Stretching one's earning power

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

April 29, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

The distance and frequency of Toronto Blue Jays rookie Carlos Delgado's home runs have helped make him one of the more fascinating stories through the first four weeks of the baseball season.

But Delgado, who came through the Blue Jays' organization as a catcher, is as pleased with his progress in the field as he is with his home run total, because he has had to learn a new position, left field, at the major-league level.

"It's a big, big adjustment, and there's still a lot of work to do, because I have to get used to turf and the lights and how the ball comes off the wall, but I'm doing all right so far," said Delgado, who committed his first two errors of the season Wednesday night at Texas.

Of course, Delgado is not the only player who has had to learn to master another position, but he is a member of a growing list of players who have had to keep more than one fielder's glove in their locker to secure a place in an everyday lineup.

"You look at a guy like Jamie Quirk," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "They made him a catcher and he got 10 years in the big leagues, where if he hadn't learned he might not have stuck around that long. When [former Kansas City Royals manager] Whitey Herzog told him to put on the gear, he probably laughed at him."

Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa said: "Managers really appreciate that type of player. You try to look at your roster and try to identify a guy who can do those things for you. You're going to have some short days, and if a guy like that can help you, you really appreciate it."

Mark McLemore, for instance, had bounced through California, Cleveland and Houston before landing a job as a backup second baseman with the Orioles in 1992.

But McLemore, who never had played outfield before last season, worked his way into the Baltimore lineup by learning to play right field last season, starting 119 games there, as well as three games in a brief tryout at third base.

"I had fun doing it, so that took a lot of the uncomfortability of playing a new position away. The key for me was having a good mental attitude and not caring about where I played, but understanding that it got me into the lineup every day," said McLemore, who has been playing second this season, but was pressed back into right field duties Tuesday after Jeffrey Hammonds fouled a pitch off his left foot Monday night.

The godfather of the modern multi-position players, the Detroit Tigers' Tony Phillips, hit just .248 in 1983, his first full major-league season, splitting time between second and shortstop.

Since then, Phillips, who left Oakland for the Tigers in 1990, gradually added new positions until, in 1991, he became the first player in major-league history to start at least 10 games at five different positions.

Phillips, who went into last night's game tied for the Detroit lead in RBIs, has batted below .260 in a season only once since 1989.

"A lot of guys don't like to hit in a different slot in the batting order, much less a different position," said La Russa, who first tried shifting Phillips throughout the batting order and the field. "I think Tony has shown them that having the ability to do a lot of things is a big deal and can make you a lot of money."

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