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Fountain of Youth for Finley: Fitness

Special to

May 20

Steve Finley is 35 years old and plays center field. When he was 30, he had a nice career that had taken him from Baltimore to Houston to San Diego. In fact, at age 30 he had his best season, posting career highs in batting average (.297) and home runs (11).

Then, at 31, came a 30-homer season. Then one year later Finley hit 28, but a foot injury slowed him down in 1998 so much so that the Padres decided he was a center fielder that was on the downside of the curve much like most center fielders would have been in the good old days.

Steve Finley
Steve Finley reached career highs in home runs (34) and RBI (103) last season.

So Finley moved on to Arizona, where last season he hit 34 homers and became one of only two men his age to win a gold glove as a center fielder -- the other? Willie Mays -- and now this season is on pace to hit 60 home runs.

"I feel as if I'm bigger, faster and stronger than I was five years ago," Finley says. "It's a testament to the times and the conditioning age we're in."

That from a guy who, when he was traded by the Orioles as a 26-year-old, was considered a career fourth outfielder.

In order to stay in tip-top shape Finley lifts weights a couple of times a week. "I am a lot more conscious of diet than I used to be, because I know so much more about my body," he says. "Consider all the crap we eat in the clubhouse after games, and the hours we eat it, then the travel. You can't be perfect, but you can make an effort.

"But I think the most important thing is the offseason routine," Finley adds. "It's helped me understand what I'm doing since I studied kinesiology in college. But you're going to see players perform at a higher peak longer because of what's available and what we know. The training for strength, explosiveness and baseball-specific needs is remarkable. I try to vary what I do so I don't get bored, and I have a very good workout partner who pushes me. The key to the individual is what you do in October and November. It's one thing to work during the season, or a month before the season, but the key is motivating yourself to putting in the time, effort and sacrifice in November and sticking to it all winter."

One of life's givens is that we have to hear that athletes these days take their money and hide. Then, explain Steve Finley, who admits he has more money "than I ever dreamed of having."

When salaries went up, we heard that players wouldn't need to play as long. Or they wouldn't take care of themselves. "There are examples of that," Indians assistant general manager Mark Shapiro says. "But if a player is intelligent and disciplined, it's just the opposite."

"People who never played sports don't understand how great athletes think, and how competitive they are," Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter says. "They live to compete. Taking the uniform off means the end of competition, and they can't stand that. If a player loves baseball and dedicates his life to it, today he can keep going longer than ever before. We have some great examples on our team -- Fin, Jay Bell, Luis Gonzalez, Matt Williams, Todd Stottlemyre and, of course, maybe the most amazing of them all, Randy Johnson. This guy at 36 is one of the greatest specimens of all-time."

Adds Finley: "What we're seeing is more and more players who are better in their 30s than they were in their 20s."

And in the good old days, the downside of the curve was supposed to come at 30.

Go back a generation to 1975, the halcyon days of The Big Red Machine and the Red Sox. According to the Neft and Cohn Encyclopedia, there were two starting pitchers (minimum 16 games started) in the National League who were at least 33 -- Woodie Fryman and Jim Lonborg. And there were eight starting pitchers in the American League who were 33 or older -- Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Bill Hands, Jim Kaat, Gaylord Perry, Jim Perry, Luis Tiant, and Wilbur Wood.

There were seven everyday players (minimum 110 games) in the National League in 1975 who were 33 or older. In the American League, there were 14. But there's a hitch -- 10 of those 14 were designated hitters, as Henry Aaron, Billy Williams, Tommy Davis, Tony Oliva and others were still attractions in the third year of the DH.

Fast-forward to 2000. There are 21 starting pitchers and 28 everday players in the NL who will be 33 as of Sept. 15. In the AL, there are 18 starting pitchers and 32 everyday players who will be 33, only five of whom are DHs. And we're not even dealing with the bullpens that have numerous guys getting up there in age, including 40-year-old Mike Morgan.

In other words, where 25 years ago there were 10 starting pitchers in all of baseball that were 33, today there are 39. And where 25 years ago there were 11 non-DH everyday players that age, today there are 55.

