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At Bat or at Shortstop, Schofield Has the Entire Field to Himself

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.

After Friday night’s game with the Indians here, Schofield had a .250 batting average, which was 31 points higher than the one he left 1985 with. He also had 20 runs batted in, 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 new-found ability to make the most of opportunities presented.

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

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And so on, except for E . E is special. E is for errors, and Schofield had committed just one all season in a position that lends itself to mistakes.

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

Schofield went through his first 40 games without an error.

Wednesday night, against the New York Yankees at Anaheim, Schofield’s streak quietly ended with an errant throw to second base during a double-play attempt.

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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 hit to his right side, so he must field the balls backhanded. “I do it until I get a nice, fluid, smooth motion,” he said.

Then the game begins and 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.

It was the top of the second and Dusty Baker, Oakland’s designated hitter, was up. He hit a sharp grounder that skipped and jumped toward center field. But then there was Schofield, glove extended, body outstretched as if he were on a rack. He caught the ball and then, off one elbow, heaved it toward first baseman Wally Joyner. Three times it bounced before it settled into Joyner’s glove, a moment before Baker’s foot touched the bag.

Baker couldn’t believe it. What was a hit a few seconds earlier had suddenly turned into a 6 - 3 play.

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Schofield referred 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 said. “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.”

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

Schofield figures the less said, the better. The errorless streak? “I don’t like to talk about it,” he said. “Whatever takes place, takes place.”

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:

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

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

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 said.

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 hit by Schofield land to the right of second base. “That’s probably because I was trying to do it,” he said.

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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.

“He had a new batting stance every week. 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 that Schofield could hit .193 and then .219 in 1985, which wasn’t exactly what they’d had in mind when they drafted him as their No. 1 pick in the 1981 June free-agent draft.

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

An injury to Grich meant a reshuffling of the infield, and Schofield soon began appearing nightly. He has been at short almost ever since.

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.”

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OK, so Schofield’s dad isn’t exactly an unbiased judge. 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.”

Said 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 (Wally) Joyner.”

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.”

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M is for modesty.


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