SI Vault
April 12, 1971
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 12, 1971

Where Tangibles Get Tangled

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

Although they seem venerable in spots, the rest of the Twins look formidable, too. Rotund Harmon Killebrew, 34. doubtlessly has more 40-homer seasons tucked away, Leo Cardenas is ready to prove that his 32 years are the blush of youth, and Tony Oliva and Cesar Tovar are in their playing primes. Manager Bill Rigney says the Twins will run more this year, which is what they did in their pennant years of '65 and '69 and forgot to do in '70 when Rod Carew, who is mended now and ready to take up where he left off last season with a .366 average, broke his leg. But the Twins will have to be improved if they want to outdo the Angels.

For three years Oakland has been promises, promises. The A's still are promising, but the assets they will draw on are real—and sometimes unreal. They have, for example, an honest pitcher in Chuck Dobson, who has admitted that he takes greenies (when he has to pitch with the flu) but thinks his pill-popping has been blown up way out of proportion, a redeemed moving man in Second Baseman Dick Green (he announced in the winter that he was going to quit baseball forever and remain in Rapid City, S. Dak. and devote his time to his trucking business) and established talents in Sal Bando, Rick Monday, Felipe Alou and Campy Campaneris. In addition, Oakland has a happy Reggie Jackson. Last year Jackson developed such strained relations with his employer that while scoring after one of his rare (23) home runs he looked at Finley in the stands and shouted an alarming suggestion. This spring Jackson chucked the heavy-handed repartee, reported to camp on time after tending to his real estate business in Tempe, Ariz. and started hitting home runs as soon as the exhibition schedule began. One reason for this was his choice of winter bosses. Jackson played in the Puerto Rican league, and Frank Robinson was his manager.

"Frank and I spent seven weeks together," says Jackson. "We were very close, always talking baseball, sometimes as many as five solid hours. Let me tell you that Frank understands baseball and he understands people. And he just has to win. When I went to play for him, I was down and we both knew it. But he was very patient and helpful with me. He talked to me and taught me a few things, too. Then one day I hit a pitch that was on the outside corner over the left-center-field fence and I knew I was back. Frank told me, 'You have nothing to do now but go up.' "

The A's pitching staff could go down. It has some lovable names on it—Blue Moon Odom, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers—but only Blue is improving. Blue Moon has been temporarily reduced to a crescent by an operation to remove a bone chip from his elbow and Fingers has lost his touch. Hunter has been winning but his ERA has been rising.

One of Oakland's unmeasurable quantities is its new manager, Dick Williams, who guided the '67 Red Sox cited by Conigliaro. Finley says he finally has a manager "who can stand up and be counted." That is an odd way to put it, because people have been counting Finley's managers—11 so far—since he bought the A's. Maybe Bando puts it better than Finley: "We need a guy to kick us in the rear now and then." Williams, who is no shrinking violet, will surely oblige.

What remains is the Western Division's second division. Nobody knows what is going on down there. The Kansas City Royals, to begin with, are an enigma. They have a widely admired front office, and widely respected front-line pitching. But the pitchers are high-potential youngsters, not proven quantities, and strange things happen to youthful arms. Behind the pitching are Amos Otis, the former Met who has become a fine centerfielder and a good hitter. Bob Oliver and Lou Piniella who add power (they had most of the team's RBIs last year), and Freddie Patek, who the Royals picked up from the Pirates after last season. Patek is not only the smallest man in the majors but a good shortstop; at least he is as long as the ball doesn't take a high hop.

If the Royals have modest hopes, so do the Milwaukee Brewers, what with not having to change names and home towns this spring as they did last, when they were the Seattle Pilots, then the Sewaukee Piwers and finally the team that, under Dave Bristol, rose from the cellar to a winning percentage of over .400 (.401 to be exact). The Brewers have Tommy Harper, who had nearly as good a set of statistics last year as the league's MVP, Boog Powell; Marty Pattin, who won 14 games and did not lose that many; reliever Ken Sanders, who is all but unknown but whose 1.76 ERA last season should earn him some notoriety; and Outfielder Dave May, who is noteworthy for being one of the six players named May in the majors. The Brewers also have a new general manager, Frank Lane, whose most recent stop was with Baltimore. Within a month after assuming office, trader Lane made four deals. One of them landed Outfielder Bill Voss. "This gives us the novelty," said Lane, "of having somebody in right field who can catch a fly ball." Another trade brought Catcher Ellie Rodriguez from Kansas City. But Lane is still in the market for a shortstop to go along with steady Ted Kubiak, his second baseman.

And last come the Chicago White Sox who, in an attempt to kindle interest, will wear red socks this season and be represented on Midwest (but not Chicago) radio by a controversial voice: "It might could is..." Harry Caray.

This is a critical year for the Sox, who drew only 495,355 customers in 1970, compared to the Cubs' 1,642,705, and are nearing the end of a five-year, $5 million TV contract. John Allyn bought the team from his brother, Arthur, in late 1969 and the Sox rewarded him with more losses (106) than any Chicago team ever. By Aug. 17 this year the White Sox will have had T-shirt day, batting-glove day, bat day, helmet day, banner day, cushion day, four photo-mug nights, poster night, a father-son game and an oldtimers' game. Occasionally, they may even have a baseball day.

On the field the Sox are going back to pitching, speed and defense, the only things that will work in spacious White Sox Park. One exception to speed and patty-cake is Carlos May, who has moved his hands down on his bat for more power after choking up last year; at that he hit a remarkable .285 following the removal of most of his thumb by an Army-camp mortar round. Another is Lee Maye, the team's ace pinch hitter, who describes himself as "a Smoky Burgess with soul." A Willie McCovey is more what the White Sox need. And Mike Andrews, a second baseman acquired from the Red Sox, can hit even if his fielding is slightly suspect.

Continue Story
1 2 3