Sounds of spring:
"If we're going to win, everybody has to have a good year, two or three guys have to have outstanding years and we have to stay free of injuries"—Manager Chuck Tanner.
"If [Pitcher] Don Robinson is healthy, he's as good as there is"—Coach Harvey Haddix.
"If we play the way we can..."—First Baseman Jason Thompson.
April 12, 1982
How did the 1979 world champions decline to a team with such iffy hopes for 1982? Well, consider how they won in 1979. "A lot of people had great years," says Shortstop Dale Berra, son of Yogi and a sub that championship season. "Phil Garner and Tim Foli were sensational, and every time we needed a hit from Willie Stargell, we got it."
Much has changed since then. With Shortstop Foli and Second Baseman Garner gone and Stargell, 41, finishing his career as caddie to Thompson and counsel to Rightfielder Dave Parker, the Pirates are struggling.
To be sure, they can still hit and run. Determined to make Pittsburgh writers and Executive Vice-President Pete Peterson "eat crow" for past criticism, Parker lost 30 pounds, worked as hard as any Pirate during spring training and stung line drives all over Florida. "He could have the kind of season he had two years ago," says Peterson. That means .295, 17, 79. Last year Third Baseman Bill Madlock won his third batting title (.341), Catcher Tony Pena hit .300 as a rookie and Centerfielder Omar Moreno stole 39 bases. Left-fielders Mike Easier and Lee Lacy—or is it Lee Lacy and Mike Easier?—continued their successful platooning act.
But hitting and running are Pirate givens; they must win or lose on pitching and defense. "We have to have a good double-play combination," says Peterson. "Second Baseman Johnny Ray has been in organized baseball only three years and Berra has been a part-timer." For the pitching to be competitive, Tanner and Peterson freely concede, Don Robinson and John Candelaria must be healthy. Robinson can throw a fastball 90 mph and a curve almost as fast, but at 24 he has had a lifetime of medical problems. Candelaria got in only six games last year because of a torn biceps. Although his arm was "tingling" this spring, he took ironic pleasure in the reappearance of an old back injury. "The two years it didn't hurt I pitched lousy," he says. What if Candelaria and Robinson aren't fit? Well, Kent Tekulve is a better reliever than he showed in 1981, and Rod Scurry is more than adequate from the left side. Beyond them are Ross Baumgarten, recently acquired from the White Sox, and journeymen Rick Rhoden and Eddie Solomon.
Ignoring his problems for a moment, Tanner says hopefully, "Every day you have a 50-50 chance. If you're 81-81, you're average. We play 26 weeks. What if we win one extra game every two weeks? We're real good. An extra game every week? We're extraordinary. That's how close it is."
Peterson is more realistic: "We have more ifs this year than in any year I can remember." Memories may be all Pittsburgh has.
Dave Parker's offensive decline the last two seasons from an overall .327 average in his glory years of 1977-79 to .284 in 1980-81 can be traced to his play at home in Three Rivers Stadium. His road batting average in '77-79 was .298 compared to the .291 of '80-81. Not a big difference. But his home average in '77-79 was .356 compared to .274 the last two years.