Fairly bubbling with intellectual ferment, the managers in this precinct are not content with merely flashing bunt signs or bolstering wounded psyches with paternal pats on the behind. No, here they speak of "optometherapy" and "elastic resistance tests." And in their midst is a college-trained radical who entertains the quaint notion that the game actually can be played faster.
Baseball games are not won by scholars, of course; it is axiomatic that no matter how smart you are, you still gotta have the horses. But there are herds of horses out West. The reigning world champion Oakland A's are pawing and snorting, and numerous handicappers suggest they will win the big race once again. But out Chicago way people have been doing some powerful thinking, too—about power.
The long ball should come often in Chicago, where the White Sox have upgraded an offense that was already first-class. The league's 1971 home-run leader, Bill Melton, is back to join the 1972 home-run leader, Dick ($675,000) Allen. And on either side of them in the batting order Manager Chuck Tanner can call on Carlos May, who hit .308 last year, and Ken Henderson, who spent the last eight years with San Francisco. Henderson had 18 home runs for the Giants in what was considered to be an off-season for him. Also an outstanding defensive player, Henderson will start in center. With all these hitters surrounding him, Allen should not be walked as often as he was last year, and that could mean even more home runs.
So hitting is no problem in Chicago, but pitching could be. To get Henderson, the White Sox sent Tom Bradley, a 15-game winner in '72, to the Giants. In return they also received Steve Stone, a righthander with a major league curveball and dime-store statistics. But Stone, who won a total of 11 games the past two seasons, figures to be Tanner's third starter behind the busy knuckleballer, Wilbur Wood, and Stan Bahnsen, a starter who has trouble finishing (41 attempts, five complete games) and loses almost as often as he wins. He was 21-16 in 1972. But for all of their pitching patchwork, the White Sox should be the A's most tenacious pursuers.
Set your sights next on Kansas City, where things are looking up. The Royals will finally move into their new $35 million ball park after a year's wait. There they will find shorter fences (330 feet in both left and right) and the only playing surface in the American League that is, save for the mound, home plate and the sliding areas, completely artificial. Not even the Royals can say whether the new surface will be the making of them or simply a nuisance.
"It could cause some problems," says Shortstop Fred Patek, who at 5'4" has enough problems already. "You may get used to it and have to slow yourself down on the other fields. It's usually tougher to slow your body down than to speed it up."
The Royals tend to talk that way, for the body is the object of much experimentation in Kansas City. Pitcher Wayne Simpson, who comes to the Royals from Cincinnati, is undergoing the so-called elastic resistance tests under the supervision of his personal "doctor of physical medicine." Elastic resistance turns out to be a form of isometric exercise.
The Royals have also employed former University of Kansas Miler Wes Santee to teach them how to run and a couple of California eye men, Bill Lee and Bill Harrison, to teach them how to see. These "optometherapists" hope to train Royal hitters to quickly identify such dimly perceived objects as curves and sliders. What K.C. really needs is someone to teach the pitchers how to throw those things. Such sturdy batsmen as John Mayberry (100 RBIs, .298) and Lou Piniella (72 RBIs, .312) are not exactly blind. But when pitchers like Dick Drago (12-17) and Paul Splittorf (12-12) are the stars of your staff, you could use a flingo therapist.
In any case, new Manager Jack McKeon, a stubby ex-catcher with a degree in physical education from Elon College in North Carolina, has introduced science to the Royal training camp. McKeon is a firm believer in the learning process. "We spent more time this spring on fundamentals," he said. "It was like a classroom: repeating each problem and situation, like giving a kid long division in school. We want our club to be the most mentally prepared in the league." Prepared for third place. At least.
Bobby Winkles, the equally new manager of the California Angels, is another diamond academician. He was the baseball coach for 13 years at Arizona State University before joining the Angels a year ago as a coach under the manager he replaced, Del Rice. Now he is getting the chance to apply his college techniques to the professional game, and like McKeon he is big on basics. "The idea that a big-leaguer no longer needs training in fundamentals could not be farther from the truth," says Winkles. "We have kids up here who have played only a year in the minors. That's why we have 45 minutes of basics every day."