Where the girls were is where too many of the Orioles could be found last season and, instead of going about the job of battling the Yankees for the American League pennant, Baltimore's good-looking and brash young men acted more like gay blades on the Via Veneto. Seventh place came as a shock. Yet Oriole credentials were sound. The pitching was the envy of two leagues. There were big, strapping fellows to carom balls off American League fences. Racing around the outfield were men who could run like impalas. Gone was skilled but dour Paul Richards, and into the breach stepped Billy Hitchcock, a more relaxed, sympathetic leader. Hitchcock, however, made the devastating mistake of treating the young Orioles as adults. "No curfew," he proclaimed last spring and the reaction was a prompt "whoopee." Calling a belated meeting to announce a get-tough policy early in the season, Hitchcock was interrupted by a clear, loud voice shouting an obscenity at him from the back of the room. End of meeting. When Hitchcock told Milt Pappas to take a turn in the bullpen, the highly paid pitcher said, "Go to hell," stormed out of the dressing room and held court in the press box. When brilliant Chuck Estrada began losing twice as often as he won, he took to racing around in his flashy convertible until the small hours. Jim Gentile and Jackie Brandt, outstanding players the year before, decided that they couldn't be bothered running out ground balls.
This spring Hitchcock promised things would be different. "There will be a curfew," he proclaimed. And just to show that the Orioles really mean business, General Manager Lee MacPhail has supplied Hitchcock with ex-Marine Hank Bauer as a coach. Presumably, Bauer comes as a sort of John the Baptist, crying, "Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Coming out of Bauer, however, it's likely to sound more like "Repent or I'll knock you through the clubhouse wall." The thought of one of the young Orioles telling Bauer to "go to hell" is frightening. "Professional baseball is your business," said Hitchcock to his players this spring, "and we expect you to view it as such." With Hank Bauer nodding vigorous assent, there were no obscene calls this time from the back of the dressing room. There better not be.
The Orioles had the hitters last year, but they didn't hit. Still, the potential is there, and more runs figure to come from Al Smith and Luis Aparicio, both obtained from the White Sox. "I feel very strong," said Smith after ripping a drive over the wall. "I feel very happy," said Aparicio, contemplating his $43,000 contract. The mountain called Boog Powell that the Orioles have in left field has had a year to study major league pitching, and he has awesome power. So does Gentile, who by blasting the ball the way he did in 1961 could be the superstar needed to hold up a pennant winner. Jerry Adair started miserably last year, then came on in a rush to hit .284. He's set at the position he likes best and could nudge .300 this season. Brandt, known as Flakey all around the majors, is a gifted hitter when he isn't trying to convince the world he is stark, raving mad, and he has good speed. Brooks Robinson was the solid man last year, hitting .303 and 23 home runs (over half of them in huge Memorial Stadium), and Russ Snyder also hit often (.305), if not with great power.
Pitching was supposed to be the strong point last season but the young stars had bad years. Steve Barber had a full spring to make ready for the season this time, plus the ability to be the best left-hander in the league. Pappas, although a problem boy, impresses everyone. "The pitchers will do a lot of running this spring," promised Hitchcock, but when the hot Florida sun came on as advertised Pappas suddenly recalled an old knee injury and didn't run at all. Estrada still wears his hat at a slant—the better for the girls to see his curly hair—but he throws awfully hard. Barber, Pappas and Estrada could be the best starting trio in the business. Robin Roberts decided junk wasn't so bad after all and he'll be a solid fourth man. The Orioles will miss relief specialist Hoyt Wilhelm, traded away to the White Sox, but little Stu Miller could frustrate the AL batters with his slow, slow curves.
When Brandt and Snyder play in the same outfield, most fly balls will be caught, but when Powell and Smith are playing a lot of them won't. "The opposition will have to poke it hard to get a ball through the left side of our infield," points out Hitchcock and he's dead right. With Robinson at third and Aparicio at shortstop there will be no gifts. A few squib hits may work their way through the right side, but Adair and Gentile handle second and first well enough. "Dick Brown is a good catcher," says Hitchcock, and that's the reason they traded Gus Triandos for him. It should be a relief for the young pitchers not to pitch to surly old Gus this year.