Already, Hurst loves the new scenery. "It's strange," he said just before spring training opened. "I went outside this morning and I was able to throw baseballs instead of snowballs."
Even guys who haven't yet gone home say they want to. Darryl Strawberry has publicly declared that he wants to Dodger after the 1990 season, and he wants to take Cincinnati Reds star Eric Davis with him. Both grew up in L.A. "If a guy is looking for sunshine and warm temperatures all the time, then the West is the place to be," says Jeffrey Leonard, who recently departed Milwaukee for the Seattle Mariners and who has spent most of his career with the San Francisco Giants. "I think seven out of 10 veteran players probably would prefer playing on the West Coast."
But going west means more than never having to put away your shorts. Tom Niedenfuer was a Dodger, then was an Oriole, and is now a Mariner. He knows that when an Eastern team leaves the 80° spring-training splendor of Arizona or Florida and heads north into 30° night games, it's a body shock. "That's why there are a lot more injuries to East Coast teams than West," says Niedenfuer. Even during the off-season, western weather can be an edge. Dodgers who live in the L.A. area work out at their stadium three times a week through the winter. "That's been the difference," says manager Tommy Lasorda. "These guys have been working out all year. They've been on the field. They haven't been running indoors, getting those shinsplints and blisters."
And when summer comes? "It's a big plus that there is very little humidity out here," says pitcher Ed Whitson, who left the San Diego Padres after the '84 season, spent a year and a half in his own personal Yankee hell, and is now back in San Diego. "You stay healthier in this weather. I think players can play longer." Another plus: Because there are fewer rainouts in the West, there are fewer makeup doubleheaders during the dog days of August. "Makeup games don't pile up and tax your pitching staff," says Cincinnati manager Pete Rose.
So as long as the airplanes are still running and the fiberoptic phone lines are working, why not go where the girls all get so tan?.
I don't like the life here in New York. There is no greenery. It would make a stone sick.
This is the town that once prompted then-Oriole pitcher Mike Flanagan to say, "I could never play in New York. The first time I came into a game there, I got in the bullpen car, and they told me to lock the doors." In the West the ballpark patrons aren't compelled to critique your family tree on every other pitch. "L.A. fans go to the game, en-for the entertainment, pay their money and i good time," says Randolph. "They don't get too of whack. Eastern fans take it personally."
In many cases, of course, baseball players have gone west for the same reason a lot of others have gone west: economic opportunity. The decade-long dominance by the elite of baseball's East left job openings for stars in the West. All they did was fill them. "Because the teams in the West had been so mediocre so long," says A's general manager Sandy Alderson, "players saw that it didn't take much to go to the head of the class." Says Texas Rangers manager Bobby Valentine, a tub-thumper for the Western rise: "The pendulum swung to the West because the opportunity was there."
No wonder that for the last two years the West has burned up the winter meetings while Eastern general managers have been sitting around the lobby hoping to get paged. How wild is the West to win? Perhaps the Rangers are the best example. In one Texas-sized off-season, they got a budding star, Palmeiro, in a nine-player deal with the Cubs, and then sent away Pete O'Brien, Oddibe McDowell and Jerry Browne in order to land the game's best young second baseman, Franco. Not content with stealing from, er, dealing with, the Eastern teams, they also lassoed free agent Nolan Ryan from the Houston Astros. While all that was going on, the Mets, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals were doing zippo. But the fishing was good.
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly.
But westward, look, the land is bright.
Arthur Hugh Clough