As Frank Deford observes on page 92, "Opening Day means spring...buds spreading and jackets unbuttoning...rubber bands being released from neat's-foot-oiled baseball mitts that had been held tight around a ball all winter." Springtime also is when the nation's baseball experts blossom forth with their predictions for the season.
The four SI experts who prepared the scouting reports starting on page 52 have joined the vernal chorus (see chart). And as any expert reader might have predicted, no two agreed on who will win the World Series.
Larry Keith, who scouted the NL East and picked Philadelphia in that division, thinks the Yankees will win the World Series again. "You have to like any team with a rotation of Andy Messersmith, Ken Holtzman, Sparky Lyle and Gil Patterson," says Keith, who obviously figures 'the regular New York rotation will again be beset by injuries. If it is, the Yanks might consider making a deal with Keith's choice in the AL West, Texas, which he favors because it is "the only team with two pitchers who make house calls—Dock Ellis and Doc Medich." If New York can keep its rotation of Guidry, Figueroa, Hunter, et al, healthy, Keith thinks it will meet the Reds in the World Series.
Joe Marshall, whose scouting report tells why Kansas City should win the AL West, picks Cincinnati to beat New York in the Series, predicting that "Tom Terrific's return to New York will humble the Yankees." As for the American League playoffs, Marshall allows that Kansas City can beat the Yankees—but only if the fifth game ends in the eighth inning.
Philadelphians may find solace in Ron Fimrite's hunch that a world championship banner will fly over Veterans Stadium on Opening Day 1979. He picks Cincinnati in his NL West scouting report, but he reckons that the Phillies' pitching will bring the National League pennant to the East for the first time since 1973. In the AL West, Kansas City and California will stay close—but just behind—the Texas Millionaires in what Fimrite figures will be the best race of all.
Jim Kaplan, who scouted the AL East, predicts that the Royals will win it all because "nobody wants to see Freddie Patek crying in the dugout again." Besides, says Kaplan, Kansas City's most likely Series opponents, the Phillies, "play so badly in championship games that they can't even get a good decision from the umpires."
In an effort to get at least two predictors who favored the same team, Deford was invited to submit what we hoped would be the tie-breaking choice. Does he like the Yankees? Or the Royals? Or the Phillies? Or the Reds? Nope. He picks Texas, because "Billy Hunter, who brought them along so fast late last season, will be their manager from Opening Day on."
That narrows our world champion picks to five teams out of 26. Beyond that, the choice is yours.