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Baseball : Players Aren't the Ones Who Lack Heart

September 20, 1987|Ross Newhan

Heart isn't the issue. Maybe the Angels have it, maybe they don't, as General Manager Mike Port alleged the other day.

The underlying issue in baseball isn't the players' commitment to winning, it's this:

Are the clubs committed to winning?

Sure, the Angels went out and added Greg Minton, Bill Buckner, Tony Armas and Johnny Ray when they found themselves in a second-half division race, but where was Port before the race started?

Where was he when Jack Morris came calling in December? Morris is the pre-eminent winner and workhorse of the '80s, but the Angels wouldn't even listen to his proposition.

Angel management may have felt it had enough pitching then, but aren't these the same people who will tell us that you can never have enough pitching?

And where were the Dodgers when Tim Raines came calling in December, sending his letters and emissary to inform Peter O'Malley that this is where he wanted to play?

There is no better offensive catalyst and clubhouse leader than Raines, but O'Malley said he already had a center fielder. It is believed that he was referring to Ken Landreaux, who was quickly replaced by Mike Ramsey, then John Shelby.

The Angels, Dodgers and the fellow owners will get another chance to demonstrate their commitment next winter, but don't look for a dramatic change.

The clubs will probably insult their fans by raising ticket prices, as the Dodgers did last winter, and then ignoring a free agent list that could include Dale Murphy, Jack Clark, Mike Schmidt, Chili Davis and Morris, among others.

An array of talented and proven players will be eligible this time, but why even pursue the process? While arbitrator Tom Roberts is expected to announce a decision Monday in the collusion case pertaining to Kirk Gibson, Donnie Moore and the free agents from the winter of 1985-86, Barry Rona, legal counsel to the owners' Player Relations Committee, has already said that the decision won't change the clubs' policy, that they will continue to show financial restraint.

Restraint is one thing. Abstinence is another.

So is heart.

The Angels and Dodgers had a chance to display some last winter but crawled back under the cloak of the owners' conspiracy. They now have no business talking about the players' alleged lack of it.

If it's the Angels plan to continue building from within, the farm system's 1987 statistics weren't promising.

Their five clubs compiled a 294-340 record for a .464 percentage, 22nd among baseball's 26 organizations.

Minor league records can be deceiving, of course.

The Dodgers, for instance, signed a flock of veteran free agents--released has beens, really--in a cosmetic bid to enhance their abysmal minor league picture of last year.

They climbed from 26th to 15th with a .499 percentage based on a cumulative record of 345-346, but the impression is that the cupboard remains bare. Time will tell.

The Milwaukee Brewers, meanwhile, led the minor league standings with a .591 percentage based on a record of 370-256.

In the eight-year period that he has been baseball's winningest pitcher, the Detroit Tigers' Jack Morris has received a total of two first-place votes in balloting for the Cy Young Award.

Now he is 18-8 and again among the leaders in virtually every pitching category. Paul Newman finally got his Oscar, and Manager Sparky Anderson thinks it's time that Morris finally gets his Cy Young. Who was Sparky knocking when he said:

"These fly-by-night guys come along, then disappear into the horizon. Someone hops on their bandwagon and they win the Cy Young Award. Jack is a horse. If he doesn't win it, there isn't the justice I thought there was in our game. This year he has got to get it. There has to be some fairness sooner or later."

Sparky also delivered a lecture on the American League's Most Valuable Player Award. Forget everyone, he said, except Toronto Blue Jay outfielder George Bell and Tiger shortstop Alan Trammell.

"Don't clog your ballot with other names," he said. "If anyone votes for someone else they're an idiot.

"It almost comes down to the team that wins it. Whoever is the champion, that guy gets the award, the other guy is second."

And, yes, Sparky envisions a World Series reunion with his former pitching coach, Roger Craig, now manager of the San Francisco Giants.

"It'll be us in the World Series and we'll wow the media," he said.

The St. Louis Cardinals will have to weather another 7 to 10 days without Jack Clark. The sprained ankle could keep him sidelined for the rest of the regular season, in fact.

"We've got ourselves in a position where it's going to be very hard to win this thing," second baseman Tom Herr said. "It's not like we have momentum. We've been on a slide the whole second half.

"To be playing this way and have our best player hurt doesn't look good, but maybe it's something to rally around like when (John) Tudor got hurt."

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