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BASEBALL EXTRA | BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN

Salmon Is Content With His Run in Anaheim

September 21, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

One yardstick is Dale Murphy, the 1999 Hall of Fame candidate.

Tim Salmon's low-key demeanor and high-caliber production, Angel Manager Terry Collins was saying the other day, are remarkably reminiscent of Murphy's.

A yardstick closer to home?

Try Mike Piazza, Eric Karros and Raul Mondesi.

Salmon's 1997 and career statistics are superior to the Big Three of the Dodgers in many of the power categories.

The point?

Only this:

Before the Angels sink totally in the West again, obscuring another stunning season by their right fielder, there's still time for some deserving and belated recognition.

Still time to ask:

What if Salmon played amid the brighter spotlight that follows those Dodgers? How big would he be? How many times would he have been selected or elected to the All-Star game compared to a fat zero in Anaheim, with its fewer and less passionate fans?

Not that Salmon is asking or answering. He stirs up a flow on the field, but goes with it off the field. Content to be an Angel. Not looking to move. Not about to make noise on behalf of himself or anything else.

"My brother is the flamboyant one," Salmon said of Mike Salmon, the former USC safety now with the San Francisco 49ers.

"He was the ringleader at parties. I'm just the opposite. I'm very comfortable being a behind-the-scenes guy and very contented where I'm at.

"I compare it to Tony Gwynn. He likes the environment [in San Diego], thinks it's good for his family.

"Maybe there'd be more recognition and more fans if I went somewhere else, but maybe there'd me more abuse when things weren't going well.

"My friends in Phoenix [where he lives] are always after me to come home and play for the Diamondbacks, but why would I leave Anaheim? I'm well taken care of. I'm a very satisfied employee except for the [lack of] winning, and there's nothing I can do about that beyond my part.

"The one thing I envy about the Dodgers is the winning. They always seem to be right there."

The Dodgers are right there again. The Angels are on the verge of spending another October in front of the television. It might have been different if Chuck Finley, Todd Greene and Mark Langston hadn't been injured, but ifs and maybes dominate Angel history.

Salmon, in the first year of a four-year, $22.5-million contract, did his part.

Rallying from a slow April and May when his focus and priority turned to his wife's battle with thyroid cancer, which Marci Salmon is considered to have won, Salmon began a weekend series against Texas with a career-high 123 runs batted in, 32 homers (two shy of his career high), 27 doubles and a .294 batting average.

He had 10 more RBIs than Piazza at that point, 27 more than Karros and 41 more than Mondesi. He also had more doubles and homers than Karros and more homers than Mondesi. He had four fewer homers and four fewer doubles than Piazza.

In the four full years in which they have been in the majors, Salmon has more homers, doubles and RBIs than Karros and more doubles than Piazza. In a three-year comparison with Mondesi, Salmon had 78 more RBIs and 26 more homers while trailing in doubles by 24 (through Thursday).

Salmon isn't the right fielder that Mondesi is, but he isn't one-dimensional, the label that Colorado Rocky Manager Don Baylor recently applied to Piazza, whose throwing (only one aspect of catching) has definitely regressed again recently.

Baylor knows one-dimensional. He deservedly won the American League's most-valuable-player award with the Angels in 1979 as a designated hitter.

Ken Griffey Jr. will be the AL's MVP this year, but Salmon should finish high in the top 10, providing the writers recognize what the fans have overlooked in the All-Star voting.

"That's out of my control," Salmon said of the All-Star snub. "I try to focus on the consistency of my game, not what the fans are doing or the media is saying. We don't draw 50,000 fans a night and I generally get off to a slow start. I will say the voting seemed a little out of line this year. I mean, some guys were getting a lot of votes who weren't even playing.

"It bothers me a little about the time of the game, but my peers know what I can do. Besides, I don't have the flair or talent of a Griffey. I'm more of a grinder like [Seattle right fielder] Jay Buhner. I accumulate numbers every day. I quietly get my one for threes and two for fours. At the end of the year, people scratch their heads and say, 'Where did he come from?' "

Not Rod Carew, the Angels' respected batting coach. Carew says Salmon is from the old school, always working to get better, not taking his skills for granted, on the verge, at 29, of breaking into the 40-homer-a-year class.

Carew also believes that Salmon's personality matches the market, which is not to say "he doesn't lose it now and then, especially in a situation where he feels he should have done the job and didn't," Carew said. "He's a perfectionist who doesn't like to make mistakes, but he blows it off and doesn't take it on the field with him."

"A Dale Murphy clone," said Collins, which is what the Atlanta Braves were saying about Salmon when they drafted him out of high school only to have Salmon opt for college and ultimately sign with the Angels.

Now Salmon sees the Angels renovating their stadium and wonders, "Are we going to be able to fill it?"

No regrets, however. No thinking about all those October showcases with the Braves. No looking at greener pastures and noisier horizons.

By any yardstick, the behind-the-scenes guy seems happy on the Anaheim stage.

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