Carlton Fisk was, of course, a hero of that '75 World Series and a forerunner of this middle-age conditioning phenomenon. After missing much of the '84 season with an abdominal strain, Fisk became a workout fanatic and put himself in the Hall of Fame with what he accomplished into his mid-40s.

Now a Mike Bordick, who is 34, sees his numbers ascend annually and a Andres Galarraga, who will turn 39 in June, can come back from cancer stronger than ever. Only Babe Ruth, Aaron and Ted Williams had slugging percentages higher than the Big Cat's current .604 past age 37.

Brian Jordan, meanwhile, works with conditioning guru Bobby Kersee every winter and runs better now at 33 than he did when he was a Pro Bowl safety in the NFL in 1992. Paul O'Neill is also better at 37 now than he was at 27. And Randy Velarde, whose career was thought to be over three years ago because of a shoulder injury, has come back to slug better than at any time in his previous 13 seasons.

Most people believe that, because he's been committed to keeping his body in good shape, James Baldwin has finally grasped his potential and will continue to be a big winner for years to come. The same goes for Jeff Fassero, who's come back to post a 5-1 record this season at 37, and Bret Saberhagen, who knows he'll soon return to the majors.

It's also why Derek Jeter might make a run at Pete Rose's all-time hits record, and Alex Rodriguez is going to end up with numbers no one ever imagined a player could.

But are there players out there who can't be trusted after they turn 30?

"Of course," Showalter says. "You just have to know the person. You just have to know if he's a baseball player who loves what he does."

And the question begs, does Finley need the money? Of course not.

Do you think Johnson, Bell, O'Neill or David Cone are doing this out of need for anything but the competition?

"I get uncomfortable talking about myself," Bordick says. "Almost everyone works the way I do these days. That's what people outside the game don't understand."

News and notes
  • Every day there's a new name coming to New York to replace Ricky Ledee. One morning it's Mo Vaughn, the next, Juan Gonzalez, or Jose Canseco, or even Henry Rodriguez. "Ledee has become the lightning rod for our offensive problems," GM Brian Cashman says, "when our problem has been at the top of the order all season."

    Indeed. O'Neill, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez and others have been fine, and while Ledee has been a disappointment, the problem has been that where last season the 1-2 hitters on the Yankees were on base 41.5 percent of the time, this season it was just 30.4 percent until Joe Torre shook up the lineup Wednesday. It's not that the Yankees aren't looking around, and George Steinbrenner isn't putting the heat on his people by bringing up the Jim Edmonds deal (although The Boss does not say whether he'd want to be handing Edmonds the kind of contract the Cardinals tendered). Canseco and Rodriguez are gimmes, but right now they're not targets. Matt Stairs is a possibility, but there may not be a fit for the Yankees to make a deal with the Athletics.

    The Yankees have inquired about B.J. Surhoff, and while the Orioles are asking for Alfonso Soriano, whose position is still a serious question mark, Surhoff remains a possibility in that Syd Thrift has to try to do for the Orioles what he once did for the Pirates. The Yankees' system right now isn't what they thought it was in the spring, as Jake Westbrook and Eddie Yarnall have been whacked around at Columbus.

  • The Mets also have inquired about obtaining Surhoff, although he has a no-trade clause in his contract that he not be dealt to the Mets -- though he might be persuaded to give that up. Stairs is also a possibility for the Mets, but Oakland doesn't think a whole lot of the Mets' farm system outside of Grant Roberts (the Mets won't discuss dealing their best prospect, outfielder Alex Escobar, whose ceiling is uncertain at this point).

    "We like Jason Tyner's ability to get on base," one GM says, "but today a leadoff hitter has to drive in runs and we don't see that in him." Tyner, likely the Mets' top minor-league prospect, had an 18-game hitting streak at Triple-A Norfolk through Thursday. He remains in the Mets' future plans, although they believe right now they need a No. 2 hitter, someone in the mold of Darryl Hamilton.

    Incidentally, Paul Wilson is throwing well enough for Norfolk that the Mets think he could contribute as a long man or spot starter by September.

