Where's the beef? At bat for the Red Sox

March 25, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mo Vaughn lumbered up the first base line.

"He's got to be 265 or 270," a scout behind home plate said.

Kevin Mitchell stepped to the plate.

"He ain't much lighter, either," the scout added.

It's not a baseball team, it's a tag team.

It's not a lineup, it's an offensive line.

Vaughn, Mitchell, Jose Canseco. Each has won an MVP award. Each weighs at least 240 pounds. Each is capable of mashing 30 home runs.

You've heard of the Bash Brothers.

Say hello to the Beantown Bombers.

If every game isn't 10-9, then it'll be 11-10. Think Cleveland's offense is dangerous? The Boston attack may prove just as frightening.

There's only one problem.

The other team gets to hit, too.

Oh, the Red Sox can pitch. It's their defense that's comical, especially in right field, where Mitchell and Canseco could prove their defense at second base and center field.

Only the Red Sox could hire former stolen-base king Maury Wills as a base-running coach, when the only running this team will do is to the buffet line.

All right, let's not get carried away -- the defending AL East champions feature their share of highly conditioned athletes.

Take shortstop John Valentin, the 180-pound shortstop who last season hit 27 homers, stole 20 bases and drove in 102 runs.

Mitchell, back from Japan, had never heard of him.

"I see this little guy, Valentin, and I said, 'What's he doing over here?' " Mitchell said yesterday. "Then I looked up his stats. This little guy is strong."

Thanks for the scouting report, Mitch.

Valentin shouldn't be upset by the lack of recognition. Mitchell didn't even know that Davey Johnson, his old manager in New York and Cincinnati, was now with the Orioles.

"Where is Davey?" Mitchell asked a reporter from Baltimore yesterday.

Out on the field, he was told.

"What do you mean? He's the manager over there?" Mitchell asked. "I didn't know that."

Johnson wasn't surprised.

"He doesn't read newspapers out in the desert in his dune buggy," Johnson said.

Mitchell, 34, is a beauty, all right, a player with a checkered past and a questionable future. He looked awful going 0-for-4 in yesterday's 3-1 loss to the Orioles, striking out twice and grounding into a double play.

Former Orioles Randy Milligan and Sam Horn used to talk about how they feared Mitchell growing up in San Diego. But wherever Mitchell goes -- the Red Sox are his sixth team -- his teammates love him.

"He's great for this ballclub," Vaughn said. "We've got a cast of characters in here."

Canseco didn't make the trip yesterday, but naturally he was a hot topic of conversation anyway. Manager Kevin Kennedy told anyone who would listen that Jose would be back in right field today, sore elbow and all.

He meant it as good news.

Fenway Park features the biggest right field in the American League, and Kennedy is trying to decide among three Cold Glove candidates at the position -- Mitchell, Canseco and Troy O'Leary.

What, the Red Sox worry?

Team motto: Lumber, not leather.

There's Mike Greenwell, a lifetime .303 hitter. There's Mike Stanley, the best offensive catcher in the league. And there's Wil Cordero, who Kennedy predicts will be a future batting champion.

The leadoff man, Dwayne Hosey, once hit 27 homers at Triple-A. The No. 9 hitter, Tim Naehring, batted .307 last season. And the next big acquisition could be Montreal's Moises Alou, particularly if Hosey falters in center.

The Red Sox, however, won't just slug -- they're smart situational hitters. Canseco, Stanley, Valentin and Vaughn are four of only six AL players to bat .300 with men in scoring position each of the last three seasons.

Mitchell may not be able to quote from the Baseball Encyclopedia, but he batted .326 with 30 homers in only 95 games for Cincinnati two years ago, and is considered a deceptively intelligent hitter.

Put it all together, and this still may be the team to beat in the AL East. The anchors of the rotation, Roger Clemens and Aaron Sele, are having excellent springs. Tim Wakefield looked shaky early, but pitched six strong innings yesterday.

Tom Gordon and Jamie Moyer are capable fourth and fifth starters. The bullpen, with Stan Belinda and Mike Stanton setting up for Heathcliff Slocumb, should be as good as any in the division.

And, for all the jokes about the defense, it might not be as bad as everyone expects. The Red Sox made a lot of their errors in the early innings last season, knowing their offense was powerful enough to strike back.

"We'd put ourselves behind the 8-ball a little bit," Valentin conceded. "But I really thought we were a good defensive team when the game was on the line."

So, let the fun begin. Mitchell once caught a fly ball bare-handed. Canseco once had one bounce off his head and over the fence. You catch some, you drop some. One way or another, the 1996 Red Sox will be offensive.

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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