To diligent readers of box scores, they have been a constant source of surprise these past few months. Ray 2b 6 3 4 2. Laskey (W, 7-5) 9 8 1 1 5 7. HR—Davis (10). SB—Dernier 3. 3B—Sax 2. Show S, 3 2 0 0 0 1. McGee cf 5 2 4 2.
They're rookies, all of them. They have overrun and overpowered the National League almost overnight. Fifty-seven of the 300 players on the league's rosters, an astounding 19%, are fledglings, and although they may be wet behind the earflaps, 35 have played major roles for their teams. The debs are having a ball. Where would the Pirates be without Johnny Ray, the Cardinals without Willie McGee, the Giants without Chili Davis and Bill Laskey, the Padres without their kiddie corps of relievers?
The American League, too, has its share of freshmen—48 in all—but Kent Hrbek of the Twins dwarfs his classmates. In the National League, the Dodgers seem to have a lock on the Rookie of the Year award, having produced the last three winners, and they have another candidate this season in Second Baseman Steve Sax, the only rookie on the league's All-Star team. But the field is crowded. The following presentation is a Who's Who of who's new, a sort of tyro-scope.
Without a doubt, the best of the lot. As of last Sunday, Ray, a switch-hitting second baseman, was second in the league in hits with 107, and he could become the second rookie in league history to top the hit parade. Charles Hollocher of the Cubs did it in 1918. Ray could also be the fifth NL rookie and the first since Richie Allen in 1964 to get 200 hits.
"It's a shame and a disgrace that he didn't make the All-Star team," says Pittsburgh Third Baseman Bill Madlock. "They shouldn't take the selection away from the fans, they should take it from the manager. The only thing Sax can do better than Johnny is run, but Tommy Lasorda took Sax because they're both Dodgers. That's all right, though. Johnny Ray's going to be in the next 15 All-Star Games."
Ray grew up in Chouteau, Okla., about 37 miles east of Tulsa. "We had one traffic light," he says. His father, Ray Charles Ray, once tried out for the Pirates. Ray Ray taught Johnny to switch-hit his sophomore year in high school, but died in an automobile accident while Johnny was in junior college.
In 1979, as a senior, Johnny helped Arkansas to a second-place finish in the College World Series and was drafted in the 12th round by Houston. Bob Cluck, who was head of minor league instruction for the Astros before he became the Padres' director of player development last year, says, "After his first year in A ball, we were going to keep him there, but he said, 'Just give me one shot at Double A.' Well, he sort of talked us into it. He ended up hitting .324."
In September of last year, Ray and two minor leaguers to be named later were traded to the Pirates for Phil Garner. Houston needed a veteran second baseman at the time, and the rap against Ray was that he couldn't field. Astro officials now cringe at mere mention of the deal.
In his first game against Houston, on April 29, Ray went four for four with a double and a stolen base. He has had three other four-hit games, and only twice has he gone as many as two games without a hit. "He's a tremendous hitter," says Garner, "one of the best-disciplined young hitters I've seen."