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Sanderson Had the Right Resume for This Job : Baseball: At 36, the right-handed pitcher went job-hunting and landed a spot in the Angels' rotation.

April 09, 1993|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Job hunting is never an easy task for a man Scott Sanderson's age. When you've been in a business as long as Sanderson has, you prefer things ordered and simple.

But along came the winter of 1992-93 and free agency, which could have brought all sorts of turmoil to Sanderson's life.

Things have been up in the air before and Sanderson has been able to yank it all back to earth rather quickly. He's not one to enter into a new situation without doing a little homework.

Perhaps that's why he picked up the phone one winter day, dialed Angel Manager Buck Rodgers' number and asked about possible job openings. If he wanted to keep his career alive, he figured a little extra research was necessary.

"I asked him, as a manager, where he thought I could help the team," said Sanderson, a 36-year-old right-hander who has pitched for the New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs and Montreal Expos and didn't feel quite ready for retirement.

"It doesn't matter what I think. It matters what the people running the team think. I thought it was important to hear what (Rodgers) thought."

Rodgers pulled no punches.

"He didn't have a job going in," Rodgers said. "He had to prove he could still pitch. I didn't flower it up. He wasn't guaranteed anything coming into camp. He probably could have had better guarantees if he signed someplace else."

Thanks to the December deal that sent Jim Abbott to the Yankees--a trade that will live in infamy among many Angel fans--and Bert Blyleven's pursuit of free agency, there were openings in the Angels' starting rotation.

Left-handers Mark Langston and Chuck Finley were mortal locks to take the first two spots and Julio Valera seemed to have a strong hold on the No. 3 position. After that it was wide open, though.

"I told him, 'It all depends on you,' " Rodgers said. " 'You could be the fourth or fifth starter. Or you could not make the club.' "

As it turned out, Sanderson went ahead and signed with the Angels. Tonight, he will make his 1993 debut against the Detroit Tigers at Anaheim Stadium. And that means he opens the season as the club's No. 3 starter.

A surprise? Yes and no.

"With a veteran, the first thing you ask is, 'Is he done? Is he over the hill? Are you beating a dead horse?' " Rodgers said. "We found out right away he wasn't afraid to throw a fastball, to challenge guys with his fastball."

Deep down inside, Sanderson knew he wasn't through, and proving that to the Angels didn't take long.

If anything, he thought he was a better pitcher than ever. After 14 seasons in the major leagues, Sanderson knows to play to his strengths. Experience and smarts are Sanderson's greatest allies at this point in his career. It's what separates him from younger, stronger pitchers.

"I think the one thing I've been in my career is consistent," Sanderson said. "I didn't expect that to change. I haven't won any Cy Young Awards, but I think I've been pretty consistent."

A quick look at the numbers tells the story.

Over the last four years, Sanderson has won 11 or more games and been above .500 in each of those seasons. Last season, he was 12-11 with a 4.93 earned-run average. In 1991, he was 16-10 with a 3.81 ERA. In 1990, he was 17-11 with a 3.88 ERA. And in 1989, he was 11-9 with a 3.94 ERA.

He has been consistent and durable.

In the last three seasons, he has had 33, 34 and 34 starts.

"Having won 45 games over the last three years did not suggest to me that my career was over," he said.

The Angels were willing to gamble that that was true, but they weren't ready to shell out millions. When Sanderson signed with the club in February, his one-year contract called for a $500,000 deal if he made the major league roster but only $250,000 if he wound up in the minors.

With Abbott and Blyleven gone and a cast of unproven pitchers hoping to compete for the available spots behind Langston and Finley, the Angels needed help in a big way.

What's more, Sanderson seemed like a natural addition for the Angels, who were eager to cut their payroll. Here was someone they could count on, but a man who wouldn't require a Zurich bank account to store his paychecks.

And Sanderson didn't disappoint the Angels in spring training, giving them dependable if unspectacular performances. In seven appearances, including five starts, he was 0-1 with a 3.21 ERA, 18 strikeouts and three walks.

"He's consistent," Rodgers said. "Early in his career, he had some physical problems. But as he's gotten older, he's become more durable. He's had a good spring. Nothing has changed my original thoughts of him."

Back surgery to remove a disk in February, 1988 could have signaled an end to Sanderson's career, but he wouldn't let it happen that way. Knowing full well that shortcuts wouldn't help his comeback, Sanderson plunged headlong into rehabilitation.

Now, he believes it's the primary reason he has pitched so well over the last four seasons.

"There are a lot of shortcuts you can take, but I tried my best to eliminate them," Sanderson said. "It's paid off. There are certain guys in the game who you can tell immediately have the special ability above and beyond the norm.

"That's not me. Never has been. Part of the reason I've played as long as I have, without any doubt, is how I prepare myself."

Although his career appeared to be at a crossroads again this winter, Sanderson stuck to his usual workout routine. He fully expected to be starting for a major league team this season, so he kept working out like a rookie fighting to make his first 40-man roster.

It's the only way Sanderson knows how to prepare for a new year.

"I certainly don't think I'm any more special than anyone else who's playing the game," he said. "But I do realize I've been given the gift, the talent to play this game. It's my responsibility to develop that gift as best I can."

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