Not long after the Los Angeles Dodgers blew the pennant last October strange things were said, overheard and done. Not surprisingly, Leo Durocher led the way. Abandoning the false front of silence he had worn all year, Leo second-guessed everyone from Manager Walt Alston to selected Dodger players. Later he denied that he had second-guessed anyone. But Leo had, and Alston knows it.
At World Series time, Walter O'Malley, the proprietor, took himself hunting and, as he says, "Every time I raised the rifle to my shoulder I saw a manager or a coach or certain players, and my finger would start to squeeze the trigger." When Walter O'Malley says this he does not smile.
Buzzie Bavasi, the general manager, was sore, too. "After we had blown the thing," says Bavasi, "I was burning mad. My emotions were taking over my judgments." Bavasi is a shrewd baseball man, an expert at evaluating talent. "Now is the time," he says ominously, "that Alston must take charge and take charge in a big way. It's his job to do."
Into the fringe area of this tense Dodger situation has stepped Charles Dressen, known lovingly as Jolly Cholly. Dressen is listed by the Dodgers as scout—which is a new way of spelling troubleshooter. "Oh, I know," says Charley, "everyone thinks that with Leo and me here together there will be trouble. I never cause anyone any trouble."
Walter Alston, shown at left with Dressen and Durocher, is a quiet man and an honorable one. He knows that he may not finish out the season if the Dodgers bog down at the start. He stays alone most of the time on the field, and in the evening he plays cards with Pete Reiser, the Dodgers' most respected coach. There are many Dodger players—and most of them are pitchers—who do not like Alston, who believe him to be weak. But last year Alston finally got mad at Durocher and told him to zip his lip.
The Dodgers of 1963 are aware of this turmoil at the top and they will find that it is not easy to play ball at one's peak in the middle of palace revolution and intrigue.
Bill Skowron was picked up from the Yankees to give the Dodgers some needed right-handed power. Along with Frank Howard (31 HRs) and Tommy Davis (27 HRs), he does indeed give the Dodgers an awesome right-handed punch. Howard is a streak hitter and still has trouble with curves, but Davis led the majors last year in hits (230), runs batted in (153) and average (.346). The Dodger hitting is augmented by speed, and Maury Wills, Willie Davis, John Roseboro, Jim Gilliam and Tommy Davis can pick up where the hitting drops off. Last year they stole 183 bases in 219 tries. Ron Fairly is a good hitter and should bat close to .300.
Going into last season, the Dodgers had one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, with two excellent right-handers and two excellent left-handers. Going into this season, they have one excellent right-hander ( Don Drysdale, 25-9) and questions, questions, questions. Has Sandy Koufax' injured index finger healed sufficiently so that he can use his breaking stuff? The answer to that will come early for the Dodgers, because they are forced by the schedule to play 28 games on 27 consecutive days from April 16 to May 12. Koufax, who struck out 216 in 184 innings, must be able to take a regular turn in that period. What about Johnny Podres' aching back? Podres was strong at the end of last season but he still finished only eight of 40 starts. And who replaces Stan Williams (14-12), now departed along with his fast ball to the New York Yankees? Probably Larry Sherry, who has gone as far as seven innings only once in the last two years. Bob Miller might start, but last year with the Mets he completed only one game in 21 starts; 20-year-old Joe Moeller is wild; and Phil Ortega lacks confidence. The Dodgers, however, have an excellent bullpen with Ron Perranoski, Ed Roebuck, Pete Richert and Jack Smith.
The Dodgers fielded three points better than the wildly inept Mets last season. Alston again is telling Tommy Davis, a natural outfielder, that he is a third baseman. The second-base situation is as confused as ever. Rookie Nate Oliver is this year's New Second Baseman, but Nate may stumble on the double play. Skowron, at first, has trouble moving around. Howard, in right, is too slow getting the jump on a fly ball, while Fairly in left is just plain slow. Despite his great speed, Center Fielder Willie Davis is still learning his trade. Roseboro made more errors last season than any other catcher in the majors. Only at short, with Wills, is the team blessed with a complete fielder.