It is four days before the opening of the 1989 major league baseball season. The National League Western Division teams have called an emergency meeting in New York, at the home of Barbara Walters.
The subject is the Padres.
Dodgers: Order, order. You, Reds, turn off those 17 college basketball games. This will be quick meeting.
Reds: We bet.
Dodgers: We have gathered here to request a full report from our brother Padres. They have been talking all spring about winning the division championship, but since 1984 have not finished higher than third place. We demand an explanation.
Padres: Fine, but at Barbara Walters’ house?
Dodgers: A lot of jocks are hanging out with her.
Walters: OK, so who here has been traumatized by their fathers?
Braves: Steve Garvey is not my Padre.
Braves: We’ll shut up if you take Dale Murphy.
Dodgers: Order, order. So, Padres, why do you think you are going to be so good?
Padres: First off, we have baseball’s best pair of Jacks.
Reds: Cards? Oh, good. We’ll raise you one . . .
Padres: No, we’re talking about Jack McKeon, the manager, and Jack Clark, the first baseman. For once, we have two guys who will provide the team with leadership in the clubhouse and on the field.
Of 102 teams this century to play .333 or worse in their first 45 games, the Padres last year became the first to end the season above .500 (from 15-30 to 83-78). That has much to do with McKeon, who took over one game after we reached that low mark.
The players love McKeon, and not so much because he’s their best friend, but because he leaves them alone. Call this style “Management by Conscience.” By giving them freedom and respect, he makes them feel bad for not playing to their potential without ever saying a word.
The other Jack, the first baseman, works through Management by Intimidation. The players feel that with Jack Clark’s stern looks and strong swing, they have somebody who will fight for them. All of them. This spring, he has proven he’s not afraid to congratulate future minor leaguers after big plays or stay up late counseling reserves out of big slumps.
He’s also a little bit of a hitter. He has averaged 22 homers a year since 1978 and last year, even though he hated being the designated hitter for the New York Yankees, he still hit 27 homers with 93 RBIs.
His weakness is his fielding at first, which ranks 25th among the game’s 27 first basemen with at least 300 career games (.989 percentage). But he has only been playing there a total of three years after being an outfielder for 12. Give him time. He has only played 130 or more games twice in the past five years because of injuries, but if this is one of those healthy times--which is impossible to predict--he should give us his $2 million worth. At least.
Astros: Yeah, but other teams also have their leaders. In the winter, we hired a hot young manager, Art Howe.
Astros: Easy, we just called him up and offered him the job.
Padres: How come?
Astros: He sure did, joined us right away.
Dodgers: Order, order. We all know the most important part of the game is pitching. We have a Mitsubishi salesman who does a pretty good job for us, but you Padres say you can have the best staff in the league. Explain.
Padres: We never said we had the best, only the toughest. We have baseball’s only staff with five pitchers who each worked more than 200 innings last year. Our guys will last and last, and when that happens, you generally win and win.
Reds: We bet.
Braves: Hey, Dale Murphy can probably be one of your starting pitchers, if you just asked him nice and . . .
Padres: Start with Eric Show, the opening day starter. He’s coming off a career best season (16-11, 3.26 ERA), and if the bulging disc in his back doesn’t bother him, he could do just as well again. Not only did he allow just two walks per nine innings last year, one of the league’s more phenomenal stats, but for his career, opposing hitters have batted just .143 against him with the bases loaded.
Then there’s Bruce Hurst, who has periodically complained of a stiff shoulder this spring but who says it doesn’t bother him when he pitches. That seems more than true considering he has gone 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 30 spring innings. Hurst also is coming off a career best year--18-6, 3.66 ERA with Boston--that is tainted only in that he was given the best run support in the major leagues, six runs per start.
The No. 3 starter, Ed Whitson, will be wearing the same big league uniform for the third year in a row, a career first, which should make him feel secure enough to win a couple of games. And Lance McCullers isn’t in the bullpen to blow any of Whitson’s games--something he did nine times last season, when Whitson went just 13-11 but felt he was at his career best.
