Angels firing Rodgers a surprise Padres dumping Riggleman won't be

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The first firing of a major-league manager in 1994 took nearly everyone in baseball by surprise. The most likely second firing should shock no one.

Like Buck Rodgers, fired by the California Angels, San Diego Padres manager Jim Riggleman has little talent with which to work. Unlike Rodgers, Riggleman's team is not in a pennant race.

The Padres, a Double-A caliber team with a Tony Gwynn here and an Andy Benes there to break up the monotony, lost for the 12th consecutive time Friday night to set a Padres record and fuel speculation that Riggleman's job is on the line.

Tim Flannery, a Single-A manager in the Padres' system and one of the most popular players in franchise history, is the leading candidate to replace Riggleman when the inevitable occurs.

Padres general manager Randy Smith, whose job is secure only for as long as Tom Werner owns the team, is believed to favor Padres third base coach Bruce Bochy, but Werner, desperate to generate fan interest, prefers the appeal of Flannery.

Riggleman is not in denial about his precarious position.

"You can't help but be concerned," Riggleman told reporters. "It's your livelihood and your future. It's just the nature of the business. When you get the job you understand you are in the hot seat, and we're losing ballgames, so it wouldn't come as a surprise."

Werner figures to complete the sale of the Padres to a mystery buyer within two months, which has more than just Riggleman wondering about his job security.

"It's in the back of my mind," Smith said. "I've thought about a potential ownership change, and I know what that could mean."

The Padres averaged 16,341 tickets sold in their first 20 home dates. Understandably, no-shows have been high. After all, what would you rather do, comb the beaches of San Diego, or watch the worst team in baseball get pounded again?

Flannery, a sound baseball man, a lively quote and a smooth television presence, could help the turnstile to some extent.

In contrast, the Rodgers firing was not a popular one with Angels fans, who sat on their hands during and after a Marcel Lachemann highlight film played on the scoreboard to introduce the new manager.

Rodgers, an original Angel who nearly lost his life in a 1992 team bus accident, spoke honestly about the shortcomings of his players, a quality in a manager fans always appreciate and most players detest.

Many believe Rodgers' willingness to publicly criticize the performance of his players played at least a small part in his firing. Backward thinking.

Generally speaking, winning players have skin thick enough to withstand just criticism. It wasn't Rodgers' fault the Angels were 16-23 -- but only two games out of first in the frail American League West.

California GM Bill Bavasi took responsibility for the firing. Bavasi's predecessor, Whitey Herzog, voiced his disapproval.

"I can't believe it," Herzog said. "How can you fire a manager when he didn't have his No. 1 pitcher [Mark Langston], didn't have his No. 3 pitcher [Joe Magrane], and his No. 2 [Chuck Finley] and No. 4 pitchers [Phil Leftwich] are pitching terrible? It ain't too damn fair. Now, Marcel will do a good job. He's a very good baseball man, but I managed against Buck, and that's a pretty damn good manager. Believe me, firing Buck Rodgers is not the answer."

John Wathan was the Angels' interim manager during much of the 1992 season while Rodgers rehabilitated from injuries.

Wathan left the team for four games when there was a death in his family. Lachemann stood in for him and went 3-1.

Lachemann, who was the Florida Marlins' pitching coach for his brother Rene before the Rodgers firing, is one of three major-league managers who was a pitcher (joining Tom Lasorda and Dallas Green).

In L.A., stability reigns

Eleven men have managed the Angels since Lasorda moved into the Los Angeles Dodgers' dugout in the final days of the 1976 season.

Many figured last season would be Lasorda's last with the Dodgers, but he was extended a year and has the Dodgers in first place in the National League West.

The Dodgers of a previous generation were famous for winning 2-1 games. These Dodgers lead the league in runs scored, a year after finishing 12th in the NL in that category.

All three of the Dodgers' starting outfielders -- left fielder Henry Rodriguez (.349), center fielder Brett Butler (.335), and right fielder Raul Mondesi (.331, 28 RBIs, nine outfield assists) -- are in the Top 10 in the NL in hitting.

Mondesi is a leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year. If he wins, he would follow Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, who followed Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros.

The Dodgers had four consecutive Rookie of the Year winners from 1979 to 1982: Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela, and Steve Sax.

Veteran third baseman Tim Wallach, in the last year of his contract, is having a big comeback season. He ranks fifth in the NL with 35 RBIs and is batting .288. His batting averages from the previous three seasons: .222, .223, .225.

At this rate, the Angels will have another 11 managers before Lasorda is unseated.

The three leading candidates to succeed Lasorda, in order of probability, remain Dodgers coach Bill Russell, Cleveland Indians pitching coach Phil Regan and Orioles coach Davey Lopes.

Bonds banged up, but not out

The most underrated aspect of San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds, baseball's best player, is his willingness and ability to play through pain.

