Two weeks ago Maury Wills became major league baseball's third black manager, the Mariners' second of any kind, and the first in history to manage against his son. He also became the 1,723rd manager hired merely for appearances. Although the Mariners had a lot of problems at the time, Johnson wasn't one of them. Before he was canned, he was highly rated by most scouts. A few days before the ax fell, Baltimore's advance man, Jim Russo, said, "Johnson has them playing heads-up baseball. He hates mistakes, he hates to lose."
What difference Wills will make remains to be seen, but in his first three games Seattle blew three leads and extended its losing streak to 12, the longest in the league in three years. At week's end his record was 5-14. Wills sees another Maury Wills in Second Baseman Julio Cruz, but he also sees Cruz' .213 batting average, and that's a problem. Wills is saddled with some truly horrendous catching and bad outfield defense. He has no real third baseman or shortstop, and his designated hitter, Ancient Mariner Willie Horton, 38, is going to have to hit 24 more homers to match his 1979 total of 29. The Mariners' two best pitchers from last year, Mike Parrott (before being sent to Spokane) and Rick Honeycutt, have lost 25 of their last 27 starts, and Jim Beattie, who came from the Yankees in the Ruppert Jones deal, is 4-11 with a 4.97 ERA.
Wills' biggest problem, though, may be in the executive suite. The Seattle owners used to be known as the Silly Six. That's before one of them dropped out and they became the Foolish Five. They are currently suing King County, which built the Kingdome, for, among other things, not telling them that the stadium would be conducive to hitting home runs. The Mariners allege that they went out and built a team on speed when they should have been building one on power. Nobody is quite sure who's in charge of the team, President Daniel O'Brien or General Manager Lou Gorman. But it was O'Brien who personally hired Wills, because, O'Brien said, "He's a natural teacher." That's good, because the Mariners have a lot to learn.
Until he resigned last Sunday, Gene Mauch was within reach of one of baseball's granite records. If he had managed to manage one more year without winning the division, he would have surpassed Jimmy Dykes' mark of 21 seasons without a pennant. Says one scout harshly, "People remember Gene for blowing the '64 pennant with the Phillies, but what he did with the '77 Twins proved to me he could never win." In 1977 the Twins had Rod Carew (.388, 100 RBIs), Larry Hisle (.302, 28 HRs and 119 RBIs), Lyman Bostock (.336, 90 RBIs), Glenn Adams (.338), Dave Goltz (20-11) and the division lead in mid-August. They finished 17½ games back in fourth place.
But it's hardly Mauch's fault that the Twins haven't won their division since 1970. Owner Calvin Griffith will neither bid for free agents nor pay his own players what it takes to keep them from becoming free agents. His philosophy has cost him such players as Hisle, Bostock, Carew, Goltz, Bill Campbell and Tom Burgmeier. Somehow the Twins keep producing quality ballplayers, though, like Third Baseman Castino, and they occasionally make a good trade. Smalley, Ken Landreaux and Jerry Koosman are three of their better acquisitions, although each of them is performing well below his 1979 standard. Somewhere hidden in Griffith's tight fist is a good front office. But until Ebenezer gets a visit from the Ghosts of Pennants Past, the Twins will be a .500 ball club.
Manager Tony LaRussa has a law degree from the University of South Florida, so he should know a faulty defense when he sees one, which is every day. The White Sox have made 140 errors already this season, and they threaten to break the division record of 192 set by the first-year Angels in 1961. Even the scoreboard operator has gotten into the act, exploding the home-run fireworks after a ground-rule double by Greg Pryor.
But even with a bad defense, Chicago is a team on the verge. The left-leaning pitching staff is the envy of many clubs. Clyde King, one of the Yankees' major league scouts, thinks that all Chicago needs is patience. "That's one team I'd leave on the vine," he says. "Make sure they get plenty of rain and plenty of sunshine, and they'll grow up healthy and strong." Thirteen of the White Sox have less than two years' experience, and only two have more than five. King feels the White Sox have two excellent baseball men in LaRussa and G.M. Roland Hemond, and that once they get a catcher and a double-play combination—he'd move Second Baseman Jim Morrison to third—Chicago might be a contender.