Originally created 04/12/98

Baseball notes: White, umpire Hernandez feudin', fussin', not yet fightin'



In Devon White's three years in the National League, one man consistently has gotten him out: umpire Angel Hernandez. White has been ejected from three NL games, all by Hernandez, who completed the hat trick after calling White out on strikes in the first inning last Friday night.

"Every time he's behind the plate, I'm not going to get a good pitch because he will call anything (a strike)," White said. "This has been going on for three years."

White, a 13-year veteran, said all of his run-ins with Hernandez have been as a result of called strikes.

"The first time, he went at me like he was going to kick my butt," White said. "I don't stand for that. It hasn't been a good relationship. I think he definitely has a vendetta. (NL president) Leonard Coleman should look at the situation. Three years in a row, the same two guys are going at it. Something's got to be wrong. They should find out what's going on."

Hernandez, 26, a native of Havana, is the third-youngest umpire in the major leagues.

"Somebody should police them closely," White said. "We get sent down if we don't perform. They can't be fired. That's not fair. They have to have some kind of system. I feel I shouldn't be fined. I feel he should be fined."

GUILLEN KNOWS ROLE: Ozzie Guillen has started at shortstop for the Orioles just once in the first seven games of the season, but he knows the score. Mike Bordick is the guy, even though he is not hitting. Guillen is a utilityman, even though he was once one of the top shortstops in the game.

"I always believed that every day the manager is going to go with the best lineup he can have that day to win the game," Guillen said. "He picked me (Thursday), he might not pick me the next 10 days. I want to play, of course, but I know my role here."

Guillen had started every Opening Day during his 13 seasons with the Chicago White Sox. That streak ended when he signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles and went to camp in Fort Lauderdale trying to win a spot on the 25-man roster as a second utility player.

VAUGHN CONSISTENT: About the only Red Sox player hitting with any consistency is Mo Vaughn. Take Vaughn's 11-for-29 start out of the equation and Boston's .227 team average for the first seven games would be down to .207. The Sox have a glaring weakness against left-handed pitching, having failed to replace Tim Naehring, Mike Stanley, Wilfredo Cordero and Jeff Frye, all effective right-handed hitters last season.

They are grooming Dodgers castoff Billy Ashley at Class AAA Pawtucket as a possible solution.

HAPLESS WHITE SOX: It was B.B. King who sat down and came up with "Nobody loves me but my mama, and she could be jivin', too." That about fits the hapless White Sox.

While they won their home opener against Texas on Monday, the game was significant because it spoke volumes regarding the public perception of the Sox in the post-White Flag trade era. Only 25,358 attended the afternoon game, the lowest attendance for a Sox opener since 1975. The weather was fine, sunny and 52 degrees, yet the Sox drew far fewer than the Chicago Fire had in their inaugural Major League Soccer game at Soldier Field last Saturday (36,444).

It's simply a sign of how far Jerry Reinsdorf's team has fallen in the eyes of their fans. After all, the Sox admit to having only about 10,000 season tickets -- a drop of almost 20 percent from the year before. But there was an odd thing about the opener. It was scheduled head-to-head with a Mets-Cubs game at Wrigley Field. The Sox game started at 1:05; the Cubs game at 1:20 (and drew only 12,506).

"I felt like we were going head-to-head with the Cubs, and that's not good," Frank Thomas said. "We definitely should have had our Opening Day. They were allowed to have theirs."

Reinsdorf was steamed -- because the NL would not adjust the Cubs' schedule the Sox's only options were to play a night game or schedule the opener for Tuesday, foregoing the traditional off day as rainout insurance -- but declined to get into a shouting match.

"I don't understand it, but I don't think I should be talking about it," Reinsdorf said. "The important thing is we won and our young players came through."

CUBS BACK: A year ago, it took the Cubs until April 29 to win their sixth game. They got there April 6 this year, winning six of their first seven, then won their seventh game Thursday, way ahead of last year's pace when their seventh win didn't come until May 3.

After losing on Opening Day in Florida, they put together a six-game winning streak against Florida and Montreal. That was one game longer than their longest winning streak of last year.