  • The Red Sox are the latest team to suspect that there are some camera shenanigans going on in Toronto, where the Jays' home/away offensive splits are ridiculous. "There is something going on there," one AL West GM says. Boston coaches went out to center field and found an in-house camera whose cameraman had a headset, and they suspect there is a direct feed to the Jays' video system. So, Red Sox catcher Scott Hatteberg used multiple signs and changed them every inning during Boston's three-game series there this past week. Boston, by the way, won two of three, and in those two victories did not allow a Toronto home run -- the first two games in which the Jays had not homered in SkyDome all season.

  • Speaking of Hatteberg, Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan says "(Jason) Varitek and Hatteberg are the best catchers for preparation and working pitchers that I've ever been around. They are the heart and soul of this pitching staff (which leads the AL in ERA).

  • Toronto is one of several troubled franchises right now. Where in 1991, '92 and '93 the Jays drew four million fans, this season they're on pace to draw just 1.6 million. No wonder, with Carlos Delgado, David Wells and Raul Mondesi taking up nearly half their payroll that the Jays have such a weak bench.

  • The Expos are still not drawing french flies. Although there has been no talk of a fire sale, and when Jim Beattie called around to find relief pitching this week (even with the hope that Scott Strickland can pull a Todd Stottlemyre (pitch with a torn rotator cuff and avoid surgery), he made it clear he could take on some salary.

  • Tampa Bay reportedly is nearing a cash-flow problem, but who would take the salaries of Roberto Hernandez, Vinny Castilla, Juan Guzman, Fred McGriff or Wilson Alvarez? "Someone might take Jose Canseco since his contract is done at the end of the season," one AL GM says. "Of course, do you want his act? He's more interested in his investment company. He was analyzing the stock market on the radio the other day." Al Gore will promise everything else in Florida, why not Jose as Treasury Secretary?

  • Finally, there's Florida, which drew 21,888 for three games against the Padres, less than the per-game average of 21 other teams. And the Marlins are a hot young team. "I think it's partially the stadium thing," says Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski, who has rebuilt the team from the Wayne Huizenga World Series fire sale. "These fans have been burned. We drew three million in '93, then they got burned by the strike. They came back in '97 when we won, and they got burned again. I think they'd like this team, but they're asking, 'what happens if you don't get a stadium? Will we get burned again?' You can't blame them." The Phish may get A.J. Burnett back by the All-Star break, which would be a huge lift. Several teams have been calling about several Marlins relievers, from the Indians about Dan Miceli to inquiries about every left-hander on their staff, especially Vic Darensbourg.

  • John Hart got three DL calls in 30 minutes Thursday. The Indians think Jaret Wright's shoulder is a slight strain from getting his delivery out of whack, and that he'll be back in 10 days. They think Charles Nagy's scope to remove a chip in his elbow will only cause him to miss five weeks, and they're glad to know why he'd suddenly lost so much velocity. Ricardo Rincon, meanwhile, is another story in that he could be out for a while. The Indians were already looking for a left-handed reliever and a power setup man to lighten the load on Steve Karsay and Paul Shuey before Rincon went down. The problem for the Tribe, however, is that they are getting older and thus don't want to trade Richie Sexson or Russell Branyan, two of their better young players, and the Alex Ramirezes of the world aren't going to get them serious pitching talent.

  • The Angels want Indians shortstop prospect John McDonald because Gary DiSarcina is possibly done for the year, but Anaheim doesn't have any pitching Cleveland would want in return. The Indians' best pitchers are a ways away -- right-hander Tim Drew is having a solid season in the Eastern League, while 6-foot-6 lefty C.C. Sabathia is leading the Carolina League in strikeouts and Cuban refugee Danys Baez is learning to pitch in that same league.

    Around the majors
  • As the Zombies would say, it's the time of the season to go after managers' necks.

  • The Philly talk shows are on Terry Francona, but he is safe. How about Larry Rothschild in Tampa Bay? With Vince Naimoli's nervous omnipresence, Rothschild's neck could very well be on the line. In Houston, there has been clubhouse sniping at Larry Dierker, but management seems to be more in his corner than some veteran players. Whatever heat there was on Gene Lamont in Pittsburgh and Lou Piniella in Seattle has apparently subsided, while Bobby Valentine's record right now is about what it was last year.

  • Reds GM Jim Bowden isn't worried about his bullpen being overworked. "We get Pete Harnisch back and his shoulder is healthy," Bowden says. "And soon we're getting Mark Wohlers to add to those relievers. With Scott Williamson, Danny Graves, Scott Sullivan, Dennys Reyes and Wohlers, we're going to have a lot of great arms and a lot of different looks."

