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STORMIN' GORMAN : Playing in Seattle Has Its Moments, but Milwaukee Is His Kind of Town, Thomas Believes

April 14, 1986|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

"We simply felt that Gorman wasn't in our long-range plans," Dalton says.

Anyway, Manning was younger, healthier, considered a better defensive player and had a .263 lifetime batting average.

Last year, Manning hit .218 and had 47 hits. Meanwhile, Thomas, who was acquired by the Mariners from the Indians in 1982, had 32 home runs and won Comeback Player of the Year after a remarkable recovery from the torn rotator cuff. His home run total was the second most by a designated hitter since the DH was adopted in 1973. In July alone, Thomas had 11 home runs.

So these should be happy times for Thomas. He earns $650,000 plus incentives on a team that prides itself on hard bargains. His right shoulder is healthy and strong. He is the starting DH on a club expected to contend in the American League West Division. Soon his family will join him, which means he no longer will have to call the Seattle Westin Hotel home.

Thomas isn't complaining. He says he likes Seattle. He liked Cleveland, too. The problem is that Seattle is a about 1,940 miles away from Milwaukee, which is about 25 miles from his five-bedroom, five-bath house in the woods of Waukesha, Wis.

That's where Thomas would prefer to be, back home and playing for the Brewers, the team that signed his paychecks for 10 seasons. "I'll always think of myself as a Milwaukee Brewer," he says.

The last time he said something like this, Seattle fans reacted appropriately. "I got booed like you never heard," he says.

Thomas says his remarks were misunderstood, if not mistaken. Seattle has been good to him. The Mariners provided Thomas with a third chance when it became apparent his rotator cuff injury could and would most likely end his career. They paid him a good wage, the highest on the team, and then watched happily as Thomas returned the investment last season.

The problem is, it doesn't seem to be good enough. This spring, Thomas became the focal point of Mariner roster stories. Should he stay or should he go?

The arguments were such:

For--Entering the 1986 season, he had 252 major league homers, playoff and World Series experience, 45 game-winning RBIs, 726 RBIs (87 last year) and a fierce competitive spirit.

Against--To begin with, the Mariners wanted to use him only as a DH or pinch-hitter. He hit just .215 last year and .168 with runners in scoring position. Entering this season, he had 1,234 strikeouts, including 126 last year in 484 at-bats. That's about one out of four times. His salary is a consideration, as is his free-agent status after this season.

"This past winter I keep reading where I might be traded, released whatever," he says. "I go to spring training and the air around camp was somewhat strained, I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know what my future was going to be. I didn't know where or if I was going to be playing. If I was, where? If I wasn't, why?"

It probably didn't help that when Thomas attended last Monday's Mariner 10th Anniversary party, he was curiously omitted from the team's 1985 season highlight video.

Midway through the screening, Thomas turned to reliever Pete Ladd, also a former teammate in Milwaukee, and said, "Big Foot, something tells me by looking at this that I wasn't supposed to be here."

Ladd said: "That would be a fair assumption."

The Mariners say it was an honest mistake. Production constraints forced hasty editing decisions. Thomas and one of his 32 home run swings, unfortunately and quite by accident, they say, never were included.

Dick Balderson, general manager of the Mariners, says that, yes, he considered trading or releasing Thomas. The Mariners were interested in adding to their pitching staff and Thomas might make useful trade bait. A trade also would mean the Mariners would receive something before Thomas became a free agent.

And though discussions never reached a stage where player names were mentioned, Balderson says he and, you guessed it, Harry Dalton, have talked several times about a trade involving Thomas and the Brewers.

The possible deal fell through and Thomas remained a Mariner.

"There was really very little interest from other organizations in the league," Balderson says.

According to Balderson, Thomas' worth is limited to the American League, where the designated hitter is used. Then there are questions about his age, health, salary and ability to produce runs.

The spring experience made Thomas "uncomfortable." One of the American League's finest practical jokers, Thomas didn't even purchase a Whoopee Cushion during training camp. He didn't organize his annual basketball and horse pools. Sullen isn't the right word to describe Thomas this spring, but it's close.

"I felt somewhat alienated," he says.

Thomas wanted to play first base. Or at least try. The Mariners told him it wasn't worth risking another shoulder injury. Balderson, in a conversation with Thomas' agent, suggested that Thomas "burn his glove." The Mariners appreciated Thomas' intentions, but it wasn't necessary.

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