Enos Cabell is a good guy in the clubhouse. Just ask the Detroit Tigers, his most recent employers. "He was the mouth of the club," says second baseman Lou Whitaker. "He pumped everybody up." Ask the Detroit writers, who gave Cabell their BIG ED AWARD. That stands for Baseball's Informal Genial Everyday Diplomat Amiable Witty Adviser Respected Dude. Ask the Astros, for whom Cabell played from 1975 to 1980 and for whom he'll play again in 1984, having been signed as a free agent. "He can have fun and still motivate you," says pitcher Joe Niekro. "That's important because motivation was sometimes lacking last year." And ask Cabell himself. "I keep guys from going crazy," he says. "That can happen in baseball."
He'll also keep two Astro veterans from wilting. A solid glove and .275 career hitter, Cabell, 34, will spell first baseman Ray Knight, who had surgery to repair an Achilles tendon in October, and third baseman Phil Garner, who slumped from .295 in April to .238 at season's end. In fact, says Knight, "We won't lose a thing with him in the lineup."
Signing Cabell was the Astros' only major off-season move. With holdovers like leftfielder Jose Cruz (.318), shortstop Dickie Thon (.286, 20 homers, 79 RBIs), second baseman Bill Doran (.271), relievers Bill Dawley (51 hits in 79.2 innings) and Frank DiPino (52 hits in 71.1 innings) and starters Nolan Ryan (14-9) and Niekro (15-14), manager Bob Lillis was understandably content with what he had. However, rookie Tim Weighaus, a former Montreal farmhand, could be an important addition. Of four Astro catchers last season, Alan Ashby had the highest average—.229.
The Astros expect improvement from starter Bob Knepper, who was 5-15 in '82 and 6-13 last season despite a 3.19 ERA. "I had a lot of trouble keeping men from stealing," he says, "and I spent so much time worrying about them I didn't throw well to either home or first." In spring training Knepper cut half a second off his delivery. "Being quick will help prohibit a lot of base-running," he asserts. "Then I can concentrate on getting the sucker at the plate."
In spring training last year, the Astros were rained out of five games and eight workouts and lost 16 of 19 exhibition games, perhaps explaining their 0-9 start. When two starting pitchers, Ryan and Mike Scott, were sent to the disabled list, the clubhouse was shrouded in gloom. This year the weather was sunny in Florida, Ryan threw seven no-hit innings in his second start, the Astros were winning and, thanks to Cabell, the clubhouse was jumping. Looks like it won't rain in the Astrodome all season.
Had the Astros begun the season 9-0 instead of 0-9, they would have finished first in the West. As it was, they had the division's best record (49-41, .544) against western clubs and came in third. The pitching staff tied for the league lead with 48 saves, led by Frank DiPino's 20, and gave up a big league-low 7.9 hits per game.