Sanity somehow prevailed in New York, where Bo-mania had reached the point where it almost seemed logical for the Yankees to spend nearly $2.4 million to claim a player who had little chance of showing up in their lineup this year.
Bo Jackson insisted that he would play baseball again in 1991, and the Yankees gave every indication that they were going to take his word for it. But after examining his medical records, even they were not fooled.
Give them credit for a rare attack of good judgment. This is the same team that spent $8 million to sign new-look free agent Mike Witt when it should have been obvious that he would take a couple of million less.
Claiming Jackson would have been another act of total desperation by a team that always seems to have too much money and not enough sense. It would have made for giant headlines in the tabloids, and it would have piqued interest in a hopeless team, but it would not have made the Yankees one game better in 1991.
No doubt, Jackson was hoping his positive outlook would persuade at least one major-league team to claim him and assume his giant salary, but the numbers didn't add up. The $2.4 million would have bought only Jackson's rehabilitation program, not the fruits of it. If he plays a game in 1991, it will defy medical science. The only justification for a waiver claim would have been to get him under contract for the future, but a comeback would have set him up for another big payoff for 1992.
The Yankees still can try to work out something more practical and sign Jackson as a free agent, but they would be better off spending their money on player development instead of public relations.
Milwaukee Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn is hoping his team can be competitive this year, even though the club recently lost pitcher Ted Higuera to yet another shoulder injury.
"We're conditioned mentally to Teddy getting hurt," he said, "but it's still impossible to minimize the impact of losing your No. 1 starter -- both on your own rotation and on how your opponents gear up to play you."
The Brewers made a number of changes after finishing sixth last season, but Trebelhorn is predicting only mild improvement.
"I think we're right in the middle of the division -- third or fourth with the people we have," he said. "We have to score the same number of runs without Dave Parker, get better pitching without Ted Higuera and definitely execute better on defense."
Greetings from sunny Tucson, Ariz.: The impending departure of the Cleveland Indians has left Arizona's second city desperate to bring in another major-league team for spring training, but it seems unlikely that the Baltimore Orioles will take the bait even if their deal with Collier County, Fla., comes apart completely. Tucson can't have a lot of appeal for the team that is spending the entire 1991 exhibition season on a bus. The nearest Cactus League opponent would be more than 100 miles away. The Arizona exhibition season also includes trips to Yuma, Ariz., (250 miles away) and Palm Springs, Calif. (about 350 miles). Nevertheless, Tucson officials keep mentioning the Orioles as a possible invitee, and Orioles officials keep saying they want to remain in Florida.
Both of the principals in the Dave Parker/Dante Bichette deal appear to be happy with their new surroundings. Parker is talking pennant for the California Angels, and Bichette is talking playing time with the Brewers.
"From what I see, I definitely have a shot at another ring," Parker said. This lineup can match up with anybody. We can go blow-to-blow with Oakland."
Bichette, 27, is just happy to be somewhere where he'll get a fresh start after failing to fit into the Angels' fountain-of-youth movement.
"I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders," Bichette said. "I don't know what else I had to do to get into the lineup. It seems like the Angels are trying to win the World Series right now. After all, the Cowboy [owner Gene Autry] is not getting any younger."
The New York Mets have a new infield alignment, and Kevin Elster isn't in it. He was the starting shortstop when he went down with a shoulder injury last August, but his job was not waiting for him when he came back from surgery this spring. Manager Bud Harrelson plans to go with Gregg Jefferies at third base and Howard Johnson at short, leaving Elster to wonder where he fits in. This probably would go down as a great injustice if it weren't for Elster's .207 batting average in 1990. Jefferies hit .283 with 15 home runs and 68 RBI last year. HoJo had 23 homers and 90 RBI. Second baseman Tommy Herr hit .261 with 60 RBI. Harrelson, who will be doing without Darryl Strawberry's annual 35-homer, 100-RBI performance, has little choice but to go with the biggest hitters he can get into the lineup.
