At the time Listach thought Seitzer was kidding. Listach was 25 years old with a sparkling future—Milwaukee's shortstop of the '90s. Nearly seven years later Seitzer's look on the dark side seems all too accurate. "I wouldn't flat out say that having that rookie season hurt my career," says Listach. "But sometimes I'm not so sure." He is 31 now, and last Thursday, after spending the first few weeks of spring training as a nonroster invitee with the Reds, he was released. Listach may have come to the end of his baseball road after playing for seven organizations, having two knee operations and missing out on one World Series.
At Milwaukee's home opener in '93, Listach received a resounding ovation from the County Stadium crowd his first time up, but he suffered hamstring injuries in June and September and missed 64 games. The next season he appeared in the first 16 games, went on the disabled list with tendinitis in his left knee and didn't play again. Although he came back to appear in 101 games in '95, Listach batted just .219. "You know, I never hit .290 before I was a rookie," he says. "I didn't expect to hit that high every year. But everyone else expected me to."
On Aug. 23, 1996, Listach was traded with reliever Graeme Lloyd to the Yankees. When an MRI a few days later revealed that he had a broken right foot, Listach immediately went on the disabled list. He was issued Yankees pinstripes but never played an inning for New York. On Oct. 2, Listach was sent back to Milwaukee, and the Yankees went on to win the World Series. From that point on, Listach's life has been a whirlwind of buses and planes as he has bounced around the minors and the big leagues as the property of the Astros, Indians, Mariners, Phillies and Reds.
He thought he was a lock to make Seattle's roster last season but was cut during the final week of spring training. "Devastating," he calls it. "I did everything they asked, hit .300 in spring, worked my tail off." He stops. "Sometimes, I wonder if it's all worth it."
Listach hit a combined .219 in two Triple A stops last season. Clearly, he does not have the range or speed he had early in his career. Yet he has still not considered an alternative occupation. "I can still run, I can still hit," he says. "I love baseball too much to stop trying."
Charles Johnson, the four-time National League Gold Glove winner and new Orioles catcher, is a quiet man. In the spring training clubhouse in Fort Lauderdale, he speaks softly and rarely. But bring up his former team, the Dodgers, and the decibel level rises.
That's because Johnson believes he was unfairly ripped by Los Angeles senior rice president Tommy Lasorda during the general managers' meetings in Naples, Fla., last November. Lasorda complained that Johnson had ignored the team's request to play in the Arizona Fall League and work on his hitting. "We wanted him there," Lasorda said. "Charles should be a much better hitter."
The comments stung Johnson. "That never happened, absolutely, positively never did," the catcher says of the request Lasorda cited. "He never called to ask me to go. He never even called to congratulate me when I won the Gold Glove. I try hard to cooperate with the organization and do what's right. They tarnished my reputation. It was a slap in the face."
Why didn't Johnson voice his objections at the time? "Not too many people asked me," he says.