Strike nothing to laugh about? Check out some of these stories

BASEBALL

March 26, 1995|By BUSTER OLNEY

Better to laugh than cry, even as the game of baseball crumbles at the hands of players and owners. The mess they've created can be amusing, in a tragic sort of way.

* Fourteen of the New York Mets replacement players have gained weight since the beginning of spring training. Pitcher Doug Sisk reportedly gained 15 pounds in a 10-day period.

"I'm going to have to take the chow out of the clubhouse," said Mets manager Dallas Green.

Everyone has said these replacement players are hungry.

* Playing the Texas Rangers used to mean facing The Express, Nolan Ryan. Now it means facing the Express-O -- right-hander Tom Arrington, who quit his job working in a coffee shop in Mill Valley, Calif., to play replacement ball.

* Before being admonished by Cincinnati owner Marge Schott last week, the Reds' Davey Johnson had left the game-to-game managerial duties to Ray Knight, his most trusted coach. Knight took his work seriously, preparing pages of detailed notes, and he was in charge when Cincinnati won its first exhibition.

His preparation, however, apparently didn't include learning the names of his players. Asked whom he had intended to use as closer, Knight said, "I can't remember his name . . . . The fat guy."

Oh, yeah. The fat guy.

* New York Yankees reliever Steve Howe said he is thinking about crossing the line and joining the replacement players.

Steve Howe, the same guy who lectured the owners on the morals of their bargaining strategy in one negotiating session last fall.

* The Detroit Tigers -- that team with all those big sluggers -- ended a 130-inning streak without a home run this week when the immortal Jim Givens cleared the wall.

"Luck," Givens said. "All luck. One hundred percent luck."

* Chris Wyrick, who could replace St. Louis shortstop Ozzie Smith on Opening Day, has no intention of mimicking Smith's trademark somersault and back flip. "I could do a forward roll," Wyrick said.

* Cardinals manager Joe Torre has been much more light-hearted this spring. "This is my replacement personality," Torre said.

* Of Milwaukee's first 20 replacement games, only two lasted three hours or more. "They've been complaining about slow games for years," said replacement pitcher Tim Dell. "This is the answer -- replacement ball. As a replacement player, you don't have to look as good. You're not up there styling. We drive a Pacer, not a Lexus."

* Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson on the head of the union: "In a previous life, Don Fehr was a wet blanket."

* The Florida Marlins are pushing their replacement game tickets with this full-page ad: "You don't know them. They don't know you. But you do have one thing in common. You love the game."

We have a lot more in common than that. We can't hit, run or throw much, either.

Labor-free zone

In their decade-long search to find a left-hander, the Los Angeles Dodgers are interested in signing Derek Lilliquist. . . . Marlins reliever Bryan Harvey plans to report to the Florida camp to rehabilitate his right elbow. . . . Spotted working out at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater on Thursday night: Philadelphia third baseman Dave Hollins and pitchers Curt Schilling and Tommy Greene.

The Rangers signed former O's third baseman Mike Pagliarulo to a minor-league contract, but look for Texas to keep him in the big leagues once the major-leaguers return. . . . The Cleveland Indians have no interest in re-signing designated hitter Dave Winfield, whom they traded for after the strike began. . . . The Brewers signed former Reds catcher Joe Oliver, who missed most of last season because of an arthritis-like condition in his knees and ankles, and announced that catcher Dave Nilsson will undergo knee surgery in his native Australia. If Oliver regains his old form, Nilsson could be moved to first base.

If the Tigers hire Bill Plummer as their Triple-A manager, that could be the first nail in the coffin of Sparky Anderson, who is on sabbatical in California. Plummer would replace Tom Runnells, who has stepped in for Anderson. Club president John McHale said, "Our feeling when Sparky left in mid-February was that if he returned during spring training, it would be relatively easy for him to do so. But after spring training, it gets complicated."

The Tigers expect an Opening Day crowd of 25,000-30,000, as opposed to the usual 50,000. . . . If the Orioles or Cardinals sign Andy Benes, look for the San Diego Padres to sign ex-Ranger Kevin Brown to a one-year contract.

Warning: labor stuff

To repeat, the union is in danger of splintering. The smoke that foretells of a growing conflagration within the ranks is rising; the rumors of players crossing are mounting. These days,

conversations with strikers, as a general rule, go something like this: Five minutes of on-the-record, anti-owner rhetoric, followed by a pause, followed by the quiet question, "What do you think?"

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