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Baseball
Tim Kurkjian
August 26, 1991
Unlikely Contenders
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August 26, 1991

Baseball

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The Red Sox had lost all self-respect after being shut out in Kansas City on Aug. 6 and 7. The second defeat dropped the Sox 11½ games behind the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East, but Boston then went to Toronto on Aug. 9 and pounded Blue Jay pitching for 39 runs in a four-game sweep. Through Sunday the Red Sox had won nine of their last 11 games to inch to within 5½ games of the Jays (page 20). The Red Sox, led by DH Jack Clark (21 homers) and third baseman Wade Boggs (.337 and vying for his sixth batting title), have finally started to hit. In their last 11 games they've scored 71 runs.

Shear Madness

The Yankees were doing so well. They were playing better than expected. They were using homegrown young talent. They were making the franchise look attractive once again to potential free agents. Then on Aug. 15 the Yanks became the laughingstock of baseball by benching Don Mattingly—their best player and one of the truest Yankees ever—because he wouldn't get his hair cut. "Sounds like something Steinbrenner would do," said Giants manager Roger Craig.

The next day Yankee manager Stump Merrill and general manager Gene Michael said that they had been too hasty in their punishment of Mattingly, who played that night. The next afternoon he got his locks trimmed. But the damage was done. Mattingly revealed that he had asked to be traded two months earlier. Michael said he has no plans to trade him, but don't be surprised if he does revert to another Yankee tradition—firing the manager. Merrill is a nice guy, but as one Yankee said, "Not one player respects him." Merrill has stayed on this long—he replaced Bucky Dent on June 6, 1990—only because the Yankees are trying to establish some stability, which they have done. But some of that post-Steinbrenner stability and respect were lost with the Yankee clippers.

Red-Faced

Following a 4-1 loss to San Francisco on Aug. 15—a night in which Reds pitcher Jose Rijo and third baseman Chris Sabo scuffled in the dugout—Cincinnati manager Lou Piniella said disgustedly, "This club hasn't handled winning too well." No kidding. It has been a season of holdouts, complaints, suspensions and clashes with umpires. On top of that comes an altercation between teammates. Through Sunday the fourth-place Reds were 57-59, almost as close to the last-place Astros as they were to the first-place Dodgers. Only one team since divisional play began (Baltimore in 1984) has finished as low as fifth the year after winning the World Series.

"I don't think anyone is dogging it," says Cincy pitcher Norm Charlton. "No one is showing up at the last minute and not getting his work in. Everyone is frustrated. We miss guys from last year, like Ron Oester [who became a free agent after last season and was not offered a contract] and Ken Griffey [released and now with Seattle]. If someone acted up, those two would pull him aside and say, 'Hey, you're out of line.' We miss that."

Look for the Reds to make some changes, beginning with the departure of pitcher Jack Armstrong. A spring training holdout, Armstrong was shelled (22 homers, 5.57 ERA in 106⅔ innings) before being sent to Triple A on Aug. 4. Outfielder Eric Davis and shortstop Barry Larkin will be eligible for free agency after the '92 season. Both are represented by agent Eric Goldschmidt, who is no fan of Cincinnati's management. Goldschmidt will probably shop Davis and Larkin to some West Coast teams, just as he did with Darryl Strawberry, who wound up with the Dodgers.

Calling Cooperstown
Angel rightfielder Dave Winfield's bid for the Hall of Fame got a boost last week. On Aug. 14 he hit his 400th career homer to move to 23rd on the alltime list and collected his 1,580th RBI to move to 20th on that list. Of the top 22 home run hitters, all but four are in the Hall of Fame, and two of the four, Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt, will be inducted when they become eligible (the other two, Dave Kingman and Darrell Evans, won't make it). Of the 19 top RBI men, all but three are in the Hall: Jackson, Schmidt and another Cooperstown shoo-in, Tony Perez.

Short Hops...

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