Of course, it's early.

"You can't say, `We're 6-1, let's start buying World Series tickets," Rod Beck said. "That's ridiculous."

One more comparison to 1997. It took six games for the Cubs to score more runs (40) than they did during their 0-14 start last year (36).

HARNISCH RETURNS: Pete Harnisch returned to the spot of his 1997 demise Tuesday, San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, and stomped on any demons that were still hanging around. As last season's Opening Day starter for the Mets, Harnisch had allowed three consecutive home runs in the sixth inning in San Diego and soon after left the team to deal with his depression, anxiety and insomnia problems, which ruined his entire season.

But Tuesday, again in San Diego's home opener, Harnisch pitched a gem, going eight scoreless innings and leaving with a 2-0 lead. Closer Jeff Shaw, however, blew it in the ninth and the Reds lost 3-2 in the 10th.

"That was a freaky thing," Harnisch said of the 1997 collapse. "But no, there was no comparison to last year ... I don't want to rehash what happened last year."

LARKIN GIVES REDS BOOST: Barry Larkin returned to the Reds lineup Tuesday for the first time since August 31 of last year. Larkin had season-ending Achilles surgery last September and missed the Reds' first six games this year after having neck surgery in March.

It's a huge boost for a club with inconsistent bats. Larkin attributed his quick comeback to a rigorous practice routine.

"I practice harder than I play, so the game's easier," he said. "The only difference is there's more adrenaline in the game. Because I practice hard, I don't have the soreness I might have. I wouldn't say there's any rust."

WALKER'S POWER DOWN: As part of their home-opener ceremonies at Coors Field on Tuesday, the Rockies presented Larry Walker with a Harley and a Rolex for winning the 1997 NL MVP award. Then Walker put together a three-hit game that raised his batting average to .360. Everything sounds peachy, right? Not exactly. While Walker's batting average is on pace with last season, his power has diminished as he tries to recover from Jan. 13 arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. Through six games last season, Walker had six homers. Through eight games this season, Walker still was sitting on a goose egg, and the closest he has come to leaving the yard was a double off the wall Tuesday.

Nobody expects Walker to match last year's totals of .366, 49 homers and 120 RBI, but the production will fall way short if Walker can't duplicate his games-played total of 153. So far, he has stayed in the lineup and been little more than a singles hitter, but the pain is taking its toll physically as well as mentally.

"I'm quite conscious that there were times in Houston when I swung and missed, and on the follow-through I could feel a twinge in my elbow," Walker said. "So in the back of my mind I feel like I can't swing and miss. It would be really cool if I could swing and never miss."

GIBSON MOUTHS OFF: Fox Sports Detroit broadcaster Kirk Gibson spent a lot of time railing on Wade Boggs recently. Said Gibson, "He never did anything, he's not a team player. His only claim to fame is he got a walk with the bases loaded to win a World Series game."

Ouch.

Says Boggs: "Well, if that's all I've done in baseball, I've got a World Series ring out of it and I'm very proud of it. I've had criticism all my career. Won five batting titles."

Apparently Gibson and Boggs got into a scuffle years ago, and Gibson is very vocal in describing his contempt of Boggs. One thing he has done on local talk radio is rip Boggs' pursuit of 3,000 hits, saying Boggs is a selfish player and not interested in team goals. Gibson has also called Boggs a loser.

"It's a driving force rather than a goal," Boggs said of going for 3,000 hits. "It's something I'm looking forward to and I'll be glad when it comes."

RECORD LOSSES: Wednesday's 9-5 loss to the Phillies was the Marlins' eighth loss in a row, setting a new team record. Their 1-8 start was the worst in team history and until beating the Brewers Thursday, they had not won in April (they won the opener March 31). Statisticians are working frantically to determine if a defending World Series champ has ever been eliminated before Memorial Day.

But really, to call the Marlins the defending World Series champs is to lie. That title is vacant. The only thing the Marlins have been defending so far is their sloppy play and their utterly disastrous pitching. But after Wednesday's loss, they weren't even doing that anymore.