Pressure won't affect Dykstra's competitor

BASEBALL

September 16, 1990|By PETER SCHMUCK

Poor Lenny Dykstra. He's been reduced to running against the clock in his quest for the National League batting title.

His main competitor doesn't have to compete anymore. Willie McGee was traded out of the league soon after he amassed the necessary 502 plate appearances to qualify for the crown. Nevertheless, McGee moved into the league lead Thursday night when Dykstra slipped a fraction of a point behind him. Dykstra regained the lead by a point with a 2-for-4 effort Friday night.

It doesn't seem fair, but Dykstra has to hit at least .335 the rest of the season just to keep McGee from winning the title by default.

"It's just a weird deal with McGee in the other league like that," Dykstra said. "It's nice knowing what I have to do, and it's not nice, too. It's like he's hitting .335 from the day he was traded until the end of the season, and that's not easy to do in September."

There is a precedent for all this. Texas Rangers pitcher Rick Honeycutt won the American League ERA title in 1983, seven weeks after he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dykstra has batted .309 since the All-Star break,dropping his average from .360 to .336. But Friday was the first day he spent out of the batting lead since May 11.

He is seeking to become the first Philadelphia batting champion since Richie Ashburn hit .350 in 1958 and needs 19 hits to be the first Phillie to collect 200 hits in a season since Pete Rose did it in 1979.

*

Where's the beef dept.: The Baltimore Orioles are looking for a power-hitting everyday outfielder, and the California Angels are looking to move promising right fielder Dante Bichette. Is this a match made in heaven, or what?

Bichette ("Beef" to his friends) has been productive in a part-time role with the Angels, and just might have the best outfield arm in the major leagues. But the arrival of Dave Winfield this year has made him expendable ... and affordable.

The Orioles probably could have him for third baseman Craig Worthington or a combination of lesser players. Club sources say there have been discussions on this subject with the Angels the past few days.

*

There was a time when potential free-agent players couldn't wait to escape from Cleveland, but Indians outfielder Candy Maldonado apparently wants to return after a season in which he already has equaled or exceeded career highs in home runs and RBI.

"Everybody wants you when you're on top," Maldonado said, "but last year, this was the only team that wanted me. Just because I crawled out of the hole I was in, that doesn't mean I'm going to walk away from them."

It could be the other way around. The Indians recently broke off contract negotiations with Maldonado.

*

Chicago Cubs manager Don Zimmer has embarked on a risky experiment. He wants to find out if Mitch Williams can be as effective as a starter as he has been in relief, so Williams will get some starts the next few weeks.

Zimmer obviously is not familiar with the phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Williams has great success in relief the past couple of years and never was much of a starter when the Texas Rangers tried to use him in that role.

"I'm trying to find out if he can be a starter," Zimmer said. "Somebody could say, 'How can you do that?' Well, how do you know unless you try?"

Williams has been cooperative, but skeptical.

"I think I can do it," he said. "But if I can't, I know I can close out ballgames."

This has to rank as a major organizational gamble for the Cubs, but they apparently feel that another front-line starter would be more valuable to the club than a proven late-inning stopper.

*

Who can I turn to dept.: New York Yankees pitcher Dave LaPoint did something last week that shocked even the battle-hardened denizens of the Bronx Zoo. He actually said that he wished George Steinbrenner still was running the team.

LaPoint was upset that he lost his place in the starting rotation so the club could look at promising starters Dave Eiland and Stan Adkins, but there was no one to take his complaint.

"It's a joke," LaPoint said. "It's not fair. This is one time I wish Mr. Steinbrenner was still around. I'd have a real talk with him."

*

Orioles officials say they will explore all options in their attempt to improve the club for 1991, including the free-agent market. What that actually means is not clear, but here's a quick look at five available players who might come under consideration:

*Tom Brunansky -- Whoever signs the Red Sox outfielder can write in the 20 home runs and 80 RBI for 1991 right now, but the price figures to be too high for the Orioles. Brunansky is making $1.5 million now, and will be looking for $2 million-plus per year for three years.

*Ted Higuera -- The best starting pitcher available, but the Orioles would have to blow the vault and give up a draft choice. He recently told the Milwaukee Brewers he would re-sign with them for $9 million over three years. Extreme long shot.

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