JOAQUIN ANDUJAR : Pitcher Walks Into New Role With A's

Times Staff Writer

Leading the major leagues in 1986 suspensions, the new role model of the Oakland A's rolled into camp Tuesday, 11 days after it opened.

Joaquin Andujar a role model?

Those are the words A's General Manager Sandy Alderson used as he reflected on the December trade that brought the talented and temperamental pitcher from the St. Louis Cardinals for catcher Mike Heath and pitcher Tim Conroy.

Alderson said he has already asked Andujar to assume a leadership role with a young pitching staff. He also expects that young staff to benefit from the relationship and experience, gaining what Alderson called an overall toughening.

Alderson obviously subscribes to the belief, Andujar's own, that the pitcher is one tough Dominican.

But first, the suspensions. Andujar faces a pair.

Commissioner Peter Ueberroth suspended Andujar for the first 10 days of the 1986 season because of his seemingly uncontrolled run-in with umpire Don Denkinger in Game 7 of the World Series.

Andujar said Tuesday that he will apologize to Denkinger at their next meeting, which ought to be Saturday, when Denkinger is scheduled to work the A's exhibition opener.

The A's will open the regular season April 7, and Andujar will be eligible to pitch April 18 at Seattle. Manager Jackie Moore said he will use him as soon as he is available. Andujar said he will be ready, that he was born ready.

Andujar drew his second suspension last Friday. He was one of seven players suspended for the 1986 season by Ueberroth, citing his own investigation and the testimony during last summer's Pittsburgh drug trials.

Andujar must donate $127,000, a 10th of his 1986 salary, to an approved drug program, agree to random testing for the rest of his career and give 100 hours to community service each of the next two years if he wants to pitch in 1986.

He refused to discuss that suspension during an impromptu press conference after his first workout with the A's Tuesday. He spoke optimistically about his 1986 hopes, however, making it seem obvious that he will accept the stipulations--though perhaps under protest.

Only Andujar, of the seven players who drew Ueberroth's stiffest penalties, did not testify in Pittsburgh. Former St. Louis teammates Lonnie Smith and Keith Hernandez testified that they had used cocaine with Andujar and that he had helped them acquire it.

Randy Hendricks, one of three brothers who represent Andujar, said in a phone interview from his Houston office that the year's suspension, even though Andujar wasn't asked to testify, represented "selective enforcement" by Ueberroth. Hendricks said that although Andujar would probably accept the stipulations, he might also register a protest, either through a grievance or public statement.

"Joaquin realizes that something has to be done about it as soon as possible," Alderson said Tuesday. "Based on our conversations with Joaquin and his agent and our own sense of the situation, we fully expect him to pitch in '86."

Alderson also said that he fully expects Andujar to make a substantial difference in the Oakland pitching staff, not only in terms of his own ability but also in terms of his impact on the other players.

"He's a tough competitor who pitches every four days and hates to come out of a game, qualities that many of our young pitchers don't have or need to develop," Alderson said.

Chris Codiroli, pitching 226 innings, led an Oakland staff that was last in the American League with only 10 complete games last year. No other A's pitcher worked more than 151 innings.

This year, the 26-year-old Codiroli would otherwise have been the senior member of a rotation expected to include Tim Birtsas, 25, Eric Plunk, 22, and Jose Rijo, 20. Andujar is 33.

Alderson said that some of the young pitchers have been satisfied going six innings but now may be inspired to pitch more aggressively, effectively and longer. He said Andujar was very positive in regard to the suggestion that he work with the young pitchers, though Andujar, who patiently and often jokingly fielded all of the media questions, said:

"I'm not going to be a leader, I'm not going to be anything. I have to be the same Joaquin Andujar who won 21 games last year."

He later amended that, saying that he had helped the young Cardinals and would be happy to help here.

"No more five or six innings," he said. "We want them to pitch nine innings every time.

"I told them (in St. Louis) you have to force yourself. If your arm is sore, sometimes you have to push yourself a little more.

"When you're young, you don't have the experience. You need someone to talk to, to show you the right way."

