By John Kruk
Page 2

The trade deadline is on Saturday, which means it will be a hectic final few hours for many major league GMs. We'll just have to wait and see how many players change sides, and what teams look better equipped for the pennant race as a result.

The days leading up to the trade deadline can be very tough on the players. So many rumors are swirling around. You wonder if teammates and friends of yours will be leaving. You wonder if you'll be shipped out yourself. You just never know.

And depending on what happens by Saturday, I'll tell you who I'm going to feel sorry for: Luis Gonzalez.

The Diamondbacks are shopping their best hitter this season (Steve Finley), and the best pitcher they've ever had (Randy Johnson). But no one's talking about trading for Luis Gonzalez. Where does that leave him? If the D-Backs trade those two guys, they're probably going to struggle next season. They're probably not going to win for a while. What do you say if you're Luis Gonzalez? "Please trade me, too?"

Yeah, the D-Backs have some good young players like Chad Tracy and Alex Cintron. Are the trades going to affect them? No. They're just happy to be in the big leagues. They've got plenty of years left to compete. But guys like Luis Gonzalez don't have more than a few years, and that's being brought home to him right now because he's having season-ending surgery next week. It's tough to sit there and and work so hard to get healthy, when you know you're going to have to wait for your team to be competitive again -- especially when you won a World Series not too long ago.

How does Luis go and compete now? He's a pro, so he'll go out and play hard. But he has to look around and say to himself, "This is going to be pure hell for the next couple of years."

As a player, when you hear rumors regarding youself, it bothers you. You feel like you've competed together with your teammates for such a long time, and you want to compete with them until you retire.

This is when you realize it's a business. The bottom line is, you can only be loyal to your family. You don't have to be loyal to your team. You play hard, you play to win, and you make sacrifices. But if it comes to trade time, and your team is struggling, and you're the team's biggest commodity ... they'll trade you. If they think they can get something better, they'll be the first ones to get rid of you no matter what you've done for their organization.

Luis Gonzalez
Luis Gonzalez might be a very lonely and unhappy man if the D-Backs make some trades.

And I also know what it's like on the other end, when you're on a team with a chance to get a guy like Randy Johnson. You don't think the Yankees and Angels players have been thinking about that a ton the last few weeks?

I remember back in '93, when we had a chance to get Randy Johnson in Philadelphia. When the deadline passed, our GM walked out of his office and said, "We're not getting him. We're not going to mortgage our future."

Do you realize how much that hurts the players? Your team could have added someone who could push you over the top, who could make you a world champion. And the front office didn't pull the trigger. Honestly, that was probably more disappointing to me than losing the World Series.

We had a chance to get him, and then we weren't given the best opportunity to win. That's all a player wants -- the best opportunity to win.

CONGRATS IN ORDER
I want to send out congratulations to a couple of veteran players -- Greg Maddux and Gary Sheffield.

Maddux notched his 299th win Tuesday night against the Brewers, and goes for No. 300 on Sunday against the Phillies. He was one of the toughest competitors I ever faced. Facing him was the ultimate challenge.

Talk all you want about hard throwers -- but when you faced a guy like Nolan Ryan or Dwight Gooden, you knew what was coming. You knew that you were going to get a fastball in an at-bat, probably more than one. With Greg, you never know what you're going to get. Maybe a change-up on a 3-1 count. Maybe a 1-2 fastball in on your hands when you're expecting the change-up.

Maddux dominates people with finesse. Most Hall of Fame pitchers dominated with a power pitch. Besides Whitey Ford, I don't think any other Hall of Fame pitcher dominated with finesse. And that's the frustrating part when you face Maddux. You don't understand how he gets you out -- and the next thing you know, you're 0-for-4.

Greg Maddux
Maddux the master dominates hitters with finesse.

I knew right away, when he first came up to the bigs in 1986, that he was going to be something special. I followed him a little bit when he was in high school, and I was playing Triple-A ball in Las Vegas. People said he was too small. But they never measured his heart. That's what I hate about scouting -- people say you have to draft a lot of 6-foot-3 pitchers who look like great athletes. Maddux doesn't look like it, but he's one of the best athletes around. He's not about numbers, he's about winning. And he's about to cement his own spot in the Hall of Fame.

