If some writer tried to force-feed me with one of those stories that begins ``The Boston Red Sox may have baseball's next great young hitter in Mike Greenwell,'' I'd have turned to the crossword puzzle before Billy Martin could spell George Steinbrenner! Most of those ``next great players'' (Clint Hartung, Paul Pettit, Brad Komminsk) turn out to be rainy-day stories, as quick to unravel as a $2 sweater. If I want fiction, I'll buy a paperback. If I want rhythm, I'll reach for my tape of The Temptations. If I want ``Star Wars'' with a bat, I'll send for Luke Skywalker.
The problem is that Greenwell really is a platinum pearl as a ballplayer. To American League pitchers he is baseball's Bermuda Triangle. Put the ball in his wheelhouse and he'll lose it for you. Nothing fazes this kid, who began wrestling alligators as a teen-ager, yet is in no way a character.
Aside from Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, how many left-handed batters ever hit for power and average in Fenway Park, which caters to right-handers? Then there are Mike's eyes: so powerful, he says, that he can look down a set of railroad tracks several miles farther than most people before the rails begin to converge.
Last year in his first full season, Mike hit .328, with 19 home runs and 89 RBIs. And his statistics in the same categories this year (.336, 20, and 109) are already in the Most Valuable Player category.
Indeed, if Boston and Oakland maintain their current leads in the American League East and West races, respectively, it's going to be a tough choice for the award between Greenwell and A's slugging star Jos'e Canseco.
``I can see Mike winning MVP if the Red Sox finish first,'' said Boston manager Joe Morgan. ``He's already driven in more than 100 runs, and he's high up in the batting race. And while Canseco has more home runs, Greenwell has led us all year in game-winning hits.''
What is it that makes Mike such a tough 25-year-old with a bat in his hands and runners in scoring position?
``I see pitchers, good pitchers, work against Greenwell every day and nobody has really stopped the guy,'' Morgan explained. ``Part of it is because some players are born with the ability to hit the breaking ball. The other is Mike's mental toughness. I mean this guy goes out after the ball, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a strike for him to swing. But don't take that to mean that he isn't disciplined, because he doesn't get fooled very often.''
Added Red Sox batting coach Walt Hriniak: ``Probably the chief difference between a good hitter and a poor one is that the good hitter recognizes different situations immediately and adjusts for them. Greenwell is like that. You're not going to get him out the same way all the time. In fact, any pitcher who stays around long enough to work against Mike five times in the same game is probably going to think he's pitched to five different guys.''
Asked about Greenwell's work habits, Hriniak said: ``Once most kid hitters get into the batting cage, all they want to do is put on a long-ball hitting exhibition. ... But Mike isn't like that. He uses that time to improve himself, often working to spray the ball to all fields.
``It's a wonderful form of self-induced discipline. Actually, unless he's having trouble with his rhythm, Mike is not one who comes out early every day and takes batting practice. Once he's loose, he seems to want to save it all for the game.''
Although stories on Greenwell have begun to appear in several national magazines, his philosophy seems to be: ``If you don't swallow it, praise won't hurt you!'' Winfield says `no'
Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield, who was drafted by four pro teams in three sports after his days at the University of Minnesota, has no interest in expanding his athletic horizons at this point. Asked if he'd consider trying out for one of the National Basketball Association's new expansion teams, say the Miami Heat or Charlotte Hornets this year or the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1989, Dave replied:
``If I were 10 years younger and they didn't play so many games in the NBA, I might have thought about it. Back then maybe I could have handled two sports. But I'm not sorry that I made baseball my No. 1 priority. In fact, I'd do it again.''
Winfield, who had few peers as a college rebounder, was drafted by the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and the American Basketball Association's Utah Stars. The pro football Minnesota Vikings also selected him, as did baseball's San Diego Padres, with whom he signed and played eight years before moving to New York as a free agent in 1981. Elsewhere in the majors
From Marty Barrett of the Boston Red Sox on hitting against Detroit's junkball pitcher Doyle Alexander, who throws his fastball at about the same speed as most pitchers throw their change-up: ``Although he looks easy to hit because he isn't particularly fast, Alexander nearly always makes you hit his pitch. He is awfully good at spotting the ball just off the plate and confusing hitters by using so many different arm angles.''
Sportscaster Al Michaels after interviewing Pittsburgh's switch-hitting Bobby Bonilla on a post-game show: ``Bonilla is a better interview from his right side than he is from his left!''