A few foul mouths do a job on Indians fans' image

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

September 17, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Cleveland Indians fans have gained a reputation for being among the best in the major leagues, but a few bad apples may have spoiled the image of the whole bunch during last year's playoffs.

Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez told reporters on Wednesday that he received a death threat and a shower of racial slurs from the stands just minutes before taking the mound for his terrific relief performance in Game 5 of last year's Division Series at Jacobs Field.

"I remember being told in the bullpen from that playoff game that I was going to be shot if I came to the mound," said Martinez, who dominated the Indians again Thursday in Cleveland. "I think that came from fans in a panic. They said so [much] discriminating stuff to me that it would sound unreal. They called me a `beaner' and [told me], `Go back to your country, you don't belong in America.' All those things I heard from the stands."

Martinez's account of the abuse around the visiting bullpen was supported by bullpen coach Dick Cumberland and reliever Rheal Cormier. But the shameful way in which Martinez was treated only motivated him more when he took the mound to bail the Red Sox out of Game 5.

"It's the first time I ever heard those things and I heard it here in Cleveland," he said. "But I understand it was also a playoff game and a lot of people were upset with the success I've had against their team. They saw that their chances were more limited if I came in, so I'm willing to put up with that."

Martinez displayed amazing mental toughness that day, though no athlete should have to put up with that kind of abuse. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that - unlike controversial Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker - Martinez did not let the fans alter his on-field demeanor and chose not to use the opportunity to slander the whole city of Cleveland afterward.

Padres' cash call

The San Diego Padres face a severe payroll cutback this winter after mounting losses forced the organization to make a $20 million cash call to owner John Moores, club president Larry Lucchino and the trust for Moores' daughter, Jennifer McLeod.

Lucchino said that the team's outlay for players this winter will have to be reduced to put the team back on a break-even budget. The Padres have been operating with a payroll of about $50 million, but are expected to drop it to $40 million-$43 million for the 2001 season.

Club officials expect revenues to rise when the team's new stadium opens in July 2002, and hope that Major League Baseball adopts new revenue-sharing rules that would improve cash flow, but the most immediate remedy is obvious.

"The only thing we can immediately address is what we are spending," Lucchino told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "When our next fiscal year begins on Nov. 1, we will not be budgeted for losses. We will be budgeted to break even."

Baines lost in Soxland

The Chicago White Sox claim they are thrilled to have veteran designated hitter Harold Baines back, but they really don't know what to do with him. He had started only two of the previous 18 games entering the weekend and has been used as a pinch hitter just seven times.

The problem is, he is backing up Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko, both of whom are hitting over .300 and putting up good run-production numbers.

"That's a tough thing for us," manager Jerry Manuel said recently. "We try to get him at-bats. Paul wasn't going quite as well when Harold got here. He was not as hot as he has been of late. It has been kind of a tough thing to handle."

Baines, as usual, isn't complaining. He knows the score, but he'll probably have to leave the club at the end of the season if he is to have any chance of accumulating the 147 hits he still needs to reach 3,000.

Where he might end up is anybody's guess. This time around, it seems unlikely that the Orioles will bring him back.

Helton hammers himself

Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton has lost his chance to hit .400 this season, but he hasn't lost his sense of humor. He recently lapsed into a 9-for-45 slump that dropped his average to .379 and ended the quest to become baseball's first .400 hitter since Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941, then chalked it up to bad pitch selection.

"Let me think, is it because I swing at everything?" Helton said the other day. "When a pitcher yells, `Watch out!' and you still swing, you know you're not swinging at good pitches. That's happened to me twice."

Damon `something special'

It's hard to get any attention in Kansas City, but outfielder Johnny Damon has become impossible to ignore. The speedy leadoff man entered the weekend with a .418 batting average in the second half and is on pace to finish the season with 217 hits.

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