"You're loaded," White Sox manager Tony La Russa told John McNamara, the convivial new Red Sox skipper, one afternoon in Florida. "You're really loaded. I look at that lineup, and I can't believe it!"
"Loaded?" replied McNamara. "I haven't had a drink in two weeks."
Heh, heh. Except that McNamara wasn't kidding: His team isn't all that loaded. True, Boston has an enviable offense. The first six batters (third baseman Wade Boggs, rightfielder Dwight Evans, leftfielder Jim Rice, centerfielder Tony Armas, DH Mike Easier and first baseman Bill Buckner) are warm reminders of the Pesky, Williams, Doerr era. Armas led both leagues in homers (43), runs batted in (123) and total bases (339), and the Sox were first in the majors in average (.283), hits (1,598) and bases (2,490). And now that he's signed his contract after a prolonged squabble, Rice figures to improve on what he insists was a mediocre season (.280, 28 homers, 122 RBIs). But here's the rub: The Boston regulars missed fewer than 25 games with injuries last season—they're unlikely to be so blessed again—and there's little power and less speed on the bench. New England held its breath a few weeks ago when Easler was hit in the face by a Tim Lollar fastball. Fortunately, he escaped with a cut mouth. "I guess I won't be able to kiss my wife for a few days," he said. The Sox do have an exciting rookie in Steve Lyons, who can play seven positions and had more homers (17) and stolen bases (35) in Triple A than all the Red Sox subs combined.
At first glance Boston appears amply supplied with starters. Roger Clemens (9-4) and Al Nipper (11-6) were impressive in their rookie seasons, and Bruce Hurst and Oil Can Boyd were 12-12 pitchers capable of much better records. But the foursome has only 68 lifetime wins, and Hurst is the dean with 111 starts. "I'm not the dean," he protests. "I'm the Bruce. Well, one of them." The other Bruce, free agent Bruce Kison, is both the oldest (35) and winningest (110 career victories) member of the staff. Unfortunately, McNamara appears to need him in two positions at once. When Nipper's stomach ulcer worsened in Florida, Kison seemed the most logical candidate to join the rotation. However, he's equally useful in long relief—a critical job at Fenway Park, where starters sometimes disappear early in a game. It will suffice if Kison pitches anywhere without suffering his annual debilitating injury. Says McNamara, who managed Kison at California last year, when he had back surgery, "Bruce can do a lot of things he couldn't do in 1984—follow through, bend over, pick up balls."
Alas, Kison can't pick up the entire bullpen. In theory, Mark Clear will pitch well enough in middle relief so that Bob Stanley, who tends to yield hits to the first batters he faces, can start the eighth or ninth inning. In fact, Clear, who walked 70 batters in 67 innings, hasn't had good control since 1982. And even in his best year (1983), Stanley blew a dozen save opportunities. On March 25 new pitching coach Bill Fischer convinced McNamara to move Bob Ojeda, another 12-12 starter, to short relief. This was designed to give the Sox a left-handed reliever with a good fastball and the ability to concentrate fiercely over short periods. If the daring experiment works, the Red Sox will be sufficiently loaded to have a legitimate shot at the division title.
Boston would be left in the dust without Buckner's glove and bat.
BILL BUCKNER (L)
MARTY BARRETT (R)
JACKIE GUTIERREZ (R)
WADE BOGGS (L)
JIM RICE (R)
TONY ARMAS (R)
DWIGHT EVANS (R)
RICH GEDMAN (L)
MIKE EASLER (L)