In the early days of spring training, when Wade vs. Margo was still the only big story for the Boston Red Sox, Sam Horn could come and go at his leisure without attracting much attention.
Yes, the man looks great, everyone agreed. Horn had used his winter to transform himself, dropping 17 pounds from his beefy frame. Then he broke out his rarely trusty first baseman’s mitt, and, surprise of surprises, he was picking balls out of the dirt and, even more surprising, backhanding hard grounders down the line.
“When he showed up here, his chances of making the team were nil, absolutely nil,” Red Sox General Manager Lou Gorman said. “We had a lot of roster decisions to make for the 1989 season, but I think our decision had been made with Sam.”
“Now,” said Gorman, “you have to take a look at him. Everything he has done this spring has made us take notice of him.”
Red Sox Manager Joe Morgan took it a step further: “I just have a feeling that Sam Horn is going to become a real good hitter,” Morgan said. “He’s made a believer out of me to this day.” Asked if he was a believer when spring training began, Morgan answered, “No.”
The Sam Horn Comeback was a day-long success Monday, beginning with a “B” game at Yawkey Field in which Horn hit a two-run homer in a 3-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals. In the afternoon main attraction at Chain O’ Lakes Park, Horn slammed an Ed Olwine pitch down the right-field line and thundered into third with a triple. Thanks to an Ed Romero home run in the bottom of the 11th, the game labored through 13 innings before both the Red Sox and Royals called it quits with a 7-7 tie.
Now, the Red Sox are understandably delighted to see Horn in shape and in a groove, but it means their roster decisions will be weighty ones. Where at one time the only Horn decision to make was whether to trade him or send him back to triple-A, the Red Sox now have three decisions--a trade, the minor leagues, or the big leagues.
Each decision has its whys and wherefores. If the Red Sox dump Horn, might they one day regret having given away another good young hitter a la Ben Oglivie or Cecil Cooper? If they decide to farm out Horn, who is out of options, will he be able to clear waivers? And there is this: if they keep him on the 24-man roster, how will they find room for him?
One idea would be to scrap the Kevin Romine-Randy Kutcher battle for the 24th spot on the roster. Both are right-handed hitting outfielders who can run, and Kutcher plays some third. But both are being groomed as third-string catchers in the event Morgan needs a catcher in the late innings of a game, and the manager intends to stay with that idea.
“At no time,” Morgan said, “will I get into a situation where I have to put someone behind the plate who’s never played there. To me, if we had to do it once all season, that would be too much.”
So Romine or Kutcher will be on the team. Morgan seems to favor Kutcher. Gorman seems to favor Romine, saying of Kutcher Monday, “He was just a .230 (actually .233) hitter at Pawtucket last year.”
Jim Rice, who hit his third home run of the spring Monday, is a lock to make the team. So, too, is professional substitute Danny Heep, whom Morgan likes. Given that another spot must be kept for a backup catcher (Rick Cerone or, possibly, John Marzano) and another for a back-up middle infielder (Romero or Luis Rivera) there is only one spot for Horn--Carlos Quintana’s spot.
Quintana has also been a hot hitter in spring training, going 1 for 1 in the “B” game Monday and 2 for 3 in the main game. Morgan has been saying that he’d rather have Quintana on his big-league bench than playing every day in the minors. Of course keeping Horn and sending Quintana down removes a right-handed bat from the bench, but said, “We don’t pinch hit that much anyway.”
Gorman won’t commit himself to any Sam Horn trade possibilities. Asked if the Red Sox had received any offers for Horn, the general manager likes to say, “We’ve received offers on a lot of our players.”
But, hinted Morgan, “Who knows what’s going to happen between now and the end of spring training? I might have to make a decision, but, then again, maybe the decision will make itself.
“But I do know that Horn has been impressive,” Morgan said. “His approach to pitches is what I’m looking at, and I don’t see him swinging at pitches down in the dirt, except maybe a couple of low curves.”