Wanted: a race to draw some people into the ball parks. The problem: Baltimore. The league champions have a new goal, which is lo become the first team in history to win 100 games in four consecutive seasons. Trading Frank Robinson to the Dodgers may not have seemed the most logical way to begin the quest, but the Orioles are so player-rich that something had to give. Merv Rettenmund, the team's top hitter in 1970 and '71, takes Frank's right-field position, but, oh my, consider the really young players crashing in. Bobby Grich, all-everything in the International League (.336 and 32 home runs at Rochester), is the foremost of these. When Brooks Robinson had to miss a spring game because of a wrist injury, Manager Earl Weaver called on Grich, who promptly went 5 for 5. He was at third that day, but he can play any infield position.
Moving up from Rochester with Grich is Don Baylor, an outfielder who hit 20 homers and stole 25 bases while driving in 95 runs. His .329 was the best average in Puerto Rican ball. Also in from Rochester is Roric Harrison, the International League's top pitcher in 1971. He finds himself in heady company. Those 20-game winners, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson, have not retired, and Doyle Alexander has come from Los Angeles, where he had excellent control.
The starting outfield now becomes Rettenmund, Don Buford and Paul Blair. The infield remains Robinson, Short-stop Mark Belanger, Second Baseman Dave Johnson and first Baseman Boog Powell. Someday Grich probably will replace either Belanger or Johnson in the starting lineup. In the meantime, he will be worked in gradually. "I Feel that Bobby is one heck of a player," says Johnson. "The more good ones we have on our side the belter off we are. You don't go around being jealous of other people. If he's good enough to take my job away it will happen."
If so, the decision will be made by Weaver, who has managed in the minors, majors and winter ball since 1956 and finished first or second with 14 teams. Weaver has heard some sprightly spring talk about Detroit, and he says, "The Tigers did a good job last year. They really seemed to believe that stuff Billy Martin was telling them. I know he says they have a good chance of beating us this year. What else is Bills Martin going to say?"
Well, a number of things. Like "We got to within five games of them late in the season and we certainly had our share of problems earls." Indeed the Tigers did. Pitcher Joe Coleman missed the first three weeks of the season because of a concussion caused by a line drive, but he came back to win 20 games while losing nine. Les Cain had shoulder troubles and was sent to Toledo. He returned to post a 10-9 record.
Mickey Lolich, however, was no problem. Mickey was a delight. He started 45 games and was the winningest pitcher in the major leagues, with 25 victories. His 376 innings of work represented the most since Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched 388 back in 1917.
Detroit docs certain things very well to help its pitching. Although the Orioles probably are a better defensive team, the Tigers had the best fielding percentage in the league last year and also led in home runs (179), with eight players hitting homers in double figures. If Aurelio Rodriguez can duplicate his 83 RBIs of 1970 and Norm Cash has a year similar to his 1971 (32 homers, 91 RBIs), then the Tigers could do more than jus: pare down the 12 games that separated them from the Orioles at the end of the season. By platooning Dick McAuliffe and Ions Taylor at second, Martin hopes to produce more runs. Lest the point be missed, Detroit scored only 41 fewer runs than Baltimore.
Managing the Tigers demands a great deal of communication because the team is getting old and slow. The Tigers stole only 35 bases in 1971 while being thrown out 43 times. Over the last two seasons the ratio is terrible (64-73). During the same period Lou Brock stole 115 all by himself. Because of their age, the Tiger outfielders have to be rotated, and Martin does this expertly.
Al Kaline is now the Tigers' first $100,000 player. There is such a refreshing stubbornness about Kaline that he seems to come from another time. A year ago the Tigers wanted to pay him that honor but he refused to take the raise because he felt he had not had a good enough 1970 season. Last year he was the top hitter among the regulars at .294 and played errorless ball.
Centerfielder Mickey Stanley, whose streak of 500 chances and 164 games without an error ended last year, hit for the highest average of his career, .292. "I guess I quit pressing and the halls fell in," Stanley says. "You can count me as one of those who believe Baltimore can be had. They are going to miss Frank Robinson. When I looked at him I saw a guy who was really tough in the clutch. We made a run at them at the end of the season to get close, and then we tapered off and they pulled away. But we won't have that much catching up to do this time."
Catcher Bill Freehan agrees with Stanley. "No matter what business you are in," he says, "when you take the big man out it means a lot. Our concern, however, can't be wondering about what the loss of Frank Robinson is going to do to Baltimore. Our real concern has to be with ourselves. We know Baltimore is going to be good. We have to be better."
