THE END OF FEBRUARY
It's only the pitchers now. Well, the pitchers and catchers. But the latter are only along because someone has to catch the pitchers, and that's the catchers. They don't really count, though. For example, have you ever heard anyone say in spring training that the catchers are ahead of the hitters? Of course not. No, the pitchers are brought down early because they're different from other athletes. They're arms. Other athletes are bodies. Pitchers are also the closest thing we have in any of our sports to being individuals in a team game. They're integral, and yet they're apart. In baseball now, people other than pitchers are referred to as "position players"—the implication being clear that pitcher isn't really a genuine position. Just an arm.
Pitchers themselves accept this, perhaps especially in the American League, where they don't bat anymore. "Even in college I still played position," Dick Tidrow says about another Dick Tidrow, who roamed the gardens long ago. Tidrow is now a reliever with the Chicago Americans, and this is where we are, in spring training with the White Sox, with the pitchers (and catchers).
But we could be most anywhere, with any staff. Observing the chemistry of the White Sox pitching staff through the season will be particularly interesting, however, because Chicago is an up-and-coming team that's counting heavily on a disparate group of pitchers. A staff is a team unto itself—a team within a team, if you will—with almost as many roles to be filled as the position players have positions. For starters: starters. Lefthanders and righthanders. Relievers. Long, middle and short men. Ground-ball pitchers. Keep it in the park. It has even come down to this: Tidrow, for example, is "early short," as Chisox Manager Tony La Russa says, which means he is the penultimate reliever, whose specialty it is to stop things before the certified stopper comes in and slams the door. Firemen, submariners (rare), junk men, throwers, spot starters and (best of all) live arms. Eventually, cutting it finer all the time, you get this type of thing:
Jim Kern (veteran righthander, late relief): Wouldn't you say Jon Matlack is a lefthander who really thinks righthanded?
Jerry Koosman (aging lefthander, spot starter): No, no, you got it all wrong. Matlack is a lefthander who thinks he thinks righthanded.
Kern: Which is his trouble.
Koosman: Of course.
And here it is February, and there are 15 pitchers, more or less, competing for the 10 openings on the staff. This is the way it was at the beginning of the White Sox training camp in Sarasota, Fla.
Righthanders: LaMarr Hoyt, Richard Dotson
Lefthanders: Floyd Bannister, Britt Burns
Righthanders: Tidrow, Kern, Salome Barojas
Southpaws: Kevin Hickey, Al Hrabosky
SPOT START & RELIEVE
Portsiders: Koosman, Richard Barnes,
Righthanders: Dennis Lamp, Randy Martz, Steve Mura
Righthander: Jim Siwy
Before they go back north six weeks from now, some of them must be gone. The farms. Dealt. Released. Disabled? And before the season is long under way, some will be surprises and some will fail. Maybe even someone will be back, recalled from the bushes. Arms will hurt. Roles will change. Starters will falter and be exiled to the bullpen, banished from The Rotation. The doubleheaders will pile up. Someone will lose his curve. Someone else won't be able to find the plate.
These things will all happen in one way or another, and come September when the Magic Numbers start to appear in newspapers, if the staff has done its job, Chicago will be in the race, because, as you know, pitching is 75% of the game of baseball.
The staff had to be split up. Besides all the pitchers with a chance to make the big club, there were lots of prize minor-leaguers on hand, too. Some of them were throwing on the sidelines while the coaches checked their motion. Pitchers are about the only athletes who have a motion. Other athletes have tools and moves, things like that. Pitchers have a motion.
Other pitchers were selected to throw batting practice to the catchers. It's important to let catchers hit every now and then when they're down with the pitchers. It deludes them into thinking it's pitchers and catchers. Finally, there were other groups working on fundamentals. Covering first base. Fielding hard smashes. "All right, I'm going to give you a little backhand action," Pitching Coach Dave Duncan said, brandishing his fungo bat. Duncan was a catcher when he played. He slammed grounders that made the pitchers reach the other way. The Oldtimers watched closely.
When the pitchers had finished all their assignments for the day, they ran. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, pitchers gotta run. Or, anyway, lope. The Old-timers watched. There were several of them, former pitchers and position players alike.
