To win a pennant in the National League it seems a certain type of manager is required. He must be strong, quiet and patient. Some years he is named Walter Alston, others Red Schoendienst, Gil Hodges, Sparky Anderson, Johnny Keane or Danny Murtaugh.
So how docs Bill Virdon fit in as the new manager of the world champion Pittsburgh Pirates? "There will be a difference between Murtaugh and Virdon," says Pitcher Steve Blass. "Murtaugh was a man with a sense of humor. I remember the first time I ever pitched for him and he gave me the ball and said, 'Steve, go out there and pitch three innings or four hours, whichever comes first.' Another time I was pitching in spring training and was wild as could be. Danny came to the mound and asked me what was the matter. I told him I just couldn't seem to find the plate. 'Rather remarkable,' he said. 'It's been in the same damned place for 78 years.' "
Nobody can judge what kind of humor Bill Virdon possesses until the Pirates go through their first losing streak, which may be never. If there is a problem, it could be the pitching. The biggest Pirate winner was Dock Ellis, the famed bed-measurer, with a record of 19-9. But Ellis finished the season with a sore elbow and a shaky record of 5-6 following the All-Star break. Blass was 15-8, Bob Moose 11-7, Luke Walker 10-8 and Nelson Briles 8-4, not bad but not overpowering. The relievers are better. Young Bruce Kison won plaudits for his relief performance in the Series, but still ranks behind Dave Giusti. Over the last two years Giusti has saved 56 games and won 14 others and that totals 70. He also worked four games in the playoffs against San Francisco in addition to three against the Orioles. His ERA for those was 0.00.
Roberto Clemente needs only 118 hits to reach 3,000. And there are all those other hitters: Manny Sanguillen, Richie Hebner, Dave Cash, Al Oliver, Bob Robertson, Gene Clines, Willie Stargell. Stargell had an operation on his knee after last season and Pittsburgh needs a healthy Willie.
While the Pirates can dwell on then accomplishments of last year, the Chicago Cubs begin with their usual hangover. Dissension was rampant in the clubhouse, and near the end of the season Owner Phil Wrigley placed ads in the papers in support of Durocher. Time and excuses are running out on the Cubs. They are aging but, should certain things fall into place, they could win the division. Durocher's future could be determined during the first two weeks when the Cubs meet Pittsburgh six times one-third of the seasonal total. A good showing in these games would bring Chicago to life; a bad one will put Leo's head on the block.
Much of the hope for a successful season lies in the knees of Randy Hundley, "He's not only our catcher," says Reliever Phil Regan, "he's our leader." From 1966 to '69 Hundley averaged 153 games a season but since then has only 82 games of work. Both of Hundley's knees have undergone surgery. "Purely as a wild guess," says the team doctor, Jacob Suker, "Randy may be able to catch 100 and some odd games."
The major off-season maneuvers for the Cubs centered around building an outfield that could cope with the artificial surfaces in the league. Rick Monday came from Oakland and Jose Cardenal from Milwaukee and they will play center and right fields. Monday has now completed his military obligation and that should help him. Over the last five years he has averaged only 124 games a season. Harnessing Jose Cardenal has not been easy. If Durocher can draw the best from him, Chicago will have a very fast base runner with adequate power plus a hitter who can deliver runs.
With a splendid opportunity to win in 1971, Chicago folded in August, and Durocher was criticized for not using his bullpen correctly. But his hitters were really to blame and the starters had to struggle. Ferguson Jenkins won 24 games and the Cy Young Award while Milt Pap-pas (17-14) had his winningest season. The failure of the team to hit hurt Bill Hands (12-18) more than any other pitcher. From the end of June to the middle of September, Hands was cuffed. He won only one game and lost 10, and during the losses the Cubs scored only 14 runs. The fourth starter is Burt Hooton, the team's No. 1 draft choice last June who has only 21 innings of big league experience. The last word on the Cubbies, of course, must come from Ernie Banks, now a coach. "Something old, something new, the Cubs will do in '72," said Ernie.
Montreal's goal last year was lo play .500 ball. It missed by 10 wins but even so the Expos were fifth for the first time after consecutive last-place finishes. "We did finish ahead of the Phillies," Manager Gene Mauch says, "but I really don't know if we moved ahead of them or if they slipped behind us."
The team's lineup will be basically the same with Rusty Staub (19 HRs, 97 RBIs .311) the big man in the attack along with Bob Bailey (14, 83, .251).
Pitching is Montreal's big asset. Carl Morton was 10-18 following his fine 18-victory rookie season. "He had tenderness in his elbow," Mauch says. Steve Renko won 15 games and Ernie McAnally was one of the better pitchers after the All-Star break with a 10-4 record following a 1-8 first half. But the best Montreal pitcher was Bill Stone-man (17-16), a 28-year-old righthander.
