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BASEBALL EXTRA | AROUND THE NATIONAL LEAGUE

He Generally Manages to Be Embarrassed

May 04, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

Was it only two years ago that the Cincinnati Reds won the National League's Central Division title? Now the Reds face the almost impossible task of digging out from a 9-19 start.

Manager Ray Knight may not survive the current nine-game California swing, and General Manager Jim Bowden says, "This is the most embarrassed I've ever been in my baseball career and maybe the most embarrassed I've ever been in my life."

Are there no positives?

"Well, Deion Sanders has been very consistent . . . and Marty [Brennaman] and Joe [Nuxhall] have done a consistent job, as they've done year after year in the radio booth," Bowden said.

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With Steve Finley, Wally Joyner and Joey Hamilton on the disabled list, the San Diego Padres would be hard pressed to find any positives, but at least they get an early look at No. 1 prospect Derrek Lee, who was called up to replace first baseman Joyner--sidelined by a sprained ankle. Lee hit 34 homers in the double-A Southern League last year and was rated that circuit's No. 2 prospect behind Atlanta's Andruw Jones.

The 6-foot-5, 205 pounder, compared by many to a former Padre prospect named Dave Winfield, was batting .312 at triple-A Las Vegas when recalled, and Las Vegas Manager Jerry Royster said, "I hope he's able to play like he's capable of, so everybody can see just how good he really is."

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Although the Dodgers' Albuquerque farm team has had seven weather postponements in three weeks, making it difficult to develop a groove, Karim Garcia has hit 10 home runs and remains the most likely left-handed power prospect to eventually offer some middle-of-the-lineup power balance amid the right-handed hitting Mike Piazza, Eric Karros and Raul Mondesi.

"He would fit that role to a T," farm director Charlie Blaney said.

Garcia hit a combined 18 home runs in double-A and triple-A last year, but at 21 is still learning about the game and himself. He is playing left and right field, just as the right-handed hitting Paul Konerko is playing third and first base.

"Our job is to prepare them for any eventuality," Blaney said.

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He may be overshadowed by the NL's power hitters (the 1997 National League Green Book even misspells his name on the '96 All-Star roster) but Montreal Expo shortstop Mark Grudzielanek is producing another All-Star season, having hit in 17 consecutive games through Friday with a .324 average. Said Manager Felipe Alou: "This man can do almost anything with a bat. He's going to be incredible."

National League President Leonard Coleman--a solid choice--is emerging as a leading candidate for commissioner in a setup in which Toronto Blue Jay President Paul Beeston might become baseball's chief executive or business leader, but it won't happen soon. Baseball has still not settled on the search firm that will assist the owners' own search committee.

Bill Russell's pregame briefings with the Dodger press corps did not affect how the team was playing or what was happening in the clubhouse, and it was a mistake for Russell to announce Friday he would no longer have those briefings. The manager is needed for clarification, and it is part of his responsibility to provide it.

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