Break dancing: Bonds is in, Mets are out, and how about those Marlins

BASEBALL

July 11, 1993|By PETER SCHMUCK

The 1993 season has taken some interesting turns on its way to the All-Star break. Just ask Orioles outfielder/third baseman Mark McLemore, who went from fringe utility player in April to club RBI leader in July.

The Orioles, meanwhile, have come back from one of their worst starts in club history to insert themselves into a four-way race for the American League East title. From worst to 1 1/2 games out of first, to be exact.

It has been a season of high highs and low lows, and not just in Baltimore. The Detroit Tigers got off to their best start since 1984, but have come to expect the worst during the past few weeks. The New York Mets thought they had one of the best teams in the National League when the season began, but they '' have the worst record in the majors -- far worse than either of the new teams that entered the league this year.

So much has happened during the past three months, it's a good time to go around the major leagues and take a look at some of the bests and worsts of the first half of 1993. Here goes:

Best team: The San Francisco Giants. Phillies fans aren't going to like this, but the Giants have the best player in baseball and have built one of the best records in either league without a representative performance from Will Clark and without a completely healthy Matt Williams. Look out below in the second half.

Worst team: The Mets, of course. How much worse can you get when you're four games worse than an expansion club (the Colorado Rockies) that isn't even fooling itself by shooting for .500?

Best player: Barry Bonds. He may not be a likable guy, but you have to like the way he has responded to the pressure that had to come with the biggest contract in the history of the sport.

Best player for the money: Rockies first baseman Andres Galarraga, who signed for a base salary of $600,000, is batting .391 with 13 home runs and 64 RBI.

Best manager: Buck Rodgers, who has kept the young and thin California Angels in contention despite the off-season loss of closer Bryan Harvey and starting pitcher Jim Abbott.

Best managerial decision: Orioles manager Johnny Oates took a chance on McLemore in right field and ended up looking like a genius. McLemore went to the outfield and came back a star. He is playing great defense and until yesterday's game shared the club lead in RBI. (Hoiles leads with 45; McLemore and Cal Ripken are tied for second with 43.) He'll probably move around a little more in the second half of the season, but he is all but guaranteed regular playing time the rest of the way.

Worst managerial decision: Texas Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy allowed superstar Jose Canseco to pitch an inning in a blowout and cost his team one of the most dominating players in the sport. Canseco suffered enough ligament damage in his right elbow to end his season and put his career in doubt. Kennedy accepted full responsibility for the foul-up, which will leave his future in doubt if the Rangers drop out of the picture in the American League West. Canseco tried to take the blame and take his manager off the hook -- which is admirable -- but there was plenty of blame to go around.

Best clubhouse tirade: Kansas City Royals manager Hal McRae looked like he was losing more than a few baseball games when he went into a telephone-throwing, tape recorder-trashing rage in April, but about the time he snapped, his team broke out of an early season funk and began to climb the AL West standings. McRae's tantrum was caught on videotape, which allowed him to make a spectacle of himself over and over again, but the end always justifies the means in the crazy world of baseball.

Worst clubhouse tirade: Oates was the first major-league manager to deliver an impassioned postgame lecture this year, lashing out at his team on April 13 after a 1-6 start that threatened to knock the club out of the AL East race very early. It was a spirited speech ("Who's going to lead us?"), but it didn't evoke the desired response. The Orioles lost six of their next 10 games, prompting Oates to lock the clubhouse doors for a two-hour meeting in Chicago. The quality of play began to improve after that, but the Orioles didn't really start playing well for another month.

Worst public relations gaffe: The Cincinnati Reds fired popular manager Tony Perez just 44 games into his first season, which left the distinct impression that he was hired last October only to improve the tarnished image of owner Marge Schott. Schott, who is serving a one-year suspension for making a series of insensitive racial remarks, may have had nothing to do with the firing of Perez and the subsequent hiring of Davey Johnson. She claims to be one of Perez's biggest fans. If that is true, then youthful general manager Jim Bowden will have a lot of explaining to do when Schott returns to power.

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