SI Vault
William Nack
April 13, 1981
Nothing better testifies to the abundance of talent in the American League East—the strongest division in baseball—than the pin-stripe-thin hold the Yankees had on first place at the end of last season. This is a New York team that won 103 regular-season games in '80, more than the Yankees had won in any year since 1963 and more than any other team in either league won last season. But they won the division by a mere three games over the Orioles. The New Yorkers have helped themselves in several important ways since last season, most notably by acquiring the $22 million man, Dave Winfield, who proved with San Diego that he can run, catch, throw and hit. During spring training the Yankee leftfielder at times played with the unrestrained zeal of a non-roster rookie. Unfortunately, his spring batting average through last Sunday was that of a non-roster rookie, too.
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April 13, 1981

The East

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Despite the Tigers' lineup of fine hitters, Detroit won't have much clout. When the young Mark Fidrych started gardening the mound, the word in Detroit was youth, but that era has passed as swiftly as The Bird's foreshortened career. "We're not a young club anymore," he says. "If we're going to do it, we'll do it now." But, alas, it will be without Fidrych, who failed to make the team.

Detroit led all of baseball in scoring last year—with 5.1 runs a game. Outfielder Steve Kemp set the pace, hitting .293, with 21 homers and 101 runs batted in. The Tigers got additional power from Catcher Lance Parrish (.286, 82 RBIs), First Baseman Richie Hebner (.290, 82 RBIs) and slick-fielding Shortstop Alan Trammell (.300, 65 RBIs).

But the pitching did Detroit in, which is why Manager Sparky Anderson plans to call some pitches from the bench this year. The pitcher who would seem to need the least assistance is Reliever Aurelio Lopez, who had 13 wins and 21 saves. The other bullpen mainstay should be Kevin Saucier, obtained from Philadelphia by way of Texas. The bad news is that the starting rotation of Milt Wilcox, Dan Schatzeder, Dan Petry and Jack Morris is back. Pitching Coach Roger Craig believes he can improve the staff by making it work faster. "Ninety-nine percent of all successful pitchers complete games in two hours or less," says Craig. The average Detroit game took 2:40 last season. Anderson expects good things from Morris, whose 16 wins led the Tigers in 1980. "Jack just had to get some humility and realize he's in the major leagues," he says.

Toronto really does have the best basketball team in baseball. Aside from Third Baseman Danny Ainge, the 6'4" star of the Brigham Young hoops team, the Blue Jays feature 6'5" Pitcher Mike Barlow, who played basketball at Syracuse, and 6'3" First Baseman John Mayberry, a star at Northwestern High in Detroit. If Toronto takes an early lead, look for Ainge to direct the four corners.

Whether the Jays can play baseball is, of course, another question. They won 67 games in 1980, and finished in the cellar again. But they also had Ontario buzzing during an eight-day spell in April when they led the division. "We had a taste of respectability last year," says Manager Bobby Mattick. "Now we'd like a bite."

Certainly Toronto chewed up opponents with double plays. Shortstop Alfredo Griffin and Second Baseman Damaso Garcia keyed an infield that tied Boston for the league lead in DPs. The Jays' best outfielder is Al Woods, whose .300 average led the team.

Toronto has serious shortcomings behind the plate, Ernie Whitt and Dan Whitmer being marginal big leaguers, but the Blue Jays are even worse off on the mound. Jim Clancy could blossom if he finds his control; he led the league with 128 walks. Except for Dave Stieb (12-15, 3.71), the other Toronto starters are even worse. Every spring, of course, it's open season for Blue Jay jobs. The team caters to youth, often to the dismay of veterans. "On every other club, the rookies have to beat out the veterans for the jobs," Outfielder Rick Bosetti says. "Here it's the other way around. Kids from Medicine Hat are walking around with radios blaring like they own the place." In places like Toronto, they eventually do.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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