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Bill Virdon walked the Expo training camp in West Palm Beach this spring, fungo bat in hand, observing and instructing. He spoke measuredly, almost blandly, his eyes gazing attentively from behind his wire-rim glasses. Despite his countenance, however, Virdon was struggling mightily to uncork his club's reservoir of potential.
The talent-laden Expos have tired of being the best team sitting at home during the World Series. Though they have the best record in the National League over the last four years, they have yet to make the Series an international event. And after jiggling a pocketful of small change-before and during the 1982 season the Expos made 34 roster moves—they decided to bank on one big move this year, hiring Virdon, the only man to be named Major League Manager of the Year in both leagues.
"There's not much need for change," says Catcher Gary Carter (page 52). "Last year we just lacked the consistency of previous years." And perhaps Manager Jim Fanning was simply too nice. " Virdon's a little more hard-nosed," Carter says, "more of a disciplinarian."
As his new charges cleaned up their acts, Virdon asked bullpen ace Jeff Reardon about his beard. "I need it to intimidate hitters," Reardon said. Virdon relented and Reardon's grizzly bearing was saved, not shaved, perhaps because Virdon knows that with adequate pitching the Expos will be fearsome.
The lineup includes such All-Stars as Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and Al Oliver, the 1982 batting champ, a group so good that last year it may have been overworked. Five of the regulars, including Carter, played 154 games or more. The bench, in turn, withered.
"I hope to keep our utility people more active so when we call upon them they can be more productive," Virdon says. Last year Expo pinch hitters batted .197 with only 22 RBIs in 198 at bats.
The Expos nonetheless were third in the league in runs and fourth in batting average and homers. "We had good stats last year, and we didn't win," says Outfielder Terry Francona, who hit .321 as a rookie before going out in June with a knee injury. "We have to be willing to give up a little on the stats." With that in mind, Virdon is stressing fundamentals—bunting, hitting behind the runner, hitting and running—that some Expos felt were missing last season when Montreal was 26-34 in one-run games. "No coach can go to bat with a man on third and drive him in, but we can help get players in position to score," Virdon says.
The Expos feel they have the talent, and if St. Louis stumbles they should finally make it all the way to the Series.