Baseball : For Time Being, Yankee Fans Won’t Find Ed Whitson at Home
The New York Yankees sent 12-game winner Joe Cowley to the Chicago White Sox as part of a December trade for pitcher Britt Burns, who is out for the season with a hip injury that the Yankees knew about before making the trade.
Burns was lost even before the Yankees released 16-game winner Phil Niekro in spring training, making their starting rotation even more suspect and leaving them with one very outraged and unhappy pitcher in Joe Niekro, Phil’s brother.
Now, however, it’s obvious that Joe Niekro’s frustration and displeasure is modest compared to that of Yankee pitcher Ed Whitson.
Here’s a genuinely troubled guy who has taken to talking to himself on the mound and desperately wants out, although there reportedly are only six teams to which he will approve being traded.
Free agent Whitson had a 53-56 record when Yankee owner George Steinbrenner rewarded him with a five-year, $4.4-million contract in December 1984.
And what was 1985 like?
“My first look at hell,” Whitson said the other day.
He won only one of his first 12 starts, losing six. He then won five of his last seven decisions en route to a 10-8 record, but his earned-run average for his last 13 starts was 6.44.
The zealous Yankee fans seemed to take it personally. There were times he was spit on while walking to the parking lot, he said, and others when he was followed home, where nails were left in his driveway.
There were threats against his house and family, and then the September fight with then Manager Billy Martin, who emerged with a broken arm.
Whitson started Wednesday night against the Kansas City Royals in the second game of the new season under a new manager. Whitson seemed to regard it as an exorcism, a chance to erase the bad memories of 1985. This was going to be bigger than big.
“If I don’t win, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone shot me,” he said before the game. “There’s more pressure on me now than any other game I’ve pitched in my life.
“Pitching in the World Series (as he did in 1984) isn’t half as bad as this.”
The exorcism failed.
Whitson was booed before, during and after a 2-inning stint in which he allowed 4 runs and 6 hits, the Royals going on to a 7-4 victory.
Yankee catcher Butch Wynegar described the scene when Manager Lou Piniella finally brought out the hook.
“Eddie was walking around the mound saying, ‘I can’t pitch here, I can’t pitch under these circumstances, I’ve got to get out of here.’
“I didn’t know what to say, and neither did Lou. (Whitson) was very, very upset. I think he’d have dug a tunnel to the clubhouse if he could have.
“If only people knew him, if only they could be alone with him, they’d know what kind of guy he is and how badly he wants to win.
“We’ve got good fans who know the game, but when they pick out one guy for no particular reason . . . I mean, what has he done to deserve this anguish?”
It’s what he hasn’t done, of course. He hasn’t pitched $4.4-million worth, but then he didn’t force Steinbrenner to give it to him. Steinbrenner couldn’t resist 53-56, and now he must make another decision.
Can the shaken Whitson pitch even that well in a hostile environment?
The Yankees, for the time being, have decided that he can’t. In an unusual move, they will start him only on the road, using Bob Shirley in Whitson’s spot at home.
Whitson, who hears only the boos and threats and says he can’t sleep and won’t open his mail, believes that the only realistic solution is a trade, which leaves a larger question: Can that dynamite Yankee lineup win with two starting pitchers who want out and a rotation that is already without two who were expected to be in?
A recent Times story cited what has become a trend--the move from free agency in favor of the force-feeding of young players. Here’s additional evidence:
--A remarkable total of 67 rookies made opening-day rosters, including 35 in the American League, where both the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers have six. The Cincinnati Reds and the Houston Astros have five each, most in the National League. Only three of the 26 teams--Kansas City, the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies--were without any.
--Three of the top eight selections in last June’s amateur draft have already made it to the majors. They are San Francisco Giants first baseman Will Clark, the No. 2 pick; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Bobby Witt, the No. 3, and Ranger starting right fielder Pete Incaviglia, No. 8.
--Four members of the 1984 Olympic team have already made it to the majors. They are Clark, Witt, Texas center fielder Oddibe McDowell and Seattle Mariners pitcher Bill Swift.
