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"I'm trying to get my stroke back," says Tony Gwynn, the San Diego rightfielder and defending National League batting champion (.351). "I'm lunging at the ball. My problem is I'm comparing everything I do now to what I did in the middle of last summer. I'm fighting myself." Gwynn then hit a first-inning double down the rightfield line, and the next day he doubled down the leftfield and rightfield lines in his first two at bats.
That's how things were around the NL pennant-winners this spring. The status quo was of such high quality, one was tempted to manufacture a few demons. "This is the most settled team I've ever had," says manager Dick Williams. "Even at Oakland, we were always looking for an extra DH or something. But there are only four spots available on this club." The four: two long men in the bullpen, two spots on the bench. Jack McKeon, Padre general manager, who trades players as if they were bubble-gum cards, has finally assembled a team he likes. The Padres signed starters Gwynn, second baseman Alan Wiggins, shortstop Garry Templeton and leftfielder Carmelo Martinez to long-term contracts in the off-season.
"Just because I signed 'em doesn't mean I can't trade 'em," says McKeon, denying he's a gunfighter gone soft. "Personally, I'd like to see this club stay together for a while. [The signings] show the fans we're happy with the way the team has progressed. The Dodgers of the '70s had that chemistry. Baltimore has been a well-knit club. They all stay together and play like a family."
McKeon already had Steve Garvey from the Dodgers, so this spring he brought in a couple of longtime Orioles, reliever Tim Stoddard and outfielder Al Bumbry. After 13 seasons with Baltimore, Bumbry, who turns 38 next week, was virtually ignored in the free-agent market until McKeon invited him to the Padres camp as a non-roster player. His chances of making the club improved when he hit .476 and drove in five runs in the first six exhibitions, and Martinez was lost for four weeks following hand surgery. Bumbry will fill in for Martinez against righthanders, and then share backup duties with Bobby Brown.
McKeon did make one trade, getting starter LaMarr Hoyt from the White Sox for four players. The 6'2" Hoyt came into camp at a svelte (and beardless) 240 pounds, 28 less than his high last year. He's 15 pounds below his weight of two years ago when he won the Cy Young Award. "This year I'm getting my leg up again," says Hoyt, and demonstrates it with a shoulder-high kick. "Last year, I kind of rolled it over."
Hoyt acknowledges that '84 was an off year (13-18, 4.47 ERA) and says he's happy to be in a new league. "I generally throw the ball low, and in this league you can't throw it too low," he says. "If it's not in the dirt, it's a strike."
There's another thing Hoyt likes about the NL. When his agent, Ron Shapiro, negotiated a six-year, $6.2 million contract with the White Sox before the '84 season, he had Chicago throw in a $25,000 incentive clause for the Silver Slugger Award, given to the best hitter at each position. With the DH, what did the White Sox care? Hoyt last went to the plate in 1973, when he hit .118 for Johnson City in rookie league.
"I asked Ron why he put it in, and he said he thought it was kind of cute," Hoyt says. "But my contract before this had a Cy Young clause thrown in for the heck of it, and I ended up winning $50,000." Hoyt will get to hit in '85, but assesses his chances of becoming a slugger as "slim and real slim." The Padres' chances are a good deal better.
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