Ongoing Strike Leaving Major Leaguers Out in the Kuld : Baseball: Former Chatsworth High catcher is prepared to cross picket lines for a shot in the big leagues.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pete Kuld mulled the unpleasant terminology for a moment, then laughed.

There are worse things in life than name-calling, he reasoned.

"I guess they'll call us scab players," Kuld said. "That's what everybody called them when it happened in football."

Kuld, a former catcher at Chatsworth High, agreed this week to sign a triple-A contract with the Boston Red Sox and said he intends to cross the picket lines if the six-month-long major league players' strike continues into the regular season.

"I'll definitely cross," Kuld said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

Scab.

Strikebreaker.

Replacement player.

Kuld much prefers the sound of major league catcher .

If Kuld is asked to serve as a big league fill-in, he can handle the heat from the strikers. It's worth any potential trade-offs, no question about it.

"If somebody has something to say, I'll just ask, 'Can you blame me for taking a chance I might not ever get again?' " he said.

To be sure, Kuld, 28, knows his biological clock is ticking and that he is well beyond the age of most prospects.

Kuld, a catcher who played at College of the Canyons and Pepperdine, previously played in the minors with the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics.

Mostly, he was a platoon player and never appeared in more than 75 games in a season. His career stalled and he was released by Texas after batting .228 at double-A Tulsa two years ago. His offensive production was deemed suspect.

Not any longer, he asserts.

Last summer, Kuld set a short-season minor league record by belting 27 home runs for the Thunder Bay (Ont.) Whiskey Jacks of the independent Northern League, which considers its talent of high class-A quality.

Considering his reputation as a light hitter, Kuld's numbers in 1994 were startling. He homered at least once in every three-game series, batted .280 and drove in 60 runs in 77 games.

When the season ended, he sent resumes to all 28 teams with the hope of earning a triple-A contract. The inquiries were coolly received, if not ignored. Only a handful of teams even bothered to write rejection letters.

This month, Ed Kenney, Boston's director of minor league operations, phoned Kuld at home in Honolulu and asked whether the player was still interested in signing a contract. Kenney said two minor league catchers on Boston's 40-man roster aren't expected to cross the picket lines.

Kenney asked about Kuld's feelings regarding the player strike. No philosophical quandary on this front, Kuld said.

"This is a case where we need to have bodies available," Kenney said.

Said Kuld: "Hey, I know guys who are in the majors now. I just want a chance too."

Of course, Kuld might have to deal with unruly strikers at various spring training sites. A few weeks back, one big leaguer said that if substitute players crossed the picket line, they would find scab corpses floating in the East River.

"I'm prepared for that," said Kuld, who is married. "I'll take my lumps. . . . Eventually, everyone forgets."

Kuld said he was assured that he will be given the opportunity to make the club's triple-A team at Pawtucket if the strike is settled. He is scheduled to report in mid-February.

The major-league coaching staff will be running spring training, which means Kuld will receive a good long look from the club's top brass. What's more, when exhibition games begin, Kuld will be seen by several other organizations.

"I'm not looking at myself as a replacement," he said. "I'm a prospective triple-A player. I've been given the opportunity to win a job."

Kuld wasn't the only Boston signee--and almost certainly not the last. The Red Sox this week also agreed to terms with four other players as the stockpiling of replacements began in earnest. All four are career minor leaguers: first baseman Don Barbara and outfielders Paul Thoutsis, Scott Wade and Aubrey Waggoner.

The California Angels announced this week that tryout camps for potential replacement players are scheduled for three sites later this month. The Toronto Blue Jays have scheduled tryouts for former minor leaguers on Jan. 22 at Pierce College.

Many at the camps undoubtedly will be like Kuld, ambitious players who feel that they were never given a real chance to prove themselves.

Kuld has one foot in the door. Now he plans to kick it down.

"If the opportunity is there, take it," he said. "I think I can still play, regardless of the strike. This just helps me get there faster."

Bryan Rodgers contributed to this story.

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