It is traditional to say the Boston Red Sox "have a chance." Where will the Red Sox finish? In Detroit on Oct. 4 is the only safe response. Eddie Kasko spent the spring giving the impression he had something up his sleeve. Close inspection revealed only his arm. Or a few arms, for Kasko feels he has the best pitching staff of his tenure. He is trying to fashion a new look on defense—speed to go with that pitching—and it could work if the speed can stay in the lineup. Luis Aparicio will soon turn 38 and that is ancient for a shortstop. Doug Griffin encountered severe back problems during most of 1971, and Tommy Harper's stolen base total of 73 in 1969 for Seattle shrank to 25 last year at Milwaukee. But 25 stolen bases for a Boston player causes the light to go on in Old North Church. Only once since 1935 has a Sox player stolen as many as 26. Harper will play center field, with Reggie Smith in right and Carl Yastrzemski in left. Look for Yaz to hit more to left Held and center. If the Sox really do play a running game, watch for Carl to run, too. He's good at it.
But what of the wall, the Great Green Monster in left? Who will make use of the GGMIL? Danny Cater, acquired from the Yankees, will not hit it very often. Harper might do a job on it, and then again he might not. Third Baseman Rico Petrocelli, however, has demonstrated that he can.
The two new pitchers on the starting staff are Marty Pattin, winner of 28 games for Milwaukee over the last two seasons, and Rogelio Moret, a 22-year-old lefthander who was 14-1 during the Puerto Rican schedule. Sonny Siebert (16-10) was the team's top pitcher and he is an "Oriole killer,' with a career record of 15-4 against them. Ray Culp (14-16) is the other starter. But both Culp and Siebert finished last season with arm trouble. And catching is a question mark, too, on this mystery team.
It is not inconceivable that Milwaukee could have its best team and worst record in 1972. The Brewers were baseball's best last-place club in 1971. They added some badly needed power by picking up George Scott, Billy Conigliaro and Joe Lahoud from Boston, but their move into this division could make winning much harder. Last year they were 27-45 against East teams, 42-47 against the ones in their own division.
The Brewers were not opposed to the division switch however, Trawl will he easier, there are radio and television benefits and their East opponents should be better draws in Milwaukee. If their pitching holds up, the Brewers could move out of last place.
Last year the Brewers led the league in shutouts with 23 and had the sixth-best team ERA, 3.38. Unfortunately, they were last in club batting (.229). They traded Pattin and Lew Krausse, two of their better pitchers, to Boston for Scott, Conigliaro, Ken Brett, Jim Lonborg and Lahoud in a 10-player deal. Scott, Conigliaro and Lahoud accounted for 49 Sox homers and 143 RBIs, somewhat misleading figures since Conigliaro and Lahoud were platooned. Reportedly there was bad blood between them in Boston. "It was competitive," Lahoud says, "nothing personal. It seemed I would have a few good days and then I'd be benched as soon as I had a bad one. That's no alibi, just a statement of fact."
Lonborg, Bill Parsons (13-17), who was the Rookie Pitcher of the Year, Jim Slaton (10-8) and Skip Lockwood (10-5) are the starting pitchers. The prime man in the bullpen is Ken Sanders, who had 31 saves and finished 77 games. "I wish Ken Sanders was twins," said General Manager Frank Lane.
As for the Yankees, at last the public will get to see a young ball club. Not a terribly good one, perhaps, but young. It will be tested early. In its first 10 games New York draws Baltimore eight times, Detroit twice. To stay in the race the Yankees will have to start well.
Ralph Houk, optimist senior grade, believes he has one of the game's best outfields to get things moving. Bobby Murcer attained stardom last year with a .331 batting average, 25 home runs and 94 RBIs. Roy White is a good player and Rusty Torres is up from Syracuse with excellent notices. The infield corners are in the hands of two potentially fine hitters, Rich McKinney at third and Ron Blomberg at first. Defensively, however, they are hardly wizards. Shortstop and second base have been depressed areas in recent years and it is doubtful that Houk will permit as many infield crimes as he has in the past, although he is still scuffling for able bodies.
New York's relief pitching collapsed in 1971, but then bullpens often follow bad years with good ones. The arrival of Sparky Lyle from Boston should help. Mel Stottlemyre, Fritz Peterson, Steve Kline and Mike Kekich will be the first four starters. They are not McNally, Cuellar, etc., but New York should not finish 21 games behind the Orioles again this season.
Cleveland has a new owner, Nick Mileti, who reminds some people of Bill Veeck. That is Veeck as in wreck, which is the recent status of the team. Sam McDowell's stormy career has blown off to San Francisco, but Alex Johnson comes to the lakefront with a reputation for walking on land when he should be running. Gaylord Perry will give an otherwise poor pitching staff some stability. So might Milt Wilcox, picked up from Cincinnati. Graig Nettles is a line third baseman with power (28 HRs, 86 RBIs), Chris Chambliss has potential at first and Ray Fosse gives the team a solid catcher. Mileti's showmanship could get some people out to the ball park. If so, there might be some money to work with and then the Indians can start working on their future. The present is too bleak to consider.