Sunday, August 13, 2000


D'backs' Showalter could be in jeopardy

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Arizona Diamondbacks won 100 games last year while capturing the NL West. They led the division through most of this season and, despite their recent doldrums, began Saturday only two games behind first-place San Francisco. More success remains very much within Arizona's reach.

        Yet the scuttlebutt around baseball is that Arizona manager Buck Showalter's job is in jeopardy.

        The issue materialized Tuesday when an Arizona Republic columnist suggested that Showalter should be fired if the Diamondbacks are to have any chance of passing the Giants. His plethora of rules, ranging from the proper way to wear socks from the right way to dress on team flights, was said to be stifling players.

        Diamondbacks insiders have said players aren't the only ones upset with Showalter. He also apparently has alienated club employees who work outside of baseball operations — but who happen to be close to chief executive officer Jerry Colangelo.

        Though Colangelo gave no indication that Showalter faced trouble, he stopped short of declaring no change would be made through the rest of the season.

        “If I felt there was a requirement to do something, I would have done it,” Colangelo said. “Buck was hired to do a job. He's done his job to the best of his ability, and we've had a lot of success under his management. This year has been marred by all kinds of adversity as far as I'm concerned — in terms of injuries and so on — which have really taken its toll. I would say that he has done a very good job.”

        But Colangelo said the landscape around the Diamondbacks has become a little rougher.

        “The thing that is noticeable is it hasn't been as much fun as we had a year ago,” Colangelo said. “We had one of those years where everything was fantastic. Because we've had the adversity, the atmosphere hasn't been quite the same.”

        FRANCO-PHILE: Right-hander Armando Benitez has flourished as the New York Mets' closer, largely because he has received help from John Franco, who preceded him in that role.

        “He sees what I need,” said Benitez, who converted 12 of his last 13 save opportunities as the weekend began. “If I don't know something about a hitter, I'll go to him and he'll help me. He tells me what I need to know.”

        That sounds like the kind of job a pitching coach should perform. But the Mets' Dave Wallace freely admitted he lacks the kind of rapport Franco en joys with Benitez. For example, Wallace told Benitez he needed to change speeds. But Benitez didn't heed the advice until Franco suggested it.

        “None of us on the coaching staff could do it,” Wallace said. “For Johnny to take Armando under his wing and help him through the transition of being The Guy ... I don't know how to describe it. It's something you have to see first-hand.”

        Franco, a former Red, downplayed his impact on Benitez's success.

        “With some of the hitters he doesn't know that well, you just try to remind him what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Franco said. “Let's face it. When you throw as hard as he does, not too many guys are going to catch up to it. His ability just carries itself.”

        WALKING PAPERS: The Colorado Rockies have made 11 roster changes since July 16, leaving every player feeling as if he's vulnerable to being traded.

        A notable exception is outfielder Larry Walker, whose contract gives him veto power over any deal.

        Asked if he would agree to a trade, Walker demurred.

        “I won't answer the question until I get it from (general manager) Dan O'Dowd,” Walker said. “It's my job to play. That's all I can do. If they want to trade me, then we'll talk about it. But in no way am I saying I want to be traded.” Walker has been regarded as one of baseball's most indispensable players. Yet, entering Saturday, the Rockies were 25-13 in games he didn't start and were 31-45 when he did.

        To afford the powerful cleanup hitter the Rockies need, O'Dowd might have to part with Walker, who's owed $12.5 million a year through 2005.

        “I haven't explored that as a possibility,” O'Dowd said. “Nothing's impossible in this game, but if that ever did become something we would consider in the future, that would be something I would keep between Larry and myself.”

        SECRET WEAPON: Maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers should consider keeping Darren Dreifort busy on days he doesn't pitch. The right-hander, who's 5-0 with a 2.67 ERA since the All-Star break, made more news with his bat than with his right arm Tuesday when he slugged a pair of homers in a victory over Chicago.

        “I love hitting and I take a lot of pride in it, but that's not my job,” Dreifort said. “We would have won without it.”

        Some teammates think Dreifort ought to consider moonlighting.

        “I don't know why we don't use him in pinch-hit situations,” infielder Mark Grudzielanek said.

        TIME FOR A CHANGE: Not entirely satisfied with Damian Jackson as their shortstop, the San Diego Padres obtained Desi Relaford from Philadelphia for the sportswriting community's favorite player, utilityman David Newhan. His father is Ross Newhan, the Los Angeles Times' respected national baseball writer.

        The Padres had no illusions about Relaford and his 24 errors. “We're taking a chance,” said Fred Uhlman Jr., San Diego's assistant general manager. “We think he's a better player than he was in Philadelphia.”


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