Dwelling in the bullpen of the Philadelphia Phillies is a creature of monstrous dimensions and awesome power. He stands 24'7", weighs 780 pounds and throws a wide assortment of pitches with an even wider assortment of arms. He is the Abominable Fireman, and like Pavlov's dog, he responds to the ringing of a bell (in this case, the bullpen telephone). Last season the Abominable Fireman had 29 wins, 46 saves and an ERA of 2.60 in 215 appearances. If the Phillies are to win a third consecutive East Division title, the Abominable Fireman must terrify opponents fully as much as he did last season.
Descriptions of this creature vary, probably because no one has ever been closer to him than 60'6". And just as the Abominable Snowman is also known as yeti and Big Foot or Sasquatch, the Abominable Fireman has been called Warren Brusstar, Gene Garber, Tug McGraw and Ron Reed, in which order they appear, from left to right, in the photo below.
The following information on the beast is based on the most recently reported sightings:
Garber is the bearded one with the sidearm, back-to-the-batter delivery that conceals a bewildering changeup. He is not only the most effective of the four, leading in wins (8), ERA (2.36), saves (19) and appearances (64), but he is also the best fielder.
Reed (7-5, 2.76, 15, 60) stands tall (6'6") and throws hard. He has been a pro basketball player (with Detroit in 1965-67) and a starting pitcher (with Atlanta and St. Louis in 1966-75), but since coming to Philadelphia two years ago, he has had his greatest success as a reliever.
Brusstar (7-2, 2.66, 3, 46) is 26, baby-faced, and voted most likely to challenge a hitter. A rookie last season, he is usually called upon to throw his sinker and slider in the middle innings.
McGraw (7-3, 2.62, 9, 45) is the only lefthander of the four and a screwball pitcher in more ways than one. H-is 119 career saves document his ability, and his literary accomplishments, a book (Screwball) and a comic strip (Scroogie) have attested to his unique approach to life.
The Abominable Fireman would not be so invaluable if the Phillies had more depth among their starters. "Those four guys saved our neck last year," says Manager Danny Ozark. There is little consistency in the rotation beyond Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton (23-10) and Larry Christenson (19-6). That shortcoming could disappear if Jim Lonborg's right arm shows more zip than it did in '77, or if Randy Lerch develops as rapidly as the 24-year-old Christenson has. Otherwise, the Phillies have the best everyday lineup in the division and the most depth in the National League. Mike Schmidt (.274, 38 homers and 101 RBIs) and Greg Luzinski (.309, 39 and 130) hit the ball far, and Bake McBride (.339 after coming from St. Louis in June) and Garry Maddox (.292) hit it often. But as the last two National League playoffs have shown, not even the Abominable Fireman can help the team in October.
Because the other five teams in the division have improved dramatically, the Phillies are not likely to duplicate the 101-61 record they had in each of the last two seasons. If too much slip-page occurs, Pittsburgh could run right past them. The Pirates have all the makings of a championship team, including the most speed and the best starting rotation in the East. "I think we'll win," says Manager Chuck Tanner, but then Tanner is such an optimist that he also says he is not worrying about the loss to the Yankees of free-agent Reliever Rich Gossage and his 26 saves.
Moving skinny Kent Tekulve (10-1) from middle-inning to late relief will help offset the departure of Gossage, but who replaces Tekulve? "I don't think we can win without improving our bullpen," says starter John Candelaria. The 24-year-old lefthander is as talented as he is forthright. His 20-5 record gave him the best percentage (.800) and the lowest ERA (2.34) among league starters. He is only one of several fine Pirate pitcher. Bert Blyleven was 14-12, 2.72 with Taxas and Jim Rooker had a 14-9, 3.09 year. If Jerry Reuss and Bruce Kison come back from losing seasons, the Pirates might not even need a strong bullpen to win. Another possible starter is Jim Bibby, a free agent signee who was 12-13 in Cleveland
But hitting, not pitching, is what the Pirates do best. Rightfielder Dave Parker led the league with a .338 average and slugged 21 homers. "He's the best player in the league," enthuses Tanner. Second Baseman Rennie Stennett was enjoying his finest season (.336) when he broke his right leg on Aug. 21, and Bill Robinson (.304, 26 homers, 104 RBIs) has a permanent home in left after being shuffled around last year. Robinson can stay put now because the Pirates had to give up Leftfielder Al Oliver to get Blyleven and because first base is loaded with Willie Stargell and former Met John Milner. The rest of the lineup includes excellent base runners in Shortstop Frank Taveras (70 steals), Centerfielder Omar Moreno (53) and Third Baseman Phil Garner, who had 32 swipes, 17 homers and 77 RBIs.
The main reason for Tanner's optimism is the success Pittsburgh had last year while adjusting to a new manager, half a dozen new players, a speed-oriented style and key injuries. "I don't think any other team could have overcome all that and still won 96 games," Tanner says. He has finished second before (with three different teams); with a questionable bullpen, he should wind up there again.
