BASEBALL : Dodgers Will Have to Wait for Davis-Strawberry Tandem

The decision by Eric Davis to sign a three-year, $9.3-million contract with the Cincinnati Reds may have only delayed Darryl Strawberry's hope that he and his friend will eventually return and play for their hometown Dodgers.

Strawberry is eligible for free agency after the 1990 season. Davis, who would also have been eligible then, will only be 30 when his new contract expires after the 1992 season.

Some were surprised, however, that Davis elected to stay in Cincinnati even that long.

"Eric's only instructions to me were to give the Reds a fair shot," said agent Eric Goldschmidt, who represents both Davis and Strawberry. "He doesn't like the turf and would prefer to play on grass, but he's met a lot of friends there and genuinely likes the city. Rather than lock in longer, the three years will give him a chance to see what direction the team takes, what develops. He'll still be in his prime."

Davis is looking for a house in Cincinnati, though Goldschmidt said the outfielder would continue to maintain a home in Woodland Hills, where he and Strawberry have a custom interior wholesale business, selling to contractors.

Goldschmidt added that he and Davis have been impressed by the Reds' new management team of Bob Quinn and Lou Piniella, and that owner Marge Schott "has always liked Eric. She stepped in last year and negotiated his whole contract."

Strawberry, meanwhile, has given Goldschmidt similar instructions: Give the Mets a fair shot. He is reportedly seeking $12 million for four years, but his .225 batting average last season and 17 runs batted in after the All-Star break seem to have left a bad taste with the Mets.

Three million a year?

"I got a problem with it, a big problem," Senior Vice President Al Harazin said the other day. "You pick any of our players, the ones we've already signed, the ones we haven't signed. To pay (Strawberry) that kind of money means (he'd) make a million more than any of his teammates. I can see the market changing--certainly the Davis thing is another indication of that--but you just can't throw everything in the trash can."

Goldschmidt, of course, sees it differently.

"The Mets' lineup is not that strong anymore, and there's only one Darryl Strawberry," he said. "Besides what he contributes as a player, he puts people in the seats."

Schott on Davis: "He better be good."

Time will determine Bo Schembechler's impact and level of involvement as president of the Detroit Tigers. For the present, General Manager Bill Lajoie remains in charge of playing personnel, and longtime club official Jim Campbell stays on as chairman of the board, becoming Schembechler's tutor.

This was a concern to the American League, which didn't want the inexperienced ex-football coach left on his own.

"Jim Campbell assured me that he would stay involved, and that's important to us," AL President Bobby Brown said.

The hiring of the former Michigan coach was viewed as something of a public relations gambit by the Tigers, coming off their 103 losses last season. He is a legend in Michigan and a longtime friend of club owner Tom Monaghan, who presented him with a Domino's Pizza franchise when it appeared, a few years ago, that Schembechler might leave Michigan to coach at Texas A&M.;

Dodger outfielder Kirk Gibson, another Michigan football star--though at Michigan State--who gave up the sport to play baseball for the Tigers, reflected and said: "What I had to realize was that when it came down to competition, there were guys in baseball who knew more than I did. Bo will be competing against guys who've been around the block more than once. But how can anyone not pull for Bo? He'll bring something upbeat to the team."

Said Sparky Anderson, the Tiger manager: "I told my wife when I first came here (to Detroit) that these people were silly enough to think I can make it a winner and do it by snapping my fingers. That's what Bo wants to do, but he realizes it will take three to five years. He also realizes that he'll need help in understanding parts of the game."

Added veteran pitcher Frank Tanana: "We're all a part of the same team, but we have different functions. My concern is (with who plays) first base and third base. Bo is not going to win many games."

At the news conference confirming his appointment, Schembechler said: "What is life if you don't take a chance." The noted official-baiter was then interrupted by a congratulatory call from the league president. He hung up and said, "Well, I'm not on the umpiring committee."

One concession the owners are thought willing to make in the collective bargaining talks is a return to the 25-man roster from the current 24. It is too early, however, to distinguish rhetoric from reality. At face value, a spring training lockout seems inevitable. The union will never accept the loss of arbitration, modification of free agency and a pay-for-performance system. The owners, however, seem committed to that kind of major overhaul.

The lingering question, amid their multi-million-dollar signings of this winter, is why? Baseball's revenues were $1.018 billion in 1988 and figure to go over $1.1 billion when the 1989 accounting is done.

Said a National League general manager requesting anonymity: "Sure, we can survive giving out these kinds of contracts for another year, maybe another two or three, but it will eventually catch up to us. How high will salaries be then? There has to be a change in the system and it has to be done now. It has to be a two-way street."

