."

In April the idea of Clark's coming to St. Louis would have
seemed about as likely as Eminem's performing in the Vatican.
Baltimore was a pricey, win-at-any-cost team that considered
itself a contender. The Cardinals, meanwhile, were set at first
base with McGwire. But when McGwire went on the DL on July 13
with patella tendinitis in his right knee, St. Louis general
manager Walt Jocketty turned to the Orioles, who were languishing
in fourth place in the American League East and cleaning house.
Baltimore was more than happy to surrender the 36-year-old Clark,
who's in the second season of a two-year, $11 million contract.
(The O's will pay a portion of his salary.) St. Louis had to give
up only third baseman Jose Leon, a once-promising prospect with
meager defensive ability and a .269 average with Double A
Arkansas.

When Baltimore vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift
told Clark of the deal, Clark started laughing. "Man, I was
excited," he says. "When you go from 12 games out of first all
the way to the pennant race, you're excited. It's a long trip
from the outhouse to the penthouse, and I was happy to take it."

Things had begun to look bad for Clark last season, when he
seemed more an ornery grandpa than a six-time All-Star. Bone
spurs in his left elbow and a fractured left thumb limited him to
77 games. He was showing only warning-track power. At the start
of spring training this year, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove began
platooning the lefthanded-hitting Clark with the righthanded Jeff
Conine. Yet Clark played well, batting .301 with nine home runs
and 28 RBIs in 79 games. "I've been getting the attention for how
I've been hitting here," says Clark, the National League Player
of the Week after homering in four straight games for St. Louis,
"but it started before I arrived. I've been seeing the ball very
well."

The Cardinals need that to continue. McGwire has missed 47 games
and is unlikely to return before September. He's no longer
experiencing sharp pain in his knee, but he has yet to perform
any baseball-related rehabilitation tasks--batting practice, light
throwing--since going on the DL. When (or if) he does come back,
it will likely be as a part-time starter and pinch hitter. Clark,
who hasn't played in the outfield since 1985, his first year as a
professional, has been taking fly balls in right. Says St. Louis
manager Tony La Russa, "There's no doubt in my mind Will can
judge a fly ball and hit the cutoff man."

"Look, I know this is Mac's job, that I'm just filling in," says
Clark, "but there's a real chance for me to reach the playoffs.
First base, outfield, catcher--it doesn't matter. Anything it
takes for me to contribute. I just want to win again."

Dave Stewart Returns
Back to the Classroom

In 1998 Dave Stewart was baseball's hottest professor. As a
first-year pitching coach with the Padres, he tutored a
hard-nosed, fearless staff that not only ranked third in the
National League in wins and ERA but also carried San Diego to the
World Series. Yet at the end of that season, the professor left
the classroom. Stewart abandoned coaching to pursue his ultimate
goal--becoming a general manager. He was hired as an assistant to
Toronto G.M. Gord Ash and all but promised that his coaching days
were over.

So it came as something of a surprise that when Ash fired
pitching coach Rick Langford on July 23, he turned to Stewart to
set straight a staff that at that point was 12th in the American
League, with a 5.47 ERA. Ash's chief complaint was the lagging
development of Toronto's three top young pitchers--righthanders
Chris Carpenter, 25, Kelvim Escobar, 24, and Roy Halladay, 23,
who had combined for an 18-24 record with a 6.75 ERA. "I wouldn't
say I wanted this job," says Stewart, who expects to return to
full-time front office duties after the season. "This is an
opportunity to try and help our kids get better. I can pass along
some of my experience as a pitcher and my experience as a coach."

It will not be easy. Manager Jim Fregosi was upset when Langford
got fired. "I don't think it was the right decision," said
Fregosi. "It makes for a difficult transition. Did Rick Langford
do a bad job with David Wells [who was 15-3 with a 3.87 ERA when
Langford got the hook]?"

Both Ash and Stewart felt that Langford wasn't getting through to
his young pitchers. That isn't the case with Stewart, a man known
as much for his intensity as for his four straight 20-win seasons
with the A's from 1987-90. Since Stewart has taken over,
Carpenter has been banished to the bullpen and Halladay has been
demoted to Triple A Syracuse, both for the second time this
season. Next in line may be Escobar, who through Sunday had lost
his last three starts, allowing 16 earned runs in 19 2/3 innings.
"I've taken on a responsibility, and this pitching staff has my
name on it," says Stewart.

