It's a shame that some people don't always credit Angels leftfielder Luis Polonia for his on-field performance. They know him only as the player who was convicted in 1989 for having sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl in Milwaukee. (He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 60 days in jail. He was also ordered to pay $1,500 in fines and to contribute $10,000 to a sexual assault treatment center in Milwaukee.) Yet most people are unaware that Polonia has a higher lifetime average than Will Clark.
Of all active players with 1,500 at bats, only Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett, Don Mattingly, Mike Greenwell and George Brett have higher averages than Polonia's .306 through Sunday. The 1991 Elias Baseball Analyst notes that last year Polonia's .334 average was the highest among major league outfielders and that his .363 average when leading off innings was the highest in baseball. He and Willie McGee are the only two players in this century to hit at least .280 and steal at least 20 bases in each of their first four big league seasons.
This year Polonia, who mostly platooned in his three years with the A's and Yankees, is off to another good start, hitting .323 at week's end, and he was second in the league in stolen bases with 14. He has always struggled in the outfield, but manager Doug Rader says, "Looie has come a million miles defensively." Polonia's legal embroilment in Milwaukee was probably the reason the Yankees gave up on him, but you can bet that they now regret trading him last year for outfielder Claudell Washington and pitcher Rich Monteleone.
"People don't give me the respect I deserve," says Polonia. "I don't know why. They talk about guys on TV, but never about me. Hopefully this year, playing every day, I'll open some eyes."
Indians rookie infielder Mark Lewis made his big league debut on April 26 and in his first three weeks in the majors hit .420. He cooled off to a .361 average through Sunday, but the Indians, who need hitters, know they have found one in Lewis. "I knew if I got comfortable, I could handle myself," says Lewis. "But I'm surprised how well I've hit."
Lewis, 21, was the second player chosen in the June 1988 draft. After two solid seasons in the minors, he was called up on April 25, when shortstop Felix Fermin went on the disabled list with a strained calf. Lewis's big league debut the next day against the Rangers included hits off Nolan Ryan and Goose Gossage, and he hasn't stopped hitting since. He had 13 multihit performances in his first 20 games. By the time Fermin returned from the DL on May 12, Lewis had been moved from ninth in the order to the second or third spot. When Fermin returned to short, Lewis also had to make another big move. He's playing second base. "I've been a shortstop all my life, so obviously I'm not as comfortable at second," says Lewis, who admits he's not always sure where he is supposed to be on relay plays. "But as soon as I get comfortable there, I think I'll be all right."
A Bad Move
Rookies aren't the only players who struggle trying to learn a new position. The Yankees' Steve Sax was asked to move to third base when New York called up rookie second baseman Pat Kelly on May 19. In five games at third, Sax committed three errors and made almost every ground ball an adventure. On Sunday, the experiment was abandoned and manager Stump Merrill moved Sax back to second and switched Kelly over to third.