Will Wakefield's knuckler bamboozle opponents on his second tour around the league? Wakefield points out that he doesn't know what the pitch will do on any given day, so how will hitters? "It doesn't do the same thing twice," says Wakefield. "I don't know if seeing me more times would help. [Knuckleballer] Charlie Hough's been around for 20 years now."
Or about as long as the entire Pirate roster. There is a rookie at first (Kevin Young), at second (Carlos Garcia) and in leftfield (Al Martin). Martin, the nephew of ex-Oakland Raider Rod Martin, is muscle-bound; alas, he is not playoff-bound. Pittsburgh cannot four-peat. "Garcia, Young and Martin are the future, like Barry and Bobby [Bonilla] and I were once," notes Van Slyke. "But you have to remember, in Barry's first year he hit .223."
The only furor surrounding the NEW YORK METS this spring came over the dismissal of a Port St. Lucie peanut vendor who allegedly fired a bag of nuts that bounced off a customer and then struck a woman in the chest. "I lived for the games," vendor Sean Ostman said later in pleading his case to reporters. Alas, there was incriminating evidence against him: Police recovered the spent shells.
The Mets are still a bit shell-shocked from last season, which began with rape allegations against some players in spring training and ended with a 72-90 record. "We still carry the scars," says manager Jeff Torborg, who isn't carrying much else. He lost 30 pounds in the off-season, as did now wraithlike rightfielder Bobby Bonilla, whose problems last season were too myriad to enumerate here.
"We'll have a good team if we stay healthy," says Torborg. "No team in history had the number of injuries we had last year." Bonilla, outfielders Vince Coleman and Howard Johnson, pitcher Bret Saberhagen and reliever John Franco were all injured in '92. The Mets' annual HoJo-a-Go-Go has Johnson moving back to third base this season, where he says he is more comfortable. That man to his left is shortstop Tony Fernandez, acquired in the San Diego Padres' fire sale.
"This year we have something to prove," says Johnson. "We have to show that we're much better than the way things turned out last year." Which, in a nutshell, is the Mets' problem: They aren't any better than that.
Jim Lefebvre is baseball's first New Age manager. The CHICAGO CUBS do not have coaches, they have hitting and pitching coordinators. After losing Cy Young winner Greg Maddux and the 90 RBIs of Andre Dawson to free agency in the off-season, Lefebvre is not only in deep doo-doo, but in deep denial as well. "Not signing Maddux and Dawson was actually a blessing," he says.
Why? Because it made the Cubs solvent enough to sign Willie Wilson and Candy Maldonado. Lefebvre had better hope that each of those outfielders finds his own inner child, because the outer men will be a combined 71 years old at season's end. But not to worry. "Our team," says Lefebvre, "is solid in so many ways."
Let us count Lefebvre's "blessings": Second baseman Ryne Sandberg missed most of spring training with a broken hand, and Rey Sanchez will start the season at shortstop in place of Shawon Dunston, whose bum back is still bothersome.
Sure, Chicago sutured up its atrocious bullpen by signing lefthanded free-agent relievers Randy Myers and Dan Plesac. And the Cubs added starting pitchers Greg Hibbard and Jose Guzman to a staff that already included the capable Mike Morgan. But the Cubs, who finished 10th in the league in runs scored last season, are overly optimistic to think that a healthy Sammy Sosa, recovered from a broken ankle, will be able to replace Dawson, the club's RBI leader in each of the last three years.