The No. 4 guy, Dennis Rasmussen, was in some ways the Padre MVP last year; he came over June 8 from Cincinnati and went 14-4 with a 2.55 ERA. There will be some question as to whether he can do that again considering he was given 4.48 runs per start--third highest in the National League--and considering his overall 3.43 ERA was the highest of any big league pitcher with 15 more more victories (he was 16-10 overall). But as a fourth starter, with little pressure on him, Rasmussen doesn’t need to be superman. This time, 14 victories over an entire season will do.
Finally, there is Walt Terrell, the fifth guy but one who could wind up being the main guy. He completed 11 games for Detroit last year, more than all the Padres but Show, even though he lost seven of those because he was given just 3.86 runs per game. If you’re looking for a guy to stop a losing streak, Terrell could be it. Last year, batters hit just .182 off of him with runners in scoring position in late-inning pressure situations. The staff will benefit from his spirit.
Dodgers: Nifty. But aren’t you forgetting something?
Padres: Oh yeah, our star left-handed reliever, on the verge of being the best in the game. Name of, of, Glenn Davis.
Astros: Wrong. We have Glenn Davis.
Padres: Sorry, Eric Davis.
Reds: Wrong again. We’ll bet you.
Padres: Maybe Jody Davis?
Padres: Oh, we know . . . our star reliever is Mike Davis.
Dodgers: When he’s not playing outfield for us.
Padres: Wait, wait . . . it’s Mark Davis. That’s right, Mark Davis. He is baseball’s most unknown reliever, except to hitters. Last year, his first full season in San Diego after coming over from San Francisco, the final 158 batters he faced did not get an extra base hit, the longest such streak in the majors and third longest over the past 10 years. The reason we forget about him so often is that he’s always there, he’s such a constant , while the rest of the guys down there . . .
Walters: I sense a bit of honest revelation coming here. Please, feel free to cry.
Padres: It’s just that, well, the rest of our bullpen is unproven in pressure situations. Backing up Davis from the left side will be Dave Leiper, who ranked ninth in the league last year in stopping opponents in late-inning pressure situations--they only hit .178 off him then. But Leiper was only used in one save situation.
Then there’s the right side, which features Mark Grant, Greg Booker and rookie Greg Harris. First off, Harris is not a reliever and is only down there in case one of the starters breaks down. His bright future is in the Padre rotation, by next season at the latest.
Second, Booker is actually a better starter than reliever, as he proved last year by allowing just two runs in 11 innings in two key late-season starts. Look for him to be the club’s sixth starter if Harris is traded for a hitting prospect.
This leaves Grant as a right-handed stopper and setup man. His career winning percentage of .313 (10-22) is the lowest of any active major league pitcher with more than 30 decisions. Yet since being moved to the bullpen in the middle of last season, after which he compiled a 2.57 ERA in 22 appearances, Grant claims to have discovered his niche. This year, with no McCullers around, he will certainly have a chance to find out.
While everyone is talking about McKeon dealing minor league catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. for a power hitter, he may be more interested in a right-handed stopper, depending on how the bullpen responds early.
Braves: The bullpen, honestly, Dale Murphy loves bullpens, he’d be a great guy down there, would sign plenty of autographs and . . .
Padres: Give us a break. We haven’t even talked about our position players yet. You should see our lineup up the middle.
Reds: We’ve got Up the Middle in the third race at Aqueduct.
Padres: We’ve got arguably the best catcher in baseball in Benito Santiago. He was moody and unpredictable last season and still threw out an incredible 45% of potential base stealers (35 of 77). A 30% is considered acceptable. This spring, playing for a contract he approves of ($310,000) and for a manager he finally understands, he was hitting a team-leading .426 with one exhibition game left.
