1. CLEVELAND INDIANS
Are the Indians too confident? "We're talking a lot because our team looks really good," says shortstop Omar Vizquel. Leftfielder Albert Belle says that there could be three or four 20-game winners on the pitching staff and that Cleveland can break the American League record of 111 regular-season victories, a mark the 1954 Tribe set. Opponents can only hope that the arrogant Indians are not as hungry as they were in '95.
The one Indian who did get fat on his 1995 accomplishments, rightfielder Manny Ramirez, paid for it in spring training. After signing a four-year, $10.1 million contract in the off-season, Ramirez, who hit .308 with 31 home runs and 107 RBIs last year, reported to camp 29 pounds heavier than his 195-pound playing weight. Every morning after workouts, Cleveland's strength and conditioning coach, Fernando Montes, had the 23-year-old Ramirez ride a bike around the Indians complex for at least an hour. To embarrass Ramirez even more, Montes had him ride a pink bicycle. Ramirez learned his lesson, lost the weight and, eventually, the pink bike.
That's the name of righthander Jack McDowell's new rock band. And Black Jack, who signed a two-year, $10.1 million free-agent contract with the Indians in December, is looking forward to exploring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. McDowell, who has won more games (98) in the 1990s than any other American League pitcher, brings his act to a staff that led the league in ERA (3.83) last year. He joins veteran righthanders Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershiser and Charles Nagy to form a top-notch rotation. "I can't imagine a better situation," says McDowell. "I've never been on a staff with so many quality guys."
With three-time All-Star Julio Franco also having signed on as a free agent, the Cleveland lineup, which included seven .300 hitters last season, is even more fearsome. Franco, who spent last season in Japan, hit .319 with 20 homers and 98 RBIs for the White Sox in 1994.
Everyone loves a winner. In early December the Indians became the first major league team to sell out every game before the start of a season.
The Indians will win it all.
2. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
BIG HURT'S WALKATHON
The record for career walks belongs to Babe Ruth, who had 2,056 over 22 seasons. In 5� years in the majors, Chicago's Frank Thomas has already walked 661 times. To try to keep teams from pitching around Thomas, the White Sox loaded up in the off-season, signing free-agent bangers Harold Baines and Tony Phillips and trading for Danny Tartabull. For this strategy to work, Tartabull, who has a history of nagging injuries, will have to stay healthy.
MORE HURTFUL NUMBERS
Thomas is the only player in major league history to bat better than .300 with at least 20 home runs, 100 RBIs, 100 runs scored and 100 walks for five consecutive years.