"In my day," said The Hall of Famer, "we ran. Pitchers ran. Not jogged."
"But it's more scientific now," said The Cy Young Winner. "They used to tell us, throw 30 minutes. Now, they say, throw 42 pitches, so many breaking balls, so many...."
"Yeah, but now a guy can make the majors even if he can just throw hard," said The Famer. "When I was pitching, a catcher didn't have enough fingers. He had to take off his glove to call all the pitches."
"Now they'll bring in a guy with the good heat just to face one hitter," The Slugger said. "One hitter, maybe two."
"We had four-man rotations then, too," The Stopper said. "Hell, sometimes we'd go north with only eight pitchers—for April, anyway, because we had so many open dates."
"It's all five-man now," said The Singles Hitter. "Even the Orioles are going with five now."
"Well, in this league, with the DH, the pitchers stay in longer, so the five-man rotation makes more sense," said The Stopper.
"Yeah, but when we were playing, the pitcher stayed in just as long, and we did it with three days' rest," said The Cy Young. "We were geared for that. Geared."
"Sure," said The Famer. "A reliever worked hard, not because he wanted to be a better reliever, but because if he showed good, he might get to be the fifth starter when the doubleheaders piled up. Why, in those days, managers didn't even want starters to hang around together. You get two starters goin' out after one of 'em had a bad game, you got half your rotation drunk."
"The best starting pitcher is the one who can forget after a defeat, put it aside till the next start," said The Stopper.
"You know, I got one question for you," The Singles Hitter said.
"All right," said The Stopper.
"How come you threw that damn spitter?"
The others roared, partly in shock. The Stopper only looked away, smugly. "He won't tell you," The Slugger hollered. "He won't. Even after all these years."
The Singles Hitter shook his head in disgust. "I mean, I didn't mind some bum throwing it, some guy who didn't have anything else left. But you...."
"He won't admit it," The Slugger said. "You know how pitchers are."
"Yeah. Sonsabitches. It wasn't fair. All right, throw a wet one at some slugger. But me. I'd hit a home run once a year, and then the pitcher would come stepping down off the mound, screaming at me like I didn't have the right. Sonsabitches."
The Stopper looked down at The Singles Hitter and laughed. "You never hit one off me," he announced for the benefit of the assembled.
"Pitchers just aren't as mean nowadays," said The Slugger.
"Oh, I wouldn't say we were mean," said The Famer. "Just more determined." He kept a straight face, too.
"More determined!" said The Singles Hitter. "More determined! Thirty years later, you still won't give anything away. You mean sonuvabitch."
"Well, this is a mean staff here," The Slugger said. "There's a lot of guys here will surprise you that way." He turned to watch some young talent throw. Hum it. Come to the mitt. He checked out the motion. "You see, a good pitcher has got to make the plate bigger. For himself. It's only 17 inches across, and that's not enough. Now, a good pitcher works to a 25-inch plate. And the only way to make it bigger is inside. Outside, the hitters are going to come back up the middle at you. Trouble with most pitchers, though, they're human, and when they come inside, they aim. They're afraid to throw it like they do when they fire outside. And so when they miss inside, it goes right down the middle with something off it, and...." His head turned away, following an imaginary home run. "No, you got to throw inside. Then you get your 25 inches."
The Cy Young turned back from watching a prospect break off sliders. All the old pitchers were nodding and grinning, remembering. Memory is more fun for pitchers, inasmuch as there are more good things for them to recall: Pitchers, after all, put even the best hitters away two-thirds of the time. The pitcher always has the ball in his hand and the odds on his side.
"It all comes down to this," The Slugger said. He grasped an imaginary bat in his hands, opening and closing them around the imaginary handle the way real hitters always do whenever they hold an imaginary bat. When normal people who never played for keeps hold an imaginary bat, they just hold it. And then The Slugger took his stance, and without a word he took his front foot, his left one, and conspicuously stepped away with it. He backed off. "That's what pitchers always have," he said. "One time I was going bad, but I didn't know why—I wouldn't admit why—and before a game in Detroit I saw Kaline point to me like he wanted to talk. Of course I nodded, and he came over to me, over by the cage, and when he got to me, he just said, 'Can I tell you one thing?' I said, 'Sure.' Al Kaline wants to tell me something, sure. But he never stopped walking. He just said, 'Don't forget. We're all scared up there. All hitters are scared.' And he kept right on going."
