A's May Have Found Another Kingman

Mercury News olympics Bureau - Dan Hruby

LOS ANGELES (Aug 8 1984) - Mark McGwire has had thrill No. 1

He can't wait for thrill No. 2.

McGwire, a big freckle-faced first baseman for the U.S. Olympic baseball team and the A's No. 1 draft pick, still is reeling from the excitement of the Los Angeles Games.

"These Olympics have been something." said McGwire, who was a standout for USC. "We played before 150,00 fans for the first three games in Dodger Stadium. I never played before crowds like that before. I wasn't nervous, but it game me the chills up and down my spine."

"And the adrenaline was really flowing when I walked out for the opening ceremonies. I won't be able to match this feeling until I walk up to home plate for my first as-bat with the Oakland A's."

McGwire isn't assuming anything. He knows there's many an alipup between signing as a professional and playing like a professional.

But he's got an ace in the hole.

If he doesn't make it as a hitter, which seems unlikely, he can try pitching.

I was a pitcher until two years ago, so I'm still learning to hit," he said. "In fact, Montreal drafted me as a pitcher in high school. But when I weighed a four-year scholarship offer from USC against the Montreal offer, I decided to go to college."

Dick Wiencek, the A's director of scouting who lives only a half mile from McGwire in Claremont (30 miles east of L.A.), thinks Oakland probably had struck gold with its newest prospect.

But he won't say for sure.

"Mark has the potential to be a star," Wiencek said. "But in my 37 years in baseball I've learned you can't be positive. The hardest thing to find is someone who can drive the ball. Out of 1,000 prospects, only about 10 can do it."

"Mark could hit 30 homers a year. He's about three years away, but you can't rush him. Can you imagine McGwire and Dave Kingman in the same line-up? That would be something. But you never know. I thought Mike Davis would be a star. So far he hasn't (been). He's got some good tools, but we've gotta get him to open up the toolbox."

McGwire, 20, signed with the A's a week ago for something in excess of $135,000.

They want him to finish the Olympics. Major-league baseball (there are 15 first-round picks on the U.S. team) has cooperated with the Olympic program by not pushing prospects to start playing.

McGwire probably will report to Modesto of the Class-A California League next Tuesday, although he will work out with the varsity in Anaheim on Thursday. He'll play the final three weeks of the season, take a breather and then check into the A's instructional camp Sept. 10.

Rod Dedeaux, the U.S. Olympic coach who had McGwire at USC, isn't hesitant in praising the 6-foot-5, 220-pound power plant.

"He's about two to three years away from the big leagues," said Dedeaux, the winningest college baseball coach in history. "He's a free-swinger who has to learn to adjust to the ball as a minor leaguer. He's a solid hitter, with the major-league power. And he's improving defensively. He will become and outstanding defensive player."

"He's also a big-league prospect as a pitcher, and that is an unqualified statement."

Dedeaux said McGwire, a right-hander all the way, also reminds him of Kingman.

The A's, who have been short on right-handed hitting power for years, already are making plans.

"When we get Mark to the instructional league, we're going to try him at third base and the outfield," Wiencek said. "It would give him two other spots if he can't make it."

McGwire, whose power is mainly to center and right-center, crashed 31 home runs in 65 game to lead the nation this spring. He batted .388 and was named The Sporting News' college player of the year. As a pitcher, he had a 7-5 career record at USC, with a 2.92 ERA.

Going from pitcher to power hitter isn't without precedent. A fellow named George Herman Ruth made the transition rather well.

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