All-Star MVP Conine hits big-time with HR

It happened to Al Weis in the 1969 World Series, Bret Saberhagen in the 1985 World Series, and Francisco Cabrera in the 1992 playoffs. Now it's happening to Jeff Conine, who hit the pinch homer to give the National League a 3-2 win over the American League in Tuesday's All-Star Game.

Instant fame. The marginal racquetball fan might've had a better chance of recognizing Conine than the average baseball fan -- Conine and his wife are nationally known mixed-doubles


champions -- but that has changed.

Jay Leno's producers called to see if Conine might want to make a late-night appearance. His picture ran in papers all over the country. He is big-time now, his life forever altered, and he admitted after the All-Star Game that he suspected as much after rounding the bases.


"After I got back to the dugout," he said, "I thought to myself, 'Hey, if this lead holds up, I could be the All-Star MVP.' My heart was just pounding."

He was named MVP, an award that came with a price; he had to rerun his entire life for the waves of media that sought him out after the game's conclusion. He finished his interviews and went back to the hotel to sleep.

When his wife, Cindy, awoke, she found eight messages for Jeff. They went back to sleep for another two hours, and there were nine more messages waiting.

"People kept telling me," Conine said, "this could change your life. Everybody will know about you."

Conine came up through the Kansas City organization, but the Royals left him unprotected from the expansion draft in the fall of 1992 because -- and this sounds silly now -- they didn't think he would ever hit with power.

"To see him go up there in his first All-Star at-bat and go deep," said 11-time All-Star Tony Gwynn, "that's what fairy tales are made of."

Will real O's stand up?

If anybody can get a read on the '95 Orioles, please drop a line.


They lose two to the woeful Minnesota Twins, at home. They go to Chicago and sweep four and make a big trade for Scott Erickson and appear poised to take a run at Boston.

Then they come home and suddenly the anemic Royals look like the greatest offensive team this side of Cleveland. For an organization that has prided itself on consistency, the Orioles have been horribly inconsistent this year.

* Nomomania will lead to big money for the Dodgers rookie. Hideo Nomo is being paid the major-league minimum of $109,000 this year (above and beyond his $2 million signing bonus), but he could threaten to return to Japan and increase his negotiating leverage in the off-season.

"It'll be interesting," said Don Nomura, Nomo's agent. "I think we all know what kind of money Nomo is generating for the Dodgers."

Meanwhile, the search has begun for more Nomo-type mania. Cincinnati general manager Jim Bowden says he is scouting around for another Japanese native, and has been in contact with Japan League teams about a trade. "I know it has never been done," Bowden said, "but we're trying to be innovative and creative. There are three or four pitchers in Japan better than Nomo, and we'd like to make a trade. We've checked with the commissioner's office, and a deal would be complicated, but legal."

The Texas Rangers think slugger Juan Gonzalez is ready to have a big second half. Through Friday, Gonzalez had missed 35 games with injuries. "I know it gives me a charge to think about it," said Texas manager Johnny Oates. Seattle manager Lou Piniella said, "He seems serious. He seems very serious. He looks focused. You can't make a mistake with that guy. You can't let him extend [his arms] on you. The ball is jumping off his bat. It's scary."


Conventional wisdom around the league is that if the voting were to take place today, Oates would be the AL Manager of the Year.

* This is why the Orioles will sign Ron Gant for next year: Owner Peter Angelos wanted Gant last year, and this year, a slugger like Gant is exactly what the disappointing Orioles offense needs. Angelos won't miss the second time around.

What a guy

San Francisco left fielder Barry Bonds played to the hilt the role of tortured star when he received the trophy for most All-Star votes in the NL.

"I'm appreciative," he said. "I love it. I'm going to take that trophy home and put up all the newspaper articles about me, and then I'm going to show it to my kids when I retire, to show that some good can come out of a negative situation. I'll remember 1995, the year I went through a divorce and a whole bunch of other crud, had the media all over me, but still had something positive to come out of it."

