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First half in review

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 8, 2001


WORST OFF-SEASON SIGNING: No huge surprise. Everyone in the free world -- other than Dodgers GM Kevin Malone and agent Scott Boras -- thought it was a huge mistake to give Darren Dreifort a five-year, $55-million deal. Dreifort went 4-7 with a 5.13 ERA before tearing a tendon in his elbow. He will miss the rest of this season and probably all of 2002 after his second Tommy John surgery. Footnote: Malone was fired in May.

WORST OFF-SEASON SIGNING, PART II: With rightfielder John Vander Wal coming off a career year, Pirates GM Cam Bonifay still felt compelled to waste $9.75-million (over two years) of Pittsburgh's precious payroll on rightfielder Derek Bell. Between injuries and basic ineffectiveness, the Pirates have gotten zilch from Bell. Footnote: Bonifay was fired in June.

MOST UNDESERVED CRITICISM: It generally was assumed (guilty, your honor) that Phillies GM Ed Wade overpaid to get mediocre relievers Rheal Cormier and Jose Mesa in the off-season. Turns out, Philadelphia's bullpen was solidified and it helped turn the Phillies into legitimate contenders.

BEST ACQUISITION(S): Rather than blowing the team's payroll on shortstop Alex Rodriguez, Mariners GM Pat Gillick spread the wealth around to bring in outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, second baseman Bret Boone and reliever Jeff Nelson. The Rangers are at the bottom of the AL West with Rodriguez and his bloated contract, while the Mariners are running away with the division.

SPEAKING TOO SOON: By mid June, the Reds had four rookies in their rotation. Reliever Mark Wohlers began wearing a badge that read, "Hi, my name is Mark" and was moved to say, "I have more service time than our entire rotation put together." Less than a month later, Wohlers was traded to the Yankees.

AWARDS: Luis Gonzalez, NL MVP; Curt Schilling, NL Cy Young; Albert Pujols, NL Rookie of the Year; Manny Ramirez, AL MVP; Roger Clemens, AL Cy Young; Ichiro Suzuki, AL Rookie of the Year.

LIFE IMITATING ART: With the Cubs in an eight-game losing streak, rookie first baseman Julio Zuleta started a fire with newspapers in the dugout and used it to bless the bats. He also rubbed chicken bones on the bats and waved apples, bananas and oranges over them, with a can of deep-heating balm underneath. If this sounds familiar, Zuleta ripped off the routine from the movie Major League. The result? The Cubs ended their losing streak and won 12 in a row.

WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED?: That at the All-Star break, Rockies pitcher Mike Hampton would have more home runs (six) than Ken Griffey, Frank Thomas and Albert Belle combined? THE YOGI BERRA PUBLIC SPEAKING AWARD: Jim Thome was moved to make this observation after becoming Cleveland's all-time home run leader with his 242nd blast: "It means even more to me because I did it all with one team." -- Compiled by John Romano.

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