The Singles Hitter turned to The Stopper again. "All right then, at least tell me this: Where did you keep the stuff?" But The Stopper only smirked and strode off to watch Dotson's motion.
"Hahaha," shrieked The Slugger. "I told you."
"Sonsabitches," said The Singles Hitter. He meant pitchers.
La Russa was an infielder. So was Earl Weaver. It was one of Weaver's pitchers who said to him, "Earl, the only thing you know about pitching is you couldn't hit it." What can any position player really understand about pitching? "Well," says Koosman, giving a little, "infielders are a little like relievers. You know, hyper." This neatly takes care of La Russa and relievers all at once. Koosman, 39, senior to both his manager and his pitching coach, is considered too old for The Rotation, and knows he's penciled in as the lefthanded fifth starter—sixth starter, really—and long relief.
The only thing is, Koosman was assigned pretty much the same role last season, but when The Rotation began to fall apart they dropped one of the kids, Dotson, to the bullpen, and replaced him with Koosman. The old man went 9-4, 3.41 the rest of the way.
Not only that, but in his spare time Koosman was instrumental in getting Dotson back on track. "Kooz made me think every pitch," Dotson says. When Dotson got back in The Rotation, he traded a 3-10, 4.94 first half for an 8-5, 2.93 second.
So now La Russa has Dotson and Hoyt, who led the league in '82 with 19 wins, as righthanded starters, and Burns and Bannister as lefties. All four are live arms. Where does this leave Koosman? "Kooz deserves to start," La Russa says, "but...." Koosman knows this, too, which is why he sent La Russa a Christmas card with more than "Season's Greetings" on it. The message said, "Now, you've got to watch me more closely this year."
"I should have released you when I first got the notion," was the response from La Russa.
"What kind of respect is that from a younger man whose job I'm desperately trying to save?" Koosman asked.
But he's only one piece in the puzzle. Of the 15 hurlers in search of a role, possibly only the rosy-cheeked Dotson comes in completely free of baggage. Everybody else is transplanted or disgruntled, coming off an injury or a bad second half. Dotson is lucky. His bad half was at the start last season; he has recovered from that and is brimming with confidence. "Failure isn't fun," he declares firmly.
Pitchers always remain a little dubious about their peculiar talent. To be sure, some of them are all-around athletes. Hoyt, whose father was a minor league pitcher, talks of the first time he picked up a tennis racket: "It was like I'd used one all my life." As a kid, he thought football would be his professional game. Tidrow, the erstwhile position player, lettered in three sports. Martz—traded with Tidrow downtown from the Cubs—won a football scholarship as a quarterback at South Carolina. Hickey, extraordinarily agile as a fielder, was so good at so many games that he never settled on one and was still kicking around on a factory softball team when he was 20. If they hadn't changed his shifts so he had to drop off the softball team and find some other activity—hardball, it turned out—he'd still be punching a clock. But pitchers are rarely like other great athletes, whose skills are visible at an early age. The kids with power and size, legs and moves, stand out in first grade. Arms come later. Martz didn't really develop as a pitcher until he was in college, lifting weights. "I added two, three feet to my fastball then," he says.
It's hard to figure why some arms are able to throw baseballs effectively. If on a 7:30 p.m. TV game show (6:30 Central), they stuck the White Sox pitchers' arms out through some slots along with some arms at random from the general population, you couldn't guess which ones were the professional arms. In New York, Tidrow roomed with Ron Guidry, skin and bones, and while Tidrow can explain, physiologically, why a frail arm like Guidry's can propel a ball so fast, those reasons don't apply to anybody else with Guidry's frame. "What can you say?" Bannister ventures. "It's just a gift of God."
It can be mystical, having an arm; it's almost as if it isn't part of you, but more like something you own, such as Seven League Boots. "Let me tell you," Koosman says, "when I was growing up, no matter how hard I threw a baseball, I always felt I could throw it harder and farther." He paused and sucked on his pipe, for in keeping with his sage antiquity, he usually smokes a pipe now instead of cigarettes. "That's a tremendous feeling to have."
