One of the season's biggest disappointments has been the performance of the Giants, and the reason for San Francisco's sluggish start is obvious: a slumbering offense that was last in the National League in hitting (.244) and 10th in scoring at week's end. San Francisco, which led the league in batting (.276) and was second in runs last year, had scored 59 fewer times than the Dodgers this season, which explained L.A.'s three-game lead in the National League West. "We know we're going to start hitting," says Giant closer Rod Beck, "but it's like, Come on, let's do it!"
Clearly the Giants miss first baseman Will Clark, the free agent who signed with the Rangers last November. Through Sunday he was hitting .371 with 42 RBIs for Texas, compared with the .254 and 18 RBIs provided by Todd Benzinger, his replacement in San Francisco.
But the player the Giants miss most is second baseman Robby Thompson, who was hitting .202 with a homer and five RBIs in 104 at bats before going on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder on May 12. Manager Dusty Baker says Thompson is indispensable to San Francisco, "whether he's hitting .320 or .120," because of his leadership and desire.
Thompson was the best second baseman in the league last year, hitting .312 with 19 homers and 65 RBIs—a season for which he was rewarded with a three-year, $12 million contract. However, there is concern among the Giants' management as to whether Thompson will ever regain that form, given what happened to him late last season: On Sept. 24 he suffered a broken left cheekbone when hit in the face by a pitch from the Padres' Trevor Hoffman. Then, in spring training, he was hit on the top part of the helmet by the Rockies' Mike Harkey. Thompson has admitted that he thinks about the beanings when he's at the plate.
Former Red Sox second baseman Doug Griffin was never the same after being hit in the head by a Nolan Ryan pitch in 1974, nor was former Oriole centerfielder Paul Blair after he was hit in the face by a Ken Tatum pitch in '70. But Thompson is a gritty competitor who will stop at nothing in his bid to overcome both the beanings and his shoulder injury, which could keep him sidelined for another two to six weeks.
The Braves needed a righthanded hitter, and the Reds needed a lefthanded hitter, so they swapped centerfielders on Sunday: Deion Sanders went to Cincinnati for Roberto Kelly and Class A pitcher Roger Etheridge. But wait. Sanders said it was not that simple. He said his clashes with Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz played a role in the deal.
"You know he's getting back at me. There's no way else to explain it," said Sanders, who was pulled out of chapel to be informed of the deal. He told Brave manager Bobby Cox, "I love you to death," and then looked at Schuerholz and walked away. Schuerholz vehemently denied Sanders's accusation.
During the 1992 World Series, Sanders promised the Braves that football wouldn't interfere with baseball, but he played a Sunday-afternoon game for the Falcons and then arrived late at the ballpark before the Series game that night and was fined heavily. Last season Sanders was placed on the disqualified list from April 29 to May 21 for leaving the team—which he did partly because of the death of his father but mostly because he was moping about his lack of playing time. Sanders returned only after Schuerholz gave him a contract extension worth $11 million. This year Sanders was the only player to miss the Braves' two mandatory off-field functions: photo day and a luncheon with Atlanta businessmen.