Players Got What They Wanted, but Is Boros the Answer?

Times Staff Writer

"Where's Dick Williams?" Reggie Jackson was asking the other day.

Someone replied: "Who knows? He's probably on the beach in Coronado."

So won't life be a beach for the 1986 San Diego Padres? Wasn't it Williams who messed them up last year? When he resigned as manager on the first day of spring training, a close friend of his said: "Well, the players got what they wanted."

Now they've got Steve Boros.

So far, so good. With the season opener in Los Angeles only three days away, Boros has found a way to: (a) motivate Kevin McReynolds, (b) get more speed in the lineup, (c) make his players like him, and (d) develop a relationship with the front office.

Not that General Manager Jack McKeon never spoke with Williams, but they weren't bosom buddies.

McKeon and Boros are.

Wednesday, they met for an hour or so, talking about club policies, about the club, about how to get McReynolds going, how to get Carmelo Martinez going, how to get Terry Kennedy going . . .

"We're a team," McKeon said later. "There are things I can see, and I can bring these things to his attention."

Boros, meanwhile, is still learning. After meeting with McKeon, he asked publicity man Mike Swanson: "How do I get to the clubhouse? See, I never went down there (when Williams was manager)."

Swanson said: "Go down the elevator. . . . You'll see a sign that says 'Padres.' That's us."

Boros said: "Oh, is that us?"

And here's what the Padres have to offer him:

A YOUNG OUTFIELD

The best is in right field. Tony Gwynn, all of age 25, went home last winter dissatisfied with his .317 batting average. So he got rid of his flab. This spring training, he has hit safely in 18 of his last 19 games, is tied for the team lead in steals and is batting .341.

Some predict a .340 batting average.

Some predict 50 stolen bases.

He will not predict.

Someone asked him to compare himself to Boston's Wade Boggs, who hit .368 last year, and Gwynn said: "I don't think I'm in his league. I don't think people should compare me to Boggs or even (St. Louis') Willie McGee. We're all different hitters. I mean, a lot of guys have certain theories on what to do at the plate. I don't. I just see it and hit it."

Did you see center fielder McReynolds taking early batting practice the other day? Boros ordered him to do so. Hitting coach Deacon Jones ordered him to do so. McReynolds, who wants to bounce back after batting .234 last season and .205 this spring, agreed.

His problems? Jones, who has been watching every move McReynolds makes and every breath he takes, said McReynolds is anticipating pitches and not keeping his bat back long enough. Apparently, he's worried about getting beat on inside pitches. So when the ball is thrown outside, McReynolds already has committed inside, and he hits weak grounders somewhere.

On Wednesday, though, Jones and Boros, who threw batting practice, got him going.

Boros said: "That was good, Mac. Let's give you some more tomorrow."

Jones whispered: "We've gotta get him going. Gotta get him going. If not, we're in a heap of trouble."

Carmelo Martinez always looks like he's in trouble in the outfield, but who's fault is that? Martinez is not a left fielder, and he knows it. He's a first baseman. But he wants to play, and he doesn't care where.

Where he helps is on offense. He led the team with 21 home runs last year, and he's hitting .329 this spring. "Did you see my batting practice?" he asked the other day. "Boom! Boom!"

FOR THE MOST PART, AN OLD INFIELD

Third base coach Jack Krol said to third baseman Graig Nettles the other day: "C'mon, you old (bleep)! I'll hit you some ground balls."

Bench coach Harry Dunlop, 52, overheard and thought Krol was speaking to him.

"Nah, Harry," Krol said. "You're not as old as Graig."

Actually, Nettles is only 41, but he'll be 42 in August. Can he still do it? He stays in shape, and he has hit the ball hard this spring (although he's batting only .200), so he probably can.

If not, there's always Jerry Royster, who platooned with Tim Flannery last year at second base and who will platoon with Nettles this year.

"I've had my best spring ever," said Royster, who's hitting .333.

At first base is Steve Garvey, who is 37 but didn't look major league retirement age last year when he hit .281 and had a team-high 81 RBIs. He's hitting .379 this spring.

Even players like Gwynn admit that Nettles and Garvey have lost range on defense, but not many players are as sure-handed on balls hit right at them.

Shortstop, of course, belongs to Garry Templeton, who appears to be reaching his career peak on and off the field, and many players believe he's the team leader.

And then there's Lim Robery .

That's Leon "Bip" Roberts and Tim Flannery.

As of now, Boros says Roberts, a 22-year-old rookie, and Flannery are sort of in a platoon situation at second base, sort of like the Timry Flanster combination last season.

But Boros said: "Yeah, it might look like platooning, but it's not."