Nevertheless, Toronto has continued to struggle (it had an 8-12
record since Stewart put on a uniform), which has Stewart miffed.
"I don't like losing," he says. "I don't like being related to
losing, and I take this real personal."

L.A. Story
Shawn Green's Dodger Blues

When Shawn Green, who grew up in Southern California, was traded
from Toronto to Los Angeles after last season, his homecoming
figured to be triumphant. Green, who hit .309 with 42 home runs
and 123 RBIs last year, grew up a Dodgers fan. He also was
unflappable, a quality that would help him handle the pressures
of his new six-year, $84 million contract--the largest in baseball
in annual average salary for a position player when he signed it
last November. Everything would be perfect.

Or so it seemed. Although Green insists he has no regrets over
the move to L.A., his maiden season with the Dodgers has been
anything but memorable. After starting hot (.309 in April, .367
in May), he has endured one of the worst runs in his six full
seasons in the majors. Through Sunday he had batted just .224
since the All-Star break and .229 for the months of June, July
and August. As the cleanup threat who was supposed to protect No.
3 hitter Gary Sheffield, Green had struck out 88 times,
second-most on the team, while Sheffield, who was being pitched
around by pitchers who no longer feared Green, had walked a
team-high 85 times. Six games out of first place in the National
League West at the All-Star break, the Dodgers were just 4 1/2
games behind the division-leading Giants at week's end, but they
were slipping out of the wild-card race (nine games behind the
Mets). "It's tough to change, being in a new city and a new
environment," said Green, who was hitting .275 with 22 home runs
and 81 RBIs. "I'm jumping, trying to hit home runs. I got in some
bad habits, and it's been hard to get out of them."

Unlike last year, when his smooth swing was a constant from start
to finish, Green has been inconsistent--sometimes fluid, other
times choppy and impatient. In part the difficulty stems from the
change in home ballparks. Toronto's SkyDome is kind to hitters
like Green, a lefthanded batter whose power alley is in right
center. "In Dodger Stadium you have to hit it a little better
than good to get it to go," says Sheffield. "I know the park has
cost him a couple of home runs."

Green, however, is making no excuses. He regularly watches tapes
of his at bats, but video is only helpful up to a point. "I've
put in a lot of extra work," he says, "but I haven't been able to
get my swing to where it needs to be. I'm still looking for
answers."

To aid the search, Green has consulted with Sheffield. "When you
come to the National League from the American League, everything
is different," says Sheffield, who played the first four seasons
of his career with the Brewers in the American League. "Your
numbers aren't going to be as good. Eventually Shawn will get it
going."

D'Amico Arrives
Brewers' Ace of Pace

Brewers righthander Jeff C. D'Amico is imposing at 6'7" and 250
pounds, but looks can be deceiving: He's a junkball pitcher whose
fastball rarely reaches 90 mph. Yet he's quickly proving that he
could be Milwaukee's ace of the future. How's that possible? "The
average major league pitcher has a speed differential between his
fastball and curve of 10 to 12 miles per hour," says Brewers
manager Davey Lopes. "Jeff's is 18. Hitters aren't used to making
such an adjustment."

Thanks to his looping 65-mph curveball, D'Amico has emerged from
mothballs to put up an 8-4 record with a 1.88 ERA through Sunday,
giving moribund Milwaukee a glimmer of hope as it looks ahead to
its move to Miller Park next season.

If he's not yet one of the National League's top starters,
D'Amico is certainly its most surprising. After going 9-7 with a
4.71 ERA with the Brewers in 1997, D'Amico missed all but one
inning of the next two seasons due to a torn labrum in his right
shoulder. He had surgery in January '98, but the operation failed
to correct the injury. In August of that year he had a capsular
shift, the surgery Orel Hershiser had undergone successfully in
'90. "After the first operation, I expected to be back that
year," says D'Amico, 24. "Instead, [the doctors] said my career
could be over. A six-month rehab turned into 18 months."

During that time D'Amico showed up for the Brewers' home games, a
depressing enough exercise for a fan, never mind a former
first-round pick who ached to lend a helping hand. To bolster his
confidence, Milwaukee brought D'Amico back for the next-to-last
game of the 1999 season; he pitched a scoreless ninth inning
against the Reds.

