The heart of baseball is beating strongly again. Atlanta's John Smoltz could win 25 games. Cecil Fielder probably is going to be playing in October, in pinstripes. Eddie Murray needs five more homers for 500.
Four teams are contending for the NL Central title. The San Diego Padres are born again. Les Expos are exceeding expectations in spite of their small budget, again. Sammy Sosa is mashing homers at a Ruthian rate. Attendance is up, Fox is energizing baseball broadcasting.
And a labor agreement seems to be on the horizon. The Associated Press quotes sources close to the negotiations as believing that a deal is in sight, after a marathon negotiating session Friday and yesterday.
"It's something we've needed for a couple of years now," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said before last night's game. "We're partner, players and owners. . . . Everybody has to be open about it."
Orioles third baseman B. J. Surhoff, who has been active in the leadership of the players association, said, "Obviously, from what I've heard, progress has been made. But you can't do anything but wait until you see what happens."
Players and owners are pushing for a seven-year agreement, and such a lengthy deal would be a welcome change. There would be no biennial fears of a strike or lockout, no threat to the playoffs or World Series. There would be much less coverage of acting commissioner Bud Selig and union chief Don Fehr, and more coverage of Alex Rodriguez and Greg Maddux.
All those who have worked out an agreement should be congratulated. Then, with the exception of Randy Levine, the owners' negotiator and the newest and most successful party in all of this, they should all step back or step down. Selig, Fehr, all of them.
No one should forget what incredible damage they've done to baseball. No one should forget their collective intransigence cost us the final seven weeks of the 1994 season and the World Series. No one should forget how they violated the implied trust of the fans.
Since the last labor agreement expired, a measure of peace in Bosnia was achieved through negotiation, in the face of years of ethnic and religious conflict. But players and owners could not agree on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Leaders from Palestine and Israel met and found ways in which they could agree, after two generations of conflict. But owners and players could not agree on a new collective bargaining agreement.
It's pathetic and silly when you really think about it: They could not find a way to split the huge revenue stream the game is generating. Regardless of how they couch it or the excuses they make, it all came down to greed, each side attempting to maximize its earning potential, and for that they put at risk the game of baseball.
That should never be forgotten, by fans who pay to watch, or by players and owners. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
Discord on Angels
Public complaints from several players accelerated Marcel Lachemann's demise as manager of the California Angels. J. T. Snow wondered why he wasn't playing, Rex Hudler wondered why he was playing in Snow's place. After Lachemann resigned, shortstop Gary DiSarcina fired back at the whiners.
"I thought that was unprofessional," DiSarcina said. "You keep things like that in the clubhouse. Lach always said if you have a problem, go see him. . . . He tried a lot of different things. One day he'd loosen up. Another day he'd be a real hard-butt. He came full circle, and it got to the point where he was beating himself up on a daily basis."
Michael Johnson on bases?
Sprinter Michael Johnson caught the eye of ex-Orioles manager Johnny Oates, whose Rangers could use some speed. "He's only got to go 90 feet for me," said Oates. "We'd have a
sign to tell him to steal second and third on a pitch. Do that a couple of times, and I'll put $100,000 in your pocket." Oates was kidding.
Kansas City right-hander Kevin Appier, signed to stay on with the Royals, has made adjustments to his delivery and is pitching extremely well.
On the night Chuckie Carr tore up his knee and was lost for the season, he was featured on the cover of the Brewers' game-day program. Fernando Vina was the cover boy Tuesday, when the Orioles' Archie Corbin drilled him with a pitch that sidelined the Milwaukee second baseman. During the last homestand, Ben McDonald was on the cover, and he's 0-3 since then.
Lefties in demand
Does Mike Milchin have a chance to be effective with the Orioles? Minnesota manager Tom Kelly said: "Well, he's left-handed, so he's got a chance."
David Cone likely will be back at the beginning of September, and he's already throwing breaking balls. "He threw much better than I expected," said Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. "I thought he'd be real rusty with his mechanics, but everything was over the plate and his delivery was free and easy. I was really impressed."
Just a question, but how, on the one hand, can Selig try to arrange for a new ballpark in Milwaukee that will be built with $150 million of public money, appealing to the idea that baseball is a public trust, and then on the other hand help to create a labor climate that led to a strike. Just curious.
From the You Never Would've Guessed It Dept.: If you were to take a vote now, the Most Valuable Players in each league could be Ellis Burks of the Colorado Rockies and Alex Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners. Burks started the year wondering whether he would remain a regular all year for the Rockies; Rodriguez was in the minors in April.
