By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001
The Pirates have not had a winning season since dismantling the Barry Bonds/Bobby Bonilla-led teams from the early 1990s. The Marlins still are recovering from their salary dump after 1997.
And then there are the San Diego Padres. The National League pennant winners in 1998, the Padres purged their payroll the next season, beginning with pitcher Kevin Brown.
Yet three years later, the Padres are contending. Overcoming a 7-14 start, San Diego moved atop the NL West last week.
The Padres have done it by patterning themselves after Oakland, last season's surprise team. General manager Kevin Towers admits he had the Athletics in mind while forming his roster.
"Your job as a general manager is to look around at certain things other organizations have done," Towers said. "If it's something you like, you might try to implement it."
Specifically, the Padres have hitters who are willing to take pitches and pitchers who throw strikes. San Diego is first in the league in walks drawn and third in fewest walks allowed.
The Padres also have come up with a first baseman in the mold of Oakland MVP Jason Giambi. Ryan Klesko, a perennial prospect in Atlanta, is one of the league's top hitters in his third season in San Diego.
Towers also deserves credit for some minor acquisitions that have produced major results. Rickey Henderson was signed late in the spring and has an on-base percentage over .400.
Former Devil Ray Bubba Trammell also is thriving after being acquired from the Mets for reliever Donnie Wall. Like he did at Tropicana Field, Trammell has become a fan favorite in San Diego. The difference is he is getting serious playing time and had 22 RBI in a 64 at-bat stretch.
ARM WEARY: Wonder why managers pay close attention to pitch counts? Randy Johnson threw 146 pitches against the Phillies. He failed to get past the fifth inning in his next two starts.
MONEY TALKS: His career as a minor-league coach lasted about three months, but John Kruk is making no apologies. The former Phillies first baseman is leaving Double-A Reading this week to work for FOX Sports Network. "I'm the first to say that I'm doing it for the money," Kruk said. "You hear people say it's not about the money? That's bull."
REBEL YELLS: Good and bad news for Dixie Hollins High fans. Roy Smith, drafted out of Dixie in the 13th round by the Mariners in 1994, was called up by the Indians. Smith was 5-for-5 in save chances at Triple-A Buffalo and had a 0.68 ERA. On the down side, former Rebel Kurt Abbott had hernia surgery Tuesday and could be out two to six weeks. Abbott has been on the disabled list in Atlanta for more than a month.
GO FIGURE: The White Sox led the majors in runs scored last season and Jerry Manuel was named the AL Manager of the Year. Chicago is 25th in the majors in runs scored this season and hitting coach Von Joshua is fired. Joshua suggested that too many hitters were swinging for the fences, hoping to land big contracts with power numbers. "They listen, but it's the lure of the big dollar," Joshua said. TRICKLE-DOWN THEORY: In one of the more bizarre connect-the-dots explanations, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa suggests that Rick Ankiel's control problems stem to a hunting knife accident suffered by catcher Mike Matheny. Matheny sliced his finger just before the playoffs last season and was replaced by Carlos Hernandez behind the plate. Ankiel's control problems began in that playoff game with four walks and five wild pitches. "It sounds like (nonsense)," La Russa said. "But (Ankiel) was really locked in at the end of the season. Carlos was playing with a bad back. A couple of those balls got by and he's saying, "Oh, no,' and he starts aiming. Of all the answers, having to deal with a different catcher ... "
MONOPOLY: Expos managing general partner Jeffrey Loria has more than tripled his interest in the team. Loria owned 24 percent when the month began, but after his partners did not answer a cash call, he bought their shares and has 92 percent ownership. Loria has issued another cash call and could soon own the team outright.
HELP, PLEASE: The word is several American League clubs have contacted teams in Japan to get scouting reports on the best way to defense Ichiro Suzuki. It can't hurt. Ichiro was a career .353 hitter in Japan. He was hitting .363 going into Saturday's game.
THE LAST WORD: After teasing fans with a hot spell, the Reds have had an expected collapse. It has not helped that Barry Larkin, Ken Griffey Jr., Aaron Boone, Pete Harnisch and Scott Williamson are on the disabled list and Dmitri Young and Pokey Reese have been nursing injuries. "I'm getting tired of turning in a lineup card every day to the umpire with white-out on it," manager Bob Boone said.
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.