- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Law is the difference again
Strong points: The Pirates are still a hitting team; they were first in the league last year (.273), just as they were in 1960, when they won the pennant. Dick Stuart and Roberto Clemente were last season's musclemen—Stuart with his 35 home runs and 117 runs batted in, Clemente with his .351 batting average, best in the league. The rest of the Pirates are the same gang of pests who won the 1960 pennant with singles and doubles to the opposite field: Dick Groat, Don Hoak, Bob Skinner, Bill Virdon, Smoky Burgess and Bill Mazeroski. Hoak (.298) and Burgess (.303) hit well last year while the others slumped, but they are all sound hitters. The Pirate defense rates a B-plus. Mazeroski and Groat at second and short led the league in double plays last year, but Groat, now 31, covers an ever-decreasing area at short. Hoak at third has a good glove and arm. First Baseman Dick Stuart said this spring, "It's wonderful. You hit .301 and suddenly people begin to call you a good fielder." It is true that Stuart is no longer the defensive catastrophe he used to be, but he isn't ready to give lessons either. Virdon and Clemente can run and throw in the outfield. Clemente is the only outfielder in the league who can throw a baseball from the right-field corner of Forbes Field over second base, over third base and into the fifth row of box seats. He can also throw runners out. Last year he led the league in double plays by an outfielder.
Weak spots: The Pirate pitchers, like the rest of the team, are World Series holdovers. The names may be the same—Vernon Law, Bob Friend, Harvey Haddix, Vinegar Bend Mizell and ElRoy Face—but the arms have aged. Disaster struck the staff last year when Law hurt his pitching shoulder and had to quit baseball for the year. The load fell on Bob Friend and, while he struggled manfully, his record suffered (14-19). Haddix and Mizell slumped, completing only seven of 39 starts. That made so much work for Face that his ERA jumped from a league low of 2.25 in mid-July to 3.82, his highest since 1953. Joe Gibbon, a left-hander, began to blossom last year (13-10) and may be the Pirates' top pitcher soon. Tom Sturdivant, rescued from the minors, gave the Pirates a part-season 5-2 record.
Rookies and new faces: Bob Veale, a 6-foot-6 left-handed Don Newcombe up from Columbus (14-11, 2.55 ERA), could give the Pirates another starter, and Diomedes Olivo, a 42-year-old rookie with a 2.01 ERA at Columbus, might help in the bullpen. Power hitter Donn Clendenon will fill in at first base and the outfield.
All in the same rut
"We are all around 30," Groat was saying, "so we should be young enough to come back. In 1960 everybody had a good year together. We got hot and stayed hot. Last year we all had a bad year together. Seven of us had terrible years. We weren't overconfident. We just got into a rut all at once and stayed there. Losing Vernon Law was the big blow. It's tough to give up 20 games. But that wasn't all. Nobody hit. Nobody did anything. If it wasn't for Clemente and a couple of the other guys we probably would have been worse. I'll tell you something. We were so bad last season we were lucky to finish sixth."
Groat tugged at his cap and looked grim. "They're counting us out this year already. They counted us out every day in '60. We were lousy last year. We know it better than anybody else. We'll be better this year. We know that, too."