The Buc Stops Here
Centerfielder Andy Van Slyke's marvelous career with the Pirates wasn't to have ended this way. He was supposed to have his best year in 1994, playing in the All-Star Game before a home crowd in Pittsburgh and proving, at 33, that he was the most valuable player on the Bucs. Then, somehow, financially strapped Pittsburgh would find the money to sign him to a three-year contract extension that would allow him to retire as a Pirate.
Thai's not going to happen. Instead Van Slyke is having perhaps the worst season of his 12-year career, the first four years of which were spent with the Cardinals. Not only did he not make the National League All-Star team, but Van Slyke, who will be a free agent after the season, has also played so poorly that the Pirates probably won't offer him a new contract. Van Slyke could even be traded before the season is over.
After several years as one of the most popular players in Pittsburgh and one of the game's best centerfielders. Van Slyke for no apparent reason was hitting .239 at week's end with just 27 RBIs, and had been missing balls in center-Held that he would normally have rundown. One of the funniest and most accessible players in the game, he was even being criticized by the media.
"When you're hitting, you run the bases better, you play the field better, you put your uniform on quicker, you're in the training room less, your manager talks to you more, your wife likes you more," Van Slyke says. "The question is, Can I hit anymore? I'm very dissatisfied with my play."
There are those around the National League, on the Pirates even, who believe Van Slyke is done as a standout every-day player. Eight years of playing centerfield on artificial turf, crashing into walls, diving for balls and playing with pain has apparently taken its toll on his lean body. But the 6'2", 198-pound Van Slyke, who as recently as two years ago batted .324 with a league-high 45 doubles, says he feels great.
Nevertheless, if Van Slyke were to remain in Pittsburgh, he would have to take a massive pay cut from the $3.55 million he is making this season. As it stands, the Pirates will probably replace Van Slyke with Midre Cummings, 22, who has been impressive (.303 in his first nine games) since being called up from Triple A Buffalo after the All-Star break.
Pittsburgh has already talked with a number of teams about deals involving Van Slyke, who, as a player with 10 years in the majors, including the last five with the same team, can veto any trade. Van Slyke would prefer to stay with the Pirates, but because they appear years away from becoming a contender again, he would consider a trade to a team in a pennant race. Such a change of scenery might be all he needs to rejuvenate his career.
Making a Pitch
Former Phillie lefthander Steve Carlton will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next Sunday, but it might be 1999—the first year that Nolan Ryan is eligible—before another pitcher gets into Coopers-town. We should not have to wait that long, though. Bruce Sutter (300 career saves) and Don Sutton (324 career wins), both of whom fell well short of the requisite 75% of the votes cast for induction in '93, their first year of eligibility, deserve to be in the Hall.