At second is fellow Puerto Rican Roberto Alomar, who has expressed a need to show up all those who didn’t vote for him last year’s rookie of the year balloting because he didn’t have the good first half of Cincinnati’s Chris Sabo.
If they had only looked at Alomar’s second half. He committed just four errors after July 21 (a 64-game span) while hitting .293 in the season’s second half and had the league’s seventh-best average in September (.330). He also filled the big hole at leadoff hitter late in the year--his September move to that slot resulted in 10 victories in 12 games. This year, the 21-year-old should no longer be the youngest regular in the majors and could have grown-up, full-season numbers to prove it.
Then there’s shortstop Garry Templeton, who despite his bad left knee and inability to play 150 games, has still not appeared to lose a step. His fielding has been better than ever this spring, and that is all McKeon cares about. His team captaincy also seems to mean something under McKeon. Templeton now has real influence in the clubhouse, which should only mean harder work on the field.
Finally there’s center fielder Tony Gwynn. Last season, he became the first batting champion since World War II to overcome a July 4 deficit as large as 92 points (he trailed Montreal’s Andres Galarraga .345 to .253) before winning the title, which he did with a .313 average. But there needs to be patience with him in the field--he has only been in center for a half season, and is still not quite comfortable there.
And that uneasiness could become even more evident with the limited range of the two outfielders around him--John Kruk in right and Carmelo Martinez in left. With as many fly balls as he may need to chase, Gwynn could spend a summer gone with the wind.
Giants: Hey, we’re the ones with Brett Butler in center field. That’s our line. You steal our relief pitchers, and you steal our lines.
Braves: Do we hear mention of Atlanta? You know, we have a pretty good center fielder down there ourselves, name of Murphy. You guys ever heard of . . .
Dodgers: Wait, we want to hear more about these other two outfielders.
Padres: Martinez, after finally being moved into the starting lineup full-time as the left fielder, finished last season as one of the league’s top power hitters. He was third in second-half homers (15) behind the Mets’ Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds, with a .258 average and 46 RBIs after the break. Overall, the team went 52-36 when he was in the starting lineup. Feeling so secure, he forsook winter baseball and this spring has led the team with six homers and 17 RBIs in 17 games.
Kruk’s situation is not so steady. He is coming off a terrible year, hitting just .241 with nine homers and 44 RBIs after collecting 20 homers and 91 RBIs in 1987. He was bothered by former Manager Larry Bowa, bothered by an FBI investigation of a buddy who was an alleged bank robber, bothered by all kinds of things. Whether he will be ready this year remains to be seen.
The problem with both is that only Kruk is a true outfielder, but even then, not a true right fielder. Martinez is a first baseman who may even be better off at third, where he may wind up if McKeon pulls off a trade for a swifter outfielder.
Reds: We agree, speed is very important. What do those outfielders do for five furlongs?
Dodgers: We think the Padres have forgotten to discuss one position here.
Braves: Whatever it is, Dale Murphy can play it.
Padres: OK, OK, it’s third base. Everybody in baseball has fantasized that our biggest hole is at third base.
Walters: Fantasies? You have fantasies? Would you like to describe . . .
Padres: We’re here to say, everybody is wrong, our biggest hole is not at third. We feel it grossly unfair that Randy Ready had to undergo constant criticism this spring before ever taking a regular-season grounder there. Nobody bugged Ed Whitson for his 4.80 spring ERA, or Jack Clark for his 17 strikeouts in 42 spring at-bats. But when Ready committed five errors over there--one fewer than Benito Santiago committed at catcher--everyone wanted to shoot him or, worse yet, trade for Wade Boggs.
Unless McKeon turns his back on all this loyalty business, Ready will be the opening day third baseman, his natural position. With heart and intensity and a career average of .297 with runners in scoring position, he could make it work.
If he doesn’t, why do you think there was the recent trade for Luis Salazar? So he could be a super-utility man? Wrong. Ready should be given at least a month to prove himself, but if he falters, look for Salazar to finish the year there. It is where he plays best.
