At the end of the 1970 World Series it was generally conceded that all such future encounters between the American and National League champions until at least the year 2000 would involve the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds. Oh, age might sneak up from behind and do a little damage to the Orioles, but Cincinnati's team was so young and so good it would probably last forever.
It is now the middle of March, only five months since the Big Red dynasty was in full bloom and still weeks before Opening Day, yet suddenly everybody is running around the state of Florida shouting something that sounds strangely like "The Dodgers! The Dodgers!" There hasn't been such a spontaneous jump on the bandwagon since Clint Hartung became the new Babe Ruth in 1947. Temporarily.
But the Dodgers hardly appear to be temporary. At a recent dinner in St. Petersburg, Alex Grammas, the third-base coach of the Reds, spoke to Al Campanis, the Dodger vice-president in charge of player personnel. The two conversed in Greek. "It's such a beautiful language," Campanis said later. "Alex said, 'I understand you have it all.' I told him, 'Alex, we might not have it all, but we have most of it.' "
When the Reds met the Dodgers last week in an exhibition game in Tampa there was a feeling in the air not normally associated with spring training. Before the game players sat in their dugouts to watch the other team bat and take infield and outfield practice, instead of going back to their clubhouses. In the game itself the Dodgers, lifted by five runs batted in by Wes Parker (see cover), beat the Reds 13-2, which could have an adverse psychological effect on a troubled Cincinnati team that lost its first five exhibition games and had to hang on desperately to win one by a score of 9-8. The Dodgers, on the other hand, serenely went on to win six straight.
Not too much should be made of spring training games, of course, but it is obvious that Los Angeles finally has a team that can hit a baseball past the pitcher's mound. This is in happy contrast to all those years when a Dodger rally consisted of an infield single, two stolen bases and a wild pitch, the glory years of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. (When Drysdale was informed once that Koufax had pitched a perfect game, Don asked, "Did he win?")
But times change, and last year the Dodgers' baseball personality began to change, too. They missed tying the hard-hitting Reds for the highest team batting average in the majors by .0001 (.2702 to .2703). Parker, Willie Davis and Manny Mota hit over .300, and Bill Grabarkewitz was among the league leaders until a slump in August pulled him down to .289. And now Manager Walter Alston has a crop of splendid young ballplayers coming up after a season of impressive hitting in the Pacific Coast League, where the Dodgers' Spokane farm club won its division by 26 games.
Alston has been trying out his new Dodger team in various lineups to see if he really has all that versatility. The team is pliable partly because it's so young. Grabarkewitz was asked what had impressed him the most about his first full major league season. "It's strange," Bill said, "but what I remember most is that on the final day of the season I looked around at the lineup we had on the field. I was 24, and I was the oldest man out there." Centerfielder Willie Davis says, "We've got good things up and down the lineup. Richie Allen came to us from St. Louis, and he has the feeling he's with a winner. We have speed and defense and now we have power, too. We can go for a big inning. A hitter can give himself up and know that something is bound to happen to get a runner home."
Davis, once little more than a fast-footed enigma, has put two .300 years back to back. He led the league with 16 triples in 1970, stole 38 bases, batted .305 and knocked home 93 runs. "I don't think the Reds are going to be as tough this year," Willie says. "They all had good years together in '70, and that's hard to repeat. They got off flying and never stopped. It helped them to play in Crosley Field, too, but that new, big ball park they have now won't give up as many homers as Crosley Field did."
Allen's presence raises questions about the Dodger lineup. His best position is first base, but Parker is the best defensive first baseman in the game. Gil Hodges, who should know, calls Wes "the man" at that position. Since the Dodgers may experiment with youngsters at second, short and third, Parker's fielding superiority will be more important than ever this year. Last season he accepted 1,630 chances and made only seven errors. Over the last five years he has had only 27. Thus Allen will play left field for Los Angeles, which should not disturb the fans too much since the Dodgers haven't had a good fielder out there for a long time. Like since Zack Wheat.
Parker's emergence as one of the stars of the National League has been very sneaky. Through 1968 his lifetime major league average was under .250. Then he hit .278 in 1969 and last year exploded to .319, fifth in the league, while batting in 111 runs. Joe Torre of the Cardinals, a close friend of Parker ("as close as you can get with a guy on another team," according to Torre), says, "You used to be able to get Wes out without throwing him a strike. He had a lot of blind spots, and he would swing at bad Ditches. He's different now. He's a good hitter. Good hitters ride out the slumps and don't panic—they don't change everything around and get so messed up they can't do anything. Wes has that kind of confidence. Still, for a guy to drive in 111 runs with only 10 homers is almost unreal."