Trade, Loss Fill the Day for Padres : Baseball: Shawn Abner goes to the Angels for Jack Howell. Philadelphia wins, 2-1.
There were no raunchy jokes. There was no high-pitched laughter. Instead, he was subdued Tuesday, almost tranquil.
“I never thought I’d react this way,” Padre center fielder Shawn Abner said softly, “but it’s going to be tough to leave here without crying.”
Abner, who had patiently awaited this day for so long, found himself trying to gather his composure Tuesday after learning he finally was being traded to the Angels for third baseman Jack Howell.
Abner, tormented throughout his career because of the great expectations of him, was traded just 90 minutes before the Padres’ 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium.
The Padres are hopeful that Howell, who’ll be 30 in three weeks, will answer their problems at third base. Realistically, they’re just grateful to acquire a player who can help them. He’ll become the seventh third baseman the Padres have used this season, and the franchise-record 43rd player overall.
“It’s going to be nice going to a team where I can play every day,” said Howell, who was batting .210 with two homers and seven RBIs in 32 games for the Angels.
Well, not exactly. Howell, who’s eligible for free agency in October and is batting only .177 against lefties, will platoon at third base with right-handed hitter Tim Teufel. The move pushed third baseman Scott Coolbaugh out of their plans, and he was shipped after the game to triple-A Las Vegas. Outfielder Kevin Ward was recalled.
Still, the acquisition of Howell surprised Abner’s teammates, who had assumed that Abner’s value had deteriorated to such a point that they might consider releasing him.
“Who did we get in return?” said Padre starter Dennis Rasmussen (3-8) the losing pitcher in Tuesday’s game.
Said Abner: “Jack Howell.”
Rasmussen: “You’re kidding me.”
Abner: “Hey, I’m not that bad. They must have saw something they liked.”
Certainly, there was something about Abner that intrigued every scout in the land when he was the No. 1 pick in the June 1984 free-agent draft.
“He had everything you’d ever want,” said Padre General Manager Joe McIlvaine, who scouted Abner while McIlvaine was with the New York Mets. “He had all the tools and that great makeup. Who wouldn’t want him?”
The Mets, who had the first pick, decided to take him. They picked him over Mark McGwire . . . over Cory Snyder . . . over Scott Bankhead . . . and over Oddibe McDowell.
Abner played three seasons in the Mets’ minor-league system, and on Dec. 11, 1986, he was involved in a seven-player trade to the Padres that included outfielder Kevin Mitchell. The Mets got Kevin McReynolds.
The fans of San Diego have never forgotten.
“They’ve been on me pretty good,” said Abner, who finished his Padre career with a .207 batting average, and seven homers and 46 RBIs. “They really teed me off. But what can I say? I probably did some things that deserved it.
“If this guy (Howell) comes in and gets one hit a month,” Abner said, “he’ll do more than I did. I never did nothing here, absolutely nothing.”
Still, the Padres had great hopes for Abner this season. They gave him the starting center field job when spring-training camp opened, refusing all overtures to acquire another outfielder.
He opened the first three weeks of the season batting .276, but then fell into a one-for-40 slump, and never regained his starting job. He last started May 29, and on the afternoon of June 15, he met privately with McIlvaine.
McIlvaine wanted to know if Abner sought a trade. “If you do, he said, “look me in the eyes and say it.” Abner said it, and then waited the past six weeks for McIlvaine to keep his vow.
“I’m not blaming anybody but myself for what happened here,” Abner said. “It was just time for me to move on. It’s a relief, is what it is.
“I’m the type of guy who can keep it in, but deep down, it hurt. I think everybody knew I was unhappy here.
“I wasn’t good coming off the bench. I wasn’t good at starting. I wasn’t good at nothing.
“In my heart, though, I know I can play. I’m going to give them great defense. I’m going to give them defense like they’ve never seen.”
Abner is expected to be a reserve outfielder with the Angels. They already have Junior Felix, Dave Gallagher and Max Venable patrolling center field, but Felix has been bothered off and on this season by a mysterious calf injury. Also, left fielder Luis Polonia is considered a defensive liability.
“Hopefully, the trend will stick,” he said, “of guys that get traded from here and just start raking.
“I know I haven’t lived up to expectations. Everyone tells me that. But the hardest thing of all is not living up to your own expectations. That hurts more than anything.”
There, of course, is a nice fringe benefit, Abner reminded his teammates, of being traded to the Angels. The Angels, you see, don’t train in Yuma, Ariz. Their spring training site is in Palm Springs and Mesa, Ariz.
“We weren’t allowed to say anything bad about Yuma,” Abner said excitedly, “but now I can finally say it. Yuma stinks. I can’t stand that place. I hope I never have to go back.”
Abner stayed around for the game Tuesday, saying his final farewells. He had hoped to leave the Padres on a winning note, but instead, watched the Padres fall into fifth place behind the San Francisco Giants for the first time this season.
Behind starter Jose DeJesus, the Phillies were able to end their seven-game winning streak. Although the Padres had 15 base runners, they failed to obtain a single hit in 11 opportunities with runners in scoring position.
Rasmussen checked the Phillies on six hits through his 6 1/3-inning stint, but Wes Chamberlain’s two-out double in the sixth and John Kruk’s one-out double in the seventh provided the Phillies all they needed.
“I told him (Abner) to go over there, and leave all the negative stuff behind,” said teammate Larry Andersen. “I told him to forget it. Put it behind him. Burn it. The one thing that Steve Carlton always said was that thoughts precede the action.
“Now it’s all up to him.”