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For game's sake, Tigers coach Muffett pitches pair of restorations

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Billy Muffett has been a pitching coach in the major leagues during parts of four decades, but that doesn't mean he is an old grump. He is old, if you consider 63 old for a man who wears a baseball uniform to work every day. He isn't grumpy.

"I've loved every minute of it," said Muffett, who has been the Detroit Tigers' pitching coach since 1985. "It's a great way to make a living. I've thoroughly enjoyed it."

The man isn't a whiner, so when he has a complaint, well, maybe baseball should sit up and listen.

Muffett doesn't like what he sees happening to pitchers in

today's game, and it's tough to blame the man.

He doesn't enjoy games that drag on at the pace of a chess match. Muffett advocates two changes -- actually, restorations -- that would bring the game back to where it was.

First, he would like to see the mound raised to the height it was when his former pupil, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Bob Gibson, finished a season with a 1.12 ERA in 1968.

Second, he would like to see the strike zone expanded back to where it was in the days of Gibson and Sandy Koufax.

"Some of the old-time pitchers would have a hard time believing today's strike zone if they went out there," Muffett said. "It would be a rude awakening for some of them."

Gibson and Koufax, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens, those aren't the guys Muffett means. They find ways to succeed no matter the conditions, but today's conditions are too tough for most pitchers to work under.

Soon, Muffett fears, it will return to the formative days of baseball, when the hitter told the pitcher precisely where he wanted the pitch.

"Raising the mound five inches would make a big difference," Muffett said. "It's a lot easier throwing downhill than it is throwing uphill. Naturally, if you are up higher, your breaking ball is going to be a lot better because it's coming from a different angle. It's more of a down angle and the pitch is going to go down more. With a flatter mound, your breaking ball is going to be up more and it's going to flatten out a little."

The way Muffett sees it, there is another potential benefit to hiking the mound.

"I definitely believe you wouldn't see as many sore arms with a steeper mound," Muffett said. "Throwing from a flatter surface puts more pressure on your arm. No question."

An expanded strike zone would result in fewer pitches.

"You see so many 3-2 counts with the hitter at the plate now," Muffett said. "The faster the game, the better the game, the better the defense.

Fast games keep everyone on their toes."

The man speaks from experience, and baseball's rules committee and umpires should listen to him.

1968 revisited

Not only was music the best it has ever been in and around that year, so was the pitching.

The mound was shaved from 15 to 10 inches after a 1968 season in which 335 shutouts were thrown, the All-Star Game was 1-0, and Gibson (13 shutouts, 28 complete games), Luis Tiant (1.60 ERA), Sam McDowell (1.81 ERA) and Denny McLain (31 wins) had huge seasons.

San Francisco's Gaylord Perry and St. Louis' Ray Washburn no-hit each other's teams on back-to-back nights.

Gibson, by the way, never was knocked out of a game. He was replaced by a pinch hitter in each of the six games he did not work the distance.

A 36th-round gem

Chicago White Sox right-hander Jason Bere, 15-1 since last August, was a 36th-round draft choice in 1990 out of Middlesex Community College in Burlington, Mass.

Credit scout Guy Mader with finding him and give Dewey Robinson, now the White Sox's bullpen coach and formerly the organization's minor-league pitching instructor, a chunk of the credit for drawing his potential out of him.

More than just a hard thrower, Bere is a pitcher.

"He has a very sneaky fastball, a curveball he throws on any count, and a good changeup," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "He can throw his fastball up. And he can adjust and get it down the next pitch as good as anyone I've ever seen."

How Sparky sees them

Tigers manager Sparky Anderson treats questions the way Don Baylor treated inside pitches. He doesn't duck out of the way of them.

So, Sparky, who has the best club in the American League East?

"If the Yankees stay healthy, you tell me how anyone is going to beat them," Anderson said.

Who are the strongest teams in baseball?

"Atlanta, the White Sox and Montreal," he said. "Their pitching is so much better than everyone else's."

Even Leo's no Chris Gomez

Even as productive as Leo Gomez has been for the Orioles, he was only the second-best Gomez in the AL East in the month of May.

Detroit Tigers rookie middle infielder Chris Gomez drove in 26 runs in May, which ties Lou Whitaker's career monthly high and tops Alan Trammell's. Gomez plays second base against left-handed pitchers and shortstop against right-handers, platooning with Whitaker and Trammell.

Preseason Rookie of the Year talk centered on Toronto's Carlos Delgado, Cleveland's Manny Ramirez and injured Orioles right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds, but Gomez has the most impressive numbers.

Yet, if Hammonds returns to the lineup and can stay healthy, it would be unwise to bet against him taking home the award.

Bouncing back

Wayne Messmer, the popular national anthem singer at Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks games, found out just how popular he was while recovering from a gunshot wound to the throat.

Messmer was bombarded so heavily with supportive letters and phone calls that when he switched hospitals he registered under the name Ralph Kramden, the "Honeymooners" character played Jackie Gleason.

Messmer was shot in the early hours of April 9 by one of two teen-agers attempting a robbery.

Messmer, the Cubs' public address announcer, threw out the first pitch on Memorial Day at Wrigley Field, the day Willie Banks and Randy Myers combined on a one-hitter. Messmer, who was in critical condition after the shooting, has his speaking voice back and vows to regain his singing voice.

Angels continue to surprise

McKay Christensen, an outfielder from Clovis West High School near Fresno, Calif., was the surprise pick of the major-league draft's first round, selected sixth by the California Angels.

Christensen's parents wrote a letter to all 28 clubs advising that no amount of money would change their minds about him going on a two-year Mormon mission.

Baseball America projected Christensen, who has great speed but no power, as the 48th pick.

This doesn't rank with the Buck Rodgers firing in the shock department, but it took quite a few scouting directors by surprise. If Christensen ever makes the majors, it likely won't be until next century.

Around the horn

Finally, some trades. Boston dealt reliever Paul Quantrill and Billy Hatcher for Wes Chamberlain and a minor-league pitcher who is not considered much of a prospect. Advantage, Philadelphia. The Braves dealt Deion Sanders to Cincinnati for Roberto Kelly. Strange. Huge advantage, Reds. . . . Tigers DH and part-time outfielder Kirk Gibson, who came out of retirement for a second tour of duty with his original team, has rediscovered his youthful ways. Gibson hit eight home runs and drove in 24 runs in May.

One more thing

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Expand the strike zone and elevate the mound!

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