Today, sometime late, the telephone will clamor in the clubhouse of the Boston Red Sox' sprawling spring-training complex at Winter Haven, Fla. and the caller will be Thomas Austin Yawkey, the orphan who ascended to Yale and became the multimillionaire lumberman who pays those magnificent player salaries. Yawkey, 71, once squired Ruby Keeler in a Stutz Bearcat, but he hasn't driven to a Red Sox spring camp since the team left Sarasota in 1958. He has telephoned daily every year since from his plantation in South Carolina. So far this spring all the reports have been splendid—except on the day recently when they had to tell him Catcher Carlton Fisk caught a foul tip in the groin and would miss a full week's work. The rest of the news has been nothing and everything.
The nothing has to do with dissension, a disabling disease contracted by Boston many, many years ago. Now Darrell Johnson, the demanding but decent rookie manager, has the Red Sox flashing peace signs. When they select sides it is for an intrasquad game, not a clubhouse rumble. As Johnson says, "I don't expect my players to love one another, but I expect them to get along." On that front, Mr. Yawkey, everything is beautiful.
And that awesome pitching corps put together last winter by General Manager Dick O'Connell is looking leaner and meaner every day. Juan Marichal, whom Johnson hopes to start every fifth or sixth day, is having his best spring since he won 18 times in 1971. The other day he pitched five effortless and scoreless innings against the Tigers, and his famous kick was high and handsome as he got a third strike past five hitters. Competition at the other positions has been so fierce, and of such quality, that Johnson says, "I love it. I love every bit of it." But then the rugged duck hunter out of Ord, Neb. has always been enraptured by every facet of baseball.
Long ago, as a boy catcher of limited ability just a month into minor league ball, Darrell Johnson decided that if he could find a way to remain in the game forever, he would do it. Until then he had only played the sport; after that he absorbed it. Remembering that distant moment of determination, he speaks of the places it has carried him.
April 1, 1974
He spent six years in the major leagues, with stops in seven cities, and every ball park was a classroom. "I got a lot of slivers in my butt," he says, "but I got them sitting next to men like Ralph Houk and Casey Stengel and Fred Hutchinson and Earl Weaver. I didn't play much, but I learned a lot of baseball. They didn't make a move I didn't analyze. I'm certain that if I had been a better player, a regular, I wouldn't be here now. When you're playing you don't have time to think about the game. You have to concentrate on what you are doing. Me, I had all the time in the world to think."
Johnson pauses for a moment, his green eyes narrowed by thought. Then he goes on. "I learned from all those men, and others. But when I became a minor league manager in 1967, I didn't try to copycat any of them. I'm me. When I manage, the manager is Darrell Johnson." And so it was Darrell Johnson, not a carbon of another, who took command of the Red Sox last winter. As usual, Boston had finished first in dissension and last in leaving the bar—and second to the Orioles. Eddie Kasko, who had predicted victory in the division, became the sixth ex-Boston manager since 1960.
Johnson, who had just won the Little World Series with Pawtucket, Boston's Triple A farm in the International League, knew his way around Fenway Park. He had been there in 1968 and 1969 as Dick Williams' pitching coach. "What trades would you like us to make?" Dick O'Connell asked Johnson. The chief Red Sox need was obvious: pitching. Then there was a desire to trade Reggie Smith, the talented outfielder who was feuding with almost as many teammates as he was talking to. Smith already had battled with pitchers Luis Tiant and Bill Lee, and had never been far from a brawl with All-Star Catcher Fisk.
Johnson drew up a list of 10 pitchers he coveted, gave the list to O'Connell and said he would take what he could get. Johnson's next move was to open a line of communication with his players and to let them know where they stood. "I've got no secrets from my players," he says. "When I make up my mind to something about someone, that player will know it right away. If they make up their minds on something about me, I want to hear that right away. And I don't want to hear any past history. If a player has had trouble in the past, I'm wiping the slate clean. He's got a fresh start. If a player has been good, well, he'll just have to prove it all over again."
In his first press conference Johnson announced that if Rico Petrocelli, who had an elbow operation in August, was healthy, he would be the Boston third baseman. This was surprising news to many, including, no doubt, Petrocelli, who had been waiting two years for Boston to trade him.
In 1969 Petrocelli assaulted the great green wall in Fenway Park for 40 home runs, hit .297 and drove in 97 runs. Then the sensitive, moody infielder started to have trouble with his right elbow. He began to lose strength in his hand. When he threw, it was with intense pain. The injury changed his batting stroke and his hitting fell off. He missed 62 games last year, including the final 47. When he left he was hitting .244, with 13 home runs and 45 runs batted in. Everyone said he had a poor year.
"Poor, hell," says Johnson. "I heard all that and people asked me why I named him my third baseman. I told them to go ask Earl Weaver who his third baseman is and I'll bet he says Brooks Robinson. And nobody will ask him why. Well, Rico had a better year than Robinson. Off his record he was the third best third baseman in the American League."
Johnson shakes his head, then grins. "Rico's arm is fit and if he gives me just an average year, I'll be happy. Let's see, that would be 20 to 25 home runs. I'm just glad I've got him."
When O'Connell commenced wheeling and dealing, pitchers arrived by the long ton. First came Dick Drago (12-14) from Kansas City. Then Rick Wise (16-12), from St. Louis. Not satisfied, O'Connell went back to St. Louis and exchanged three young pitchers for Reggie Cleveland (14-10) and Reliever Diego Segui (17 saves). And finally, O'Connell capped his winter's work by sending $100,000 of Yawkey's $297 million to San Francisco for Marichal (11-15). All in all, the Red Sox have nine veterans who won 113 games last season, and they have not even begun to tap the wealth Johnson expects to be coming up from Pawtucket. It is going to be fun seeing how Johnson handles all those pitchers, to say nothing about Carl Yastrzemski and the rest.
"After working on different combinations," Johnson says, "I found I was leaning toward the young players, the ones I had with me in the minors, and I decided it wasn't fair to the others. We'll just have to let them fight it out among themselves."
Johnson is not quite sure what he is going to do with Yaz or with Tommy Harper, the league base-stealing champion, except that they will play every day, somewhere. Cecil Cooper is up for his third trial at first, and Johnson is convinced he can make it. If he does, Yastrzemski will play left field and Harper, who cannot throw strongly, might come in and replace Orlando Cepeda as the designated hitter. Cepeda hit .289 with 20 home runs last year, but he cannot give Johnson one thing he wants, which is speed.
Even though Luis Aparicio will turn 40 on April 29, the slight shortstop is not going to give up his job without a battle. Each year he loses a little more range, but after 18 seasons in the big leagues he has learned to play the hitters with his head instead of the old quickness. "I'm not about to embarrass myself," Aparicio says. "If I find I can't do the job, I'll quit, and I'll be happy to do so. Maybe in a couple of years." Aparicio is being pushed by Mario Guerrero, his understudy last season, and by Rick Burleson, a sweet glove up from Pawtucket and almost certainly the Red Sox shortstop of the future, if not on April 5 in Milwaukee. After 15 spring games Burleson was hitting .409, Guerrero .321 and Aparicio .316.
Competition? "I love it," says Johnson. "We may go right down to the last day before we can pick the team we'll take north. One thing is for sure, though, if we take any of those young kids with us, they'll go as starters. I told them all that. If Burleson isn't the No. 1 shortstop, down he goes. The kids are our future. We won't waste any of them on a bench."