A cynic might suggest that physically attacking an umpire or destroying a toilet with a bat or snubbing the All-Star game simply because you're not going to be the starting pitcher isn't really the right way.

The A's, of course, hope that if, in no other way, Andujar will provide stability with his consistency on the mound, but there is concern in that, too.

In pitching 269 innings last year, Andujar was 21-12 with a 3.40 earned-run average. It was the second time in four years that he had helped pitch the Cardinals to a National League pennant. He averaged 255 innings and 36 starts in the four-year span, and his 41 wins over the last two years were matched only by Dwight Gooden.

But . . .

After fashioning a 17-4 record and 2.31 ERA in his first 23 starts last year, he went 4-8 with a 5.68 ERA in his last 15. He gave up 103 hits in 95 innings and pitched one complete game over his last 13 weeks.

And all of that was before he lost two of three starts in the playoffs and World Series, allowing 12 earned run in 14 innings.

Andujar said Tuesday that it was strictly a slump, that a pitcher, like a hitter, can't be expected to maintain a six-month groove. He said it had nothing to do with the number of innings he had pitched, that he will continue to want to pitch nine innings--or however many are needed.

Said Alderson, when asked if he was concerned by the late-season breakdown: "No. Our feeling was that, one, it was not something that had not occurred before and, two, it was a combination of the number of innings he had pitched over the last two years and the distractions off the field (such as the Pittsburgh drug trial)."

Alderson said that Andujar would be strengthened by the cooler weather in Oakland and by the A's more extensive use of a five-man rotation. The A's believe they can influence Andujar's performance and behavior in two other ways.

Juan Marichal, a fellow Dominican and Andujar's boyhood idol, is now the A's Latin America scouting director and minor league pitching coach. And Alfredo Griffin, Andujar's next-door neighbor in San Pedro de Macoris, is the A's shortstop and a club leader.

Andujar and Griffin were given permission to report late because of visa concerns and because they must spend a minimum of seven months several thousand miles from their homes.

Andujar brought a box of Dominican cigars that he plans to send to Whitey Herzog, his former St. Louis manager and still a friend. Andujar said Herzog is a good man who he still believes was telling him the truth last winter when he said he wouldn't be traded.

"Remember Budweiser," Andujar said with a smile, implying that the brewery that owns the Cardinals ordered his departure, as suspected, because of embarrassment over his tantrum in Game 7.

Andujar said he disliked leaving Herzog and the family-like atmosphere of the Cardinal clubhouse but that he was happy with the A's, had already decided that Moore was a good man, and had been told that he would encounter a good group of sportswriters, which prompted the sportswriters to snicker.

"When you are in baseball, you shouldn't be surprised to be traded," he said. "You have to be ready mentally to go anywhere. It's just like the Army. They can send you anywhere, like it or not, Alaska or the Dominican."

Might he be more relaxed, having left the tensions of St. Louis?

"How can I relax and still win 21 games a year?" he said. "If I change, I might lose 20 games and win 1. I have to be the same Joaquin Andujar who pitched in the National League."

Will he be accepted by the A's? Will he make friends on the team?

"If you're a good guy, a friendly guy, everyone knows you," he said. "If you're a bad guy, nobody will talk to you. I'll pay you $1 million if you can find anyone in St. Louis who says Joaquin Andujar is a bad guy. I'm not the Joaquin Andujar they say I am in the papers."

He said he would prove that to Denkinger by apologizing when he sees him.

"I know I came down hard on him, but we were all upset about the way it had been going for us and everyone is human," Andujar said. "Everybody makes a mistake.

"George Brett almost killed an umpire (in the pine-tar incident) and nothing is said. If it's Joaquin Andujar, that's different.

"I was pointing to (St. Louis catcher) Darrell Porter, asking if the pitch was inside or outside, and Denkinger thought I was pointing at him. That's baseball. That's how it starts. It's past now, done with. I consider him my friend."

Or as Moore said: "We're taking a very positive approach. It's Day 1 for us as far as I'm concerned."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°