Sheffield just hit his 400th home run Tuesday night. He is such a great athlete. He came up with the Brewers as a shortstop. He played third base for a while. And he's become a very good outfielder since moving to that position.

I've never seen anyone with the bat speed Sheffield has. Talk to any pitcher. They get scouting reports, but no one knows how to pitch to him. The only thing you can do is hope he chases bad pitches, and he doesn't do that very often.

Early in his career, did he say some things he shouldn't have? Yes. But name me a player who hasn't. The bottom line is, his teammates never complain about him, nor does the front office. He's never late. He's always prepared to play.

It's funny when you compare Sheffield to Maddux. They have two of the most different approaches you'll ever see in one sport. Maddux is the ultimate tactician. Not that Sheff doesn't think about anything at the plate, but his approach is, "I'm just gonna swing as hard as I can, and if I connect, it's going out." And yet, as hard as he swings, he still hits for a high average. Not many people can do that. Dave Kingman swung really hard and hit a lot of homers -- but he also made a lot of outs. Sheff is one of the few players who swings that hard, and still has great bat control. He can still go the other way, and move runners along.

These guys are two of the most special players in the game right now. Enjoy watching them while you can.

RETIRING RICKY
I've got to be honest -- I have absolutely no problem with Ricky Williams retiring. A lot of his teammates are crying and complaining, saying, "Look what he did to us." But you know what? Every player has a right to play or not play, just like any other job. You can quit if you want.

Ricky Williams
If he can run 200 yards a game high ... let him!

Some people are saying Ricky should have let the Dolphins know earlier. But as an athlete, you are the last one to know when it's your time to go. Apparently, he had these feelings last year. But you go through an offseason, and you think to yourself, "I can do it. I can play another year." Why did he go through the team's offseason workouts? Because he didn't know for sure yet, and he wanted to prove to himself that he really didn't want to play anymore.

As a teammate, I would respect his decision. Sure, it's disappointing -- the Dolphins are losing about 80 percent of their offense. But I'd rather not have him on my team if he doesn't want to play. He would disappoint his teammates more if he played despite not wanting to, because then he wouldn't perform up to his capabilities; and more than likely, he would get hurt. As a professional athlete, if you don't give everything you have mentally and physically, you're going to get hurt. I'd rather have a guy with 70 percent of Ricky's talent, but who wants to be there and compete. Ricky just didn't want to compete anymore.

I've spoken to Ricky on several occasions in the past. He used to play basball in the Phillies organization. He's definitely a different kind of guy. But to say he let down the Miami Dolphins is crazy. It's not like he's screwing them -- he walked away from a lot of money! He didn't want to play, and he got out.

Now, some people suspect that he quit because he doesn't like the rules in the NFL, in particular the rules regarding drug testing. Who knows? If he quit just so he can smoke marijuana, then I have a problem with that. If that's all he cares about, then that's a shame. But again, would you want a guy like that on your team, anyway?

In my book, you let your team down when you do something like what Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson have done in the past -- postponing offseason surgery so that you miss training camp and even part of the regular season.

Now that's really letting your team down.

HURRICANE WILLIE
What is up with this kid Willie Williams? How many times has he been arrested already? It's absolutely ridiculous.

He has said in the press that he's learned from his experiences. Oh really? When you've been arrested as many times as he has, it doesn't appear you've learned all that much.

Willie Williams
Should Willie Williams have been admitted to Miami?

And the University of Miami is still admitting him. Please. I understand the pressure to win -- at the professional level. But how that pressure has spread to the college level is just sad. Now, with all the money that bowl games and sporting events generate for colleges, I guess some schools will do anything to win.

Now, I don't know the kid. For all I know, he could be a good kid, caught in some really bad situations. But when does a college take a step back and say, "Why do we want him?" Yeah, he could be the next Ray Lewis. But why would they want to subject their university to so much second-guessing by the media?

If this kid was not a great athlete, would he be admitted into the school? Of course not. But he can help them make money, so why not take a chance on him, right? I don't get it. Everyone deserves a second chance, but he's already had plenty more than that.

Make this kid sit out for a year, at least. Make him get some help. Maybe he should go see a psychiatrist, and figure out why he's committed all these crimes.

But the football field is probably not the solution. In fact, it might be the worst thing for him.

John Kruk is an analyst for ESPN's "Baseball Tonight."




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CHEWING THE FAT