Baseball: Reds set sail with help of trade winds: Cincinnati shake-up leaves the Braves trailing at the season's half-way mark. Richard Weekes reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT IS game five of the 1991 World Series, and 50,000 Atlanta Braves fans are whooping and tomahawk- chopping in celebration after seeing Tom Glavine pitch their team to a 14-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins and give them a 3-2 lead in the Series. But two men in the National League guest seats are sunk in gloom.

Bob Quinn and Lou Piniella, general manager and team manager of the Cincinnati Reds, are ringside at perhaps the most exciting Series ever, but they do not like what they see. 'Any baseball man going to the World Series sees things differently from a fan,' Quinn said. 'You look at it competitively rather than as entertainment.

'You are asking yourself, 'Is their first baseman better than mine?' and so on, right through the team. It became evident to us during the Series that our pitching did not stack up with either Minnesota's or Atlanta's'

The Reds had whitewashed Oakland 4-0 in the 1990 World Series, but they slumped to fifth the following year, and now Quinn was blaming himself for not 'changing a few faces' in the Cincinnati clubhouse.

After deciding who the Reds needed and which of their own were expendable, Quinn went to work. Target No 1 was Greg Swindell, a left-handed pitcher whose strong arm had been wasted for five years on the moribund Cleveland Indians. He was secured in return for three pitchers.

Target No 2 was Tim Belcher, a right-handed pitcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom the Reds had to give up Eric Davis, their celebrated but injury-prone left fielder. To fill the hole left by Davis, Quinn landed San Diego's Bip Roberts, a versatile lead-off hitter and speedy base-runner.

The trades did the trick. Swindell's pitching record is 8-2, Belcher stands 8-7, Roberts has 23 stolen bases and the Reds have a useful two-game cushion over the Braves at the top of the NL West. The second half promises an enthralling battle between a Cincinnati team as tough to beat as the 1990 side and an Atlanta team who have maintained the pitching prowess that pushed Minnesota to the 10th inning of game seven in the World Series.

The best pitcher in the first half, Glavine (13-3) will start tonight's All-Star Game for the National League against the American League in San Diego. The event is a Cecil B de Mille/Baron de Coubertin production: endless substitutions bloating the cast list, which makes taking part figure higher than winning. But the starting line-up (selected by fans' votes) reflects some of the high points of the season so far.

Tonight Glavine will be going to his deceiving changeup (his slower ball) to try to shut down the batting power of Minnesota's Kirby Puckett, who leads the AL batting averages with .334, and Oakland's Mark McGwire, who leads the majors in home runs with 28.

After the game Puckett and McGwire's teams will resume their AL West dogfight, where the A's manager Tony La Russa hopes the return from injury of Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco and starting pitcher Dave Stewart will overhaul the surging Twins.

When Puckett qualifies for free agency in the autumn, he should be able to start the bidding where the Chicago Cubs' Ryne Sandberg, the game's current top earner at dollars 28.4m ( pounds 14.8m) over four years, left off. Sandberg will be at second base for the NL tonight, but the Cubs may not be in the NL East next year.

The major league commissioner, Fay Vincent, recently ruled that when the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins join the NL next season, Atlanta and Cincinatti will move to the East Division and Chicago and St Louis will go west. Anyone who has looked at the map will see why.

But the Cubs, citing 'irreparable injury' to their fans, who will have to steel themselves to stay up a couple of hours later to watch the extra dozen or so West Coast games on television, sued Vincent and sought an injunction to stop the realignment. The Cubs made no mention of the advertising revenue which WGN-TV, owned by the Tribune Company, which also owns the Cubs, will lose because of later game times.

Whichever way US District Judge Suzanne B Conlon swings on the issue, after poring over the tortuous prose of Article VII ('Submission to Jurisdiction of the Commissioner') of the Major League Agreement, it is not the Cubs who have most to lose. If anyone should be squealing about the changes, it is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are set to clean up in the weak NL East Division for the third year running, but who may not make it four if they have the Braves and Reds to contend with next year.

But realignment should help NL West teams like the San Diego Padres and the last-place Dodgers. With those damned Reds and Braves out of the way, they should find the Cubs and Cardinals easier meat. Not that you would think so to listen to the Dodgers manager and gourmand, Tommy Lasorda.

'We hate to lose those two teams,' he said. 'We've always been treated exceptionally well in both cities.' Lasorda's road menu next year will read less Southern Fried Chicken and more Chicago T-bone.

(Photograph omitted)