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Give Oakland an A for hanging in there

When the season is over, the winners and losers are known and they are handing out the awards, Tony La Russa should get one for perseverance. Not because he's the "thinking-man's manager" or a dugout "genius," as some authors have so dubbed him. But because his team has suffered a mind-bending run of injuries, and when you look over at the standings this morning, La Russa's Oakland A's are still, somehow, leading the AL West.

The A's performance, in view of the seemingly endless string of misfortune, can only be considered a testimony to the depth of the organization and the character of the people involved.

"When somebody goes down, there's somebody there to try and pick him up," said infielder Mike Gallego. "It's the attitude we have that makes for a winning combination. Other teams can say they have it and they might, but for the last three years we're the team that's shown it."

The events of last week are only the latest chapter in the A's sad story. Catcher Terry Steinbach was hit in the head by a pitch, suffered a concussion and missed almost the whole week. Left-handed reliever Joe Klink, who had become a key member of the bullpen (5-2, 2.67 ERA) because of injuries to others, had his right foot broken by a batted ball and will be out six weeks. Shortstop Walt Weiss ruptured ligaments in his left ankle and may miss the rest of the season.

The A's have used the disabled list 13 times already this season, compared with eight times all last year. Seven players are presently disabled. Of the 11 pitchers on the opening day roster, only four (Bob Welch, Dennis Eckersley, Mike Moore and Steve Chitren) have stayed healthy. Seven rookies have taken a turn on the mound. Third baseman Carney Lansford and setup man Rick Honeycutt have yet to play at all.

"What this club has done is unbelievable," La Russa said. "To get to this point and be where they are I have never been prouder of a club than I am of this one."

Hit and run: Don't think Garry Templeton was too eager to get out of San Diego. After being traded to the Mets, Templeton said Padres manager Greg Riddoch was a "backstabber and a liar" and was distrusted by his players. "A lot of the guys want out of Dumbo's circus," Templeton said. "He is more worried about his job than his team. This man had hurt a lot of people and hurt a lot of families. He is paranoid about having any veterans around. He was paranoid about having coaches like Amos Otis and Sandy Alomar. Riddoch is the worst guy I've met in 15 years in the majors."

Fay's tirade: Commissioner Fay Vincent used his ruling on the split of the expansion fees to blast the owners' conduct. "The squabbling within baseball, the finger-pointing, the tendency to see economic issues as moral ones, all of these are contributing to our joint fall from grace," Vincent wrote. "If we in baseball seek the respect and the loyalty of the fans, who are the true owners of the game, we must be deserving in our actions. I suggest we start now." Many owners seemed to be unhappy with him giving 22 percent of the $190-million to the AL, and Vincent could end up taking the fall when his contract is up for renewal in 1994. "That's it; Fay Vincent's history," a longtime AL owner told the Chicago Tribune.

Expanding view: We don't know where the expansion teams are going or even when the decision will be announced, but the teams should be a little better than past expansion clubs. By ordering the AL to supply players to the expansion draft (each existing team will now lose three players) Vincent has increased the talent pool. "What are there, 26 Triple-A teams and 26 Double-A teams? I have to believe there are some good arms out there _ enough to get 20 pitchers out of that," said Phillies GM Lee Thomas.

Striking out: Detroit's Rob Deer came into the weekend with a league high 66 strikeouts (more than all but eight major-league pitchers), but the problem is not his eyes _ a recent exam showed he had 20-15 vision. "I imagine there are a lot of people around here who thought I was blind," Deer said. Detroit pitchers, meanwhile, are hardly striking out anyone. Walt Terrell, Bill Gullickson and Frank Tanana have combined to fan just 77 batters in 211 innings. Boston's Roger Clemens has struck out 83 in 85 innings.

Swinging Sammy: One of the season's quieter surprises has been the resurgence of Los Angeles' Juan Samuel, who is hitting .335 with six homers and 33 RBI. "He's been the most consistent player on the team," said manager Tommy Lasorda.

Power outage: The Red Sox continued to be puzzled by the lack of production from their supposed big hitters. Jack Clark and Ellis Burks through Friday have combined for 26 RBI, matching the production of noted run producers like Brian McRae and Devon White. Boston shortstops have struggled so much that there are rumors the team may try to reacquire Spike Owen. Things got so bad catcher Tony Pena wore his uniform inside out and shoes backward to shag flies Wednesday night, and the Sox still lost.

Worth noting: In 27 home games, those for-sale Houston Astros have had 11 crowds of less than 10,000.

They said it: California and ex-Yankee outfielder Luis Polonia, on the Bronx Bombers' penchant for bad trades: "The Yankees might be the dumbest team in baseball. They don't know what they have until they lose it." Philadelphia's John Kruk, following a 4-hour, 45-minute, 12-inning win over Atlanta: "I've been here since 1:30 this afternoon. I've got to see Lee Thomas. If I'm going to put in 12-hour days, I need more money."

Miscellany: Don't be surprised to see the Twins trade Kent Hrbek before Aug.

23, which is when he gains trade-veto power based on service time. The three AL pitchers named Guzman (Texas' Jose, Oakland's Johnny and Toronto's Juan) are not related. It looks less likely Phillies pitcher Ken Howell, originally slated for a June 1 return from surgery, will pitch this season. The A's accused White Sox pitchers of being headhunters, but Chicago pitchers have hit only 10 batters, and knuckle-baller Charlie Hough was responsible for six of them. Ramon Martinez's complete game Wednesday night was the first break for the Dodgers' weary bullpen since May 3. Watch for the Twins to make a run at first place. They have two hot pitchers _ Scott Erickson and Jack Morris _ and are in the midst of 20 games against the struggling Orioles, Yankees and Indians.


Fielders might relax when Detroit's Rob Deer comes to the plate. Why? There's a 50-50 chance he won't put the ball in play. Deer came into the weekend with the distinction of not hitting a fair ball in 103 of his 206 plate appearances (37 walks, 66 strikeouts). Some others who are nearly as ineffective:

Player, team PA W K No Fair

Rob Deer, Tigers 206 37 66 .500

Jack Clark, Red Sox 185 34 54 .476

Mark McGwire, A's 212 47 43 .425

Jose Canseco, A's 220 35 55 .419

Eric Davis, Reds 165 27 41 .412

Darryl Strawberry,LA 190 30 47 .405

Kevin Maas, Yankees 214 41 43 .393

Fred McGriff, Padres 232 38 52 .388

Jeff Bagwell, Astros 191 22 49 .372

Frank Thomas, Chisox 220 46 34 .364

Source: Dallas Morning News