One of the more touching scenes of last or any season took place al Olympic Stadium in Montreal on Oct. 4. The Expos, having just donated the division title to the Philadelphia Phillies by a score of 6-4, were looking properly crestfallen as they filed out of the clubhouse. The jolt, though, was that almost every Expo had a small likeness of Youppi, the team's fluffy orange mascot, tucked under his arm. The dolls were a gift from the club, and. of course, they were meant for the players' children, but the sight of grown men trying to keep stiff upper lips as they coddled stuffed animals was both funny and sad. The funny part was that the Expos really did have some growing-up to do. The sad part was that in order to do that, they had to lose in such ignominious fashion. "'It was the emptiest feeling I've ever had." says Warren Cromartie. "When I got home after the season I heard the same things over and over: 'What happened to you guys?' and 'Why'd you guys choke?' I don't want to hear those things again." Two years ago the Expos finished two games out of first. Last year they were frustrated again, falling one game short. This year Bowie (Nanook) Kuhn should enjoy the bracing weather of Montreal in October.
The Expos shouldn't start printing playoff tickets just yet, though. After all, the world champion Phillies aren't about to let go without a struggle, not after it took 98 years to win the team's first World Series. Then there are the St. Louis Cardinals, housecleaned by Whitey Herzog, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, long in tooth but stout of heart. The only certainty in this, the best balanced and worst behaved division in baseball, is that four teams—maybe even five, Kong willing—will begin September with legitimate playoff hopes. Should the season end with a strike on May 28, look for the meek Chicago Cubs to win. Chicago insured another early start by acquiring Third Baseman Ken Reitz, a perennial spring terror. You heard it here first. Film at 11.
Youppi dolls aren't the only reason to pick Montreal. The team is on the verge. Of the projected starting eight, six players are just now approaching their prime. The exceptions are Shortstop Chris Speier, who's still going steady at 30, and rookie Leftfielder Tim Raines, a converted second baseman who will try to fill Ron LeFlore's track shoes. The lineup features the best catcher, Gary Carter, and the best centerfielder, Andre Dawson, in the league. Carter hit 29 homers and drove in 101 runs last year, and also won a Gold Glove while leading the majors in assists with 108, the most by any catcher since Luke Sewell had 117 for Cleveland in 1928. Dawson, too, was a Gold Glover while batting .308 with 87 RBIs. He stole 34 bases, had 17 game-winning RBIs and either scored or drove in 24% of all Expo runs. Third Baseman Larry Parrish was a star two years ago, but an injured left wrist in 1980 cut his homers from 30 to 15 and his average from .307 to .254. The wrist no longer bothers him. Second Baseman Rodney Scott hit only .224, but he did find first base often enough to steal 63 bases and score 84 runs. Cromartie (.288. 70 RBIs) will be at first base again. Raines, who patterns himself after his idol, Joe Morgan, and comes in the same compact size, hit .354 with 77 stolen bases at Denver last year. He's shooting for .280 and 80 thefts with the Expos.
Montreal also has the funny Valentine, Ellis, one of the most talented players in the game. In little more than half a season, 311 at bats last year, he drove in 67 runs. But during spring training he refused to take batting practice at the auxiliary field in West Palm Beach, because of the bad hitting background, and then threatened to flatten anyone who leased him about it. The Expos would like to trade him, especially for a stopper out of the bullpen. But he is also the best curveball hitter on the team, and the Expos are supposedly susceptible to curves.
Montreal has the deepest pitching in the division. The first three starters are Steve Rogers, Scott Sanderson and Bill Gullickson. "Any of us could win 20," says Sanderson. "Maybe all three." Rogers and Sanderson were both 16-11 last year, and Gullickson won 10 after being called up on May 29. For relief, comic and otherwise, the Expos are hoping that 41-year-old tobacco farmer Woodie Fryman hasn't run out of juice.
The Phillies are the champs, but history is against them: the 1975 Pirates are the only team to win the division after finishing first by less than two games the previous year. Some of the more paranoid Phillies even think the manager, Dallas Green, is against them. The Phillies won against all odds last year, but this season they could be headed for a breakdown.
Philadelphia is a potent team, though Mike Schmidt (page 20) may be hard-pressed to match his 48 homers and 121 RBIs. At the opposite corner of the diamond is Pete Rose, who in just two years became a fine fielder. Rose won't hit .282 again this year; .300 would be more like it, a figure befitting his new rose-colored bat. In between them are Manny Trillo, the best all-round second baseman in the league, and Larry Bowa. Bowa isn't Larry Bowa anymore, but the Phillies will probably need another year to convince themselves of that. The catching will be juggled between Keith Moreland, representing the future and offense, and Bob Boone, representing the past and defense.
