Thomas says umps are striking out at him

BASEBALL

April 19, 1992|By PETER SCHMUCK

He might be the best young player in baseball, but Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas says he he's not getting enough respect from the men in blue.

Thomas opened the season with 12 strikeouts in his first 29 at-bats, enough on called third strikes to make him wonder if his strike zone has gotten a little larger since last season.

"I tell myself, 'Be patient, be patient,' " Thomas said recently, "and then they call balls that are not strikes -- balls that are down at my ankles. I can't swing at that junk."

Are these just the frustrated ramblings of a slumping superstar, or is Thomas getting a bum deal from the men behind the mask? No doubt, there have been a couple of questionable pitches, but you might have to hire Oliver Stone to come up with a plausible conspiracy theory.

It would be pretty far-fetched to believe the umpires are acting together to expand Thomas' strike zone, but he says he cannot afford to be as selective as he was in 1991, when he led the American League with 138 walks.

"They are taking the bat right out of my hands," he said. "These guys act like I'm a rookie or something. I led this league in walks last year. I deserve a better strike zone than that. I deserve a little more respect."

Thomas has earned a lot of respect in a relatively short time. He had 32 home runs and 109 RBI in his first full season in the major leagues last year. But he hasn't been around long enough to earn the kind of deference given the likes of Wade Boggs or Cal Ripken, who will get the benefit of the doubt on occasion because they have built a reputation for knowing the strike zone. That will come with time, not with one great season.

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Neon Deion update: When we last left the irrepressible Deion Sanders, he was a struggling .183 lifetime hitter who looked better suited to a career in the NFL. He had returned to his day job with the Atlanta Falcons in late July, leaving the Atlanta Braves to wonder whether he would be back.

Sanders is back, all right, and he has opened the 1992 season on a tear. He entered the weekend leading the National League in a long list of offensive departments, including base hits, batting average, multiple-hit games, triples, total bases and extra-base hits. He has done so well, in fact, that many local baseball fans haven't even noticed that the defending NL champion Braves are off to a mediocre start.

"I'm trying not to get too excited," Sanders said. "I know it's a long season, but I'm doing things I've never done before."

Sanders is also doing something he has done before. He is making noises about concentrating on one sport. If he continues to swing the bat the way he has recently, he would be a fool to go back to the NFL. Just ask Bo Jackson.

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Training camp blues: This has to be getting a little embarrassing for the Orioles. The Florida Marlins, a team that doesn't even have permanent office space, already have put together a tentative plan to build a new spring-training home in Florida. The Marlins apparently will train next year at the old Houston Astros complex in Cocoa before moving into a new facility in nearby Melbourne the following year.

The land for the new facility is being donated by a local real-estate development company, which will make the new training camp the focal point for a planned community. The Orioles, meanwhile, continue their search for a permanent spring home and have only a slim chance of moving into a permanent facility by 1994.

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Unjust desserts department: The California Angels and Los Angeles Rams finished last in 1991 -- the first time they both JTC have finished in the cellar the same year -- but that didn't keep the Anaheim Stadium concessionaire from raising prices on many food items, including the famous Big A cinnamon rolls.

The giant rolls rose in price 33 percent this year, from $1.50 to $2, leaving sweet-toothed fans to wonder what prices would have been like if the Angels had succeeded in signing $29 million free agent Bobby Bonilla over the winter.

"You'd be getting bread and water," joked Angels president Richard Brown.

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Texas two-step: The Texas Rangers could be a couple of steps closer to a division title if the early performances of starters Kevin Brown and Bobby Witt are a sign of things to come.

Brown tied a major-league record last year when he went 33 starts without pitching a complete game, and had the most innings of any major-league pitcher who did not go the distance at least once. But he opened the 1992 season with complete-game victories in his first two appearances.

"It all goes back to the same thing," Brown said. "I'm out there facing the other guys and not facing myself."

Brown consulted a psychologist during the winter to help him stop fighting himself on the mound. He used to let every little setback bother him, but he appears to have his game -- and his head -- back together.

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