Billy Martin looks like Minnesota Skinny, the slick pool hall hustler ready to drop the eight ball in the side pocket or douse the lights and bolt away into the darkness if he misses. Hank Bauer looks like a Marine recruiting sergeant down at the depot with hair pricklier than thumbtacks. Martin and Bauer were part of the act that used to play Yankee Stadium for Casey Stengel, and they remember the pennants and the World Series and the parties—especially Martin's 29th birthday party at the Copacabana in New York. It ended not in the sports section but on Page One, and resulted in Martin's banishment to Kansas City.
Martin and Bauer are rival managers now and on the other side of the generation gap, Martin at Minnesota for his first try at the job in the majors; Bauer at Oakland, where Owner Charlie Finley keeps office space for passing managers. There will be no Yankee-style scenes until their teams can play and win the way the Yankees used to. Martin and Bauer have ordered their players not to wear Beatle-length hair or sideburns or alpaca sweaters or turtle-neck shirts or anything else that does not conform to the image of the typical 9-to-5 businessman. Bauer's Athletics will even wear matching blazers, shirts, ties and slacks when they go on the road. So straight has Martin's lace become that he almost choked over the lame excuse one of his players offered him after missing a bed check. "The kid thought he could con a con man and lie to a liar," he said, shaking his head.
Since the Twins and the Athletics are the only decent teams in the division, it is obvious the pennant winner will be impeccably groomed and/or have the richest clubhouse treasury in baseball. Minnesota lost the 1967 pennant on the final day of the season in Boston, then collapsed miserably last year to finish seventh. So President Calvin Griffith fired Manager Cal Ermer, who was too passive and too permissive, and hired the irascible Martin to replace him. He will have in his regular lineup Harmon Killebrew, recovered from the ruptured hamstring that sidelined him the last half of 1968, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Cesar Tovar and new Shortstop Leo Cardenas. He also will have two of baseball's best but most petulant pitchers, Jim Kaat and Dean Chance. "We will beat any team that tries to beat us," Martin says emphatically.
Oakland will try to beat the Twins and may succeed, despite Martin's threat. In 1968 the Athletics would have won the pennant by three games if there had been a Western Division. They finished sixth though, so Finley fired Manager Bob Kennedy, whom baseball people thought had done a superlative job handling the A's young players. Kennedy was Finley's eighth manager-victim in eight years. Bauer was the second, in 1962.
Now Bauer will attempt to understand Finley once again. He will have the youngest team in the major leagues (only one player, backup Catcher Jim Pagliaroni, is in his 30s) but also one of the best. The pitching staff, led by John (Blue Moon) Odom, Jim Nash, Jim (Catfish) Hunter, Chuck Dobson and Lew Krausse, had a 2.94 earned run average in 1968. The hitters, led by Shortstop Bert Campaneris, the premier base stealer, and three Arizona State recruits, Rick Monday, Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando, had the best batting average in the league in 1968. "Sure it looks good," Bauer says, "but we still got to play the damn games. Nobody's won a pennant with their mouth."
Minnesota and Oakland can win the pennant on the field. All the other teams in the division can only dream of the '70s. The Chicago White Sox and the California Angels will battle for third place, hopefully with the same vigor they displayed last year when the aroused White Sox beat the Angels on the last day of the season to tie them for eighth place. To help prevent a repeat of that disaster, the Angels spent the winter acquiring two knuckleball relief specialists, Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher. Chicago countered by: 1) moving in its fences; 2) installing a synthetic infield that cannot be watered down unless, as one Chicago player said, someone invents Astrowater; and 3) getting a computer to handle whatever ticket requests come in. Recently, the White Sox have been about as popular in Chicago as a Democratic convention.
The expansion Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots will match up for fifth and sixth places. The Royals, drafting a predominantly young team last fall, did manage to secure some quality pitchers, among them Roger Nelson, Wally Bunker and Dave Morehead. The Pilots drafted for experience, claiming veterans like Tommy Davis, who could win the batting title, Don Mincher and Gary Bell. In the end, the Royals probably will finish fifth, though, because it will be easier for their kids to maintain their incentive during August and September when 8-2 defeats will follow 5-1 defeats.
Ironically, incentive is the reason Billy Martin is managing the Twins, even though on paper Minnesota has an exceptional club. Killebrew wins the home-run championship and drives in 100 runs just about every year. Oliva usually collects the batting title, and Carew always hits around .300. Cardenas was one of the best shortstops in the National League last year. Tovar plays eight positions better than any player in baseball. And Kaat and Chance both have won 20 or more games when they have concentrated on pitching instead of letter writing and fight promoting.
Nevertheless, last season the Twins were a dull team, so dull, in fact, that home attendance in baseball-crazy Minnesota dropped almost 350,000. "We needed life, we needed a kick," said Calvin Griffith during spring training. "I never saw a team play like our club did in 1968."
The players already know what Martin the manager will be like. He was loud and cantankerous at Denver last summer when he managed only 115 games but got tossed out of eight. Griffith, however, will be a surprise. He feels that his players took great advantage of him when they threatened to boycott the national pastime this season. For years he has been one of the game's most considerate owners. When players wanted a loan to open a business or buy a home, Griffith gave it to them and charged no interest. When players needed medical care for their families, they went to the Twins' doctors and Griffith paid the bills. When players encountered legal problems, Griffith always had a team of lawyers ready to defend them. "But I learned this year that I cannot treat players that way anymore," he says. "There will be a new atmosphere in Minnesota as far as I am concerned."