Spring training, that delightful social activity designed to keep ballplayers off the street corners during daylight hours when the dog tracks are not running, has arrived again (see cover). In Phoenix and St. Petersburg, in Tucson and Tampa, the big leaguers are gathering and the pepper games have begun. In many ways 1959 will be no different from all the years before.
A dozen very special rookies will have more words written of their prowess than either Mantle or Mays, although once the season begins most of the names will hit print again only in Binghamton and Fort Worth and Des Moines. A journeyman Triple-A outfielder, fresh from a winter of baseball in the Caribbean, will lead the Citrus and Sagebrush leagues in home runs—until the big league curve balls begin to break. The real veterans, the good ones with job security, will pass a pleasant six weeks rounding slowly into shape, the familiar old routine broken up by afternoons spent lounging on the beach with their families, and fishing trips, and card games, and conversations with old friends. That undecorated hero, the trainer, will hum happily at his work. The sun will shine and the palms will sway lazily in the soft southern breeze and for 14 managers this will be the best time of all. No one loses in the spring.
Yet 1959 is different and already it has assumed an identity of its own. For instance:
Al Lopez, who once again must try to overtake the Yankees without power hitting or relief pitching, isn't even sure who his boss is going to be. If Chuck Comiskey owns the White Sox, that is one thing. If Bill Veeck takes over, that is something else. It would be nice if Al could know now whether his No. 1 pinch hitter is going to be Ron Jackson or a midget.
While that muscular young Giant lineup is pretty well set, Bill Rigney must win his managerial job back from Salty Parker, who once had quite a reputation down in the Texas League. But then Rigney's accident may be a blessing in disguise. The year that Don Larsen set a new record for driving an automobile up a telephone pole in St. Pete, he pitched a no-hitter in the World Series. Maybe the Giants can get there, too. It's funny how things start.
Tony Kubek, who has not been driving as long as Rigney or with anything matching Larsen's flair, was picked up doing 80 on the New Jersey Turnpike. This is entirely out of character and can be explained only by news that the Yankees, while awaiting Kubek's discharge from the Army in April, are going to take a look at another shortstop named Norman O'Neill. It is quite possible, however, that Tony's fears are groundless. For one thing, O'Neill is a cricket player out of Australia and, while his .400 batting average is impressive, it must be noted that there are no Bob Turleys and Dick Donovans among the rounders set in New South Wales. Also, the Aussies may not let him go, even between cricket seasons. They never have forgotten what happened to Phar Lap.
There are new managers at St. Louis (Solly Hemus) and Cincinnati (Mayo Smith), while three others—Bill Norman (Detroit), Joe Gordon (Cleveland), Eddie Sawyer (Philadelphia)—get their big chance to run things from the start. All five should win pennants easily.
Milwaukee, which has never won a pennant without Red Schoendienst, may have to try to win this one without either Red or his No. 1 caddie, Mel Roach, who, virtually unnoticed, hit .309 last year. While Schoendienst recovers from tuberculosis, Roach still limps from a slow-to-heal knee. This leaves Felix Mantilla at second base and Fred Haney in trouble.
Behind Haney, however, stands a strong front office: John McHale, Detroit's ex-boy wonder, who is now Milwaukee general manager, and George R. Tebbetts, the executive vice-president. Tebbetts? Birdie Tebbetts? Behind Haney? Gad, maybe Fred is in trouble.
The Detroit Tigers have solved their third base-shortstop problem by obtaining Eddie Yost and Rocky Bridges from the Washington Senators. The Washington Senators have solved their third base-shortstop problem by obtaining Reno Bertoia and Ron Samford from the Detroit Tigers.
Frank Lane, who traded off Early Wynn last year and can't count on Herb Score or Mike Garcia or Bob Lemon to win one game for Cleveland this time out, has now traded away the two best relief pitchers in the American League, Ray Narleski and Don Mossi, too. To take up the slack, Lane procured a second baseman named Billy Martin who should be able to stop some of the balls the opposition will hit back through the hole left by Wynn, Score, Garcia, Lemon, Narleski and Mossi.
Rocky Nelson is back in the majors.
Ted Williams will probably play in exhibition games for the first time since he turned 40; the Red Sox are training in Arizona instead of Florida, and there are no bonefish in Scottsdale.
Stan Musial, who was moved to first base three years ago because he could no longer play the outfield, is going to play the outfield.
The Yankees, who received reams of publicity by threatening to slash half the salaries on the ball club (as Gil McDougald said, "Who do they think won the World Series? The Braves?"), finally got around to offering everyone just about what he wanted. Mickey Mantle, of course, was holding out for a later bed check, and Whitey Ford had wanted to select his own beverages.