There was plenty of good pitching in Pittsburgh last year, yet the Pirates fell to eighth, winning 74 and losing 88—proving that pitching is, after all, only 45.7% of baseball.
Only two Pirate hitters lived up to expectations last year. Bill Virdon had his usual season (.269, 53 RBIs), and Roberto Clemente was second in the league with his .320. The Pirates will tell you that even Roberto was disappointing, because every spring they expect him to hit .450. "Some people think Roberto is not aggressive enough," says General Manager Joe Brown. "I think he may have lost his joie de vivre, his love of the game, but that's all. Everything went wrong with us. In effect we snowballed downhill. Well, this affected Roberto most—he felt it and showed it because he is such a competitor that he got even more wrapped up in the team's troubles." Clemente, of course, had a good season. It was the others who hurt the team. Bob Bailey was one. Bailey is the young man who signed with the Pirates at something like the going price for an Atlas missile. Jumped to Triple-A in 1962—his first full pro season—he blossomed by June and ended up as minor league Player of the Year. Pittsburgh was clamoring to see this kid. "What could we do?" asks Brown. "Say, "O.K., Sonny, go back to the minors and have a really good year'?" So the Pirates cleared out Don Hoak, gave Bailey third base and for good measure made him the spearhead of a bona fide turnover. It was disastrous. Donn Clendenon and Willie Stargell both struck out too much—one out of every four plate appearances. Catcher Jim Pagliaroni's average went down with injuries, and Dick Schofield—who performed well at short—tailed off at the end of the season when the whole Pirate club really collapsed. All of them could improve significantly this year. Old Hand Bill Mazeroski can hit for distance now and then—but he is badly miscast as a cleanup man (8 home runs and 52 RBIs last year). That is how desperate for power the Pirates were. The team does have two of the best pinch hitters in baseball, Jerry Lynch and Smoky Burgess. Neither fields well, but when they come up with men on base, beware. What the Pirates need most, however, are players who can average more than one hit a game, and young Bailey should be able to do that. He hurt his left shoulder last spring, was late getting started, panicked and pressed. He tried swinging for the fences—which is particularly fatal in Forbes Field—and ended up with only 12 homers and a .228 average. "It took a little wind out of my sails, didn't it?" Bailey asks rhetorically. It was suggested that he had not seemed cocky last spring. "Oh, I was, I was," he said. But if the bad year cured his cockiness, it did not destroy his confidence. He also will be prodded this year—which is something he needs—by Gene Freese, who was acquired from the Reds to provide third-base competition. The third-base battle also has been joined by Gene Alley, who began hitting in the winter league and continued through spring training. Alley can play short, second, third and outfield. The Pirates also had Bailey working in the outfield this spring, but Bailey is determined to start where he left off—at third—Freese and Alley notwithstanding. One bad year has not changed what everyone said last spring—that Bob Bailey has tremendous talent.
Pittsburgh's pitching may be even better this year. Vernon Law's 1963 comeback ended last August, but the enforced rest seems to have restored elasticity to his arm. There is substantial evidence to suggest that Bob Veale is finally ready. Veale, a 28-year-old left-hander, long had the strange habit of arbitrarily taking something off his pitches. Manager Danny Murtaugh cured him of this by pitching him in relief, where it was inadvisable to throw any way but hard. Veale pitched only 78 innings, but most came late in the season. He was the only pitcher to beat the Cardinals during their 19-for-20 streak—and what's more, he shut them out. Veale ended up with a spectacular 1.04 ERA, and this season he will be a starter. He joins three right-handed holdovers—Bob Friend (17-16 and 2.34, the best ERA in the league by a right-hander), Don Cardwell (13-15, 3.07) and Don Schwall (6-12, 3.32). All suffered numerous painful low-scoring defeats, and Schwall was further hampered by a back spasm. Joe Gibbon and Earl Francis both have a good year in their records and both have a chance to break into the regular rotation. For short relief ElRoy Face is still able, but Alvin O'Neal McBean (13-3, 2.58) is now abler. Young Tommie Sisk came on fast last year, and he will start and relieve. All three got plenty of work—at least 55 appearances apiece—since the Pirates were last in the league with only 34 complete games. This was, however, the fault of the nonhitters rather than the pitchers.
Bailey exemplified what is so often the case: nonhitting breeds nonfielding. Last season only the Mets were worse than the Pirates at catching and throwing a baseball. "We know Bob can go either way and as far as any third baseman in the league," Murtaugh says. "We saw him do it—sometimes. All he lacks is consistency." Bailey himself admits the fault, saying he needs more concentration. He also admits to having been bullheaded in refusing to use anything but the Raggedy Ann glove that he first acquired back in high school. It is a shiny new glove that Bob Bailey spits into now. The Pirates are strong up the middle, particularly at short and second, where Schofield and Mazeroski hold sway. Schofield does not have the instincts of Dick Groat, the man he replaced last year, but he has better range and a stronger arm. Catcher Pagliaroni and Center Fielder Virdon are good, too, but Virdon is almost 33, and center field at Forbes Field is big enough to get lost in. Right Fielder Clemente made 11 errors, mainly because he charges every ball and gets a glove on almost everything. No one even bothers to challenge his powerful arm anymore. Stargell, 20 pounds lighter, will help the outfield defense as the regular left fielder.
Though the Pirates lack power they should hit more singles than last year—but not enough, even with good pitching, to make the team a pennant contender.