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Umps show willingness to adjust

Special to

January 13

A pre-spring training test of the Commissioner's Office's strike zone apparently was successful. "It was very encouraging in a number of ways," says Sandy Alderson, who flew to St. Petersburg Thursday to watch the test.

Eleven veteran umpires, including Bruce Froemming, Joe Brinkman, Angel Hernandez and Jim McKeon, drove in from as many as four hours away to participate in the experiment. Tape was placed on batters' uniforms designating what the Commissioner's Office hopes will be a uniform strike zone, and all the umpires worked on calling strikes.

Then the tape was removed. "The umpires worked hard to try to make the adjustments," says Alderson, "and the results were very encouraging."

What has been most encouraging to Alderson has been the avid enthusiasm of the veteran umpires in attempting to adhere to the attempts to standardize and raise the strike zone to its rule book definition. "Some of this group, like Froemming for instance, didn't have to make the effort Thursday, but they did," says Alderson. "It shows how much they care about their profession."

Alderson believes that there are a myriad of issues that spring from the strike zone. If the strike zone is returned to the inside corner and moved back up, Alderson says "if a Carl Everett is right up on top of the plate and can't get to the ball, then he'll have to back off. I only use him as an example. If hitters have to back off, there won't be as much need for all the extra equipment (a.k.a., armor). It should help the power pitchers, but I think it will help a lot of pitchers who don't throw as hard, because it will allow them to work up and down instead of one area."

Is Gonzo signing a steal for Indians?
Juan Gonzalez could be the signing bargain of the winter, and teamed with Ellis Burks makes the Indians deeper and more dangerous than they were last season, even without Manny Ramirez.

Juan Gonzalez
Cleveland is sure hoping Juan Gonzalez can pick up some of the offensive slack left by the departure of Manny Ramirez.

"Cleveland is one place that Juan should be happy at and succeed," says a Detroit official. "But there still are serious physical questions."

Indeed, the decision to complete the deal, even at less than $10 million for one year, wasn't unanimous through the Cleveland organization.

The club's physical revealed that at sometime or another the two-time MVP is going to need surgery, and that they have to hope that time isn't this season. Do they know for sure? No. Gonzalez has yet to swing a bat this winter, so the Indians will go into spring training with their fingers crossed.

Speaking of physicals, not only were the Rangers unable to insure the entire Alex Rodriguez contract, but they can't get any insurance on the knee he injured last summer in the collision with Alex Cora of the Dodgers. So should A-Rod suffer a knee injury in spring training, the Rangers aren't covered.

Toe isn't any fictional character
Several players at the Rookie Orientation program in Leesburg, Va. Friday asked if the Toe Nash story was some kind of Sidd Finch fiction. "Are you kidding?" Olympic hero and Brewers rookie pitcher Ben Sheets told several players. "I've known Toe Nash since he was about 10. He is a monster, and he's a natural because he's never really had any coaching. He is the biggest baseball player I've ever seen. If he walked into this place, he'd scare the daylights out of every one of you."

Devil Rays scout Benny Latino found Nash, but there's another Louisiana superman he wished hadn't gotten away from him. That is Antron Seiber, a great high school quarterback from Independence, La. the Red Sox took in the 1999 draft after Tampa Bay couldn't resist taking Carl Crawford in the second round when he slid.

"If he'd (Seiber) gone to LSU to play football -- which he was going to do, only he loves baseball -- Josh Booty wouldn't have been playing, because Antron Seiber is Michael Vick," says Latino. "He can absolutely fly. We worked him out and he ran a 6.38, 60 (yard dash).

"(Cross-checker) Stan Meeks thought his stopwatch must have malfunctioned. Seiber then ran a 6.29. He played for my summer team, and the first time he tried to bat lefty, he hit the ball out of the park. We didn't think anyone else knew about him, but Joe Mason of the Red Sox, who knew a coach in that town, did a great job in getting him because Antron Seiber can be a star."

And that isn't only Latino's opinion. "When I watched him," says Tampa Bay scouting director Dan Jennings, "all I could think of is Vick."

Players are one strong unit
One of the reasons the baseball players' union has been so successful is that the players who give their time to the union have been the most respected, as the last negotiations led by Tom Glavine, David Cone, Joe Girardi, B.J. Surhoff, et al showed.

This year's leadership carries on the tradition. Glavine has been re-elected the National League representative, with Milwaukee infielder Mark Loretta -- of the Northwestern pedigree -- the alternative. Texas' esteemed Rick Helling is the AL rep, with Detroit's Tony Clark the alternate. All of these guys are smart, responsible, dignified and none will start selling out their peers, as happened in the sad, greedy NBA negotiations.

Oh yes, a message to the owners: the players will remain unified, which everyone knows you won't be able to do.

This and that
  • The Mariners are still looking to move some of their excess pitching for a shortstop, third baseman and an outfielder, if possible. They had extensive talks with the Blue Jays, with their main target being Vernon Wells, not Jose Cruz, Jr. One of those many young pitchers that fascinates the Mariners, especially now that they're operating in a pitchers' park, is Greg Wooten, who had more wins (17) than walks (15) at Double-A New Haven.

  • The Devil Rays have been trying to get the M's -- or anyone, for that matter -- to take Vinny Castlla. Their feeling is that Aubrey Huff is ready to hit in the majors and has a chance to be "adequate" defensively at third base.

  • Even with the Johnny Damon trade, the Royals expect that Dee Brown will open the season in the minors, unless he comes into spring training hell-bent on winning a big-league job.

  • One of the winter's best events is the B.A.T. Dinner, which raises money for former players in need. It will be held on Jan. 23 at the Marriott Marquis in New York. This year's theme is honoring walk-off home run heroes such as Bobby Thomson, Carlton Fisk, Joe Carter, Chris Chambliss and Bill Mazeroski. This is, in fact, one very important cause.

  • Saturday morning opened the public sale of Red Sox tickets. It's 16 degrees in Boston. And those fans are wrapped for blocks around The Fens. Ticket sales again are through the roof, but they were significantly increased before the Red Sox signed Manny Ramirez, testament to Red Sox Nation and the impact the pure competitive souls of Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez have on the community.

    Average age of all the people out there hoping to get tickets -- approximately 25.

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  • Gammons: 2000 column archive
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