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INSIDE: BASEBALL
Peter Gammons
June 05, 1989
BAD BLOOD
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June 05, 1989

Inside: Baseball

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TURNING UP THE HEAT
At 42, Nolan Ryan is getting better. Through last Saturday. Ryan was striking out batters at the rate of 10.9 every nine innings and was making a run at his major league record of 11.5 per nine innings, set when he was with Houston in 1987. Older pitchers tend to strike out fewer batters, but Ryan has surged since he turned 40, and is now striking out more than ever.

STRIKEOUTS/9 INNINGS

RYAN

ALL PITCHERS*

AGE**

8.7

5.8

24 or younger

10.1

5.7

25-29

9.2

5.3

30-34

8.9

4.6

35-39

10.4

4.3

40 or older

*Based on 1989 data

** As of July 1

Through May 27 SOURCE: STATS, INC.

BAD BLOOD

The Mark Langston affair, which reached its climax last week with the lefthanders trade to the Montreal Expos, sums up George Argyros's tenure as owner of the Seattle Mariners. The deal was bungled and shortsighted. As one AL executive puts it, "Argyros doesn't view himself in terms of winning, only in terms of profit."

Argyros never intended to sign his best pitcher, who is in the last year of his contract. He offered Langston a $7.1 million, three-year deal 10 days after Langston told Mariners manager Jim Lefebvre he was so fed up with Argyros that he would never re-sign with Seattle. Argyros covered himself by making the offer to Langston only hours before closing the May 25 deal with the Expos. When Langston declined the offer, the M's shipped him to Montreal for pitchers Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris—about half the value Seattle could have received from an earlier deal.

Seattle general manager Woody Woodward knew in January that signing Langston was hopeless, so he negotiated to trade him and outfielder Jay Buhner to the Mets for third baseman Howard Johnson and pitchers Sid Fernandez, David West and Kevin Tapani. Argyros vetoed the trade twice. In mid-May, Woodward arranged a three-way deal with Toronto and Atlanta that would have brought Seattle four quality pitchers—Zane Smith, Tommy Greene, Al Leiter and Alex Sanchez. In return, Langston, Mariners outfielder Henry Cotto and Braves infielder Jeff Blauser would have gone to Toronto and George Bell to Atlanta. Argyros killed that when he refused to allow Toronto to talk to Langston's agent about extending his contract. Finally, as the strain of the daily trade rumors began to affect both Langston and the team, the choices came down to the Mets (now offering pitchers Rick Aguilera, West, Tapani and Blaine Beatty) and the Expos' three-pitcher package. Argyros wanted to thwart Langston's expressed desire to go to the Mets or a California team, and sent him to Montreal.

Holman, 24, is a righthander and is considered a good prospect. Johnson, 25, started the season with the Expos but was 0-4 with a 6.67 ERA in six starts, and was sent down to Triple A Indianapolis. He is 6'10" and has a great arm, but is a well-known space cadet; once, while watching an '87 Expos-Braves exhibition game in West Palm Beach, Fla., Johnson had to have his roomie, John Trautwein, explain who Henry Aaron was, and then asked, "Why isn't he in the lineup today?" Harris, 24, is considered by the Expos to be the best of the three; they think he could be an overpowering short reliever.

The Mets are particularly upset about the Langston trade, because Montreal is now the one team that can go into a three-game series and—with Langston. Dennis Martinez and Kevin Gross or Bryn Smith—match the Mets' pitching. Already the Expos probably have a better lineup than the Mets. No other National League club can match Tim Raines, Hubie Brooks, Andres Galarraga and Tim Wallach as run producers. The Mets are now trying to get another hitter.

Meanwhile, if Langston plays out his contract and becomes a free agent next fall, he could wind up back in the American League, mowing down Mariners. "Nothing changes," says former Mariners coach Deron Johnson of Seattle's history of hapless trades. "If they'd just left things alone and kept their players, they might be the best team in the league."

CLASSIC CURVE

Much attention has been focused this season on the feats of Texas's Nolan Ryan and the Yankees' Tommy John, but California's Bert Blyleven, 38, is now in his 20th major league season throwing a curveball that, like Ryan's fastball, will be remembered 20 years from now as one of the great pitches of all time. One would expect all those curveballs to have taken a toll on his arm after 4,527⅔ innings, but Blyleven seems unaffected. "I don't have the same bite on the curve I had 15 years ago," he says. "But it has never bothered my arm."

Blyleven believes he can pitch effectively for at least another three years, which would give him a shot at 300 victories (he has 258). His .531 lifetime winning percentage is .027 higher than that of the teams he has pitched for. By comparison, Ryan's lifetime percentage of .522 is .015 better than that of his teams.

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