This is, of course, not to forget Tim Flannery, who will give either man plenty of rest at third. But with a .308 pinch-hitting average last year and an average of over .300 with men on base in three of the past four seasons, Flannery knows he is more valuable as a left-hander off the bench.
In other words, the Salazar trade should be the last McKeon trade involving a third basemen. He has bigger holes to fill.
Dodgers: What about your bench?
Padres: Speaking of holes. The bench is too young and doesn’t have enough power. Other than that . . .
Marvell Wynne is an experience outfield backup, but shortstop Gary Green and infielder-outfielder Bip Roberts don’t have two full big-league years between them. And in the late innings, when somebody is needed to come off the bench to hit a homer . . . Green has two in his entire pro career, Roberts 24 in his pro career and Wynne has just 29 in a six-year big league career, 11 coming last year.
Don’t even mention Flannery. He hasn’t homered since 1986, a drought matched by only two other big leaguers with as many at-bats (446).
Dodgers: So you admit you need another outfielder, maybe a right-handed reliever and some power off the bench. So why do you think you will win the division?
Padres: We didn’t say we’d win. We just said the West Division would be a horse race.
Walters: So, you’ve had dreams about a horse, and now you want to cry about it . . .
Braves: Dale Murphy is a horse, all right, a great big horse who could do wonders for your club if only . . . how about Hugh Downs? We’ll take Hugh Downs for Murphy, even up.
Reds: A horse race? Which horse race?
Oakland A’s: Sorry to interrupt, but did somebody in this room order horses?
Many of the statistics used in this story were obtained from the 1989 Elias Baseball Analyst.
PADRE ROSTER (FINAL MOVES PENDING)
No Pitchers (12) B-T Ht. Wt. Born 1987 Club 51 Booker, Greg R-R 6-6 245 06/22/60 SAN DIEGO 48 Davis, Mark L-L 6-4 200 10/19/60 SAN DIEGO 55 Grant, Mark R-R 6-2 205 10/24/63 SAN DIEGO 46 Harris, Greg R-R 6-2 190 12/01/63 Las Vegas SAN DIEGO 47 Hurst, Bruce L-L 6-3 214 03/24/58 Boston 52 Leiper, Dave L-L 6-1 160 06/18/62 SAN DIEGO 37 Nolte, Eric L-L 6-3 200 04/28/64 SAN DIEGO Las Vegas 43 Rasmussen, D. L-L 6-7 225 04/18/59 Cincinnati SAN DIEGO 30 Show, Eric R-R 6-1 190 05/19/56 SAN DIEGO 35 Terrell, Walt L-R 6-2 205 05/11/58 Detroit 31 Whitson, Ed R-R 6-3 195 05/19/55 SAN DIEGO No Catchers (2) B-T Ht. Wt. Born 1987 Club 27 Parent, Mark R-R 6-5 224 09/16/61 SAN DIEGO 9 Santiago, Benito R-R 6-1 185 03/09/65 SAN DIEGO No Infielders (9) B-T Ht. Wt. Born 1987 Club 12 Alomar, Roberto S-R 6-0 155 02/05/68 Las Vegas SAN DIEGO 25 Clark, Jack R-R 6-3 205 11/10/55 New York (AL) 11 Flannery, Tim L-R 5-11 181 09/29/57 SAN DIEGO 20 Green, Gary R-R 6-3 170 01/14/62 Las Vegas 