The Tuesday memorandum from the owners' Player Relations Committee instructed clubs to refrain from sending equipment to their spring training sites and to terminate spring planning until the owners meet on Feb. 9. However, most clubs, including the Dodgers, have continued to sell exhibition-game tickets. The Angels, who do not play their first game in Palm Springs until March 17, will not begin ticket sales until Feb. 17. A lockout, of course, could delay or erase spring training, but Florida will not be without baseball in February. The Senior League championships are scheduled for Ft. Myers Feb. 2-4, and the Caribbean Series will be held in Miami Feb. 5-11.

First, there was George Argyros' bid to buy the San Diego Padres, with former commissioner Peter Ueberroth portrayed as the quiet architect behind the scene--a payback, perhaps, for his friend's early support of his candidacy to become commissioner. Then, as Argyros attempted to sell his Seattle Mariners, Ueberroth was credited with helping inflate the assessments by certain statements, verbal and written.

Ueberroth and Argyros denied the commissioner's role in both situations, saying they were simply in the same industry and not pals. Really? Well, guess who was just appointed to the board of directors of Ueberroth's Hawaiian Airlines? George Argyros. Meaning, of course, they're simply in the same industry again.

Scott Bailes, the left-handed pitcher acquired by the Angels from the Cleveland Indians Tuesday, will now have to paint more than the corners. He recently opened a recreational facility--driving range, batting cages, etc.--in his hometown of Springfield, Mo. It's painted in the Cleveland team colors and prominently features the Chief Wahoo logo.

But what's a little more paint? Joining a better team in a nicer environment should improve Bailes' psyche. He worried so much as a major league rookie in 1986 that he developed ulcers, and last winter he visited a sports psychologist in an effort to improve his confidence and concentration.

It may not come down this way, but as the Angels continue to stockpile pitchers in the hope of trading for a run-producing outfielder, the best fit still seems to be with the Philadelphia Phillies, whose desperate need for pitching may ultimately force General Manager Lee Thomas to trade Von Hayes.

Former Dodger Ken Howell, who was 12-12 last season, is the ace of the Phillie staff. Pat Combs, a veteran of six major league appearances in which he went 4-0 at the end of last season, is No. 2 in what there is of a rotation.

Reached in Philadelphia, Thomas said he would not need a hitter in exchange for Hayes, that a package of pitchers would do, but he would be reluctant to deal a man who hit 26 home runs and drove in 78 runs last year.

"I'm not saying I wouldn't trade him, but it would have to be a 'blow me over' deal," Thomas said. "Von is a professional player, a key guy for us."

Seven Atlanta Braves third basemen made 38 errors last season. Thus, Manager Russ Nixon said last week that he would move shortstop Andres Thomas to third and Jeff Blauser, who made 13 of the errors in 78 games, back to his natural position at shortstop.

Thomas said he wasn't happy about it, but neither is his team. The Braves have been foiled in their pursuit of a third baseman. Jack Howell and Wade Boggs appear out. Cleveland's Brook Jacoby is said to still be a possibility.

No team would be hurt more by an abbreviated spring training than the Milwaukee Brewers, who were riddled by injuries last season and are anxious to take an early look at second baseman Jim Gantner, shortstops Bill Spiers and Dale Sveum, and pitchers Ted Higuera, Juan Nieves, Bill Wegman and Bryan Clutterbuck, all of whom are recovering from surgery.

"We need spring training very much," General Manager Harry Dalton said. "A lot of people have to show us they're ready to play."

The Brewers sent new batting instructor and front-office aide Don Baylor to Florida to meet with infielder Gary Sheffield, who failed to fulfill the organization's great expectations as a rookie, lost his starting job to Spiers while batting .242 with 32 RBIs and angered teammates with his public comments and a reluctance to work.

Sheffield's uncle, Dwight Gooden, sat in on the meetings with Baylor and said his nephew thought he had to go four-for-four to be popular with his teammates, and felt isolated when he had a bad day.

"Now he has someone to talk to," Gooden said. "He likes Baylor, and so do I."

Gooden said he and Sheffield were also pleased by the Brewers' signing of Dave Parker. Gooden said Parker belonged in a class with Pete Rose, Andre Dawson, Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson and Hubie Brooks, the new Dodger.

"They're special, the kind of guys you like to be around," he said. "They play hard and enjoy themselves."

Right-handed relief pitcher Jeff Montgomery saved 18 games and posted a 7-3 record with the Kansas City Royals last season. However, the Royals had no wins or saves by a left-handed reliever and did not use a left-hander in a save situation, the only major league team to be blanked in each of those categories. Thus, the record contract for Mark Davis.

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