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Baseball
Tim Kurkjian
April 19, 1993
SMOKING GUNS
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April 19, 1993

Baseball

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Second baseman Steve Sax was coming off one of the best hitting seasons (.304, 10 home runs) of his career when the Yankees traded him (and his four-year, $12.4 million contract) to the White Sox on Jan. 10, 1992, for pitcher Melido Perez and minor league pitching prospects Bob Wickman and Domingo Jean. But how terrible does that trade look for Chicago now? It was bad enough when Sax lost his starting job in spring training this year to utilityman Craig Grebeck, whose defense is significantly better than Sax's. Then when Grebeck missed the first three games with a hand injury, journeyman infielder Joey Cora, not Sax, started at second.

For one game this spring Perez, Wickman (who now is in the Yankee rotation) and Jean (a top prospect at Double A Albany-Colonie) were all on schedule to pitch against the White Sox, but the Yankees shuffled their pitching order so they wouldn't appear to be rubbing it in. Credit Chicago manager Gene Lamont for having the guts to bench a high-salaried veteran at the outset of the season.

CAN'T BEAT THE SYSTEM

When Cardinal reliever Lee Smith preserved Donovan Osborne's 2-1 win over the Giants last Thursday, he tied Jeff Reardon on the alltime save list with 357. Smith has been the game's prototypical closer over the last 10 years, not only because of his remarkable numbers (he has averaged 34 saves in that time and has led the National League in saves the last two years), but also because of the way he has been used. Every year between 1983 and '92—whether he was with the Cubs, the Red Sox or the Cardinals—Smith appeared in at least 62 games but not more than 70. He has not entered a game without a lead since July 14, 1990.

Smith is no longer the gas-throwing monster who overpowers hitters, as he was a couple of years ago. Now he throws around 86 mph and has a good slider and tremendous control. He has adjusted nicely—just as he did in 1975 when the Cubs drafted him out of Northwestern (La.) State, where, as a star basketball player, he aspired to be the next Dr. J.

SHORT HOPS

Barry Bonds, the free agent who left the Pirates and signed a $43.75 million deal with the Giants in the off-season, returned to Pittsburgh for a three-game series last Friday. After the first game he spent an hour talking to Pirate manager Jim Leyland, with whom he had a celebrated blowout in spring training two years ago. The next morning he arrived at the park early to have coffee with Leyland and the coaches....

The Phillie clubhouse is crazier than ever, now that Mr. Clean, outfielder Dale Murphy, has gone to the Rockies. "This is the only team where the chapel leader is afraid to come into the clubhouse," says first baseman John Kruk....

Crazy or not, the Phillies won their first three games of the season, the first time they've been three games over .500 since June 22, 1990....

Met rightfielder Bobby Bonilla got into a shouting match with a New York writer after a game last Saturday. "If Bobby played in Nome, Alaska," says a former Pirate teammate, "he'd have trouble with the media."

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