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Rookies Make Piniella Age In A Hurry Mariners Manager Begins To Wonder If He’s Given Too Many Rookies Chances

No teenager trusts anyone over the age of 30. And when a man reaches middle age - especially if he is a baseball manager - he begins to distrust the young.

Rookies, Sparky Anderson once said, accounted for four out of five gray hairs on his head. Since joining the Mariners, Lou Piniella has seen too many white whiskers show up in his 5 o’clock shadow. And he has begun to wonder if rookies have put them there.

“Look at the most successful teams this season - Cleveland, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati - and you’ll see most of them are veteran teams,” Piniella said. “I like kids. Look at my record in New York, in Cincinnati, here in Seattle. I give kids the chance to win jobs.”

Piniella ran a hand over his face as if counting the gray whiskers.

“But I’m beginning to see why a lot of managers don’t play rookies,” he said. “How many have we played here in my three seasons? How many kids have we given chances? And how many have stuck. God Almighty, they’re killing me.”

By the numbers, Piniella has auditioned the best of the players who were in the farm system the day he arrived, in spring training and the regular season.

His first year in Seattle, the Mariners used 18 rookies in games that counted. The next season, 1994, he ran 16 through the big-league team - eight of them for the first time. And this season, in the Mariners’ first 59 games, Piniella has used seven rookies, letting four make their majorleague debut.

In all, 30 rookies in Piniella’s first 333 games as Mariners manager. How many have stuck? Well, that’s not a simple answer.

Rich Amaral has. And Bill Risley. On the current 25-man roster, the Mariners have four rookies: Chris Widger, Rafael Carmona, Ron Villone and Bob Wells. None has produced consistently. None is assured a spot on the roster in a month.

Bret Boone is an everyday player in Cincinnati. Mike Hampton is a member of the Houston rotation. Lee Tinsley is Boston’s center fielder. Fernando Vina is a reserve in Milwaukee. Bill Haselman is a backup catcher in Boston. All were Mariners rookies under Piniella.

So the Mariners system has produced, in the Piniella era, a little more than a handful of rookies who have stayed in the big leagues, though only two are regulars.

The most glaring deficiency has been pitching. In three years, Piniella has used 17 rookie pitchers. Only one, reliever Risley, has become a significant part of the staff - and he was acquired on waivers from Montreal, not brought up through the Seattle farm system.

The other 16: Jim Converse, John Cummings, Hampton, Brad Holman, Kevin King, Erik Plantenberg, Roger Salkeld, Zak Shinall, Dave Wainhouse, Jeff Darwin, Tim Davis, George Glinatsis, Wells, Carmona, Villone and Tim Harikkala.

The rookie position players: Amaral, Boone, Haselman, Chris Howard, Marc Newfield, Greg Pirkl, Tinsley, Brian Turang, Vina, Darren Bragg, Quinn Mack, Alex Rodriguez and Widger.

Looking ahead, the Mariners know Rodriguez is their shortstop of the future. Amaral has earned his job as a utility man. Risley will stay in the Seattle bullpen.

Other than that, there are no certainties. The combustible combination of Piniella’s impatience and the persistent struggles of Villone, Newfield, Bragg, Pirkl, Converse and Davis make their futures a tough read.

There was talent in the system when Piniella arrived, but not one pitcher in the batch he inherited has produced in a Mariners uniform. To date, Piniella’s search for a No. 5 starting pitcher has yielded only more gray hair.

Trading Boone helped get Bobby Ayala and Dan Wilson. But for all the effort to inject youth into the Mariners’ movement, only two rookies in Piniella’s career here - Amaral and Risley - have stuck.

Risley came from somewhere else and Amaral was 31 years old in Piniella’s first season in Seattle, hardly the stereotypical rookie.

For a small-market team that can’t often compete in the free-agent market for talent, that’s a stunning lack of production.

It’s enough to give anyone a saltand-pepper beard.

N.Y. state of mind

The floundering New York Mets may hold a garage sale soon and among the bargains available will be high-salaried veterans like Bret Saberhagen, John Franco and Bobby Bonilla.

With a big enough checkbook, a team might still be able to buy a pennant.

“If we don’t start winning, we’re going to be the first guys out of here,” Franco said. “It’s not a secret. We’re the highest-paid players on the team. They would dump us in a heartbeat.”

“I want to win,” Saberhagen said. “I love New York. I have a home there. But I don’t want to be miserable. I’d rather be happy someplace else.”

Miserable? Think of his employers. Saberhagen gets $4.05 million this season, $4.3 million in 1996 - then $250,000 per year for 25 years beginning in 2004.

The bill for damages

When Colorado’s Andres Galarraga hit three home runs in a game at San Diego last week - and hit them a combined 1,298 feet - even the Padres were awed by the display.

“We’re sending him a bill for destroying the stadium,” catcher Brad Ausmus said.

Galarraga’s third homer landed in the second deck in left field at Jack Murphy Stadium - after it struck a guide wire.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bip Roberts said. “If it didn’t hit the wire, there’s no telling how far it would’ve gone.”

Added teammate Eddie Williams: “That last one went 480-490 feet. It hit the wire? Say 500 feet then.”

Around the majors

Atlanta is about to give up on the grand Aussie experiment. Glenn Williams, a shortstop from Down Under signed to an $800,000 bonus deal, hasn’t hit .200 yet in two different Class A leagues in the last two seasons.

Baltimore’s Curtis Goodwin has become the Orioles’ win-loss barometer since arriving. The team is 8-2 in games in which he steals a base, 5-11 when he doesn’t.

In his first three starts, Boston rookie Vaughn Eshelman pitched 18 innings, went 3-0 and had a 1.45 ERA. In his last five starts, he pitched 18 innings, went 0-2 and had a 10.72 ERA.

Cubs first baseman Mark Grace began the weekend leading the National League in doubles, but insists that’s hardly an indication of speed. “I’ve run a few triples into doubles this year,” Grace said.

After Cleveland swept a series with Kansas City, Royals third baseman Gary Gaetti was asked to assess the Central Division race. “If the Indians play like that, it’s a nobrainer,” Gaetti said. “They have too much talent to be caught.”

Andre Dawson batted .340 with four home runs and 12 RBIs on the Marlins’ recent 12-game road swing.

San Francisco’s Matt Williams is hitting in the batting cage again and will have pins removed from his broken right foot, but the Giants don’t expect him back for another two weeks.

Cincinnati GM Jim Bowden is pushing for a rule that would allow each team to ask umpires to consult instant replay once each game - reviewing any call except a ball-strike call.

Last Tuesday, the Seattle Mariners drew a crowd of 9,767 fans. A night earlier, the Dodgers had walk-up ticket sales of 12,129. The Dodgers had won one more game than Seattle.

Up there with Bo Jackson

Former Mariner and now Boston reserve catcher Bill Haselman won a game last week with an 11th-inning homer - hitting it out despite shattering the barrel of his bat on contact.

“I don’t know how the ball went that far. I didn’t even feel it,” Haselman said. “All I felt was my bat.”

He wasn’t alone in his astonishment.

Jose Canseco: “Amazing. Awesome. I’ve never seen that in my life.”

Mike Macfarlane: “I saw Bo Jackson do it one time. Bo’s a freak of nature, but Haselman? We’ve got to put him up there now, too.”

Tags: baseball