Atlanta Braves first baseman Nick Esasky, who missed almost the entire 1990 season with a debilitating case of vertigo, played in a competitive situation Monday for the first time in 11 months. He singled in four at-bats in a "B" game against the Montreal Expos to take the first real step in what the Braves hope will be a successful return to the major leagues.
Esasky has played just nine regular-season games in a Braves uniform since the club signed him to a three-year, $5.6 million contract Nov. 7, 1989. The inner-ear disease struck him early last season, and the chronic dizziness threatened to end his career. That still is a possibility, but Esasky continues to fight back.
He hopes to get into a Grapefruit League game soon but figures to remain in Florida for extended spring training after the Braves break camp.
"I don't know where I'm going to be tomorrow with this thing, much less three or four weeks," he said. "There's always the possibility that I'll wake up and it will be totally gone."
The Braves couldn't afford to wait and find out. They signed free agent Sid Bream during the off-season to play first base.
The California Angels gave Bert Blyleven a special dispensation that he could keep his beard after he was traded to the Angels a few years ago. Now, newly acquired Dave Parker wants permission to keep his, but the jury is still out.
"The only stipulation we made is that under any circumstances, Blyleven would keep his beard because we all know what's underneath," general manager Mike Port said. "I suppose we could make a rule that anyone who wears larger than a size 52 jersey can appear however he wants."
Orioles designated hitter Sam Horn has some impressive numbers if you combine his Orioles statistics from major-league, minor-league and spring-training action. He has 31 homers and 91 RBI in 380 at-bats.
Spring-training won-lost records can be a little misleading. The two best preseason records in the American League belong to the two worst teams of 1990. The Yankees are 13-5 record after finishing seventh in the AL East last year. The Minnesota Twins have climbed out of the AL West cellar to run up an 12-5 exhibition record. Two of the best records among National League teams belong to the Houston Astros (10-4), who are expected to finish last in the NL West this year, and the St. Louis Cardinals (10-5), who finished last in the NL East in 1990.
Cincinnati Reds manager Lou Piniella is finding Plant City, Fla., a little remote after all the springs he spent with the Yankees in Fort Lauderdale.
"It's one of those places where the gourmet shop's cheese of the week is Velveeta," he said recently, "and the all-night diner closes at 4:30 p.m."
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda takes some credit for the emergence of pitcher Orel Hershiser in 1985, the season that Lasorda fired up the young right-hander with his famous "Sermon on the Mound." Now, he's trying to do the same thing with newly acquired Kevin Gross.
"The first thing I did was give him a nickname," Lasorda said. "He's my pit bull. Hershiser's my bulldog, and Gross is my pit bull. And who's stronger, a bulldog or a pit bull?
"I want him to be stronger and more confident and more determined than Hershiser is. I've had talks with him. In my own small way, I got him going. I've got him thinking and believing in himself."
Look for Lasorda to remind everybody of this in October if Gross has a good year. If Gross flops, look for Lasorda to remind everyone how he motivated Ramon Martinez.
Future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan is a proponent of the scientific pitching philosophy of Texas Rangers coach Tom House, but that didn't keep Ryan from jabbing House good-naturedly when someone asked whether the high-tech coach was ahead of his time.
"I think where he's ahead of his time is in his vocabulary," Ryan told the Sarasota Herald Tribune. "Because I don't think a lot of people understand what he's saying."
House, who has produced a number of books and instructional videotapes on pitching, has co-written a book with Ryan, "Nolan Ryan's Pitcher's Bible."
Trade Rumor of the Week: The Toronto Blue Jays were the most active team in the American League during the off-season, and there are indications that they are going to make one more move before the start of the regular season. The Blue Jays reportedly have approached the Cleveland Indians about left-hander Greg Swindell, and the San Diego Padres about right-hander Greg Harris. There has been an Indians scout shadowing the Blue Jays for much of the past week, but it appears that Cleveland is more interested in trading knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. Whether the Indians would make a significant trade with one of the favorites in their own division remains to be seen.