One year later people are finally looking, and some of those first impressions are changing. At week's end shortstop Mike Caruso, 21, who was playing in Class A for the Giants a year ago, led the White Sox in hitting with a .311 average. Righthander Keith Foulke, 25, who was 1-5 with an 8.26 ERA with the Giants before the trade, was tops on the Chicago staff with 43 appearances and had a 4.21 ERA. Righthander Bobby Howry, 24, hadn't allowed a run in his last 12⅓ innings and had been so impressive that the organization was thinking of trading relievers Matt Karchner and Bill Simas and making Howry a closer in the near future. Righthander Lorenzo Barcelo, 20, was in the Arizona rookie league and throwing in the 90s again after having bone chips removed from his elbow in April. Lefthander Ken Vining, 23, was having a solid year in Double A (7-8, 4.22 ERA in 21 starts) and should merit roster protection after the season. That would leave 23-year-old outfielder Brian Manning (.303 in 53 games in Class A after being demoted from Double A in May) as the only one of the six former Giants not on the White Sox' 40-man roster this winter.
Meanwhile, Alvarez and Hernandez fled the Giants as free agents during the off-season, so all San Francisco has to show for the trade is the 42-year-old Darwin and four draft picks. Of course, the Giants also won the '97 National League West, and that may be a big reason they are winning the battle with the A's for Bay Area fan support.
All of which raises a question about the relative merits of short-term versus long-term success. Reinsdorf and general manager Ron Schueler knew they couldn't re-sign Alvarez or Hernandez, didn't feel their club was good enough to advance in the playoffs and decided to acquire some building blocks for the future. "We looked at the risk/reward factor for us, felt it was time to get younger, and we're very happy with the progress of those players," Schueler says. "But you don't get that many chances [for a title] in this business, so I take my hat off to Brian Sabean."
Sabean, who was groomed in the Yankees organization, believes the chance to win a pennant today is worth any reasonable risk for tomorrow. "The only way you get to the future is to worry about now," says Sabean, who made two more trades last week. With his club starting the second half by losing 11 of 13 to fall 3½ games behind the Cubs in the wild-card race, Sabean acquired Joe Carter from the Orioles and dealt valuable middle reliever Steve Reed and promising outfield prospect Jacob Cruz to the Indians for pitchers Jose Mesa and Alvin Morman, and 35-year-old shortstop Shawon Dunston.
"Some G.M.'s tend to be overly cautious and are afraid of the unknown," Sabean said last week. "I don't regret the fact Caruso is doing well with the White Sox. We got what we wanted [a division title] out of that deal. If you take care of the present, the future will take care of itself."
Wakefield's Flighty Pitch
The Knuckler's Back on Track
If you were asked to name the winningest pitchers in baseball over the past year, you'd probably come up with a list that included Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens. It would probably be a while before Tim Wakefield's name was mentioned. But since the '97 All-Star break, the Red Sox righthander has inconspicuously put together a 20-11 record and a 4.01 ERA. It's an unlikely run for this knuckle-ball pitcher whose career path has been a lot like his favorite pitch—highly unpredictable.
He started out as an infielder drafted by the Pirates in 1988, but when he failed to hit much more than his weight, he made the transition to knuckleball pitcher. Three years later, in July '92, Wakefield joined the Pittsburgh staff and confounded hitters, pitching his way to an 8-1 record and a 2.15 ERA before winning two games in the National League Championship Series. The following July he was struggling so badly he was demoted to the minors, where he spent much of the rest of '93 and all of '94. He was released by Pittsburgh in April '95 and signed by the Red Sox, for whom he won 10 straight starts and finished 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA. But his ERA ballooned to 5.14 in '96, and he didn't regain consistent command of his knuckler until the second half of last year.
Wakefield acknowledges that since he arrived in Boston, he has at various times been the best and worst pitcher on the staff. "It was like a huge roller-coaster ride that was making me sick to my stomach," Wakefield says. "Finally, I started looking at the history of knuckleballers and realized that they don't often have ERAs under 3.00. I've learned not to worry so much about being perfect."
Wakefield has gained better perspective on his career by speaking to his "fraternity brothers"—fellow knuckleballers like Tom Candiotti, Charlie Hough, Steve Sparks, Dennis Springer and his primary counselor, Phil Niekro. It was in 1992, when Niekro was summoned to Atlanta to throw batting practice to the Braves in preparation for a playoff game against the Pirates, that the Hall of Famer first saw Wakefield pitch in person. Niekro recalls marveling at Wakefield's skill with the knuckleball after just a few years of throwing it. (The pitch is used primarily by older guys because it takes years to master.) When the struggling Wakefield later signed with Boston, Niekro was hired by the Red Sox to be his tutor.