The Chicago White Sox spent part of last winter trying to replace manager Terry Bevington. It was nothing personal, but managerial superstar Jim Leyland had become available and owner Jerry Reinsdorf was becoming impatient with the club's so-so performance and poor attendance.
Leyland, of course, ended up with the Florida Marlins and the White Sox went back to Bevington, who could not have imagined how soon he again would be on the brink of being replaced.
Of course, he could not have imagined that Albert Belle would be hitting about .200 after a month of play or that Robin Ventura would suffer a career-threatening injury. He certainly could never have imagined that the White Sox would have the worst record in the American League after the first month of play.
The struggling White Sox, however, have left nothing to the imagination as they dug that big hole for themselves in the American League Central.
Now, somebody is going to have to pay.
It won't be Reinsdorf, of course. He already paid Belle $55 million and Jaime Navarro $20 million to help turn the White Sox into a stronger division contender.
It won't be the players, who get paid no matter what.
And, it won't be White Sox fans, who are barely paying attention.
It will be Bevington, whose $275,000 salary is equal to about 1/200 of the White Sox payroll and about one-third of Belle's two-week paycheck.
General manager Ron Schueler delivered a veiled ultimatum on Tuesday, telling reporters that the club must do better during its current 11-game homestand. The message was not specific, but it seemed obvious enough. You don't think Schueler is planning to fire himself, do you?
The White Sox split a two-game series with the Texas Rangers to open the homestand. They are in the midst of a three-game set with the Anaheim Angels. Then come the tough Seattle Mariners and the surprisingly dangerous Oakland Athletics.
Think about it. How would you like your job to depend on whether your struggling pitching staff can stop Ken Griffey and Mark McGwire?
Bevington knew he would be on the hot seat, but he isn't to blame for the meltdown. It may not be fair, but he apparently will be the first manager fired in 1997.
Intramural Cy Young race
Nothing has changed. Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were just taking a breather last year when each of them won "only" 15 games. Speculation outside Atlanta that either one of them might be ready to fall from the ranks of baseball's elite starting pitchers can only be described as wishful thinking.
Glavine is off to a great start (4-1, 1.56 ERA) and Maddux has a minuscule 1.38 ERA, leaving only room to speculate that this year's Cy Young race will again be an intramural affair.
The only non-Braves pitcher to win the NL version of the award since 1991 is Maddux, who brought it over with him from Chicago after the 1992 season and won it three more times before teammate John Smoltz won it last year. Glavine won it in 1991 and appears to be the early front-runner.
Yankees still want out
The New York Yankees put out a news release last weekend pointing out that the club's early-season attendance ranks sixth in the American League and last among the eight clubs that reached the playoffs last year.
It was just the latest public relations ploy in the club's continuing effort to persuade the city of New York to build the Yankees a stadium in Manhattan.
Yankees officials have long contended that fans are hesitant to come to the Bronx for fear of the area's high crime rate, but police officials say statistics show that the area around the stadium is the safest place in town on a day or night the Yankees are playing.
Mark leaves a mark
McGwire has become the king of the mammoth long ball. He recently cleared the left-field roof at Tiger Stadium, and his 485-foot home run the other night at Jacobs Field was hit so hard it left a dent in the scoreboard after traveling farther than any homer in the three-year history of the stadium.
"He hit the ball so hard that it knocked the frogs off the Budweiser sign," said Indians outfielder Brian Giles.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have been playing pretty good baseball, considering the fact that there are three individual players -- Belle, Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds -- who make more than their $9 million payroll.
The Bucs just split a two-game series with the first-place San Francisco Giants to even their record at a respectable 13-13, but they'll have to survive a real test of fire to remain near the top of the NL Central standings. The two-game set against San Francisco was the beginning of an 18-game run against the Giants, Braves, Marlins and Colorado.
If they're still at .500 when it's over, they'll have to be considered a legitimate contender in one of baseball's softest divisions.
"We're going to see the big boys now," said manager Gene Lamont. "It's going to be a tough stretch for a young team, but I'm interested to see how well we do."
