A DODGER BLUES
While the Dodgers took batting practice in Candlestick Park on Aug. 11, a grim story was unfolding on the video screen in leftfield. Righthander Tim Leary, who had been dealt by Los Angeles to the Reds three weeks earlier, was in the process of beating the Astros, 6-1, while the key player he had been traded for, outfielder Kal Daniels, was recuperating in L.A. from his fifth knee operation.
How quickly things change. Last year Dodger general manager Fred Claire appeared to be the reincarnation of Branch Rickey as he wheeled and dealed his way to the World Series. This year he looks more like Spec Richardson, the former general manager of the Astros and Giants who made some of the worst deals in history. The Daniels fiasco was Claire's crowning touch. Indeed, with leftfielder Kirk Gibson out for the season to undergo surgery on his injured left leg and rightfielder Mike Marshall still troubled by chronic back stiffness, the Dodgers' first-string outfield will probably miss more games than it plays. On Tuesday the out-field was composed of Franklin Stubbs, hitting .284, in left, Billy Bean (.133) in center and Mike Huff, making his first major league start, in right. The Dodgers could have fielded that combination without giving up one of their best pitchers.
The tale of woe began when second baseman Steve Sax fled L.A. for the Yankees in the off-season, saying " Claire never showed me any respect" during contract negotiations. His departure left a hole at the top of the order that the Dodgers are still trying to fill. Then Claire picked up first baseman Eddie Murray from Baltimore in a multiplayer trade, but Murray (.240, 13 homers, 69 RBIs) hasn't been able to carry the team. In March, Claire traded outfielder Mike Devereaux, who had been a disappointment to the Dodgers, to the Orioles for pitcher Mike Morgan. At first it looked like a positive move. But Devereaux has turned out to be a pleasant surprise, hitting .275 with six home runs and 30 RBIs, while Morgan has gone 7-11, despite his 2.53 ERA. In addition, pitcher Fernando Valenzuela has been slow coming back from shoulder surgery, and lefthander John Tudor started only three games, for a total of 8? innings, before his left shoulder, operated on in the off-season, gave out again.
Claire has taken a lot of heat in the L.A. papers for failing to study the medical data on Daniels or Tudor before acquiring them. In the case of Daniels, the criticism is justified because Claire was warned by his scouts before the trade that Daniels had had four knee operations, but Claire opted to take the risk anyway. The Tudor trade, however, is another story. If the Dodgers had not acquired Tudor, who went 4-3 with a 2.41 ERA in '88 after the trade, they would never have made it to the playoffs. Even if Tudor hadn't figured in six Dodger victories down the stretch, the trade would have made sense because it freed the Dodgers from their No. 1 albatross—infielder Pedro Guerrero.
Another thing Claire has been criticized for is his evaluation of talent. When broadcaster Al Downing asked him why he traded Guerrero's half-brother, utilityman Domingo Michel, to Detroit for Bean, Claire replied, "Michel is an American League-type player." So what are Gibson, Murray, catcher Rick Dempsey, shortstop Alfredo Griffin, second baseman Willie Randolph, outfielders Mike Davis and John Shelby, and Bean—all of whom came over from the American League?
Claire seems to have a soft spot for players who are (or soon will be) candidates for the new 35-and-over league, such as pitcher Pete Falcone, who is with the Dodgers' Double A club in San Antonio, and outfielder Ken Landreaux, who is on their Triple A team in Albuquerque. One reason Claire signed Falcone and Landreaux is that the Dodgers' once successful farm system is not as deep as it used to be. Until this year the Dodgers have had a laughable record in the June draft, going all the way back to 1983.
But don't shed any tears for Claire. He still has pitcher Orel Hershiser, whose career ERA (2.72) is now lower than Sandy Koufax's (2.76). Valenzuela also seems to be returning to form, now that he has learned a new cut fastball from pitching coach Ron Perranoski and catcher Mike Scioscia. If the Dodgers can pick up a pitcher like Mark Langston or Mark Gubicza in the free-agent market and acquire a leadoff hitter and perhaps another bat, they could be back near the top in no time. After all, how strong can their division—the National League West—be if the current leader, the Giants, had to resort to signing lefthander Bob Knepper (4-11, 5.73 ERA) and, even worse, using him as a starter?
THE REAL THING
Pirate manager Jim Leyland wasn't surprised that the Cubs were on top of the National League East at week's end. "They are the best team up the middle," he said. "[Damon] Berryhill is the best catcher in the league; Ryne Sandberg is the best second baseman, period; Shawon Dunston is playing great at short; and [center-fielder] Jerome Walton has done a great job. That's a tough combination to beat, especially when Sandberg gets a taste of the race." Indeed. Sandberg took off last week with six homers in five consecutive games. When it comes time to pick the best player of the decade, Sandberg should be among the leading vote getters. Says Cub manager Don Zimmer, "I've managed him for two years and I've never seen him make a mistake defensively." ...Three National League managers rate the league's best catchers in the following order: 1) Berryhill, 2) Montreal's Nelson Santovenia and 3) Scioscia. "Santovenia and Scioscia are about the same defensively," says one manager. "But Santovenia has a little more power." ...For years the ideal body type for a baseball player was thought to be the sleek, well-proportioned physique of someone like Toronto outfielder Lloyd Moseby. But SI's Steve Wulf suggests that short and pudgy may be the body type of the future. After all, San Francisco's Kevin Mitchell, who leads the majors in homers and RBIs, is 5'11" and weighs 210 pounds, and two of the best players in the game are Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett (5'8", 210 pounds) and Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn (5'11", 205 pounds). "It used to be that if a scout turned in a guy with a body like Gwynn or Puckett, they could be fired," says scout Bob Harrison. "Now at least we can put on the report: 'Reminds me of Puckett.' "