Baseball: Aussie dandy for Yankees: Import makes a dream start in the major league

HIS name is Hutton, as in Sir Len, he stands 6ft 6in and throws a ball at 97mph, and his local pub as a teenager in West Lakes, a suburb of Adelaide, was called The Leg Trap (proprietors: Ian and Greg Chappell).

With this sort of pedigree, one might have expected Allan Border to be pencilling the name Mark Hutton into his Test side when Craig McDermott broke down. In fact it was Australian Rules rather than cricket that came closest to securing Hutton's talents, before the long arm of the New York Yankees, in the person of their scout Dick Groch, whisked him off to America to pitch in the minor leagues for dollars 15,000 ( pounds 10,000) a year.

That was five years ago. Last week, the call that every minor leaguer hungers for came through. Hutton left the Columbus AAA team at the age of 23 to go to 'the Show'. Yankee Stadium, in the fever of its first pennant race for seven years, and over 30,000 fans present to see Mark Hutton become the first Australian pitcher to start a major league game.

It went like a dream. Hutton pitched eight innings, struck out five and conceded only three hits as the Yankees defeated the California Angels 5-2. Mike Stanley, the Yankees catcher, felt the force of Hutton's fastball. 'He was awesome,' he said. 'He threw real hard, but beyond that his location was good.'

Yet afterwards Hutton could not escape the feeling that it had been a dream, and he still felt awkward in the high-fiving Yankees locker room. Wade Boggs, the third baseman, found the novelty of an Aussie in the clubhouse too much to resist, with repeated cracks about 'putting another prawn on the barbie'.

When his new team-mates had all left, Hutton sat back and confided in a fellow Australian: 'I can't believe what's happening to me. I've won my first major league game and I've got to go back to the hotel now with no one to share it with.'

There is an even less romantic view of Hutton's call-up. It is an open secret that the Yankees have for some time been angling for a top-class pitcher to help their pennant push in the American League East, with Randy Johnson, of Seattle, and Tim Belcher, of Cincinnati, the prime targets. By showcasing Hutton a week before the trading deadline, it is very possible they were trying to oil the wheels of a deal.

Whatever the Yankees intended, it is academic now. Belcher has gone to the Chicago White Sox and no Johnson deal was done, so Hutton remains in the Big Apple, trying to strike further blows in a summer of Australian successes on foreign soil.

Reggie Jackson, 47, nicknamed 'Mr October' for his superb play in the post-season with the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees, was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame on Sunday. Jackson, a .262 lifetime hitter, had a .357 average with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs in 27 World Series games. He hit 563 home runs in his 21-year career, sixth in the all-time list.

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Sporting Digest, page 29

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