A lot depends then how Roberts does. At first, he will start against left-handers, and Flannery will start against right-handers. But Roberts is a switch-hitter (although he's better from the right side), and he will get a chance to face some right-handers. If he does well and the team is winning, Boros might give him the job full-time.

"Have I made a decision yet?" Boros said. "No."

Roberts has to play, though, because the Padres need his speed. Boros has stressed baserunning aggressiveness to each and every player, but each and every player doesn't have speed.

Roberts does.

One problem, though. He keeps getting caught stealing. He has been thrown out six of his last seven attempts, and Boros said: "He's doing a bunch of things wrong. He's not as confident as he was, not as cocky. The other day, he waited to run. He didn't go on the first pitch. He's not real confident and relaxed out there . . . To make a contribution, he's got to steal bases."

Roberts responded: "Sometimes, I don't know if I should go on the first pitch. I don't know all the pitchers yet and their moves. I like to work the count a little. But there have been a lot of close calls against me. I guess because I'm a rookie, they're calling me out. Maybe it's a test to see if I'll holler."

Flannery might have reason to holler at Boros. He's hitting .339 this spring, but hasn't won the job.

"All winter long, I've had to listen to it (the hype about Bip), and now we're right back where I thought we'd be--platooning," Flannery said. "But Steve's been good to me. If I'd worried about this, I'd have lost a lot of sleep, but I didn't worry, and I'll tell you why--I had a manager (Boros) who came up to me and told me the truth. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that."

Flannery and Roberts, after a little tension, seem to be friends now. Roberts was being interviewed recently, when Flannery strolled by and joked: "Tell him the truth, Bip! We went out and beat the crap out of each other."

"Ha!" Roberts said. "That Flann is a real crack-up."

A REJUVENATED CATCHER

California Angel broadcaster Ron Fairly, who knew Terry Kennedy from his days in St. Louis, says Kennedy looks 21 again.

Because he lost 21 pounds.

This spring, he's hitting .344.

His backup is Bruce Bochy, who possesses a stronger arm and ability to be a clutch pinch-hitter.

PITCHERS THAT CAN START AND CLOSE

The starting rotation is back. There's Eric Show and Andy Hawkins and Dave Dravecky and Mark Thurmond.

And LaMarr Hoyt.

Hoyt, though, must conquer two things: alcoholism and tendinitis of the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. At the moment, he says both are under control.

In the bullpen, Goose Gossage is the stopper, though he has had an erratic spring (a 7.20 earned-run average). But spring and summer are totally different.

Also, Lance McCullers is there just in case. McCullers' spring ERA: 3.70.

Middle relief was a problem with the Padres last year, and it will be up to right-hander Tim Stoddard and lefties Craig Lefferts and Gene Walter to change things around.

A BETTER BENCH

"People are underestimating the San Diego Padres," Bobby Brown was saying. "They don't know that we have John Kruk!"

Kruk, 25, is this spring's biggest surprise. He's batting .452.

He will come off the bench and relieve Garvey at first base or Gwynn in right or Martinez in left. Mostly, he'll be a left-handed pinch-hitter.

Dane Iorg, who is hitting above .300 this spring, also is a lefty pinch-hitter, and the Padres completed a trade Thursday for outfielder Marvell Wynne, also a left-hander.

Wynne plays winning defense, besides having great speed, and he will help the team in the late innings of tight games, either as a pinch-runner or as a defensive replacement.

Outfielder Bobby Brown also helps as a right-handed pinch hitter (although he's a switch hitter), and has good speed. But with the acquisition of Wynne, somebody has to go to make room on the roster.

Who?

That will be probably decided this weekend.

Now, there's still the possibility of more trading. McKeon, several times, has admitted his interest in Pittsburgh pitcher Rick Rhoden, and he is still talking with the Pirates, although St. Louis (now that pitcher Danny Cox is out with an injury) also appears interested in Rhoden.

Regardless, McKeon is eager to get this season going.

"I feel good about it," he said. "I don't see the hype (like last year when the Padres were defending National League champs). I see guys much more mature and more businesslike. There's less talk and more action."

And more hope, now that the Dodgers' Pedro Guerrero has injured his knee and will miss at least three months of the season.

Before that news, most national magazines picked the Padres anywhere from third to fifth. Locally, fans aren't planning as many Padre tailgate parties.

The interest just isn't there, yet. In the 1984 off-season, Gwynn, whose license plates say "Padre19" and "TGwynn," was mobbed wherever he drove. Now, he is at peace wherever he roams.

"The excitement isn't there like last year," he said. "A lot of people are skeptical. People are a little cautious all of a sudden."

Ain't life a beach?

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