Mike Easler is regal enough to play Othello and talented enough to play a featured role in the annual Red Sox drama.
Though considered a hitting team, Boston finished seventh in scoring last season and was shut out 10 times by righthanders. That explains the seemingly inexplicable trade of Boston's leading winner, John Tudor (13-12), to Pittsburgh for the lefthanded-hitting Easler. Six of Boston's last seven league batting champions have been lefties, and the strengthened order will now alternate lefthanded and righthanded hitters: second baseman Jerry Remy, rightfielder Dwight Evans, third baseman Wade Boggs, leftfielder Jim Rice, designated hitter Easler and centerfielder Tony Armas. "They won't want to pitch around Rice to reach me," says Easler, 33, a .296 lifetime hitter who has the erect bearing and professional mien so often lacking in a Red Sox clubhouse. The question is, how will the oft-platooned Easler fare when he passes his previous high of 475 at bats? "Six hundred at bats!" he exclaims. "That's every player's dream."
The Red Sox rotation is "more sinned against than sinning." In the last 53 games Sox starters threw six or more innings 43 times, and five youngsters—Mike Brown, Bruce Hurst, Al Nipper, Bob Ojeda and Oil Can Boyd—had a combined 2.96 ERA. The staff ace might once again be Dennis Eckersley (9-13), who's comeback-bound at 29 with a strengthened shoulder, a new palmball and a more compact delivery. "I've never seen him look better," says manager Ralph Houk. Help could also come from 21-year-old Roger Clemens, who pitched superbly in the minors (7-2, 1.33 ERA) after being drafted out of the University of Texas. There's no such panacea in the bullpen, where the plan is to spell Bob Stanley with Mark Clear. A spring shoulder injury contributed to Clear's miserable (4-5, 6.28 ERA) 1983 season, but how good is he at his best? He's never had even 15 saves.
Boston also suffers from an inadequate infield defense. Shortstop Glenn Hoffman, who had surgery on his left knee last Sept. 25, covers little ground and no longer makes strong throws after fielding grounders hit to his left. When will Houk wise up and insert rookie gloveman Jackie Gutierrez at short? Boggs is no Brooks Robinson at third, either. But don't blame Red Sox catchers for the 154 bases stolen by opponents last season. Red Sox pitchers don't keep runners close. And when will Houk realize that speed, like lefthanded hitting, is as beneficial as the long ball at Fenway? Last in the majors with 30 stolen bases, the Sox had a 38-43 record at home.
Indeed, Boston is a team with too many tragic flaws.
Boston had three big achievers. Batting champ Wade Boggs hit .361; Jim Rice batted .305, led the league with 39 homers and tied for first with 126 RBIs; and Bob Stanley had 33 saves. Non-achievers were more prevalent, however, and the Red Sox had their first losing record and their lowest finish (sixth place) in 17 seasons.