Angels turn Dodgers deeper shade of blue

ON BASEBALL

June 28, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

LOS ANGELES -- The first battle of the media giants went to Disney. The Anaheim Angels won three out of four games against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers last week and punctured -- perhaps forever -- the aura of Dodger Blue superiority that had prevailed over their long-standing regional rivalry.

But it was not the outcome of the four-game home-and-home series that changed the way Southern California baseball fans look at the two franchises. That was just the punctuation mark. It was the way that Fox Sports, in just a matter of days, transformed the Dodgers from baseball royalty into back page curiosity.

No one should be surprised. Rupert Murdoch's media empire was not built on boredom.

The Dodgers remain beneath .500 and still are taking flak from their fans for the decision to bail out on popular catcher Mike Piazza. The blockbuster deal that sent Piazza and third baseman Todd Zeile to the Florida Marlins for the remaining offensive nucleus of the defending world champs did not significantly alter the chemistry of an underachieving, uninspired club.

Perhaps worst of all, the Disney-controlled Angels, sitting atop the American League West standings, have given L.A. baseball fans a real alternative -- an upbeat, exciting team that appears to be headed for the playoffs for the first time since 1986.

Exit the soft-spoken Bill Russell and button-down Fred Claire.

Enter the camera-ready Tom Lasorda and youthful Glenn Hoffman.

They may be capable of presiding over a dramatic midseason turnaround, but even if they do, the Dodgers will never be the same again.

The gilded franchise was an oasis of stability and tradition in a sport that has been all too willing to sacrifice both for fast money and television ratings.

Jordan turns up heat

Former Milford Mill High School star Brian Jordan returned to the top of the league batting ranks last week, thanks largely to his continued strong performance against the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks.

Jordan is hitting .485 in eight games against the D-backs this season, with four home runs and 11 RBIs. "We go in, go out, throw breaking balls that are down and he goes down and gets them," said Arizona pitching coach Mark Connor. "He had a heck of a week against us. He made a believer out of me."

It probably doesn't hurt that Jordan bats right behind Mark McGwire in the St. Louis Cardinals' lineup, but his baseball talent has never been in question. When he's healthy, he's one of the best all-around players in the game.

"The guy's got a nice feel going," Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter said. "This is not an exact science. You can't play him everywhere."

There is talk that the Chicago White Sox will bring left-hander Jim Abbott back to the major leagues after the All-Star break. Abbott, who retired from baseball after the Anaheim Angels released him early last season, signed with the White Sox recently and has pitched well in the minor leagues.

He started out at Single-A Winston-Salem, but has pitched well enough in five starts to move up to Triple-A Birmingham. If things go well, it could be a short stay.

"I'm getting more and more comfortable every time out," Abbott said. "I knew coming down here it was going to take some work. I feel like I've got my feet back underneath me."

Abbott, who was born without a right hand, was one of the inspirational stories of the early 1990s -- pitching a no-hitter for the New York Yankees in 1993. But diminishing command and velocity turned him into the losingest pitcher of 1996 (2-18) and led to his premature exit from the game at just 29 years of age.

Player of month any month

Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa broke the major-league record for homers in a month with his 19th on Thursday, but he already had accumulated the most homers over a 30-day period with 21 from May 22 to June 20.

Who would have suspected that such a record is kept? But the Elias Sports Bureau determined that Sosa had displaced Ralph Kiner, who had 20 in 30 days for Pittsburgh in 1947, and Roger Maris, who had 20 in 30 days for the Yankees in 1961.

Sosa has been sizzling, but that hasn't kept the Cubs from slipping into a two-week slump that had dropped them five games behind the first-place Houston Astros entering the weekend. So what happens when the unprecedented hot streak ends?

"He's due to cool off," teammate Mark Grace said recently. "You have to give him a break. Sammy has handled [this] so well. He's very humble about it. He has allowed us to make some outs because he has been such a great player for us all year and we have ridden his coattails all year. We just have to make sure that when he does go south, the rest of us are there to say, 'C'mon, Sammy, hop on.' "

Pirates settle in

Strike another name from the list of teams that might eventually move into Northern Virginia. The Pittsburgh Pirates are close to finalizing a deal for a new baseball-only stadium.

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