Sunday, September 17, 2000

National League Insider


Francona gets good word from

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The timing of this item is fascinating.Monday, the day after Indiana University fired Bob Knight, Philadelphia Phillies manager Terry Francona returned from a road trip and found a letter from the deposed men's basketball coach.

        In the note, as related by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Knight praised Francona for raising his 15-year-old son, Nick, with such good manners.

        This story began during the summer when Nick was with his sister's traveling softball team in Bloomington, Ind. Nick saw Knight at a restaurant and introduced himself. Hearing about this later, Francona was dismayed, since he knew how celebrities hate being interrupted while eating. So Francona wrote Knight a letter of apology, which obviously prompted a response.

        Knight was guilty of one minor lapse. The letter began, “Dear Tony.”But it concluded with a typical Knight barb. “Tell Rolen he still doesn't have an outside game,” Knight advised Francona. That was a reference to Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen, who was a high school basketball star in Jasper, Ind.

        BAGS OF RUNS: By one of the most basic measures of offensive excellence — scoring runs — Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell has asserted himself as one of history's most productive players, according to the Elias Sports Bureau and Astros communications manager Todd Fedewa.

        Entering Saturday, Bagwell had scored 517 runs since 1997, the most in a four-year span since Boston's Ted Williams had 541 from 1946-1949. Bagwell's four-year total is the third-highest ever among National Leaguers, behind Philadelphia's Chuck Klein (557, 1929-32; 532, 1930-33).

        Bagwell rises to No. 2 behind Klein with a three-year total of 408 runs since 1998.

        UNIT'S MEASURE: Randy Johnson is going to the Hall of Fame. When he gets there, his plaque ought to be installed alongside Nolan Ryan's.

        Johnson, the Diamondbacks' incomparable left-hander, passed the 3,000-strikeout plateau last week, virtually assuring him Hall induction after he retires. He owes his success to Ryan, the strikeout king who pointed out a mechanical flaw of Johnson's in 1992 that turned the once-erratic “Big Unit” into the most overpowering pitcher of this era.

        All Ryan and then-Texas Rangers pitching coach Tom House told Johnson was that he was landing on the heel of his right foot, thus losing his balance and a consistent release point on his delivery.

        “They told me to fall on the ball of my foot,” Johnson said. “I would definitely say that he (Ryan) was instrumental in my success. I owe a great deal of gratitude to him for taking the time. What would I be if they hadn't done that? I don't know.”

        PIERRE'S PICKS: Colorado Rockies rookie outfielder Juan Pierre has a healthy respect for those who came before him. This shows in his habit of introducing himself to players he admired as a youth, such as Eric Davis, Bobby Bonilla and Devon White.

        So when the Rockies played San Diego recently, Pierre had no doubt he was going to visit Tony Gwynn, the Padres' eight-time batting champion.

        “Oh, yeah, I looked up to him growing up,” Pierre told The Denver Post. “It was an honor to meet him.”

        Said Rockies hitting coach Toby Harrah, “I like that the kid did that. That doesn't happen too much anymore where the kid introduces himself to a veteran. Believe me, the veteran guys appreciate that. It shows respect.”

        POOR PADRES: Boy, are the San Diego Padres in trouble.

        The $20 million cash call on ownership the Padres needed to meet expenses heightened the reality of their dire situation. To succeed, their new ballpark, due to open in July 2002, must become a license to print money, as many other freshly minted stadiums have been. But San Diego also must trim payroll and hope baseball's proposed reforms of the labor agreement and implementation of a revenue-sharing program provide some relief.

        The Padres' $50 million payroll, which isn't much to begin with, might have to be cut to $40 million-$43 million next season. This means that second baseman Bret Boone, the former Red who has a $4 million option for next year, probably won't be invited back. Even Gwynn, a San Diego icon, might have to accept a $2 million buyout instead of receiving a $6 million contract.

        QUICK PITCHES: Since Mike Piazza was on the cover of the Aug. 16 issue of Sports Illustrated, his New York Mets have posted a 13-15 record while he has gone 7-for-41 with two home runs and three RBI. “I can't explain how frustrating this game can be,” Piazza told the Bergen Record.

        • Since the July 26 trade that brought him from the Chicago Cubs back to his original team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, right-hander Ismael Valdes is 0-3 with a 6.08 ERA. Just think, the Reds wanted this guy at one point. They should be able to sign him this offseason as a free agent, because nobody else will want him.

        • Who said this? “If I were a paying customer, I'd be frustrated and upset we're not playing better.” That was Giants general manager Brian Sabean, talking to San Francisco beat writers in late May. My, how things have changed.

       



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