The Phillies wanted Gary Matthews so badly that they traded Pitcher Bob Walk for him twice, on March 18 and March 25. Matthews should lift some of the power load off Schmidt, but the Phillies have two other righthand-hitting leftfielders in Lonnie Smith and former Brewer Dick Davis. In centerfield is Garry Maddox, of whom it was once said, "Two-thirds' of the earth is covered with water, the other third by Garry Maddox." However, his average (.259 last year) has been dropping steadily since he hit .330 in 1976. The rightfielder is Bake Mc-Bride, who became a big RBI man last year with 87. McBride may start slowly, however, because of a tender right thumb.
Steve Carlton, the best lefthander of his generation, had another great year, winning the Cy Young Award for the third time with a 24-9 record and a 2.34 ERA. He may be 36, but, as Carlton says, "." He has a worthy second in Dick Ruthven, 17-10 last year and yielder of only nine home runs in 223 innings. Larry Christenson, Nino Espinosa and Marty Bystrom, who was 5-0 in a September cameo, complete the starting staff. Tug McGraw probably won't be as effective this year—it's the 'law of relieving.
Late last season when Whitey Herzog was wearing only his general manager's hat for the Cardinals, he phoned down to interim Manager Red Schoendienst in the dugout and told him. "Just hold them for a few more innings, and I'll see if I can get Sutter." Well, Herzog got Bruce Sutter from the Cubs for Reitz and Leon Durham...and he got Darrell Porter for $3.5 million...and he got Rollie Fingers, Bob Shirley and Gene Tenace from the Padres for Terry Kennedy, a utility infielder, a third-string catcher and the Springfield pitching staff...and he got Sixto Lezcano, Lary Sorensen and two hot prospects from the Brewers for Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich. "Whitey's a good friend," says Expo Manager Williams, "but he made one trade too many. Personally, we're very happy to have Simmons and Vuckovich out of our hair."
Only 11 of the 25 players who went north with the Cardinals last year are with the club this season. General Manager Herzog sought to build his type of team: swift, with a hint of power, like his old Kansas City Royals. To manage the club he interviewed a number of candidates, Gene Mauch among them. His conclusion: "I couldn't find a better manager than Whitey Herzog." He probably didn't look very hard.
The Cardinals led the league in hitting (.275) and runs scored last year (see box), but those are misleading statistics considering that in 77 games the team scored three runs or fewer. Most of their troubles originated in the bullpen, which could scrape together only 27 saves. Enter Sutter, who has had 31, 27, 37 and 28 the last four years. How good is he? Says Herzog, "The best"...dramatic pause..."in history. If he was here last year, you'd be talking to Ken Boyer right now."
Herzog is no more pleased about Sutter's arrival than his starting pitchers, though Bob Forsch has rolled three straight 11-win seasons after being 20-7 in 1977. The other starters include Andy Rincon, who was very impressive in four late-season starts, and Silvio Martinez, who seems to have recovered from an elbow problem. Lefthanders Jim Kaat, who broke in with the Washington Senators in 1959, and Bob Shirley will both start and relieve.
The Cardinals are counting heavily on comebacks by Porter and Lezcano. If Porter can approach his '79 figures of 101 runs, 121 walks and 112 RBIs, he'll be a bargain. His understudy will be Tenace, who would still be good for 20 homers and 100 walks if he played regularly. Lezcano, who will play leftfield, saw his average dip 92 points to .229 last year. Although he's nowhere near that bad, expectations of improvement must be tempered by the realization that American League imports traditionally have a problem adjusting to National League pitching. George Hendrick is back in right, coming off a splendid year (.302, 25 HRs and 109 RBIs), and Tony Scott will be in center. Scott stole 22 bases last year, but he should at least double that under Herzog's green light.
The only other question mark is at second base, where Herzog has planted Tommy Herr, a .248 hitter last year. Ken Oberkfell, a steady .300 hitter with zero power, moves from second to third. Keith Hernandez won his third consecutive Gold Glove at first base last year and finished second in the league in batting with a .321 average. Garry Templeton (.319, 31 stolen bases) is simply the most gifted shortstop in the league.
When they were champions, the Pirates enjoyed comparisons with the Steelers. Now they'll have to suffer the comparisons. Like the Steelers, who failed to make the playoffs last season, the Pirates are aging and hobbled. Second Baseman Phil Garner underwent surgery on his right shoulder last week and will be out until mid-May. Willie Stargell, who had knee surgery in September, is behind schedule in his recovery. Dave Parker, who had knee surgery in November, hit a home run in his first swing of spring training, but he says, "I know I can hit. I just don't know if I can run." And they are the heart and soul of the Pirates.
Parker appears to be carrying too much weight for his knee. Third Baseman Bill Madlock has to shed some pounds, too. In fact, the clubhouse looks a little like a health spa. One Pirate who is in trim is none other than Luis Tiant, a 40-year-old for the fifth straight year. Tiant will begin the season in Portland, but don't be surprised if he's pitching for Pittsburgh in June. The rotation is now dependent on the recoveries of Rick Rhoden and Don Robinson from shoulder troubles. Jim Bibby won 19 last year, but he may have been pitching over his 6'5" head. John Candelaria had his worst year ever (11-14, 4.02 ERA), but he has a chance to become a free agent at the end of the season, and that may be the incentive to push him toward his potential. The Pirates are very long on short relief with Kent Tekulve, Enrique Romo, Victor Cruz and Grant Jackson.
