Fortunately for their state of mind, both Dave Collins and Jay Howell have a sense of perspective. They'll need it this year, because both are on the spot. All the A's are asking Collins to do is replace Rickey Henderson, a departed legend, as the team's leadoff hitter and leftfielder. And all they require of Howell is that he take Bill Caudill's place of honor in the bullpen and come up with figures approximating Caudill's 36 saves and 2.71 ERA. Coming right up, folks.
Collins, who arrived along with shortstop Alfredo Griffin from Toronto in the Caudill trade, has had prior experience in replacing legends. "When the Yankees let Reggie Jackson get away in '82 and decided to go to a speed game, Ken Griffey and I, coming over from Cincinnati, were really replacing him," he says. "I think that experience may help me here." The so-called Yankee speed game proved to be one of George Steinbrenner's more harebrained schemes, as well as a personal disaster for Collins, who rarely played. He welcomed the trade that sent him to Toronto in '83, but even there his playing time was curtailed by Blue Jay manager Bobby Cox's addiction to platooning. Collins, 32, a switch hitter, nonetheless did most of his playing against righthand pitching. He made the best of it. "The only thing you can do," he says, "is play up to your potential. I'm very intense. I wasn't always that way, but Pete Rose told me in Cincinnati to treat every game as if it were your last, and I've been doing that ever since."
Collins is no Henderson, but he has many of the same qualities. He is an aggressive, even adventurous, outfielder, and he is lightning on the bases. A 9.6 schoolboy sprinter in South Dakota, he stole 79 bases for the Reds in 1980 and 60 in only 128 games for Toronto last year, finishing second in the league to—who else?—Henderson, who had just six more. "I'm gonna run," he says of his leadoff role, "but I'm gonna pick my spots. You can run yourself out of a game, you know." Henderson, for all his flair, was known to do that on occasion. And since Henderson underwent a sort of personality change for the worse last year, offending even his own teammates with his uncooperative attitude, Collins's task may not be as difficult as it now appears.
Unlike Collins, the 29-year-old Howell has had no experience supplanting superstars. In fact, he scarcely pitched until last year, when, as a middle reliever, he won nine games and saved seven for the Yankees. But the A's are hoping he will be the sort of short man who can close a game. He has an excellent fastball, a pitch he admits he didn't use often enough in New York. Now that he's a short man, his fastball should be enough. "I haven't done a thing for the A's yet," he says, "but I feel really good about being here. I mean, it gives you a certain confidence knowing that you've been in a trade with Rickey Henderson and that you'll be replacing Bill Caudill." That's one way to look at it.
How many opportunities Howell will get may depend on the progress made by the A's young pitching prospects and on how much smoke remains in the much-abused arms of 40-year-old Don Sutton and the comebackers, Mike Norris, Rick Langford and Steve McCatty. The A's have some sock and, particularly with Griffin at short and Dwayne Murphy in center, excellent defense. Pitching can be the salvation or the ruin.