Like Jays, Mele is always a class act

Bill Tanton

July 01, 1993|By Bill Tanton

With half the season still to play, it's already clear that Toronto, baseball's world champion, once again is the class of the American League.

For the information of the Orioles and anyone else planning to overtake the Blue Jays, things could get even worse before they get better.

That's the feeling of the Red Sox's Sam Mele, who scouted the entire Oriole homestand that ended last night.

"The Blue Jays will pick up another starting pitcher for the rest of the season," said Mele. "I'm sure of it. They've done it in the past."

Toronto added David Cone last year. The year before that it was Tom Candiotti.

The Orioles, of course, also have picked up late-season help in the past.

In '89 they brought in Keith Moreland, who was a flop -- and asked to leave the club before the season ended. Last year, when they needed hitting, they picked up a pitcher, Craig Lefferts.

"You've got to hand it to Toronto's general manager, Pat Gillick," says Mele. "He lost a lot of talent after they won the World Series but he's filled the holes and already his club is back in first place.

"Toronto doesn't make many mistakes. They have talent. They score a lot of runs. They switch hit.

"The Orioles need [pitcher Mike] Mussina bad if they're going to contend. [Mark] McLemore is amazing for a guy who just switched to the outfield. He throws to the right base. He hits the cutoff man.

"I think the kid [Jeffrey Hammonds] is going to be a helluva ballplayer. He's going to make contact. I saw [the Yankees' Bob] Wickman get him out the other night. The next time up, Hammonds hit the same pitch for a base hit."

Sam Mele has seen it all in baseball.

He played 10 years in the American League, one of those with the Orioles in 1954, Baltimore's first year back in the majors. That club went 54-100, finished seventh and drew 1,060,910 -- less than a third what the Orioles will draw this year.

"Our manager was Jimmy Dykes," Mele recalled. "If you couldn't play for him you couldn't play for anybody.

"We had a good staff. We had Bob Turley [who won 14 games] and Don Larsen [who lost 21].

"We had a shortstop, Billy Hunter [now Towson State's athletic director], who I talked to this week. Billy knew the game and had a lot of fun playing it. If he was playing today he'd probably be making a million and a half a year."

Mele has coached. He was the third base coach at Minnesota in 1961 under manager Cookie Lavagetto. One day owner Calvin Griffith called Mele into his office and asked him if he had any desire to manage.

"Sure, everybody hopes to get a shot at managing some day," Mele told the boss.

"Well, start looking at the club different, the way a manager does," Griffith advised him. "Take a closer look at all the players.

"Thirty minutes later," Mele recalled this week, "Calvin's holding a press conference. Lavagetto's fired. I'm the manager."

Mele led the Twins to the World Series against the Dodgers in '65. Sandy Koufax was not available for the first game because of a religious holiday and the Twins won. But the Dodgers -- and Koufax -- came back to win the Series in seven.

"With one more Jewish holiday," Sam says now, "I might have had a chance."

In '66 the Orioles won the pennant and clinched early. On the final day of the season Mele's Twins were playing here at Memorial Stadium.

"I was managing like I just wanted to get the season over with," Sam says, "but my third-base coach jumped all over me. He didn't care if it was the final game. He wanted to win. He got my head back in the game."

The third-base coach was the late Billy Martin, who went on to become a controversial but successful manager himself.

Ask Mele whom he considers the best of today's managers and the first name he mentions is that of Oakland's Tony La Russa.

"He's very thorough," says Mele, "and he has a great staff. He had a better staff when [Rene] Lachemann [now Florida's manager] was with him."

When Mele was fired by the Twins after the '67 season, he became a scout for the Red Sox.

"Tom Yawkey [the late Boston owner] and I were always friends," Sam says. "He told me to call him if anything ever happened. He put me to work scouting and I've been there ever since."

Boston, which finished last a year ago, is in fifth place now, behind the Orioles. Mele says the Sox need young talent and are beginning to sign it.

"Even if Roger Clemens [presently on the disabled list] wins 30 games," Mele says, "we're not going to win anything. We have too many holes."

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