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Once Off Limits, Trio Hits the Skids

Goodby Fritz.

Goodby Todd?

Goodby . . . Wally?

They are movers and shakers, all right--shaking a leg and getting ready to move out of town.

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Fritz Shurmur is fired by the Rams.

Todd Marinovich is tired of USC.

And Wally Joyner is spared a fate worse than death when the Houston Astros look East instead of West and unload Glenn Davis for three Baltimore Orioles.

So what do you think of 1991 so far? Within a matter of minutes, the former savior of the Ram defense, the former savior of the USC offense and the former savior of the Angel franchise have been pushed to the threshold--with one gone, one going and one clenching the doorjamb until the next trade rumor sweeps through.

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Wally Joyner, doing his scooping for the Double Rainbow chain?

Wally World, under glass?

Wally Joyner, buried in the depths of last place in the National League West?

Well, if it can happen in the American League West . . .

This much we know: The Angels and the Astros were talking, and they were talking about Wally walking. The packaging was going to be simple. A former All-Star first baseman coming off an injury-tainted season for a former All-Star first baseman coming off an injury-tainted season.

It was going to be a lateral move, which, then, automatically made it the best move the Astros had planned all winter.

Houston owner John McMullen has become the Nero of the National League--fiddling around while his fire sale burns a good baseball organization to the ground. McMullen is looking to sell his team, but first he sold out his fans--ridding the Astro roster of Dave Smith, Danny Darwin, Larry Andersen, Juan Agosto, Franklin Stubbs and now Davis in order to present prospective buyers with a cost-efficient payroll.

That kind of thinking made Joyner-to-the-Astros hard to figure--and led to Houston sending Davis instead to Baltimore for a trio of young, lowly paid Orioles. Joyner made $1.75 million last season. Combined, the new Astros--pitchers Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling and outfielder Steve Finley--made $348,000.

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So, for the moment, Joyner isn’t going anywhere. The Angels ought to think about expanding that timetable. Whatever the Angels expected to gain from Davis (home runs, mainly), they were going to lose in batting average, fielding and contact hitting. So Joyner didn’t turn out to be Jose Canseco’s benign twin, as we thought he would in 1986. He still makes fewer mistakes and owns a game with fewer holes than any other Angel. He is the kind of player you keep.

Unless you can trade him for Kelly Gruber.

Nobody is untouchable anymore. Take Shurmur. This time last year, the Phoenix Cardinals thought long and hard about doing just that. They had an opening for a new head coach and Shurmur had become an NFL folk hero for the defense he devised to knock Randall Cunningham out of the 1989 playoffs. Shurmur was a finalist for the job. Ultimately, he wound up the runner-up, which is the way it goes when you’re a Ram.

In the 12 months that followed, the Cardinals went 5-11 with a Joe named Bugel and Shurmur’s resume got beaten like a drum. The Rams also went 5-11 and Shurmur’s defense was to blame. True, the defense was a disgrace, but once you broke it down--not tough to do, I know--it was difficult to fault Fritz.

Fritz had two players who belonged on an NFL playoff-caliber defense: linebacker Kevin Greene and cornerback Jerry Gray. Not much you can do with the old 0-1-1 these days.

In the end, though, none of that mattered. A scapegoat was needed and a scapegoat was found. For the record, Coach John Robinson said it was his decision to fire the man who had coordinated his defense for eight seasons and in two NFC title games. Off the record, you have to wonder. How many strings were attached to the deal Robinson struck to remain as head coach?

Six?

Just a guess.

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Now, the Rams have a half-dozen coaching vacancies to fill, besides the nine vacancies on their first-team defense. That’s a lot of filling and Shurmur was careful to burn no bridges, possibly because he might be coming back as a position coach under Jeff Fisher or whomever the new defensive coordinator might be.

Fisher would be a good choice, coming from the attack-first, ask-questions-later defensive think tank in Philadelphia. But, as always, there’s a catch:

If Fisher comes, Reggie White and Jerome Brown stay.

By the way, the Rams lost a coin flip with Denver the other day, which means they’ll have the fifth slot in the 1991 college draft.

That also means they’ll be able to draft Marinovich with the fifth pick in the fifth round.

Marinovich has never been too swift on his feet, but an early sprint for the NFL would be the worst scramble of his career. In 1990, he was a college sophomore who played like a college sophomore. He had nearly as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns (13). He took the Trojans from a berth in the Rose Bowl as a freshman to a loss in the John Hancock Bowl. He still hasn’t beaten Notre Dame.

And next he wants to take on the San Francisco 49ers?

Marinovich believes his relationship with USC Coach Larry Smith is irreparable and wants out of USC. This would have been easy if he hadn’t redshirted the 1988 season. Now, if he transfers to another school, he sits out a year and loses a year of eligibility. He couldn’t play until 1992--and then, he’d be a senior.

Marinovich could use the extra time. If he comes out now, he comes out as a project, a future, a gamble. A middle-rounder. For him, 1991 has the look of 16 weeks spent on somebody’s practice squad.

Of course, if Marinovich knew in September what he knows now, he could have pulled a Bret Johnson and transferred during fall practice. Then, after sitting out this season, he could return to the field in 1991, with two seasons of eligibility intact.

That Bret. The one-upmanship never ends, does it?


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