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Baseball
Stephen Cannella
September 04, 2000
September SongIt's in the season's final month that the MVP races hit full swing
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September 04, 2000

Baseball

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Witness the Dodgers. As they've tumbled from contention, manager Davey Johnson has heard criticism from the most ominous source: his bosses. In early August general manager Kevin Malone absolved the front office of blame for Los Angeles's lackluster performance, saying Johnson was given the makings of a winning team. "We did the things we needed to do with our moves in the off-season and we added talent before the trading deadline," Malone said. Dodgers CEO Bob Daly added that he and Malone "have been encouraging Davey to manage more aggressively."

The tensions boiled over last week. "If they're gonna [fire me], let's do it and not wait," said Johnson in a Los Angeles Times column that ran August 23. After meeting with Daly that evening—and reportedly being asked whether he really wanted to call it quits—Johnson backed off, saying, "I'm not a dead man yet." Still, Daly has been more forceful in his public support of Malone than of Johnson.

In Arizona there are rumblings that some players have wearied of Buck Showalter's sweat-the-small-stuff style and that Showalter, who still has two years and $2 million on the contract he signed in 1995, will be fired if the Diamondbacks fail to make the playoffs. At week's end, Arizona was 2� games behind the Giants in the National League West and 5/2 behind the Mets in the wildcard race, and managing general partner Jerry Colangelo gave Showalter only tepid support last week, saying, "He's my manager until he isn't."

Red Sox skipper Jimy Williams, who has a frosty relationship with general manager Dan Duquette, last week was ripped by Boston lefthander Jeff Fassero for having an itchy trigger finger on pitching changes. Cincinnati's Jack McKeon has been fielding questions about his job security since spring training, and last week Montreal's Felipe Alou endured questions about a report that owner Jeffrey Loria plans to replace him with Jeff Torborg. Seattle's Lou Piniella, who's in the final year of his contract and had seen his team lose 12 of its last 14 games, has hired an agent for the first time in his career.

Hovering over all of this is the Giants' Dusty Baker, who has spent much of the season, the final one on his contract, fending off rumors that he'll be managing elsewhere next season. Of course, he has fed those rumors by ignoring the two-year, $2.8 million extension offer the Giants made earlier this season. San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean insists Baker has told him that he'll be a Giant next season; given his track record in San Francisco, Baker would be the most sought-after managerial candidate if he becomes available.

Detroit Renaissance
Tigers Still Scratching

It would seem that by now the Tigers might be weary of analyzing their roller-coaster season, sick of reliving their atrocious 9-23 start and comparing it with their recent hot streak. "Actually, it's fun to come to the park and talk about winning," says righthander Jeff Weaver. "It's a lot better than what we were doing."

Detroit, left for dead a month into the season, has made a remarkable return to respectability. After bottoming out at 14 games below .500 on May 10, the Tigers had gone 55-42 through Sunday. Their win total in that span was the second-highest in the American League, behind the White Sox' 58. When Detroit finally reached .500 last Thursday with a victory over the Mariners, it marked the first time since 1993 that the Tigers had been at the break-even point in August. "We knew we were a lot better than that," says third baseman Dean Palmer of the horrid start, "but it's weird—it was hard to pinpoint one reason why we were so bad, and it's hard to find one to explain why we're playing well now."

Indeed, the Tigers have reversed course despite having only one pitcher (righthander Brian Moehler) reach double figures in wins, despite having lost four first basemen ( Tony Clark, Gregg Jeffries, Robert Fick and Hal Morris) to injury and despite having received a subpar-for-him contribution from slugger Juan Gonzalez (19 home runs, 57 RBIs).

The turnaround started with a deep, if workmanlike, pitching staff that has put up successively lower ERAs in every month but July; overall Detroit, which hasn't finished in the league's top five in pitching since 1988, was fifth with a 4.75 ERA through Sunday.

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