Yet the gift can depart as capriciously, it seems, as once it arrived. Burns was 22 last year, ready to win the 20 everyone said he should. He could bring it, cut it, change speeds with it, and despite being so young, he could always find the plate. But then, on Aug. 15, he strained the deltoid muscle in his pitching shoulder, and he was all but useless thereafter. For a while it was even feared that it might be a torn rotator cuff. Burns was finally able to try throwing in January, and now he claims at last to "feel normal." But with an arm that was once damaged, a pitcher is never sure. "I've decided to put every penny aside," says Britt Burns, 23.
His fatalism is particularly understandable because during, the '81 season Burns's father was run down by a car, never to regain consciousness. Burns, an only child, began to commute to the University of Alabama in Birmingham Medical Center between starts. A reliever, of course, couldn't have done that, but Burns's tragic summer shows how separate and independent starters really can be from the team. He would fly to Birmingham from wherever he pitched, see his father, console his mother and then fly back for his next start. Finally, Charley Burns died. "Still, I had to keep trying to be my mom's rock, and it was wearing me out," Burns says. "Sometimes, after I lost my father, I'd say, 'Lord, I need somebody. Please introduce me to that girl I'm going to spend the rest of my life with.' " He met Julie Umphrey at an exercise center, and they were married this past Oct. 30, when he still couldn't be sure he could pitch anymore. "The injury made me appreciate for the first time what I had—that I was blessed with this talent to pitch in the big leagues. I just figure I must be here because I'm supposed to be here."
It's odd, but both lefties in The Rotation, Burns and Bannister, do most other things righthanded; they are righthanders who are ambidextrous, who dream righthanded, is what they are.
Burns and Bannister, southpaws. The first few days in camp, every now and then, someone would refer to Bannister as Pink Floyd, which is the name of a British rock group, but Bannister just isn't the sort of fellow to attract nicknames. Come September, dollars to doughnuts, the position players won't be saying, "Give the ball to Pink" and things like that.
Unlike Burns, though, Bannister has no arm worries. With Seattle last season, he led the league in strikeouts and the league's lefthanders in ERA. But in all his major league seasons he has never been with a winning team, and he has never had a winning season himself, and the cynics question how Bannister could have merited almost a million dollars a year from the White Sox as a free agent when no one knows if he can pitch when it counts.
Lamp, a righthander who was 11-8 with the Sox last year, starting and relieving, went to arbitration asking for $750,000, largely on the basis of what Bannister got. Lamp is a clubhouse mimic. He apes other pitchers' motions. He's the world's best motion mimic; also, the world's only motion mimic. Lamp is not lacking in confidence. Around his neck he wears a chain bearing the number 15. His wife gave it to him—not for anything to do with baseball, but because, on a scale of one to 10, Lamp is a.... Get it? But he not only lost in arbitration—he had to settle for the Sox' offer of $312,500—he's also invariably the centerpiece of rumors concerning what pitchers Roland Hemond, The Wily GM, must move. The first day in camp, La Russa met with Lamp for two hours. Closeted.
Or maybe, the wise guys say, Hemond should trade Hoyt, deal him right out of The Rotation, top value, off his 19 wins. Hoyt had never been glamorous. He was a fifth-round draft choice, spent seven years in the bushes, came to the Sox as a throw-in, finally made the club as a reliever. Hoyt even has fat hands, which aren't common in pitchers. But he throws hard, with a natural slider, and his stuff sinks, which is important in the American League, where most of the games are played on real earth and grass.
The final addition to the White Sox pitching sweepstakes was Steve Ratzer, who was acquired on Feb. 25 from the Mets' farm system. Ratzer was the International League Relief Pitcher of the Year last season, but the Mets didn't fancy Ratzer any more than did his previous employer, Montreal, because his pitches sink too, and in many National League parks, sinkerball pitchers see their best double-play balls bounce off the infield tile into the power alleys.
Hoyt is a survivor. He came north last spring advertised as The Stopper, but on Opening Day La Russa slams the door with a kid up from Mexico named Salome Barojas, who was near midseason form from pitching winter ball south of the border. But Hoyt scuffled, picked up a win here, another one there; he got dropped into a start, won that; suddenly he was in The Rotation and 9-0 on the way to the 19-15. "Starting, you have a lot more opportunity to take care of your arm," Hoyt says. "But outside of that...." He paused. "What's those big crows? What's their name?"
