Brother Malcolm, evangelist, seer and healer of the sick, was positively aquiver with emotion as he faced his congregation and shouted: "We are sinners!"
"Yes, Brother, oh yes," came the chorus of the repentant. "Yes, we are all sinners," said Brother Malcolm. "But—brothers and sisters—we are not doomed."
"Hallelujah," came the chorus.
Just a mile or so from where Brother had pitched his tent in Winter Haven, Fla., Dick Radatz, all 6 feet 5, 260 pounds of him, loomed up above another group of sinners—the Boston Red Sox—and said essentially the same thing. In a most remarkable opening to spring training, Radatz, flanked by brethren Carl Yastrzemski and Earl Wilson, who, after a thorough winter housecleaning, are now the senior practitioners on the Boston team, preached hellfire and damnation for two hours in a meeting closed to manager, coaches and press.
"The only thing that could keep the Red Sox together this long is a keg of beer," said one reporter in a tone signifying deep cynicism and, unfortunately, logic. Last year the Red Sox had the league's second-leading batter (Yastrzemski), the league's leading home run hitter (Tony Conigliaro) and the guy who used to be the best relief pitcher in baseball (Dick Radatz). To supplement this was enough punch to score 669 runs. But the Red Sox were even better at visiting friendly neighborhood taverns and staying there until the umpire broke up the party with a cheerless call to play ball. The result? Ninth place—and the worst Red Sox won-and-lost percentage since 1932.
It was the seventh successive second-division finish for the Red Sox, but for a change the players were genuinely unhappy about it. "It got so I was ashamed to admit I was a Red Sox," said Yastrzemski. "This has gone far enough," said Radatz. "We shall reform."
"Hallelujah," came the chorus.
While such manifestation of rehabilitation was encouraging, Manager Billy Herman had decided long before that there were going to be more tangible changes made. Felix Mantilla, for instance, was a second baseman who reacted to ground balls with a deft head shake. He countered this with a knack for hitting the ball over the left-field wall that looms up just in back of the infield in Fenway Park. Shortstop Eddie Bressoud and Third Baseman Frank Malzone had the same attributes. But during a game in Los Angeles last summer, a seed of heresy popped into Herman's head. Rookie Pitcher Jim Lonborg has an excellent sinker ball and he was throwing it with great effectiveness, as was indicated by five straight ground balls hit by Los Angeles batters. And all five went scooting past the Boston infielders.
"That does it," said Herman, racing for the mound. "That was a terrible exhibition."
"I'm sorry, Billy," said Lonborg.
"I don't mean you," said Herman. "I'm talking about that infield."
So, during the off season, Malzone was released, Bressoud was traded to the Mets, and Mantilla was sent to the Astros. To shortstop went Rico Petrocelli, who can amaze you with his inconsistency. But he is quick, and his very strong and very sore throwing arm is sound again. George Smith hit only five home runs with Syracuse and Detroit last year, but he too can move with speed and that is why Herman put him at second base. More in the old muscular tradition are First Baseman Tony Horton, a strapping 21-year-old, and the two rookie third basemen, Joe Foy and George Scott. The barrel-chested Foy was the minor league Player of the Year last season at Toronto (he hit .302, with 14 home runs and 73 runs batted in), and Scott had an even more glittering record (.319, 25 HRs, 94 RBIs) at Pittsfield in the Eastern League.
Before the Red Sox fans could recover from the shock of a young and sprightly infield, Ted Williams unnerved them completely. "You know what the strong suit of this team is going to be?" he asked. "Pitching." Good heavens, this from the vice-president in charge of hitting? Didn't he know the Red Sox had the worst staff in the American League last year? Before the little men in white could stuff Williams into a strait jacket, he quickly pointed to Bob Sadowski and Dan Osinski, two reputable relief pitchers who came from the Braves. As starters, Williams listed Wilson, Lonborg and Dave Morehead, who tossed a no-hitter last season, and then added Jerry Stephenson, a young man who was considered by some very shrewd observers to be the superior of Sam McDowell of the Indians when both were in the Pacific Coast League. Stephenson's weakness appears to be an overpowering urge to prove himself stark raving mad by 1) dyeing his hair green, 2) striking up a conversation with a downtown Denver lamppost and 3) demonstrating to Herman that his arm was sore by heaving a ball 400 feet. "I don't talk to lampposts anymore," Stephenson said this spring. Hallelujah.
Leopards don't change their spots, and the Red Sox don't seem likely to reform all that much. "Don't get caught" seems more the idea they are pushing this season. But they may get caught by the Athletics and finish 10th.