The last time Don Baylor played for the Oakland athletics, in 1976, the team did early workouts at Indian School Park in Scottsdale, Ariz. Imagine his surprise this spring when he showed up at the park and found himself surrounded by San Francisco Giants. Baylor politely excused himself, leaving behind a number of crestfallen Humm Babies, who thought for a moment they had acquired a new teammate.
The Athletics, who now work out at Scottsdale Community College, are especially happy to have Baylor on their team again, because it seems as if you can't make it into the World Series nowadays without him. Several teams made a pitch for Baylor, but Oakland got him, largely because manager Tony La Russa called him five times.
Baylor is just one of the many new Athletics general manager Sandy Alderson acquired in a frantic off-season. The list includes another larger-than-life figure, the Reds' Dave Parker; two pitchers, Bob Welch and Matt Young, from the Dodgers; and three free agents, second baseman Glenn Hubbard, catcher Ron Hassey and outfielder Dave Henderson. Parker and Baylor will team with Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire—the last two AL Rookies of the Year—to give Oakland the most devastating power quartet in the game. The Athletics also have another promising Rookie of the Year candidate—Walter Weiss, who will be replacing Alfredo Griffin at short.
Welch solidifies what could be a fine pitching staff. Dave Stewart was one of only two 20-game winners in the majors last year, and lefthander Curt Young appears to have recovered from his biceps injury. If Storm Davis does not come through, Oakland will turn Matt Young, Steve Ontiveros or Rick Honeycutt into a full-time starter. The bullpen is solid, with Dennis Eckersley, Gene Nelson and Eric Plunk, who is the embodiment of the phrase "fire-balling righthander."
If Oakland has a weakness it's on defense, especially in the outfield. Neither Canseco nor Parker will win a Gold Glove this year, so the centerfielder will be a busy man. For that reason, defensive standout Stan Javier may beat out Henderson and Luis Polonia for the job. Nevertheless, Oakland is a much-improved team. How much? Maybe enough to get Baylor into his third straight Series.
The KANSAS CITY ROYALS missed out on getting Baylor, but they did solve their No. 1 problem by trading for Cincinnati shortstop Kurt Stillwell, who will wear, appropriately enough, No. 1 on his jersey. "He may be the best shortstop we've ever had," says veteran first baseman George Brett.
The Royals had to give up pitcher Danny Jackson to get Stillwell. But they replaced Jackson with Floyd Bannister of the White Sox, so their starting pitching is still the strongest in the league. For relief, they have Ted Power, who came over with Stillwell from the Reds, and Dan Quisenberry and Gene Garber, two righthanders who are fourth and sixth, respectively, on the alltime save list.
Many clubs are weak in catching, and K.C. is no exception. The Royals tried to get free agent Carlton Fisk, but he turned down their offer, which was slightly higher than the $700,000 he accepted to resign with the White Sox. So Kansas City will have to go with journeyman Jamie Quirk or career minor leaguer Larry Owen, who is one of the best defensive catchers in the game.
As always, Brett is the key to the offense. And he is eager to reclaim his preeminent status. "I may not make it into the same sentence as Don Mattingly or Wade Boggs," he says, "but I at least want to be in the same paragraph." The Royals were so worried about Brett, who is coming off two "subpar" .290 seasons, that they asked him to get his eyes examined this spring. Nothing wrong, said the doctor, and the next day Brett hit a double, a three-run homer and a grand slam against Boston.
Brett also seems ready to assume more of a leadership role. One day this March he quietly lectured Bo Jackson on the importance of running out pop-ups. Later that afternoon Jackson laid down a beautiful bunt and uncorked a tremendous off-balance throw. If Bo is still having trouble deciding between baseball and football, the Royals have one thing in their favor. They have a better chance of making the playoffs than the Raiders do.