Boone opens new frontier against Indians

September 30, 1990|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Correspondent

CLEVELAND -- He is 36, an age at which most baseball players are ready for the old-timers games or the rocking chair.

He weighs 139 pounds, one of the lightest pitchers in major-league history and believed to be the lightest since Nick Carter, 126 pounds, in 1908.

He was out of professional baseball for more than five years, playing in a summer league in Alaska, then a 33-and-over league in San Diego that played its games on weekends and drew no attention from scouts or the media.

From afar, he looks more like the bat boy than the starting pitcher.

But none of that has deterred Dan Boone from his appointed destiny -- his first major-league start today for the Baltimore Orioles in Cleveland Stadium against the Indians.

Boone will retain his start despite yesterday's rainout, which forced the scheduling of a doubleheader today. He probably will pitch the second game after Bob Milacki goes in the opener.

"I guess it means a dream came true. It's a miracle," said Boone, a seventh-generation nephew of the frontiersman of the same name.

Boone's tale is even more improbable than that of Kevin Hickey, who was discovered by general manager Roland Hemond playing 16-inch softball in Chicago, then worked his way back to the majors a second time after a five-year lapse.

But the Orioles have no qualms about sending out the left-hander who mastered the knuckleball and was discovered last winter in the Senior Professional Baseball Association by scouting supervisor Birdie Tebbetts.

"Boone can throw a little bit of everything," said manager Frank Robinson. "Knuckleball, screwball, split finger, slider, you name it. He's got six pitches and he knows what he's doing out there."

In three appearances covering five innings, he has allowed four hits, but no runs or walks. Opponents are hitting .211 against him.

His previous experience in the majors covered 57 games and 91 2/3 innings with the San Diego Padres and Houston Astros in 1981-82.

"I knew getting back here wasn't possible unless the senior league came about," he said. "I was working construction and playing on weekends, but nobody came to the games."

He said general manager Jack McKeon tried to talk manager Frank Howard into starting him for the Padres, but "for some reason it never came about.

"I'll just try to go about this the same as I did in the senior league and [Class AAA] Rochester."

Boone's best pitch is a knuckleball. He experimented with it in the National League one day when Johnny Bench was pounding everything else he threw.

"[Terry] Kennedy smiled through the mask and put five fingers down," he said. "So I threw it and struck out Bench. That was the beginning."

After leaving the majors after the 1982 season, 2,907 days elapsed before Boone returned. That was the longest time between appearances since Jim Bouton went eight years, 42 days from July 29, 1970 until Sept. 10, 1978.

Bouton also revived his career with a knuckleball.

"My greatest desire now is to stick around a while," said Boone. "I don't have any arm problems because of throwing the knuckler, and I'll probably never have a weight problem.

"All I have to do is be successful. There's no telling what I can do."

Boone changed his uniform number to 13, so superstition is not part of his game. He throws the knuckler 80 to 85 percent of the time until hitters start looking for it.

"Roland Hemond is known for finding sleepers," he said. "I guess that describes me. You never know when a guy is going to come out of the woodwork."

NOTES: Robinson is sticking to his plan to use reactivated Randy Milligan as the designated hitter against Indians left-hander Greg Swindell, who is scheduled to pitch the first game today. Robinson said it does not necessarily mean Milligan will start against Toronto Blue left-hander David Wells tomorrow. . . . Charles Nagy goes in the second game for Cleveland.

Robinson said it is doubtful that Mickey Tettleton, who has a sore Achilles tendon, will play today. "The field doesn't figure to be very good and that kind of injury doesn't go away," said the manager. . . . David Segui may return from back problems that kept him out Friday night.

Vince Bagli will join Joe Angel on the WBAL Radio broadcast today. Jon Miller on assignment for ESPN. . . . "I'm 63 and I've always wanted to do one," said Bagli. "Now, I get to do two."

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