The Senators were last in everything in 1963—last in hitting, fielding, pitching and, of course, last in the league.
Washington's most pressing need is for a third baseman who can hit. Chuck Hinton, an outfielder who can hit, can play third, but he will not, as Hinton says dramatically, except in time of "grave need." In past years, when the Senators could not be so choosy, Hinton, the best and most exciting player on any of the four expansion clubs, played almost everywhere. This peripatetic existence did not bother him in 1962, when he hit .310, but it did last year when he slumped to .269. This year the Washington front office has promised Hinton he will play the outfield, period. The Senators feel Hinton could be even better if he would bear down all the time. "Chuck ebbs and flows with the tide," says General Manager George Selkirk. "When we got off to a bad start last year and a lot of guys got hurt, he went a little sour." There is, too, the special problem of Hinton's popularity, which is definitely at high tide in Washington. He makes speeches all over town and is enmeshed in various projects, civic and charitable. Also economic: Hinton's insurance agency has four outlets now, and the Senators worry that Hinton thinks more about policies than pitchers. The fans, insured and otherwise, are strictly with Hinton, however, as was demonstrated by the flood of sympathy he got when he tried to come back too soon after a serious beaning by Ralph Terry last September. His average had crept up to the low .280s, but it tailed off after his hurried return. "I was seeing two balls and some butterflies," Hinton says, "but I had to come back as fast as I could. I had to prove to myself that I wasn't plate shy." His project now must be to prove to everyone that he is the player he gave promise of being in 1962. Manager Gil Hodges thinks Hinton could improve his swing by holding on to the bat a little longer with his top hand. Hinton could also raise his average by bunting more often. "Do you know what he says when he does bunt—I mean when he makes it?" asks George Case, a special coach with the team. "All he can talk about is how far he could have hit the pitch if he had swung away." Hinton should do better this year simply because the rest of the lineup is stronger. Last year opponents pitched around Hinton and made him swing at bad balls if he wanted to hit at all. But now American League pitchers will have more respect for the Washington hitters. Don Lock, despite a .252 average, had an impressive record (27 HRs and 82 RBIs) for his first full season. He has one big drawback, though—he strikes out much too much (151). Bill Skowron, who hit 23 home runs with the Yankees in 1962, is likely to be better as a regular with the Senators than he was with the Dodgers in 1963 when he spent much of the season on the bench. Jim King (.231) had 24 homers last year and completes a surprisingly powerful middle-of-the-lineup. Singles, however, will be harder to come by. Don Blasingame hit .315 the last five weeks of the season, and while he probably won't do that well, he does give Hodges a good lead-off man. Ed Brinkman has not hit in the majors but should improve if he learns to hit the ball where it is pitched. "I know he can hit," Hodges says. "When I call the hit and run—when he has to hit—he always gets a piece of it." Ken Hunt will lead the bench and could even win the right-field job if he is recovered from a back injury. Don Leppert had a great start last year until he got hit by a pitch on the elbow.
The arms are here, but nobody, least of all Blue Cross, will bet on how long they last. Dave Stenhouse was good enough to start an All-Star Game in 1962, but he has lost 17 of 21 games since. It will take time to find out if he has returned to form following an operation for the removal of bone chips. Tom Cheney had four shutouts by the end of June last year, but his arm started hurting and he did not pitch again after July. The younger pitchers are risky insurance cases, too. Jim Duckworth (4-12) missed the 1959 and 1960 seasons with a bad arm, and Howie Koplitz, a chubby palm bailer drafted from Detroit, has a history of tendonitis. A healthy lefty, Claude Osteen, presently leads the staff. He did not win a game till June 10, then finished 9-14, 3.35. The most likely Osteen of '64 is Jim Hannan, a Notre Dame grad who looks ready. A second possibility is Carl Bouldin, who is better known as captain of Cincinnati's first championship basketball team. The rest is strictly hope-springs-eternal—Steve Ridzik, Bennie Daniels and Don Rudolph for long relief and occasional starts, and Ron Kline, Ed Roebuck and Marshall Bridges for shorter work. The Senators think some pitching improvement can be attained simply through greater rapport. Accordingly, they set up an experiment in group therapy during spring training, in which one catcher was assigned two or three pitchers just to talk pitching. The idea was to promote understanding and familiarity between catcher and pitcher that was absent last year.
For the first time the Senators are not just struggling to get nine guys together. Only the third-base situation is a bad one, and John Kennedy, a 22-year-old redhead who batted .290 for Hawaii, may remedy that. If Kennedy is not ready to hit major league pitching the job will probably go by default to Don Zimmer (.248), whenever his broken hand heals. Blasingame can still handle second, and at short, Brinkman is a good young one getting better. By season's end he may be the best fielding shortstop in the league. With Hinton, Lock and King, the Senators have a good outfield; they had 35 assists in 1963, and Lock has an exceptional arm. Skowron will be a tremendous help at first. A minor league Dodger, Mike Brumley, will pick up the catching, though holdovers Leppert and Ken Retzer, carrying less weight and recovered from injuries, will push Brumley for the job. The Senators led the league in errors last year, a distinction they now appear ready to avoid.
If Hodges gets good years from his veterans, the Senators should escape the cellar.