A popgun attack in a big park
Strong points: Defense, especially the infield. The Colts designed both park and club with defense in mind, and it should be reasonably good. Aside from ex-Dodger Norm Larker, who lolls at first base between at bats, the infield is filled with erstwhile second-stringers of the good-glove variety. Joey Amalfitano, the ex-Giant bonus baby, is a smooth second baseman. Shortstop Don Buddin, at last sprung from Boston, could improve on his mediocre record. Bob Aspromonte, onetime Dodger shortstop, is expected to bloom at third base. The infield has a good can-field, can't-hit reserve in remarkably versatile Bob Lillis. Hal Smith is an experienced catcher who hits with some power. The outfield is adequately equipped with speed and arms; best by far is ex-Cub Al Heist, who is one of the league's best defensive center fielders.
Weak spots: Lack of power and left-handed hitting. The probable starting lineup lists only two left-handed hitters—Larker and Left Fielder Al Spangler, who hit home runs only in batting practice. Power is hardly rampant among the righties either; the infielders are all banjo hitters and among the outfielders only Roman Mejias in right and reserve Jim Pendleton have shown any long-ball ability. All will have trouble reaching 360-foot fences in Colt Stadium, but so will the opposition.
The big ifs: The pitching is iffy on all drafteeladen clubs, and the Colts are no exception. The biggest names are Bobby Shantz and Dick Farrell. Shantz, a 24-game winner with the old A's 10 years ago, will join starting rotation if he is physically able. Reliever Farrell, a major disappointment with the Dodgers last year, has embellished his fast ball with a tricky slip pitch. Best bets to make it as starters are Jim Golden (20-9 with St. Paul in 1960), knuckleballer Ken Johnson (6-2 with Reds last year), lefty Hal Woodeshick, right-hander Bob Bruce and rookie Dave Giusti. Giusti, 22, who has had only a half season of pro experience (he pitched for Syracuse in the College World Series and then compiled a 2.29 ERA in 118 innings with Jacksonville), often uses the palm ball as an out pitch. Bobby Tiefenauer and Al Cicotte figure to relieve. There isn't much talent here, but General Manager Paul Richards is used to that. "Richards always takes a few retreads and a couple of youngsters," says Coach Luman Harris, "and comes up with a damned fine staff."
Rookies and new faces: In addition to Giusti, the best-looking rookies are Merritt Ranew (23), a line-drive hitter who will be second-string catcher, and Outfielder John Weekly (24), a power hitter.
OUTLOOK: Manager Harry Craft hopes that the Colts' tight defense will keep the team out of last place. It is his only hope.
New life for Mr. Buddin
When Shortstop Don Buddin came up to the Red Sox, much was expected of him. "They gave me a real great buildup," says Buddin, "and I wasn't ready to live up to it." Boston fans, traditionally a grumpy bunch, wouldn't accept less". From April 1956 until the close of last season, they booed, jeered and maligned Buddin far past the point of reason.
Buddin is now with Houston, but the memory of those Boston days is still bitter. When he is asked about them, his mouth tightens and he chooses words carefully. "I got a bad start that year and I never did get over it," he says. "I didn't hit too well, but my fielding was the trouble. I made a few errors—a few too many, and they got on me. If there are 25,000 people in the stands, maybe only 5,000 don't like you. But those are the people you hear."
Boston's tempestuous writers were implicated, too. "When you have so many papers there's tough competition among the writers," says Buddin. "Some of those guys would write nasty remarks about their mothers if it made a good story."
Buddin shook his head. "You can't figure them in Boston," he says. "They just pick out certain guys. They got on Jackie Jensen terrible, when he was having his greatest years. Last year it was Carl Yastrzemski. They expected him to hit .320 his first year. For a couple of months it was more like .230, and the writers started chewing him up. It wasn't his fault, but they didn't care about that."
Buddin says he never asked to be traded, "but the front office got the idea through the grapevine. Actually, last year wasn't so bad in Boston, because I had a good year [.263]. But I'm glad to be out of there. This year I'll be more relaxed, and I think the Houston people will appreciate me. In Boston if I did 40 things right and one wrong, I was a bum. I hope those days are over."
Wherever Paul Richards goes, the slip pitch goes with him. Richards, so they say, invented the pitch. Now, as Houston general manager, he is seeding it throughout the Colt staff. "All our pitchers are trying it," says Coach Luman Harris, who has been with Richards for more than 15 years. "Paul always manages to find one or two guys who can throw it." Adds Harris loyally: "Once you master the slip pitch, it's the best changeup there is."
Harris grabbed a ball. He held it with forefinger and middle finger across the top and thumb extended straight underneath. "You keep the tips of your two fingers off the ball," he said. "That takes the spin off. You throw it hard as you can, with a regular fast-ball motion, but you squeeze it out of your fingers. It goes up there and just seems to quit. Breaks down and away most of the time. Sometimes it drifts one way and sometimes another, according to what you do with your wrist and how you release the ball.
"Jim Konstanty was a true master of the slip pitch. He worked on it with Richards in the International League. Then he went up to the Phillies and was a whale of a pitcher."