Anyone Having Fun Yet?
Another major leaguer walked away from baseball last week because his heart wasn't in the game. This time it was pitcher Salomon Torres, 22, who left the Giants on June 19, saying he had "lost interest" in baseball and would not pitch the rest of the season. He returned four days later and started last Saturday.
What do you make of this trend? On May 13 Padre second baseman Bip Roberts took himself out of a game and left the park because a hitting slump had so thoroughly frustrated and confused him. "He was ready to crack," one San Diego player said of Roberts, who stayed away for two more days. On May 31 the Astros released struggling closer Mitch Williams, who said he had lost his desire to pitch, and, though other teams were interested in signing him, he declared he wasn't going to play again this year. On June 13 the Cubs' perennial All-Star second baseman, Ryne Sandberg, retired because, he said, he was not playing up to his usual high standards and with the same enthusiasm he once had. On June 19 Ranger pitcher Bruce Hurst retired for reasons similar to Sandberg's.
Meanwhile Red Sox reliever Jeff Russell repeatedly has said that he dislikes playing baseball and that he's looking forward to the end of this season, when his contract is up. Pitcher Jose Rijo of the Reds says he wanted to quit twice in recent years, but his pride prevented him from doing so. Angel DH Chili Davis says that if there's a strike this summer, he will consider not coming back after it's over.
Even fun-loving outfielder Kevin Mitchell of the Reds says, "The game isn't like it used to be. When I was a rookie with the Mets in 1986, we had fun. No one wanted to be anywhere else. It was like being a kid at Disneyland. But now it's just a business. There are a lot of things going on in this game that can drive you to your grave. But we all want to go out a hero, not a zero."
Torres felt like a zero after last season, when as a rookie he was put under extraordinary pressure during the Giants' down-to-the-wire National League West race with the Braves. He won his first two major league starts alter being called up from Triple A Phoenix on Aug. 24 but then lost live of his next six, including the season finale—12-1 to the Dodgers—that enabled Atlanta to win the division. Over-whelmed by the pressure of the race and the feeling that he had let down his new teammates, Torres wanted to quit the game after the season, but the San Francisco management talked him out of it.
When he continued to struggle this season—he was 2-6 with a 4.86 ERA after being shelled by the Cubs on June 19—Torres wrote a note to manager Dusty Baker saying he would not accompany the team on its trip to Cincinnati the next day.
A bright young man from the Dominican Republic, Torres talked during his hiatus about going to college if he didn't return to the club. A Jehovah's Witness, he said the baseball lifestyle made it difficult for him to make peace with his religion. He was the only Latin-born player on the Giants, and even though he is fluent in English, he was lonely and felt as if he had no one to reach out to. "Baseball players are completely into the game," he said. "I don't want to make baseball my life." While away from the Giants, Torres spoke with Rijo, a fellow Dominican, and decided that he didn't want to let anyone down by quitting.
Because he has the best young arm in the organization, Torres was welcomed back by the San Francisco front office. But some of the Giant players resented his actions even after he had apologized to the team last Friday. Torres started the next day against the Rockies at Mile High Stadium, pitched seven innings, gave up five runs and took the loss in a 6-4 defeat. To further complicate his week, Torres threw a pitch that hit Colorado third baseman Charlie Hayes in the face, breaking his cheekbone.
There's no guarantee that Torres won't walk away again—perhaps for good—if he doesn't make a quick turnaround on the mound. It took just such an about-face, in fact, for another troubled player, Roberts, to escape the doldrums. He was hitting .217 when he left the Padres seven weeks ago, but after his short respite he put together a 23-game hitting streak, and by week's end his average had rocketed to .308. "I've been playing baseball since I was four, and here I am 30 years old, and it crossed my mind, Is the game passing me by?" Roberts says of his mindset in mid-May. "It seems idiotic now, but it was very real then. I realized it's not the game, it's me. I realized I wasn't ready to give it up. If I had been, I would have never been able to come back the way I have."