If Gillick leaves
Many within the Orioles organization are afraid general manager Pat Gillick will leave because of owner Peter Angelos' decision to veto a series of trades leading up to the July 31 deadline, despite Gillick's insistence to the contrary. What worries many is that, in leaving, Gillick would take with him the sense of structure and organization he brought to the Orioles' baseball operations. The hiring of Gillick established a chain of command that wasn't there in the final years of Roland Hemond, when people didn't know whom to ask when they wanted to get something done.
But keep this in mind: Gillick has always had a strong sense of team, a loyalty to those around him -- Davey Johnson, assistant GM Kevin Malone, people he has brought with him to the Orioles -- and even if his relationship with Angelos isn't to his liking, Gillick could choose to grit it out and adjust to the changing parameters of his job.
Last month, the Orioles talked about trading for Boston's Kevin Mitchell. The Red Sox wanted Triple-A third baseman Scott McClain. But the Orioles, seeking a designated hitter, ultimately dealt for Murray.
The Dodgers eventually could deal for Philadelphia first baseman/third baseman Todd Zeile, who has cleared waivers. Leading up to the trade deadline, the Phillies and the Dodgers discussed a five-player swap that would have sent Zeile and outfielder Jim Eisenreich to the Dodgers for three young players, including center fielder Roger Cedeno. But the Dodgers called off the talks in the last hours, saying they didn't want to trade Cedeno. Instead, they traded for Curtis to play center field and lead off, which is a little like calling an electrician to unclog your kitchen sink.
Giants want Bonilla
Lest there be any doubt, the San Francisco Giants want Bobby Bonilla, who is a free agent after this season. Before the trade deadline, when the Giants still were trying to deal for the Orioles right fielder, San Francisco manager Dusty Baker said, "I would love to have Bobby Bonilla, especially if we got him and had Glenallen Hill back in about a week."
Montreal third baseman Shane Andrews went 16-for-32 (.500) against Cincinnati this year, with six homers and 19 RBIs. Andrews hit .228 against the rest of the league, but look for the Reds to take a different approach in defensing him next year. "Somebody needs to take him out and get him drunk," said Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee.
San Diego has rearranged its rotation so that Fernando Valenzuela will pitch in his homeland this week. The Padres play host to the New York Mets in Monterrey, Mexico.
Dani Tyler, a member of the U.S. Olympic softball team that won a gold medal, lives in the Chicago area, and she got to throw out the first ball at Wrigley Field on Aug. 2. Tyler, who was called out in one game for failing to touch home after hitting a home run, was presented a gift by the Cubs: A home plate. "I'm going to step on it," she said.
Henke hurt again
The St. Louis Cardinals were hopeful retired reliever Tom Henke would join them for the final six weeks of the season as a setup man for Dennis Eckersley. But Henke is having back problems after throwing on his farm.
Atlanta continues to seek an outfielder, and may have interest in Luis Polonia, who likely will be given his unconditional release by the Orioles in the next day or two.
If the Orioles want Benito Santiago, they still can make a deal. The Phillies catcher has cleared waivers and can be traded, but he would be expensive. For every game he plays from now on, Santiago will receive $15,000, in addition to his base salary of $1.1 million. If the Orioles traded for him and played him for the final month, they would have to pay him about $600,000.
By the numbers
Mitch Williams is trying to come back, but on Aug. 1 he gave up nine runs (seven earned) on eight hits in 1 1/3 innings while pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
When Randy Johnson pitched in relief for Seattle last week, it was his first regular-season relief appearance since he saved a game against the Orioles on Aug. 16, 1993.
Texas has crushed left-handers, who are 10-19 against the Rangers with a 7.23 ERA in 35 starts this year. A lot of that damage was done to Kent Mercker.
The Indians' Dennis Martinez is on the disabled list, just four victories away from passing Juan Marichal (243) for the most wins by a Latin American pitcher.
In his first 10 starts, the Astros' Donne Wall was 6-0 with a 3.51 ERA. In his past seven starts, he's 0-4 with a 6.28 ERA.
San Francisco's Barry Bonds is on a pace to draw 138 walks, which would surpass his career high of 127. Bonds has a chance to break Eddie Stanky's club record of 144 walks, set in 1950, when the Giants called New York home.
Colorado hit 33 straight homers against right-handers before Andres Galarraga slugged one off Florida left-hander Al Leiter on Wednesday.
The Rockies play 23 of their final 37 games at Coors Field, where they are 40-19 this season.
Pub Date: 8/11/96