After his A's lost the World Series to the Dodgers last year, Manager Tony LaRussa knew his team was in trouble.
Oh sure, you say, every team should have such trouble - every key player from baseball's dominant organization returning, along with a solid starting pitcher (Mike Moore) acquired from Seattle.But LaRussa knew the real obstacle his team faced was not a lack of talent, but the dreaded no-repeat jinx which has plagued every pennant winner since the mid-70s.
No matter how good they were, they couldn't do it again.
So LaRussa, a cerebral type who learned to analyze subjects while acquiring a law degree, set out to learn why teams fail to repeat.
First he looked at all the usual reasons teams give for not repeating, namely: 1. Injuries; 2. Fewer players having "career" years; 3. The burden of being the team everyone wants to beat; 4. The short offseason.
Then he proceeded to refute them. In '88 the A's won despite extended injuries to such key players as Dave Parker, Terry Steinbach and Glenn Hubbard. And last year's Mets and Dodgers also had numerous injuries and still won.
Only Dave Henderson, and perhaps Dennis Eckersley, LaRussa said, had what might be called "career" years last season.
The "marked team" theory doesn't hold, because the A's jumped off to such a big lead last year that other teams got fired up to play them. And, again, the Mets won despite everyone wanting to beat them.
And LaRussa eliminated the threat of the abbreviated offseason by seeing that his A's spent serious amounts of time working out, so that nearly everyone reported to Arizona in superb shape.
Which leaves what La Russa says is the most significant reason teams can't repeat.
"It comes down to the biggie," he said. "To me, clearly the biggest thing is the change in attitude. I don't care where you are, in what business, success has a way of making you comfortable mentally. You get satisfied. And you change."
A's veteran Dave Parker says that a "comfortable" attitude killed the Pirates after their "We Are Family" title year. "There was complacency the next year," he said. "Everything popped up roses, and the following season the attitude was that everyone was going to lay down when they played Pittsburgh. We had a great year, so we had nothing else to prove."
LaRussa clearly knows the answer. The question is, can he convince his players of it? It's one thing to know it's happening to you, and another to be able to do something about it.
Somehow, though, we like LaRussa's chances. If nothing else, we won't have to hear him whining about injuries, everyone being out to get them, and all the other standard no-repeat excuses that some of the other teams (most notably the Dodgers and Red Sox) have already started spouting.
BRUCE BOMBS: Can we assume that St. George's Bruce Hurst was a little jittery in his NL debut? He allowed his first run just four batters into his career as a Padre, and two innings later he allowed an additional six runs, facing 10 hitters in a stretch that included back-to-back homers by Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell. In fact, the homers were hit on consecutive pitches.
After that inning, Hurst chucked his glove in disgust.
"I was awful," said Hurst afterward. "I think my target area was dugout to dugout." The lefty blamed his problems on the distractions of being the new guy.
"I felt great, I had a nice sweat going . . . but I just wasn't prepared to pitch," Hurst said. "There's been a lot of distractions going on around here lately, there's been a lot of things happening . . . trying to get settled here, trying to do this or that, maybe do too much . . . but I'm not going to make excuses."
SHORT STUFF: Cleveland's Cory Snyder ranked eighth in the AL (among players who played 100 or more games in 87 and 88) in batting average gain, jumping from .236 in '87 to .272 in '88. The Cubs' Vance Law was sixth in the NL, leaping from .273 to .293. But Atlanta's Dale Murphy was third in the NL in biggest declines, from .295 to .226.
Detroit's Jack Morris has the longest string (10 straight) of seasons in which he has led his team in victories. The next closest is Texas' Charlie Hough, with seven.
CARD CORNER: Cheery news for those baseball card and memorabilia collectors who are into getting their valuable items autographed. In her recent drag-Wade-Boggs-through-the-mud session in Penthouse, Margo Adams wrote: "Wade told me that 90 percent of the items sent to the park are signed by the batboys, not by the players. There are a few exceptions - for example, Bruce Hurst signed all his stuff."
Somehow, this rings true, but whether true or not, revelations like this have to make anyone considering purchase of a "genuine autographed" item think twice.