Fans in Philadelphia are being asked to "Join the Vet Set" at Veterans Stadium as the Phillies try to scratch their way up from sixth place. There is some hope, but again this will be a year of development for a franchise trying to alter its image. Two fine things happened last year: the development of Willie (The Phillie) Montanez into an outfielder who can make things happen (30 HRs, 99 RBIs) and the emergence of Larry Bowa as the best shortstop in the league. Over the last two seasons Bowa has made only 24 errors even though he had to make the adjustment from real grass to fake, and his .987 fielding average set a major league record.
The young Philly outfield has possibilities in one of those rare new ball parks where the home run is not an impossibility. Only Atlanta Stadium, with 186 home runs, provided a better target than Veterans Stadium (153). Mike Anderson is up from Eugene, Ore., where he and Greg Luzinski each had 36. Roger breed was a huge disappointment (only six homers, 37 RBIs) but he hit .346 in the month of September.
Catcher Tim McCarver was three points above his lifetime average of .275 in 1971 and provides much of the spark for a team that needs all it can get. First baseman Deron Johnson had a good year with 34 HRs and 95 RBIs.
What does Manager Frank Lucchesi do about his pitching staff? He prays for it. Hard, just like last year. Barry Lersch had a four-month, 11-game losing streak and Chris Short had a record of 7-14. Woodie Fryman came out of the bullpen after the first half of the season lo produce a six-game winning streak and a 10-7 record. By getting Steve Carlton the Phils seem to be overdoing left-handed pitching. The Rick Wise-for-Carlton trade deprived Phillie fans of one of their favorites, and Carlton may hear those famous boos if he doesn't get oil" to a smart start.
One of the good moves the organization made was to pick up Tommy Hutton from the Dodgers. Hutton, a fine fielding first baseman, hit very well in the minors and his .352 average, 117 runs scored, 46 doubles and 103 RBIs made him the MVP in the Pacific Coast League.
Seldom has a team been written out of a pennant race as quickly as the New York Mets. Such judgments could prove very wrong. New York thrives on its pitching and seems to die with its hitting; at least that was the ease last year when the team's pitchers worked 73 games in which they gave up two runs or less. Unfortunately, in 70 games the hitters produced two runs or less. (Imagine the possibilities if Met pitchers got a whack at Met hitters.)
Attempts to help the attack generated a trade with the California Angels that brought Jim Fregosi to New York as a third baseman. Fregosi, six limes the AL's All-Star shortstop, hurt a thumb this spring and now must overcome the injury, learn to play a new position and adapt to National League pitching.
Beyond that, the basic east of characters is unchanged. With Fregosi or Wayne Garrett at third, the infield will be composed of Ed Kranepool, Ken Boswell and Bud Harrelson, hardly names to wake up any echoes of the 1929 Yankees. Still, the same cast played in a World Series. Jerry Grote will catch and is trying to alter his obstreperous reputation. Cleon Jones hit .319 but drove in only 69 runs, and Tommie Agee's homer production dropped from 24 to 14, although his average was a solid .285. Either Ken Singleton or John Milner will play right field.
One worry for Manager Gil Hodges prior to the opener was the condition of Tom Seaver's arm. Seaver's five-year record is 95-54 and any continuation of arm trouble might cause the franchise to slip into the muck of Flushing Bay. "Anytime you can run Seaver through the league 35 to 40 times you've got a chance," says Montreal's Gene Mauch. Behind Seaver comes Gary Gentry, seemingly more mature but the holder of a lifetime record of only 34-32. The Mets are still concerned about Jerry Koosman's left arm. Following his first two seasons of 36-21, the next two produced only 18-18 and the team wants him to use his fastball more than Koosman wants to use it. Tug McGraw and Damn Frisella formed one of the best bull pens in either league last year.
In many ways the second-place finish of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971 was unexpected, both to the organization and the fans. Despite one horrendous month, June, when the team won only eight of 29 games and fell from first place, 2½ games in front, to fourth, nine games behind, the Cards rallied themselves and also broke four young players into frontline positions.
Reggie Cleveland (12-12) stepped in as a rookie and walked an average of only 2.15 batters every nine innings, while Jerry Reuss (14-14) proved to be the fourth winningest lefthander in the league despite his inconsistency and an ERA of 4.78.
The other two positions filled were center field, where Jose Cruz worked well and hit .274, and catcher, where Ted Simmons hit .304 with 77 RBIs and produced 12 game-winning hits. St. Louis led the major leagues in hitting last year with .275 but its pitchers compiled an IRA of 3.85, 22nd in the big leagues. Bob Gibson needs only five victories to become the team's alltime winner and will be joined by Wise (17-14 with Philadelphia), Cleveland and Reuss to make up four of the five arms needed in Red Schoendienst's pitching rotation. Finding the fifth pitcher proved a problem during the spring. The bullpen, a sore spot in 1971, should be improved. Finally, the Cardinals seem to have recovered the spirit so helpful in their winning years.