Once a great power in the National League, the Pirates have lately been in danger of developing a last-place complex. As tonic against such a psychosis, fiery young Bobby Bragan, 37, was promoted from the Hollywood farm club to manage this year's team and inject his irrepressible zest into the youth movement started by General Manager (now board chairman) Branch Rickey in 1952. The young Pirates are still years from a pennant (their last was in 1927, the longest pennant drought in the league). Yet Bragan feels that his fine pitching staff, headed by Bob Friend, Vern Law and Ron Kline, and a fast, tight defense will make the team tough to score against. With only one big bat—Frank Thomas's—the Pirates will emphasize base-path hustle, looking for a couple of runs that will hold up. With added experience, they may be the "spoilers" of the league.
3 DALE LONG, FIRST BASE: At 30 he is practically an old man among the Pirates, yet only in his second year with the team. A 6-foot-4 210-pounder, he fields with grace and confidence. His .291 batting average was second best on the club last year, and he led the team with a modest 79 RBIs. He hits the occasional long ball (16 home runs, 13 triples), is a rugged competitor and certainly the mainstay of the Pirate infield.
8 GENE FREESE, THIRD BASE: Last year this 22-year-old hit .259 and 14 home runs as a rookie. With more big league experience his fielding should improve, but it is his bat that raises Pirate hopes.
15 FRANK THOMAS, OUTFIELD: The blond glamour boy of the team hit 30 home runs in 1953, his first full season in the majors, but has never quite lived up to that promise. Slow afoot, he is no gem in the field, but this year he is in top shape after a mediocre 1955 when illness and contract troubles got him off to a slow start.
19 BOB FRIEND, PITCHER: A right-hander who refused to be discouraged by his team's shortcomings and had an earned-run average last year of 2.84, lowest in the league, he also managed to win 14 games. If he can pitch the same way with an improved team, he might be the talk of the league.
With Bonus Babies Dick Groat and Johnny O'Brien at short and second, both of whom went straight from college to the Pirates, the infield is young but solid. The outfield is the question. Roberto Clemente, very fast but weak at bat, will probably be in center if he can improve his hitting over last year. The big lack is another left-handed starter to go with Dick Littlefield, who was way off form last year. If Rookie Fred Waters proves himself, he may be it.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
4 BOB SKINNER, OUTFIELD: Big spring experiment is shifting this lanky first baseman to outfield to get his powerful left-handed bat in the lineup.
36 GEORGE MUNGER, PITCHER: At 37, he is good for selected spots and relief. Last year won 23 games for Hollywood.
39 DAN KRAVITZ, CATCHER: Another good left-handed bat, but he has a lot to learn behind the plate.
Bragan brought other promising men from Hollywood: Bobby Del Greco, a classy fielder; Second Baseman Curt Roberts, who hit .321; Pitchers Joe Trimble (11-4) and Bob Garber (199 strikeouts). Also watch young Jack McMahan, the team's draft choice, who was 11-5 at Birmingham.
BOARD OF STRATEGY
2 BOBBY BRAGAN, MANAGER: The most colorful figure on the club, this fireball has never finished out of the first division since he started managing (at Fort Worth) in 1948. He will coach at third, but don't look for any of his famed umpire baiting now that he is in the big time.
Coaches are DANNY MURTAUGH (40), a veteran NL infielder, who will coach first; CLYDE SUKEFORTH (41), former NL catcher; SAM NARRON (43), chunky, longtime (1935-49) catcher.
19 BOB FRIEND, P
THE BASIC ROSTER
3 Dale Long, 1b
4 Bob Skinner, of
5 Preston Ward, 1b
6 J. O'Brien, 2b
8 Gene Freese, 3b
10 Jack Shepard, c
11 Toby Atwell, c
15 Frank Thomas, of
18 R. Del Greco, of
21 R. Clemente, of
24 Dick Groat, ss
39 Dan Kravitz, c
45 Curt Roberts, 2b
19 Bob Friend, right
22 Ron Kline, right
25 J. McMahan, left
26 El Roy Face, right
27 D. Littlefield, left
32 Vern Law, right
36 G. Munger, right