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Baseball / Ross Newhan : No Matter What, Rose Case Will Dominate Second Half

It doesn’t matter how many home runs Kevin Mitchell hits or how often Nolan Ryan takes a no-hitter into the ninth inning or how frequently Mickey Tettleton has Froot Loops for breakfast or how often Jim Abbott is described as having only one hand.

The second half of the 1989 baseball season will be haunted--as the first half has been--by the specter of Charlie Hustle as Charlie Hustler.

Only if Pete Rose stops confusing arrogance with innocence and Commissioner Bart Giamatti agrees to relinquish a measure of authority in an out of court settlement will the matter of Rose’s alleged gambling activity expire as baseball’s pervasive issue, clouding all else.

But a settlement in which Giamatti is not involved can be ruled out, and there is no reason to believe that the courts will provide a quick solution.

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“Considering how intently the battle lines are drawn and the legal avenues that are still available, it’s possible that it may be Thanksgiving before a decision is reached on Rose’s status,” a member of Giamatti’s legal staff, requesting anonymity, said.

Maybe that’s all Rose wants, to get through the season, then bow out on his own terms, but there’s nothing in his unrepentant demeanor to indicate that’s the case either. He seems determined to go the distance, insisting he has never bet on baseball or his Cincinnati Reds despite the corroborated evidence in the report on baseball’s investigation of his alleged gambling.

At this point, a federal judge in Columbus, Ohio, is scheduled to decide on or after July 17 whether the case belongs in federal or state court. That decision is expected to be appealed by the losing side. Eventually, there will also be an appeal of the decision on Rose’s bid for a preliminary injunction against Giamatti.

The appeal process, legal experts agree, could stretch to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is not a foreign turf. Previous commissioners have had both their authority and their game’s anti-trust exemptions upheld there.

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It was this commissioner and no one else who (1) created the situation that may dilute that authority and (2) provided Rose with a loophole when he inexplicably signed the now famous letter to Judge Carl Rubin in which he attested to the truthfulness of one of Rose’s chief accusers.

Giamatti may ultimately find a way out, a shortcut amid the legal maze to a face to face hearing with Rose that is certain to result in a suspension for the Reds manager, but it is difficult to see that happening soon.

In the meantime, the investigation continues. Now baseball has reportedly learned the identity of the New York bookmaker described in baseball’s report as “Val,” to whom Rose was allegedly more than $60,000 in debt when “Val” stopped accepting his bets.

The saga that began in late March when Rose was summoned to the office of then commissioner Peter Ueberroth rolls on, with no definitive resolution in sight. Rose may survive the season--almost certainly the August dog days. This will remain baseball’s dominant story. Bet on it.

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The mid-season awards:

American League:

Most valuable player--The temptation is to choose either Bo Jackson or Julio Franco or Kirby Puckett or Mickey Tettleton or Cal Ripken Jr. The choice, however, is Oakland Athletics pitcher Dave Stewart, a tower of consistent strength amid the rubble of the A’s injuries. Stewart is not merely 13-4. Seven of his wins have followed Oakland defeats.

Cy Young--Stewart, of course.

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Rookie of the year--The American League has produced another bumper crop, but this is another category in which a pitcher seems to have the edge. Tab Gregg Olson, who within a year has jumped from the Auburn campus to a closer role with the Eastern Division-leading Baltimore Orioles and provided 13 saves while being scord on in only two of 19 appearances.

Manager of the Year--The only question is, have the Orioles or Frank Robinson made the biggest turnaround?

National League:

MVP--The easiest category. Kevin Mitchell has simply provided the San Francisco Giants with a season’s worth of power in only a half season.

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Cy Young--A tossup between Rick Reuschel and Mike Scott, so give the first half edge to Scott because he consistently has to work with poorer offensive support from his Houston Astros.

Rookie--The stats are comparable, but Houston catcher Craig Biggio gets the nod over Chicago Cub outfielders Dwight Smith and Jerome Walton because he has more at bats, has been a regular longer and plays the more demanding position.

Manager--Don Zimmer, who has been juggling mirrors to help keep the Cubs in the race, wins the first half award, but the suspicion is that it will go to the Giants’ Roger Craig or the Montreal Expos’Buck Rodgers when the season is over.

