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Being All He Can Be : After Two Tough Seasons, Dick Schofield Settles for What He Can Do Right Now and Finds That’s Good Enough to Win Shortstop Job

Times Staff Writer

Dick Schofield plays baseball.

He is very good.

See Dick run. See Dick field. And how about this:

See Dick hit. To opposite fields. For average. For power.

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See Manager Gene Mauch smile.

“It’s pretty basic,” Mauch says. “He’s always had great ability. What matters is that he had an idea of the player he wanted to be offensively and decided he’d have to wait for that and be the player he can be offensively.”

Is it that simple? Seems to be.

Schofield is hitting .256, which is almost 40 points higher than the one he left 1985 with. He also has 20 runs batted in, which is more than such notable RBI producers as Reggie Jackson, George Hendrick and Ruppert Jones.

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“He’s really found himself,” second baseman Bobby Grich said. “He’s found his confidence.”

This has been a season of content for Schofield, a season in which the Angel shortstop has made everything look as simple as a Dick and Jane primer.

A is for attitude, which goes nicely with Schofield’s newfound ability to make the most of opportunities presented.

B is for Burleson, as in Rick, Schofield’s main competition for a starting infield position this past spring. Burleson, who made an impressive recovery from two torn rotator cuff injuries, has been relegated to part-time duty (designated hitter, an occasional infield start).

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And so on and so forth. Except for E . E is for Errors and Schofield hadn’t committed one until Wednesday night.

“I don’t even think it’s necessary to discuss the young man’s defense,” Mauch says before doing that very thing. “He has a great athletic body that he has perfect control of.”

Schofield went his first 40 games without an error. According to statistics compiled by the Angels, no other shortstop has played 30-or-more games without owning at least one error. And get this: Based on 10-or-more games at shortstop, only Schofield and Burleson are errorless.

Each day, Schofield has Angel coaches hit him about 40 ground balls. The first 15 or so are directed right at him, nothing overly challenging. But the last 20 grounders are sent to his right side, so he must field the balls backhanded. “I do it until I get a nice fluid, smooth motion,” he says.

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Then comes the game, where Schofield does the same sort of thing. His most memorable play of the season happened against the Oakland A’s on a Wednesday evening in late April at Anaheim Stadium.

Top of the second and Dusty Baker, the Oakland DH, is up. Baker hits a sharp grounder that skips and jumps toward center field. But then there is Schofield, glove extended, body outstretched as if he were on a rack. He catches the ball and then, from one knee, heaves it toward first baseman Wally Joyner. Three times it bounces before it settles into Joyner’s glove, a moment before Baker’s foot touches the bag.

Baker can’t believe it. It was a hit a few seconds ago. Now it goes down as 6 - 3 , which doesn’t seem fair to Schofield or Baker.

Schofield refers to the putout as “my play in the hole,” as if he normally fetches balls from the fringes of the outfield grass, turning singles into outs. “I enjoyed it,” he says. “Normally, when I dove for the ball, I didn’t get up. I would be scuffling on the ground. This time I made the play.”

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And that’s that. Schofield, while pleasant and polite enough, isn’t crazy about talking about himself or his season’s deeds. “How long is this going to take?” he says, as if he were headed to a root canal appointment.

Given the choice, Schofield would rather deal with baseball’s little indignities as they come. When the Angel preseason roster was cluttered with shortstops--Craig Gerber, Gus Polidor, Burleson--Schofield took the following approach:

“If I didn’t do it, I wasn’t going to be there.”

The assessment was shared by Mauch, who hinted the Angels would need more than a stubborn, pull-hitting shortstop with .219 batting average if they were to challenge once again in the American League West. Mauch wanted Schofield to aim for all fields rather than just the left-field fence. A bunt would be nice, too.

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Try telling that to Schofield, who bristles a bit when told of Mauch’s comments. Sure he didn’t use the whole field in 1984 and 1985, but it wasn’t on purpose. “I like to hit the ball to right-center,” he says.

That’s what he did in the minors, but somehow it wasn’t that easy in the majors. How rare it was to see a Schofield hit land right of second base. “That’s probably because I was trying to do it,” he says.

Those were not easy times for Schofield. The Angels, predominantly a veteran team, were involved in a pennant race. Then there was Schofield, young and struggling.

“I think he was messed up way too much,” said Dick Schofield, Sr., a major league veteran of 19 seasons. “They didn’t let him play.

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“He had a new batting stance every week,” he said. “They had him holding the bat different. I just don’t think you can do that to a young guy. You have to find out for yourself what you can and can’t do.”

In 1984, the Angels found out Schofield could hit .193 and then .219 in 1985, which wasn’t exactly what they had in mind when they made him their No. 1 pick in the 1981 June free-agent draft.

Along came the spring of 1986 and with it, expectations and challenges. At season’s beginning, Schofield found himself on the bench and Burleson at shortstop. After 11 games, Schofield had only played twice.

An injury to Grich meant a reshuffling of the infield and Schofield soon began appearing on the lineup card on a nightly basis. He has been there almost ever since.

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Says Schofield Sr.: “Let’s face it, I think the kid’s the best (defensive) shortstop in the American League. Now I’d like to have (Baltimore’s Cal) Ripken playing third base. But there’s not too many shortstops hitting better than (Schofield) right now.

“I think if somebody wanted somebody from the Angels, (Schofield) would be the first one they’d want.”

OK, so this isn’t exactly an unbiased source. But he is not entirely alone in his evaluations. Mauch, when it was suggested that the rest of the league might not be aware of Schofield’s doings this year, said, “They will, they will.”

And this from hitting coach Moose Stubing: “I think he could very easily hit .300, 15-20 home runs, 70-80 RBIs. I could see him next year maybe moving up second in the lineup hitting in front of Joyner.”

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To such praise, Schofield responds with a yawn. He is hitting No. 6 or No. 7 in lineup and that’s fine for now. He says he cares little about pats on the back. For the moment, he’ll settle for an Anaheim mailing address, rather than Edmonton. The future?

“Three, four years from now . . . I just hope I’m here.”

M is for modesty.


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