By BRUCE LOWITT and MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000
Team officials are pondering a question:
Where in the world is Quinton McCracken?
McCracken was optioned to Triple A on Saturday, but as of Thursday night had not joined the Durham team or told the Rays when he will. Actually, they haven't heard anything from him.
Technically, McCracken is two days late, since players are allowed 72 hours to report. But by not joining the team within the 72-hour window, McCracken forfeits his pay for the entire period. With a major-league salary of $1.85-million, that amounts to about $10,000 a day -- roughly $50,000 thus far.
Saturday's demotion was McCracken's fourth of the season, and he likely wasn't happy about it. On the previous two occasions, he asked the Rays to trade him if they weren't going to use him. Saturday, he left Comiskey Park before reporters were allowed in the clubhouse.
The Rays paid for McCracken to fly back to the Tampa Bay area from Chicago but have not heard from him since.
Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said he spoke with McCracken's agent on Wednesday, but did not gain any insight as to the outfielder's plans or whereabouts.
"We're waiting for him to report," Proefrock said. "He certainly has our phone numbers. Without hearing from him, we've got some concerns."
McCracken, the team's 1998 MVP, doesn't have many options -- he plays where the Rays send him or he doesn't play. The Rays have not put McCracken on a restricted or suspended list, but may.
Coming off a knee injury that ended his 1999 season in May, McCracken was on the 2000 opening day roster, but was sent down four days later when Ozzie Guillen was added. McCracken was called up three other times, used sparingly, and sent back down. In 15 games for the Rays, he hit .129. In 73 games at Durham, he hit .268.
McCracken did not return phone messages left at his St. Petersburg and Arizona residences.
UPBEAT: Albie Lopez says he is not worried. That little spanking he absorbed in his most recent start, a 7-0 loss Saturday at Chicago, was just a bump in the road.
"The White Sox are a good baseball team," he said. "They fought off some good pitches and put them into play. ... I've put that game out of my mind."
Manager Larry Rothschild concurred. "He threw the ball well. Until the home run (by Frank Thomas in the seventh inning), the White Sox had a number of bloop hits, softballs that just fell in. I didn't think there was much of a difference between that game and the ones before," complete-game wins against the Twins and White Sox.
Lopez said that if he had gone out against the White Sox and had a bad game, "where I couldn't throw strikes or something was mechanically wrong, that would be something for me to start thinking about. But mechanically, physically, everything's fine, so I'm just going to go out there (tonight against the Orioles) and do what I've been doing."
He is a refugee from the bullpen who has become one of the team's best pitchers in the rotation.
"Early in the season Larry and I talked about ( being a starter)," Lopez said. "He asked me what I thought about it, but we never got into it seriously."
Then the rotation was depleted -- Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman all season, Dave Eiland a longtime visitor to the disabled list, Dan Wheeler sent down to the minors after early ineffectiveness, Steve Trachsel traded -- and Lopez became the beneficiary.
"I think I've gone out and become a quality starter," he said. "Hopefully, management thinks the same way."
As for returning to the bullpen, "I don't think Roberto (Hernandez) ever wants me back again."