Old age and fond memories
Strong points: The Braves, with the best home run punch and the tightest infield defense in the league, are a pitcher's dream. Third Baseman Eddie Mathews (.306), Center Fielder Henry Aaron (.327) and First Baseman Joe Adcock (.285), clustered in the middle of the batting order, socked 101 of Milwaukee's 188 home runs and totaled 319 RBIs. Mathews, Second Baseman Frank Boiling and Shortstop Roy McMillan are among the best in baseball at their positions and Adcock is satisfactory around first base. Del Crandall is an exceptional handler of pitchers, and young Joe Torre has a strong arm and fine defensive ability behind the plate. Warren Spahn is going for his seventh 20-game year in a row (21-13, 3.01 ERA in 1961). "Why should Spahnie stop now?" asks Manager Birdie Tebbetts.
Weak spots: Pitching depth. After Spahn and his sidekick, Lou Burdette, an 18-game winner last year, the Braves are hurting for steady pitching. Bob Buhl, the third starter, is 33, had an ERA of 4.12 and a 9-10 record last year, and asked to be traded this spring. Behind him are Bob Shaw, obtained from the Athletics (25-27 the last two seasons), and Carlton Willey, who has won just 17 games in the past three years. Youngsters Bob Hendly, 22, a hard-throwing lefthander, and Tony Cloninger, 21, who throws a rising fast ball, are promising but inexperienced. Reliever Don McMahon was effective last season (6-4, 2.84 ERA) but he needs more help.
The big ifs: Although Torre did a fine job filling in for the injured Crandall last year, the Braves need Crandall's experienced catching. If he is healthy, Milwaukee will have the best receivers in the league. After the bastion that is Henry Aaron, the outfield drops off sharply. Lee Maye is a spotty hitter, and Tebbetts may go with Howie Bedell, who hit .327 at Louisville, in left field, and Mack Jones in right. Spahn (40) and Burdette (35) appear to be ageless but either one or both could go all of a sudden.
Rookies and new faces: The most exciting youngster in the Braves' camp, as he was last spring, was Mack Jones (23). "If he puts all his talents together, he's a great one," says Tebbetts. A left-handed batter with fine power to the opposite field, Jones hits with his left elbow cocked high like Duke Snider and runs as well as anybody on the club. Shaw, the only major addition to the team, likes to work, throws hard and has the control to win in the NL.
OUTLOOK: If the pitching surprises and the young outfielders come with a rush, the Braves will be a solid contender. Unfortunately, old age and pleasant memories of past glories dominate the Braves' picture. The fringe area of the first division will more likely he the team's resting place.
Birdie has some nice problems
As a 19-year-old in 1949, Del Crandall caught 63 games for the Boston Braves. In eight straight seasons before last year Crandall caught 100 or more games and averaged 19 homers. In 1961 Crandall caught five games and was out most of the year with a sore shoulder. During the winter he lifted weights under a doctor's supervision to strengthen the shoulder. He says: "Catching is a vulnerable position. You can't hide a bad arm. My hitting feels the same and I feel good otherwise. If the arm's better, I'll be the same as always."
With 21-year-old Joe Torre batting .278 last year, Crandall, at his best, still has to fight for his job. "It's bound to make us both play harder," said Torre.
"This is the kind of problem I like," said Manager Tebbetts.