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The Angels' super pitchers will at least be throwing to a highly professional catcher this year in Ellie Rodriguez, obtained from the Milwaukee Brewers. "We've helped ourselves tremendously behind the plate," says Winkles. "Rodriguez is more of a leader than we've ever had."
Besides Singer and strikeout king Ryan, Winkles plans to start Frank Tanana and either Rudy May or Andy Hassler or both. Ryan is the stopper. He may not strike out 383 batters again, but he does plan to improve on his 21-16 record. "I felt I had to prove something last year," he says. "I wanted to show everyone I was no fluke. But that's behind me now. When you concentrate on records, it takes away from the real reason you're out there, which is winning games. That's what I'm going to concentrate on this year. I want to pitch my 300 innings or more and win more games than last year."
"I've never seen Nolan so relaxed," says Winkles, who, in his second season as a big-league manager, is himself considerably more at ease. He would be even happier, though, if he could count on a bit more hitting. Frank Robinson is reconciled to being the team's designated hitter, which is a plus, but he and Third Baseman Bob Oliver were the Angels' offense a year ago. If Epstein can regain the form he exhibited with the A's two years ago and Bobby Valentine can come back from a broken leg, the team at least will have added two important bats to a fragile offense. But the Angels will need even more than that to stay in contention.
The Minnesota Twins had no trouble with the A's last year. They won 14 of 18 games against the champs, which is the good news. The bad news is that they lost 27 of 39 one-run games during the year and finished seven games under .500 at home. The Twins are no less enigmatic than their owner, Calvin Griffith, who cannot fairly be described as a morale builder. Griffith threatened to trade the three players—Larry Hisle, Steve Braun and Dick Woodson—who won out in the salary arbitration hearings and he had the temerity to suggest that Harmon Killebrew, temporarily disabled with a dislocated right shoulder, retire to coaching. Griffith did cut Killebrew's salary to under $100,000 and he also reduced Designated Hitter Tony Oliva's paycheck. DH's, said Cal, are only half-players.
Griffith did not, however, ding league batting champion Rod Carew or star Pitcher Bert Blyleven, who has won 63 major league games at age 22. Blyleven led the majors in shutouts with nine and was second to Ryan in American League strikeouts with 258. He walked only 67 men in 325 innings and is just now approaching his potential.
Potential is a popular word around the Texas Rangers' camp, but according to Shortstop Toby Harrah, it is just that: a word. "I'm sick and tired of hearing about potential," says feisty Toby. "I'd rather have an average player who puts out than one with potential who doesn't. I've seen too many of those. Talk, talk, talk, talk, that's all baseball is." That may well be, but the Rangers' manager, Billy Margin, is also a man of action. "There's no excuse for happy losers," Billy advised his troops. "We want a contender."
Ferguson Jenkins, picked up from the Cubs, should help realize the potential. Last year was Jenkins' first in seven as a non-20-game winner (he won 14). He will join a pitching staff that is far from seasoned. Jim Bibby and 19-year-old David Clyde are prodigies, as Peter Broberg and Steve Dunning have been, unfortunately, for several seasons.
In Harrah and Second Baseman Dave Nelson the Rangers do have two solid infielders. Nelson hit .286 and stole 43 bases while making only 11 errors last year. Outfielder Jeff Burroughs, in his first full big-league season, hit .279 with 30 home runs and 85 runs batted in. His muscle led to a remodeling of the team's ball park, where the power alleys were shortened from 380 to 370 feet.
And then there is Martin himself. "Billy has always been an optimist," says Coach Frank Lucchesi. "He's probably as big an optimist as General Custer. I say this because Custer's got 500 troops and he's against 5,000 Indians and he's saying, 'Take no prisoners.' That's optimism. Maybe some of this will rub off on the players."
Maybe, but Custer could not even beat the Indians. What would he have done against the A's?