Indians, in the words of another team's broadcaster, are composed mostly of
players who this season "were supposed to do a lot but have done very
little." Much of what success and consolation the Indians have had derives
from two players, neither on the team last year, who were supposed to do little
but have done a lot—Boog Powell, ore of the oldest men on the roster, and Rick
Manning, next to the youngest. (The youngest is Dennis Eckersley, one month
Manning's junior, who has been the team's most effective pitcher.)
On May 4 Cleveland
had a 10 and 10 record. The Indians haven't reached .500 since. Among players
from whom much was expected, Charlie Spikes was batting .213 when the team went
into Kansas City last weekend; he hit .271 in 1974. Oscar Gamble was at .251,
only slightly higher than his hairdo. Last year he hit .291. John Ellis, a .285
hitter in 1974, was at .233. Even Rico Carty's respectable .303 was 60 points
below what he batted for the Indians in 33 games last season.
On, then, to the
silver lining: Manning, 20, is crowding .300 and leading the team in stolen
bases; Powell, 34, after a poor 1974 season, is batting better than .300 and
leading the team in home runs with 21 and RBIs with 69.
Boog, the big
fella who was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1970 at Baltimore,
where he was an ally of his present manager, Frank Robinson, attributes his
resurgence to the elementary fact that he is playing more. In 1974 he batted
.265, hit only 12 homers and drove in a mere 45 runs. "Last year at
Baltimore I sat around and didn't do anything," he says. "Somehow I got
in the doghouse. It got so Earl Weaver only played me against certain
righthanders. I discovered I was getting too good at pitching batting practice
and shagging balls and doing all the other things you do when you aren't
playing. I found I was even getting placid about not playing. But I never
thought I was washed up. I felt super physically and wanted to play."
When the Orioles
told Powell last winter that he didn't figure in their plans, as a 10-year man
he had a right to veto any trade. But he readily agreed to go to Cleveland with
Pitcher Don Hood for Catcher Dave Duncan. Although there are five weeks left in
the season, Powell already has almost as many at bats as all last season in
Baltimore. "Mainly I've been more consistent," he says. "That's not
like me. Usually I'm a streak hitter, but I haven't had a real hot streak."
Says Herb Score, now a broadcaster for the Indians, "I shudder to think
where we'd be without him."
Manning, who might
be Rookie of the Year were it not for a pair of phenomenal Red Sox named Lynn
and Rice, is called Arch by his teammates, a consequence of the greater fame of
the New Orleans Saints' quarterback. Manning may get the Rick back soon.
"When he knows the pitchers better he will consistently hit from .320 to
.330," says Robinson. "He is in center field to stay." Score calls
Manning "the sort of baseball player you love to see come up. He doesn't
know how to take a short step." Says Kansas City's double-no-hit pitcher,
Steve Busby: "As soon as he learns to recognize more quickly the pitches he
can handle best, he will consistently hit over .300." "He plays center
field like Paul Blair," says Powell. "That tells you how good he is. He
and Eckersley are nice kids off the field but on it they are cool and
calculating, like most great ballplayers." Score mentions another trait he
says the best players possess. "Manning has no emotional highs and lows.
They are what tear up ballplayers."
the shallow center field that Manning plays. "It not only indicates his
speed, it proves also the confidence he has in himself. The young outfielders,
most of 'em, they play it safe and deep." Says Manning, "The reason I
play shallow is because bloop singles offend me. I can't stand them."
One of five
brothers who played kid-league ball under the managership of their father in
Niagara Falls, Manning was Cleveland's first-round pick in the 1972 draft. The
Indians signed him for $65,000 and had him at Reno in 1972 and 1973 and at
Oklahoma City in 1974. He had been a shortstop, but soon after he reported to
Reno he was switched to the outfield, where it was figured he could make better
use of his speed. Manning was sent back to Oklahoma City this spring, but was
called up May 23 and after playing both left and right fields was moved to
center. He has batted consistently near .300. "I can't remember having more
than two days in a row when I went 0-fer," says Manning.
"When I signed
at 17," he says, "I thought of baseball only in terms of the major
leagues. I thought about the flying and staying at the good hotels and all that
big meal money. Mostly what playing in the minors does for you is to teach you
that the only place to play is in the majors. I said to myself, 'Once I get my
foot in that major league door, there's no way I am coming back down.'
City last Thursday night Manning showed his speed and good arm. In the first
inning he hit a grounder on the lively artificial turf that reached Second
Baseman Cookie Rojas quickly, but Manning was only a step and a half from
beating the throw. After walking in his next appearance, he went all the way
from first to third on a dinky single over second base, going into third
standing. The Royals filled the bases in their half of the inning with none
out. Playing shallow, Manning caught Fred Patek's hard smash and pegged
straight and hard to home plate, holding Tony Solaita at third. A double play
ended the inning and, as it turned out, Kansas City's chance to win the game.
In the ninth Manning hit a checked-swing roller to George Brett at third.
Brett, obviously underestimating Manning's speed, charged the ball a bit
lackadaisically, and Manning beat it out, thereby avoiding an 0-fer.
"Fielders learn in a hurry that you can't nonchalant Arch," says