Baseball : Mookie’s Arrival Provided Spark to Get Blue Jays Going
The injured member of the Toronto Blue Jays, as characterized by a cartoon in the Toronto Sun the other day, wore a wide grin as he reclined on a hospital gurney and got a transfusion from a plasma bottled labeled “Mookie.”
Although other things have helped the talented Blue Jays out of their first-half lethargy and into the American League East lead, nothing has been more meaningful than the acquisition of outfielder Mookie Wilson from the New York Mets for pitcher Jeff Musselman on July 31.
“The way I like to put it is that he’s brought a sense of urgency to what we have to do,” Vice President Pat Gillick said. “His all-out style of play has been contagious. The players realize now that we have to play for today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.
“Instead of making something happen, we were waiting to put it in gear. It wasn’t until last month that they finally did it, and Mookie set the tone.”
The Blue Jays were 52-53 and three games behind the Baltimore Orioles when the deal was made.
With Wilson, they are 26-11.
Gillick says he was merely hoping to add some outfield depth.
“We were in a situation where George Bell had been suspended for a couple of games and Junior Felix had run into the wall at Yankee Stadium and was unable to play,” Gillick said.
“We needed an outfielder and our scouting reports said Mookie could play all three outfield positions and still had good speed. We liked his versatility. But I have to be honest, the other dividends were unexpected.”
A person who cares and contributes, at the park and in the community, Wilson, 33, has been revived by the trade in the same way that he helped revive the Blue Jays.
He was batting .329 through Friday, having a hit in 24 of his 35 games with Toronto and 14 in a row at one point. He had scored 23 runs, driven in 13 and made good on all of his 10 steal attempts.
Versatility? He had played four games in left field, 18 in center and 13 in right.
A .281 career hitter, Wilson was batting .205 in 80 games with the Mets and striking out once every 5.3 at bats while playing irregularly, platooning at best with Len Dykstra, an arrangement that satisfied neither.
Then Dykstra went to the Philadelphia Phillies for center fielder Juan Samuel, and Wilson soon got his wish as well.
“I didn’t make any major changes or adjustments,” he said. “I’m playing, that’s the difference. I’m getting the opportunity I always wanted. It’s a lot easier when you’re into the rhythm of the game.
“I didn’t like my situation with the Mets, but I don’t have hard feelings about it or feel vindicated. I knew I could still play, but it was hard to demonstrate that, the way I was used.”
Wilson also sees more breaking balls and off-speed pitches in the American League, which may also work to his benefit.
In the same way, he has seemed to bring a change of pace to the Blue Jays, helping awaken the dormant ability.
“This is a young and talented team that reminds me of the Mets in ’85,” Wilson said, recalling a team that won 98 that year, 108 the next, 92 the next and 100 last year. Wilson was part of that, but he is playing a bigger part in Toronto.
How have the St. Louis Cardinals tried to replace injured relief ace Todd Worrell?
“We call it bullpen madness or musical chairs, " the inimitable Dan Quisenberry said.
“When the phone rings we get everybody up and run in circles until the music stops. Then the guy without a seat goes into the game.”
Worrell, sidelined at least 10 days with a strained elbow, is merely the latest loss in what has become an annual injury siege for the Cardinals.
Still, they survive.
“Our philosophy is, ‘Don’t worry about things you can’t control,’ ” Ozzie Smith said. “It’s a frame of mind. You are as good as you think you are.”
And maybe it’s because Whitey Herzog is truly the managerial genius many believe him to be.
“That’s probably right,” Herzog said, suppressing a smile. “But actually, if Pedro Guerrero hadn’t done what he’s done, I’d be home fishing now.”
Guerrero began a weekend showdown with the Chicago Cubs sporting a .314 batting average, 98 runs batted in and a .421 average with runners in scoring position.
Said the Mets’ Ron Darling: “When Pedro needs to get the run home, he does. He can take you out of the park or handle the bat like Tony Gwynn.”
Added teammate Joe Magrane: “Pete Guerrero just being in the lineup is like Jack Clark was here in 1987. He’s an intimidating force. You could put a papier-mache figure of him at home plate and get some people worried.”
Guerrero’s contributions have led to chants of “Pedro! Pedro! Pedro!” when he goes to the plate now at Busch Stadium. Times have changed.
“I don’t even hear that,” Guerrero said. “Sometimes I don’t even hear them announce my name.
“I think it comes from being booed all the time (at Dodger Stadium).”