"No, you know. Big, ugly...."
"Yeah. Whatever you do in pitching, you've got to be a vulture. You've got to pick up anything that's around. You start, go your five. Got to go your five. You relieve, come in tied, get a win. Come in ahead a little, stay ahead, get the save. Come in way ahead, keep it that way."
If Hoyt were traded—for a shortstop, maybe even The Third Baseman from Texas about whom there had been a lot of talk (page 66)—then Lamp could move into The Rotation. Or if not Lamp, then one of the new acquisitions from The Other League: Martz or Mura. Martz features a forkball; Mura has what La Russa calls a "yakker." "A Blyleven curve," says no less than Charlie Hustle himself. Or maybe you move up Koosman, put three lefties in The Rotation. And then maybe that opens up a spot for another lefthander, Barnes.
Chicago has to decide about Barnes. He's out of options. But the trouble is, when he was up with the Sox last year, he was barely used, much less showcased. He finally went to one of the beat writers and said, "Hey, would you put it in the paper that Barnes is still with the team?" And that was what went in the Sun-Times, that Richard Barnes wanted everybody to know he was still with the team. Luckily, Barnes is a southpaw. There's always a place for a southpaw, especially in the National League, where, mysteriously, they have all but become extinct.
"I don't want to get into lefthanders," Hoyt exclaims. "All I know is, they make more money. That's all I know."
Koosman has a different viewpoint. As someone who has been an unregenerate portsider for 39 years, he views himself as something of a public service. "If we were all righthanders, there wouldn't be any hitting stars," he explains. "Our balls break into the meat of the good hitters' bats. You see?"
Everybody in The Rotation is pretty much equal. Each takes his turn. Spot starters are altogether different—all the more so in the spring. Because of all the early off days and the rain-outs, the season may be weeks old before anybody knows who the extra starters are. In the Grapefruit League the spot starters haven't the luxury of working at their own pace. If they don't impress right away, they'll be pitching in the minors in April instead of not pitching in Chicago then.
"The way you structure spring training for pitchers is look at your schedule in April and then work backwards from that," says La Russa. Of course, there can always be surprises. Nobody had even heard of Barojas last year. Maybe a prospect like Siwy, a big righthander from Rhode Island, could break in this year. "But you can't get carried away down here," La Russa says. "When I first got this job, an old wizard in the game, someone I pay a lot of attention to, told me not ever to pay a lot of attention this time of year."
"Even to wizards?"
"No, pay attention to wizards. But be careful not to take too seriously what you see yourself."
Still, the most difficult task any manager has is handling his bullpen. "Hardest thing in baseball," Koosman says. "It's impossible to keep everyone happy in the bullpen, and no one is ever used the right amount of time. Somebody's always rusty, and somebody else is always tired."
Unlike the pitchers in The Rotation, who work with regularity, relievers have little pattern to their lives. Furthermore, they've got a clear pecking order. The glamour boys, of course, are the stoppers, the ones with saves, The Firemen. Way at the other end are the long relievers. Nowhere in America sleeps a little boy who wants, more than anything, to grow up to be a long reliever.
Middle relievers are, appropriately, sturdy middle-class. "Middle relief is like being a mouse going after the cheese," Kern explains. "Only, everytime you're about to get it for yourself, they open a trapdoor and you fall through—and not only that, another mouse is allowed to come in and get the cheese."
But the bullpen has some consolations. Precisely because relievers are quarantined way out there, they develop a certain foxhole camaraderie "whether you like each other or not," as Kern says. But conversely, relievers acknowledge feeling more a part of the team, since, like position players, they may be called upon any day. Barojas, a mound schizophrenic—he starts during the winter in Mexico, relieves during the summer in the States—says he couldn't stand starting all year, that he needs the daily intimacy that relieving provides.
Because the assignments are so varied in the bullpen but everybody's needed to make a game add up to nine innings, it's vital to a staff that pitchers accept their roles. Tidrow, for example, is especially valuable—"a stable influence," Duncan says—because he's reconciled to being the lounge act. "Sure, I'd love to be the star," Tidrow says. "Only, I could never throw the ball 95 miles an hour. But I have control, I keep the ball in the park, I'm blessed with a very pliable arm, and I can complement almost any staff."
