DeCinces Has a Yen to Remain in Baseball

So Doug DeCinces is off to Japan, land of the rising yen and alternative home of America's favorite pastime.

He will play third base for the Yakult Swallows, one of three franchises located in Tokyo. He will make lots of money: $700,000, said a spokesman for the team; $1,050,000, the same amount he earned last season with the Angels, said DeCinces. And he will be happy. After the way his former employers clumsily disposed of him in 1987, DeCinces has no choice.

DeCinces, you will remember, was presented his walking papers less than two weeks before season's end. The Angels exercised a buyout clause with their usual vigor and, in this case, insensitivity.

With an off-season to think about it, DeCinces now has a theory: The Angels, he said, had no intentions of keeping him in the first place. A two-year contract? Could have been 20 years and it wouldn't have mattered. As soon as that buyout clause made an appearance, DeCinces was bound to make a disappearance. "I knew right then and there that I was through, that I was just here one season," he said.

It didn't help that DeCinces had his worst season since 1979, or that young Jack Howell, temporarily transferred to left field, awaited his chance at his natural position--third base--or that DeCinces had a reputation for speaking his mind to management and the media.

Angel owner Gene Autry once suggested that DeCinces was a clubhouse lawyer, which is another way of saying that he didn't keep his mouth shut enough. "Gene doesn't know," said DeCinces. "He's just listening to what somebody told him."

Which is another way of saying Mike Port, the Angel vice president, and Gene Mauch, the Angel manager.

You'll notice on your new Angel pocket schedule no mention of Doug DeCinces Day, unless, of course, hangings in effigy count as a team promotion. Then again, this is the same team that thoroughly botched Rod Carew's departure. And who can forget the way they eased Reggie Jackson from the premises--with all the subtlety of a nightclub bouncer?

Now it is DeCinces' turn.

Unlike Carew and Jackson, DeCinces probably won't occupy a place in Cooperstown. But he had his seasons, like the one in 1986, when he had 26 home runs and 96 RBIs, played great defense and rarely said no to inquiring charities. Maybe that isn't worth a guaranteed million a year, but it's worth something, at least a proper farewell. Instead, even with the off-season to heal, DeCinces still has a bruise or two to show after the door whacked him on the way out.

"I have a lot of bitter feelings about (1987)," he said. "To be treated the way I was by Mike Port, treated the way I was by Gene Mauch . . . it was probably the toughest year I've had in baseball."

Given the choice, DeCinces would have preferred to stay in the American League West, or even the AL East. Instead, he gets the Far East.

The Dodgers feigned interest. DeCinces said he spoke at length with Manager Tommy Lasorda and later with executive vice president Fred Claire. "All the contact was one way," DeCinces said. "I hung around waiting and then realized (playing for the Dodgers) would never happen."

Perfectly understandable. The Dodgers already have a third baseman, Mr. Adventures in Fielding himself--Steve Sax, who made the switch from second base during the winter months. To steal an old Reggie Jackson line: The only way Sax will get a Gold Glove is if he paints it. And is it true that the Dodgers are installing a protective plexiglass shield behind the first base dugout?

Hardly anybody wanted DeCinces. Not the Angels. Not the Dodgers. Not the San Diego Padres. And when a team did express interest, it was usually at bargain-basement salary, as a part-time player or sometime designated hitter.

So DeCinces said sayonara .

"I'm a professional baseball player and they offered me a job," he said, "so I'm going. I've worked out all winter with the idea that I was going to be playing baseball someplace."

This should be interesting: DeCinces does Japan. There are those who say this gives DeCinces the chance to learn to whine in two languages. Others call it a nice business move. He gets the salary, the starting position and enough perks to make the 130-game schedule bearable enough.

The goodies list includes a full-time interpreter, a satellite dish, a town house, tutors for his children and a cultural experience to remember. In return, the Swallows would like lots of extra-base hits, preferably home runs.

As for the stories (spring training is grueling . . . players must run mile after mile . . . sit-ups until your stomach looks like a washboard), DeCinces said he isn't particularly worried. "You hear a lot of myths," he said. "I checked it out well enough to know that I would be able to handle the situation. I'm going over there with a very open mind. I'm not going to change their way of doing things and they're not going to change my ways."

In all likelihood, this will be DeCinces' final year as a player. He turns 38 in August. And if few major-league teams wanted him at 37, it's probably safe to say that fewer teams will want him as he edges closer to 40.

Too bad. If nothing else, DeCinces deserved to finish his career on familiar soil, on a little patch of infield in a far, far away place called Anaheim.

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