How often do you hear about a guy asking out of the lineup because he is struggling at the plate? Better still, how often do you hear that about a guy who's hitting over .400 at the time?
This may be a first, but Colorado Rockies outfielder Larry Walker -- batting .453 -- asked for the day off Tuesday in Houston because he believed that he was swinging at too many bad pitches.
Walker returned the next day and hit his 11th home run to tie the National League record for homers in April. He also singled to raise his average to .456.
Boston Red Sox second baseman John Valentin had a miserable spring. He was pushed aside to make room for potential Rookie of the Year shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. He fought with the club over his contract. He staged a brief, symbolic walkout.
Then he had a miserable April, which ended with him in a 5-for-54 slump and his batting average a horrendous .160. All of which prompted manager Jimy Williams to give him the night off Wednesday, and Valentin to concede that it was the right thing to do.
"We talked a little bit," Valentin told reporters. "He thinks, and I agree with him, that maybe I should sit back a little bit and try to relax. When you haven't been getting hits, it's hard to separate the at-bats. It just lingers on. Then you start to press and try to catch up and try to get two hits in one at-bat."
Valentin always has been a slow starter. His career average in April is just .226. His career average for the rest of the season is .298. His struggle this April was more pronounced, but look for him to warm up with the weather.
No, 138-year-old former boxing champion Roberto Duran did not switch sports, but a namesake is proving to be a very promising reliever in the Detroit Tigers' organization.
Duran, the boxer, was known as "Hands of Stone." Roberto Duran, the left-handed reliever, can really throw the rock. He has an 0.00 ERA in eight appearances at Double-A Jacksonville and has struck out 23 batters in 13 1/3 innings.
"I think he has a chance to pitch here next year," said Tigers GM Randy Smith.
Late in March, Philadelphia Phillies prospect Rob Butler was told by farm director Del Unser to keep his eyes open for an opportunity in another organization, because the club was on the verge of dropping him from its Triple-A roster.
"Right there, you know you're in big trouble," Butler said recently.
Big trouble, indeed. He was about to be released by one of the worst teams in baseball at a time when most teams are looking for ways to cut their rosters.
This story has a happy ending. Butler had to be added to the
Phillies' major-league roster when Rex Hudler and Danny Tartabull were placed on the disabled list three weeks ago, and entered the weekend batting .423.
Odds and ends
Jimy Williams has been on the job only six months, but he already has the most seniority of anyone running a major Boston professional team. He gained that distinction when Celtics coach M. L. Carr resigned recently.
The Texas Rangers unveiled a life-sized bronze statue of Nolan Ryan outside The Ballpark in Arlington on Friday.
Latest rumor has the Yankees set to offer Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu an $8 million signing bonus and about $1.5 million a year for three years. That probably won't get it done.
Griffey now owns or shares five home run records: most consecutive games with a homer (eight), most three-run homers in a season (13), most homers by May 31 (22), most homers by June 30 (32) and the latest, his record 13 April homers.
Red Sox pitcher John Wasdin must have a good PR man or a
bad bullpen. He has an 0-0 record in five starts with the club, but the Sox are 0-5 in those games.
Upbeat quote of the week
Hudler -- the guy with the permanent pair of rose-colored glasses -- on how it felt to make a rehab appearance at Double-A Reading: "I was standing out there in center field and I could feel the pureness of the game."
April in review
The first month of the 1997 season was chock-full of distinguished performances and unprecedented events. Here's a look back at some of the highlights and lowlights.
major-league-record 21-game losing streak to open the 1988 season. Thanks for the memories.
The flip side: The Atlanta Braves set a major-league record with 19 victories in April, dismissing the popular notion that their NL dynasty is nearing an end.
New Orioles magic: The Orioles tied their club record for victories in April with Wednesday's 12-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins. At 16-7, they probably would have broken the record if they had not suffered several rainouts.
Griffey sizzles: Seattle Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey set a major-league record with 13 home runs in April, pushing Brady Anderson and several other players out of the record book.
Forgetting Mattingly: New York Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez got off to a slow start last year, his first replacing Yankees great Don Mattingly. This year, he broke the major-league record for RBIs in April with 34.
Pub Date: 5/04/97