The Kansas Royals, runaway winners of the division and league championships, aren't standing pat. Indeed, profound changes are in the works. U.L. Washington, for example, is removing his toothpick. "I got tired of answering questions about it," he explained in answer to questions about its absence. For the same reason, he added, "I might even change my name." A Kansas City infield without Washington's toothpick won't be the same, but the outfield will be even more noticeably transformed. Willie Wilson will move from left to center and Amos Otis, a three-time Gold Glove centerfielder, will shift to left. This is no reflection on Otis' abilities, says Manager Jim Frey. It's merely an attempt to make fuller use of Wilson's extraordinary speed, particularly on artificial surfaces such as Kansas City's. Otis, who will be 34 on April 26, was displeased with the move at first, but later he accepted it philosophically. "You can't fight City Hall," he said, coining a phrase. "I'll just try to be the best leftfielder in baseball now." Clint Hurdle, who was platooned in rightfield last year, will play there fulltime now, which to him is a welcome change.
Darrell Porter has gone east to St. Louis, so John Wathan, who hit .305 as a catcher, first baseman and outfielder a year ago, is No. 1 behind the plate. "The big problem here isn't replacing Porter," says Frey. "It's replacing Wathan." The Royals hired three veteran hands to fill in for their one-man bench—Catcher Jerry Grote, First Baseman Lee May and Outfielder Cesar Geronimo. May had been a designated hitter for Baltimore and Geronimo, once a Gold Glove centerfielder himself, had been riding the Cincinnati bench. Grote spent last year working in his own butcher shop. "Two years ago I retired from baseball to be closer to my family," he says. "Last October my wife left me." Elsewhere for the Royals, Willie Aikens is at first, Frank White at second, MVP George Brett, recovering from more hemorrhoid surgery, at third and Washington at short. The starting pitchers will be Dennis Leonard, Rich Gale, Larry Gura and Paul Splittorff. Dan Quisenberry, who tied the Yankees' Goose Gossage with a league-leading 33 saves in 1980, is in the bullpen with Renie Martin, Ken Brett and a host of others.
The Oakland A's will still play "Billy Ball," trot out the same indefatigable starters and field the league's best all-round outfield combination. And they still have vacancies in the bullpen and troubles in the infield. Manager Billy Martin will try to plug the holes in his infield by using eight men there. He will platoon Dave Revering and Jeff Newman at first, Brian Doyle and Dave McKay at second and Wayne Gross and Mickey Klutts at third. Rob Picciolo and Fred Stanley both hit righthanded, but Martin will alternate them at shortstop anyway to keep them fresh. Billy will also platoon his designated hitters, lefty Mitchell Page and righty Cliff Johnson. Doyle, Klutts, Stanley and Johnson previously played for Martin as Yankees.
The search goes on for relief help. The A's had only 13 saves last season, but their starters finished a league-record 94 games, so there was not much left to save. Bob Lacey, a puckish lefthander, was the bullpen "workhorse" with 47 appearances and six saves. He's not around this year, though, because General Manager Billy Martin traded him. Seems Lacey complained too often to Manager Martin about his lack of work. The A's brought 29 pitchers into camp, hoping that among them a Gossage or a Quisenberry might be found. Even if none is there, Martin has Mike Norris (22-9, 24 complete games), Rick Langford (19-12, 28), Matt Keough (16-13, 20), Steve McCatty (14-14, 11) and Brian Kingman (8-20, 10) to render the bullpen obsolete.
The outfield of Rickey Henderson in left, Dwayne Murphy in center and Tony Armas in right is equally formidable. Murphy hit .274 and scored 86 runs batting second behind Henderson, and Armas hit 35 homers, drove in 109 runs and had 17 assists. But it was Henderson who electrified the fans. He hit .303, scored 111 runs, walked 117 times and broke Ty Cobb's American League record with 100 stolen bases. He's only 22, and he's working on his bunting. "I've been doing 50 to 100 bunts a day in spring training," he said at the A's camp in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I'm trying to deaden the ball, give a little with the bat. If I can make the defense more honest by bunting, I won't get cheated anymore on balls hit into the hole because, with my speed, they won't dare play me so deep." Henderson, one of those rare players who throw left and bat right, reasons that with astute bunting, he can hit between .330 and .350. As for stealing bases, "I should have more this year because I didn't steal all that much the first part of the season when Billy was just learning what I could do."
Charlie Finley is gone at last, replaced by energetic—and very rich—new owners from Levi Strauss, and Martin has his team stirred up as it hasn't been since the World Champion days nearly a decade ago. A shortstop here, a reliever there, and the A's could be trouble.
