OBSERVATIONS: The Positive Transition Of Michael Lorenzen

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave wondering if I believe what Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell said after getting swept in Seattle: “Three losses doesn’t define ouur team.”

—FIRST IMPRESSIONS: When Michael Lorenzen played for the Cincinnati Reds as a No. 1 draft pick, they couldn’t make up their minds what to do with his ultra-athleticism: starting pitcher, relief pitcher, outfielder or pinch-hitter. They tried all four, then let him go as a free agent.

After making the All-Star team with the Detroit Tigers last season, he was a free agent again when his season ended with the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent all winter seeking employment and there were not takers.

Finally, a week before the season began, the Texas Rangers signed him to a one-year $4.5 million deal, even though he had to start on the injured list with a neck problem.

He came off the IL late last week to face his old team, the Tigers, and pitched five scoreless three-hit innings in a 1-0 win.

That was a poor first-game performance for him. When the Tiger traded him to the Phillie last August, Lorenzen’s debut in the City of Brotherly Love was a no-hitter.

When Lorenzen was with the Reds, he was the first player to arrive every morning during spring training. He sat in front of his locker each morning reading the Bible.

I asked him about it one morning and he gave me the fabulous story about his life, how as a teen-ager he skipped school and sat at the end of a pier smoking marijuana. A stranger turned him on to the Bible, turning his life around.

Speaking of the Bible, another Reds pitcher, Chris Hammond, read it and studied it in front his locker. . .every day. One day, as Hammond sat with the Bible in his lap, fellow pitcher Kent Mercker walked by and said, “Haven’t you finished that book yet?”

—CARL & WHITEY: It somehow seems fitting that 97-year-old Carl Erskine passed away one day after Jackie Robinson Day on Tuesday. Erskine was one of Robinson’s staunchest supporters when he joined the Dodgers as MLB’s first black player. And Erskine continued to fight for human rights his entire life.

Erskine was the last survivor to have played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in Ebbets Field. And what a pitcher he was — two no-hitters, pitched in five World Series, including a complete-game 14-strikeout performance against the New York Yankees in the 1953 World Series.

Unfortunately, Whitey Herzog, a former player and more noteworthy of a manager, also died this week at 92. He told this story about Carl Erskine and Casey Stengel.

“One time in spring training, we had the hit-and-run on, and Carl Erskine threw me a curve and I struck out into a double play,” said Herzog. “I came back to the bench and manager Casey
Stengel said, ‘Next time, tra-la-la.’

“ I didn’t know what tra-la-la meant, but next time up I hit a line driv right into a double play. When I sat down, Casey came over and said, ‘Like I told you, tra-la-la.’”
And so, we lose two more baseball legends and the ranks get thinner and thinner and thinner
—HUNTING THE HUNTER: On Hunter Greene. . .what to do, what to do? The Reds foolishly rushed to judgement on Greene by quickly signing him to a six-year $53 million deal with a $2 million signing bonus.

It was premature and unnecesary. So far in 50 starts Greene is 9-21 with a 4.60 earned run average. True, the Reds seem to hibernate their bats when he pitches, but right now Greene has too many problems.

He seldom goes more than four or five innings for two reasons — his strikeouts push up his pitch-count and his lack of command pushes up his pitch-count.

His fastball has no movement, is as straight as a supreme court judge, and he is constantly tinkering with new pitches.

The solution? How about the bullpen for an inning or two at a time. It is clear that if he has future success it is as a closer, not a starter.

—BIRTH OF THE BRM: Has anybody really traced the genesis of The Big Red Machine? Manager Sparky Anderson once did and he did it for my great friend and former outstanding columnist for the Tampa Tribune during spring training years after the BRM was disassembled.

“Nobody has ever written this about the 1970 team being the only club I’ve heard of that broke camp with eight pure rookies,” he said. “People just want to talk about The Big Red Machine. But the Machine started with that team (1970).”

That story and this next one resurfaced in Rick Vaughn’s book, ‘Tampa Spring Training Tales.”

The embryonic Big Red Machine finished under .500 in 1971, so Anderson and general manager Bob Howsam sent an unheard of eight major leaguers to the Florida Instructional League after the season, including catcher Johnny Bench.

—NOT SO GREAT EIGHT: After the Cincinnati Reds swept the Chicago White Sox in a three-game series, outscoring them 27-5, the Chisox were 2-and-14 with a .196 team battiing average.

It prompted former Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles sports columnist Mike Downey to come up with a line I wish I had thought up.

“The Chicago White Sox truly are eight men out,” he said. Touche.

—PETE AND REPEAT: Pete Rose celebrated his birthday last week, but it was always like getting a birthday present for writers when they interviewed him. Open notebook, poise pen, begin scribbling fast and he’ll fill it for you.

So here are some of the things he said to me over the years other than the obvious two: “I’d run through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball” and, “Don Gullett could throw a baseball through a car wash and not get it wet.”

And there were these:

“What is it they say about money can’t be happiness? If it could, I’d buy four hits a game.”

And. . .
“Doctors tell me I have the body of a 30-year-old. I know I have the brain of a 15-year-old. If you’ve got both you can play baseball.”

And. . .

“There are many reasons why I slide head first and one of them is that I get my picture in the paper.”

And. . .

“With the money I’m making, I should play two positions at the same time.”

—PLAYLIST NO. 43: And I’ll bet you don’t know or remember a few of these:

My My, Hey, Hey (Neil Young), Earth Angel (The Penguins), After All These Years (Journey), Leader Of The Band (Dan Fogelberg), Hit The Road, Jack (Ray Charles), I Can’t Help Myself (The Four Tops), Lonesome Loser (Little River Band).

In Case You Didn’t Know (Brett Young), Play That Song (Train), The Traveler (Akron River Band), All These Years (Sawyer Brown), Two Tickets To Paradise (Eddie Money), I Wonder Why (Dion & The Belmonts), No Time (The Guess Who), Forever My Darling (Aaron Neville).

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