For every Dwight Gooden, there are a dozen Jose DeLeons.
While Gooden zeroes in on the National League’s Cy Young Award, DeLeon, Pittsburgh’s 24-year-old right-hander, is the obvious choice for the 1985 Len Barker Award, granted to the player who’s done the least with the most.
“Everyone in baseball knows Jose has the ability to be a big winner,” says Pirate pitching coach Grant Jackson. “But one of the hardest things to teach a pitcher is to not be afraid of losing. Until he gets that attitude, Jose won’t be successful.”
DeLeon broke in sensationally with the Pirates in 1983. The 6-foot-3 Dominican used a sizzling fastball and a puzzling forkball to average 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings and he posted a 7-3 record and 2.83 ERA after being called up from Hawaii July 20. In 15 starts, he twice carried no-hitters into the seventh and he held the Mets hitless for 8 innings before settling for a no-decision.
DeLeon struggled through a 7-13 sophomore season before bottoming out in 1985. Incredibly, he took a 2-18 mark into the final weeks of the season and he has been banished to the Pirate bullpen for the rest of the year.
“Right now, Jose doesn’t have the fight to be a big-league pitcher,” admits Jackson. “You’ve gotta be pretty mean out there on the mound. He throws just as hard as Gooden and his forkball is unhittable, although he doesn’t have Gooden’s curve. All of his problems are upstairs. Until we can unlock that box and found out what the problem is, it’s gonna be like it is now for him.
“I also used to walk a lot of people when I came up to the big leagues,” says the former relief pitcher for the Orioles and Pirates. “Until I decided to challenge people, I wasn’t successful.”
If misery loves company, DeLeon must be ecstatic. This season can’t end soon enough for other underachievers like Baltimore’s Mike Boddicker, Mark Langston of Seattle, Oakland’s Dwayne Murphy, George Wright of Texas, Chicago’s Floyd Bannister, Bud Black of Kansas City and Ed Whitson of the New York Yankees.
“There’s a possible chance he was tipping his pitches this season to certain ballclubs,” says Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver about Boddicker, his staff ace who has pitched like a joker for much of ’85. “Anytime a guy has a bad year, you never stop looking for the reasons why. But Mike’s the type of guy you definitely expect to bounce back next year. He’s maintained a good attitude and it’s not that unusual for good pitchers to have an off year. Look at Joaquin Andujar (6-16 in 1983) two years ago.”
Boddicker, 36-19 in his first two full seasons with the Orioles, had a 12-17 mark and 4.07 ERA through 32 starts this year. The American League’s only 20-game winner in 1984 allowed 227 hits in his first 203 innings and Weaver won’t offer any alibis for his 28-year-old right-hander.
“He’s pitched two shutouts and has lost two shutouts in the ninth,” says Weaver, “so there’s no doubt he’s thrown some excellent ballgames for us. We have scored enough runs for Mike, not as much as some of our other pitchers have gotten, but enough so it’s not a big factor in his record.”
Langston won 17 games for Seattle last year but the 25-year-old southpaw is flunking his sophomore season. Despite pitching for an improved club, Langston was 7-13 with a 5.14 ERA through 23 starts. After leading the AL in strikeouts last season (204 in 225 innings), Langston has lost the zip on his fastball, with just 68 strikeouts.