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Original Issue

HOUSTON COLT .45s: Too much and too soon in Houston

The Colt .45s are loaded with youngsters barely beyond the age of adolescence. Some of them are bound to come through, and this makes Houston a good bet—for the 1965 season

By actual count—not by cruel assessment—Houston's 25-man roster will contain no more than 20 ballplayers of major league ability. It will be padded out by five young players—some of whom have never so much as hit or thrown a baseball for pay before. The Colt .45s only have to protect them from the new first-year draft. Whether this is fair to the veterans who will be cut, to the kids who will be kept on the bench or to the fans who will still pay major league ticket prices on the assumption that spring training ended April 7, is not immediately important to the Colts. As he did at Baltimore, General Manager Paul Richards is letting the present take care of itself. He has set all the .45s' sights on the future. Richards even blandly admits: "If we have as good a competitive record as we did last season, I'll be satisfied." Competitively, the Colts won 64 games. Speculatively, they signed 105 free agents at a cost of $900,000.

The draft rule, designed ostensibly to curb the wild bonus spending of past years, states that any player who has completed his first year of professional baseball may be drafted by another club for the piddling sum of $8,000, unless the player is kept on the major league roster. The first problem then is whom to protect. "The hardest part," Richards says, "is trying to consider the value of these players two, three, four years from now." The rules do allow one first-year player to be sent to the minors, but he must be counted as part of the 25-man major league roster. Either Second Baseman Ernie Fazio (1 for 12 with Houston last year) or Catcher John Bateman (.280 with Modesto) will get such seasoning. But three 19-year-olds (Catcher Dave Adlesh, Outfielder Brock Davis and Pitcher Chris Zachary) are the likely choices to start their baseball careers right in the majors. "Whoever we keep, we're going to play," says Manager Harry Craft, so the kids will get some work, at least. It all may pay off in the future, but for the present the odds will be stacked against Houston (no other team will carry more than two first-year men). It was tough enough for the Colts to win 64 games in 1962, when the sides were even.

On the subject of hitting, Houston officials would rather remain silent. At the end of last season the only hitter they could talk about with a straight face was Roman Mejias, who led the club in eight offensive departments. Now that he has been traded, the conversation has shifted to Pete Runnels, who came from Boston for Mejias. Runnels led the American League in batting (.326) for the second time in three years, and the Colt .45s hope that his singles will be of more value than Mejias' home runs (24). Al Spangler (.285), Carl Warwick (.264 and 17 HRs) and Bob Aspromonte (.266) are the best of a punchless group of holdovers. Choice newcomers include Manny Mota (from the Giants), Ellis Burton (.286 with Louisville) and George Williams (.298 with Oklahoma City). Opposing players complained that the lighting in Houston was extremely bad, so maybe the Colt .45s can blame part of their poor hitting on this, too. They were ninth in batting and last in homers in the NL and scored the fewest runs in the majors.

Houston pitchers did not fret about the lights and, perhaps because of them, struck out 1,047 batters (the Dodgers are the only other major league team ever to go over 1,000). On paper, Dick Farrell's 10-20 record looks terrible. But he had 203 strikeouts, a 3.01 ERA and an average of only 2.05 walks a game. Curve-baller Bob Bruce (4.06) was the only regular starter with more wins than losses (10-9). Left-hander Hal Woodeshick (5-16,4.40 ERA), Knuckleballer Ken Johnson (7-16, 3.84 ERA) and Jim Umbricht (4-0, 2.01 ERA) are other possible starters this year. When it comes to the bullpen, Houston has numbers if nothing else. Don McMahon, whose 1.69 ERA was the best in the majors (though he did not pitch enough innings to qualify for the title), is an ideal short-relief man. Behind him are such names as Don Nottebart, Russ Kemmerer, Jim Golden and Dick Drott.

The 1962 season was less than a month old when Manager Craft said, "I'm ready to retract what I said about our having a pretty good defense." He was right, for Houston finished eighth in fielding and double plays in the NL. Once again Craft is optimistic about his team's fielding, but this time he feels he won't have to change his mind. Although the infield is still unsettled, there are better glovemen around to start the season. Johnny Temple, Bob Lillis, J.C. Hartman and George Williams are interchangeable at second and short and, in some instances, third. Runnels can do an adequate job at first. Only two outfielders return from 1962—Spangler and Warwick. Many of the balls they don't catch will be pursued and possibly even caught by Mota and Burton. Both are swift, capable center fielders.