Fletcher's bat has come alive for Rangers. A's rookie Jos'e Canseco shows power; Rose set to retire as a player

When a guy with a .245 lifetime major league batting average gets traded once, well, it's possible the team that dealt him away made a mistake. Perhaps the player just needed more time to develop. But when it happens twice within four years, you have to figure that ball club No. 2 knew what it was doing. Even that's not always the case, though, as Scott Fletcher is proving. A mediocre hitter in two previous major league stops, the slick-fielding Texas shortstop has suddenly blossomed into a real batting threat. And while he still lacks power, he is up among the American League's top 10 hitters as the season draws toward its conclusion.

``Fletcher is there because he's made some key adjustments in his hitting,'' said manager Bobby Valentine. ``I don't know what was holding Scott back at the plate before we got him, but once a player learns to hit the breaking ball, he becomes much tougher to pitch against. Fletcher also has outstanding bat speed.''

Before coming to the Rangers in a trade last November, Scott had been known chiefly as a good utility infielder with both the Chicago Cubs and White Sox. Had either club figured on him adding 50 to 75 points to his batting average in 1986, they obviously never would have traded him.

Asked to explain his arrival as one of the league's toughest outs, Fletcher said: ``I think the key was never accepting the label of being a utility infielder. I figured I could play every day and still contribute with my bat as well as my glove.

``Now I didn't expect to do this without working at it,'' Scott continued. ``I lifted weights, I took extra batting practice, and I spent a lot of time studying my swing on videotape. The rest came from getting the chance to play regularly. . . not having to deal with being yanked in and out of the lineup whenever the manager felt like it.''

Yet even though Fletcher hit .424 and fielded well for the Rangers in spring training, Valentine still opened the season with his 1985 shortstop, Curtis Wilkerson. It wasn't until Wilkerson started fielding balls with his elbows that Scott replaced him in May.

``The thing that convinced me that Fletcher was for real was his poise at the plate,'' said batting coach Art Howe. ``He'd just stand up there and drive the outside pitch to right, steer the inside pitch to left, and hit everything else up the middle. This is what you talk to young players about all the time, only most of them can't make the adjustment.''

It wasn't until two months later, when Scott hit .398 in July, that the rest of the American League began to take notice. Since then Fletcher has been given a lot more respect, as evidenced by the number of pitchers who try to move him away from the plate with inside pitches.

But as Valentine observed, ``They can move Scott temporarily all they want, but they can't stop him.'' Canseco puts big numbers on board

Although he lacks the consistency of California's Wally Joyner at the plate, the tremendous power and RBI figures of 6 ft. 3 in. rookie outfielder Jos'e Canseco of the Oakland A's are outstanding. For most of the year, Canseco has been a tiger with runners on base. He has also hit 29 home runs, although his batting average remains modest.

``Some players hit better under pressure and I think I am one of those players,'' says Jos'e, who leads the A's in game-winning hits. ``I know I concentrate a lot more with men on base and I'm not afraid to guess what the pitcher will throw next. In fact, if you are going to be a long-ball hitter, I think you have to guess to be successful.

``I have made my mistakes this year,'' continued the young slugger, who strikes out a lot. ``In my mind I still lose where the strike zone is sometimes. I have had slumps when I could hit nothing, but I have come out of them. I know I still have many things to learn. Mostly I am just glad to be here.''

Canseco's twin brother Osvaldo, once a pitcher in the Yankees' organization, has since become Oakland property. However the A's have switched him to the outfield. Elsewhere in the major leagues

Who is baseball's most aggressive batter? Most American League pitchers probably would vote for Don Baylor, designated hitter of the Boston Red Sox, whose proximity to the plate is probably exceeded only by that of the Refrigerator! Baylor has already been plunked 29 times this season, breaking the club record of 17 set in 1916 by Jack Barry. Overall, Don holds the AL career mark of 221, and is within striking distance of Ron Hunt's major league record of 243, compiled mostly while Hunt was with the New York Mets.

Pete Rose will probably wait until after the World Series to announce his retirement as a player. This has been a tough year for the 45-year-old Cincinnati manager and part-time player, who has lost a lot of his bat speed. Actually Pete had just one hot stretch this season -- a 5 for 5 game against the Giants on Aug. 11 and a 3 for 4 game three days later, also against San Francisco.

If Yankee owner George Steinbrenner decides to spend his money on free agents this winter, it's probably not going to involve the Angels' Reggie Jackson, despite what you may have read or heard. Steinbrenner's first priority will be to get Detroit pitcher Jack Morris, a workhorse who almost never has a bad game. Meanwhile Jackson is expected to buy into the Oakland A's. Reggie reportedly would like to play one year in Oakland and then become a member of the team's front office.

If most baseball owners ran their regular businesses on the same financial track they use for their teams, they would probably be brown-bagging it to work in less than a year. Consider, for example, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who, for not playing this season, are paying John LeMaster $500,000; Lee Mazzilli $600,000; Sixto Lezcano $625,000; Jason Thompson $800,000; and Steve Kemp $1.2 million! And the Pirates are not alone in paying big money to players no longer on the roster.

When recent Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams were young teammates with the Boston Red Sox in the late 1930s, Williams kept trying to get Doerr to make an adjustment in his batting stance. ``Do it,'' Ted said, ``and you'll add about 20 points to your average.'' Recalls Doerr: ``When I told Ted I just wasn't comfortable doing things his way, he threw up his hands and said: `OK, if you want to be a .290 hitter all your life, go ahead.' '' Doerr batted .288 for 14 big league seasons.

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