At one point this spring, the A's suited up 102 players, coaches and instructors in their Phoenix training camp. Their clubhouse looked like a subway station, the outfield like a cattle ranch. But the crowds shouldn't fool the unsuspecting into thinking Billy Martin is planning wholesale changes on a team that won its division last year and is dead set on winning a pennant this year. The A's were merely ambitious in 1981; they're perilously close to being cocky now. Martin himself achieved midseason form in late February, when he declared that in the event of another A's-Angels imbroglio (they had a couple last year), his team would come out swinging, not pushing and shoving.
Oakland's major off-season transaction brought World Series veteran Davey Lopes north from Los Angeles. If Lopes plays the 130 games at second base that Martin wants, he'll be the one stable figure in baseball's most kaleidoscopic infield. Last year the A's used eight first basemen, six second basemen, four third basemen and three shortstops. Lopes will be a fixture if, at 35 and coming off his worst season, he's able to hold the fort. He says he is. "I feel I've just gone from one pot of gold to another," he adds.
Martin plans to platoon lefty Jim Spencer and righty Joe Rudi at first base, but if Rudi, who's 35, and Spencer, who seems to have lost his stroke, can't cut it, Martin will replace them with lefthand-hitting Dan Meyer, acquired from Seattle. Meyer dropped to .262 last year after averaging .277 with 31 total homers in 1979 and '80. The outfield of Rickey Henderson, Dwayne Murphy and Tony Armas is simply the best in baseball, and Mike Heath is an excellent catcher. Meyer and Cliff Johnson, who hit 17 homers last year, will be the primary DHs.
Mike Norris, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty and Rick Langford may be the best starting foursome in baseball, and if Brian Kingman—who, say the others, has the best stuff of them all—can finally live up to his promise, the A's will be hard to score against.
The A's have a player in Tacoma who Martin believes could eventually give the team some badly needed bullpen help. Dave Beard, a 22-year-old Georgian, is already a familiar face for his exploits late last season after being brought up from the minors. He struck out 15 batters in 13 relief innings and had three saves. In the mini-playoffs he pitched brilliantly, saving the division-winning victory over Kansas City. But he disintegrated against the Yankees in the second game of the league playoffs and continued to have trouble in spring training. "For two weeks that Yankee game was all that I could think about," he says. He can continue to think about it in Tacoma while Martin ponders how much Beard could mean to the A's if he gets his act together.
Over the last three years, Second Baseman Davey Lopes has hit .369 against lefthanders and .217 against righthanders. Yet, strangely, Lopes joins a team that is already badly overloaded from the right side of the plate. The only Oakland regular who hit significantly better against righties last year—.291 to .234—was Dave McKay, the man Lopes is replacing.