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Arizona looks for a scapegoat

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2000


This is the month in which some teams play for the post-season, some players play for awards and others play for contracts.

And managers have to live with whatever their teams serve up.

Consider Buck Showalter and Larry Dierker.

Arizona was among the spring-training favorites to win the National League West. When the Diamondbacks, already atop the division, got Curt Schilling in a trade to join Randy Johnson, the team was virtually conceded the title.

It will be lucky to get into the playoffs with the wild card. If it doesn't, Showalter may be out of a job.

Managing general partner Jerry Colangelo reportedly called broadcaster Bob Brenly -- once considered a candidate to manage the Giants -- about a month ago as the team's slide began and asked if he would be interested in taking the reins.

If it is true, Colangelo is prepared to eat the remaining two years of Showalter's seven-year, $7-million contract. That's in addition to the millions the team has tied up in loans and long-term contracts.

Calling the broadcast booth for a manager isn't unique. Houston did it four seasons ago. Dierker is approaching the end of his fourth season as manager of the Astros. After three as NL Central champs, they've hit the skids big time. Could he be facing the ax?

"I guess I could be," he said. "I've consistently been told that I'm not, but sometimes that's the first thing that happens right before you get fired."

But he also said being fired has never worried him. He can always return to the booth. There's also the $1.5-million the Astros owe him for the next two seasons, and his player pension.

"I didn't feel I had to manage the team the way the general manager, the president, the owner, the media or the fans wanted me to manage; I could manage the way I wanted to. I still feel that way this year ... "

WELCOME BACK: In the middle of the week, when David Cone dislocated his left shoulder, the talk was about the end of the season, maybe the end of a career. Now he's planning to start Friday against the Indians, and pitch in the playoffs.

"I'm a professional," he said. "I've got to do everything I can to be ready."

Pitching rotations are reduced to four starters for the playoffs and World Series. For the Yankees, that means Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Orlando Hernandez and Denny Neagle. But manager Joe Torre will find room for Cone as a long reliever along with Dwight Gooden, Jason Grimsley and left-hander Randy Choate.

A MILLION HERE, A MILLION THERE: As most clubs do when it comes to their star players, the Cardinals protected themselves against a long-term absence by Mark McGwire with a Lloyd's of London insurance policy.

Unlike those others, Cardinals president Mark Lamping said, their policy covers lost attendance.

"Once Mark misses 30 days ... then the recovery goes back to the first day he missed (July 7)," Lamping said. "The key is as you go through a 180-day season, each day has a recovery value. Naturally, it goes down as you go through the season."

McGwire, meanwhile, has some insurance of his own. He'll collect at least $500,000, thanks to a clause in his contract that calls for him to get $1 a head on attendance over 2.8-million. The Cards are at 3.3-million and counting.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS: When Reds general manager Jim Bowden traded rightfielder Dante Bichette to the Red Sox for a pair of minor-league pitchers, he was thinking of the $7-million being sliced from the payroll.

Bichette was thinking in more romantic and cosmic terms. He could have rejected any trade. There was only one team to which he was willing to go.

Boston.

"I met my wife behind the Green Monster at a Gold's Gym," Bichette said. "I've had good hitting success there and I really like Boston. My wife does, too. She went to school there. God just sort of steered us that way."

A MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT: The Dodgers gave a helping hand to former manager Tommy Lasorda, coach of the U.S. Olympic team, reducing the quality of the competition by promoting Luke Prokopec from Double-A San Antonio to their 40-man major-league roster.

Prokopec had been expected to pitch for Australia. "It's bittersweet," he said. "You spend years trying to make it (to the majors), but then I had to decide between that and a little bit of Olympic glory. If I had a couple of years of experience under my belt and was settled in (in the majors) I would have just given up my last month's salary to go home and play in Sydney."

SOUND FAMILIAR?: The front-running White Sox drew barely 150,000 fans during a just-completed seven-game homestand in which they won five games.

"They told me if you're still in it in July, they'll come out," manager Jerry Manuel said. "I'm not sure why they aren't coming. It's confusing to me, being a city of this size. Maybe we have to win it one year -- and then come back and do it for years to come."

Or change their name to Cubs.

THE MAN HASN'T A CLUE: To Rangers manager Johnny Oates, timing is, umm, nothing.

In 1965, shortstop Bert Campaneris became the first to play all nine positions in a game, an inning at a time. The then-Kansas City Athletics made it a heavily promoted home-game event. Three years later the Twins copied the A's, staging Cesar Tovar Day, having him go from position to position, inning by inning.

Which brings us to Oates.

The Rangers planned to have Scott Sheldon do it Saturday against the visiting Royals. Maybe a few more fans would show up to see it.

Wednesday in Chicago, with Texas down 10-1 in the fourth inning, Oates put Sheldon in at catcher, then moved him from position to position, sometimes an out at a time.

Then Oates complained that the public-address announcer at Comiskey Park didn't let the fans know what was happening -- as though they would care about anything the visiting Rangers did.

"These people saw history," Oates said.

No, they saw Oates blow one of the few reasons Rangers fans might have had to go to a game.

THE LAST WORD: "Playing winter ball at 34 is not good. I want to win the World Series, but not the Caribbean World Series."


-- Rockies outfielder Larry Walker on rehabilitating after arthroscopic elbow surgery.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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