Left-handed pitchers are at a premium, which supposedly makes their worth considerably higher.
Well, Tim Fortugno was worth exactly $2,500 and 144 baseballs.
“I guess you could call it unusual,” Fortugno said.
Fortugno is pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers organization after a stint with the Reno Silver Sox. The Brewers purchased his contract in April for cash and several of those round things.
“The negotiations had stalled,” said Jack Patton, Silver Sox general manager and part owner. “I wanted a little more money and Milwaukee wasn’t going to budge. I know from business that it’s sometimes easier to deal in products than cash.”
Reno is an independent operation, so it doesn’t get equipment for free from an organization. And, at that time, Patton was running short of baseballs.
“I told them to throw in 12 dozen balls and we had a deal,” he said.
Fortugno has been worth every corked center.
He was 4-4 with one save and a 2.08 earned-run average for Stockton, a Brewers’ Class-A team. Fortugno also had 84 strikeouts in 65 innings.
Those numbers were good enough to get a promotion to El Paso, the Brewers’ double-A team, last week.
So the deal--no matter how bizarre--is looked on with a great deal of enthusiasm by Fortugno.
“I don’t care what they got for me--baseballs, bats, uniforms,” he said. “My main objective when I went to Reno was to be seen (by a major league team). And I was going to go with the first offer.”
Fortugno, who pitched at Golden West and Southern California colleges, was released by the Philadelphia Phillies with three days left in spring training. An official with the Phillies told him they had plenty of left-handed pitchers, many of whom were younger.
He spent the next week calling every organization, trying to hook on.
“I thought I would get picked up quick,” Fortugno said. “I was in the best shape of my life and I was throwing the ball real well.”
But no one was interested in a 27-year-old pitcher, even if he was left-handed. Fortugno, who has a wife and two children, thought his three-year career might be over.
“I had never been released before and all the teams kept telling me they were trying to get rid of bodies, not pick them up,” he said. “As a last resort I called Reno. It so happened that (Manager) Eli Grba knew who I was and wanted me to come up right away.”
Three days before the minor league season opened, Fortugno had found a team.
After the first three weeks, he was 2-3 with a 2.52 ERA. He was also leading the California League in strikeouts with 38 in 35 innings.
His prospects were looking up, even if his paycheck was going down.
Fortugno was making $500 a month. He was waiting anxiously for a major league organization to notice his performance.
The Brewers did.
“I knew Tim wasn’t going to be around here too long, he was too good,” Patton said. “But I was surprised to get a call just three weeks into the season.”
Patton dickered with the Brewers over money for a few days. All the time, he kept Fortugno up to date on the negotiations.
“Jack wanted more money for me, but we had an understanding that he wouldn’t push it,” Fortugno said.
Patton’s money motives weren’t completely selfish. He said that he gives the player 25% of the money when a deal is made. And with Fortugno, Patton said the main goal was to get him placed with a major league organization.
“I could have been a jerk and held out for the money, but sometimes there’s more to life than baseball,” Patton said. “I knew Tim had a family and was a little upset that he couldn’t send more money home. I felt obligated to help him out.”
So Patton made his unusual request.
“I needed baseballs,” he said. “I don’t want to be known as ‘Trader Jack The Equipment Man.’ We won’t be trading players for bats or gloves next. It was just a way to get the negotiations moving again.”
Fortugno was a starter at Uxbridge High School in Massachusetts, Golden West and Southern California. In fact, as a senior at SCC in 1986, he was 9-2 and the most valuable player of the Golden State Athletic Conference.
But after the Seattle Mariners signed him as a free agent in June, Fortugno was sent to the bullpen. Although he had always been starter, Fortugno pitched well in relief.
In 1986, he had four saves, splitting time between Bellingham and Wausau. The next year, he saved six more for Salinas. But he longed to be a starter again.
Finally, after 67 consecutive relief appearances, he was given a spot start.
“I threw a no-hitter against Modesto,” Fortugno said. “I struck out 11 and walked only two.”
Fortugno remained in the rotation the rest of the season.
This is not the first time that Fortugno has been traded.
During the winter of 1987, he was traded along with outfielder Phil Bradley to the Phillies for outfielder Glenn Wilson, pitcher Mike Jackson and outfielder Dave Brundage.
No equipment changed hands, however.
Former Cal State Fullerton outfielder Billy Moore can’t seem to get a break this season. At least not a good break.
Moore, who was purchased by the Baltimore Orioles in May, has suffered at the plate this season. Most of his problems stem from a chipped bone in his right foot, a injury that occured during winter ball.
Moore did not know about the injury until May, however.
“If I had known about my foot earlier, I would have had it operated on,” Moore said. “I wish I had done it in May, then I could have come back for the second half of the season. But I wanted to show I could still play.”
Moore, who hit .285 with 17 home runs and 80 runs batted in last season for Indianapolis, is hitting only .197. And, just when Moore was learning to live with his foot injury, he tore ligaments in his right hand.
“It’s been just one thing after another,” Moore said. “I can’t understand it. I’ve had injuries before, but this is getting ridiculous.”
The injuries have hurt his power. Moore, who hit 33 home runs with Jacksonville in 1985, has only four this season.
Bob Hamelin returned to the Memphis Chicks’ lineup on July 6 after a muscle strain in his lower back sidelined him for most of the last five weeks.
Hamelin, a former Rancho Santiago slugger, has hit only one home run since his return, giving him 15 for the season.
Hamelin strained his back on June 4 after hitting home runs in three consecutive games against Chattanooga. He sat out the next nine days, then tried to play in a doubleheader before going on the disabled list.
Greg Hansell made his first professional start Wednesday, with little success.
Hansell, who pitches for the Red Sox rookie team in Winter Haven, Fla., lost to the Indians’ rookie team, 7-2. He pitched four innings, giving up two runs.
Hansell, who played at Kennedy High School, also has made two appearances in relief for the Red Sox. He pitched seven shutout innings and has two saves.
In three appearances, Hansell is 0-1 with a 1.64 ERA.
Last season, Hansell was 12-1 for Kennedy, including a five-hit shutout against Saugus in the Southern Section 3-A championship game. The Fighting Irish won, 1-0.
Catcher Bill Bathe, who played at Fullerton College, was optioned to Phoenix, the San Francisco Giants’ triple-A team, Sunday to make room for pitcher Atlee Hammaker.
Hammaker, who has recovered from strained tendons, was returning from the 21-day disabled list. Bathe hit .235 in 17 games for the Giants.