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Before they go back north six weeks from now, some of them must be gone. The farms. Dealt. Released. Disabled? And before the season is long under way, some will be surprises and some will fail. Maybe even someone will be back, recalled from the bushes. Arms will hurt. Roles will change...."
The baseball season corresponds to the agricultural cycle; in either case it is the midsummer drought that will kill you. Oh sure, the championships are played in the fall, harvest time, and in the spring, when everything begins, the 26 teams are equal in the all-important dream column, and the attention devoted to each is exceeded only by happy delusion. But it is the summers, those sultry days of routine, incessant and unforgiving, when seasons are won.
It is no mere coincidence that a lot of mediocre clubs regularly come a cropper with a June Swoon. That's when the best breaking pitches finally start to break consistently, and more sharply. June is National Off-Speed Month. Before that, your Bingo Hitters—"N-34, G-52," the wise guys call out from the opposing dugout when an acknowledged B.H. strides up with his lumber—can dig into the cold earth and look for hanging curves or, on 2 and 0, for a steered half-fastball. April and May you will have no-account hitters lacing smashes, lashing ropes; the same guys will fall below the Mendoza Line in the summer heat, when the good breaking stuff looms. (The so-called Mendoza Line, drawn in the agate dust precisely at .200, was so named by some dugout wag after the immortal Mario Mendoza, a shortstop who usually flirted with the bicentennial digits.)
The summer is when the whole staff matters. In the spring, with all the off-days and rain-outs and cold-outs, a team can get by with a couple of starters going good. Same thing at the other end. It isn't staffs that win the World Series: Two starters and one fireman can get you four games out of seven, and never mind what else you have for arms. But after the solstice, when the ground bakes and the heat waves, it is whole staffs against each other. In the next 41 days the schedule gave the Chisox only one day off.
Dave Duncan, the pitching coach, recalls that in May a year ago, when he was with Seattle, the vaunted Orioles were six games under, and he asked Ray Miller, his opposite number on the Birds, if Miller wasn't worried. "No," said Miller casually. "We'll be fine when the summer comes." And the Orioles went over .500 right about when school let out and the stadiums started to fill, and the staff won 94 on the year.
Of course, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. "All a good hitter has to do is get his one-for-fours in the spring, and he can move up where he belongs when it gets hot," says Tony La Russa, T-Bone, the Chisox manager.
"It gets warm, you can stretch," says Jerry Koosman. "What is it you can't stretch, Herm?" Koosman asks. "Tendons or ligaments?"
"Ligaments," says the trainer Herm Schneider.
"Yes," the aging southpaw goes on, "that's what I was saying. It gets warm, you can stretch all those tendons. Good hitters make their living hitting in the hot summer months."
Koosman maintains that his best months have generally been the cool ones. But then, he hails from the North Country—Minnesota—and a tolerance for the broiling low-latitude climes may not be in his genes. Then, too, Koosman has always been a fireballer. It does not take him till Father's Day to get any fancy-dan back-door slider fine-tuned as an Out Pitch. Forty years old, he's still airing out the hard one. "A freak," declares Duncan, meaning either a) Koosman or b) Koosman's arm.