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Original Issue

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: A southpaw and a conspiracy of ifs

For the Xteenth year in a row, the Cardinals have a pitching staff—on paper—that could set the league on its ear. St. Louisans are waiting to see the potential turn into the real thing

"Our pitching staff," says Branch Rickey, "is a conspiracy of ifs." Relievers Diomedes Olivo and Bobby Shantz have reached the age where every season may have been the last. Curt Simmons—who has already run through several comebacks—has now arrived at that same point. Ernie Broglio and Bob Gibson, two starters who should be having their best pitching years, are both coming off serious injuries and cannot be counted on yet. This all bestows a greater burden on two young pitchers—Ray Washburn and Ray Sadecki (right). Washburn had a fine rookie season in 1962 and is sound and ready. Sadecki's temperament has been more mercurial. It soared along with his earned run average last year after he had led the staff as a rookie in 1961. As the only regular left-handed starter (Simmons is a once-a-week type), Sadecki may be the biggest if in the conspiracy.

Sadecki was chastened by last year's miserable season, but not in a defensive way. "The monkey was really on my back," said Sadecki. "I'd never been in the bullpen, and I wasn't any good out there, but whenever they'd give me another start I wouldn't be in shape for that, so I'd get hit, they'd send me back to the bullpen, and it would start all over again." Manager Johnny Keane and Sadecki never once sat down to talk things out. Sadecki was left just to brood. "I guess I was agitating all along," he says with chagrin.

The Cardinals have to hope that 1963 is the year of the happy ending for Ray Sadecki and the team. But this is, historically speaking, an uncertainty. Sadecki was in the Army this winter and was late getting to camp for the second year in a row. In fact, he joined the team about the same time that he did last year, and Sadecki is mindful of the coincidence. "Now, it's just like last year," he said shortly after he rejoined the team. "This is in shape." He rubbed the muscles of his left arm, with compassion. "But the rest of me isn't yet. I have to pitch a lot. I want to. The season starts, that's too late to do any experimenting."

The Cardinals have .300 hitters they don't know what to do with. Three left-handed batters—George Altman, Bill White and Stan Musial—all hit well over .300 and will be scattered for best advantage through the lineup along with three right-handed, former .300 hitters—Curt Flood, Dick Groat and Ken Boyer—all of whom slumped into the .290s last season. For balance of power there is also big, strong, right-handed Gene Oliver hitting seventh. But it's still a game of runs and, for all their hitting, the Cards just don't seem to score. Except for the Mets and Colts no NL team in the last two seasons has left so many men on base. Finishing sixth last year with a team that hit .271 (second-best in the majors), the Cardinals won the easy ones (a 27-13 record in games decided by five runs or more), but they were only 25-29 with the one-run games—those that decide pennants.

Even if all their starters do come around, the Cardinals could still have pitching trouble—in the bullpen. Shantz (1.96 ERA) and Olivo (2.79) had good records, but they also total 80 years and two left arms. Either Ed Bauta or Bob Duliba must develop to give the Cards a right-hander in the bullpen. Both have had trials before, and both still need control of another pitch (besides the fast ball) to be effective. Among the starters, Broglio (12-9) and Gibson (15-13) could win 20 apiece if they are fully recovered from various injuries. This spring Washburn has improved his curve and change to go with his sinking stuff. If Sadecki finds himself and his 1961 form, the Cards will have a top four-starter rotation with Simmons available for spot starts. The rookie with the best chance to take somebody's job is right-hander Ron Taylor, obtained from the Indians.

In center field, Flood will have to hurry to range between the likes of Musial and Altman, but he had that same tough assignment last year and handled it well. Moreover, Altman has improved his fielding in the last couple of seasons, and his weak arm will be camouflaged somewhat in St. Louis by the short right-field area. Behind the plate, Oliver has had a year to learn how to handle pitchers, and pitchers now have greater confidence in him. So does Oliver in himself. With Groat at short, St. Louis has perhaps the best infield in the league. White at first and Boyer at third are no worse than one-two at their positions, and Julian Javier is an improving second baseman who is likely to make more double plays with Groat feeding him on the pivot. Last year Groat led all shortstops in put-outs, assists and double plays. When he needs rest, Dal Maxvill is a capable substitute.