Reading Eagle - March 30, 1980
Meathead Play: Phillies Mess Up
By John W. Smith, Asst. Sports Editor
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Sally Struthers, alias Gloria Bunker Stivic, was a special guest at Saturday’s Yankees-Phillies televised game here, and probably felt right at home.
She certainly saw some Meathead baseball.
“Too many things happened to us today that shouldn’t happen to us, if we want to be contenders,” said Manager Dallas Green, after watching the Phillies lose by 3-1 for a “down” ending to a largely “up” week.
And one of the things was a boo-boo by Green which would have left Danny Ozark speechless.
“I messed it up; I’ve got no excuse,” said Green, after using his best runner, Lonnie Smith, for the gap run (Mike Schmidt) rather than saving him for the tying run (Greg Luzinski) in the ninth. “Being farm director all those years must have deteriorated my thinking skills.”
But Dallas still didn’t mess up as much as Smith, who got himself picked off first with Luzinski at bat, a sin when you’re the gap run, like advocating venting in Middletown.
Luzinski then doubled, which with Smith still alive would have put the tying run at second with one out. Instead, the tying run was still at the plate with two out. Greg Gross, who’s been having a super spring, grounded out to end things.
Some of the other “things” were Dickie Noles walking the first two Yankees in the sixth, when they scored all their runs; a Larry Bowa throwing error; Noles’ balk and Dave Rader’s passed ball, all in the same sixth; and the inability o the Phillies to total more than four singles till the ninth.
“But Luis (Tiant) is tough any time, and Goose (Gossage) ain’t no picnic,” Green pointed out – especially when Gossage follows Tiant. The ninth-inning upsurge, which began with Bake McBride’s double and Schmidt’s single, came off Ron Davis.
The bright spots were that “again we came back, and that’s not all bad,” according to Green, and the fact that Noles threw five innings of three-hit shutout ball before losing it in the sixth. And of the two hits he gave in the sixth, one was a real cheapie. Also, fine bullpen work again.
“His breaking ball looked sharp,” said Green. “Dickie looked like himself. He’s got it here,” he said, pointing to his heart. “He’s gonna help us somewhere this year.”
“All I need is one or two more times out,” said Noles, who agreed that his breaking ball – maligned by Ozark last year – was the best he’s had this spring. “I just wasn’t happy with that last inning. Any time you walk them, they’ll score.”
Green had announced this winter that he was counting on Noles to help the shaky bullpen, but right now the starting pitching is the shaky aspect of the club.
Dick Ruthven and Randy Lerch are struggling with ERAs well over 7, Nino Espinosa is a question mark with tendonitis, and Larry Christenson still has a sore leg from that line drive. So Noles is very much in the picture.
Green expects to have Christenson ready in a few days, though, and professes no worries about Ruthven or Lerch. He thinks they’re on schedule, but he will have some worries if they don’t pick up in their next outings.
“In their minds they should be over their hurts now, and they should start pitching like during the season,” he said.
Meanwhile, everything else is pointing to a return to title contention. Schmidt and Luzinski are killing the ball; Pete Rose, Bowa, McBride, Gross and Del Unser are at .300 or above; rookies Smith and Keith Moreland have been sensational; young infielder Luis Aguayo continues to impress; Bob Boone has obviously recovered from his operation; and the bullpen has been superb.
Manny Trillo, who’s been swinging poorly, has been the one offensive disappointment. It now appears that Green will give up his idea of having him hit second, where he apparently became too hit-and-run conscious.
Garry Maddox, bothered by contract talk and a muscle pull, hasn’t done much either, but both those problems may soon be past. Maddox is expected to sign a long-term contract before too long.
Among them, relievers Tug McGraw, Ron Reed, Rawly Eastwick, Lerrin LaGrow and Doug Bird have allowed just 25 hits and nine earned run in 42 inning (1.93 ERA). And Kevin Saucier has done all right, too.
At the rate the starters have been going, they won’t go stale when the season starts.
PHIL-PHILLERS – The Phils cut winter acquisitions Burke Suter and Paul Thormodsgard (pitchers) and ex-Readingites Don McCormack (catcher) and John Poff (OF-1B) Saturday, leaving them at 31, six over the limit. That total includes 1979 Readingites George Vukovich and Scott Munninghoff, who will surely go to AAA… Warren Brusstar is making no progress and isn’t in that 31 total… The Phils play their next four games on the road, three on the East Coast after visiting the Pirates at Bradenton today… ex-Readingite Bobby Brown got picked off for the Yanks in the ninth.
Mediator On Deck
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) – A federal mediator will be on hand today when negotiations between representatives of major league baseball owners and players continue amid the growing possibility of a player strike.
The presence of a Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service representative was requested by the owners.
