It's about time the turmoil-means-trouble theory died a quiet death. Teams do not have to pray together to play together. Just look at the world champions of the 1970s. We are all too familiar with the 1977 Yankees and the 1972-74 A's. The 1971 Pirates were a club of delicate egos held together by Roberto Clemente. Even ostensibly harmonious teams such as the 1970 Orioles and 1975-76 Reds had conflicts, as any disparate group of 25 men will. The question is not whether jealousy, or even animosity, exists on teams, but how successfully it is suppressed on the field. The answer, in baseball at least, apparently is that it is done quite easily. Nevertheless, spring training began with an old refrain: "Can the champs live together?"
That question was not only irrelevant but it also tended to draw attention from the real issue—New York's baseball shortcomings. Lest we forget, the Yankees won the American League East last year by only 2� games and did not have a season-long stopper in their rotation. Ron Guidry (16-7) came closest to filling that role, but he did not become a full-time starter until May 17. He was 10-2 after the All-Star break and finished with the league's fourth-best earned-run average (2.82), third-highest ratio of strikeouts per nine innings pitched (7.51) and second-most shutouts (5). If the spindly Guidry, a 5'11", 161-pound lefthander, has enough stamina to keep his live fastball moving through an entire season, the Yankees should win the division again. "I don't see myself as a stopper," he says. "We have a lot of stoppers, a lot of aces. We've got the best staff of the past 10, 20, 30, maybe 40 years."
Get serious, Ron. If the other returning starters pitch true to form, Ed Figueroa (16-11) will not win many big ones, Don Gullett (14-4) will have shoulder trouble and Catfish Hunter (9-9), who has averaged almost 250 innings during 13 big league seasons, will not be able to throw a fastball. Seventeen-game winner Mike Torrez might have been a stopper, but he played out his option and moved on to Boston. Andy Messersmith, late of Atlanta, might have filled the void, but he separated a shoulder in spring training. The Yankees do not lack for numbers, though. Dick Tidrow (11-4) moved into the rotation late last season and won five of seven starts. Now that a bone chip has been removed from his elbow, he can throw a curve for the first time. "I'm glad to start," he says, "because there's no room in the bullpen."
There sure isn't, what with Rawly Eastwick, Rich Gossage and Sparky Lyle ready to limber up. In Eastwick the Yankees have a rarity—a long reliever who likes his job. "I want to experiment with pitches," he says. "Short relievers go with fastballs and sliders. I'm 27. At 301 might want to become a starter if some new pitches I am developing work out." In 1975 Eastwick came within one pitch of becoming the most valuable player in the World Series. In 1976 he was National League Fireman of the Year.
Last season the Reds put heavy pressure on him to sign, and he had an off year, first in Cincinnati, then in St. Louis, when he refused. There is every reason to expect a come: back. Behind Eastwick is another formidable line of defense: short relievers Gossage, a right-handed flame thrower who had 26 saves, a 1.62 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 133 innings at Pittsburgh, and Cy Young Award winner Lyle (13-5, 2.17, 26 saves), the unflappable lefthander with the smoking slider. There will be no finer bullpen in baseball if Lyle can accept the fact that he is no longer the Yankees' lone relief star.
And, if anything, the everyday lineup is improved. Cliff Johnson, a designated hitter and backup catcher, hit .296 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs in slightly more than a third of a season with New York. Starting Catcher Thurman Munson batted better than .300 and drove in 100 or more runs for the third straight year. First Baseman Chris Chambliss also had a third consecutive impressive season (.287, 90 runs driven in, 12 game-winning RBIs) and will be more ably backed up now that Jim Spencer, a superb gloveman and power hitter, has been imported from the White Sox. Second Baseman Willie Randolph and Shortstop Bucky Dent are a good double-play combination, and Third Baseman Graig Nettles is a rock. His eighth straight 150-game season was his finest (37 homers, 107 RBIs, one Gold Glove). Rightfielder Reggie Jackson hit .286 with 32 homers and 110 RBIs, set a Series record with five homers and wound up gracing the cover of the 1978 Yankee media guide along with a 1927 picture of Babe Ruth. Centerfielder Mickey Rivers also had his best season (.326). Only left field, which 34-year-olds Lou Piniella (.330) and Roy White (.268) will probably share, is a potential weakness.
But no, this is not another Yankee dynasty a-building, because Hunter, Lyle. Tidrow, Spencer, Munson and Jackson are in their 30s. But like its vintage forebears, this Yankee team comes at you in waves. Paul Blair, George Zeber, Mickey Klutts and Fred Stanley fill out the deepest roster in baseball. As Umpire Bill Kunkel told the White Sox before a spring training exhibition against New York, "Come out, if you dare."
The Red Sox dare. "The Yankees got Gossage, Eastwick and Spencer." says Boston Manager Don Zimmer. "but we finished just 2� back, and we got Torrez, Dennis Eckersley. Dick Drago, Tom Burgmeier and Jerry Remy. And Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans are healthy."
Indeed, the Sox regulars are even more impressive than New York's. Just consider that the No. 9 hitter, Third Baseman Butch Hobson, had 30 homers and 112 RBIs. Run through the Murderers Row of Catcher Carlton Fisk (.315, 26 home runs, 102 RBIs), First Baseman George Scott (33 homers, 95 RBIs) and Designated Hitter Jim Rice (.320, a league-leading 39 home runs, 114 RBIs). And don't neglect that geriatric wonder Carl Yastrzemski, who had 28 homers and only 40 strikeouts at age 38. The Red Sox hit as well as the Yankees (.281) and outhomered them 213-184. The hitting certainly does not figure to taper off in 1978. After all, a knee injury limited Rightfielder Evans to 73 games, and an ailing ankle made a mediocre hitter out of Centerfielder Lynn. Both are hale now.
An even better turn of events was the acquisition of Second Baseman Remy from California. His speed (41 stolen bases) will make a running team of the Sox for the first time since 1974, and by leading off, he will make them a hit-and-run team, too. Few batters hit behind a runner better than Shortstop Rick Burleson, but the Sox were forced to use him as their lead-off man in 1977.