Goats in 1962, world champions in 1963—now many believe the Dodgers, with Sandy Koufax, border on the unbeatable.
Lacking power (7th in HRs) and runs (6th), the Dodgers' attack once again will consist of short hits and fancy base running. Led by speedsters Maury Wills (40 stolen bases), Willie Davis (25), Jim Gilliam (19), Tommy Davis and John Roseboro, the team stole more bases than any other major league club for the second straight year. What power the Dodgers do have will come from the bats of Tommy Davis and Frank Howard. Davis (.326, 88 RBIs) has a chance to become the first since Ty Cobb to lead both leagues in hitting three consecutive seasons. Howard (.273), who missed most of spring training when he sat home trying to decide whether to play baseball or not, hit 28 home runs in 1963, but his RBIs dropped from 119 to 64. Willie Davis (.245) chased far too many bad pitches most of last season, but his September form (.313) indicates he may be cured. Wills (.302), with his speed, makes an ideal lead-off man, and Gilliam (.282), who strikes out fewer times than anyone else in the league, will bat, as usual, behind him. Ron Fairly batted .271 but did his best hitting with men on base (.341).
The Dodger pitching staff must be good, since it gets so few runs to work with and is supported defensively by the fastest thumbs in the West. Sandy Koufax is the best pitcher in the major leagues, and even his record of 25-5, with 20 complete games, does not register his true worth. Against St. Louis, San Francisco and Philadelphia—the three top contenders—he was 11-1. In 311 innings he gave up only one sacrifice fly. Koufax has mastered the new high strike zone and the most frustrating feeling for any hitter is to watch Koufax get two strikes and then pinpoint his fast ball at shoulder level. That fast ball rises, but the hitter cannot afford to take the pitch. When he swings he either pops up or strikes out. Koufax struck out a league record 306 hitters last season, many of them with that rising fast ball. Right-hander Don Drysdale (19-17) has started 83 games in the last two years, and his record last season would have been much better if he had received some hitting support. At 31, Johnny Podres is the oldest Dodger pitcher, and he is still toughest in the big games. Koufax, Drysdale, Podres—all experienced, all excellent. Then there is Ronald Peter Perranoski, "the thing that comes in from left field." Over the last two seasons Ron Perranoski has played a vital part in 62 Dodger victories; in 1963, when he was 16-3, he had the best winning percentage in the majors. Perranoski is one of the most confident relief pitchers in baseball. When he is called in during a road game, with the winning run on the bases, he actually thrives on the total responsibility. "It has to be you," he says. "You have to stop them, because if you don't there is no retaliation for your team." Last season on the road he was 11-1 with 11 saves. Perranoski is 27, handsome, left-handed and was once a roommate of Boston's Dick Radatz at Michigan State. When the Dodgers were stumbling around last July, losing five of six games, Perranoski found himself on the mound against the Mets. The score was 5-3, Dodgers, but two runners were on. Perranoski got two quick strikes on Joe Hicks. He took the glove off his right hand, turned his back on Hicks, looked out at center field and began to rub up the baseball. Perranoski noticed that Tim Harkness, a former Dodger, was jumping around at second base, trying to shake his composure. Perranoski watched Harkness wave his arms and listened to his chirping. "Hey, Tim!" he called, and, to Harkness' surprise, Perranoski stuck his tongue out. Then he turned around and struck out Hicks with a sweeping curve. "Very often," he says, "people will talk about tiredness in pitchers, about mental tiredness. There should be no mental tiredness if your arm is awake." The Dodgers and those who play against him call him "Ron Nonchalantski" because he seems so cool both in his stage walk from the bullpen and in the ease with which he strolls around the mound when the situation is tight. "I seem to like it better with a couple of guys on," he says. The next time you see the Dodgers play, however, take a look into the bullpen when the pot is just beginning to come to a boil. Before he is told to begin throwing, Perranoski will be slamming a baseball into his glove as fast as he can. He knows that soon he will be needed and he loves the very idea. Behind Perranoski in the bullpen are Bob Miller (10-8), who can also start in spots. Miller had an ERA of 1.62 in relief, and in both starts and relief gave up home runs at the rate of only one every 26.7 innings. Manager Walter Alston's fourth starter may be a left-hander, either Pete Richert (5-3) or Nick Willhite (2-3). Joe Moeller, a fast-balling righty, is also a possibility. Finally, there are Phil Ortega, Larry Sherry, Dick Calmus and first-year man Paul Speckenbach, who will probably get little work.
This is where the trouble is, and it is major. In addition to making enough errors to finish sixth in fielding, the Dodgers had terrible problems with relays and cutoff plays. The rest of the league probably will run more on the Dodgers this time. Fairly at first base and Reserve In-fielder Dick Tracewski are excellent defensively, but Gilliam at second, Wills at short, Willie Davis in center, Tommy Davis in left and Roseboro behind the plate arc only adequate. Howard in right is not even that. Of the two third-base candidates, rookie John Werhas has the edge in the field over Ken McMullin.
Once more pitching must pull the Dodgers along, and strange things often happen to pitchers. There are six teams with a good shot at the National League pennant this year and the Dodgers are just one of them.