Asked the other day if the enthusiasm of Cincinnati’s five rookies might help him sustain his own drive, Pete Rose, the once-and-forever Charlie Hustle, shook his head and said: “If anything, my enthusiasm might rub off on them. I plan to put a stall at the end of the bench and have them sit next to me.”
Scheduling insanity--or is it merely stupidity? While Midwest teams shivered, there were the warm-weather Angels opening indoors again at Seattle, the Metrodome Twins opening in comparatively warm Oakland and the warm-weather Dodgers and San Diego Padres playing in Los Angeles. And although Candlestick Park isn’t exactly heaven, it probably beats Chicago or Detroit in April. Yet, the Giants opened indoors at Houston.
Add scheduling: The National League will face a major problem in Montreal next spring. The plan is to finally complete the dome at Olympic Stadium. This will put the Expos on the road for their first five series of the year and may force them to play their first home games in Boston’s Fenway Park.
Premature? In the wake of opening-day victories by the New York Mets and Yankees, a New York Post headline read: “Subway Series on Track.”
Visitors to the Yankee Stadium press box are finding great enjoyment watching George Steinbrenner’s 27-year-old son, Hank, in a nearby executive box. Hank’s emotions--ranging from disgust to approval--are even more emphatic than his celebrated father’s. He’s known as Baby Boss.
The New Jersey Yankees? Officials of the Meadowlands sports complex have reportedly offered Papa Boss a new stadium exclusively for the Yankees, a 2.2-million attendance guarantee and assumption of the Yankee Stadium lease costing $1.75 million through 1999.
It could be a wedge as Steinbrenner attempts to get improved parking and a commuter rail stop at Yankee Stadium. There is also a rumor that has the Oakland A’s moving to the Meadowlands and the San Francisco Giants taking BART to Oakland.
Wynegar’s three-run homer in the Yankees’ opening-night victory over Kansas City earned him a dugout hug from Piniella. Wynegar called it a first.
“I’ve never been hugged by a Yankee manager,” he said. “I can understand Lou being excited, but I hope we don’t turn into Tom Lasorda and the Dodgers.”
Darrell Evans, who hit a league-leading 40 home runs as the Detroit Tigers’ first baseman last season, is off to another strong start, but he is outraged at being a platooned designated hitter. Mike Laga and Dave Engle will apparently platoon at first. In fact, Manager Sparky Anderson is carrying four left-handed-hitting first basemen.
“Is there another team that would do this to the guy who led the league in homers last year?” Evans asked.
Retorted Anderson: “I don’t care if he hit 40 home runs, where did we end up? Evidently, they didn’t do us much good, did they?
“If you’re going to cheap-shot me, you’d better be prepared to face the facts. What did Darrell Evans hit against left-handers last year (.207)? Don’t you think Evans is capable of hitting more than that (he hit .285 overall)?
“Thank God, Evans doesn’t manage this team. We’re talking about a man who’ll be 39 next month. I’m doing him a favor by keeping him.”
Will the Tigers keep catcher Lance Parrish and pitcher Jack Morris, both eligible for free agency when the season ends? Doesn’t sound that way. Parrish said they both will put their houses up for sale in June.
“It doesn’t mean that much to me,” Parrish, a winter resident of Yorba Linda, said of staying in Detroit. “It’s the cheapest franchise in baseball. Not only in salaries but in facilities and other things, as well.”
Both Parrish and Morris will have to get by on 1986 salaries of $850,000.
The Tigers are the latest team to be enraged by the antics of Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd, who waves his fist exultantly after every strikeout.
Boyd noted that the Tigers don’t seem to like him, prompting this from Parrish: “He’s right, we don’t like him. He’s a hotdog and a loudmouth. When somebody strikes you out and then starts screaming about you, you tend to have mixed emotions about the guy.”
Early last week, a National League general manager was asked if the Dodgers should pursue Cesar Cedeno as a replacement for Pedro Guerrero.
“No,” he said. “The Dodgers are doing it exactly the right way with kids. Cedeno is past.”
How happy was former Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Jason Thompson to be traded to the Montreal Expos?
“Last year was torture, the whole scene,” he said. “I took a lot of unfair abuse. As soon as (first baseman) Sid Bream came (from the Dodgers Aug. 31), I began pulling for him to do well. I realized he was my ticket out.”