The Players Association’s executive board plans to meet Tuesday in Dallas to determine if and when a strike will be called.
The owners and players cut short a scheduled three-day meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., last Thursday. The latest talks, aimed at formulating a new four-year basic agreement, broke off on the second day and Friday’s session was cancelled.
Marvin Miller, executive director of the Players Association, called the Arizona meetings a waste of time.
Miller said he had no objection to the mediator service’s participation, but questioned the timing of the owners’ request.
“I think this may well be a kind of stalling mechanism on the part of the owners,” he said.
The major issue to be resolved is an owners’ proposal to adjust the amount of compensation a team received after losing a free agent.
NL Preview: Bucks Bucking Big Bucks
NEW YORK (UPI) – National League teams seem to be subscribing to the theory that the only way to beat the Bucs is to spend the big bucks.
The world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, alias the Buccaneers, once again loom as the team to beat for the NL pennant this season, but there are several teams that opened their cash registers in an effort to make the Pirates pay dearly in the hunt for the booty.
The biggest spenders were the Los Angeles Dodgers, who shelled out several million dollars to sign free agent pitchers Dave Goltz and Don Stanhouse, and the Houston Astros, who were willing to dole out a million a year to sign Nolan Ryan.
St. Louis and Montreal also were willing to part with quite a bit of money in an effort to strengthen their clubs in the fight to beat out the Pirates for the NL East title.
The Cardinals traded for outfielder Bobby Bonds then satisfied him with a lucrative new contract. The Montreal Expos acquired outfielder Ron LeFlore from Detroit and gave him a hefty pay raise. In addition, the Expos gave away some more of Charles Bronfman’s money to sign free agents Fred Norman, a left-handed pitcher, and Rowland Office, an outfielder.
Other new fces in new places this season include Chris Chambliss at Atlanta, Joe Morgan at Houson, Jerry Morales at New York and Aurelio Rodriguez and Dave Cash at San Diego.
Both divisions appear to be better balanced than a year ago, yet it would be hard to have closer pennant races than last season when either division was settled before the final week of the season.
This year’s campaign will begin on April 9 with the Atlanta Braves meeting the defending NL West champion Cincinnati Reds in the traditional season opener at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.
There are only two new managers in the NL this season – Preston Gomez at Chicago and Jerry Coleman at San Diego – but Dallas Green at Philadelphia and Dave Bristol at San Francisco are beginning their first full season with their clubs.
Here’s a capsule look at each club in probably (sic) order of finish:
An awesome batting order, the best bullpen in the league and incredible team rapport make the Pirates the favorite for the division title. Their starting pitching is only fair, but manager Chuck Tanner is not afraid to go to his bullpen early. With the likes of Kent Tekulve, Enrique Romo, Grant Jackson and Don Robinson out there, the Pirates always have a strong fresh arm at the ready. Dave Parker may be the best player in the league and is only approaching his prime. The Pirates are also a very loose, close-knit group willing to make sacrifices for the good of the team.
It’s improbably the Phillies will be hit with as many injuries as they were last year and, if healthy, they will give the Pirates a dogfight for the division title. New manager Dallas Green is working the club hard in spring trainin and the team, loaded with all-stars, is eager to regain its lost prestige. Under Danny Ozark the Phillies pitching staff was a complete shambles last year but Green, an ex-pitcher, figures to straighten things out.
Many feel the Expos played over their heads last year when they finished with a 96-65 record and battled the Pirates until the final day of the season. They had only one batter over .283 and no pitcher with more than 16 victories. Yet, there is talent there in the likes of Andre Dawson, Ellis Valentine, Gary Carter, Ron LeFlore, Steve Rogers and David Palmer, and manager Dick Williams has a knack for making the right moves. Bullpen, however, could be the Achilles heel.
St. Louis Cardinals
The addition of Bobby Bonds to a lineup that already includes Keith Hernandez, the NL’s leading hitter, Ted Simmons, George Hendrick and Garry Templeton should make the Cardinals formidable opposition. Unfortunately, the front line pitching is suspect and there are better bullpens in Mexico. If the Cardinals could land Cy Young award winning reliever Bruce Sutter from Chicago they could be in the thick of the pennant race.
The Cubs have hitting, power, bullpen and the advantage of playing half their schedule in Wrigley Field. Alas, they also have only one consistent starter (Rick Reuschel), no speed and no defense. It is said they also have more egos than a Hollywood party. New manager Preston Gomez, a nice, quiet gentlemen, may have trouble relating to what some writers have called a “team of spoiled brats.”
