Joaquin Andujar turned up at the Oakland A's spring camp in Phoenix last week, spewing mea culpas as if they were four-letter words. In time, the newly abashed Andujar assured all, he would make amends to everyone he had offended in more reckless times—and that would most definitely include American League umpire Don Denkinger, the man who banished him from the 1985 World Series. Why, on Friday Denkinger would be behind the plate for the spring opener with the Giants, and Andujar would have the perfect opportunity to apologize.
The pitcher, whose "favorite English word" had always been "youneverknow," had even adopted a new and more positive catchphrase: "No problem." Now, if there is anybody in all creation who is problem-free, it certainly isn't Joaquin Andujar. And considering what happened in his rematch with Denkinger, "youneverknow" would have been much more appropriate.
Andujar came to the A's facing not one but two suspensions from commissioner Peter Ueberroth—a 10-day shorty at the start of the season for his outrageous behavior in the final game of the '85 Series and a yearlong one for suspected drug use if he refused to fork over 10% of his 1986 salary (about $115,000) to a drug-prevention program, give 100 hours of himself in each of the next two years to community service and submit to drug testing. When Andujar first reported on March 4, he had not yet revealed what his response to the more severe of those penalties would be. "No problem," he said. "I'll be there when the bell rings," which, of course, because of the first penalty, he won't be.
When he finally showed up at the A's camp, the no-problem Andujar at least appeared to be a different breed of cat from the volatile tiger of a year ago. Sure, he was 10 days late, but that was no problem because manager Jackie Moore had told him it would be O.K. to be tardy just this once. "I wanted to make sure he had peace of mind," said Moore in one of the new season's more preposterous remarks to date, peace of mind being something the tempestuous Dominican has notably lacked in his 10-year major league career. But Andujar did seem peaceful under the Arizona sun. In an impromptu press conference after his first practice, he told a vast media assemblage that: 1) he has been told that the A's are a "bunch of real good guys"; 2) he still loves that "good man," his former manager, Whitey Herzog; 3) he considers himself to be a good guy as well, an assertion he was willing to back up with a bet of a million dollars "if you can find anyone in St. Louis who will say I'm a bad guy"; and 4) he will have "no problem" with Denkinger, who had to boot him out of the Series and into one of his suspensions for his truculent protest of balls and strikes in the seventh game.
The no-problem kid finished on a poetic note. When he disclosed that he had brought his former manager a box of cigars from the Dominican Republic, he was asked what, if anything, he would bring his new manager, the very decent Moore. "My heart...and my arm," he said.
There's no telling about the heart, but the arm seemed to be no problem. Pitching batting practice on his second day on the job, Andujar fairly whistled his fast-balls by the A's power boys, reducing the mighty young slugger Jose Canseco to harmless ground balls. Then came Dusty Baker, an old nemesis from National League days and one of the few A's Andujar knows personally. Dusty stomped into the cage shouting mock invective in Spanish. Andujar roared with laughter, and when Dusty fouled off a bunt attempt he shouted back, "I knew you'd screw that one up."
"Just throw the ball, Jack," Baker called out. "He hates to be called Jack," he confided in an aside to onlookers. This repartee continued until pitching coach Wes Stock instructed, "Just one more pitch, Joaquin." Andujar stared malevolently at Baker. "You ready for it?" he asked, starting his windup. "Throw the damn thing," said Baker. And Andujar did, a fastball that tailed tantalizingly away from the hitter. Baker missed it cleanly. They both laughed.
"I've always had fun hitting off Joaquin," Baker said afterward. "It's a challenge. He's a tremendous competitor, and he's never scared. And, hey, he's fun. He's not quite as crazy and temperamental as they say. He's not this bad guy that America has a vision of. Oh, he's crazy, all right, but not that crazy."
Crazy? Sandy Alderson, the A's general manager, took some needling after he acquired Andujar last December from the Cardinals in exchange for catcher Mike Heath and pitcher Tim Conroy. The A's already had one petulant eccentric on the roster in DH Dave Kingman. Why did they need another one? Then when Alderson said he hoped Andujar would prove a "role model" for the other A's pitchers, the hoots began in earnest. Anyone watching Andujar blow his stack in the Series would have trouble envisioning him as a role model for anyone outside a Friday the 13th movie.
The other day Alderson explained what he meant. For one thing, in winning 41 games the past two seasons, Andujar has won more games than all but one of the A's pitchers ( Rick Langford) have in their entire careers. And for another, Andujar is a "nine-inning pitcher" who expects everyone on the staff to think in terms of complete games. He is a hard worker and, as Baker suggested, a fearless competitor. "I don't think, for example, that Joaquin will ever let Jose Rijo slip," said Alderson. "He'll stay on him, make him work. That's what I meant by role model." Indeed, within his first few hours in an Oakland uniform, Andujar had taken the 20-year-old Rijo, a fellow Dominican, aside and advised him that a pitcher who doesn't want to go nine "has no guts." Rijo, a top prospect, looked as if he were listening to a role model.