New trouble at an old strongpoint
Strong points: A sound infield, a solid catcher and a deep bullpen. Brooks Robinson (24) is the best third baseman in the league; he fields his position flawlessly and hits well (.287). Dapper First Baseman Jim Gentile is the Orioles' big powerman: 46 HRs, 141 RBIs and a .302 BA. Second Baseman Johnny Temple, acquired from the Indians, is a big-league hitter (.288 for 10 years). Despite a questionable arm and less range, he is still a fiery competitor. Shortstops Jerry Adair and Ron Hansen (in the Army but available for a number of games) are fine fielders, fair hitters. Catcher Gus Triandos handles pitchers well, hits with power (averaged 21 HRs last four years). The man with the knuckleball, Hoyt Wilhelm, appeared in 51 games last year, had a gaudy 2.29 ERA. Reclaimed left-hander Billy Hoeft (7-4, 2.02 ERA) also throws a good knuckler as a spot starter and long reliever. Wes Stock, relieving 34 times, won 5, lost none, had a 3.00 ERA.
Weak spots: Power, speed. Jackie Brandt was the only Oriole outfielder to hit with any force last year (16 HRs, 72 RBIs). The rest—Earl Robinson, Whitey Herzog, Russ Snyder and Dick Williams—produced a laughable total of 22 HRs, 102 RBIs. Except for Gentile, the infielders looked just as bad (19 HRs, 128 RBIs). Lacking power, you would think the Orioles had speed. But the team stole only 39 bases last year and only Brandt, Earl Robinson and Adair know how to run.
The big ifs: Pitching. Yes, pitching. Even though the Oriole staff gave up the fewest hits, the fewest runs and the fewest homers while compiling the best ERA in the majors last year, their pitching strength is questionable this season. The big winner, Steve Barber (18-12), is in the service and will try to pitch on weekends—a dubiously rewarding endeavor. Milt Pappas (13-9) and Jack Fisher (10-13) are both ailing. Pappas probably won't be ready until the second week of the season (after recovering from an appendectomy), and Fisher has had shoulder trouble all spring. Chuck Estrada (15-9), the oldest of the group at 24, is the only one who can be counted on. Manager Billy Hitchcock will have to find some more young arms or use his spot pitchers—37-year-old Hal Brown (10-6, 3.18 ERA), 31-year-old Dick Hall (7-5, 3.10 ERA) and Hoeft—more often.
Rookies and new faces: The Orioles lose all sense of proportion when they look at John (Boog) Powell. Only 20 and massive (6 feet 4, 235 pounds, with a neck almost as wide as his head), Powell looks to be the power-hitting outfielder Baltimore has always dreamed about. He had 32 HRs, 92 RBIs and .321 BA at Rochester in only his second full year in pro ball. Left field is all his, despite a bad glove, if he can rough up big-league pitching. Because of the current pitching dilemma, Art Quirk (24) may stick as a starter.
OUTLOOK: Ex-Manager Paul Richards got a lot out of this team with tight pitching and defense. Now the pitching is questionable and New Manager Hitchcock will need all the help he can get to keep the Orioles from sliding backwards.
Flakey Brandt and Big Boog
Jackie Brandt is a good defensive outfielder and hits with some power but there are some who suggest that he is a bit too nonchalant about the whole thing. "This year," he said, "I'm going to play with harder nonchalance," and what that means only 162 games will tell.
Manager Hitchcock is giving Jackie some extra responsibility in 1962. Jackie is going to be the leader of the outfield, and the other two fielders are going to position themselves on Brandt in center, keying their shadings on him. But Jackie is still a "Flakey," as they say in baseball. He is actually the league-leading Flakey. "My 2-year-old calls me Flakey," he said, "and I like it."
Flakeyness, for the unknowing, means screwball. In Brandt's case, it can go like this: One day he slipped into the dugout and took a chest protector and several gloves and put them into the blouse of his uniform so that his stomach looked huge. He put some balls under the shoulders of his jersey to widen them, pulled up his pants so they looked more like knickers. He walked to the plate, pointed dramatically and took a silly swing. Then he started around the bases. "I'm Babe Ruth," he said. He still looked an awful lot like a fat "Flakey" Brandt.
For Baltimore this is the spring of John (Boog) Powell. Each morning in spring training he would walk under a clubhouse sign which said, "It Can Come True in '62," and he would think about that for a few seconds. When he got onto the field he would listen as his more famous teammates made television commercials exhorting the breathless populace back in Baltimore to "Be a Bird watcher in '62." He would chuckle at that. But wherever he went he carried his bat with him the way Linus carries his blanket.
And he can hit. One day, on five swings, he knocked three balls over the right-field fence and two up against it. The fans in the stands gave him loud applause; he tipped his cap, smiled and stumbled over the batting-cage wheels. He can sit, too, and in the late afternoons he would sit in the hotel lobby and smoke things over. He sits real good—feet spread wide apart, back flush against the chair, hands dangled over the ends of the chair arms.
But while he can hit and sit, he can't field. On the first fly ball of spring he made a bad error—also on the third. When the reporters came to him, however, he was marvelously straightforward about the errors. "No sir, the sun did not get in my eyes. I butchered it." Or, "It's not a new glove and it's not the glove at all. It's me." Or, "There was nothing wrong with the sky and the background didn't confuse me. I just got to learn to play left field. Man, I better learn to play left field or I'm gonna be gone."