No Deal Could Be Best Deal for Devon

Cleveland already has the Browns, as in football, and Black, as in Bud, but not quite White, as in Devon, the Gold Glove center fielder.

For a while, though, it was close. The way the Angels and the Indians were talking in Nashville, Tenn., young Devon had a lot to look forward to next year.

Lake Erie, which has water he really could walk on.

The Flats, which are very aptly named.

Cleveland Stadium, which disproves the notion that rust never sleeps.

Three thousand fans in 74,000 seats.

Fog delays.

Thirty-five pennant-less years . . . and counting.

Devon White, this was very nearly your life. Until San Diego moved in to intercept Joe Carter--pending Carter's signature on a Padre contract--the Angels were ready to send White and second baseman Johnny Ray to the American League hinterlands for the Joltin' Joe of the Cuyahoga basin.

The idea, obviously, was to expand upon the Angels' Presidential Series collection of outfielders. First, Washington and then, Carter.

Carter would have been a good addition, too--maybe even more significant than Mark Langston. Last season, the Angels placed 12th in the league in runs scored and RBIs. They couldn't use a guy who has averaged 31 home runs and 108 RBIs the past four years?

But the more intriguing subplot involves White and his stock within the Angel organization.

Untouchable used to be the term applied to White when other teams came calling. It still is, but now the usage refers to many of the pitches White chooses to swing at.

Potential is a good thing to have only as long as the patience holds out. And after three seasons of touting White as the next Ruben Sierra, the Angels are starting to wonder if they might be lugging the next Gary Pettis instead.

Last year, White owned half of Sierra's stats. He hit 12 home runs; Sierra had 29. He had 56 RBIs; Sierra had 119. He hit 18 doubles; Sierra had 35.

White also batted .245, which was 61 points below Sierra.

Pettis? Don't laugh. His main assets--speed and defense--remain White's. So do his faults, namely a stubborn batting approach and the resultant deluge of strikeouts.

Last year, White had one more stolen base than Pettis, 44 to 43. He also had more strikeouts, 129 to 106.

Pettis even had the better batting average--an incredible 12 points higher, at .257.

And then there are White's mysterious second-half cliff dives. White was injured for part of 1988 but in a way, he has yet to play a full major league season.

In the first half of 1987, White batted .292 with 17 home runs and 50 RBIs and pushed Mark McGwire in the early rookie-of-the-year polls.

In the second half, he hit .232 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs.

In 1989, White made the AL All-Star team with a .259 average, nine home runs and 39 RBIs.

After the break, he was virtually invisible--batting .229 with three home runs and 17 RBIs.

Will the real Devon White please stand up?

The Angels keep waiting, but don't appear intent on waiting long.

In Doug Rader's perfect scenario, White would bat leadoff, learn to bunt, learn to lay off the sucker pitch and become an American League terror. White is the kind of talent who can win a game on foot speed alone. Last year, he beat the Boston Red Sox by stealing for the cycle--second, third and home--in one inning.

White's biggest problem is his ability to hit the occasional home run. Hit one and he says he can hit 30. Add that to White's personal philosophy on the art of hitting and financial gain--Go deep, young man, and get rich--and you have a strikeout waiting to happen.

Yet, White must have noticed the contract Rickey Henderson recently signed. The market for leadoff hitters is a hungry one. If White went for the punch instead of the pump, he, too, could be a $3 million man by the time he can first test free agency in 1992.

But until that message hits home, the Angels are left with no one at the top of the order, too much raw talent and not enough raw numbers. That and a desire to cash in on that talent, one way or another.

And one way was shipping White to Cleveland for Carter.

In one respect, Robin Yount's hesitation proved to be White's salvation. While Yount took his time to weigh the Angels' free-agent offer, the Angels had to freeze their Carter offer. In order to trade White, the Angels felt they first needed Yount. No Yount, no Carter. No deal.

So White remains an Angel a little longer. Some of the best trades are the ones that stay on the table. Maybe this is another. Three years, no matter how frustrating, is too short an incubation period.

Even Ruben Sierra needed four.

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