A slightly lengthier summation was offered by Houston Astro starter Pete Harnisch after he allowed six runs in two thirds of an inning last Thursday, against the Florida Marlins: "I want to throw up."
"From an organizational standpoint, we're just not pumping out as many arms as we used to," says Gillick. Yet he and the rest of the general managers interviewed for this story were at a loss to explain why teams suddenly are unable to develop pitchers at the same rate they are developing position players.
Gillick's team was tagged with three ugly losses in a four-day span last week. It began on Tuesday in Oakland with an 8-4 loss in which Toronto pitchers walked 12. The Blue Jays walked a dirty dozen the next night too and fell 8-7. On Friday, in Anaheim, Toronto took a 13-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth and succumbed to the California Angels 14-13 in 10 innings. And all that happened to one of the better teams in baseball, a club seeking a third straight world championship.
Major league pitching staffs, aside from that of the Atlanta Braves, are stocked with too many weak-armed nibblers, scattershot rookies and vagabond veterans who have been to more places than Charles Kuralt. Witness the three relievers that Pirate manager Jim Leyland dragged out of his bullpen in one game last week: First he summoned Ravelo Manzanillo, 30, who had been released by four organizations and, in the previous six years, had played in leagues in the U.S., Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Taiwan and—under an assumed name—Central Park; then Leyland turned to Mark Dewey, 29, who once was released by the San Francisco Giants and who last year briefly retired after the Mets sent him to the minors; and finally Leyland brought in Jeff Ballard, 30, who is pitching for his fourth organization in four years. Nevertheless the Pirates won 4-2.
"Everyone in baseball is turning over every rock they can to find pitching," says Rocky general manager Bob Gebhard. "It's tough."
"What's so tough about it," says Philadelphia Phillie general manager Lee Thomas, "is there isn't any pitching out there. This isn't going to get any better."
So desperate is the search that the Cubs recently traded an every-day shortstop, Jose Vizcaino, to the Mets for a pitcher with a 5-35 career record. Anthony Young's winning percentage promptly dropped to .122 last Friday when his first start ended in the second inning, after he yielded eight runs in what would be a 19-5 loss to the Braves.
Talk about taxing. Eleven pitchers who appeared in games on April 15 finished the day with ERAs that were worse than 10.40. By week's end the league averages were 5.06 in the American and 4.29 in the National. "It's O.K. to have a four-plus ERA these days," says Colorado manager Don Baylor. "It's like it's accepted."
This season is not an anomaly but rather part of a continuum of an era that increasingly is being dominated by hitters, as showcased last year when two clubs with ordinary pitching, the Blue Jays and the Phils, not only reached the World Series but played a 15-14 game that took more than four hours. "That was the most difficult series to work as an umpire," Phillips says. "There wasn't any pitching."
Moreover virtually every significant change in the game over the past three decades has helped the offense: the lowering of the pitching mound by five inches in 1969, the arrival of the designated hitter in 73, the proliferation of artificial turf and an ever-shrinking strike zone. Even the new wave of ballparks are hitter-friendly: Moving fans closer to the action reduces the number of foul balls in play, and retro styling revisits an era of smaller ballparks and shorter fences. "The evolution of the game," Minnesota Twin DH Dave Win-field calls it. "People like action. This generation is addicted to action."