SAN DIEGO — It's a fresh start for Marvell Wynne, and he hopes it will lead him back to the good life he is leaving.
The former Padre outfielder is excited about playing in Japan, but doesn't want to bid a permanent goodby to the American brand of baseball.
As Wynne said recently: "My best bet right now is to go to Japan for two years, put up good numbers and possibly come back to the major leagues."
Wynne's rationale is that his career can be revived in Japan after reaching an impasse with the Chicago Cubs this year. Although he hasn't necessarily been influenced by Cecil Fielder's feat of hitting 51 home runs for the Detroit Tigers after a stint in Japan, he has to admit that Fielder's act would be a good one to follow.
Wynne's playing time was reduced so drastically in Chicago--he rarely got into a game in the last two months of the 1990 season--that his status with the Cubs for 1991 was in doubt. He finished with a career-low .204 average in 186 at-bats. When he received an offer from the Japanese club, he decided it was time to move on.
"The Hanshin Tigers had been following me around during the course of the season," he said. "My agent went to the Cubs after the season ended and told them about the offer.
"The Cubs said they would love to have me back, but I probably wouldn't have had much chance of playing much with them next year. It was frustrating not playing. It wasn't that much fun. I had a feeling if I did go back to them, my situation would be up in the air. They might possibly have traded me, or maybe used me as a utility player again.
"It was a tough decision for me and my wife (April), but we figured I'd be better off going to Japan. It will be a chance to play every day and a nice experience for my family."
There was speculation that a well publicized dugout fight with teammate Shawon Dunston had something to do with Wynne's sentence to bench duty late in the 1990 season. Wynne denied this.
"It was just a misunderstanding between me and Shawon," Wynne said. "It was no big deal. He and I are friends."
Wynne, 31, is a baseball rarity in that he survived a tryout camp held by the Kansas City Royals after finishing high school. He was the only one of 200 hopefuls to earn a pro contract.
After serving minor-league time in the organizations of the Royals and New York Mets, Wynne spent eight seasons in the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Padres and Cubs. He was with the Padres from 1986 until traded to the Cubs in August 1989.
"It's a nice deal in Japan," Wynne said. "I had one year left on my contract with the Cubs, and they picked that up and gave me a one-year extension."
This means that Wynne will earn about $500,000 a year for the next two years, or whatever that amounts to in Japanese yen. And if he makes it big in the Orient, some major-league team--or teams--may welcome him back to the United States for 1993.
The case of Fielder, who was only a journeyman with the Toronto Blue Jays before defecting to Japan, is not the only encouraging precedent for Wynne. Vance Law, one of Wynne's teammates with the Cubs when they won the National League East title in 1989, did so well in Japan this year that he has drawn interest from at least four major-league teams. He hit 30 home runs, 13 more than in any of his eight-plus seasons in the majors.
Wynne's major-league high for home runs is 11, set with the Padres in 1988, but he expects to go well beyond that in Japan.
"The parks are smaller over there and the ball really travels in the light air," Wynne said. "I'll be playing regularly in centerfield and batting third, so it's a big opportunity for me."
When Wynne talked about playing regularly, he hit upon a key reason for his decision to go to Japan. Only in 1984, when he was with the Pirates, has he been an every-day player in the major leagues. Oddly, that was the only season in his career--major or minor--in which he failed to hit a home run.
"I got labeled as a utility player, a backup," he said. "I was usually the fourth outfielder and, being a lefthanded hitter, I was platooned a lot. In some ways it helped to have that label, but in other ways it hurt."
Wynne was a popular player in his four seasons with the Padres. In 1988, Wynne tied two club records, reaching base eight times in a row and scoring four runs in a game. His biggest day as a Padre was April 13, 1986, when he tied the score against Cincinnati with a pinch-hit home run in the seventh inning and won the game with another homer in the ninth.
"I hit the tying home run off Tom Browning and the winner off Joe Price," Wynne said. "That's a day I'll never forget.
Wynne went to the Cubs along with third baseman Luis Salazar in a trade consummated in time for them to be eligible for the 1989 playoffs. The Padres acquired pitcher Calvin Schiraldi, outfielder Darren Jackson and first baseman Phil Stephenson.