CALLED STRIKE TWO?
As we went to press, player representatives from the 26 major league clubs were about to meet in Dallas to vote on whether to call a strike and, if so, when. On the assumption that regardless of the decision there will eventually be some sort of baseball season, even a shortened one as there was in 1972, we proceed undaunted with our special issue.
He hit a commendable .292 as a rookie in 1967 but slumped to .273 the next season. Then, as a youngster of 23 in the last year of the turbulent 1960s, he led the American League with a .332 average. It was a portentous season, for in the 1970s he would lead his league in hitting six more times. His name? Right. Rod Carew.
He won only six games in each of the final two years of the '60s and was so wild with his fastball that his team, the New York Mets, would soon trade him all the way out of the National League. In the 1970s he would set a major league single-season strikeout record (383), lead the American League in strikeouts six times, pitch four no-hitters and become the highest-paid player in the history of the game. His name? Right. Nolan Ryan.
Sometimes it happens that way in baseball. A player will muddle dimly through his first few seasons, then, as the decade turns, ignite and become a star who will shine for the next 10 years.
There are many young players from the '70s who already have become national figures—most notably, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dave Winfield, George Brett, Dave Parker. But there are others just now approaching their considerable potential, players barely recognized in the seasons just past, who can flare into prominence in the '80s.
The Cardinals are twice blessed, with Keith Hernandez (left), 26, and Garry Templeton, 24. Hernandez' resolute progress through the declining years of the '70s—he hit .289 in '76 and .291 in '77—was arrested by a .255 season in 1978. Were those who predicted he would become one of the game's finest batters caught off base or was that mediocre season merely an aberration? The answer came with stunning clarity last year when Hernandez led the league with a .344 average, 48 doubles and 116 runs scored. He had 210 hits and 105 runs batted in, and he won his second straight Gold Glove award for fielding excellence, becoming the first infielder to win a batting title and a Gold Glove in the same year. He shared the National League's Most Valuable Player award with the Pirates' Willie Stargell.
"I've seen first basemen who can do things as well as Hernandez," says the Astros' Joe Morgan, "but no one who can do everything as well as he does."
Hernandez has a ready explanation for his emergence as the major leagues' leading batter. "There is no better feeling than hitting a home run," he says. "But you have to keep everything in perspective and realize your limitations. In 1978 I tried to pull the ball. I had hit 15 homers in 1977, and I was trying to hit 20. Instead, I slumped from .291 and 15 homers to .255 and 11. I stopped trying to hit homers last year. The result was that I hit 11 again but had my most productive year."
He made other adjustments, one of them unusual for a lefthanded batter. "A lot of things happened to me last year, both physical and psychological," he says. "I had always hit lefthanders well. Both my father [a retired San Francisco fireman and former minor league player] and my brother were lefties, and they pitched to me when I was young. The righthanders gave me trouble. Ken Boyer [the Cardinals' manager] suggested late in the 1978 season that I move away from the plate because I was getting jammed by righties. I didn't want to change during the season because if I move even a little off the plate my strike zone changes. So I waited until the spring of 1979 to make the move, and I hit .351 against righthanders. That's what did it."