K-55 is a perfectly balanced thick-handled bat, 36 ounces in weight, 36 inches in length. When the Dodger brain trust finished analyzing it, the distant fences in Dodger Stadium stayed put and the one man capable of reaching those fences, Frank Howard, was traded to Washington. What madness was this? When the Dodgers scored at all last season, the excellent Dodger pitchers bought drinks all around. (After Don Drysdale heard that Sandy Koufax had pitched a no-hitter his first reaction was: "Who won?") But wait, there may be method in the madness—and the method may be a serious consideration of K-55, the bottle bat that John Roseboro borrowed from Drysdale last season. After years of swinging from his heels, Roseboro said to hell with it and began punching hits to all fields with K-55. The Dodger catcher produced the best average of his life (.287) and started the whole Dodger organization thinking in terms of line drives, so much so that General Manager Buzzy Bavasi gave Howard to the Senators for left-hander Claude Osteen, a 15-game winner, and Third Baseman John Kennedy. Roseboro also set his fellow players to thinking, among them hot-tempered Ron Fairly. Last year Fairly slashed balls that were caught 10 feet short of the fence and, as Vice-President Fresco Thompson observed: "Bam, there went another helmet."' First Baseman Fairly now swears he, too, will follow the hunt-and-peck system.
Who will take Howard's place? Most likely either Al Ferrara, who at age 16 played selections from La Traviata at Carnegie Hall and who hit enough homers last year at Spokane (24) to rate as one of the few power hitters available to the Dodgers, or Derrell Griffith, who has a short stride, quick wrists and a fine, level, left-handed swing. Griffith hits with less power but more frequency than Ferrara, and that is what the Dodgers have in mind for this season.
For run production, the Dodgers will depend on hitters such as Maury Wills and rookie Second Baseman Jim Lefebvre, speed, speed, speed and, of course, the Davis boys. Early last season, after two glorious years of winning batting championships, Tommy Davis jammed his arm diving into second base and, favoring the injury, began to analyze the pitchers, trying to outguess them. "'That's something a successful hitter does subconsciously," he says now. His average fell to .275. This spring Tommy was swinging away confidently and unanalytically and once again looked suspiciously like the best hitter in the National League.
Willie Davis' first act of greatness in 1965 was to dive into the shallow end of a swimming pool and break his nose. The damage was insignificant. "You can inform my many admirers," said Willie, "that I'm as handsome as ever." But it is not Willie's profile that concerns his fans. It's his legs, which make the base paths a wildly exciting place. Willie's 42 stolen bases and .294 average last season seem to be merely appetizers. "If he'd lay down a few more bunts," said Manager Walter Alston, "there's no telling what he'd hit."
A traumatic arthritic condition of anyone's left elbow does not sound very good, but when the left elbow belongs to Sandy Koufax, not only does it not sound good, it sounds fatal, at least for the Dodgers' pennant hopes this season. Early this spring Alston was a man of many smiles, because Koufax was throwing as if the perplexing injury that finished him for the last month of the 1964 season was gone and forgotten. But the pain is back, and the doctors gloomily predict Koufax will feel it for the rest of the season. The trade that brought Osteen to the Dodgers now makes Bavasi appear to be an unabashed genius.
Last year, even without the services of Koufax for the last month and Johnny Podres for the whole season, no one scored very often against the Dodgers (they led the league with a 2.95 ERA). Drysdale won 18, struck out 237, and he, Osteen and Podres (if the operation on Podres' elbow is indeed as successful as it appears to be) give Los Angeles a formidable trio of starters even without Koufax. Young John Purdin (0.56 ERA in 16 innings late last season) will get a chance to start, and so will Jim Brewer, Joe Moeller and rookie Mike Kekich. As for the bullpen, Ron Perranoski's sinker is sinking again, and Bob Miller has become one of the best late-inning men in the business.
Next to the sparse hitting, it was the Dodgers' penchant for mismanaging a baseball in the field that put them in sixth place. Now the Dodgers have John Kennedy to play third base—and lo, Kennedy made 28 errors last season. But they say he made so many only because he got to balls that few other infielders could reach. Kennedy is the 24th man the Dodgers have tried in the position in eight years and—in the field at least—he looks to be the best one by far. But except for Kennedy and Willie Davis in center, the defense is seldom better than adequate.
It will be scramble, scramble, scramble and a lot of 1-0 games—won and lost. That system could win a pennant with a sound Koufax. Without him, the Dodgers will have to settle for less.
Whether he is running the bases or chasing a fly ball, Willie Davis' speed is electrifying.