Bonds has been bothered by a sore right elbow since May 4 and a sore left shoulder since April 12. He reinjured the elbow in a collision with Darren Lewis on Wednesday in Houston. The elbow originally was hurt when he was hit by a pitch from Eric Hillman of the New York Mets one pitch after Robby Thompson had homered.

All banged up, Bonds continues to produce. In a recent 20-game stretch, Bonds hit .349 with six home runs and 19 RBIs, raising his batting average from .214 to .286.

Bonds' arm always has been considered the weakest of his five tools. He ranks third in the NL with five outfield assists.

Nine of Bonds' 11 home runs have either tied the score or given the Giants a lead.

Bonds' average (.336), home runs (46) and RBIs (123) last season would have captured the NL triple crown in five of the previous seven years (1986, '87, '90, '91 and '92). Bonds' batting average was higher than any of the other 27 NL players who won the home run and RBI titles in the same season since 1937.

No wonder Bonds was walked intentionally 43 times last season, second-most in major-league history to Willie McCovey's 45.

A respectful millionaire

Chicago Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston, who missed most of 1992 and 1993 recovering from back surgery, is back at shortstop, though he missed two games last week with back spasms and left yesterday's game with a stiff back.

The back injury prevented Dunston from reaching the great heights predicted of him. He and the Cincinnati Reds' Barry Larkin were considered the rising stars at the position until Dunston was sidelined.

The best two shortstops in the game, according to Dunston?

"Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith are still the best," Dunston said. "They'll be the best until they retire. People used to say me and Larkin. No, it's still Cal and Ozzie."

Dunston signed a four-year, $12 million contract before the 1992 season.

He said he expects to be traded before that runs out.

"I would love to play my whole career with the Cubs, but after I saw Andre Dawson and Greg Maddux leave the Cubs, I knew that wasn't going to happen," Dunston said. "If you can let guys that great get away you can sure let Shawon Dunston get away. I think the only reason I haven't been traded yet is because people worry about my back."

Dunston, batting .236, is backed up by Rey Sanchez, a respected fielder whose ability to play hurt has been questioned.

"I think Rey Sanchez has the best hands of any shortstop I've seen in a long time," Dunston said. "Him and Omar Vizquel. I predict Rey Sanchez will win a Gold Glove."

Dawson, now the Boston Red Sox's designated hitter, ranks as Dunston's favorite all-time teammate. "He was my favorite player, him and Ozzie Smith, when I was a kid, and now Andre calls me at my house," Dunston said. "Do you know how many people would love to have Andre Dawson call them at their house?"

On Marge's shot at earrings

San Francisco closer Rod Beck wears a diamond stud in his left ear, but he wasn't offended by Reds owner Marge Schott's opinion that "only fruits wear earrings."

"It doesn't bother me," Beck said. "My mom doesn't like it either."

Said Reds left fielder Kevin Mitchell: "Only if they wear the earring in the right ear."

Hodgkin's patient on rebound

Chicago White Sox reliever Scott Radinsky, who learned days before the opening of spring training that he has Hodgkin's disease, was with the team last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. He threw for 20 minutes and is hopeful of making an appearance in a game before the season is over.

Radinsky undergoes chemotherapy treatment once every two weeks. The final treatment is scheduled for Aug. 1. He still will have radiation treatments after that.

"I don't see why not," Radinsky said of pitching this season. "There'll still be a couple of weeks left in the season. One hitter. One hitter would be good for me and make me happy."

Radinsky has helped coach his high school baseball team in Simi Valley, Calif., on a volunteer basis.

White Sox pitching coach Jackie Brown was impressed with what he saw of Radinsky in the bullpen.

"His fastball was better than his worst games last year, but not as good as his best games," Brown said.

"His curveball is a little better, and he's taught himself a changeup."

Miscellaneous

Rumblings of a player strike right after the All-Star break grow stronger and stronger. The players do not expect to receive the owners' plan for another two to four weeks. . . . Montreal outfielder Moises Alou, manager Felipe's son, on the city's apathy toward the Expos: "Montreal doesn't deserve a baseball team. They don't like baseball here. If our team were anywhere else, it would draw a lot better." . . . Seattle, in need of a closer and interested in Minnesota's Rick Aguilera and the Cubs' Randy Myers, has had trouble in more than just the ninth inning. The Mariners have been outscored 106-57 in the first three innings of games going into the weekend. . . . Ken Griffey hit 45 home runs last season and didn't hit his 15th until the 66th game. He has 18 through his first 40 games this season. Don't laugh, conditions are ripe for Griffey to make a legitimate run at Roger Maris' record 61 homers. . . . Since Scott Erickson's no-hitter, Minnesota Twins pitchers have gone 10-5 with a 4.46 ERA going into the weekend. Before the no-hitter, they were 4-10 with an 8.44 ERA.

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