SI Vault
 
BASEBALL
Peter Gammons
April 20, 1987
LA LA LAND
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 20, 1987

Baseball

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

BALLPARK FIGURES

The St. Louis Cardinals had the best record in spring training this year (17-6), but manager Whitey Herzog said, "We won too many games. Usually I like to play .500 in Florida." Should Whitey be worried? Here are the spring training champions from 1977 to 1986 and their regular-season division finishes:

YEAR

TEAM

FINISH

1977

DODGERS

1

1978

TIGERS

5

GIANTS

3

1979

CUBS

5

1980

TWINS

3

1981

TIGERS

4*

1982

BRAVES

1

1983

WHITE SOX

1

1984

GIANTS

6

1985

BLUE JAYS

1

1986

PHILLIES

2

PIRATES

6

*Cumulative record in AL East

LA LA LAND

In the wake of the Al Campanis gaffe and subsequent exile, the Dodgers must now deal with the sobering fact that their team is not what it used to be. The organization is in deep trouble, and the people at the top must separate myth from reality.

Los Angeles owner Peter O'Malley hasn't said how he intends to structure the post-Campanis front office. Fred Claire, whose background is in marketing and public relations, stepped into the breach and made it clear that he believes he is in charge. But the prevailing thought is that when manager Tom Lasorda can handpick his successor—preferably Rangers manager Bobby Valentine—he will take the G.M. chair. If Claire assumes permanent charge and brings in a strong personnel director, Lasorda might have to look elsewhere. After Campanis left, Lasorda got Claire to agree to release pitcher Jerry Reuss and sign Mickey Hatcher.

The new front-office boss, whoever he is, must give the organization a total overhaul. Once the Dodgers had platoons of talent streaming out of Albuquerque and San Antonio; now they have frighteningly few prospects. Farm director Bill Schweppe is retiring at the end of the year, and scouting director Ben Wade is under fire for the club's recent propensity to draft mediocre college players like Tastee-Freez thrower Erik Sonberg (who was chosen over Roger Clemens), Dennis Livingston and Dave Anderson. In the spring of 1980, scout Mike Brito, who signed Fernando Valenzuela, brought a little-known high school kid named Eric Davis into Dodger Stadium for a workout before a group of scouts, including Wade. To this day, Brito maintains that Davis put on quite a hitting and baserunning show, but still the Dodgers ignored Brito's recommendation and let the Reds take Davis on the eighth round of the subsequent June draft.

It was no accident that the Dodgers lost their first five games. If their starting pitching doesn't shut down the opposition and Pedro Guerrero isn't in the lineup, they simply aren't very good.

UEBIE DOOBY DO

As if the game didn't have enough image trouble these days, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth is taking broadsides for helping to settle Clemens's contract dispute with the Red Sox. "You're going to see a lot of players sit out and wait for him to step in next year," says Indians superstar Joe Carter. "Why did he step in there, but not when Kirk McCaskill, Tom Henke or I walked out?" Says Henke, "What are Tony Fernandez and Carter, chopped liver?" The clubs are upset too. "We held the line and renewed some players for less than they deserved," said one general manager, "and now he breaks the line for Clemens. It could lead to chaos." With easily reachable incentives, Clemens expects to get close to the $2.4M for two years that he sought, but, he says, "The commissioner had less to do with the negotiations than has been reported. He really just got them started."...

The first week's candidate for comeback of the year is Blue Jays first baseman Willie Upshaw, who hit a third of his 1986 home run total of nine in the first five games. "I got my swing messed up for more than two years trying to adjust to getting pitched away in August of 1984," says Upshaw. More significant was a two-year bout with a bad wrist, which he typically refused to complain about....

Cleveland's pitching situation, like that of all their AL East rivals, is troublesome, but the Indians must also worry about the effect of the cold weather on knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Tom Candiotti. Niekro has traditionally had some trouble gripping the ball with his fingertips in cold weather, and Candiotti is trying to make a gradual transition from a fingernail grip to a fingertip one. Fortunately for Niekro, the weather was unseasonably warm for his first start in Toronto, where he combined with Steve Carlton to beat the Blue Jays 14-3. It was the first time two 300-game winners had pitched for the same team in the same game. Together, Niekro, who is 48, and Carlton, who is 42, have 42 years of major league experience and 635 major league victories....

Not only did Darryl Strawberry get off to a big start with homers in his first three games at Shea Stadium, but he also seemed genuinely touched by the Dwight Gooden mess. Strawberry wore Gooden's uniform pants on Opening Day because, "I'm dedicating the season to him and my son, Darryl Jr. Every time I go up to the plate I'll be thinking of them. I intend to have a good year and shut a lot of jerks up." By the design of management, Gooden's name wasn't mentioned in the Opening Day ceremonies, when each of the defending world champions came out to accept his World Series ring.

Continue Story
1 2 3