James Buccheri has spent three seasons trying to prove to the Oakland Athletics he is their leadoff man of the future.
Unfortunately, Rickey Henderson keeps hanging around. So Buccheri is doing what any red-blooded baseball player would do. He's going to test the free-agent market.
Buccheri, an outfielder for the Tacoma (Wash.) Tigers, the Athletics' triple-A team, is in the final year of his contract.
Now, a minor leaguer with no major league experience usually is not in high demand during the annual winter bidding. But Buccheri has a couple things going for him--tough financial times and some decent numbers.
"I want to go to a team that will give me a chance to play in the big leagues," said Buccheri, who played at Golden West College. "I feel I've shown I can play at that level."
His numbers, though not outstanding, are solid.
This season, he is hitting .304 and has stolen 21 bases. He has struck out only 16 times this season.
As a minor leaguer, he would be worth far less money for some team who wanted to make a low-risk investment. A salary cap would make him even more appealing.
"That's why I wanted to have a big year," Buccheri said. "I feel the numbers I've put up should get me invited to a camp."
Buccheri has averaged 30 stolen bases in six professional seasons. But what held him back was his hitting.
He hit .206 at double-A Huntsville (Ala.) in 1990 and .212 the next season, which ended when he broke his ankle.
"The organization told me that it was too easy to pitch me," Buccheri said. "My batting stance made it easy to pitch me inside. They felt that teams would pound the ball in on me in the major leagues."
So Buccheri set out to change. He opened his stance, which raised his average.
He hit .367 at Reno in 1992 and was promoted to Tacoma, where he hit .299. Buccheri hit .276 at Tacoma last season.
Still, the Athletics didn't invite him to camp.
"I was hoping to get the opportunity," Buccheri said. "But it's all a matter of timing. You have to be in the right place at the right time."
So Buccheri will go looking for that place this fall.
Worth fighting for? Steve Gill, West Palm Beach outfielder, thought it was just good hustle.
He had tried to score from second base on a single and wasn't going to make it. So he did what came naturally and tried to bowl over Charlotte (Fla.) catcher Daryl Kennedy.
Kennedy, though, did not see the hustle in the play, especially since he was clipped in the chin by Gill's elbow. Kennedy turned to the umpire, called time out, then jumped Gill.
"I was completely surprised," Gill said. "The guy even took the time to call time out. I wasn't expecting trouble. I thought what I did was part of the game."
The free-for-all that followed wasn't.
The fight during the team's game last month resulted in 44 players being suspended and a total of $4,425 in fines.
But it's doubtful whether it will prevent further fights. The example wasn't made, mainly because the participants still don't see why they were punished.
Gill, a former outfielder and pitcher for El Dorado High and Cypress College, was suspended three days and fined $125. But there is no lingering guilt.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't do anything," Gill said. "I was on the ground with two or three guys on top of me. But I got fined anyway."
So did West Palm Beach pitcher Neil Weber, who played at Corona del Mar High. He came out of the dugout and was hardly bashful in his participation.
"Everyone was going crazy and I noticed what I thought was a player running at one of our guys," Weber said. "So I tackled him and ripped his jersey."
Turned out the victim was a coach for Charlotte, who was merely trying to break up the fight. Worse yet for Weber, he performed his flying takedown in front of the umpires.
His maneuver cost him $100 and drew a three-day suspension. But it apparently didn't teach much of a lesson.
"If something like that happened again, I'd do the exact same thing," Weber said. "You have to back up your teammate no matter what the cost."
So much for deterrents.
Gill's bills: This was not Gill's first brush with league officials. Nor his second.
Gill has been fined three times. It has cost him $200 so far.
"The first two were for yelling at umpires," Gill said. "The umps aren't very good in this league. In fact, they're terrible."
That's $200 and counting.
"The league president told our manager that I lead the league in fines," Gill said.
If at first you don't succeed . . . : OK, the Lake Elsinore Storm publicity department hasn't had the greatest success, but they get an "A" for effort.
They tried to lure the "Late Show With David Letterman" to Elsinore by inviting Mujibar and Sirajul to take batting practice and serve as bat boys. The two men, who became cult figures through their appearances on the Letterman show, made a cross-country tour, sending Letterman reports from Niagara Falls to Las Vegas. But the tour, and gag, ended before the Storm made their offer. Oops.
The Storm tried a promotion to "Outdraw the Padres" last week. The San Diego Padres drew 9,195 that night, 3,000 more than the Storm. Close, but no cigar.
Now comes the latest from those whiz kids in Elsinore:
"Seek Shelter form the Strike with the Storm."
Should a strike halt play, all major league tickets will be honored at Storm games during their three-game series Aug. 12-14 against the San Jose Giants.
What's next, O.J. Simpson Day?