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Steve Rushin
April 15, 1991
The Dodgers and Giants will try to rock the boat, but expect more smooth sailing; from Cincinnati
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April 15, 1991

Sea Of Red

The Dodgers and Giants will try to rock the boat, but expect more smooth sailing; from Cincinnati

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By August, Craig will realize that they weren't kidding, and that, come to think of it, he doesn't love that kind of pressure.

McGee was the league's batting champion in '90. But he replaces Brett Butler, baseball's co-leader in hits last year, in centerfield without replacing him in the leadoff slot. McGee will bat second, and Robby Thompson, who has averaged 109 strikeouts for each of his five major league seasons, moves to the top of the order, where he doesn't plan to cut down on his K rations. "Just because I'm hitting leadoff," says Thompson, "I can't leave my aggressiveness in the dugout. I've got to be me."

Expect San Francisco pitchers to be themselves as well. Both Don Robinson and Rick Reuschel are recovering from knee surgery, but neither of the 240-pounders will ever see their scars. Twenty-six-year-old John Burkett (14-7 in '90) is the staff ace, though this is the first season he has made an Opening Day roster. While Burkett acknowledges that he doesn't throw all that hard, he is quick to point out that he made his Professional Bowlers Association debut in the off-season and that "I get the [bowling] ball up there much harder than most of those guys."

The pitching staff's much ballyhooed new receiver is Steve Decker, who looks like Richie Cunningham with a cannon. "I like to think of myself as a pretty bright guy," Decker said one day this spring. "Not an idiot." Nevertheless, when the battery is Black & Decker, Steve will be required to wear the power tools of ignorance.

The Giants still have the game's best three, four and five hitters in Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell and Matt Williams. Several times this summer that trio will send opposing pitchers to the showers at Candlestick. Don't underestimate the importance of this. Last season the drought-conscious Giants installed shower heads in their clubhouse that reduced water flow to a dribble. This season the Giants have removed those shower heads—and installed them in the visitors' clubhouse.


The day camp opened, instructor Willie Stargell emerged from the Braves' clubhouse, lowered his highway-patrol shades, surveyed the field and announced, "This is one ugly group."

U-G-L-Y, the Braves ain't got no alibis. After signing free-agents Rafael Belliard, Juan Berenguer, Sid Bream, Mike Heath, Terry Pendleton and Deion Sanders, management cannot be blamed should the team again finish last. Or finish no higher than fifth, as Atlanta has done for the past six years. Or continue its astonishing streak of 22 consecutive months of losing baseball. "We all see what the Dodgers and Giants have done," says Cincinnati G.M. Bob Quinn. "But the Braves—look at Pendleton and Bream and Heath. And they have a great outfield."

Last season's Rookie of the Year, Dave Justice, is in right, the Comeback Player-of-the-Year, Ron Gant, who did 30-30, is in centerfield, and 34-year-old Lonnie Smith may or may not bump Sanders from left-field and the leadoff spot when he returns this month from arthroscopic knee surgery. After he signed a minor league contract in January, Sanders said that he had no intention of playing Peon Deion down on the farm and that his goal was to appear on "TBS or whatever it is." TBS—or whatever it is—is Sanders's employer.

The Braves, at last, are above the poverty line. And—stop us if you've heard this one before—their rotation of Charlie Leibrandt, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and Paul Marak is downright upwardly mobile. "Atlanta can't be overlooked," says Giants G.M. Al Rosen. "I've always thought Bobby Cox was an excellent manager, and he's got impact players in Gant and Justice." Of course, this year in this division, that isn't nearly enough.

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