Still, Lopes refused to rush D'Amico this spring and sent him to
Triple A Indianapolis to open the season. Says Brewers pitching
coach Bob Apodaca, "It gave Jeff the time he needed to regain his
strength and confidence." D'Amico was called up in May but was
placed on the DL on June 7 after he again experienced shoulder
pain. Upon returning in July, D'Amico put together a superb
six-game stretch, going 5-0 with a 0.76 ERA and winning the
league's Pitcher of the Month award. Last Friday he allowed two
runs in eight innings of a 6-2 win over the Cardinals. "I've seen
guys have streaks when they were really lucky, with guys diving
for balls and stuff," says Milwaukee reliever Curtis Leskanic,
"but I've never seen anything like this. It's been awesome."

The two years of arm trouble reduced the speed of D'Amico's
fastball from the low 90s to the high 80s. During his recovery,
he worked extensively on control. "People see a guy succeed fast,
and they're skeptical," says Apodaca. "But Jeff is the real
thing. He has poise, he has maturity, he has good stuff, and, at
this point, he must appreciate what it means to be here."

On Deck
Two-way Street

Aug. 25-27: Diamondbacks at Mets
Both have New York pedigrees and arrogant my-way-or-the-highway
tendencies, yet could two managers be in more different
positions than Arizona's Buck Showalter and New York's Bobby
Valentine? After spending much of the past two years on the hot
seat, Valentine appears secure, with the Mets having won 16 of
19 through Sunday to run their record to 69-47 and open a 5
1/2-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the National League Wild
Card race. Showalter, who last year was extolled for guiding
Arizona, a second-year expansion team, to a division title, is
catching heat as the Diamondbacks struggle and players,
management and media moan about Showalter's rigidity and
attention to inane details. Last week Arizona managing general
partner Jerry Colangelo was conspicuously noncommittal when
asked about Showalter's future.

For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis from
Tom Verducci, go to www.cnnsi.com.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVERCOLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE Green, hitting .275 through Sunday, has yet to find his stroke in L.A.COLOR PHOTO: GREEN/MLB PHOTOS No fireballer, D'Amico has a 1.88 ERA thanks to his ability to change speeds.

the Hot corner

Milwaukee outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, whose four-year, $14.5
million contract ends after the 2001 season, stands to improve
upon the $3.625 million average annual salary he now earns but
has made it clear that he would take less than market rate to
play for his hometown team, the Padres....

When Expos owner Jeffrey Loria was asked about the future of
popular manager Felipe Alou, he refused to give a vote of
confidence. "It would be foolish not to let a full season go by
before assessing anything," Loria said. "At the end of the
season, we will look at everything to do with the team [which
was 51-62 through Sunday]. I will sit down with Jim [Beattie,
the Montreal general manager], and we will examine the club." ...

With the Red Sox languishing near the bottom of the American
League in almost every offensive category, Boston batters have
taken to working more with first base/baserunning coach Tommy
Harper and less with hitting coach Jim Rice. Given Rice's
stature as a Red Sox icon, however, his job seems safe....

From the what-does-this-mean-to-me file: After Chipper Jones
signed a six-year, $90 million contract extension with the
Braves, Cubs rightfielder Sammy Sosa told the Chicago Sun-Times,
"My value is going to go way up, seeing the way they took care
of Chipper." ...

After the Tigers' Hal Morris broke his left index finger during
batting practice last week, he joined three other Detroit first
basemen (Tony Clark, Robert Fick and Gregg Jefferies) on the DL.
"We might have to put a live chicken and some incense out there
to ward off whatever's causing this," said Clark.

in the BOX

August 11, 2000
Reds 6, Cubs 4

If Cincinnati ends up edging St. Louis by one game in the
National League Central, the Cardinals won't have just the Reds'
big boppers--Ken Griffey Jr., Dante Bichette and Barry Larkin--to
blame. They'll also look back on a bum knee and an unfortunate
afternoon of Rain.

Chicago starter Kevin Tapani cruised through seven innings
against Cincinnati on Aug. 11, allowing no runs on four hits
while striking out five. After Alex Ochoa and Chris Stynes
singled off Tapani to open the eighth, however, Cubs manager Don
Baylor, concerned about Tapani's strained right knee, removed him
with a 4-0 lead. In came righthanded reliever Steve Rain, who
gave up a three-run homer to Griffey, a single to Sean Casey and
back-to-back homers to Dmitri Young and Pokey Reese. "I don't
think the splitter was sharp today," said a dejected Rain, who
was soaked for four runs on four hits. "Right now I don't want to
face the guys. I want to get out of here."