Will Clark is bedeviled by disappearing "doinks."
And while Brett Butler and some other San Francisco Giants players have blamed Satan for the team's woes, Al Rosen knows better.
The Giants' president and general manager has been around baseball long enough to know that even the most religious players would win more often if they could hit.
The Giants, rocked by an earthquake and swept by the Oakland Athletics in the 1989 World Series, have fallen gracelessly from the National League championship to fifth place in the NL West, 12 games behind the first-place Cincinnati Reds.
It may be too early to write the Giants' obit for 1990, but unless they start playing better and get pitching help, the Giants may spend the rest of the season among baseball's living dead.
Clark's "doinks" were the well-hit balls that dropped for singles last year when he hit .333. This year, they're quick outs that have gone straight into fielders' gloves and left him with a .282 average.
"I'm swinging the bat better this year than I did last year, but I'm hitting right at people," says Clark, who figures he's hit more than a dozen liners that would have been hits if they'd gone a foot to the left or right.
Clark slams his helmet to the ground and fumes when those shots are caught, thinking he's being robbed of hits he deserves. And he won't accept that the law of averages will even it all out by the end of the year, giving him a few hits he might not have deserved. Clark has his own law of batting averages.
"It never evens out," he says firmly. "Don't let anybody tell you it does. You'll get some doinks, but you're not going to get all the ones you lose. They're gone."
Clark doesn't complain about a right knee that is still sore nine months after he injured it in a home plate collision with Mike Scioscia. Clark's had the knee examined but won't rest it or offer it as an excuse.
Rosen, though, thinks Clark's knee is affecting his stride into the ball when he's at bat.
"Sometimes he's not quite as powerful as he used to be," Rosen said.
Kevin Mitchell isn't on a pace to match the 47 homers he hit last year, but he's been tough enough with eight homers and a .283 average.
But other hitters have been much less productive, especially Robby Thompson, who's sunk from .271 his rookie year in 1986 to .241 last year and .209 this season.
Butler has been streaky along with off-season acquisitions Kevin Bass and Gary Carter.
Rosen and Manager Roger Craig are less worried about the hitters than they are about a pitching staff that is limping and lumpy with ice packs.
Craig sits in his office before games plotting strategy with pitching Coach Norm Sherry. The conversation is not always about how to pitch to opposing hitters, but rather who's healthy enough to take the mound.
So far, their choices have been limited. Three starters and a reliever are on the disabled list, and several other pitchers have had minor injuries. Collectively, the staff has a 4.65 earned run average, while the team has scored an average of 4.34 runs--earned and unearned.
Mike LaCoss seemed on his way to a splendid season with a 3-1 record and a 2.28 earned run average before he tore cartilage in his left knee April 26.
Don Robinson hasn't thrown a ball yet after undergoing surgery on his right knee. He's taking cortisone shots and doing exercises to overcome arthritis in his hip, and hopes to be back pitching soon.
Kelly Downs, who had rotator-cuff surgery on his pitching arm three weeks ago, sits in the locker room with huge ice packs on his shoulder.
Jose Alvarez, acquired during the winter for middle relief, threw a few balls, then went out with a torn ligament in his elbow.
Rosen, contemplating the injuries, stares at the roster charts of all the teams in the majors that cover two walls in his office. Team by team, the charts list the active players by position, the ones on option years and those on disabled lists.
"It's not that easy to replace these pitchers," he said. "We've tried a number of ways. Some of the youngsters we had in the minors weren't quite ready. We tried to patch up by watching the waiver wires. It's very obvious if our pitching doesn't get straightened around it's going to be very difficult to repeat (as champion)."
Sherry is encouraged by the recent bullpen work of Steve Bedrosian, who has six saves, and Jeff Brantley, who has three. Brantley also has a sparkling 1.61 earned run average.
Bedrosian, who helped the Giants win the pennant last season while saving 17 games for them since his acquisition in mid-June, struggled early this season after learning his 2 1/2-year-old son, Cody, has leukemia.
Rosen rejects criticism of Craig for his handling of the pitchers or his preference for more experienced pitchers.
"I don't know of anybody other than Roger Craig who could've manipulated a pitching staff that's been so beset with injuries since 1986 when we took over here," Rosen said.
"The proof is in the pudding. In 1987 we won our division. In 1989 we won the league championship. If we have a problem this year due to injuries to the pitching staff, you can't fault the manager. That's like tying a fellow's hands and saying go fight the heavyweight champion."