From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 10, 1998

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / August 10, 1998

Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa are racing the calendar inan effort to topple Roger Maris’ season home run record.

Last week a different race was going on in baseball, one that could have an impact on this season and on a number of teams’ futures. That race was tobeat the trading deadline of midnight on July 31.

Sure, teams can make trades after the dealines but in order to do so, they must place the players on waivers, risky proposition at best. All it takesis for one team to make a claim and the trade goes out the window. And doyou think teams like the Yankees, Indians, Rangers, Braves or Cubs were going to let other contenders improve themselves? Instead, there was a flurry of trades made in the days before the deadline.

And the heart of most of the trades was pitching, a rare and valuable commodity in the major leagues today.

Los Angeles acquired left hander Carlos Perez and shortstop Mark Grudzielanek for promising second baseman Wilton Guerrero and others.

Boston got help for its bullpen by acquring left hander Greg Swindell from Minnesota for prospects.

Three other teams in the playoff hunt, Texas, Baltimore and Milwaukee, shored up their pitching staffs. The Rangers with Todd Stottlemyre,Baltimore with Juan Guzman and Mil-waukee with Bill Pulsipher.

Of course, the granddaddy of the trades was the last to be made. In asurprise deal, Houston got left hander Randy Johnson, the 1995 Cy Young winner, from Seattle in exchange for shortstop prospect Carlos Guillen, pitcher Freddy Garcia and a player to be named precisely at midnight.

Johnson had been on the blocks for months but the Astros were never considered to be a contender for his services. Houston gave up at least twopromising prospects but got one of the most dominating pitchers in the game when he is on. Johnson showed why the Astros acquired him Sunday,striking out 12 in a victory over the Pirates. Houston is looking to hold offChicago in the National League Central and also will need a pitcher of Johnson’s caliber when they face either Atlanta or San Diego in the playoffs.

Ironically, the teams with the best records in baseball, New York Yankees, Atlanta, Cleveland and San Diego did not make any trades Friday. Thoseteam may be the best off in the future. There is an old adage in baseballthat the best trades are those you don’t make. Two examples over the lastdecade seem to bear out that adage. Boston traded Jeff Bagwell to Houstonfor Larry Anderson and Detroit dealt John Smoltz to Atlanta in exchange for Doyle Alexander to help them in pennant races, sacrificing future all- stars for the present. Then again, St. Louis did receive McGwire in a last-minute deal last season.

The wild card had a lot to do with the flurry of trades. Teams like Boston,Baltimore, San Francisco and Los Angeles, all of which trail in their respective divisions by double-digit margins, would probably not have made the trades they did if the wild card did not allow them to remain in the playoff chase. Chalk one up for the decision to expand the playoffs.The wild card races, the home run chase and the flurry of trades are keeping baseball in the headlines at a time when the NBA is struggling through a lockout. Quite a change from the situation four years ago thisweek when the roles were changed. Baseball is finding ways to help healthe wounds caused in 1994 although there is still a ways to go. If the NBAplayers and owners do not find a way to reach an agreement soon, they too will cause rifts between themselves and their fans that may take years to overcome.

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