A strange sound pierced the desert air: "Bip, Bip." A flash of speeding feet, then a slow-settling cloud of dust. "Bip, Bip." The Road-runner? No. Leon (Bip) Roberts, the San Diego Padres' tiny second baseman, as he stole second while fans chanted his name.
If his jump from Class AA to the majors is successful, the 5'7" Roberts will fill, concurrently, several needs for the Padres. New manager Steve Boros says his club needs a second baseman, a lead-off hitter and a base stealer. Roberts is all three. "He's a perfect fit," says Boros of the switch-hitter whom the Padres drafted from the Pirates during the winter. Last year, though he had jammed his shoulder in a spring training collision, Roberts stole 40 bases in 105 games at Nashua in the Eastern League. Bip says the shoulder is now stronger than ever.
After fleet-footed Alan Wiggins returned from a drug rehab clinic last June, the Padres traded him to Baltimore. Wiggins was missed. In 1984, the Padres stole 152 bases. In 1985, they stole 60, fewest in the major leagues. "After the loss of Wiggins, we lost any sense of a game plan," says first baseman Steve Garvey. "We waited for the home run and it didn't always come." "We were caught flat-footed on offense," says infielder Jerry Royster.
Bip has an ear-to-ear smile and nose-to-toes charisma. "My teammates say I have a little mustard on me," he says, relishing his hotdog role. Padre fans have taken an immediate liking to Roberts, cheering "Bip, Bip, hurray." If Roberts can get on base, Tony Gwynn will also see more fastballs. In 1984, hitting behind Wiggins, Gwynn led the National League with a .351 average, batting .406 with Wiggins on base. Last year, he hit .317, and his RBIs dropped from 71 to 46.
The Padres can also use more production. Which is what they should get from centerfielder Kevin McReynolds, who seemed to suffer under the heavy hand of Dick Williams. McReynolds slumped from 20 homers in '84 to 15 in '85 partly because the hand he broke in the '84 league playoffs took time to heal. He may return to the closed batting stance he used in the minors.
The Padres' pitching seemed in good shape at the start of the spring, but LaMarr Hoyt's delayed arrival because of alcohol rehabilitation turned the situation into a worry. If he can recover, so will the Padres.
THE ELIAS ANALYST:
Ratio of 8.40 strikeouts per walk vs. southpaws was highest in majors last season.
Loves to face Bob Welch (.435, 10 for 23), hates to face Orel Hershiser (.063, 1 for 16).
Only player since Roger Maris to be walked intentionally four times in one game.
Has hit for a higher average with men on than with bases empty in each of last 11 seasons.
Has driven in only 42 of 80 runners from 3rd with less than two outs in his career.
Matched his '84 RBI output despite a 39-point drop In batting average.
Has a career BA of .367 in LIP situations with runners in scoring position.
Opposing rtghthanded batters have hit below .200 In three of past four seasons.
Average of 2.72 Ks per nine innings was 2nd lowest among NL starters.
His opponents batted .556 leading off in LIP situations, 2nd highest in majors.
Career average of 1.65 walks per nine innings ranks 2nd among active pitchers.
Struck out 5.92 batters per nine innings, his lowest rate since 1976.