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AMERICAN LEAGUE PREVIEW : Return of Blue Jays Will Spoil Indian Summer

April 05, 1987|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

6. Chicago White Sox--Finally, they got rid of the world's ugliest uniforms. Now, if they can do something about the players.

Manager Jim Fregosi might have had it better at Louisville, St. Louis' Triple-A farm club, whence he came. Remember the Hitless Wonders? Well, these Sox are still hitless--they finished last in the league in average, home runs and RBIs last season--while lacking the wonder. Indeed, if this team is to win at all, it will do so by boring the opposition into submission.

Harold Baines remains the Ernie Banks of the '80s--great player, bad Chicago team--and Ozzie Guillen ranks among the league's slickest shortstops, but after that, these are strictly the Blight Sox. Ron Karkovice is the catcher. Donnie Hill is the second baseman. Tim Hulett is the third baseman. Bobby Thigpen is the bullpen stopper. You get the idea--nondescription at every turn.

It is difficult to imagine how the ever-flamboyant Hawk, former General Manager Ken Harrelson, could leave behind such drabness as his legacy. But there they are--ready to capture sixth place, if not your imagination.

Call them the Gray Sox.

7. Seattle Mariners--Seattle is where America's general managers shop. This isn't a baseball team, it's a swap meet--with Manager Dick Williams and General Manager Dick Balderson on hand to guarantee your satisfaction.

\o7 Need a hard-throwing short reliever or a power-hitting young outfielder? Got a hole in the infield you want to plug? Come on down to Dick & Dick's. Their prices are I-N-S-A-N-E!\f7

Detroit hadn't had a legitimate third baseman since Aurelio Rodriguez, so Seattle provided Darnell Coles, who immediately hit 20 home runs and drove in 86 runs for the Tigers.

Boston came looking for pennant insurance--a center fielder and a shortstop, to be specific--and the Mariners coughed up Dave Henderson and Spike Owen.

Kansas City always wondered what it would do with a slugging right fielder, so Seattle gave the Royals Danny Tartabull. And then came the Dodgers . . . and away went power reliever Matt Young.

Two years ago, Seattle had what many regarded as the best young team in baseball. Now, only scraps remain--some offensive punch in Alvin Davis, Jim Presley and Phil Bradley; some pitching in Mark Langston and Mike Moore; no catching, no bullpen. And now, no ownership, with George Argyros' pending purchase of the San Diego Padres. Some are calling it Argyros' smartest transaction yet.

So buck up, citizens of Seattle. You may not have the worst team in baseball much longer.

EAST DIVISION

1. Toronto Blue Jays--"Tomorrow I'll Be Perfect" is the title of Dave Stieb's autobiography. Suggestion for the sequel: "This Year I'll Break Even."

If Stieb does at least that, the Blue Jays will be a lot happier and healthier in the standings.

After winning the East title in '85, Toronto slumped to 86-76 and fourth in '86. Attribute the slippage to pitching. Stieb, bothered by bone chips in his arm, went from 14-13 and 2.48 to 7-12 and 4.74, and the staff dropped from 3.31 to 4.08. The bone chips remain in Stieb's elbow but he is pitching well despite them.

The rest of the rotation looks stronger. After an 0-3 start, Jimmy Key was 14-8 last summer. Joe Johnson, a mid-season addition from Atlanta, combined for a 13-9 record in both leagues. Jim Clancy won 14 games and John Cerutti was 9-4 after his recall from Syracuse. And if the starters can get Toronto to the sixth and seventh innings, there's the bullpen of Mark Eichhorn (14-6, 10 saves) and Tom Henke (9-5, 27 saves).

Besides their established talent, the Blue Jays also have some of the game's best prospects. Kelly Gruber, who hit 21 home runs twice at the Class AAA level, is the new third baseman. Mike Sharperson, who prompted the trade of Damaso Garcia to Atlanta, batted .400 this spring and will take over at second.

2. New York Yankees--To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the greatest team of them all, the '27 Yanks, George Steinbrenner has assembled a new set of Bronx Bombers.

How would you like to pitch to this first seven--Rickey Henderson, Willie Randolph, Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Dan Pasqua, Gary Ward and Mike Pagliarulo? In 1986, they averaged 20 home runs and 74 RBIs a man.

But it is a team founded on hit and hope. The 8-7 game is alive and living in Yankee Stadium. With Rick Rhoden temporarily sidelined because of discomfort in his rib cage, New York's opening day pitcher will be Dennis Rasmussen, who at 18-6 was the only Yankee to reach double figures in wins. Then, on Day 2, it's Tommy John. That's right, soon-to-be-44 Tommy John--two years after being deemed to old for even the Angels. After that, it's Bob Tewksbury and 42-year-old Joe Niekro, giving the Yankees two starting pitchers with a combined age of 86.

How would you like to manage this team?

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