Letting Sutcliffe, Bell get away doesn't win Himes any Cubs friends

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- Chicago Cubs general manager Larry Himes is feeling a lot of heat over one move he didn't make and another he did.

Himes passed on the opportunity to sign pitcher Rick Sutcliffe last winter, and this spring his infatuation with Sammy Sosa influenced him to give up George Bell.

Sutcliffe's early success with the Orioles, especially in light of the Cubs' continued pitching problems, has been a source of embarrassment to Himes. He says he may have made a mistake with the veteran right-hander, but quickly explains the logic behind the decision. "If I knew he could do what he's doing, I'd have signed him," said Himes, who replaced Jim Frey last winter and negated an earlier offer by the club.

"It wouldn't be the first time I've been wrong," said Himes. Hrationalized the decision, saying, "Shawn Boskie is 3-0 -- Sutcliffe is 3-1. It washes out."

That logic, of course, presupposes that had Sutcliffe stayed witthe Cubs, Boskie wouldn't be in the rotation. However, Danny Jackson is 0-3, so it isn't likely the Cubs wouldn't have had any room.

The bottom line is that Himes probably either didn't have enouginput on Sutcliffe or didn't trust the information he had. When he decided to unlock the vault to sign ex-Oriole Mike Morgan, Himes turned his back on Sutcliffe after talking to his medical staff.

"I asked them, 'Can this guy go every five days and give us 3starts?' No one said yes," Himes said.

As for the Sosa-Bell trade, Himes is convinced that Sosa'defense will ultimately make a difference. "George Bell didn't support our pitching staff," Himes said.

"Bell produced 135 runs [RBI plus runs scored, minus homruns] for a team that won 77 games. The year before [1990], Sosa produced 132."

But that was then, and this is now. Sosa had one RBI in thCubs' first 14 games and the home run bat of Bell (11 RBI, .281 average) is missed in friendly Wrigley Field.

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Missing Ozzie: The Tigers are playing the Chicago White Sox iDetroit this weekend, and even though he figured to benefit, Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said he would miss Ozzie Guillen.

"He's one of my all-time favorites," Anderson said of the WhitSox shortstop, who is out for the year after knee surgery. "Ozzie Smith is the greatest shortstop of all time, but Guillen is the best now."

Detroit coach Dick Tracewski had this to say after Guillen'injury: "There's no question that shortstop is the most dangerous position besides catching -- that's what makes Cal Ripken's streak so amazing."

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Equally disruptive trade: The early returns on the New YorMets-Kansas City Royals blockbuster deal last winter make it look like an even trade -- one that hurt both teams.

Bret Saberhagen bombed out in his first three starts for the Metbefore pitching nine shutout innings, without a decision, in his fourth try.

Meanwhile, nothing was up to date in Kansas City, where thRoyals were foundering. Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller, the three players the Mets gave up for Saberhagen and Bill Pecota, were hitting a combined .217 with one home run and seven RBI after 15 games.

The confusing part of manager Hal McRae's lineup in KansaCity was the fact that Jim Eisenreich (.301) and Gary Thurman (.277), two productive outfielders a year ago, didn't fit into the equation. It wasn't until Terry Shumpert was sent to the minors and Miller shifted to his natural position at second base that Eisenreich and Thurman became a platoon entry.

The Royals' woeful start had some folks in the Midweswondering if ex-Mets manager Davey Johnson -- who said last winter he'd manage anywhere, even Cleveland -- would rejoin some of his former players.

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Learning from the master?: The star pupil at White Sox coacWalt Hriniak's hitting school last winter was Detroit outfielder Rob Deer.

Hriniak had special permission from owner Jerry Reinsdorf tinstruct an opposing player. Reinsdorf's thinking is that an Eastern Division player could help the White Sox by beating a Western Division rival just as easily as he might hurt the White Sox.

The free-swinging Deer has reduced his strikeout ratio so far anhas six home runs.

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Part II: On a similar note, Orioles farmhand Keith Schmidt alssought the advice of a master during the off-season. He went to a hitting school conducted by Boston third baseman Wade Boggs.

A second-round draft choice in 1988, Schmidt had been disappointment in his first three years, all spent in Single-A. The off-season work appeared to pay early dividends for Schmidt, who had not hit more than five home runs in any professional season. He hit three in his first 10 games for Kane County, driving in 10 runs and hitting at a .458 clip (11-for-24).

There was one major difference between Deer and SchmidtDeer had a scholarship to Hriniak's school, while Schmidt paid his own tuition.

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But was it in season?: When Russ Springer, former teammate oBen McDonald at LSU, was called up by the New York Yankees, he joined the club in Toronto. His biggest problem was getting through Canadian customs.

It seems that Springer did not have a passport, birth certificatedriver's license or voter's card in his possession. He was finally allowed across the border after displaying a valid Louisiana hunting license.

Is this what they mean in the bayou country when they sa"don't leave home without it"?

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No time for a memory test: Cincinnati's Lou Piniella is one of the managers suffering through a lot of early-season injuries. He's been without three-fourths of his infield (Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo, Hal Morris) and his No. 1 starter. In addition, ace reliever Rob Dibble still is feeling his way after starting the season on the disabled list.

Someone asked Piniella if he could ever recall such a rash oinjuries.

"To tell you the truth," said Piniella, "I'm not in a recalling mooright now."

If he were, Piniella undoubtedly would answer in the negativeTen years ago, 63 players appeared on the National League's disabled list. So far this year, 50 names have found their way onto the list.

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The 15th of ????: Forgive Atlanta's Otis Nixon for looking forwarthe 15th of each month. The outfielder, who just finished a 60-day suspension for failing a drug test last year, has a unique contract this year.

He has a base salary of $585,000. If he is active May 15, hreceives another $425,000 -- and then $325,000 on the 15th of every month he's active thereafter.

OC If he stays clean, Nixon's contract will be worth $2.63 million.*

This 'n that: Mike Mussina's younger brother Mark is 2-1 with ERA at Susquehanna College. Yes, the 20-year-old sophomore throws a knuckle-curve.

It's fashionable to knock commissioner Fay Vincent these daysbut he made a good move by knocking out commercial identification for the Arizona Winter League.

So much for spring training -- Julio Franco had two at-bats durinthe exhibition season, then went 2-for-3 in his first game after coming off the disabled list.

In Pete Harnisch's four starts this year, the Astros have scorejust seven runs -- and the ex-Orioles right-hander has driven in three of them. Last year the Astros scored 12 runs in Harnisch's

nine losses.

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