Stanley Raymond (Bucky) Harris was hired by the Senators this winter to "evaluate players at the major league level." His new assignment is not one to envy, however. To say that the Washington players are on a major league level is stretching the point. Nor to be envied is Manager Mickey Vernon, whose most lofty thought at this point is ninth place. "Only one player is set in our infield," General Manager George Selkirk pointed out last winter. "That's Rogelio Alvarez at first base." Alvarez, obtained from Cincinnati, has had exactly 17 games in the big leagues and he hit .222 in 14 of them last season, which gives some indication of how bad the Senators' infield is. But if one were to think that things couldn't get much worse in Washington, one would be wrong. The Senators' one set player returned to his native Cuba before spring training, and hasn't come out. There's not much call for first basemen in Cuba these days and presumably Alvarez is doing something more constructive—like cutting cane.
If the players returning from last year do not hold strong major league credentials, the young ones carry less. For this, Vernon can thank ex-General, ex-Washington President Elwood R. (Pete) Quesada, who spent his time keeping noncoms out of his private elevator at the District of Columbia Stadium and issuing terse, militarylike directives. There was, for instance, the one issued to scouts stating that no player would be signed for more than $2,000 without President Quesada's personal approval. What the Senators have as a consequence are a lot of young players who would have trouble finding a place on the Mets' farm club. Quesada, in a published three-part Report to the Fans, insists he spent $1,263,000 on young talent, a figure that "astonishes" ex-General Manager Ed Doherty. "I guess the general must have included the cost of farms, working agreement fees and spring training," he said. Now Quesada is gone, and new Board Chairman James M. Johnston has promised millions for good new players. Even more important, Johnston describes himself and his fellow stockholders as "fans who would let professional baseball men run things." Meanwhile, the damage has been done for the season.
"We need to spruce up our hitting," says Manager Vernon. He is correct on that point; any team that scores fewer runs than Washington may not score at all. The Senators had little to offer last year and, in a most perplexing bit of negotiation, traded one of their few capable hitters, Bob Johnson (.288 with 12 home runs), to Baltimore. "Johnson didn't hit with men on base," explained Vernon—which really didn't answer the question, since the only other player to hit in any situation was Chuck Hinton, a legitimate .300 hitter who threw in a welcome home run now and again. Jim Piersall came to Washington last year sporting a .322 average and promptly sagged to .244. But Piersall is a better hitter than that, and any little extra he can contribute will be welcome. Second-year Catcher Ken Retzer hit respectably, if not awesomely, and will be right in the middle of the Senators' lineup.
Here at least, the Senators approach major league standards. Don Rudolph, Tom Cheney, who struck out 21 batters in a 16-inning game last year, Dave Stenhouse, who was perhaps the best pitcher in the league for the first half of last season, and young Claude Osteen make a good starting corps. And the Senators need not be embarrassed by calling to their bullpen. Left-hander Steve Hamilton lost much more than he won last year (3-8) but he's 6 feet 7 and strong enough to reverse the figures. Jim Hannan throws hard and doesn't frighten easily—excellent credentials for a relief pitcher. Bennie Daniels will start and take a turn in relief.
Piersall, Hinton and Don Lock will make the good Senator pitching look even better when balls are hit to the outfield. But balls hit on the ground will make things wildly exciting for Washington fans. When Vernon mentioned that Marv Breeding, who came from Baltimore in the Johnson deal, may be used at either third, short or second, one Washington newspaper joyously exclaimed: "Senators to try Breeding at three positions." Dick Phillips, a professional minor league practitioner, can play seven positions and once did so in a single game. He may even end up at third. Another third-base candidate, John Schaive, turned an ankle in spring training and said modestly: "There goes the pennant." Ed Brinkman, 21, won the shortstop job in spring training despite a .165 batting average last season. Chuck Cottier is perfectly adequate at second base, but he doesn't hit enough. The big surprise this spring has been Maryland's football star, Tom Brown, Green Bay's No. 2 draft choice. Used in desperation at first base when Alvarez disappeared into Cuba, Brown has been switch-hitting well and fielding sensationally.