The California Angels have certain assets of their own—a vastly improved defense and a Murderers' Row batting order. The trades with Boston that gave them Fred Lynn, Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson added three more big bats and, in Centerfielder Lynn and Shortstop Burleson, filled defensive gaps. With Lynn, Don Baylor and Rod Carew, they have three Most Valuable Players in the lineup, a luxury that did nothing for the Red Sox last year. So potent is the Angel batting order that, in all probability, the eighth and ninth hitters will be Second Baseman Bobby Grich and Third Baseman Hobson, both of whom have hit as many as 30 homers in a season and driven in more than 100 runs. The Angels lost Baylor, Catcher Brian Downing (.326 in 1979) and Rightfielder Dan Ford (101 RBIs in '79) to injuries for much of last season, but Baylor and Ford, at least, are back and healthy again. Downing, however, is still bothered by the left ankle he fractured at the beginning of last season. For this reason, the Angels last week traded First Baseman Jason Thompson, who hit 21 homers and drove in 90 runs in 1980, to the Pirates for Catcher Ed Ott and Pitcher Mickey Mahler. Carew and Lynn are former batting champions and Baylor has led the league in RBIs. For good measure, the Angels have been looking hard at 20-year-old Tom Brunansky, who hit .323 with 24 homers and 97 RBIs at El Paso in Double A last season. He may stick as the leftfielder. The Angels have the bats.
What they don't have is pitching. Last year's staff had a collective ERA of 4.52 and 72 fewer complete games than the A's. There are a few journeymen among the starters—Geoff Zahn, Bill Travers, Steve Renko—and some promising younger pitchers—Mike Witt and Fred Martinez—but it's a weak front line. The bullpen, with Andy Hassler, Don Aase and possibly John D'Acquisto, is only slightly better. But the team could get lucky. Maybe, as Special Assignment Scout Bill Rigney suggested, the Angels will never lose a game on the road because "they'll never be able to get our guys out in the top of the first, and our starter will never have to go out there." At home, alas, the reverse may be true.
The most improved team in the division should be the White Sox, who have added big-name players Carlton Fisk, Ron LeFlore and Greg Luzinski to a lineup previously unknown beyond the South Side of Chicago. Catcher Fisk adds perhaps 25 homers to the Sox' languid attack and LeFlore stole 29 more bases (97 to 68) than last year's entire team. He should also score 100 runs, a feat no Sox player has achieved in 23 years. Luzinski, purchased from Philadelphia during spring training, beefs up the DH spot. The team may even have found a double-play combination in Second Baseman Tony Bernazard, obtained from Montreal, and Shortstop Todd Cruz, a 1980 arrival from California, who reputedly has the strongest arm of any shortstop in the league. Cruz also has a reputation for making the hard plays look easy and the easy plays look hard. But White Sox Coach Bobby Winkles apparently cured him of his careless habit of one-handing routine grounders, and Cruz had only five errors in his final 45 games last season. Jim Morrison will move from second base to third and Mike Squires will be at first. Both hit .283 last year. Squires will be a significant defensive improvement over Lamar Johnson and a natural No. 2 hitter behind LeFlore. Neither LeFlore in left nor Harold Baines in right will be much help defensively, so Centerfielder Chet Lemon has his work cut out for him.
The Sox' starting pitchers—Britt Burns, Ross Baumgarten, Dick Dotson, Steve (Rainbow) Trout and Lamarr Hoyt—are all under 30 and should benefit from Fisk's years of pressure-baseball experience. Baumgarten, 25, had a deceptively miserable 2-12 record last year, but his ERA was a decent 3.44 and his teammates scored a total of only 25 runs in his 23 starts. In 10 of those starts they didn't score a single run for him. Burns' 2.84 ERA was third-best in the league, and 23-year-old Trout, lefthanded son of former Tiger Pitcher Dizzy, has what Manager Tony LaRussa considers to be one of the 10 best arms in the league. Trout concedes, however, that he does not have one of the 10 best heads. "I threw a changeup to the No. 8 hitter in a game with Toronto last year and he beat me with a homer," he says. "I'll never make a mistake like that again. I was trying to be cute when I should have been going with my hard stuff." The bullpen is solid with Ed Farmer (30 saves). Farmer is a righthander, and three of the key Sox starters—Burns, Trout and Baumgarten—are lefties.
Unlike their Chicago counterparts, Texas' pitchers, with two notable exceptions, run to age. Ferguson Jenkins is 37, Doc Medich 32 and Jon Matlack 31. The team also traded away four young pitchers to Seattle as part of the deal that brought 26-year-old Rick Honeycutt, who was 10-17 last year. But the Rangers' most promising youngster is 25-year-old Danny Darwin, who was 13-4 in '80 with a 2.63 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 110 innings. Darwin worked in short relief last year after Jim Kern, once the scourge of the league, went steadily to ruin. Darwin will be a starter this year, an assignment he welcomes. He will bring to it a whistling fastball and some recently developed off-speed and breaking pitches. As happy as he is to be in the starting rotation, Darwin doesn't regret his time in the bullpen. "I learned a discipline there I never had before," he says. "I learned not to make mistakes. Now I'm working on a change and a curve, which I'll need as a starter."
