There are plentyof curious factors to ponder in the American League West. Lefthander Jim Kaatpredicts that he will win more games for the Minnesota Twins because he has hada calcium deposit the size of a lime and the shape of a starfish removed from athigh; he had this talisman with him in Florida this spring and was glad toshow it to accredited forecasters. Another oddity to consider is that sincethis time last year every team in the division has acquired a new manager—theodd thing being it might well make a difference. The Oakland Athletics, No. 2in '69, should be better under quiet John McNamara, and Minnesota, thedefending champ, should not be as good without loud Billy Martin. The Athleticshave other things going for them. They are young enough so that being a yearolder is all for the best. They have traded for a good young catcher in FrankFernandez, more power at first in Don Mincher, bullpen help in Diego Segui, anadded starter in Al Downing and a seasoned hitter in Felipe Alou. Rick Mondayhas married and put on weight through his shoulders (not necessarily in thatorder). Presumably Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando, though they have advanced tothe ages of 23 and 26, will continue to do such things as hit 47 and 31 homeruns, respectively, and play in every inning of every game—which Bando did in'69—as well as drive in another 231 runs between them. Defense is good, teamspeed is good, the infield is the best in the league outside Baltimore. Theonly problem is pitching, which some theorists hold to be important. But thematerial is there in Blue Moon Odom, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and themore prosaically named Chuck Dobson and Jim Roland. The clincher may well beMcNamara, who managed more than half of the current A's in the minors and wascited by most of them last year, when he was an Oakland coach, as the man whohad helped them most in baseball. "We came up together," says McNamara."You can't spend 18 hours on a bus with these players without getting toknow them well." Unaccountably, he even got to like them, and vice versa,under those conditions. If McNamara can bring two or three of his fine youngpitchers to their full potential, and coax a good year out of the erraticDowning, the new skipper might not even be put back on that bus by Charles O.Finley.
The Twins, withHarmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rich Reese, Rod Carew and other fixtures nearlyas solid, look like the class of the division—on paper. Their horrible springrecord in the Grapefruit League may mean nothing, but the combination that putthem nine games ahead of the A's last season has been disrupted. Martin, who in1969 plotted their moves, chewed their tails and beat up at least one of them,was in camp this spring only to tape radio interviews and to smoke a SherlockHolmes pipe. Bill Rigney, Billy the Kid's successor, is widely known as a peachof a guy, but the Twins' only pennants have been won when Martin, widely knownas a peach pit of a guy, was irritating them onward either as manager or asthird-base coach. Soon after firing Martin, Owner Calvin Griffith traded awayTed Uhlaender, thereby tying down versatile Cesar Tovar to Uhlaender's oldcenter-field spot. Old-hand Catcher John Roseboro, named to the All-Star teamlast year, was released outright by Griffith in the winter because of his ageand salary and was signed quickly by the Senators. Roseboro's successor, GeorgeMitterwald, is able-looking but inexperienced, and it may turn out thateconomizing on old John was penny wise and pennant foolish. Then again if LuisTiant, who came over from Cleveland in the Uhlaender trade, regains his 1968pitching form (21-9) as opposed to his 1969 form (9-20), Griffith could yetqualify as the trader of the year. Tiant pitched 450 innings in the past 12months in the American, Mexican and Dominican Republic leagues. He says hepitched a similar bundle of innings the winter before he won 21 games—whereasthe Indians made him rest all winter before his 9-20 year. In Tiant, Kaat, JimPerry and Dave Boswell the Twins have four pitchers who have been 20-gamewinners, though Boswell seems the only good bet to win that many again.
There are fourother teams in the division—unless you feel that Seattle-Milwaukee should becounted as more, or less, than one—but they bothered the A's and Twins lastyear only because they were such poor drawing cards. Again none seems to havemuch chance of rising above third place. But two of them, the Chicago White Soxand the Kansas City Royals, will at least be more interesting and may evenrepresent growth stocks along the lines of the 1968 pre-pennant Mets. Last yearthe phrase "White Sox enthusiast" had all the inner logic of"Studebaker buff" or "Muzak nut." The club might have drawnbetter with home movies, and the only really juicy story out of Comiskey Parkwas the time lefthander Tommy John told a lady sportswriter that in his opinionJoe Namath was "nothing but an animal." This year, however, it will beworth traveling into the South Side just to see Carlos May play left field andWalt Williams play right. May, the best rookie in the league though KansasCity's Lou Piniella got the award, lost part of his thumb to a misfired mortarround during Army reserve exercises last August, but he showed what the rest ofhim is made of this spring by learning to throw well (cutting down at least twobase runners) and to hit line drives with that crucial appendage bolstered onlyby a bit of foam rubber. It remains to be seen how well May will get around onthe ball when regular-season pitchers start jamming him ruthlessly with insidefast balls and sliders on his incomplete fists, but if there is any justice hewill come through some way. The 5'6" Williams was the hustlingest thingabout the Sox, if not about the league, last year and was the best hitter foraverage (.304) in the city of Chicago, which includes those slugging NationalLeague Cubs. If the club ceases to be snakebit (May was hurt, Al Lopez fellsick and decided to quit as manager, and an impressive young pitcher named PaulEdmondson was killed in an automobile accident) and if some of the pitching forwhich the Sox used to be famous can be scraped up to go along with theburgeoning hitting, it will be a team to watch.
April 13, 1970
The Royals, byfar the most successful of the latest crop of expansion teams, gave suchnewcomers as Piniella, Pat Kelly and Jack Hernandez plenty of experience butalso invested heavily in minor league development. This past winter they alsopicked up Amos Otis, who had been branded by the Mets as "untouchable"property a year ago and who had a first-rate season in the minors afterflunking as the Met third baseman. Outfielder Otis was miscast at third baseand had no chance of winning the center-field job from Tommie Agee, but he hastaken over that position for Kansas City like a man who may be makingimpossible catches in the 1972 World Series. Charlie Metro, who had been theRoyals' farm director, agreed to take over as manager with some reluctancebecause it meant losing the profit-sharing advantages that have made richladies out of secretaries in firms run by the Royals' owner, Ewing Kauffman (arule prohibits such remuneration to uniformed personnel). Metro consoleshimself by saying that he has the best young pitching staff in baseball, so ifyou don't want to miss the first tender flowering of the next Seaver orKoosman, it might be wise to keep an eye on Dick Drago, Bill Butler, JimRooker, Wally Bunker (who is, after all, still only 25) and Roger Nelson.
The CaliforniaAngels have beefed up their offense greatly by acquiring Alex Johnson, one ofthe real natural rippers, from Cincinnati, but Johnson can be counted on to dosomething else again to their defense. It was Johnson who, one day when hisdefensive replacement also made several errors, prompted someone to revive theold saw that he had left field so fouled up nobody could play it. Jay Johnstoneand Jim Fregosi are better-rounded Angels, and Andy Messersmith leads acreditable pitching staff. But longtime superstarlet Rick Reichardt willprobably not even be a regular this year, and the folks of Anaheim are notlikely to pass up Disneyland in droves to see a ball club with so littleflair.
The SeattlePilots were another team that changed managers (Dave Bristol for Joe Schultz),thereby inspiring cynics to suggest that Seattle should have kept the pilot andreplaced the Pilots. Then a great deal of legal and financial flatulence cast apall on spring training, what with the front office more concerned with wherethe team would play than with whom its players would be. Things should brightenup in Milwaukee—Tommy Harper will steal a lot of bases and Mike Hegan will hitwell—but the new Brewers will still look like the old Pilots. Sometimes themore things change the more they remain the same.