As GM deconstructs Reds, streak presents a dilemma

ON BASEBALL

July 19, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Talk about a parallel universe. The Cincinnati Reds won 10 straight and had 15 wins in 16 games before a pounding on Friday night, a hot streak that has pulled them off the floor in the National League Central and put them within range of legitimate wild-card contention.

Now, that organization is faced with the same decision that has been created by the Orioles' second-half resurgence.

Play 'em or trade 'em?

General manager Jim Bowden recently sent top closer Jeff Shaw to the Los Angeles Dodgers for first base prospect Paul Konerko, but the club has continued to climb in the standings even as several contenders continue to bid for top starter Pete Harnisch.

"They've got the sense they can win," manager Jack McKeon said recently. "They've done it so many times this past month, they know they can do it. They're not going to lay down and die."

Maybe not, but the club still faces the possibility of further deconstruction. Two veteran pitchers -- Shaw and starter Dave Burba -- already are gone, and Bowden appears more intent on building a Young Red Machine than playing out a questionable hand in the wild-card race.

The 15-1 run was the best by a Reds team since 1957, but the club still was eight games behind the San Francisco Giants in the wild-card hunt and the law of averages has to be lurking somewhere.

"This is a remarkable run," Bowden said. "I've never seen anything like this. This is a tremendous feat. It's also very characteristic of young players because they're so streaky. These young players haven't even come to their potential yet."

No doubt, Bowden would jump at the chance to pull off a few more deals that deepen the youthful nucleus of his club. He already has acquired top prospects Sean Casey and Konerko this year and figures to get good value for Harnisch or veteran shortstop Barry Larkin, or both.

No matter what happens, he's enjoying the behind-the-scenes machinations almost as much as his team's rush to respectability.

"It's going to be a fun couple of weeks," Bowden said. "Last year, we were forced to make deals to get the payroll down. This year, we're not forced to make a deal, so we're going to make the ones that we believe are good baseball trades, like the Konerko trade, the Sean Casey trade and the Dmitri Young trade."

Fenway crunch

The 1999 All-Star Game will be held at 34,000-seat Fenway Park, which is sure to create a huge ticket crunch and leave many faithful fans on the outside looking in.

"The good news for our most supportive fans is that we have the home run-hitting contest, which we'll be able to offer to our best customers," said Boston Red Sox GM Dan Duquette.

That's a fancy way of saying that there aren't going to be enough game tickets available to satisfy everybody on the club's partial and full-season ticket list. The Red Sox already have promised to reserve tickets for full-season plan holders who renew for 1999, but half-season plan holders may have to settle for the All-Star workout.

Maddux: No rear view

Atlanta Braves ace Greg Maddux looks like he's on the way to an unprecedented fifth Cy Young Award, but he continues to shy away from talk about his place in baseball history.

"I'm not history yet," he said last week. "I'm not past tense yet, so I don't think about it. It's not so much what I've accomplished, so much as what more can I do.

"I don't want to [review accomplishments] until I'm done. I'm aware I've had some pretty special years. I'm also aware it doesn't matter. It's not going to help me win my next game. I'm not concerned about where I'm heading at all. If you ask me what I'll be doing 10 years from now, I have no idea."

Griffey opens up

Seattle Mariners superstar Ken Griffey took a lot of heat during the All-Star break for his apparently sullen demeanor and initial refusal to take part in the much-anticipated home run derby at Coors Field.

He tried to explain himself Wednesday in a lengthy session with the media, during which he made it pretty clear that he has grown weary of dealing with media coverage of his day-to-day exploits.

"I'd rather talk about W's than home runs," he said. "Why do I have to answer personal questions? Why do I have to sit there and answer trick questions I first heard when I was 19 years old?"

The answer is simple enough, but a lot of high-profile players do not want to hear it.

Major League Baseball is a public relations-driven industry that trades heavily on the personalities of its star-quality players. Baseball teams -- and, for that matter, the companies that pay millions for his celebrity name recognition -- don't give Griffey and his fellow superstars all that money to hide in the training room.

Griffey is human, of course, and can be forgiven for getting tired of the repetitive nature of the media coverage, but bemoaning the attention paid to his assault on the single-season home run record is pointless and self-defeating. Doing so while trading on his fame in countless TV commercials and promotional ventures is even worse.

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