ATLANTA -- Kerry Ligtenberg will observe his one-year anniversary in the major leagues Aug. 12, but his celebration will be somewhat tempered by his lack of acceptance by the player's union.
Ligtenberg, who pitched in two or three games as a replacement player while in Seattle's minor league camp in 1995, is considered a scab by the union. By refusing to allow him to join, the union has cost him about $30,000 in licensing money.
"I'm not making a big deal out of it," Ligtenberg said. "They have to do what they think is right. At the time I didn't know what I was doing. I wasn't out to take anybody's job. I was fighting to make an `A' ball team. Everybody has been understanding here. I don't want any problem regarding that whole situation."
Ligtenberg wasn't in the Mariners' camp for long. He hurt his shoulder and was released, then returned to Minnesota and pitched for Greg Olson's Minneapolis Loons in the independent Prairie League during the summer of 1995. Two years later he was in the big leagues and this season he's claimed the job as the Braves' closer, though so far the union has refused to recognize him.
"Kerry is a great guy and I don't hold any ill feeling toward him," said Tom Glavine, the club's player representative. "I don't really think what he did had much impact on the strike, but you still have to categorize those guys the same way. It's unfortunate that an insignificant act on his part has lumped him in with everybody else. As much as you say, what was the big deal and how long are you going to hang on, you've got to be sensitive to guys who didn't (cross the picket line). You've got to figure out the best way to (allow Ligtenberg to join) without rubbing your own membership the wrong way."
Ligtenberg has taken the first step by meeting with union officials last winter and telling his side of the story. He says the officials were sympathetic and indicated his case was unique. Glavine has also helped by allowing him to sit in on clubhouse meetings discussing union business.
Still, the union has not forgiven or forgotten players who they branded replacement big leaguers, though in Ligtenberg's case, that certainly is an inaccurate description.
"Sure, I'd like to be in the union," he said. "But the big thing to me is being here and getting an opportunity to play. The money doesn't concern me much, that's not why I play."
Michael Tucker is no stranger to slumps, having endured a lengthy spell last season that dragged his average from above .300 into the .270 range, but his current slide still ranks as canyon-sized.
The right fielder was hitless in seven at-bats during the weekend series against the Cardinals and has seven hits in his last 54 at-bats, dropping his average to a season-low .253. Through it all, he has maintained the same work habits, spending more time in the indoor batting cages than any other hitter.
"I figure to swing enough to get all the bad swings out," he said. "There's got to be some good ones there, I've just got to find them."
Tucker's slump has left manager Bobby Cox puzzled. There's no flaw in his swing that he can spot, no major mechanical adjustment to make, so why isn't he hitting?
"He's got too good of a swing not to be hitting," Cox said. "He does a lot of things great for not having much success lately. He could hit .300 standing on top of his head for me."
Tucker hasn't tried that yet, though it seems he's tried everything else from adjustments in his stance to moving closer to the plate. So far, nothing has worked.
"I know (slumps) come around every so often and everybody has them," he said. "Some people come out of them faster. Look at Tony Gwynn. He had never gone through an 0-for-20 streak before. It happens."
Unable to acquire a left-handed reliever by last Friday's trading deadline, the Braves may find one in their own organization. The club promoted left-handers Bruce Chen and Odaliz Perez from Class AA Greenville to Class AAA Richmond on Tuesday, though a passport snafu has caused Chen to remain behind in Greenville to make his next start.
"You want to see consistency with any of them and there had been with them," said Deric Ladnier, Atlanta's director of minor league operations. "It was time to do it. It's going to be quite a challenge for both of them now. It's up to them to show they can compete at the next level."
Chen, 12-7 with a 3.31 and 156 strikeouts in 133 1/3 innings, will remain a starter. Perez, who was 6-5 with a 4.02 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 132 innings, will go to the bullpen.
Cox indicated the club will closely monitor their work over the next several weeks, then make a decision whether either pitcher should be promoted to the major league roster by Aug. 31, making him eligible for the postseason.
"Maybe, we'll see," Cox said. "We'll see how they do. It's nothing big right now, but there's always a chance to be called up."
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