The Red Sox also are concerned about Pitcher Rick Wise (shoulder) and Second baseman Doug Griffin (back). Overweight last year, when he had a 12-14 record, a trimmer Reggie Cleveland can expect to do quite a bit better. Tiant (22-13) and Bill Lee (17-15) cannot go it alone again. Indeed, with an undermanned bullpen, Boston probably will have to increase its league lead in complete games (71) to be a contender.
It would gladden all New England if Tony Conigliaro could make a comeback after 3� years away from the game with eye troubles. The onetime heartthrob and rock star turned 30 the day before Elvis turned 40. Tony came to camp, got a hit in his first game—and pulled a hamstring. A sound Conigliaro would help, since 31-year-old Rico Petrocelli (15 homers, 76 RBIs) and 35-year-old Carl Yastrzemski (.301, 15 homers, 79 RBIs, 104 walks) might pick this year to begin slowing down. Much is expected of such youngsters as Rightfielder Dewey Evans (.281), Shortstop Rick Burleson (.284), Centerfielder Rick Miller, and neophyte outfielders Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. But all in all, an iffy team.
Cleveland led the division on July 5, was in contention until September and drew one million fans for the first time since 1959, but was far too dependent on the pitching of Gaylord and Jim Perry, who accounted for 38 of the club's 77 wins. Now Manager Frank Robinson has mandated that Fritz Peterson win 15 to 20 games.
Peterson reported slimmed down, for a change. Another heavy problem, Boog Powell, checked in from Baltimore to play first. It would be nice if he could manage to hit better than his weight (250) although Cleveland has adequate power in John Ellis, Oscar Gamble, Charlie Spikes, George Hendrick and Robinson. What the ponderous Indians, who were last in the league in sacrifice flies and walks, really lack are speed and smarts from players other than Outfielder John Lowenstein (36 stolen bases).
Henry Aaron's return to Milwaukee is more than good public relations. The Brewers need his bat. Though Pedro Garcia, Don Money, George Scott, Darrell Porter and John Briggs collectively hit 73 homers, the club was last in batting (.244), ninth in RBIs, 10th in walks and first in strikeouts. Manager Del Crandall hopes Aaron can hit 25 to 30 homers and 90 RBIs. "If I bat 200 times more [he was up 340 times in 1974], there's no telling what I'll do," Aaron says.
Brewer bats will have to be fearsome to compensate for a pitching staff whose biggest winner, Jim Slaton, had a 13-16 record. "I've always walked too many people," Slaton says, "but this winter in the Dominican Republic I walked something like 15 in 100 innings." His improvement, if maintained, would be helpful in June and July, months in which he won a total of two games in 1974. The brightest surprise of the summer was Bill Champion (11-4). Two other starters, Jim Colborn and Ed Sprague, have had knee operations. The defense, led by Third Baseman Money's .989 fielding percentage, the best ever at that position, is right up there with Baltimore's.
Detroit's problems start with its No. 1 pitcher. "I had torn cartilage in my knee the last six weeks of the season," says Mickey Lolich. "My record went from 16-14 to 16-21. They drained the knee and injected dye to see what was wrong. Every time I went in to see the doctor it felt better. He decided it wouldn't help to operate. I'm just keeping my fingers and toes crossed. I hope I don't step into a hole." If he doesn't, Lolich, who has 2,540 strikeouts, should pass Bob Feller and Warren Spahn to become fifth on the alltime list. No. 2 starter Joe Coleman is trying to rebound from a disappointing 14-12 record. Lerrin LaGrow (8-19) began the exhibition season by giving up 14 earned runs in 3? innings for an ERA of slightly under 38.00, which opens the doors for young pitchers with names like Ruhle, Lemanczyk and Holdsworth. You probably haven't heard of them, but then Pitching Coach Steve Hamilton hasn't, either. As things are, Reliever John Hiller could pitch more often than Mike Marshall.
Attendance plummeted 500,000 in 1974, and with Al Kaline and Norm Cash gone, it could drop some more. The best attractions are Lolich, Willie Horton, Nate Colbert, the power-hitting newcomer, and Centerfielder Ron LeFlore, whose speed and potential are the talk of the division. The spirit, at least, is entirely willing.