Last season, with injury-hobbled shortstop Walt Weiss leading off and the lackluster second base platoon of Keith Lock-hart and Tony Graffanino batting second, the Braves got 23 stolen bases and 209 runs from the top two lineup spots, ranking eighth in the National League in the latter category. This year those numbers jumped to 48 and 222, respectively. Says Williams, who hit .280 after moving into the leadoff spot for good on Aug. 5, "I'll see what a pitcher has, how he's throwing, what the movement's like. Then I'll tell Bret, and he'll get more information. We process it and provide it to the big boys."
By big boys Williams means third baseman Chipper Jones, rightfielder Brian Jordan and centerfielder Andruw Jones, who combined for 94 home runs and 309 RBIs. But Williams and Boone have contributed more than information. After batting seventh for much of his first seven big league seasons, Boone has transformed his game. Last year he drove in 95 runs but scored only 76. This season, he had 63 RBIs and 103 runs. That swing, coupled with Williams's 76 runs and 19 stolen bases, jump-started the Braves' attack.
Atlanta lost slugging first baseman Andres Galarraga—who last February was found to have cancer—before the season and lost catcher Javy Lopez (torn anterior cruciate ligament) on July 24. In addition Jordan played the second half of the season with a nagging hand injury. Yet the Braves still finished with 840 runs, 14 more than in 1998. "With all the injuries, people wonder how we've done so well," says Cox. "Look at those two for a good answer."
Spencer for Hire?
Tom Spencer has long dreamed of managing in the majors. That's why he has stuck around the game for so long—11 years as a minor league player, three years as a first base coach with the Indians and the Mets, three seasons as a coach in the minors and eight seasons as a minor league skipper. In late September, Spencer called commissioner Bud Selig to find out if, as an African-American, he was among baseball's recognized pool of minority candidates for managerial openings. (Since April the commissioner's office has required clubs to submit lists of all candidates under consideration for managerial and certain front-office positions as a way of ensuring minority representation.) "Bud told me I wasn't listed," says Spencer, 48, who this season led the Charlotte Knights, a White Sox affiliate, to the International League tide. But Spencer says he was assured that he would not be overlooked in the future.
A winner of three league tides in his eight seasons as a minor league manager, Spencer has been interviewed for just one big league managerial post, with the White Sox two years back. It's frustrating, he says, to hear the term minority candidate and then read the same old list of names—Braves hitting coach Don Baylor, Yankees coaches Chris Chambliss and Willie Randolph, Reds bench coach Ken Griffey Sr., Padres first base coach Davey Lopes.
"I hate to complain," says Spencer, "but I think it hurts that I'm not a, quote, celebrity name. I've proven that I can manage at the highest level." On Sept. 29 Spencer resigned from the White Sox organization when the front office said it could not accommodate his request to be added to the major league staff or be given a roving position that would allow him to spend more time at his Tucson home.
Spencer is extremely light skinned and, even he concedes, may not be widely recognized as a minority. "But what difference does it make?" he asks. "Black, white, red, purple—if you can manage, you can manage. I can manage."
Anaheim's Bavasi Departs
Angels Had Better Duck
Last Friday, Angels general manager Bill Bavasi, a respected baseball man with six years on the job, resigned. Although most everyone in the game agrees that Anaheim's disastrous 70-92 season was a result of injuries and poor chemistry, not a lack of talent, Angels president Tony Tavares (also chairman of the NHL's Mighty Ducks) is planning to gut a club that finished three games out of first in the American League West only a year ago.