Tackett gets a final test in season of maturation Hoiles again gives him shot to play

September 29, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

When Orioles catcher Jeff Tackett hit a home run to left off Mark Langston of the California Angels in early June in his native Southern California, the television cameras captured his deliriously happy family celebrating behind the team's dugout.

"That [hitting a homer] was the furthest thing from my mind and it really didn't hit me until I came around second and I could see everybody going crazy. It was a lot of fun," said Tackett.

If the season had ended there, Tackett would have had his 15 minutes in the spotlight and that would have been it.

But two weeks later, Chris Hoiles went on the disabled list for two months with a broken wrist, and Tackett was thrust back into the spotlight as the team's everyday catcher, starting 44 of the 51 games Hoiles missed.

With Hoiles scratched for the last week of the season awaiting further surgery on the wrist, Tackett figures to get more duty as the season ends.

Tackett is hoping to continue the slow, but steady improvement he's made through the season, his first full campaign at the major-league level.

"It's always a learning process. I don't want to say I'm satisfied, but I feel like I've matured more this year," said Tackett. "I know what to look for in certain situations and what not to look for."

A glance at the numbers would suggest that Tackett, a career .223 hitter in the minor leagues, has hardly progressed, with just a .228 average in 171 at-bats going into last night's game.

During Hoiles' absence, Tackett hit .226, and is batting .185 in his last 32 games.

But Tackett, 26, has developed something of a power stroke, with five home runs, nearly half the 12 he had hit in his seven previous professional seasons, though he has not connected since June 30 against Milwaukee's Ricky Bones.

"I'm still learning, but I feel a lot more comfortable at the plate than I used to," said Tackett.

Manager Johnny Oates is happy with the maturation of Tackett.

"He's made great progress. He's come a long way, especially at the bat," Oates said. "In the last couple of years, he's put some sting to the ball and he's done very well for himself."

Tackett's reputation has been as a catcher with great defensive skills, but little to offer offensively. He made the roster out of spring training with a blistering offensive display, but his defense has not suffered.

Tackett has thrown out 33 percent of potential base stealers this season, which is around the major-league average but better than either Hoiles (18 percent) or Mark Parent (29 percent), who started last night.

"That's basically what catching is, catching, blocking and throwing," said Tackett. "Then everything else you do is a bonus."

But with his development at the plate, Tackett also is learning behind the plate.

"He's not a great pitch-caller yet, but I don't think he's had time to learn a lot of the hitters, to see what they do and what they hit," said veteran Rick Dempsey, whom Tackett beat out to claim the back-up catching slot. "Next year will tell the tale. He'll have a better idea. Jeff's a smart guy. I expect he'll be much, much better."

Whether Tackett is here next year to continue that development is unclear.

The Orioles can protect 15 players in the Nov. 17 expansion draft that will stock the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins of the National League.

Since the team must protect certain minor leaguers as well as players on the big-league club, Tackett might be left exposed.

Besides, with Hoiles, who is 26, ahead of him on the depth chart and presuming to stay there, it might be in Tackett's best interests to head for Denver or Miami, where his youth and relatively low salary might make him an attractive choice.

"I'd be crazy not to want to play every day, but if I can't, I'd like to come back here," said Tackett. "Anybody would want to play every day, but I'd love to come back here. It's a great baseball-oriented town."

AL East race

.. .. .. .. .. ..W.. .. ..L.. .. .. GB.. .. .. ..GR

Toronto (4).. ..92.. .. .65.. .. .. --.. .. .. ...5

Milwaukee.. .. .89.. .. .67.. .. .. 2 1/2 .. .. .. .. 6

(Magic number in parenthesis)

Remaining games Day.. .. .. .. ..Toronto.. .. .. .. .. ..Milwaukee

Tue... .. .. .. .Boston.. .. .. .. .. ..at Seattle

Wed... .. .. .. .Boston.. .. .. .. .. ..at Seattle

Thu... .. .. .. ..Off.. .. .. .. .. .. .at Seattle

Fri... .. .. .. Detroit.. .. .. .. .. ..at Oakland

Sat.... .. .. ..Detroit.. .. .. .. .. ..at Oakland

Sun... .. .. .. Detroit... .. .. .. .. .at Oakland

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