On the last day of August. Olivia Flippens and Georgina Renda were bent over their machines at Raleigh Reconditioners in New Rochelle, N.Y., trying to sew up a division title for the Oakland Athletics. Specifically they were sewing the names S. DAVIS and LAVELLE on the backs of A's uniforms—stitches in time for that night's game with the New York Yankees.
Other seamstresses across the land were doing much the same thing last week, as teams in the American League West attempted to acquire the one or two or three players they thought they needed to win the division race, which could be classified as a claiming race for nonwinners of 70 games as of Sept. 1.
The California Angels got second baseman Johnny Ray from the Pirates for a minor leaguer and a player to be named later. The Kansas City Royals picked up reliever Gene Garber from the Braves for a player to be named later. The Minnesota Twins acquired DH-éminence grise Don Baylor from the Red Sox for, you got it, a player to be named later. The A's signed Gary Lavelle, who'd been released by Toronto, and received pitcher Rick Honeycutt from the Dodgers for a player to be named later and pitcher Storm Davis from the Padres for a player to be named sooner (two days after the trade he was identified as pitcher Dave Leiper) and a player to be named later.
Life was imitating art, or, in this case, baseball was imitating those Rotisserie leagues. The reason for this frenzied dealing was that almost everybody in the AL West had a shot at the championship. As September began, only 3½ games separated the first-place Twins from the fourth-place Royals, and even the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners, 7 and 7½ back, respectively, had hope. If the Brewers—the fourth-place team in the AL East—were in the West, they would be leading the division. Which is why Peter Schmuck, who covers the Angels for The Orange County Register, calls the West the Lifeboat Division. "This is the one division in which women and children would be first," says Schmuck.
"The whole thing reminds me of one of those funny frog races," says Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry. "The frogs are jumping in all different directions, and you just hope that your frog will jump straight long enough to win."
With that in mind, join us now as we hop around America to look into the eyes of the AL West contenders, to search out a division winner to be named later.
TUESDAY, SEPT. 1
NEW YORK—Frank Ciensczyk (pronounced Ciensczyk) has his hands full. He's the clubhouse man for the A's, and six new players have joined the club. "I've never seen it like this," says Ciensczyk. "But it shows we're pretty serious about winning this thing."
Even before the avalanche of new arrivals, he had had a very busy season. The A's have been beset by injuries and for extended periods have lost three of their four best starting pitchers, their bullpen stopper, their second baseman, their centerfielder and their Reggie Jackson. Yet manager Tony La Russa has kept spirits up, and the A's start the day 1½ games behind the Twins. "Injuries have plagued us, and there are a lot of new faces," says Dave (Smoke) Stewart, the only pitcher on the Oakland staff who'll have more than 200 innings. "But I believe we're going to win it."
Stewart may also win the Cy Young Award. With an 18-9 record and a 3.52 ERA, he has made a remarkable turnaround. Two years ago he was a washed-up reliever who had to live down an arrest for lewd conduct after he was found in his car with a transvestite prostitute. But then Smoke discovered God and the fork ball, not necessarily in that order.