Outside, in the bright Arizona sunlight, the Giants were romping through a workout that would have warmed the foggy cockles of every San Francisco heart. "Willie Mays lashed two pitches over the left-field fence which, when last seen, were heading in the direction of downtown Phoenix. Orlando Cepeda smashed one to the far reaches of center field. Willie Kirkland hit a wicked line drive up against the wall in right, and Leon Wagner drove two balls so high and so far that they almost disappeared from sight. Then Felipe Alou swung and the ball went screaming back past the mound, a white blur which left everyone in spasms of glee except the batting practice pitcher, who picked himself up off the ground and shook his head and looked as if he would much rather be doing something else.
Around the infield Daryl Spencer and Andre Rodgers and Jim Davenport snapped up the grounders which Coach Salty Parker was hitting and flipped them like rifle shots over to Bill White at first. Behind the bat Bob Schmidt pounded his big mitt and kept the chatter alive.
It was the kind of day and the kind of play that made you want to get out there and try it yourself.
But there was neither joy nor sunlight in Bill Rigney's office beneath the stands. While the Giant manager looked grim—it is hard for him to look any other way with his broken jaw still wired shut, but you could see he was giving this an extra effort—and the assembled reporters sat in tense expectancy, Chub Feeney made the announcement. "Allan [Red] Worthington," said the Giant vice-president, "who has been holding out, yesterday injured his knee playing catch with his brother back home, and we do not know when he will be able to pitch again." It required a little effort, because Feeney is normally a cheerful man, but he managed to look quite grim, too.
March 23, 1959
Only a reporter from an out-of-town paper could find anything amusing in the announcement. "Maybe," he said, "you should sign his brother. He must have a hell of a fast ball." Feeney and Rigney and the San Franciscans did not think this was very funny.
Later it was learned that Worthington's knee, which one doctor said must be operated upon immediately, was not really so bad after all. And a second doctor told him that it was all right to report to camp. In Phoenix no one was sure that the two doctors had examined the same knee, but at least Worthington was on his way. Anyway, the incident tells us quite a bit about the Giants.
In the spring training camps of the Braves and Pirates and Reds and Dodgers the announcement that an Allan (Red) Worthington was temporarily hors de combat would hardly have been the occasion for universal gloom. Probably it would not even have been the occasion for a press conference. But the Braves and Pirates and Reds and Dodgers all have pitching. The Giants, as it became painfully apparent last season, do not.
They have terrific power and wonderful speed, a slick defense and a collection of the finest throwing arms in all baseball. Last year the Giants scored more runs than any other team in the National League and, because of this, managed to stay in or near first place until August. Now, with that phenomenal bunch of rookies one year better, and Jackie Brandt and Bill White back from military service from the start, they might logically be expected to do even better. Even the slight problems which existed around second base and at third seem to be repaired. Rigney feels that Rodgers, fresh from hitting 31 home runs and batting .354 to lead the Pacific Coast League, is ready to play big league shortstop, which will release Spencer for duty at second base. As for Davenport, the Giants know that he is a topflight third baseman, and they do not worry too much about his hitting. For one thing, they really believe that he will hit. If not, they are equally sure that there is enough power in the lineup to carry one man for his glove alone.
But the pitching is, in a word, pitiful, and for the Giants to lose an 11-game winner like Worthington is something like the Braves losing Warren Spahn. A week earlier Ramon Monzant had notified Feeney that he wasn't going to report at all. Monzant won eight games. This was something like losing Lew Burdette.
The pitching staff, at the moment, consists of Johnny Antonelli, one of the league's very best left-handers; a kid named Mike McCormick who can't help but be good; Jack Sanford; and Stu Miller. Sanford was National League rookie of the year with the Phillies in '57; last year he won but 10 games, and the Phils didn't seem too reluctant to let him go in exchange for Ruben Gomez and Valmy Thomas, the Giants' second-string catcher. As for Miller, who throws at only one speed—slow—he will be a starting pitcher once again simply because the Giants have no one else. Miller does an amazing job with his limited natural ability—he had a remarkable earned run average of 2.47 last year despite a 6-9 record—but he can pitch effectively only every fifth day. The Giants would prefer to use him in relief, but what can you do?
