In the Miami Stadium clubhouse, Oriole Manager Earl Weaver was complaining about his arthritis and assessing his team's chances. "This spring is no different from the others," he said. "It's the same, in quality and quantity. There are 42 guys here. I can have 25 and those 25 will make us a contender."
And why shouldn't Weaver be so cocksure? In 20 of the last 23 years he has managed, his team has finished first or second; in his 13½ years in Baltimore his teams have won six division titles, four pennants and one World Series. Says Weaver of his Class of '82, "We've got what we need."
Maybe so, but there are more what-ifs and potential problems than normal for Baltimore. Look first at the left side of the infield where Third Baseman Cal Ripken Jr. and Shortstop Lenny Sakata will play. Rookie Ripken appeared in 23 games last year and got only five hits in 39 at bats, while Sakata, who had never spent a full season in the big leagues until 1981, appeared in only 61 games. They are regulars because stellar Third Baseman Doug DeCinces was traded to the Angels for Outfielder Dan Ford, and peerless fielding Shortstop Mark Belanger and his anemic bat were sent to the Dodgers.
"Everybody says I'm the weak link," says Ripken cheerfully. "That's O.K. I can hold my own and I can produce." Sakata is similarly upbeat, saying, "I won't be a sore spot or a stickout." The infield leader is First Baseman Eddie Murray, who had 22 home runs and 78 RBIs last season and just gets better and better and better and....
In the outfield, Weaver can shuffle until his heart's content with Ford, who promises to be a good citizen and not pose for any more Playgirl centerfolds after some high-flying days as a brawling Angel; Al Bumbry, fast but a poor arm; slimmed-down Ken Singleton, a fine hitter but slow; Gary Roenicke; and John Lowenstein.
Baltimore has always thrived on superior pitching, but the O's hurlers were ailing last season and the team ERA was 3.70, seventh in the league. Starter Mike Flanagan tore a muscle in his left forearm in August and didn't pitch for a month, ending with a 9-6 record. Jim Palmer, hampered by chronic aches and pains, struggled to a 7-8 season and was particularly ineffective after the strike. And a third starter, Steve Stone, was 4-7 in 1981. Stone was on the disabled list for three months last season with assorted elbow and shoulder ailments and failed to complete any of his 12 starts; he was placed on the disabled list again on March 21, and his future is in doubt. Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor were the best Bird starters last year at 14-5 and 13-5, respectively, and Tippy Martinez and Sammy Stewart were tough out of the bullpen.
For what it's worth, Earl says he's quitting after this year. Half of those who know him believe it, half don't. As he says, this spring is no different from the others.
Steve Stone's decline from Cy Young Award winner in 1980 to 4-7 in 1981 was not without precedent. Of the first 40 pitchers (through 1980) to win the award, 16 had a won/lost percentage of .500 or worse the following season. In 1980 Mike Flanagan went from 23-9 to 16-13 and in 1973, Jim Palmer from 22-9 to 7-12. The average record for a pitcher the year after he won the award is 14-11.