It's about time the turmoil-means-trouble theory died a quiet death. Teams do not have to pray together to play together. Just look at the world champions of the 1970s. We are all too familiar with the 1977 Yankees and the 1972-74 A's. The 1971 Pirates were a club of delicate egos held together by Roberto Clemente. Even ostensibly harmonious teams such as the 1970 Orioles and 1975-76 Reds had conflicts, as any disparate group of 25 men will. The question is not whether jealousy, or even animosity, exists on teams, but how successfully it is suppressed on the field. The answer, in baseball at least, apparently is that it is done quite easily. Nevertheless, spring training began with an old refrain: "Can the champs live together?"
That question was not only irrelevant but it also tended to draw attention from the real issue—New York's baseball shortcomings. Lest we forget, the Yankees won the American League East last year by only 2½ games and did not have a season-long stopper in their rotation. Ron Guidry (16-7) came closest to filling that role, but he did not become a full-time starter until May 17. He was 10-2 after the All-Star break and finished with the league's fourth-best earned-run average (2.82), third-highest ratio of strikeouts per nine innings pitched (7.51) and second-most shutouts (5). If the spindly Guidry, a 5'11", 161-pound lefthander, has enough stamina to keep his live fastball moving through an entire season, the Yankees should win the division again. "I don't see myself as a stopper," he says. "We have a lot of stoppers, a lot of aces. We've got the best staff of the past 10, 20, 30, maybe 40 years."
Get serious, Ron. If the other returning starters pitch true to form, Ed Figueroa (16-11) will not win many big ones, Don Gullett (14-4) will have shoulder trouble and Catfish Hunter (9-9), who has averaged almost 250 innings during 13 big league seasons, will not be able to throw a fastball. Seventeen-game winner Mike Torrez might have been a stopper, but he played out his option and moved on to Boston. Andy Messersmith, late of Atlanta, might have filled the void, but he separated a shoulder in spring training. The Yankees do not lack for numbers, though. Dick Tidrow (11-4) moved into the rotation late last season and won five of seven starts. Now that a bone chip has been removed from his elbow, he can throw a curve for the first time. "I'm glad to start," he says, "because there's no room in the bullpen."
There sure isn't, what with Rawly Eastwick, Rich Gossage and Sparky Lyle ready to limber up. In Eastwick the Yankees have a rarity—a long reliever who likes his job. "I want to experiment with pitches," he says. "Short relievers go with fastballs and sliders. I'm 27. At 301 might want to become a starter if some new pitches I am developing work out." In 1975 Eastwick came within one pitch of becoming the most valuable player in the World Series. In 1976 he was National League Fireman of the Year.
Last season the Reds put heavy pressure on him to sign, and he had an off year, first in Cincinnati, then in St. Louis, when he refused. There is every reason to expect a come: back. Behind Eastwick is another formidable line of defense: short relievers Gossage, a right-handed flame thrower who had 26 saves, a 1.62 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 133 innings at Pittsburgh, and Cy Young Award winner Lyle (13-5, 2.17, 26 saves), the unflappable lefthander with the smoking slider. There will be no finer bullpen in baseball if Lyle can accept the fact that he is no longer the Yankees' lone relief star.
And, if anything, the everyday lineup is improved. Cliff Johnson, a designated hitter and backup catcher, hit .296 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs in slightly more than a third of a season with New York. Starting Catcher Thurman Munson batted better than .300 and drove in 100 or more runs for the third straight year. First Baseman Chris Chambliss also had a third consecutive impressive season (.287, 90 runs driven in, 12 game-winning RBIs) and will be more ably backed up now that Jim Spencer, a superb gloveman and power hitter, has been imported from the White Sox. Second Baseman Willie Randolph and Shortstop Bucky Dent are a good double-play combination, and Third Baseman Graig Nettles is a rock. His eighth straight 150-game season was his finest (37 homers, 107 RBIs, one Gold Glove). Rightfielder Reggie Jackson hit .286 with 32 homers and 110 RBIs, set a Series record with five homers and wound up gracing the cover of the 1978 Yankee media guide along with a 1927 picture of Babe Ruth. Centerfielder Mickey Rivers also had his best season (.326). Only left field, which 34-year-olds Lou Piniella (.330) and Roy White (.268) will probably share, is a potential weakness.
