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American League : Indians Could Use a Million Fans, but They’ll Settle for One at a Time

Peter Bavasi, the chief operating officer of the Cleveland Indians, sets aside an hour a day to accept phone calls from fans offering advice, criticism and, in rare instances, praise.

It is part of Bavasi’s grass-roots attempt to resurrect a virtually moribund franchise.

Bavasi also writes a personal reply to every letter the club receives.

“I told my staff that we have to start by thinking in terms of bringing in one new fan, not one million,” he said.

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Bavasi, hired shortly before spring training, faces a difficult task.

Despite an opening-day attendance of 61,978, the Indians are averaging only 8,579 through 35 dates. The season projection is 652,034, which would be the club’s lowest total since 1973.

“Turning this team around represents the biggest challenge in baseball,” Bavasi said. “It’s like taking over a restaurant that has a D rating from the health department.”

Cleveland’s two biggest problems are a decaying and unattractive stadium and a club that includes some good young talent but remains two to three years shy of being a contender.

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Of the stadium, first baseman Mike Hargrove said: “There’s nothing wrong with it that a case of dynamite wouldn’t cure.”

Of the club, Manager Pat Corrales said: “I’m going to do whatever it takes. I’m going to stuff baseballs, bats and gloves down the throat of every Indian player. If we continue to play like we have, we should be transferred from the American League to the Little League.”

Noting that the P.A. system was playing Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” as he went to bat against the Indians the other night, Reggie Jackson asked: “Was that meant for Cleveland or for me?”

Don Sutton is experiencing deja vu. The poor support that plagued his drive for 300 victories in Milwaukee has reappeared in Oakland. Sutton, who has won 286 games, is 6-5 this year and has won only three of his last seven starts despite an earned-run average of less than 2.30.

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“It’s getting tougher to take,” Sutton said. “Maybe that sounds selfish, but I don’t apologize for it. I know I have only a limited number of good outings left.”

He had one of those at Cleveland last week. The A’s won, 2-1, on Dwayne Murphy’s homer in the ninth, but Sutton had left after eight.

In fact, he was already preparing to unleash his frustration, having handed Bill Sheridan, the man in charge of the visitors’ clubhouse, a blank check.

“Murph saved me a hell of a lot of money,” Sutton said. “I was going to remodel the clubhouse.”

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Sutton received plenty of support Friday night, however, as the A’s beat the Indians, 9-1.

Patience Is a Virtue Dept.: The Seattle Mariners are 13-8 in games lasting longer than three hours.

Fired as manager of the Minnesota Twins, Billy Gardner was the victim of a familiar story--undependable relief pitching and inconsistent starting pitching. Gardner did not help himself, however. A tendency to rip his players publicly worked against him when the going got tough.

The selection of former Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller as his successor drew this appraisal from former Baltimore third baseman Doug DeCinces, now with the Angels:

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“When you think about it, it was a real good choice. The Twins have pitching problems, and Ray has had a lot of success coaching pitchers. The Twins rely on the home run, and he was associated with that philosophy in Baltimore. Minnesota is a young team, and Ray is young enough to relate. He’s a very good communicator.”

The Gardner dismissal did not elicit much compassion from DeCinces, who recalled the corked-bat episode last year, when the Angels questioned Tom Brunansky’s bat, prompting Gardner to say that the Angels weren’t above suspicion themselves, that DeCinces could use his bat as a fishing bob.

“Now that Billy is out of work,” DeCinces said, “I’ll send him my bat, and he can use it when he goes fishing.”

Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Mark Clear, unhappy about his lack of work under Manager John McNamara, said: “They’re trying to bury me, but I won’t let them. I’m a winner. They can’t win without me.” Check the standings, Mark.

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The ineffectiveness of Juan Berenguer and the possibility that his latest shoulder problem will keep Milt Wilcox, the Count of Cortisone, on the disabled list until late August prompted the Detroit Tigers to pursue Frank Tanana. The Tigers are reportedly still in the hunt for Bert Blyleven.

Tanana, who will make his Detroit debut against the New York Yankees today, had allowed 15 homers in 77 innings and was 2-7 with a 5.91 ERA. Even so, Sparky Anderson, his new manager, was impressed that Tanana had walked only 81 batters in 246 innings last season with the Texas Rangers, and said that the innings total denoted dependability comparable to Jack Morris’, Dan Petry’s and Walt Terrell’s. They are the workhorses in Detroit’s rotation.

Texas, meanwhile, replaced Tanana with rookie Glen Cook, who was 8-2 with a 2.31 ERA at Oklahoma City.

“This organization needs to build credibility from within,” Ranger Manager Bobby Valentine said. “The only way to do that is by rewarding people in your system.”

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The Angels have yet to make direct contact with Auburn football star Bo Jackson, their 20th choice in the recent amateur draft.

Said to have remarkable but unrefined baseball skills, Jackson has another year of football eligibility. Under NCAA rules, he could sign with the Angels and still retain that eligibility. The Southeastern Conference, however, has its own rule, prohibiting eligibility if an athlete signs to play a second sport professionally.

Would the Angels challenge the SEC rule in court if Jackson were willing to sign?

“It’s an option to be considered down the road, depending on how Bo feels,” Angel scouting director Larry Himes said. “There’s no question that the rule is our biggest obstacle. If Bo was at Michigan State or USC or Oklahoma, there’d be no problems.”

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Add Jackson: Kirk Gibson, a former Michigan State football star who has since made a name with the Detroit Tigers, was asked by a reporter if he might have some advice for Bo. Gibson nodded and said:

“I’d tell him he’d be crazy if he didn’t play baseball--for all the obvious reasons. If he wants to see one of them, just watch me run.”

Translation: The powerful Gibson still has two sound knees.

Whatever Happened-To Dept.: Minnesota catcher Dave Engle, a member of the American League All-Star team last summer, was behind the plate against Kansas City Wednesday night. It was his first start there since last Sept. 18. Engle has been healthy, but his bat hasn’t. He hasn’t had an RBI since last July 27.

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Just two weeks ago, Seattle pitcher Mike Stanton, eligible for free agency at the end of the season, spent $6,000 for a $2-million Lloyd’s of London policy insuring him against injury. A few nights later, Stanton was booed by Seattle fans reacting to a poor performance. He responded by saying, “I just want to get out of here at the end of the year.”

Stanton won’t have to wait that long. He was released two days later, a development he wasn’t insured against.

Like father, like ...:

The sons of two former Angels are on their way.

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Shortstop Jim Fregosi Jr. gave up his final three years at the University of New Mexico to accept a $50,000 bonus and sign with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Shortstop Craig Repoz, the son of former outfielder Roger Repoz, passed on a USC scholarship offer to accept a $60,000 bonus and sign with the Cincinnati Reds.


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