Thoughts of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Jim Ray Hart batting all in a row have caused some sleepless winter nights for National League pitchers. Mays alone causes more nightmares than any Alfred Hitchcock script. The four hit 127 home runs last year, an average of 32 apiece, even though McCovey (18) slugged nowhere near his potential and Hart was a mere rookie. Mays led the league in homers with 47 but slipped below .300 for the first time since 1956. New Manager Herman Franks, as aware as anyone of Willie's physical exhaustion late each season, plans to rest his superstar as often as possible. "Can I afford not to?" he asks. McCovey is coming off a terrible season at the plate, losing 60 points from his 1963 batting average and 26 from his home run total. His chronically sore feet were treated in the winter and, with specially built shoes, he could be his old murderous self again. McCovey's presence is mandatory since the only other left-handed batter in the regular lineup is Catcher Tom Haller (.253). Cepeda also visited the doctors to have cartilage removed from his right knee. Cepeda has outhit Mays for four straight years and has averaged 31 homers and 106 RBIs for his seven major league seasons, but he probably will not be ready to play when the season starts. Hart hit .286 as a rookie, with 31 HRs.
Despite all the muscles, the Giants' batting average was the worst in the league except for Houston's, and they were sixth in scoring runs. McCovey's bad year and Mays's season-end slump did not help. If the Giants are to score runs as well as reach the fences, the doctors must bat 1.000 with Mays's overall condition, McCovey's arches, Cepeda's right knee and Shortstop Jose Pagan's left eye, which was operated on in the winter to remove a growth that hampered his play the past two seasons.
Juan Marichal, who kicks higher than a Rockette before he fires his assortment of pitches, heads a staff that needs more and better left-handers. Both Marichal and Gaylord Perry, who had the fourth and ninth best ERAs in the league, are right-handers and so are Bob Bolin and Jack Sanford, Rookie of the Year in 1957 and a 24-game winner in 1962. Sanford was out most of last year but apparently had a successful arm operation in the off season (the Giants must have set a record for number of players visiting doctors' offices in one winter). Bob Hendley, a so-so pitcher for three seasons in Milwaukee and inconsistent with the Giants last year, will be Franks's only left-handed starter, unless the team can trade for one. The Giants are also hoping that youngsters Dick Estelle (23) and Al Stanek (21) show enough in the minors to be recalled early in the season. Estelle had a 2.84 ERA in 33 games at Tacoma, and Stanek led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts in 1964.
The only veterans in the bullpen are Bob Shaw (7 wins, 8 saves) and Jim Duffalo (5-1, 2.92 ERA), and both are right-handers. But if Masanori Murakami ever uses the return part of the round-trip ticket to Japan the Giants bought him, the club will add to the already international flavor of its personnel and get a needed left-handed relief pitcher. For the baseball-record nuts there seems to be no end of records for left-handed Japanese pitchers that Murakami could put in the books. In 15 innings last season his ERA in the National League was 1.80, almost as low as it had been earlier in the year in the Class A California League. If the Nankai Hawks allow him to be exported to the U.S. again, Franks will give him a good try in the bullpen.
The Giants did not make the double play well in 1964, despite having one of the best second basemen in the majors in Hal Lanier. Part of the trouble was Pagan at shortstop. His fielding fell off the past two years, along with his hitting. But he has a good arm and good range and perhaps the eye operation will help him regain his skill with a glove. If Cepeda is not ready to play at the start of the season McCovey will have to take over at first base, and that is not good. He played 26 games there in 1964 and made seven errors. He is not such a liability in left, where the Candlestick Park winds hold fly balls up in the air. Utility Catcher Ed Bailey could also fill in at first. The rest of the outfield is in good hands. Mays in center has slowed up a bit, but he is still racing toward the Hall of Fame and a flock of National League career records. Jesus Alou in right has a good arm, and his brother, Matty, is a valuable outfield replacement. Hart at third does not have the fielding finesse of Jim Davenport, but his arm is accurate and he outhit the veteran by exactly 50 points and outhomered him 31 to 2.
The Giants finished only three games behind St. Louis last season, and it is not hard to see them contending for the pennant again, especially if McCovey comes back and the patchwork pitching staff holds together. Mays is still Mays, and Cepeda will not be sidelined too long with that knee. Lanier and Jesus Alou, both 22, batted .274 last season and could easily improve. While the Candlestick Park parking lot continues to sink into the sea, the Candlestick Park tenants may rise higher than third place. Herman Franks must trust in medical science to help him accomplish all this.