When the voluble, assertive Charlie Fox resigned as manager of the San Francisco Giants last month, he felt compelled to make one last bid for grandeur and described himself as "General Patton without the troops."
There is, in the parlance of the game, "no way" that Wes Westrum, Fox' mild-mannered, malapropian successor, can be likened to the legendary tank commander. But he still does not have the troops. In fact, even "Old Blood 'n Guts" himself might be moved to mourn the casualty rate among the ranks Westrum now leads into dubious battle.
Of the 15 Giants who can be counted as regular or semiregular players, 13 have suffered debilitating injuries. Among them have been the team leader, Bobby Bonds (pulled rib-cage muscle), its All-Star shortstop, Chris Speier (arm and hand bruises), and 1973 Rookie of the Year Gary Matthews (bruised elbow). Of the five starting pitchers, three have missed assignments because of injuries. Mike Caldwell and Tom Bradley have fallen to conventional, if painful, arm and shoulder maladies, while Ron Bryant contrived to tear open his side in an ill-considered late-evening adventure on a swimming-pool slide during spring training. Add to that list Randy Moffitt, the outstanding relief pitcher who has been sidelined from time to time with a mysterious intestinal disorder that is particularly galling to the gutsy kid brother of Billie Jean King.
Hardly a game runs its course without a Giant crumpling to the Astro Turf clutching some portion of his anatomy. Steve Ontiveros, a promising rookie who led the Pacific Coast League in batting last year with a .357 average, has pulled muscles in both legs. The Job of the Giants is Ed Goodson. the team's top hitter at .309. He has missed 45 games, first with an injured hip, then a bruised arm followed by a urinary infection and, most recently, a sore back.
July 21, 1974
Profuse as they may be, injuries are only part of the Giants' problem. The team is not hitting for average or distance, and it is a slim 1½ games out of last place in the National West. San Francisco's players are inexperienced—Westrum's lineup last weekend averaged 23.5 years of age—and hardly anyone is coming out to see them play. Attendance at Candlestick Park is running 80,000 behind 1973, which itself was scarcely a banner year, with only 834,193 paying customers. Last Friday's National League games drew 173,428. The Giants' contribution to that total was 3,329.
The fans cannot be faulted for eschewing a product that has been lustily advertised as "The Young Giants" but has demonstrated neither youthful zip nor any semblance of Bunyanesque stature. Bonds and Matthews were .200 hitters early in the season and Bryant, who won 24 games last year, was useless. He still has won only twice. In 1972 the Giants led the major leagues in home runs; last week they were 23rd.
Fox departed in considerable disarray under a barrage of press and fan criticism that is still being leveled at Giant Owner Horace Stoneham. The approach in usually temperate San Francisco seems to be "turn the rascals out" and let someone else in.
Westrum, who once managed the Mets and was working as a Giant scout when he was named to replace Fox, is assuredly no rascal. He is a courageously pleasant man with a professorial manner that belies certain verbal idiosyncrasies. When Speier fell down pursuing a routine ground ball the mishap, in the Westrum idiom, "changed the entire complex of the game." Caldwell's reappearance as a starting pitcher last Saturday after almost a month on the shelf would prove a test, said Westrum, "of whether there are any repercussions in his arm." There were apparently none of whatever Westrum was worried about; Caldwell won his first game since May 19 as his teammates uncharacteristically bombed the Phillies for 13 runs.
The Giants are more relaxed under Westrum than they were under the intense Fox. "We laugh some now," says Bonds stoutly, although with his bad ribs he finds laughing almost as painful as his .257 average. "We can turn it around, if we just stop dropping like flies with injuries," adds Speier.
Or, as one San Franciscan insists he heard Westrum say in a radio interview, "Circumstance is the mother of opportunity." Probably.