5 Ready, Randy R-R 5-11 180 01/08/60 SAN DIEGO 10 Roberts, Bip S-R 5-7 160 10/27/63 Las Vegas SAN DIEGO 4 Salazar, Luis R-R 5-9 180 05/19/56 Detroit 1 Templeton, Garry S-R 6-0 192 03/24/57 SAN DIEGO 19 Gwynn, Tony L-L 5-11 199 01/09/60 SAN DIEGO 8 Kruk, John L-L 5-10 195 02/09/61 SAN DIEGO 23 Mack, Shane R-R 6-0 185 12/07/63 Las Vegas SAN DIEGO 14 Martinez, Carmelo R-R 6-2 220 07/28/60 SAN DIEGO 16 Wynne, Marvell L-L 5-11 185 12/17/59 SAN DIEGO
PADRE ROSTER (FINAL MOVES PENDING)
Pitchers (12) W-L ERA G CG SV IP H ER BB SO Booker, Greg 2-2 3.39 34 0 0 63.2 68 24 19 43 Davis, Mark 5-10 2.01 62 0 28 98.1 70 22 42 102 Grant, Mark 2-8 3.69 33 0 0 97.2 97 40 36 61 Harris, Greg 9-5 4.11 25 5 0 159.2 160 73 65 147 2-0 1.50 3 1 0 18.0 13 3 3 15 Hurst, Bruce 18-6 3.66 33 7 0 216.2 222 88 65 166 Leiper, Dave 3-0 2.17 35 0 1 54.0 45 13 14 33 Nolte, Eric 0-0 6.00 2 0 0 3.0 3 2 2 1 8-7 6.03 27 1 0 128.1 168 86 53 68 Rasmussen, D. 2-6 5.75 11 1 0 56.1 68 36 22 27 14-4 2.55 20 6 0 148.1 131 42 36 85 Show, Eric 16-11 3.26 32 13 0 234.2 201 85 53 144 Terrell, Walt 7-16 3.97 29 11 0 206.1 199 91 78 84 Whitson, Ed 13-11 3.77 34 3 0 205.1 202 86 45 118 Catchers (2) Avg. G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB Parent, Mark .195 41 118 9 23 3 0 6 15 6 Santiago, Benito .248 139 492 49 122 22 2 10 46 24 Infielders (9) Avg. G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB Alomar, Roberto .270 9 37 5 10 1 0 2 14 4 .266 143 545 84 145 24 6 9 41 24 Clark, Jack .242 150 496 81 120 14 0 27 93 3 Flannery, Tim 265 79 170 16 45 5 4 0 19 3 Green, Gary .272 88 302 39 82 16 2 0 37 4 Ready, Randy .266 114 331 43 88 16 2 7 39 6 Roberts, Bip .353 100 343 73 121 21 8 7 51 29 .333 5 9 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 Salazar, Luis .270 130 452 61 122 14 1 12 62 6 Templeton, Garry .249 110 362 35 90 15 7 3 36 8 Outfielders (5) Avg. G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB Gwynn, Tony .313 133 521 64 163 22 5 7 70 40 Kruk, John .241 120 378 54 91 17 1 9 44 5 Mack, Shane .347 55 196 43 68 7 1 10 40 7 56 119 13 29 3 0 0 12 5 Martinez, Carmelo .236 121 365 48 86 12 0 18 65 1 Wynne, Marvell .264 128 333 37 88 13 4 11 42 3
ML Exp Pitchers (12) Yrs. Days Booker, Greg 3.111 Davis, Mark 6.007 Grant, Mark 2.102 Harris, Greg 0.015 Hurst, Bruce 7.123 Leiper, Dave 2.151 Nolte, Eric 0.081 Rasmussen, D. 4.124 Show, Eric 8.014 Terrell, Walt 5.131 Whitson, Ed 10.159 ML Exp Catchers (2) Yrs. Days Parent, Mark 1.075 Santiago, Benito 2.022 ML Exp Infielders (9) Yrs. Days Alomar, Roberto 1.000 Clark, Jack 12.052 Flannery, Tim 8.128 Green, Gary 0.022 Ready, Randy 3.165 Roberts, Bip 1.014 Salazar, Luis 10.000 Templeton, Garry 12.057 ML Exp Outfielders (5) Yrs. Days Gwynn, Tony 6.077 Kruk, John 3.000 Mack, Shane 1.040 Martinez, Carmelo 5.042 Wynne, Marvell 5.110