Simple twist of fate: At one time, the Philadelphia Phillies were so sure that Len Matuszek was their first baseman of the future that they let their incumbent first baseman go. That was Pete Rose, a name that Matuszek would hear incessantly when he failed to live up to expectations.
By last season, Matuszek had dropped so far in the Phillies’ esteem that they acquired Al Oliver, then 37, to play first ahead of him.
Matuszek wound up with the Toronto Blue Jays, then became a Dodger in July in a trade for Oliver, who had come to Los Angeles in the off-season. And when Rose collected his record-breaking hit in Cincinnati, Matuszek was at the plate in Atlanta. His at-bat was preempted on TV by superstation WTBS, which switched to the Reds’ game.
“My oldest boy, Kevin, who is 4, was watching at home when they took me off, and he asked what was going on,” Matuszek said. “When he found out, he said, ‘Not Pete Rose again.’ ”
Actually, Matuszek didn’t mind getting blacked out. While Rose was untying Ty Cobb, Matuszek was striking out.
Add Matuszek: He and his wife, Karen, celebrated their ninth anniversary last week. In that time, Matuszek said, they have moved more than 30 times. In 1982 with the Phillies, he was sent back and forth from the minors four times.
“That’s when I found out what this game was all about,” he said. “It’s a part of the game the normal fan doesn’t understand. They don’t see that side.
“A lot of players take a lot of things for granted. And I look at their situation and I can’t help sometimes being envious. Just knowing where you’re going to live.
“Guys have asked me if we’ve bought a house in L.A. My God, who said we should buy a house in L.A.? We’ve never had that luxury.
“Nothing would please me more than a little bit of security, to be able to tell my family we’ll be here for a year.”
Matuszek’s contract will expire at the end of this season. He hopes the Dodgers want him back, but as usual, he can’t be sure.
“Hopefully, they’ll give me a little indication,” said Matuszek, who will play third base in winter ball at the Dodgers’ request. “I think their plans include having me. I feel they have people in their organization who are to be respected.”
Roger Craig is the seventh manager in 10 seasons to be hired by San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie. None of the first six had a .500 record.
Bill Rigney was 74-88 in 1976; Joe Altobelli was 225-239 from 1977 until he was replaced by Dave Bristol during the 1979 season. Bristol was 85-98 through 1980. Frank Robinson was 264-277 from 1981 until he was replaced by Danny Ozark in ’84. Ozark was 24-32 the rest of the ’84 season, and Jim Davenport was 56-88 when he was fired and replaced by Craig.
Said Al Rosen, the Giants’ new general manager, of Craig: “He reminds me a lot of Walter Alston--big, tough. He’s got four World Series rings (three as a player, one as the Detroit pitching coach), so he knows what it feels like to win. He’s got that fire in his belly.”
That fire didn’t burn very brightly in San Diego, where Craig was 152-171 in two seasons with the Padres, 1978 and ’79.
Manager Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals, who earlier had conceded the Most Valuable Player award to pitcher Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets, finally has gotten around to stumping for one of his own, outfielder Willie McGee, the league’s leading hitter.
“No one has done more for their team than Willie has done for ours,” said Herzog, noting that McGee has almost 80 RBIs batting in the No. 2 spot in the Cardinals’ order, and plays center field as well as anyone in the league.
Of the Dodgers’ Pedro Guerrero, Herzog said: “What about all those games he messed up before they moved him from third base to the outfield?”
Think thin: Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner, in a team meeting last Thursday, accused his players of being overweight and said that in the future, players would be required to take a battery of tests to determine their physical conditioning. In addition, Turner said he is hiring a dietitian.
“This season has been so devastating, I’m just sick about it,” Turner said.
Thus inspired, the Braves went out and lost to Cincinnati, 15-5.
Write this one off: Said Bruce Sutter, the Braves’ battered reliever: “I hope they don’t put this season on the back of my baseball card. Maybe, they’ll just put: “In Military Service.”
Met Manager Davey Johnson has shuffled his rotation so that Gooden, Ron Darling and Ed Lynch will pitch against the Cardinals next weekend in St. Louis, the series that could settle the title race in the East. Herzog didn’t have to make any alterations: Joaquin Andujar, John Tudor and Danny Cox all are scheduled to take their regular turns against the Mets.
Herzog has one question about Johnson’s preparations: “What if it rains?”
Add Lynch: It turns out that the Met right-hander injured his back in the bench-clearing brawl with the Dodgers two weeks ago and will miss at least one start, possibly more.
The brawl, you may recall, started when Dodger rookie Mariano Duncan charged the mound when Lynch struck him out. Duncan and Pedro Guerrero had been baiting Lynch to stop throwing so many off-speed pitches. After Lynch struck out Duncan, he supposedly said, “Take that, Ty Cobb.”
Jack McKeon, general manager of the Padres, commended the Dodgers for returning to the top of the Western Division standings this season but added that he is already plotting to make some moves to strengthen the Padres.
“I’d like to do something during the playoffs,” said McKeon, who acknowledged that the team’s biggest need is greater speed. “Why wait for the winter meetings? All they do is screw things up.”
Rumors abound that Manager Dick Williams will not return next season, but Williams has a year left on his contract and says he expects to honor it.
“I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me,” Williams said.
Any reason to believe they wouldn’t?
“I can’t think of any,” he said. “This team hadn’t won anything before I got here, and in three years, we were in the World Series.”