Volume 92, Issue 99

Wednesday, April 7, 1999


SPORTS

Czechs squeak by Canada

An early look at the 1999 baseball season: American league

National league

Quick feet in the hall

Canada needs the national hockey team

An early look at the 1999 baseball season: American league



By Ian Ross
Gazette Staff



It may be as painful as razor blades and iodine to admit, but no one can beat the two-time defending champion New York Yankees.

Owner George Steinbrenner has proven money talks in baseball and his team should again slug, speed and pitch past the competition while getting a pedicure in between innings and a light massage during the seventh inning stretch. Their roster reads like a who's who of baseball superstars with households names like Roger Clemens, David Cone, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams. Losing more than 40 games could be considered a disappointing season for the Yankee brass.

The fight for the wild card slot will be a battle of the birds hidden in the shadows of the Yankees in the East division. The Baltimore Orioles landed a number of big names including Albert Belle, Delino DeShields and Will Clark. Unlike the Yankees, the philosophy of spend, spend and spend some more didn't help the Orioles in 1998 with the highest payroll and a fourth place finish. Why? No chemistry. Was it corrected? Not unless Albert Belle becomes the poster boy for the United Way and hell freezes over.

That leaves the Toronto Blue Jays in the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Another difference over the Orioles is leadership. Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green mirror the image of past captains Joe Carter and David Winfield. The exit of Tim Johnson and Roger Clemens and the entrance of Jim Fergosi proves Jay brass, in addition to the players, are committed to building cohesion.

The cellar will be a battle between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Boston played way above their ability last year and the Rays hold a mysterious quality with Jose Canseco basking in the Florida sun.

In the Central division, the Alomar brothers Roberto and Sandy should carry the load of the Cleveland Indians right to the top of the division with a supporting cast which is nothing to laugh at. An established roster includes 37 All-Star Game appearances and 18 Gold Gloves. The quality of the pitching staff is the only thing holding them under the Yankees for pure potential. The fifth straight division crown will be nice, but until the Indians can win a World Series they will always be mocked as has-beens. Who knows, maybe they will put the Yankees in their place.

The dark horse in this division may trot with white stockings. The Chicago White Sox bid farewell to Belle and Robin Ventura and said hello to a hot list of sophomore swingers. Shortstop Mike Caruso will lead the way with an all-star appearance after placing third in rookie-of-the-year ballots in 1998. It also doesn't hurt to have "The Big Hurt" Frank Thomas adding veteran leadership to the mix. The Detroit Tigers, the Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins all have something in common – they stink. They have few proven superstars, no identities and vacation plans also set for September. These cities may have a better chance of filling the stands with Backstreet Boys cover bands and Tonka toy tractor pulls.

The bash quartet for the Texas Rangers should smash their way to first place in the West division. Proven superstars Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and the underrated Lee Stevens each drove out more than 20 homers last season and should do the same this season. Lost in the Sammy Sosa/Mark McGwire drama last season was Gonzalez and his 157 runs batted in – a statistic which displays clutch hitting and team work not individual power. He won the most valuable player award last season and he will again.

No one can dispute the Seattle Mariners are not as big without their Big Randy Johnson. A new open air stadium should not rain on a decent season but the raw talent of this team may still not be enough to shine through for a division pennant over the lone star cowboys. Ken Griffey, Jay Buhner and Alex Rodriguez are household names but haven't proven for years they can win the big games. The California beach bums, the Anaheim Angels and Oakland A's, hold little regard for comment. The Angels have no pitching talent with journeyman Tim Belcher anchoring the staff and the A's hitters couldn't hit the side of a barn.





Predictions:


New York – East

Cleveland – Central

Texas – West

Toronto – Wild Card

M.V.P. – Juan Gonzalez

Cy Young – Rick Helling


To Contact The Sports Department:
gazette.sports@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1999