Centerfielder Omar Moreno stole 96 bases, although he had only a .249 average. If he hits better this year, John Bench won't be the only catcher pushing for a two-day week. In leftfield is Mike Easler/Lee Lacy, a lefty/righty who hit .337 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs last year. Two important newcomers are First Baseman Jason Thompson, the former Angel, and Catcher Tony Pena, the former Portland Beaver. Manager Chuck Tanner says, "Our players have a lot of confidence, a lot of pride, a lot to prove. People who pick us for fourth are wrong." Sorry, Chuck, they're right.
You've heard the one about the trade that helps both teams. Well, it happened on March 1, when the Mets sent Leftfielder Steve Henderson to the Cubs for Dave Kingman. The Cubs held a champagne party to celebrate their loss. But Neil Allen, who has faced Kingman 11 times as a Met reliever and given up seven hits, three of them homers, says, "I will wait on him hand and foot."
The new Dave Kingman graciously presented the New York writers with Cross pens engraved "3/4/81 DK" and said, "Just don't turn them into swords." Kingman gives the Mets the power hitter they've lacked since the old Dave Kingman left, five teams and four years ago. "We finally have some balance," says Lee Mazzilli, who's salivating at the thought of the fastballs he'll get batting in front of Kingman. Kong may not be Mr. Nice Guy, but he's still only a year removed from 48 homers. "His negative effect will be outweighed by his positives," says Manager Joe Torre.
Unfortunately, with Kingman the Mets now have four players whose best position is first base. One of them is Rusty Staub, signed as a free agent over the winter. That puts Kingman in leftfield, a dangerous proposition, although only slightly more dangerous than Henderson was there. Mazzilli is back in centerfield, weak arm and all, and Rookie Mookie (or is it Mookie Rookie?) Wilson will play right and steal bases. Mookie got his name as a child from his grandmother because he couldn't pronounce the word milk.
Second Baseman Doug Flynn signed a five-year, $2 million contract, putting him among the highest paid .243 hitters in baseball. But that's how good a fielder he is. Shortstop Frank Taveras, somewhat erratic in the field, is at times a dynamo on the base paths. John Stearns gets the Don Zimmer Award as this year's opening Met third baseman unless, of course, it's Hubie Brooks. Staub will play first and yield to Mike Jorgenson in the late innings.
Pitching is no longer the strong suit of the Mets, and Torre might be sorely tempted to put his new pitching coach, Bob Gibson, on the mound now and then. Torre would like more than one good month out of Pat Zachry and the return to form of Randy Jones, acquired from the Padres. Craig Swan, the Mets' best pitcher when healthy, was encouraging in spring training, as was rookie Tim Leary. The bullpen is excellent with Allen (22 saves) and Jeff Reardon (2.62 ERA in 61 games). Also relieving will be Dyar Miller, who has already shown considerable talent with the cowhide: he won a preseason mookieing—sorry—milking contest against the Pirates' Garner.
The Cubs may not be any better, but they'll be happier. "Kingman was like a cavity that made your whole mouth sore," says Pitcher Bill Caudill. The Mets and Cubs play one another this weekend, and Pitcher Lynn McGlothen has already offered to plunk Kingman in the ribs. Kingman's reply: "If I threw like Lynn, I wouldn't want to put the ball over the plate either."
Now that Kingman is gone, the Cubs have little or no power. Durham, picked up from the Cards, will wear Kingman's No. 10 and bat cleanup; he had eight homers last year. The Cubs still have Bill Buckner at first base, the leading hitter in the league last year with a .324 average.
The defense, particularly in the infield, will be vastly improved. Cub third basemen made a total of 41 errors last year. Ken Reitz, obtained in a trade, made only eight while with the Cards. Ivan DeJesus (.259, 44 stolen bases) is probably the most underrated shortstop in the game. Second Baseman Joe Strain, who comes from the Giants, is a good hitter and smooth fielder with limited range. The outfield will be inhabited by Durham, Henderson and Scot Thompson, who won the centerfield job although he batted only .212 last year. Rookie Jim Tracy could crash this group.
The starting pitching begins and ends with the rotund Rick Reuschel. Surprisingly enough, Manager Joe Amalfitano may not miss Sutter at all. Dick Tidrow appeared in 84 games, the most in the majors, and had a 2.79 ERA; Caudill had a 2.18 ERA in 128 innings with 112 strikeouts. In addition, Rookie Lee Smith, an overpowering righthander, had an excellent spring. But considering all the problems, there's little wonder that General Manager Bob Kennedy walked out of one spring training game in disgust.
A 16-game winner in 1980, Sanderson seems ready to become the Expos' ace.