Sluggers will have to prove last year was no fluke
Strong points: Improved balance. Last spring the Angels had an overage of paunchy sluggers and a dreadful shortage of all else. This spring, thanks to astute trades and player development, club has fewer soft spots. Brightest area could be the bullpen, which, with Tom Morgan, Art Fowler and Ryne Duren, was one of the league's best last year. After a slow start, Morgan smoothed out his delivery, went on to post 1.31 ERA in second half of season. Veteran Fowler almost wore arm out at times last year, but his "hummer" won five games, saved seven others. Duren has improved his knee-high fast ball and changeup, could show form of best Yankee year.
Weak spots: Last year's Angels set major league records for fewest complete games by pitchers (25) and most strikeouts by batters (1,068). But the biggest weakness was defense, which blew a remarkable number of "won" games. After Eli Grba, Ken McBride and Ted Bowsfieid—who may form the least inspiring "big three" in history (34-36 combined last year)—starting pitchers are mostly untried rookies.
The big ifs: In spacious Chavez Ravine, where the Angels will play this year, good fielding will be essential to win tight, low-run games. Prospects for marked improvement are uncertain. At first base massive Steve Bilko is still the immovable object, and Lee Thomas, the other first baseman, is a converted outfielder. Joe Koppe, at short, and Billy Moran, at second, and the outfielders—Ken Hunt (84 RBIs), Albie Pearson (.288) and Leon Wagner (.280)—are adequate at best. If 35-year-old Eddie Yost, who broke his hand and never did get going last year, can play 100 games at third, the infield will be steadier. Tiny Wrigley Field, last year's home park, could have had something to do with the pitching staff's terrible ERA (4.31), but the small dimensions of the park also took some of the glitter off the team's high home run total (second only to the Yankees in the majors). Wagner hit 19 of his 28 homers at Wrigley Field, Hunt 17 out of 25, and Catcher Earl Averill 16 out of 21. Will they be sluggers in Chavez Ravine?
Rookies and new faces: Top Angel rookie, and one of the best in the league, is Bob Rodgers, who takes over catching with strong credentials: good eye, speed and arm. In infield, Manager Bill Rigney is praying that slick-fielding Shortstop Jim Fregosi, 20, can stand up to major league pitching; if so, he has the job. Another youngster, Tom Satriano, 21, will spell Yost at third. Red Witt, once 9-2 with Pirates, and outspoken rookie Bo Belinsky may be starters.
OUTLOOK: The Angels will hit fewer home runs, probably make fewer mistakes. If team can adjust to bigger ball park, Angels will at least hold on to eighth place.
The bug speaks up
When Robert Belinsky, a left-handed pitcher, arrived in the Angels' camp, one of the first things he did was hold a press conference and complain about his contract. This is expected of, say, Roger Maris, but Bo Belinsky has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues.
As he lounged by the pool in Palm Springs, Belinsky told startled reporters that: 1) he would have preferred to play for the Mets; 2) he was king of the twisters in Venezuela last winter; 3) he did not play high school ball "because I couldn't see that yes-sir-no-sir bit or all that sis-boom-bah for the old Red and Black."
He was reporting nine days late, Belinsky said, because he was tired and because he had had to play in a pool tournament back in Trenton, N.J. Later he leaked word that he and General Manager Fred Haney had "a misunderstanding" about his salary. The press was delighted (ANGEL ROOKIE ANOTHER GOOFY GOMEZ?). Haney was peeved. "Belinsky," he said with a faint smile, "is a bug."
Bo Belinsky, in truth, is a bit of a bug. He is cocky but engaging. He speaks with fractured syntax but flashes of common sense. He is utterly convinced that "in this game you gotta protect yourself" and that fate, not lack of ability, has kept him in the minor leagues for six years.
"All my clubs in the minors were three-time losers," Bo says distastefully. "Down in Little Rock last year my team gives 40 unearned runs behind me, but people don't know the club, so they ask me, 'So how d'ya want more money?'
"My trouble is, I been a patsy too much. I've let guys with half the arm and half the record I got make half again as much money. And they get a lot better treatment, too. Like when I was in the Baltimore chain. After my season in C ball [2.24 ERA at Aberdeen], I was called down to Baltimore. That hotshot, Steve Dalkowski, was with me, and they're treatin' him like Gentleman Jim. 'You room with Dalkowski,' they tell me. So we go to the hotel room and there's one bed. His. So I call the secretary and I says, 'Where do you want me to sleep, on the floor?' He says, 'It won't hurt you for one night.' Well, it hurt me all right. I got in the car and went back to Jersey."
At Baltimore's spring camp Belinsky acquired a distaste for Manager Paul Richards. "Richards treated me like I was never there. This is a game of personalities. It's a feminate, tender game, like pool, not rip-roaring. It has tender tendencies, and personality clashes can hurt it bad. All I want is to become financially independent, so I don't have to keep playing winter ball and tiring my arm out." But first he must make the club. That should be no sweat. "If Rigney sticks with me, I'll be able to help 'em. I figure I could be 12-8, 12-9 or like that."
What if he doesn't make it? Belinsky shudders. "I don't want even to think of going down again. I had my share of that bull. Maybe I don't have the guts for minor league ball. But right now I'm lookin' for rosier pastures."
VERSATILE ALBIE PEARSON is an actor, disc jockey, rock 'n' roll singer, fisherman and first-rate golfer as well as the Angels' best hitter.