  • This is the way the (June 5) draft goes these days: San Diego high school catcher Scott Heard could be Florida's pick as the No. 1 overall selection. There's also a catcher at El Camino Junior College in California named Robert Spiehl who pitched 16 innings all season and is being looked at as a late first-round pick. Spiehl has thrown 98 mph, and now that his season is over he's throwing BP for scouts.

  • Joe Niekro's son, Lance, a power-hitting third baseman at Florida Southern, is a near certainty in the first round, where he could either go to the Giants or Red Sox.

  • Several teams are thinking about taking Peter Angelos' offer to pay anyone to take Mike Timlin. "He still throws 95 and his stuff is good," one GM says. "The stomach is another question." Oh, that O's bullpen, with 11 blown saves in 17 opportunities, a 7.05 ERA and 25 gopher balls in 111 1/3 innings. Oh, yes. And they're being paid $11 million, en masse.

  • The Pirates sent down Chad Hermansen to Triple-A on Friday to join Aramis Ramirez, as Hermansen's leadoff on-base percentage has bottomed out at .163. Then you look at Rafael Furcal, whose leadoff on-base percentage going into the weekend was .528.

  • All you have to do is watch John Rocker's delivery to know that all the craziness surrounding him is indeed bothering him. Bobby Cox had to remove Rocker from Tuesday night's game against the Giants and closed with Terry Mulholland and Rudy Seanez on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, before Rocker closed Thursday's victory. At one point, 26 of 49 batters reached base against Rocker, who looks as if he's pitching in fast-forward.

  • The Phillies called the Padres this week to inquire about the availability of Carlton Loewer, even though Loewer has yet to do anything but throw in the bullpen after his hunting accident in the offseason. But Loewer is throwing so well that the Pads think he will be in their rotation in June. Another part of that Andy Ashby trade, right-hander Adam Eaton -- he's 3-1 with a 2.80 ERA for Double-A Mobile -- is showing a big-league curveball already. That deal may turn out very well for San Diego, especially if reliever Steve Montgomery, who was the third player the Padres acquired in the trade, comes back.

  • Remember how much controversy there was last winter when Pudge Rodriguez edged Pedro Martinez for the AL MVP? Well, Pedro's having a better season (that he's allowed one run or fewer in 17 of his last 21 starts doesn't hurt) this year. But so is Pudge. In fact, is Pudge the best player in the game right now? His average is up and he's nine homers and 15 RBI ahead of his 1999 pace through 41 games.

  • Several teams, including the Braves and Yankees, are still interested in Tampa Bay catcher Mike DiFelice. This week, when screwballer Jeff Sparks repeatedly threw screwballs when DiFelice was calling for fastballs and walked three straight batters, the veteran catcher charged the mound and aired out Sparks in full view of everyone. "I'm not the most politically correct person in the world," DiFelice said.

  • Yes, Bobby Chouinard, the former D-Backs reliever who was arrested for allegedly pointing a gun at his wife's head in a Christmas Eve altercation, is working out with the Rockies in their extended spring program in Tucson.

  • Speaking of extended spring, Saberhagen had been down at Boston's extended spring camp for seven weeks while rehabilitating his surgically repaired shoulder. "Now I know what it's like to do time in jail," says Saberhagen, who with no crowds, no pitching coach, no nothing, got his mechanics so messed up that he felt a knot in the back of his shoulder while starting May 15 for Class A Sarasota. He flew to Boston, worked with Kerrigan and feels he's back on track to be in Boston's rotation in about a month. "We're having trouble getting to our fifth starter (Brian Rose) right now," Kerrigan says. "So there's no urgency for him to get back."

  • Boston has given Jeff (Frito) Frye's agents, Speakers of Sports, permission to talk to other teams to get Frye traded some place where he can play more regularly. But then, in one of Jimy Williams' more bizarre lineups this past week, Frye was the Sox's DH. "I'll bet someone fainted when he saw that," Frye says.

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  • Gammons: The fiasco at Wrigley

    Gammons: No takeoff in Houston

    Gammons: 2000 column archive
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