"The thing any pitcher—probably relievers especially—has to believe is that if he gets bombed, it won't affect his particular job," Duncan says, "that the next time the same sort of situation arises, he'll be called on. Every pitcher has got to know that."
"The one thing a manager, a pitching coach, should never do is show that he's lost confidence in a relief pitcher," Lamp says. "That'll kill him. I'm serious. Better to lie to a reliever."
The mark of a good starter is that he can buy time and adjust on those days when he doesn't have his usual stuff. Relievers rarely enjoy that luxury. Many of them depend utterly on one pitch. "Ninety-five percent of the time," Hickey says, "the catcher puts down the one, and I go right at him." They say Rollie Fingers has lasted so long, playing all over, because he is a bullpen exception, a Fireman with a repertoire.
Hrabosky, then The Mad Hungarian with the great horseshoe mustache, was a few years ago the most famous reliever in the land. He would step off the rubber and go into a trance—"a Utopian state," as he described it—which helped him accumulate 90 saves in seven seasons with St. Louis and Kansas City. In fact, the Cardinals will be paying him a salary for another 10 years, which would sound impressive but for the fact that Atlanta will be paying him for 32 more years. "It was madness," he says.
But less than three years after they signed him to a $2.2 million contract, the Braves last Aug. 30 dumped Hrabosky. And nobody picked him up. The madness was gone, and the mustache, and his left arm, too. This winter the Atlanta pitching coach, Rube Walker, watched him work out. "Al," he said, "you can't pitch anymore." But Hrabosky couldn't let go. He decided to master something new, a forkball. He made phone calls. Only The Wily GM agreed to take a look.
When starters lose their hard one, they pick up new pitches and become clever. Or—what the hell—they become relievers. On the other hand, have you ever heard about the relief pitcher who was going so bad they dropped him into The Rotation?
The indignity of it. "How many times have I tried to console some starting pitcher?" Kern asks. " 'Hey, what's the matter?' I say, putting my arm around him.
" 'What's the matter?' he says. 'One more bad start and I'm in the bullpen.'
" 'Hey,' I say, withdrawing my arm, 'I'm in the bullpen every day!' "
Relievers also take some umbrage that, despite all the statistics used to tabulate every infinitesimal aspect of the game, one crucial measure of their work is totally overlooked. That would be the Up figure—the number of times a reliever is called on to throw in the bullpen on the chance he may be summoned. To relief pitchers, Ups may well be more important than Appearances. Hickey reputedly had 400 Ups last season. La Russa, Hoyt alleges, "has ants in his pants." Tidrow avers that he has been the King of Ups for fidgety managers all over. Only the stoppers, the savers, are treated with dignity, Upwise. When Hrabosky was the fabled Mad Hungarian and an All-Star, he was never obliged to rise and throw in the bullpen unless an Appearance was all but assured.
Now he sits before his locker, contemplating another day of trying to find the plate with a forkball. The big clubhouse swallows up the pitchers (and catchers), and there's little to be heard but the badinage of Willie Thompson, the equipment man, charging various hurlers with several counts of sexual deficiency. Burns shakes his head as he rides the exercise bicycle. A couple of others sample the carrot sticks and thin soup. Lamp, by request, does a Fergie Jenkins. Hickey, with a broom, is playing hockey goalie, guarding the latrine door against the paper-cup shot by the clubhouse boys. Having escaped the factory, Hickey just plain hangs out around the park more than anyone else. Back home in Chicago he even lives near Comiskey Park. Yesterday after practice he stayed to wax his Cadillac (Illinois vanity license plate: HIC MAN). AS someone close to the team says, "Kevin is such a great throwback, he hasn't learned yet that ballplayers don't drive big Cadillacs anymore...not even home-run hitters." La Russa unabashedly says, "Kevin brings warmth to your heart."
Koosman puts away his pipe and pauses to count his expense money. It is, he observes, more than he made in salary when he was starting out. "I grew up on a farm," he says. "Trouble is, I've been away from real hard labor for so long that pitching's become hard." He tucks the bills into his pocket. "Boys," he calls out, "take my advice and save your money so you don't have to pitch as long as I have." Burns, we know, is already putting every penny aside.