But no, this is not another Yankee dynasty a-building, because Hunter, Lyle. Tidrow, Spencer, Munson and Jackson are in their 30s. But like its vintage forebears, this Yankee team comes at you in waves. Paul Blair, George Zeber, Mickey Klutts and Fred Stanley fill out the deepest roster in baseball. As Umpire Bill Kunkel told the White Sox before a spring training exhibition against New York, "Come out, if you dare."
The Red Sox dare. "The Yankees got Gossage, Eastwick and Spencer." says Boston Manager Don Zimmer. "but we finished just 2½ back, and we got Torrez, Dennis Eckersley. Dick Drago, Tom Burgmeier and Jerry Remy. And Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans are healthy."
Indeed, the Sox regulars are even more impressive than New York's. Just consider that the No. 9 hitter, Third Baseman Butch Hobson, had 30 homers and 112 RBIs. Run through the Murderers Row of Catcher Carlton Fisk (.315, 26 home runs, 102 RBIs), First Baseman George Scott (33 homers, 95 RBIs) and Designated Hitter Jim Rice (.320, a league-leading 39 home runs, 114 RBIs). And don't neglect that geriatric wonder Carl Yastrzemski, who had 28 homers and only 40 strikeouts at age 38. The Red Sox hit as well as the Yankees (.281) and outhomered them 213-184. The hitting certainly does not figure to taper off in 1978. After all, a knee injury limited Rightfielder Evans to 73 games, and an ailing ankle made a mediocre hitter out of Centerfielder Lynn. Both are hale now.
An even better turn of events was the acquisition of Second Baseman Remy from California. His speed (41 stolen bases) will make a running team of the Sox for the first time since 1974, and by leading off, he will make them a hit-and-run team, too. Few batters hit behind a runner better than Shortstop Rick Burleson, but the Sox were forced to use him as their lead-off man in 1977.
The Red Sox are younger and stronger defensively than the Yankees, but Boston pitching is at best imponderable. Bill Campbell (13-9, 31 saves) was Fireman of the Year in 1977, but needed two cortisone shots in September. His elbow acted up again this spring. Newcomers Eckersley, who is a far better pitcher than his 14-13 record in Cleveland indicated, and, to a lesser degree, Drago (6-4, 3.41 ERA at California and Baltimore) and Burgmeier (6-4, 5.10 at Minnesota) should give Campbell needed rest. Bill Lee (9-5) came off the injury list to pitch well in September, but Luis Tiant (12-8) dislocated a finger this March. Bob Stanley (8-7) has a year's major league experience under his belt; Reggie Cleveland (11-8) may have too many under his. The stopper should be Eckersley or Torrez, if he can come up with a start to match his annual hot finish. He won seven in a row down the stretch for the Yankees, but because of unfamiliar catchers—this is his sixth team in eight years—he tends to begin slowly. Torrez has a 2-4 record and 4.89 ERA at Fenway Park; nonetheless, he has pitched well there in four of seven starts. He and Eckersley are both better than the departed Ferguson Jenkins, but for the. Red Sox that may not be improvement enough.
