It is really too bad Sigmund Freud is dead. He would have had a grand time with Yankee Fritz Peterson and perhaps he might have been able to shed new light on the outcome of the rapidly tightening pennant race in the American League's Eastern Division. This is not to suggest that Peterson, who is no flakier than any other member of the traditionally kooky genus called left-handed pitcher, needs a shrink, Viennese or otherwise. He is simply a dreamer who does not understand the meaning of his frequent dreams, though he remembers and retells them vividly.
Freudian fans can begin by trying to analyze this one. The night before a recent start, Peterson dreamt that he was sleeping in a hotel room with his wife, Chip. (Chip's real name is Marilyn, but she rarely hears it. When they were dating at Northern Illinois University, where Peterson received his master's degree and has been a billiards instructor in the off season, Chip's future husband decided that she needed something to complement her maiden name of Monks.) They awoke around 2 a.m. to find Tom and Nancy Seaver sitting, fully clothed—how un-Freudian—on the other bed in the room. "They had just returned from a road trip," explains Peterson. "I started to talk to Tom and found out he's building apartment houses just like I am back home. He told me he needed one more reference to get his loan. I said, 'Really?' and he answered, 'No, I can get anything I want at this time.' He wasn't being bratty or smart. He just said it. I talked to him some more and I found out I liked him. Nancy seemed nice, too, but she didn't say much. Then when we got up to see them to the door, 10 other Mets walked out of our bathroom eating salami. We all went out into the hall of the hotel where the Mets were eating at these big, long tables. It ended there. I don't know what it means."
Peterson, who walks around with his hair sprouting up every which way and his uniform shirt bloused over his belt or his double-breasted blazer flopping open, always looks like he just got up from another dream. A man in his condition can be excused if he fails to perceive the obvious. After last week, when the surprising Yankees moved within three games of the heretofore unflappable Baltimore Orioles, any analyst—M.D. or not—could see what Peterson's dream meant. The Yanks, who are solidly in second, five games ahead of the third-place Tigers, are showing strong signs of getting back into their old business of challenging for championships.
There were corollaries, too. Should the Yankees pull off a Metslike miracle this season, they will take back some of the rich New York salami their interborough rivals have been devouring all by themselves the past year. One of the biggest feasters could be Fritz Peterson himself. With an apt, new screwball added to his array of pitches, he has a 9-2 record, better than Seaver's at this time a year ago. And, Chip, despite her nickname, hardly looks like a rodent, even next to the widely acclaimed Mrs. Seaver.
Of course, Peterson is not the only Yankee keenly pursuing a return to glory. As anonymous a lot as was ever ignored by the New York media, the Yanks have suddenly turned into a polished team that is showing far more enthusiasm for the chase than earlier and brawnier teams from the Bronx. Infielder Danny Cater, who before he came to New York from the Athletics this winter had achieved a measure of fame in Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City and Oakland simply because he was the most unknown good hitter in the game, twice was caught in the defiantly unbomberish act of scoreboard watching during a series in Kansas City last weekend. In the ninth inning of Peterson's latest win, a five-hit shutout, Cater walked to the mound to tell the pitcher that the Orioles had just fallen behind by two runs in the 11th inning of their game. The next night Cater was less restrained, waving to the Yankee outfielders to check the scoreboard that had just flashed that Baltimore was trailing 7-2.
A smooth, right-handed line drive hitter, Cater has brightened up the Yankee batting, if not the conversation, but predictably, despite his .303 average and 39 RBIs, he was not listed on the All-Star ballot. One of the two Yankees who were, Leftfielder Roy White, is a prototype for the new Yanks. He is small and fast. Only three of the regulars stand over 6 feet and the starting lineup weighs in at less than 180 pounds a man. New York is 10th in the American League in team batting average and last in home runs. Yet the team ranks third in runs scored, right behind hard-hitting Baltimore and Minnesota, because the Yankees are fourth in stolen bases, first in walks and first in sacrifice flies. This last category results from a team habit of moving routinely from first to third on singles. White, who is averaging .351, and Cater have hit spectacularly with men on base. Between them they have 81 RBIs, an extraordinary total at this point in the season for primarily singles hitters.
White hardly looks like he belongs on the field when he walks to the plate. His forearms are the thick, sinewy limbs of the wrist hitter he is and his shoulders are broad, but the rest of his physique appears dangerously frail. With his helmet propped high and square on his head, he would fit in much better dressed in silks and boots at Aqueduct than in the batter's box hitting cleanup. His stance is one an eighth-place hitter on a girls' Softball team might use. He chokes up four inches, drops his hands down to his belt, lets the bat fall parallel to the ground and holds it at a 45° angle from his body. Just as he begins his swing, he cocks the bat back slightly and flicks it in a tight arc.
"There is no way this guy will ever hit," Peterson says each time White comes to bat, yet the results have been so punishing that White is now one of the most feared hitters in the league. Last season he was walked every 6.5 times he came to the plate. This year he has been helped by the presence of Cater in the lineup behind him and by the union mailmen in New York. When the postmen went on strike last spring, White's hospital unit was one of those called up to assist in mail distribution. As a result, he has been given an early release from the service and the nagging weekend drills. "I felt like it was a miracle I hit .290 last year," White said in his extra-deep voice. "Every time I went in for my drill periods, it would take four or five days after I got back to get my timing again."
The hitting of Cater and White along with All-Star nominee Centerfielder Bobby Murcer, who was streaking with a .364 average during the past two weeks, and rookie Catcher Thurman Munson, who has batted .303 since beginning the year with a 1-for-30 slump, boosted the team when its known strength, starting pitching, failed. In the Yankees' first 52 games, the pitchers were able to finish only four times. On April 26 New York was in last place in its division and Mel Stottlemyre, a 20-game winner the past two seasons, had lost three of four decisions. During May, as the Yankees moved up to second place, the bullpen won seven of the team's 17 victories and was awarded saves in eight of the others.
"I said all along that the starters would come around just as soon as we hit some good weather," said Manager Ralph Houk last week. "I know the bad weather affects everybody's pitching early in the season, but we got more rain and cold than anyone else. Every place we went they'd apologize for the weather and then say, 'You should've been here all last week, the weather was great.' "