The Dodgers this year are as solid as an O'Malley investment. There isn't a soft spot in the lineup, and there are precious few among the reserves. Bunyanesque Frank Howard, who stomped out of the sticks to a chorus of Ruthian hosannas, will have to stomp right back again. There's no room for him. There may be none for Tommy Davis, the best-looking rookie in Florida this spring. There is certainly none for anyone else. Not only are veterans like Don Drysdale (left), Johnny Podres, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Wally Moon and Charlie Neal blocking the way; a jumble of lesser names (nimble .270 hitters and steely-armed young pitchers) are cluttering up the roster.
?OTHER TEAMS' TALENTS
Yet the Dodgers are no cinch to win the pennant again. Why? Because both the Giants and Braves, weaker in spots than the Dodgers, can bury their deficiencies in an avalanche of specialized talent. Their hitting can explode, their pitching can turn unbeatable and either can run away with the pennant. The Dodgers, as they did last year, will have to play the waiting game. They will lose a few, win a few more, hover near the top and hope that not one but both their rivals fold. It could happen again, but Los Angeles will have to be lucky.
?ALL THIS AND SHERRY
If the Dodgers have a single strongest point, it is their pitching. Manager Walt Alston can tick off six strong starters and three reputable relievers without even mentioning Larry Sherry. This takes some doing for, as all Little Leaguers know, Sherry won two World Series games last fall and saved two more. Larry was a relief pitcher then and happy to be one. This year, though, he wants to be a starter on a club well-endowed with starters. Top man on the staff is Drysdale, the sidearming fast-baller who won 17 games last year and led the league in strikeouts. Then come right-hander Roger Craig and left-hander Johnny Podres. Craig—like Sherry, a late-season tonic—won a succession of crucial ball games, and was one inning short of qualifying for the lowest official ERA in either league (2.06). Podres is troubled by a nagging back but has worked more and won more in Los Angeles than he ever did in Brooklyn. He needs several days' rest between starts and has no trouble getting it on this staff. Rounding out the starting alignment are Sandy Koufax and Stan Williams, who have overpowering speed but trouble controlling it, and chunky Danny McDevitt, a small southpaw with excellent stuff.
Sherry's chances as a starter depend largely on the ability of relievers Clem Labine, Johnny Klippstein and Ed Roebuck to get along without him. Roebuck, a throwback to the Brooklyn days, is the key figure. He pitched 28 games—all starts—in St. Paul last year and emerged with a 13-10, 2.98 record and a shot at the Los Angeles bullpen. He showed up well in spring training and figures to rank just behind the veteran Labine (and, of course, behind Sherry if things turn out that way).
?NO BIG BAT
Frank Howard may hit 85 home runs for Los Angeles next year or in 1965 or 1970. But for the present the Dodgers are without a slugger in a class with Mays, Mathews or Aaron, and will have to rely on team effort to produce the runs (last year five men hit between 18 and 25 homers and three drove in between 80 and 88 runs). Snider and Hodges, who rank third and fifth among the league's alltime home-run hitters, have been slowly fading as power men and can never regain their former supremacy. But they are still good for 20 homers and 80 RBIs apiece, near the top for any club. Slender Charlie Neal has hit 41 homers and driven in 148 runs over the last two seasons. Wally Moon regained his long-ball touch in 1959, while spindly Don Demeter racked up 18 homers, 70 RBIs. John Roseboro, Norm Larker and Don Zimmer all hit for occasional distance.
The failure of Howard to stick this year doesn't bother the Dodgers, who consider him a superstar of the future. His power with the bat is almost frightening, and any second-division team would make sure he was somewhere in the lineup right now. But the Dodgers, destined to be involved in another pennant fight, can't risk late throws from the outfield or bob-bled grounders at first base just on the chance that Howard might club a dozen balls over the left-field screen. Huge Frank has little comprehension of his own mammoth strike zone and but slight control over his all-or-nothing uppercut swing. Until he develops a modicum of finesse, Los Angeles will string along with its present quota of mere mortals.
Lacking awesome power, the Dodgers rely on speed and versatility to complement their steady pitching. Virtually all the regulars can wangle their way to first base (the club's 591 walks led both leagues last year) and then steal or take the extra base. The Dodgers are so versatile these days it is almost impossible to make the club without playing more than one position; young Davis, for instance, abandoned the outfield last month to take a crack at unfamiliar third base. The presence of so many infielder-outfielders gives Los Angeles a flexibility unknown to other teams. Vital handy men this year will be First Baseman-Outfielder Larker, All-round Infielder Zimmer and Third Baseman-Outfielder Jim Gilliam.