Behind this more or less fearsome foursome there are people like Curt Barclay, who spent most of 1958 at Phoenix getting over a sore arm; Billy Muffett, ace relief man of the Cardinals two years ago but an ineffective pitcher in '58; Paul Giel, who can't seem to find the plate; Gordon Jones; Joe Shipley; Dom Zanni; and Frank Funk. The very names are enough to leave opposing batsmen rolling on the ground.
"Sure," says Feeney, "we know we have a pitching problem—although I don't think it's as bad as all that. And we haven't been sitting on our hands. We've been working hard to get it straightened out. We have been talking to a lot of clubs about a right-hand starting pitcher. I guess we need a relief pitcher, a good one, more than anything else, but then, who doesn't? You just can't get those any more."
Do these efforts, he was asked, include offering one or more of the young phenoms for such a pitcher? Or have the Giants been trying to bait the trap with a lot of junk?
"We have been offering quality, not quantity," Feeney says. "The only trouble is that the other teams seem to want our whole ball club. My gosh, we've got some great kids out there. Look at Wagner. He's another Covington. Absolutely crushes the ball. And Kirkland. He can hit almost as well and is better defensively. And White. A proven big league hitter who can do an excellent job at first base. You don't go trading off players like that without getting something in return. And I mean a real good pitcher."
"Some of the deals we have been offered," says Rigney, "are absurd. I don't say this happened, but, as an example, the Braves might offer us a bunch of players no one wants for Jackie Brandt. We say no. What do you want for Brandt, they ask? So we say, well, how about Burdette? The conversation stops. I'm not saying, you understand, that this happened, or even that we would trade Brandt for Burdette, In fact, I don't think we would trade Brandt or Alou for anybody. And we won't trade any of the others unless we get something in return."
"Actually," says Feeney, "we have been close to making a deal several times. Right on the verge. Then something happens, and it doesn't come off. But we're still working, and things might break any day. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. And that's about all I want to say."
It is relatively easy, in looking at what the Giants have to offer and who has the pitching they need, to figure out what some of the deals might be.
The Braves, for example, need a second baseman in the worst possible way—but unless they want Danny O'Connell back, an unlikely supposition, there is no business to be done with the Giants there. However, the Braves could use an outfielder, so...some combination of Kirkland and O'Connell for a pitcher might work.
The Cardinals do not really have pitching to spare, but they are hopeful some of their youngsters might come through, and they do hurt for a left-hand power-hitting outfielder, so the Cardinals might be willing to do business, too. Like Sam Jones—and this makes Card fans shudder—for Wagner or Kirkland, either one capable of hitting more than 30 home runs in Busch Stadium, plus, perhaps, some lesser San Francisco player.
The Pirates are pretty well set. However, if Dick Stuart keeps dropping baseballs at first base and should Rocky Nelson appear incapable, once again, of hitting major league pitching, who is to say the Pirates wouldn't part with one of their six starters in exchange for Bill White?
And the Pirates might be willing to give up pitching for power and so might the Dodgers, who could always put White at first base and move Gil Hodges to third. And the Reds, who have moved Frank Robinson to first base and installed the flashy rookie, Vada Pinson, in the outfield, can't be certain that all their experiments will work out, either. If not, the Giants have the answer—in exchange for a pitcher, of course.
"It's no good talking to the Cubs," says Rigney. "They have that relief pitcher, Elston, that we like very much—but so do they. And they think that Dale Long at first and those three outfielders will all hit over 20 home runs again. Maybe they will. We'll just have to wait and see."
"That's the point," says Feeney. "The best thing we can do right now is just wait and see. This is the time of year when everyone is optimistic. So if we can just sit tight and refuse to panic we may be able to make a pretty good deal before too long on our terms. Sooner or later, maybe some of these teams will come around looking for us."