Now that is gratitude. And fans, don't forget to vote for Mr. Bonds next year.


* There has been much talk among Orioles brass over the last year about bringing Eddie Murray back here in '96, so Murray can hit his 500th career homer at Camden Yards and close his career in an Orioles uniform. But Murray seems to be enjoying himself immensely in Cleveland and may simply wish to remain with the Indians. There's no more perfect situation for Murray, at this stage in his career, to be a complementary offensive player, and if he were to supplant Harold Baines here next year, the Orioles would need him to be a big run-producer.

Just say Nomo

Frank Thomas asked for and got permission to cut out of the All-Star Game festivities, and then he took a bit of a shot at Nomomania, not the brightest thing to do when the game is depending greatly on Nomo for help. "Randy Johnson is a more dominant pitcher," Thomas said.

"Bottom line, the hype is he's the first Japanese player to play in the big leagues. He's got very good stuff, but he's not the intimidating pitcher they want to make him out to be. I think the media is making him into something. . . . I don't know if he can keep it up the rest of the season."

* Padres closer Trevor Hoffman threw three pitches over two appearances and lost two games. Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza hit Hoffman's first pitch for a homer to beat the Padres, 8-5, on June 26, and four days later, Bonds hit Hoffman's second pitch for a homer and victory.

The Yankees may yet get David Cone, but their benevolent owner is not acting like the impetuous George Steinbrenner of the '80s, continually dumping prospects. No, Steinbrenner is resisting deals involving his top youngsters, like Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, which speaks volumes about the current financial state of the game.


A young, unestablished player is worth more than an established All-Star now, because the young player has a low salary.

* The addition of Willie McGee should help the Boston Red Sox. McGee's a good veteran player who understands his role, much as Kevin Bass does for the Orioles.

* Just as the New York Mets were despised for their perceived arrogance in the 1980s, opposing players are finding it easy to dislike the Indians. Texas pitcher Bob Tewksbury slammed the Tribe for a lack of professionalism, saying that several players wear different uniform tops during batting practice, and that one guy "walks to left field."

Tewksbury was referring to Albert Belle, of course, and Belle explained his stroll from the dugout to left and back. "When I walk out to left field," Belle said, "I'm in the process of separating my offense from my defense. I could see where the other side may pick up some bad vibes from that, but I'm not going to win every game with my bat. I may go 0-for-4, but I can still help us win by making four tremendous catches in the outfield."

In a roundabout way, that was his excuse for not hustling.

Alomar to Braves?


The Braves are gearing up to take a run at Roberto Alomar if and when he becomes available.

One problem is that while they can offer Ryan Klesko, the Blue Jays have a logjam of first baseman/DH types in Paul Molitor, John Olerud and Carlos Delgado, and Klesko has proven beyond a measure of a doubt that he cannot play the outfield without killing his team defensively.

Bonilla deal on hold

Padres executives talked internally about trying to make a deal for New York third baseman Bobby Bonilla, but heard, through various sources, that Mets GM Joe McIlvaine wasn't interested in making a deal with San Diego.

There's some history here -- McIlvaine used to be general manager of the Padres, and was replaced by Randy Smith. In December of '93, the two made what was thought to be a minor deal, but instead brought San Diego a top pitching prospect named Marc Kroon, who is projected as a possible star. Earlier this year, McIlvaine criticized San Diego's promotion of Dustin Hermanson, the Padres' No. 1 pick in '94, as being premature, which irked folks on the West Coast.

The Padres want to add a good-hitting first baseman, but with Bonilla out of the question, Toronto's Joe Carter very pricey and Philly's Dave Hollins a big risk, they may turn their sights to Cincinnati's Hal Morris. This makes sense for the Padres and Reds, because Bowden wants to trim payroll enough to make a deal for a pitcher like the Cardinals' Ken Hill, and Cincinnati has proven it can win without Morris.