Old Koosman leaves. It's the last day before the clubhouse will be brimming, full of real position players, not just arms.
THE MIDDLE OF MARCH
Later it will be Starts and Ups, things like that. But now, halfway through the Grapefruit League schedule, it's more basic: Innings. There aren't enough to go around as the starters begin to stretch out, do longer stints. As always, the guys in the middle with the most to prove—spot starters, long relievers—get the least chance. Koosman is in top form. His ERA is down around three, he feels frisky, and he's making side bets that he'll win more games this season than his old Mets colleague, Tom Seaver, a mere lad of 38. Off his spring training form, Koosman says he should be in The Rotation when the White Sox Go North. "And remember: Nobody pitched better than I did in the second half last year," he says. La Russa answers him this way: The next time Koosman pitches, he gets two innings after Burns goes six.
But then, Burns looks terrific. His arm seems to have healed completely. Dotson and Hoyt are likewise having a banner spring. In The Rotation, only Bannister gets off poorly. He flies home to Arizona for a few days when his wife delivers him a second son. He comes back and gives up a lot of runs. But, not to worry. One time out he's concentrating on his curve, next time on release points. When you're safely in The Rotation, you can Round Into Form. Besides, what are the White Sox going to do? Pay a sub-.500 pitcher almost a million a year and then start old Koosman ahead of him?
Anyway, if Koosman has a claim on a spot in The Rotation, what about Lamp? Of all the potential starting pitchers, after Dotson's, Lamp's Grapefruit League ERA is the lowest—and still, all he can count on for sure is a spot start in Detroit in the season's second series. Lamp owns the Tigers. Lamp is managing to perform well, too, despite the fact that every day when he picks up the paper, he's getting traded to another team. The Pale Hose still have all those hurlers. They have to deal. And Lamp is the centerpiece of every rumor.
Lamp came back after running one morning. The Sox wear red spikes; Lamp was in blue sneakers. "Getting myself emotionally prepared," he explained. "More teams wear blue than red. Texas has a nice blue."
Martz reached into his locker and hauled out his old Cubs jacket. "Here's another blue," he said. "You never know." There were grimaces all around. The Cubbies: a fate worse than mop-up.
"Or the Mets," Lamp went on, singing his blues. "I hear we're going for Hubie Brooks. The leftovers for Brooks. Broiled Lamp, baked Mura...."
"Fried Martz!" Martz cried out.
"Yes, of course. Fried Martz is certainly a leftover, too," Lamp said.
And even Mura, sitting there, permitted himself a small smile at that. There have been precious few of those since last August, when Mura was sailing along, in love with his beautiful Seana, plus 12-11 with the Cards, seven big CGs. Then suddenly, without explanation, he was bumped out of The Rotation, never even got so much as an Up in the playoffs, and got only a couple in the Series. Over the winter Mura married Seana Madden, and he thought that the autumn nightmare was behind him. But out of the blue, just days before spring training opened, Mura woke up to discover that he was the last domino in a free-agent game, routed to Chicago as the compensation to be named later.
"It took me about three years to really get comfortable in the National League," Mura said forlornly soon after getting to the Sox camp. "Then they sent me over here. I really don't know anybody here, and I'm not the kind of person who makes friends easily." He shrugged. "At least I'm married now. Over there, I didn't have anyone to come home to."
It gets worse. Mura doesn't throw well. Of the first 12 homers the Chicago staff gives up, four of the bye-jas come off Mura. Bye-jas are what the Sox call circuit clouts; they got the term from a Hispanic player bidding farewell to a four-bagger one day. Mura needs more innings to get his yakker sharp. They aren't available.
Actually, Martz has even poorer numbers in the first weeks; he has had a long bout with diarrhea and is weak. He nonchalants it. "Nothing new," he says. "I've never had a position on a staff in the spring. Fifth starter, long relief."
Barnes isn't getting Innings either, but, as even Duncan says, he's pitching the best of his life, and he's confident and at ease for the first time with the big club. Besides, Barnes is out of options. Martz and Mura may have won in double figures in the majors last season, but both can be farmed. "Sometimes you have to do some things," The Wily GM admits grudgingly. Still, it is clear that no matter how many extra pitchers are on hand, Hemond won't be bulldozed into making a trade just for trade's sake.
