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Pirates Notebook: Future unknown for versatile Wehner

Sunday, July 29, 2001

Never say never with John Wehner, who has been counted out more often than Rocky Balboa but kept getting off the canvas to spend parts of 11 seasons in the major leagues and win a 1997 World Series ring with the Marlins.

But if the end of the road has come for The Rock, Manager Lloyd McClendon will never forget his last plate appearance in his last start -- an infield single down the third-base line Friday night.

"That was a perfect description of John Wehner and his career. He had to scuffle, bust his butt down the line, and he made it. It was sort of like he ran his last mile," said McClendon, who played with Wehner under Jim Leyland in the early '90s.

Although he was let go, Wehner could opt to sign a minor-league contract if no other team claims him. When he came back to clean out his locker after yesterday's day game, Wehner was still weighing his options. McClendon and he talked about a future in coaching, but Wehner says that's not in his immediate plans.

Wehner played every position but shortstop and center field in 43 games for the Pirates this season, batting .196 with two RBIs. In 364 career games with the Pirates, he hit .250 with four home runs, including the final one in the history of Three Rivers. He also made the final out the day the place closed for baseball.

But Wehner's career was always about more than just numbers.

"He had a lot more ability than people thought," Leyland said. "But, yeah, he was an overachiever. He wouldn't take no for an answer. And he's got a World Series ring, something that a lot of people with talent don't have. I loved the guy."

First base coach Tommy Sandt hopes Wehner does find a spot in the organization.

"He knows the game. He's been through a lot, all the ups and downs, kept fighting back, kept fighting back. He's run the gamut, and I think younger players can relate to that," Sandt said.

"He was a good runner, could steal you a base and had a strong arm. He may have looked ugly catching the ball, but he always caught it," Sandt added. "He went 90 some games without an error at third base. Of course, it took him 10 years to do it. And he had a heart, a big heart. When he was assigned something, he'd do it. The numbers don't show his worth."

Wehner was valuable because he did so many things, including hit in the pinch, and was a great influence in the clubhouse with his work ethic and grit.

"It's a sad day. But Babe Ruth got released. It happens to everybody eventually," Sandt said.

Missed sign

When rookie Craig Wilson stole his first major-league base on Friday, he looked over and saw third base coach Trent Jewett giving him an unusual sign. Actually, it was something copied from McClendon, that noted base-stealer.

"He motioned for me to pick up the base and stick it under my arm," Wilson laughed. "I was going to do it, but I figured I'd be back in Nashville by now if I did."

A silver lining

Bill Mazeroski's Hall of Fame career has been well chronicled, but he also had a brief, shining moment on the silver screen.

Mazeroski, along with some teammates, had a bit part in the 1968 film The Odd Couple, starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau. The hook was that Lemon called Matthau to tell him not to eat any ballpark hotdogs, causing him to miss a triple play.

Film-makers originally wanted Roberto Clemente for the part, but he turned it down because hitting into a triple play wasn't The Great One's idea of comedy.

But Mazeroski took the part for $100, and one of the guys on base was Vernon Law. The scene was shot in Shea Stadium against the Mets. Mazeroski did it in two takes.

"I lined the first one just foul. Then I hit it right to the third baseman," he said. "It was fun. They had the crowd cheering just like it was a regular game."

Defense first

Mazeroski, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next Sunday, had a philosophy on fielding that was like his philosophy on life.

"Never anticipate a good hop, and never anticipate a good throw," Mazeroski said.

Defense was always Mazeroski's first priority. But he figures he could have been better than a .260 career hitter -- and maybe would have been elected to the Hall of Fame a bit sooner -- if he would have bore down more in some runaway games.

"The difference between hitting .260 and .280, .290 or even .300 is one hit a week," he said. "I always concentrated with men on base. But if we were up 10-0 or 12-2 in a game, I figured I'd save the hits for the next game when we needed them."

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