And St. Louis is officially shopping Hill. The Cards wanted to sign Hill to a multi-year deal, but in lieu of any progress in that direction, they are exploring their options. "We're not close to an agreement," said general manager Walt Jocketty, "so we're fielding offers."

A St. Louis source indicated that the Orioles inquired about Hill in early June, before they got Erickson from the Twins.

* Had he not been so woozy, Oakland first baseman Mark McGwire said, he would've taken on David Cone after the right-hander beaned him last weekend. "There's no question in my mind," McGwire said, "if I almost hadn't been knocked out, Dave Cone would not have finished the game. It wasn't until I was in the clubhouse that I was aware of what was going on. I wish I was aware of it, then I would have taken care of it."

Nothing cheap here

The All-Star gathering allowed Cubs manager Jim Riggleman to talk with Phillies catcher Darren Daulton about a play that occurred in Chicago's game last Sunday. Daulton appeared to slide into home plate late, in an effort to disrupt Scott Servais' throw to first, and kicked the catcher's knee.

Daulton apologized to Riggleman, who accepted Daulton's explanation. "I've heard everything from 'blatant' to 'cheap shot' to 'that's the way the game is played,' " Riggleman said. "To me, the key word is intent. I told [Daulton], 'I know there was no intent. You don't play that way.' "



Memorabilia collector Barry Halper has gotten a reputation for gathering some of the strangest stuff from baseball stars, so it surprised no one that Halper appeared at Mickey Mantle's news conference in Texas the other day. Least of all, The Mick himself. "Hey Barry," Mantle cracked, "did you buy my liver?"

Year.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Infraction/penalty

1991.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Belle threw a ball at a drunken fan in

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..the left-field seats, his peg bouncing off

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..the sternum of the fan. Suspended for a week.


1992.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. .. ...Charged Neal Heaton after Heaton

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. ..threw consecutive pitches behind him.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. .. . ... .. ..Suspended for three days.

1993.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. .. .. .Charged Hipolito Pichardo after

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... ... .. .. .. ...Pichardo hit him with a pitch.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Suspended for three days.


1994.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Umpires caught him using a corked

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..bat. Somebody stole his bat from the

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..umpires' room, but umps caught

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. on (Orioles P.R. director John Maroon,

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .former employee of the Indians, knows

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .who the culprit is but is saving this


.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .nugget for his memoirs - unless he is

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...offered hundreds of thousands of

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .dollars or a Kato Kaelin autograph).

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Belle's original suspension of 10 games

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .was reduced to seven games. * The Boston Red Sox have used 22 pitchers this year, more than any other team in the league.

* Through Friday, John Vander Wal has tied the Rockies' single-season pinch-hit record of 17, and is only eight short of Jose Morales' single-season record of 25, set with Montreal in 1976.


* San Francisco closer Rod Beck didn't blow a single save in 1994. As of Friday, he had blown five this year.

* Edgar Martinez's .363 average going into the break is the highest in Seattle history, topping the .351 hit by Tom Paciorek in 1979.

* Phillies catcher Darren Daulton blew off the All-Star Game workout because, he said, he was tired. There's evidence to support this: Daulton had five hits in 48 at-bats going into the All-Star break.

* Because regular catcher Brad Ausmus cut his hand attempting to punch out a water cooler, Brian Johnson, his backup, caught the 17-inning, first game of a doubleheader against Houston last weekend, as well as eight innings in the second game.

* Pitching was supposed to carry the Chicago White Sox, but no member of their staff had more than four wins at the break, and Jim Abbott and Tim Fortugno were the only pitchers with ERAs under 4.00.

* Through Friday, the Rockies were 26-10 when their starting pitcher goes at least six innings, and 13-20 when he goes less than six.


* If the Indians play .500 ball in the second half, the Royals would have to go 53-26 to pass them.