Other noteworthy players who routinely go home in October include Rafael Palmeiro, 31, a 10-year veteran with the Cubs, the Rangers and now the Baltimore Orioles, who has more hits in this decade than anyone in the American League except Kirby Puckett and Paul Molitor; Texas outfielder Mickey Tettleton, 35, who was released by Oakland and signed by Baltimore in 1988, a year when the Athletics won the American League pennant and the Orioles lost 107 games; and Randy Johnson, 32, a three-time strikeout champion who is quickly becoming an ancient Mariner. Johnson says, "Until a player gets into the playoffs and the World Series, his career isn't fulfilled."
Before this year Langston, who toiled in the Mariner and the Montreal Expo organizations before joining the Angels as a free agent on Dec. 1, 1989, had never played for a team that finished better than fourth. His only whiff of a pennant race came in 1989, when Montreal held first place as late as Aug. 6 before collapsing to an 81-81 finish. "The postseason is what it's all about," says Langston, who has the best winning percentage of his career (.750, with a 15-5 record at week's end) despite a 4.55 ERA. "Individual statistics are meaningless. I've had better years statistically—far and away better. For your team to succeed, that's the ultimate.
"Dave Henderson used to live next to me in Seattle," Langston says of the former major league outfielder, who went to four World Series with the Boston Red Sox and the A's between 1986 and '90. "Every year he'd come home and say, 'Man, I'm tired from the postseason.' And I'd go, 'Just once I'd like to feel that kind of tired, pal.' "
No player seems to have been more cruelly left out of the postseason than Mattingly who has been denied what once was Yankee birthright to October play. He joined New York in 1982, the year after it last won the American League pennant. Ever though the Yankees averaged 91 wins from 1983 to '87, Mattingly's career has spanned the franchise's longest titleless run since New York won its first pennant in 1921 Mattingly has shattered Horace Clarke'; record for most games by a Yankee without reaching the postseason (the Hoss endured 1,230) and is the only American League MVP never to get there. (There are four such National League MVPs: Banks, Jeff Bagwell, Hank Sauer and Joe Torre.) And here's the unkindest cut of all for Mattingly: When the strike halted the 1994 season, the Yankees had the league's best record.
"It would be kind of a bummer for me if I don't get in," says Mattingly, who was hitting a soft .278 at week's end. "I don't dwell on it, but I know it's there. It's a negative footnote. It's a part of me."
Of all those suffering from this infection—call it postseason drip—Morgan stands out as a carrier. He is a former teammate of Mattingly's (1982 Yankees) and Langston's (1985 to '87 Mariners). In his one season in Baltimore ('88), the Orioles lost their first 21 games; one of his teammates there was Tettleton. He twice pitched for teams the year after they won a pennant ('82 Yankees and '89 Dodgers). He has played for two teams that set franchise records for losses in their current location ('79 As and '88 Orioles).
"Good things have happened to me in this game," says Morgan, who was 6-7 with a 3.57 ERA at week's end. "If I never pitch in the postseason, I can be proud to have been an All-Star, won 100 games, thrown 2,000 innings, struck out 1,000 batters and given 110 percent every fifth day. One of my good friends in this game, Tim Crews, died in a boat accident. That puts it in perspective."
The closest Morgan came to the postseason was the tight 1991 pennant race between the Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He recalls pitching for L.A. in Atlanta in mid-September when the crowd was so loud he could not hear the baseball thwack against the catcher's mitt. "I was thinking, Man, I must not have anything today," says Morgan, who won the game 5-2. "It was a heck of an experience. I'll always remember that."
The Dodgers trailed the Braves by one game with two to play that season, when they lost to the San Francisco Giants 4-0. The hard-luck loser? Morgan.
The fifth games of the best-of-five divisional playoffs are scheduled for Oct. 8, should the series go that far. Mattingly's Yankees might even be playing Langston's Angels in one of them. Morgan will turn 36 that day, another birthday passing like so many of the others. His season over. Gone fishing.