But the key to the Rangers' season is still Kern, who fell to 3-11 last year with a 4.83 ERA and only two saves from 13-5, 1.57 and 29 the previous season. Kern was a marked man in 1980. He injured his pitching elbow, then hurt his neck while throwing in pain. Finally, on Aug. 9, he was hit in the mouth by a catcher's return toss in the bullpen while he was watching a foul ball sail into the stands. "My knees didn't even buckle," he says. "I fell straight back like a tree. I remembered nothing—not even leaving the house to go to the ball park—until I woke up the next morning."
Kern worked out three hours a day six days a week in the off-season, running, exercising, lifting weights, and reported to camp carrying 17 extra pounds of muscle. "I'm in the best shape I've been in since I was with the Marine Corps at Parris Island in '69," he says.
New Manager Don Zimmer seems to feel the Rangers have solved their most nagging deficiency of a year ago, at shortstop, with the addition of Mario Mendoza, who came to Texas in the trade with Seattle for Richie Zisk and the young pitchers. Mendoza learned to field on the rocky grounds of his native Mexico and now delights in even the coarsest major league infield. If Mendoza can hit well enough to stay in the lineup, the Rangers will be strong up the middle with Gold Glove catcher Jim Sundberg, Second Baseman Bump Wills and Centerfielder Mickey Rivers. Buddy Bell, who hit .329 in '80 and led the league's third basemen in fielding, and Pat Putnam, a .263 hitter, complete the infield. Al Oliver, baseball's most celebrated unsung player, hit .319 with 117 RBIs, but he's starting the season as the DH because of tendinitis in his right shoulder. With Oliver hurting, Billy Sample will be in left. Rivers (.333) returns to center, but right is up for grabs.
After years of diligent parsimony, the Griffiths of Minnesota opened the family vault last winter and started spreading the largess. Shortstop Roy Smalley signed a $2.4 million contract for four years and Catcher Butch Wynegar signed for $2 million over five seasons. John Castino, the brilliant third baseman, Jerry Koosman, the 37-year-old pitcher, and Ron Jackson, the sometime first baseman, are all reportedly earning more than $200,000 a year, slave wages in New York or Anaheim but rampant inflation in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Smalley, understandably enough, considers the new profligacy "a move in the right direction. It indicates Calvin [Griffith] is either willing to spend money or sell the club. We should be a contender in two or three years." But definitely not this year.
The Twins' infield of Jackson, Rob Wilfong at second, Smalley and Castino is pretty fair. Smalley doesn't have great range, but Castino, who hit .302 last season, is one of the quickest and most daring of third basemen. The outfield has rookies Gary Ward and Greg Johnston and third-year man Hosken Powell. Ah, youth. Koosman, Al Williams, Pete Redfern and Roger Erickson figure to be four of Manager John Goryl's five starting pitchers. The Twins' bullpen is bulwarked by the rookie flash, Doug Corbett, who won eight games, saved 23 and had an ERA of 1.99. Nevertheless, the Twins already seem to be looking ahead to next year. Last week they traded Centerfielder Ken Landreaux to the Dodgers for Mickey Hatcher and a couple of minor-leaguers. After riding the bench for L.A., Hatcher will appear often at first and in the outfield.
One would expect an old base thief like Maury Wills to build his team around speed. Not so. Wills, starting his first full season as manager of the Seattle Mariners, spent the winter looking for power, and he thinks he's found it in Richie Zisk and Jeff Burroughs. "Everybody thinks I'd like to have a running club," says Wills. "Well, if I'd had the option, I'd have been a home-run hitter. I'd have broken Babe Ruth's [single-season major league] record, not Ty Cobb's. I didn't have a choice then. I do now. In the Kingdome [with its 357-foot power alleys], you have to score four, five, six runs to win. You need sock there. That's why we went out and got Zisk and Burroughs. We still have some base-stealers." Julio Cruz, the fancy-fielding second baseman, is one. He stole 45 bases, not exactly Willsian but productive, and Kim Allen, a rookie outfielder, stole 84 last year in Spokane.
Ideally, Wills would prefer a balance of speed and power. Zisk and Burroughs have no speed and some power. Burroughs spent last season on the Atlanta Braves' "Guillotine Squad," a group of condemned men who, for one reason or another, were cut off from the starting lineup. "Bob Horner was on it early and Jerry Royster later on," Burroughs says. "We had a lot of fun with it. We had T shirts made up. But it was a sad type of humor." Burroughs batted .301 as recently as 1978, hit 41 homers the previous year and was the league's Most Valuable Player in '74. But he had a painful 1980 season, playing in only 99 games and hitting .263 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs. To get Burroughs, the Mariners had to assume a $400,000 home loan the Braves were carrying for him. Burroughs will eventually pay them back, in the bank if not necessarily on the field.
Zisk, who went to Seattle from Texas with Infielder Rick Auerbach and Pitchers Brian Allard, Ken Clay, Steve Finch and Jerry Don Gleaton, hit 19 homers last year for the Rangers. The kid pitchers in the trade were minor-leaguers who will get their big chance in Seattle.
"We're much stronger than last year with all these new faces," says Wills. But not strong enough.
With 100 stolen bases last year, Henderson proved he is a thoroughbred.