Another club that did well with new management was St. Louis, which moved from fifth to third under Vern Rapp. The Cardinals are within striking distance of the top, but they lack the pitching to get them there. Do not tell Shortstop Garry Templeton that, though. "We're stronger than Philadelphia and Pittsburgh right now," he says. "We just might have a runaway." If this happens, Templeton is the man to lead it. The 22-year-old switch hitter was sensational in his first complete season, finishing second among National Leaguers with a .322 average and showing dazzling speed, with 28 steals and a major league-leading 18 triples. "I've never seen a player with more ability," says Philadelphia's veteran catcher, Tim McCarver. "You can expect a lot more from me," says Templeton.
St. Louis' other offensive leaders are Catcher Ted Simmons, who hit .318 with 21 home runs and 95 RBIs, and First Baseman Keith Hernandez (.291, 15, 91). Now that 38-year-old Lou Brock has finally surpassed Ty Cobb's career stolen-base record, he is pointing toward the 3,000-hit mark. Brock is not likely to get the 166 he needs this season, because he will be one of four outfielders playing enough to be considered regulars. Rapp wants Tony Scott (.291), Jerry Mumphrey (.287) and former Cub Jerry Morales (.290) to get plenty of action, too.
Bob Forsch (20-7) was the only Cardinal starter with a winning record last year, and if St. Louis is to become a serious challenger, it will need a lot of help from Eric Rasmussen (11-17) and John Denny (8-8). At least the Cardinal bullpen seems improved with the acquisition of righthanders Mark Littell from Kansas City and Pete Vuckovich from Toronto.
In their nine-year history, the Montreal Expos have never finished higher than fourth or won as many as half their games. Last season was fairly typical: fifth place, 26 games out of first, 12 games below .500. So why were the Expos talking about a winning record and contending for the top this spring? The main reason was the arrival of two former Baltimore lefthanders—Ross Grimsley (14-10)from the reentry draft and Rudy May (18-14) in a trade—who have created almost as big a stir in Quebec as the Separatist movement. "They're just what the doctor ordered," says Manager Dick Williams. "With four bona-fide starters, we know we'll be in ball games. Last year we knew if we got five runs the other team might get seven." The other half of the rotation includes righthanders Steve Rogers (17-16) and Wayne Twitchell (6-5 in Montreal following a 0-5 start in Philadelphia). "I was encouraged after last season, but not enough to think of us as contenders," says Rogers. "Now I don't think that is too unreasonable."
Third base, the bullpen and depth are deficiencies, but Montreal will be a lot better, especially if the offense holds up. "We've got punch all the way through the lineup," says Williams. It starts with Second Baseman Dave Cash (.289) and includes First Baseman Tony Perez (.283 with 19 homers and 91 RBIs), Catcher Gary Carter (.284, 31, 84) and the productive young outfield of Warren Cromartie (.282), Andre Dawson (.282 and 19 home runs) and Ellis Valentine, who hit .293 and had 25 homers and 76 RBIs.
Although the Chicago Cubs led the East Division during June and July last season, hardly anyone expected them to stay there. Sure enough, Chicago played 19 games below .500 the last two months and finished fourth with an 81-81 record. Pitching, a handicap then, may be an even bigger failing now. The only solid starter is Rick Reuschel (20-10 with a 2.79 ERA), and not even the brilliant Reliever Bruce Sutter (7-3 and 1.35 with 31 saves) can make up the difference by himself.
Although the Cubs were tied for fifth in the league in hitting, they did not steal bases, play good defense, hit many long balls or score many runs. Even newcomer Dave Kingman is a mixed blessing, as he showed in his first spring training game when he hit a home run and played a single into a double. However, Kingman's presence will take some of the load off Bobby Murcer, whose 27 homers and 89 RBIs led the team by a considerable margin. Dave Rader, acquired from St. Louis, will upgrade the catching.
New York could be the most improved team in the league, without showing it in the standings. Sixth a year ago, the Mets will probably be there again. Still, they are working to get better. Only two players from the 1977 Opening Day lineup, Catcher John Stearns and Centerfielder Lee Mazzilli, are likely to take the field for the first game this week. The overhaul began last season with a change of emphasis from pitching to hitting and a change of managers from stolid Joe Frazier to popular Joe Torre. The trade of Tom Seaver to Cincinnati brought two regulars, Leftfielder Steve Henderson (.297 with 12 homers and 65 RBIs in 99 games) and Second Baseman Doug Flynn, plus promising Pitcher Pat Zachry (7-6 with the Mets). After coming from Texas, Third Baseman Lenny Randle (.304 and 33 steals) was the best hitter on the team. Off-season pickups include First Baseman Willie Montanez (.287 and 20 homers in Atlanta) and free-agent Rightfielder Elliott Maddox (.262 in Baltimore). "When I see all those new guys, I get kind of excited," says Pitcher Jerry Koosman. "I think we're two runs a game better." Koosman hopes that will be enough to reverse his 8-20 record, which was far worse than his 3.49 ERA deserved.
THE ABOMINABLE FIREMAN