"For the first time since 1967 Baltimore has no chance to win anything," read a sentence in this space last year. Despite the surprising Orioles' near-pennant in 1977, that forecast now seems apt for 1978. True, Baltimore matched Boston's 97-64 record last season, though the Orioles had lost three important men to free agency. Players such as Rookie of the Year Eddie Murray (.283, 27 homers, 88 RBIs), Centerfielder Al Bumbry (.317), Rightfielder Ken Singleton (.328, 24 homers, 99 RBIs) and Pitcher Mike Flanagan (15-10) stepped in and performed admirably. Now Baltimore must do without three more free agents, Pitchers Ross Grimsley (14-10), Drago and Outfielder Elliott Maddox (.262), as well as Pitcher Rudy May (18-14), who was traded. Nevertheless, Manager of the Year Earl Weaver sees ways to improve: a couple of more wins from Jim Palmer (20-11); better early-season work from Flanagan, who started off 2-8; and more productivity from Second Baseman Doug DeCinces (.259, 19 homers, 69 RBIs). Don Stan-house (1.39 ERA in relief) and Joe Kerrigan (11 saves), both acquired from Montreal in the Rudy May deal, will strengthen the bullpen. But Murray, Bumbry, Singleton, who is coming off elbow surgery, and First Baseman Lee May (27 homers, 99 RBIs), who has an arthritic hip, could be less imposing. The Orioles should again be plenty strong, but the Yankees and Red Sox have improved too much and Baltimore has too many shortcomings in two traditionally strong areas, pitching and defense, for another run at the division title. Weaver must depend too heavily on young starters Dennis Martinez (14-7, 4.10 ERA) and Scott McGregor (3-5, 4.42) for Baltimore to again top the league in complete games (65). And its pace-setting fielding percentage was misleading. The Orioles have excellent defense only when the ball is hit at Shortstop Mark Belanger, especially now that former DH Murray has become the third baseman.
Detroit and Milwaukee will stage a lively battle for fourth place, and the team that wins should also reach the .500 mark. Detroit finished 14 games under that last season but was without Pitchers Mark Fidrych and Dave Rozema, who was 15-7 as a rookie, for long spells. Both are now fit. As Fidrych says with his unique logic, "You're either 100% or 0%." A third pitching phenom, Jack Morris, has an ailing shoulder, but the Tigers have picked up Jim Slaton from Milwaukee and Jack Billingham from Cincinnati. Slaton has won 10 or more games and pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past five seasons. Billingham's sinker will be more effective on the American League's grass infields. Other strong points should be an improved double-play combination, no matter who among several candidates replaces Tom Veryzer at short and Tito Fuentes at second, and another season of proficient hitting by Ron LeFlore (.325, 39 stolen bases), Steve Kemp (18 homers, 88 RBIs) and Rusty Staub (22 homers, 101 RBIs). First Baseman Jason Thompson (.270, 31 homers, 105 RBIs), who looks ready to blossom into stardom at 23, was the talk of spring training, where he hit .329 with six home runs in 23 games.
Milwaukee has free-swinging sluggers galore. Last year Cecil Cooper, Don Money, Sixto Lezcano, Sal Bando, former Tiger Ben Oglivie and much-heralded free agent Larry Hisle accounted for 132 home runs and 533 strikeouts. The defense and relief pitching are adequate but the starters are awfully young. Jerry Augustine, Moose Haas and Lary Sorensen all are 24 or less. Fortunately, the Brewers' new manager is George Bamberger, a very successful pitching coach at Baltimore.
Coming home to rebuild the Indians, President Gabe Paul found he will not have to worry about the publicity department as long as that unabashed drummer, Manager Jeff Torborg, is around. "First Baseman Andre Thornton is a great person, a spiritual leader," says Torborg, "and he hit 28 homers. Duane Kuiper and Buddy Bell are as good as anyone at second and third. Injuries to Rick Manning in center and Johnny Grubb in left hurt us immensely, and we won't have those problems again." Torborg does have a pessimistic side. "We didn't run last year because we had no speed," he says. Since then the Indians have not gained much fleet-ness, and they have lost First Baseman-Outfielder Bruce Bochte and Pitcher Jim Bibby to free agency. There is little power behind Thornton, little pitching behind Wayne Garland (13-19), Rick Wise (11-5 at Boston), Mike Paxton (10-5 with the Red Sox) and Jim Kern (18 saves), and little behind Cleveland—except Toronto.
The Blue Jays lost 107 games in their inaugural season and will have trouble breaking into double figures this year. Nonetheless, season-ticket sales are ahead of 1977's record pace for an expansion team. Oh, Canada...Well, there are some players worth watching, among them Outfielder Bob Bailor, whose .310 average was the highest by a rookie in either league last year, and Designated Hitter Rico Carty, acquired from Cleveland to replace the departed Ron Fairly's experience and power. The best the penurious, slow-building Blue Jays could do in the reentry draft was Luis Gomez. The big news in Toronto is still baseball, but not good baseball.