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MIKE PENNER

Losing Yount Keeps Angels a Step Behind

December 20, 1989|MIKE PENNER

First the Batman and now Robin. They could have been contenders, or at least Angels, but today Joe Carter and Robin Yount have their assignments for 1990 and neither will have to answer to Doug Rader.

Carter, slugger extraordinaire, went to San Diego two weeks ago in a trade and Tuesday, Yount re-upped with Milwaukee. The top two names on the Angels' most-wanted list got away--Where have we heard that before?--and the Angels are left to pat themselves on the back for Mark Langston while swearing they have other irons in the fire.

Oh, the Angels did announce the signing of right-handed relief pitcher Mark Eichhorn, who was released by the Atlanta Braves. This must rate as some kind of blockbuster. We weren't aware the Braves had enough pitching to part with any of it.

Eichhorn, 29, was 5-5 with a 4.35 ERA in 45 games with Atlanta last season. Before that, he was 1-0 with 19 saves at triple-A Richmond.

So that's one way of keeping pace in the American League West. A Mark Eichhorn for a Mark Davis.

The Yount thing hurts. Before the 1989 AL MVP re-signed with the Brewers for $9.6 million, the Angels had visions of putting Yount in center field and moving Devon White to right, which, some insist, is White's best position. Gene Mauch used to call White the best natural right fielder he'd seen since Al Kaline.

Yount also could have batted leadoff for the Angels, ridding White of the albatross, and added a 100-RBI presence to a lineup that placed 12th in the American League in RBIs last season. More than that, Yount could have followed up on the missionary work done by Bert Blyleven in the Angel clubhouse and dislodged a few more bricks from the stonewall.

Yount was a cure-all, a panacea. He was the one free agent Rader really wanted.

And the Angels were ready to pay the price. Reportedly, they were prepared to offer Yount the world, or at least large parts of it. Raiding Arizona was the plan. The Autrys own property in that state and what's a few orange groves when the treasure trove is at hand?

Robin, this land is your land.

For the record, Mike Port insists the Angels never made Yount a formal offer. Semantics are at work here, but in one respect, Port speaks the truth.

In a way, the only offer Yount considered was the Brewers'.

"I'm delighted to sign with the team I've played for throughout my entire career," Yount said Tuesday in a prepared statement. That's a 16-year career, no small amount of water under the bridge.

Larry Yount, Robin's player-agent brother, may have had his eyes on California, but he isn't the one who broke in with Milwaukee as a 18-year-old shortstop in 1974. He isn't the one who led the Brewers to their first and only World Series in 1982. He isn't the one who received 6,000 letters from Wisconsin school kids, pleading with their hero to stay at home.

Beer is thicker than water and Yount, though raised in Woodland Hills, has become a Milwaukee kind of guy. Take Yount out of Milwaukee and you might as well take the holes out of the cheese.

Now, the Angels are the ones with the hole, although Port persists in brushing up for his blurbs for the 1990 season-ticket brochure.

Plugs Port: "If we were to open tomorrow, with the addition of Mark Langston (and) knowing what kind of pitcher Chuck Finley is at the major league level and projecting a year's improvement from Jim Abbott . . . (we believe) we're a good baseball club and we're working on things that would make us even better."

If the Angels were to open tomorrow, they'd be looking at the same fate that met them in 1989. Third place.

The A's are still the A's, a little thinner perhaps, but still equipped with the Henderson-Canseco-McGwire axis.

And Kansas City not only has the Angels out-Davis-ed--a Mark and a Storm beat a Chili--but the Royals also have the better everyday lineup. George Brett, Bo Jackson, Kevin Seitzer and now Gerald Perry, who was a National League All-Star in 1988.

Clearly, the Angels need to do something and, now, getting what they want will require giving up a player or two. The free-agent field has been harvested, leaving Port to ponder trade proposals for the likes of Ellis Burks and Von Hayes.

And if not Hayes, how about a Philadelphia teammate named Lenny Dykstra? He plays the outfield, he runs into walls, he steals bases and he bats leadoff. He's also from Orange County, a Garden Grove High grad, which wouldn't hurt attendance any.

Look what happened the last time the Angels dipped into the Garden Grove League. A Santiago High alum, name of Blyleven, went 17-5 and won AL comeback player of the year.

Yount is gone but for the Angels, all is not lost. Yet. Port still has three months and six starting pitchers to play with.

Time is on the Angels' side.

Catching the A's, however, would have been a lot easier if Yount had been there too.

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