Sunday, May 20, 2001

Where does Deion fit?

Sanders struggling after dramatic return

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The rest of the baseball world sees Deion Sanders as a fallen star, the guy who was going to light the spark under the Reds and who instead blew up all over them.

        Baseball Weekly put him on its cover under the headline: “Will Deion Recharge the Reds?” ESPN touted the Reds-Houston game on Sunday Night Baseball last week as Deion vs. the Astros.

        “The world's perception was that he was going to be our best player,” Reds manager Bob Boone said. “That's a misrepresentation. That doesn't change reality.”

  What Deion Sanders has done in May:
  • 1: 3-for-3, 3-run HR
  • 2: 0-for-4, no chance vs. Kevin Brown
  • 3: 0-for-5, struck out once
  • 4: 0-for-1, pinch hit
  • 5: 1-for-3, hit by pitch
  • 6: 0-for-2, struck out
  • 7: 2-for-5, stolen base
  • 8: 0-for-1, 1 of Randy Johnson's 20 Ks
  • 9: 0-for-4, misplayed flyball
  • 12: 1-for-4, misplayed flyball
  • 13: 0-for-1, pinch hit
  • 14: 0-for-1, pinch hit
  • 15: 0-for-1, caught stealing
  • 16: 0-for-1, struck out on 3 pitches
  • 17: 0-for-3, caught stealing
  • 20: 0-for-1, struck out pinch hitting
        The Reds say reality is this: Sanders is an extra player — the last position player on the roster — who has gotten off to a very bad start.

        Privately, Reds management looks at it as either Sanders or D.T. Cromer has the 25th roster spot.

        Lately, talk show callers, at least, would prefer Cromer, a 30-year-old journeyman with two career home runs. But Sanders, aka Prime Time, has greater box-office appeal. Even given his recent struggles, he is greeted with cheers at Cinergy Field.

        That said, a strong case can be made that Sanders' recent play put him in line for a demotion.

        Since going 3-for-3 in his May 1 return to the big leagues after four years away, Sanders is 4-for-35 (.114). And, if anything, he has gotten worse lately.

        He started Thursday and went 0-for-3 with a walk. The one time he reached base, he was caught stealing. Saturday, he struck out pinch hitting. Since May 10, he's 1-for-17. He has misplayed two balls in the outfield that played big roles in Reds losses. He is 0-for-7 as a pinch hitter, and the one time he got on base, he again was caught stealing.

        But Sanders is likely to be here for the long run.

        “We want to put out the best 25 players at all times,” Reds general manager Jim Bowden said. “If he fits into that, he'll be here.”

        Sanders said he'll stay as a bit player.

        “If that's my role,” he said. “I'll try to perfect my role.”

        Bowden is Sanders' biggest fan, and Bowden is given to hyperbole when describing the players he has brought in. But he showed restraint when Sanders was called up.

        “Look at the quote that ran in (the Enquirer),” Bowden said.

        At the time, Bowden wouldn't even put Sanders ahead of any of the other four outfielders on the active roster — Dmitri Young, Michael Tucker, Alex Ochoa and Ruben Rivera.

        “How does he fit? I don't know,” Bowden said when Sanders was called up from Triple-A Louisville. “I think all five are very quality players. Some are better defensive players; some are better offensive players; some have more power; some have more speed.

        “It all depends on what part of the game you're looking at.”

        Boone said at the time that he'd have to evaluate Sanders before determining a role.

        It's clear he has.

        “You see how I've been using him,” Boone said. “Draw your own conclusions.”

        Boone is more concerned about Sanders' base running and play in the field than about his hitting.

        “He's a player who had four years off,” Boone said. “He's given me some good at-bats. But, to me, the biggest thing is in the field and running the bases. Those instincts are not there.”

        Sanders doesn't relish his role.

        “Everyone expects to play every day,” he said. “I'm not saddened by it. It's what I've got to deal with.”

        Sanders would seem particularly ill-equipped for his role, which is one of the toughest in baseball — pinch hitting late in the game.

        “It's tough,” he said, “especially against (pitchers) you haven't seen.”

        Sanders has worked at getting back.

        “He's putting his work in,” Boone said. “It's a matter of getting some playing time.”

        Sanders, of course, is different from other players in that he has an attractive alternative. He can leave to play football.

        Bowden has said he wouldn't have signed Sanders, who makes $500,000 this season, if he thought Sanders would walk away from baseball before the season's over. Sanders' seven-year, $56 million contract with the Washington Redskins states that the cornerback doesn't have to report until after baseball season, as long as he is on a major-league roster.

        But if he is in the minors, Sanders would have to report to the Redskins. Of course, that would be a moot point if the Redskins end up cutting him in June, as has been reported.

        Sanders, meanwhile, has been coy about his future.

        “My decision's already been made,” he said earlier this month. “I'm just not telling you all.”


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- Where does Deion fit?

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