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BASEBALL : Owners Haven’t Done Good Job of Protecting Investment

NEWSDAY

The Los Angeles Dodgers invested $7.9 million in the arm of Orel Hershiser. Then they told him he could not properly prepare his arm for the season. They locked him out, along with all of his teammates, for three weeks of spring training. Their disregard for players’ health made little sense then and seems more baffling now that Hershiser has blown out his shoulder, and many other pitchers, including Pascual Perez, John Dopson and Scott Bankhead, are hurting.

Major-league owners invest huge sums of money in their players and then put them at tremendous risk. The lockout may not have shortened the season, but it may shorten several careers. Three weeks into the season, there are 63 players on the disabled list. Thirty-eight of them are pitchers.

“It’s a shame,” Ken Phelps of the Oakland Athletics said. “They thought we were all working out and staying in shape. But the players association told us not to work out. A guy like Hershiser was on his way to the Hall of Fame.”

The lockout probably hastened, but did not entirely cause, Hershiser’s injury. Some of the blame should be directed at his manager and at Hershiser. Tommy Lasorda overused Hershiser at the end of the 1988 season. After Hershiser pitched into extra innings in his last start to obtain his record 59th straight scoreless inning, Lasorda used him six times in 17 days in the postseason.

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He started him on a cold, wet day against the Mets and brought him back the next night in relief. Three days later, he left Hershiser in to pitch a complete game, though the score was 6-0.

Lasorda let Hershiser throw two more complete games against Oakland -- both on three days of rest -- though the scores were 6-0 and 5-2. Observers were wondering then when Hershiser’s arm would fall off.

“I thank God I have an arm that can bounce back,” Hershiser said then.

Well, he didn’t. The Dodgers mortgaged his future for a championship.

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But as Lasorda said, “The guy never said there was anything wrong with him.” Indeed, Hershiser didn’t know what was best for himself.

“It’s up to the player himself to let the manager and trainer know how he’s feeling,” former teammate Tim Leary said. “He wanted to pitch. I think he ended last year by pitching 11 innings because he had a shot at the ERA title. And he said he felt some pain in his shoulder after the season. He just pitched a lot of innings the last few years. Too many innings.”

Don Mattingly soon may become the 11th player to hit 100 home runs in Yankee Stadium. He has hit 99 there. Would Mattingly be such a profilic home run hitter in another park? Probably not.

Research by the Yankees’ publicity department discovered Mattingly has hit 60% of his home runs at home. Of the 10 players to hit 100 homers at Yankee Stadium, only three other Yankees have hit a higher percentage of their total homers there: Bill Dickey, Bobby Murcer and Tommy Henrich. Clearly, the Stadium’s right-field porch has aided Mattingly.

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By comparison, the three greatest home run hitters in Yankee history -- Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig -- hit virtually an equal number of home runs at Yankee Stadium as opposed to other parks.

Saturday is the 68th anniversary of the start of construction of Yankee Stadium. It is known as the House That Ruth Built, but it seems it was custom-made for Dickey, the left-handed-hitting catcher who hit 135 of his 202 homers there.

The research also details how the stadium’s deep left-field dimensions penalized Joe DiMaggio and other right-handed hitters. DiMaggio is the only right-handed hitter to make the 100-home run list. And his 41 percent homers-at-home rate ranks last.

It once looked as if Dave Winfield would join the list. He had 90 homers at Yankee Stadium through 1988. But he missed all of last season with a back injury, has fallen into a platoon situation this year and is in the last year of his contract. He still has 90 Yankee Stadium homers--out of his American League total of 203--for a 44% rate.

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Here are the only players to hit 100 Yankee Stadium homers--with Mattingly tossed in--their total number of homers and their percentage of Stadium homers. The first column is the number of homers hit at Yankee Stadium, the second column is the players total number of home runs hit while a member of the Yankees:

1. Bill Dickey 135, 202, 67%

2. Bobby Murcer 103, 164, 63%

3. Tommy Henrich 111, 183, 61%

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4. Don Mattingly 99, 166, 60%

5. Yogi Berra 210, 358, 59%

6. Graig Nettles 118, 207, 57%

7. Charlie Keller 102, 184, 55%

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8. Lou Gehrig 251, 493, 50.9%

9. Babe Ruth 259, 511, 50.7%

10. Mickey Mantle 266, 536, 49.6%

11. Joe DiMaggio 148, 361, 41%

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Met Manager Davey Johnson said several times last winter that he knew he would be in danger of being fired if his club got off to a poor start. The way the Mets are going, the Davey watch could begin this month. They are off to their worst start ever under Johnson and their worst since 1983, when they went through two managers (George Bamberger and Frank Howard) and lost 94 games.

The Mets finished April in fourth place, 4 1/2 games out, with a 9-10 record. In the six previous Aprils under Johnson, the Mets finished in first or second place, no more than one game out and no worse than 11-9. Their cumulative April record under Johnson before this year was 75-42, a .641 winning percentage.

Of course, the Mets’ woeful start can’t fully be blamed on Johnson. Their pitching is being wasted by an awful defense and not enough clutch hitting. But Mets management, which put together this hodgepodge of iron gloves, might find it easier to replace Johnson than to make the two or three necessary personnel moves needed to improve this team.

But here’s something else to consider, something that suggests criticisms of the Mets go beyond knee-jerk reactions to their first 20 games. The Mets have not been in first place since June 25, 1989. Since then, they have played 112 games. They were barely above .500 in that time: 57-55. That’s only three games better than what the Philadelphia Phillies (54-58) have done in that same period and worse than the Chicago Cubs (62-47), St. Louis Cardinals (60-52) and Pittsburgh Pirates (59-54).

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Ask yourself: Are the Mets only three games better than the Phillies and worse than the Pirates over 112 games? This team is either vastly overrated or champions of underachievement.

You have to wonder about the quality of some teams’ scouting. Last year, the Mets traded for Juan Samuel to be their center fielder, though it seemed obvious to anyone who watched him in Philadelphia that he could not play the position. Sure enough, the Mets soon learned he wasn’t a center fielder and traded him six months later.

Now the California Angels have obtained Luis Polonia to play left field. Haven’t they seen him play out there?

What’s more odd about the deal is that the trade came the day after Manager Doug Rader said the Angels needed to improve their defense. He concluded that the team and Chili Davis were safer if Davis stayed out of left field and served as a DH. Now Davis and Polonia, two of the worst outfielders in baseball, are on the same team. Only one of them can DH.

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When Rader was asked if Polonia would play left field, he said, “All I’ve known about Luis Polonia is he can lead off in a very successful manner. We need to afford him the opportunity to show us what he can and cannot do.”

Weren’t they watching him play over the past four seasons? The Yankees didn’t dare let him play the outfield this year after catching his act last year.

You have to wonder about Polonia’s initiative, too. He was traded Sunday but 48 hours later still hadn’t joined the Angels in time to play in a game. The Angels were only 184 miles away, in Baltimore. As Tuesday afternoon, Polonia was fraternizing with his former teammates from the Yankees and Athletics at Yankee Stadium.

Meanwhile, Max Venable was left to handle the lead-off duties in those two days. He went one for 10, leaving the five players California has auditioned in the leadoff spot with a .195 batting average (17 for 87).

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