The decision by Mark Gubicza, who was eligible for free agency when the season ends, to sign a three-year contract with the Kansas City Royals Friday ended speculation that Gubicza was hoping to join either the Angels or Dodgers because he makes his winter home in Northridge.
“There was a lot of talk that I wanted to go to the West Coast, but I never really thought much about that,” he said.
“I also make my home here and wanted to stay in Kansas City. If that hadn’t worked out, then I would have considered other options.”
Gubicza, 15-10 with six wins in his last seven decisions, will receive $7.4 million if he attains all the incentives in his new contract.
Met Manager Davey Johnson first expressed bitterness over the second-guessing of fans, media and some players regarding his continued use of first baseman Keith Hernandez and catcher Gary Carter. Then he seemed to give into it.
Hernandez has five RBIs and a .178 average for 73 at-bats since leaving the disabled list. Carter, who also recently came off the DL, is hitting .163 with seven RBIs in 129 at-bats.
First baseman Dave Magadan was among the dissatisfied.
“I want to play and I don’t see anything I’ve done that rates me being on the bench for the last two weeks,” he said in mid-week. “Keith is struggling. He hasn’t been hitting. I can understand the conflict Davey is in and I don’t expect to be the regular there, but I hit .350 when Keith was on the DL and I expect to play more than I have. I want to feel part of it.”
Johnson cited career accomplishments and said Hernandez and Carter have earned the right to re-establish their status, if they can. He bristled at the criticism.
“With the record we’ve had the last six years, there’s not a lot of positive gratitude,” Johnson said. “It’s mostly negative and unfair, but that’s the way it is.
“The manager is going to be second-guessed. It’s just more prevalent here than anywhere.”
Johnson said all of that Wednesday. In the three ensuing games, however, he used Magadan at first and either Barry Lyons or Mackey Sasser behind the plate. Magadan went six for 10 with three RBIs and four runs scored, and the two catchers went six for 11 with five RBIs and three runs scored.
“I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid,” Johnson said of the change of heart decision to bench his two veterans.
None of it would matter for the Mets if Darryl Strawberry had produced as expected. “I thought he’d hit 40 home runs, bat between .270 and .280 and drive in 100 runs,” batting coach Bill Robinson said. “If he had done that, no question we’d be in first place now.”
Strawberry had 27 home runs, 70 RBIs and a .227 average at the start of the weekend.
“I’ve stunk,” he has said, adding that it’s the first time he has been a start-to-finish disappointment.
How has the divorce Strawberry is going through affected his performance? Significantly, most believe.
The Strawberrys have a 4-year-old son and year-old daughter.
“I talk to my son on the phone and he says, ‘Why can’t I come home and live with you?’ ” Strawberry said. “How do you explain to him? It hasn’t been easy for me.”
Kevin Mitchell hit his 42nd home run Thursday in Atlanta, but the San Francisco Giants’ left fielder began a weekend series in Houston with a .220 average and 18 strikeouts in his last 14 games, the result of a sprained left wrist that may be more than that.
X-rays have shown a bone chip that doctors say is an old injury. Mitchell thinks it’s something new. The one certainty is that he will play the rest of the season with discomfort, which may be as much mental as physical.
“There have been times I wanted to cut loose, but something in my head told me not to, like I was scared,” Mitchell said. “Roger (Manager Craig) has wanted to take me out, but I’ve got to work through this and keep going.
“I can’t quit now. I don’t want to sit out and have us start losing and feel that I was the cause.”
Cleveland Indians slugger Joe Carter won’t become a free agent until after the 1990 season, but he is likely to be traded this winter, having apparently worn out his welcome in Ohio.
First he rejected a five-year, $9.6-million offer and ripped the organization for not allowing wives on team charters. Then he ripped Cleveland Stadium as a 19th Century relic.
And last week he lit into the fans, who have booing him since mid-August when he hit three home runs in a doubleheader against Milwaukee but refused to respond to the calls for a dugout curtain call.
“If they’re going to boo me when I’m going bad, then cheer me when I hit three home runs and expect me to acknowledge it, I’m not going to do it,” Carter said. “I don’t think I should be expected to do it. I know they wouldn’t do it.”
The Indians were 54-54 on Aug. 4 and 1 1/2 games out in the American League East. Through Thursday, however, they were 11-22 since then and 12 1/2 out, fueling both the flames under Manager Doc Edwards and the continuing speculation that he will be replaced by John McNamara.