In these expansive days of 600 major league baseball players on 24 teams, only the poor eyestrain victims who proofread box scores for The Sporting News can hope to keep track of everybody. Gus Fan no sooner gets it straight that Vida Blue is a lefty from Louisiana than up sneaks some Latin named Montanez to rank fifth in homers in the National League. Or Wilbur Whatsizname to win consistently for the White Sox with only a catnap between starts. Who are the men behind these new, and some not quite so new, bats and arms? Are they boilermakers or linguists or just plain ballplayers? All three, as it turns out.
Willie Montanez—all the majors need is another Willie—is a flamboyant Puerto Rican who plays center field for Philadelphia. Never known as a long-ball hitter in six minor league seasons, he had 25 homers and 81 RBIs through Sunday. The club got him last year from St. Louis as compensation for the defection of Curt Flood to Denmark. "You mean to say they got him off a take-your-pick player list?" asked shocked Cub Manager Leo Durocher. "Does Willie have a younger brother, or even an older brother?"
Wilbur Wood, a relief pitcher for the White Sox since 1967 but now suddenly a splendid starter, has an ERA of 2.06, second best in the American League, and 17 wins. While pitching eight times with only two days rest between turns in a recent stretch, he was 7-1 and completed all eight games. He can do it because he almost always throws an easy, accurate knuckleball he developed as a kid in Belmont, Mass. Says Pitching Coach Johnny Sain, "I don't have to do much for this man except buy him a cigar after a win."
Another in Sain's stable, Tom Bradley (13-10, 2.76 ERA), is a classical-language student at the University of Maryland. Very nearsighted, he hovers over his cardplaying teammates, peering intently at their hands, so they've nicknamed him The Fly, and Catcher Tom Egan even distributed flyswatters in the clubhouse.
Earl Williams, who has been Atlanta's regular catcher since early July and has hit 25 home runs, says, "My favorite position is batting." With Henry Aaron, he gives the Braves the best 1-2 power package in either league. Signed out of Montclair, N.J. as a pitcher, he has played every position but second base in his six-year pro career—and he is just three quarters away from his degree at Ithaca College. Batting Instructor Eddie Mathews is still working with this Rookie of the Year candidate on one serious problem—his home-run trot. At least once Earl was watching the ball so intently he almost missed first base.
San Diego's Dave Roberts, 26, who has an apprentice boilermaker's card and one of the best left arms in the National League, had a 2.04 ERA through Sunday, second only to Tom Seaver in the league. He won 18 games in the International League in 1968, but when he joined the Padres in 1969 his arm was so sore he "couldn't throw the ball 60 feet." A combination of ultrasound treatments and off-season pitching has made the arm ultrasound again.
Marty Pattin, 11-13 and 2.90 ERA for the hapless Milwaukee Brewers, didn't get much of a chance when he was with the California Angels, but he didn't have such a good slider then. Or such good control. "The slider has become my bread-and-butter pitch," he says. As his record has improved, he has relied less on the Donald Duck imitation that was once his stock-in-trade. On the Brewer network last year he answered every question with quacks.
Righthander Dick Drago, only in his third season, is making a strong effort to become the first pitcher in Kansas City's 16-year major league history to win more than 16 games. As of Sunday he had 15. His fastball is not scary, but his control is exceptional, and he has the knack of making batters hit the ball on the ground. Said Manager Bob Lemon, "It takes a lot of singles, and most of them are ground singles, to get a man around against Drago."
O.K., Gus Fan, any more questions?
DAVE ROBERTS, 2.04 ERA
EARL WILLIAMS, 25 HRs
WILBUR WOOD, 17 WINS
WILLIE MONTANEZ, 81 RBIs