With Dick Stuart's powerful bat and five-thumbed glove on hand last season, the Red Sox finished first in batting, second in homers and eighth in the American League. So off to the Philadelphia Phillies went First Baseman Stuart in exchange for left-handed Pitcher Dennis Bennett. Even without Stuart, new Manager Billy Herman has enough dangerous hitters left over to make him grin when he makes up his daily batting order. Tony Conigliaro, who recorded a song called Playing the Field made the big jump from Class A Wellsville to Boston in 1964 and, at 19, hit .290 with 24 home runs. There's no telling how many more homers he might have hit if he hadn't missed six weeks of the season because of hand and arm injuries. And he has a good 15 more years to aim at Fenway Park's inviting left-field fence. The other half of Boston's youthful, hard-to-pronounce hitting duo, Carl Yastrzemski, dropped 32 points from his league-leading .321 in 1963, but he also dropped some excess pounds in the winter and should challenge for the title again. Cleveland Manager Birdie Tebbetts thinks Yaz can hit .350. Shortstop Eddie Bressoud is playing more than he did in the National League with the Giants and is responding with better-than-respectable batting averages—a club-leading .293 last year and a .277 average for his three seasons by the Back Bay. Felix Mantilla, slated by Herman for full-time duty at second base, was only three homers behind Stuart's 33 and figures to keep up his surprise slugging, especially at home in Boston, where he can join Conigliaro in reaping the benefits of The Fence. Frank Malzone at third gets his hit or so a game, season after season. Lee Thomas at first base would help more if he could conquer left-handed pitching. Catcher Bob Tillman, after averaging .226 his first two turns with the Sox, suddenly learned how to hit. He batted .278, with 17 homers.
Dick (The Monster) Radatz, baseball's best relief pitcher, ran off 10 pounds of lard on Harvard's track in the off season, but he still has 260 pounds or so to put behind his select variety of pitches (fast, faster and laser beam). Even though he doesn't fuss with a curve and only occasionally uses a slider, his sidearm speed makes him the team's most valuable player. Jack Lamabe and lefty Arnold Earley will keep Radatz company in the right-field bullpen.
But Dennis Bennett is the key to the club's hopes, and it looks as though this key won't unlock anything. Bennett's arm. ailing with tendonitis last year, still hurt badly in spring training, and then the left-hander was hospitalized with a pulled back muscle. Without him the Red Sox are in trouble, because after Bennett the left-handed talent drops off sharply, like over a cliff. For right-handers, Herman is counting heavily on veteran Bill Monbouquette (13-14), a 20-game winner in 1963 who had trouble last year but improved at the end of the season, youthful Dave Morehead (8-15), who has junk-heaped his disastrous slider, and hard-throwing Earl Wilson (11-12).
The most impressive fast ball on the team belongs to Jerry Stephenson, the 21-year-old son of a Red Sox scout in California. His fast ball flickers and sails like a 1925 film of a Charleston contest. Veterans gather around the cage when it is Jerry's turn to throw batting practice. Almost as highly touted is ex-Stanford star Jim Lonborg but, unhappily, both young men had arm troubles in the minors.
The good-hitting infield of Thomas, Mantilla, Bressoud and Malzone averages almost 32 years of age; and it shows its age on ground balls. The fielding would improve markedly if Chuck Schilling could take over at second again and rookie Rico Petrocelli at short. But Schilling hit .196 with no home runs compared to Mantilla's .289 and 30, and Petrocelli's minor league average was 60 points under Bressoud's major league one. Dalton Jones played half the season at second last year but fielded erratically and batted only .230.
Lenny Green had a fine spring and may play center, though skinny Gary Geiger, troubled by ulcers in the past, is ready to take over again. Either choice will allow Yastrzemski to move back to left, where he is more comfortable. Conigliaro, in right, has good speed and a good arm and is improving all the time. "If he improves much more," said Herman, "they won't have a league for him." The 6-foot-4 Tillman is a dependable catcher.
Boston has finished in the second division six straight times, and it is difficult to imagine the team up there with New York, Chicago, Baltimore and that crowd. Herman predicts the Red Sox will climb two notches, to sixth, and hopes for fourth. Fourth place is a possibility only if Yastrzemski returns to his batting-championship form, if Lonborg and Stephenson become reliable starters, if Monbouquette becomes a 20-game winner again, if Geiger stays relaxed and healthy, if Mantilla keeps hitting home runs, if Conigliaro avoids the sophomore jinx and, most important, if Bennett can come back from his ailments and be the first-rate left-hander the Red Sox need. That's too many ifs.