VERO BEACH, Fla. — A matter of priorities:
When Manager Dave Johnson walked into the New York Mets' clubhouse one day last week and discovered that four of his players had been excused for the day without his knowledge, he was outraged, and went public with his feelings.
"There's got to be a club policy," Johnson told the New York Times. "You can't have people excusing players from training and then informing the manager. Nobody should be excused, unless it's a medical or family problem."
Three of the players seemed to have legitimate excuses. Second baseman Wally Backman was being treated for an impacted wisdom tooth, shortstop Ron Gardenhire flew home to Kansas to be with his wife, who was giving birth to a daughter, and first baseman Keith Hernandez was in Pittsburgh, voluntarily testifying before a grand jury investigating drug trafficking.
It was the fourth player, newly acquired catcher Gary Carter, who was the primary object of Johnson's wrath. Carter was in New York, filming a TV commercial.
One of the raps against Carter when he was with Montreal was that he devoted too much time to off-field activities.
"You wouldn't want any player absent, but it's worse when it's Gary because you don't know what the other players will think," Johnson said. "There's got to be a policy, and there will be."
One day later, there was. The Mets' front office said that Johnson has the right to veto any commercial or promotional dates for players that might interfere with baseball.
Reportedly, Carter's commercial was arranged through the Mets' marketing department. When Carter returned to Florida, he apologized to Johnson.
"We had made a promise to do the commercial for a large advertiser," Carter said. "The Mets came to us with it. I said all along, if you want to cancel it, cancel it. I told Davey that. I would not do anything that would interfere with baseball."
Add Carter: Several Expos have taken shots at their former teammate.
"We're going to be a lot better off without Carter," Andre Dawson told Bob Klapisch of the New York Post. "We're going to have a looser clubhouse now that he's gone.
"A lot of guys thought Gary wasn't a team player, that he was always out for himself. For example, a lot of the pitchers didn't like the way he called a game when he wasn't hitting. And when runners stole on him, Gary always blamed the pitchers, not himself. A lot of guys got tired of his crying, day in and day out.
"Carter hustled the most when he was on national television. And we weren't the only ones in the league who felt that way."
According to Carter, Dawson told him the comments were taken out of context. Carter said Dawson was a close friend.
Clint Hurdle, a one-time can't miss kid on the cover of Sports Illustrated who has spent the last two seasons in the minors, says he has cleaned up his life and is hoping to make the Mets as a utility player. At 27, Hurdle said this is his last shot.
"I've learned how my value system was all out of whack," Hurdle said. "For so long, baseball had control of me. And after the '81 season, I saw how with the snap of a finger, things can change.
"In a period of four weeks I was hurt, separated, divorced and then supposedly homosexual. It was amazing."
Character reference: Rob Murphy, a rookie pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, describes himself this way:
"I'm a flake, a true left-hander and an Irishman to boot. I believe in four-leaf clovers, black cats, black underwear . . . "
"I have to wear black underwear. Always. I have to do all things the same: sit on the same spot on the bench, shower the same way every day."
Snuffed out: The Pittsburgh Pirates, taking a cue from recent studies citing the dangers of snuff and chewing tobacco, will no longer give out smokeless tobacco free to their minor leaguers. The substances have not been banned by the team, just discouraged.