While the focus of the Dodger’s offensive struggle has been on the absence of a leadoff hitter and the inconsistent productivity of Kirk Gibson and Eddie Murray, there has also been a sharp decline in the contributions of the bench.

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The Stuntmen have been stunted.

Mickey Hatcher, Franklin Stubbs, Dave Anderson and Rick Dempsey combined to hit .311 last year with 18 homers and 119 runs batted it.

This year, even with Hatcher’s .303 average, the four were hitting a combined .176 through 83 games with 3 homers and 32 RBIs, figures that project to only 6 homers and 62 RBIs--and the likelihood of a major overhaul when the season ends.

There have been these developments concerning two hitters whom the Dodgers have been interested in at various times this year:

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--Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs signed a three-year, $7.3-million contract Friday, which actually facilitates a trade since (a) it does not include a no-trade clause and (b) removes the risk of Boggs leaving as a free agent when the season ends.

--Milwaukee Brewer outfielder Glenn Braggs, hitting .291 on June 10, is 20 for 93 (.215) since. Said the native of San Bernardino:

“It would be a lot easier to take if I knew what to expect of myself. I’ve been a Jekyl and Hyde, and it’s not a good feeling.”

One of the saddest stories of the first half is the disintegration of the Detroit Tigers, who went from 50-31 after 81 games last year to 31-50 this year.

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It’s a complex story compounded by injuries. Thirteen Tigers have been on the disabled list, prompting the need now for more than a three day break.

The Tigers, Sparky Anderson said, could use the same 2 1/2 week respite that the exhausted manager took earlier this season.

“We’re just worn out,” he said. “We don’t have the people anymore. There’s no use kidding nobody.”

Currently visiting Anaheim with his Minnesota Twins, Manager Tom Kelly said he became convinced the Angels are the team to beat in the American League West after they recently took three of four in the Metrodome, outscoring the Twins, 23-6, immediately after the Twins had won three straight from the Oakland A’s by a composite 17-8.

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“I was told a couple weeks ago that they were the team to beat and I found out they are,” Kelly said. “The longer (relief ace) Dennis Eckersley is out, the worse it is for Oakland. Just match up the five starters and see which ones you take.”

Kelly implied that he favors the depth of the Angel rotation, that Mike Witt and Jim Abbott are superior to Curt Young and Storm Davis after the first three starters--Kirk McCaskill, Chuck Finley and Bert Blyleven of the Angels and Stewart, Bob Welch and Mike Moore of the A’s--are basically even.

Both Eckersley and Jose Canseco are expected to rejoin the A’s for the first game of the second half Thursday.

Canseco had hoped to play in the All-Star game Tuesday--fans voted him in as a starter--but the A’s refused to take him off the disabled list, saying that since he had missed games in his minor league rehabilitation assignment because of continuing soreness in his wrist, it didn’t make sense to activate him for an All-Star game.

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“What I’m concerned about is that he has his head on straight about what we’re trying to do here, which is win the division,” Tony LaRussa, the A’s manager and AL All-Star manager, said. “I believe he understands that.”

Dwight Gooden had made 175 starts and pitched 1,284 innings without missing a turn before suffering the shoulder injury that has put him on the disabled list for at least four weeks.

“No matter how much talent we have, you can’t absorb losing a talent like Gooden,” New York Mets teammate Bob Ojeda said.

Particularly when Ojeda, David Cone and Ron Darling are a combined 16-19 compared to 24-12 at this time last year.

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The Mets offense, of course, has been decimated by injuries. Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter remain on the disabled list. Darryl Strawberry with a broken toe is not 100% yet. Ojeda said the starters are paying a price now--mentally and physically--for the early season strain of pitching with little support.

“We’re all feeling the effects of losing all those 2-1, 3-0, 2-0 games,” Ojeda said. “That took a toll on us and now we’re paying the bill. I mean, people forget about all those wins we should have had. They don’t realize that once you don’t get them, you start pressing to get them later.”

With Gooden the latest victim of the injury siege, Manager Dave Johnson said: “We’re running an infirmary here. I think we’re going to have to hire an exorcist. Maybe somebody cast a spell on us. We may have to burn some leg-wrappings or Band-Aids or something like that.”


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