"I'll bet you don't remember Paul Fix," Cleveland Manager Dave Garcia was saying. "He was in probably 95 percent of John Wayne's movies. And how about Nat Pendleton? He was educated at Columbia University but played a tough guy in all the gangster films."
On a team of potential pitching stars, Garcia was perhaps subconsciously emphasizing his need for someone to enter stage left and play a brief but important role. Yet, when he made his casting call, only leading men answered: He needed one short reliever and he got eight starters who have won 14 or more games in a season.
It's no surprise, then, that the Indians have one of the best rotations in baseball: Len Barker, John Denny, Rick Waits, Lary Sorensen and Bert Blyleven. If Blyleven, who has tendinitis in his right arm, falters, Ed Whitson and Rick Sutcliffe have been climbing the bullpen walls for the opportunity to start. Dan Spillner, who spot-started and threw both short and long relief last year, has emerged as the leading candidate for the ninth-inning limelight.
"We need a stopper," says Centerfielder Rick Manning. "Hopefully, we can get someone to come out of the bullpen and slam the door." Last year the door was never slammed and rarely even shut. The Indians had 13 saves; only Oakland, with its staff of marathon starters, had fewer.
"I think sometimes last year Dave would leave his pitcher in because he didn't have faith in the bullpen," Barker says. For now, Garcia is wagering his faith on Spillner, but it's doubtful he can do for Cleveland what Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage do for those two East Division rivals.
The starting pitchers are Cleveland's best since Mike Garcia, Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, Bob Feller and Herb Score pitched in the '50s. At least that's the opinion of Score, now an Indian broadcaster. The front-line pitching should keep the Indians out of any extended losing streaks.
The offense lacks home run punch but sparkles with speed. With the acquisition of Bake McBride from Philadelphia and the addition of rookies Von Hayes and Jack Perconte, the Indians will be even faster than last year, when they led the league with 119 stolen bases.
For a meaningful offense, Garcia says, the club will need more run production from Joe Charboneau and Andre Thornton, who combined for a paltry 48 RBIs last season. Hurt last year, both are healthy and will be used at the DH spot.
Veterans Mike Hargrove and Toby Harrah anchor the infield at first and third. Jerry Dybzinski, who sometimes platooned at short with the Mets' Tom Veryzer the last two seasons, and Second Baseman Perconte are the untested heart of the defense. The trade that sent Bo Diaz to Philadelphia opens up the catcher's job for Ron Hasscy. A .282 lifetime hitter, Hassey platooned last year but he was behind the plate for Barker's perfect game against the Blue Jays.
Excepting 1981, Cleveland hasn't finished within 14 games of first place since 1959, a record of futility that matches any in history. Of the 15 other "original" franchises, 13 have won at least one pennant or divisional title and 14 have finished closer than 14 games at least eight times. The White Sox have come as close as one game and the Cubs have finished closer than 14 six times.