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Getting a belt out of Boog
Ted O'Leary
September 01, 1975
That's Cleveland 1975—and a kid named Rick Manning doesn't hurt
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September 01, 1975

Getting A Belt Out Of Boog

That's Cleveland 1975—and a kid named Rick Manning doesn't hurt

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The Cleveland 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."

Robinson admires 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.' "

Against Kansas 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 Powell.

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