La Russa says, "The thing I'm concerned about most is me making the right decisions. They'll get themselves in shape. But the problem is, if you only see a pitcher a couple innings at a time, you might not get to see him tested. Now Hoyt went seven today. He had five easy innings, but he also had the two tough ones. Those are the two that told me things." Hoyt is beginning to evolve as the opening-night pitcher in Texas.
Among the relievers, Hrabosky needed to show the most, prove he could do it with his improved forkball as his main pitch. Unfortunately for him, his very first time out he gets rocked, and first impressions count a lot with old arms. Hickey's arm gets sore, but it isn't related to an injury he had last September, so everyone relaxes and lets him just air it out on the sidelines. He's trying to develop a curve to go with No. 1. Nobody touches Barojas until a Redbird reaches him for a bye-ja on March 31. Tidrow, who'll be 36 in May, feels like 32 or 33 again and has his sidearm slants working weeks early; he's usually a slow starter. His beard is so full, so rich, that Martz, intimidated, shaves his off and goes with an off-speed mustache. Ratzer, the latecomer the Mets rejected, impresses and becomes The Sleeper. Even he acknowledges that he will start the season in Denver, but people are starting to say Ratzer could "be back." When a team has BeBacks, that usually means it's a very strong club.
Kern has the most ailments. He loses nine pounds to the flu. When he finally feels well, he eats a whole chocolate cake and drinks a quart of milk, just like a teen-ager in the comic strips, and he also overdoes his first batting practice outing in 17 days and suffers a little tendinitis in his elbow. But he isn't worried. Two years ago Kern was seriously injured. He built up his pitching arm so much that it pulled his backbone out of sync and messed up his left shoulder. "Only I could hurt my other arm pitching," he says. Kern is a righthander who injures lefthanded.
It is March 29 before Kern ever pitches in a game. By then the start of the season, April 4, is only six days away, and La Russa has The Rotation set in his mind: Hoyt, Bannister and Burns at Texas, then Dotson to get his first start in Detroit. Broiled Lamp will be spotted in there, too, if he's still in red shoes. The cutdown has already begun.
THE END OF MARCH, BEGINNING OF APRIL
Hrabosky is first to go. He's released, but he's offered a chance to pitch his way back from Denver. "All he needs is to gain command of his pitches," La Russa says. "Stuffwise, he's major league." Someone has once again told Al Hrabosky he can pitch.
On March 28 Burns throws five more terrific Innings—three cheap singles, seven strikeouts. Two days later his shoulder comes down sore, and the next morning he's dispatched to see the team doctors back in Chicago. If something is wrong, old Koosman will move up into The Rotation. Hrabosky gets a tryout with Houston. The interleague trading deadline passes, 8 p.m. E.S.T., April 1. The Wily GM can't find anybody to deal with in the American League, either. He outrights Barnes to Denver. If the Chisox want Barnes back, he must pass through waivers. Siwy is optioned to Denver. So is Martz. He started 24 big league games last year, went 11-10, and now he's back in the minors. Burns is placed on the 21-day disabled list, diagnosed as having a slight case of tendinitis that is in no way connected with his serious injury of '82. Mura is awarded the last spot on the staff. With Koosman in The Rotation now, Hickey will be the only southpaw coming out of the bullpen. Hrabosky comes back from Houston and accepts the White Sox offer to go to Denver.
On Monday, April 4, at 7:39 C.S.T. in Arlington, Texas, Hoyt strides to the mound and throws the first pitch of the season for Chicago. It's a slider, low and away, for ball one.
Part II: The staff at midseason.
A DOSSIER ON THE 11 WHO MADE IT
FLOYD FRANKLIN BANNISTER
Major League Totals
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ROBERT BRITT BURNS
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RICHARD ELLIOTT DOTSON
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KEVIN JOHN HICKEY
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DEWEY LaMARR HOYT
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JAMES LESTER KERN
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JEROME MARTIN KOOSMAN
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DENNIS PATRICK LAMP
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STEPHEN ANDREW MURA
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RICHARD WILLIAM TIDROW
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