Big Hurts Are Slow to Heal
He has only two home runs, was on the disabled list for six weeks, now plays every other day and doesn't always go nine innings, but Mark McGwire is still the most productive of this season's holy trinity of injured superstars. The Cardinals, Reds and Red Sox each spent the first third of the season treading water until Big Mac, Ken Griffey Jr. and Nomar Garciaparra—the centerpieces of their respective lineups—returned from injuries that have severely limited their playing time. McGwire had only 21 April at bats before discomfort in his surgically repaired right knee forced him to the DL; he was activated last week and will be eased back into the lineup until he regains his timing at the plate and feels strong enough to play every day. "There's nothing that's going to [hurt the knee]," McGwire said after homering against the Brewers in his first game back, on Memorial Day. "That's why I'm out there playing, because we've done enough to stress it, to regain the strength in [the muscles that surround] the knee."
Griffey and Garciaparra haven't been as lucky. Cincinnati has been kept on pins and needles by Griffey's unexpectedly slow recovery from a torn left hamstring. Thought to be suffering from a mere strain in spring training, Griffey went 0 for 12 as a pinch hitter in April, and then was placed on the DL after tweaking the hamstring while grounding out on April 28. He has been in a holding pattern since, not traveling with the team, doing rehab exercises for as many as five hours a day and shagging an occasional fly ball. He has also been taking batting practice for the past two weeks.
When might Griffey return? Because hamstring injuries are rarely operated on and are notoriously slow to heal, no one knows the answer to that question. Griffey said recently that he hopes he'll be back in about three weeks, but Cincinnati medical director Dr. Timothy Kremchek has said it's "possible" Junior could miss the entire season. Says Griffey, "I'll play when I can run and not feel like I'm going to fall down on each step."
The Red Sox predicted a midsummer return for Garciaparra after he had Opening Day surgery to repair a split tendon in his right wrist. "Our guideline all along has been for [a return] after the Ail-Star Game, and we're still aiming for that," says Boston general manager Dan Duquette.
Last weekend Garciaparra, who now wears a removable cast on the injured wrist, was preparing to progress from range-of-motion exercises to strengthening drills and remained at least three weeks from working on baseball skills. A fitness fiend, he spends about three hours a day on a workout regimen designed to keep the rest of his body in shape without putting any stress on his injured wrist.
Meanwhile, through Sunday, the Red Sox held a two-game lead in the American League East despite a patchwork at shortstop that had been solid defensively but unimposing at the plate. The quartet of Mike Lansing, Craig Grebeck, John Valentin and Lou Merloni had made only three errors, second fewest in the majors, but Boston's offensive production at the position—a .186 average, two home runs, 12 RBIs and a .240 on-base percentage—had been the weakest in its league.
Umps Waiting for a Sign
Welcome Mat Not Out Yet
The fallout from the umpires union's ill-conceived 1999 mass resignation continued last month, when an arbitrator in Philadelphia declared that Major League Baseball must take back nine of the 22 umps who lost their jobs. Still, through Sunday, none of the reinstated umps—a group that includes veterans Drew Coble, Frank Pulli, Terry Tata and Joe West—was any closer to calling balls and strikes than before the ruling.
The rehired umpires faced a June 8 deadline to file a motion in Federal court that would force baseball to comply with the arbitrator's decision. The commissioner's office faced the same deadline to lodge a legal protest against the arbitrator's ruling. Unless baseball voluntarily complies with the decision, which seemed doubtful as of Monday, the case is likely to slog through the legal system and keep the nine umps in limbo for the rest of this season.