Congratulations, Joe Torre. You are the manager of the reigning National League Central champion St. Louis Cardinals. "Thanks," says Torre, "but that carries a bigger asterisk than Roger Maris ever had."
It's a big if, but if there had there been an NL Central last year, the Cards (87-75) would have edged the Astros (85-77) and the Cubs (84-78) in a thrilling race. "I'm not kidding myself," says Torre. "Eighty-seven wins won't do it this year."
If—and this is an even bigger if—baseball were played by slo-pitch Softball rules. St. Louis would be the surefire division winner this year. That way they could play four men in the outfield. Batting third and playing short field, Bernard Gilkey. As the rules stand, Torre must regularly choose from among leftfielder Gilkey (.305, 16 HRs, 70 RBIs in '93), centerfielder Ray Lankford (struggled last year but hit .293 with 20 HRs in '92), rightfielder Mark Whiten (four HRs, 12 RBIs in one September '93 game) and a two-sport star named Jordan.
"I don't like sitting, but I understand the situation," says Brian Jordan, the former Pro Bowl safety for the Atlanta Falcons who hit .309 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in less than half a season for the Cards last year. "It makes it a little easier because we're all good friends. I just wish we could all play together."
Torre thinks he can get each outfielder at least 400 at bats. "I'll go with the hot hand, or I'll go with a hunch if I see an interesting statistic," says Torre. "Because Brian can play all three positions well, I plan to rest everybody, especially once it gets hot in St. Louis. It's kind of funny to see their faces when they look at the lineup card every day, not knowing if they're going to be on it, but I appreciate how badly they want to play."
The rest of the Cardinals' every-day lineup, which includes first baseman Gregg Jefferies (.342, 83 RBIs, 46 stolen bases) and ageless (actually 39-year-old) shortstop Ozzie Smith, will remain the same.
Now if—and here's the biggest if of all—the Cardinals' pitching dramatically improves, the Clydesdales might again be running well into October. Bob Tewksbury may have everything under control (20 walks in 213⅖ innings) and Rene Arocha is useful, but beyond those two, the rotation includes immature lefties Rheal Cormier and Allen Watson and overly mature righty Rick Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe is 37 and coming off a season in which he gave up 212 hits and 74 walks in just 166 innings: that's 16 base runners every nine innings. With Lee Smith gone to Sutcliffe's old haunt in Baltimore, the closer role falls to Mike Perez, who's got the stuff, but may not have the stuff (wink, wink). Last year Perez wasn't even sure he wanted to be out there in the ninth. II he doesn't want to, Arocha will have to.
"Our pitchers were last in the league in strikeouts last year," says Torre, "and that didn't mix well with our defense, which made 60 more errors than it had the year before. Fewer errors this year will definitely help."
If...if...if only Bob Gibson were still pitching.
Had year (.305, 16 HRs) expected of Lankford
Jay Bell broke his string of 13 straight Gold Gloves
Nice trade; he outhit Felix Jose .342 to .253
Had year (.238, seven HRs) expected of Gilkey
25 HRs, 99 RBIs exceeded previous big league totals
103 RBIs, most by Cardinal 3B since Joe Torre in '71
Only one HR in 228 at bats last year
Can play second, short, third, leftfield and trumpet
Best control pitcher since Babe Adams (1906-26)
16-5 with 2.12 ERA last two years (166 IP)
The Cards committed the fewest errors in the league seven times between 1984 and '92, but last year only the Padres and the Rockies made more errors than St. Louis. In fact, the Cards had the largest year-to-year increase in errors of any team in 60 years.
PREDICTED FINISH: THIRD