Orioles hope Lynn boosts offense; Rivers' leadoff feats recalled
Basically there are three ways a major league team can help itself -- by digging into its minor league farm system; by trading for an established regular; or by paying big bucks to a free agent with a reputation for turning teams around. Since no franchise in recent years has had better success growing its own stars than Baltimore, why would General Manager Hank Peters this past winter spend a total of $11.4 million to sign free agents Fred Lynn, Don Aase, and Lee Lacy?
Why, indeed, since Lynn never did that much for the California Angels; Aase had only begun to pitch again after two years on the disabled list; and Lacy, while a good hitter with both Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, has never been considered a regular?
Obviously, Peters's move had everything to do with the Orioles' 1984 fifth-place finish in the American League East -- behind Detroit, Toronto, Boston, and New York -- in what is generally considered to be baseball's toughest division.
Because Baltimore's production was down 118 runs last year from its pennant-winning total of 1983, and since none of the team's promising kid hitters are quite ready to be promoted, the choices were obvious: either go out and get some help or try to hang on until the youngsters came along. Peters clearly didn't want to take the latter course -- especially with a pitching staff good enough to challenge for another pennant with just a little more offensive help.
Much of Baltimore's RBI problem last year stemmed from the fact that the club had no consistently tough No. 5 and 6 hitters coming up after Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray. Consequently the opposition ended a lot of potential rallies by taking the bat out of Murray's hands by walking him.
Even with Lynn batting fifth or sixth, of course, there are no guarantees that Baltimore can make up the 19 games it finished behind Detroit last year in the AL East. For one thing, although he has had three straight 20-plus homer years in California, Lynn never hit .300 as an Angel -- and in fact never came close to the offensive figures he produced before leaving Boston, when he achieved batting averages of .333, .331, and .314, drove in more than 100 runs a couple of times, and hit as many as 39 home runs in one season. Meanwhile Lacy, who was injured in spring training, may not be ready to play until the middle of May. And although Aase was the Orioles' winning pitcher in relief on opening day against Texas, Don still has to prove that he has the stamina to work more than twice a week.
Of course if Peters's gamble with Lynn, Lacy, and Aase pays off and Baltimore reaches the World Series, Hank is apt to be named Major League Executive of the Year. But if the Orioles don't at least win or finish well up in their division, manager Joe Altobelli may find himself working elsewhere in the club's organization next season.
Mickey Rivers, who was waived recently by the Texas Rangers after 12 years in the big leagues, was the type of ballplayer who, though he often displayed outstanding talent, drove his managers to distraction. Rivers would occasionally take a day off when none was scheduled. Money slipped though his fingers like water. He spoke a language that even his contemporaries couldn't understand, his all-time favorite word for a goofup being Gozzlehead. His malaprops were at least as funny as Yogi Berra's and probably funnier. And when the Yankees wouldn't give him another salary advance during the 1977 American League playoffs against Kansas City, Mickey suddenly decided there was no way he could play, although he later changed his mind. What should also be remembered about Rivers, however, was the vast contribution he made as the Yankee leadoff hitter and center fielder during New York's three consecutive American League pennants in 1976-77-78. Actually, he had four of the most exciting years anyone his size (5 ft. 9 in.) ever had in major league baseball. In fact it was his offensive figures with the 1975 California Angels (.285 batting average; 70 runs scored; plus 70 stolen bases) that prompted New York to trade for him.
Rivers responded by hitting .312, scoring 95 runs, and stealing 43 bases in 50 attempts in his first year as a Yankee. Mickey also finished third in the 1976 balloting to determine the league's Most Valuable Player. The next year he hit .326 with career highs of 12 homers and 69 RBIs, triggering the offense that carried the Yankees to both playoff and World Series victories -- and he was again a key man at the top of the batting order as the team repeated these triumphs in '78. After a series of hand and leg injuries, in those Yankee years, Rivers was never again the same on the bases. Yet even with all his physical problems, Mickey still managed to hit .300 twice more during his checkered final six years with the Texas Rangers.
For the first time in history three of major league baseball's 26 franchises this season are owned in whole or in significant part by women. Joan Kroc, who inherited the San Diego Padres, even has her own custom-made uniform. Jean Yawkey, who retains a substantial interest in the Boston Red Sox, is a regular visitor to Fenway Park, sitting in a booth with sliding glass doors high above the park's third base line. And Marge Schott, who purchased the Cincinnati Reds last December, likes to parade her St. Bernard in team colors. However the most influential woman in baseball as far as player decisions are concerned is probably Jackie Autry, wife of owner Gene Autry of the California Angels. Jackie was extremely instrumental four years ago in the club's decision to sign Reggie Jackson. Since then, however, Jackie has convinced her husband that free agents are no longer the way to go in baseball -- that the real foundation to winning is building a solid farm system. The reason Milwaukee cooled on Japan's Yutaka Enatsu, the 37-year-old left-hander who had a tryout this spring as a relief pitcher, had more to do with his not keeping the ball down to hitters than with his age. Enatsu, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of Japanese baseball, won 216 games and saved 196 more during a 17-year career in the Far East.
From Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda on his increased use in television commercials: ``I did a commercial last year for a major beverage company that paid me more money for three hours work than I earned during my first 10 years in minor league baseball. In fact, the first baseball contract I ever signed was for $100 a month.''