The Yankee outfielders are falling over each other, so Oscar Gamble and a rejuvenated Lou Piniella have been relegated to platooning at DH, and Bobby Murcer seems destined to be one of the most expensive pinch hitters in history, at $320,000 a year. The centerfielder will be former Padre Jerry Mumphrey, obtained in a trade last week. A switch hitter with excellent speed, Mumphrey batted .298 in '80 and stole 52 bases. He will find a familiar face at an unfamiliar position in Winfield, who played rightfield with the Padres but will be in left for New York. The right-fielder, of course, will be Jackson, though not until he recovers from a torn tendon in his right calf that may cause him to miss the first few days of the season.
When it finally opens, the Jackson-Winfield act could be the biggest show in baseball. There already have been hints of the competition to come. While taking batting practice before the first game in spring training, Jackson issued a challenge to Winfield, "Long ball for a Coke."
"All right," Winfield said. He sent the first pitch scurrying through the grass, past the mound. Winfield grimaced. In came Jackson, who ripped savagely at the first pitch and drove it in a nearly arcless flight over the right centerfield wall. Jackson smiled. Winfield may have gotten all that money but he, Reggie, was still the boss. Winfield shook his head. "I owe you a Coke," he said.
Winfield and Jackson appear to get on well, but there are other questions about them: Jackson is in the last year of his contract, and he and owner George Steinbrenner have been embroiled in a sometimes heated dispute. The hassling has enraged Jackson. Equally problematical is how Winfield will respond to the stresses of playing in New York—for an impatient owner who's paying him millions and in front of an audience not notable for its forbearance, either. "I can handle the pressure," he says. "I can play, and there's no problem with Reggie, either. I didn't come to New York to compete with him, but to play with him." The Steinbrenner Yankees have often nibbled at the frayed edges of chaos, and one senses another one of those years.
No such turmoil threatens the division's four remaining teams. For the Red Sox, the controversy is over, gone with the departures of Lynn, Burleson and Fisk. Even with that trio, Boston finished in fourth place last year, 19 games behind the Yankees. "We won't finish 19 games back this year," says Manager Ralph Houk, who replaced Don Zimmer last fall. Anyone for 20?
Actually, if Boston can get respectable work from Dennis Eckersley, Mike Torrez and Frank Tanana—each a quality pitcher at his best—and an occasional boost from a promising youngster like Steve Crawford, 1981 might not be as gloomy as some are predicting. The Red Sox can still hit. Jim Rice, Tony Perez, former Angel Carney Lansford, Jerry Remy, Dave Stapleton, Dwight Evans and 41-year-old Carl Yastrzemski certainly can score runs.
And Boston, in Houk's words, has "a bullpen that will be the strongest in the league." Even the optimistic Houk may not be far off. To the formidable array of lefty Tom Burgmeier (24 saves), righty Bob Stanley (14 saves) and erstwhile Angel Mark Clear, Houk may be able to add a good-as-new Bill Campbell. Campbell, who led the league with 31 saves in 1977, recently went through an apparently successful rehabilitation program designed to strengthen his shoulder. The relievers had better be strong. Eckersley, Torrez and Tanana are coming off losing seasons, and to make matters worse, Fisk's successor, Gary Allenson, has played only 144 games in the majors. In fact, there are newcomers right up the middle—at catcher, at short, where Glenn Hoffman will try to take Burleson's place, and in center, where Rick Miller will step in for Lynn. The defensive decline will be dramatic, especially at short, because of Hoffman's limited range. Looking to October, Yaz is sure only of this, "I know we'll finish the season."
Cleveland Manager Dave Garcia has it all figured out: "If everyone contributes what their agents say they'll contribute, we'll have 172 wins and no losses in 162 games." More realistically, the Indians could climb from sixth to fourth if they get the pitching Garcia thinks they may. And they could do it despite the dreadful luck that seems to plague this team. Toby Harrah, the talented third baseman and run producer (100 runs, 72 RBIs), began the new year by falling off a ladder while painting his house and injured his left wrist, right elbow and left knee. He returned to action last week, and will start on Opening Day. First Baseman Andre Thornton missed all of 1980 because of an injury to his right knee that required surgery. Scheduled to be the DH this season, he promptly broke a finger in the team's first exhibition game, delaying his return at least another week.
Garcia has four first-rate outfielders: Joe Charboneau, the 1980 Rookie of the Year, who will also do duty as DH; Jorge Orta; Rick Manning; and the fleet Miguel Dilone, who blossomed last year with a .341 average and 61 stolen bases. Garcia should get each of the four at least 500 at bats. There's plenty of sock elsewhere, too, with Catcher Ron Hassey, First Baseman Mike Hargrove and Second Baseman Alan Bannister, .300 hitters all.
With the acquisition of former 20-game winner Blyleven from Pittsburgh, Garcia sees the dim outline of a good staff that includes Len Barker (19-12), John Denny, Rick Waits and Wayne Garland.