New York Mets
A new ownership has pledged to rebuild the Mets into contenders “no matter what it takes.” It might be easier transforming Madame Berlioux into Cheryl Tiegs. The Mets have only a handful of bona fide major leaguers. Their starting pitching, with the exception of Craig Swan, is poor and they have no bullpen. Their hitting is even worse than their pitching. Only Lee Mazzilli can be counted on to produce runs.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers were the best team in the NL over the second half of the season and their two biggest needs seem to have been filled by the acquisition of starter Dave Goltz and reliever Don Stanhouse. Los Angeles has experience at every position and a formidable offense (183 homers last season). They do have some age, however, and if Stanhouse doesn’t provide the answer in the bullpen it could spell disaster for the club.
J.R. Richard, Joe Niekro, Nolan Ryan and Ken Forsch give the Astros the best front line pitching in the league, and Joe Sambito is a quality reliever. However, the team lacks offensive punch (only 49 homers last year) and is erratic defensively. Manager Bill Virdon will rely mostly speed and pitching to keep the club in the race.
It was a tribute to the managerial ability of John McNamara that the Reds managed to win the division title last year with a club that was thinner than a crepe suzette. While the Dodgers and Astros improved their clubs over the winter, the Reds stood pat and now they enter the season behind the other two in depth. Unless their strong farm team rides to the rescus, it doesn’t appear the Reds have enough to repeat.
The Braves may be the most improved club in the division. In Bob Horner, Dale Murphy, Gary Matthews and Chris Chambliss they have a power supply that will light up the faces of the hometown fans repeatedly. However, not much can be said for a pitching staff whose ace is a 41-year-old knuckleballer (Phil Niekro). Still, the team should score enough runs to escape the basement.
San Diego Padres
New manager Jerry Coleman, previously the team’s broadcaster, faces an awesome task in trying to mould this club into a contender. Dave Winfield is one of the league’s best players and Rollie Fingers ranks with the best relief pitchers. But the team suffers from poor defense and has been riddled with dissension in recent years.
San Francisco Giants
This is a club which makes the “Dead End Kids” seem like choirboys. There was more bickering and whining on the team last yearthan is usually found in a first grade gym class. The Giants need someone to whip them into shaps, and new manager Dave Bristol, a no-nonsense guu, could be the answer. The team does have hitting but suffers from inconsistent pitching and poor defense.
Phillies’ Greg Luzinski Among Baseball’s ‘Questionable Ten’
NEW YORK (UPI) – Call them the “questionable ten.”
There are 10 key figured in the major league this season – nine players and one manager – whose performances could drastically change the courses of the pennant races in the four divisions.
They include pitchers Rich Gossage, Nolan Ryan, Bruce Kison, Don Stanhouse and Frank Pastore; outfielders Greg Luzinski, Ron LeFlore and Larry Hisle; first baseman Willie Stargell and manager Jim Frey.
Most baseball observers believe the main reason the New York Yankees were unseated as American League East champion last season was because of an injury suffered to relief pitcher Gossage, which sidelined him for much of the campaign.
Gossage, the AL’s premier relief pitcher in 1978, tore ligaments in his left thumb during a clubhouse scuffle with teammate Cliff Johnson in April and missed 12 weeks of the season. He appeared in only 36 games (as opposed to 63 the previous year) and managed only 18 saves.
“The thing with me really hurt the club mentally a lot,” Gossage readily admits. “Anytime you lose a key player like that it’s going to hurt you, especially when you don’t have anyone to back you up.”
No Knock as Davis
Gossage’s comment isn’t a knock at Ron Davis, who performed admirably while trying to fill “Goose’s” shoes, but rather a matter-of-fact statement about the respect which the strong-armed right-hander has gained over the last several seasons.
“When he’s throwing his best he’s practically unhittable,” says Eric Soderholm, a slugging third baseman and now a teammate of Gossage’s. “It will be nice to be on his side for a change.”
Gossage, 27, figures he hasn’t even reached his peak yet.
“I feel like I have a coupel of more years before I reach my prime,” Gossage says. “I don’t think I can put any more velocity on my fastball, but just gaining experience really helps my confidence.
The Houston Astros ere willing to spend $1 million a year to acquire Ryan in the free agent market and they are hoping the 33-year-old fastballing right-hander can bring them the National League West pennant that barely eluded htem a year ago.
Ryan, though, has a history of being erratic. Although he has pitched four career no-hitters and ranks fourth on the all-time strikeout list, Ryan’s career record is only 167-159. He is baseball’s all-time leaing paradox, yet combining him in a starting rotation with the likes of J.R. Richard, Joe Niekro and Ken Forsch boggles the mind.
Ryan, who lives only about 40 minutes from the Astrodome, wants desperately to prove that the Astros’ money was wisely invested.
“I want people to say that the Astros made the right move,” says Ryan, who spent the last eight seasons with the California Angels. “I’m the highest paid player in baseball and people expect me to achieve higher levels than others. I saw what happened at California when we signed (Joe) Rudi, (Bobby) Grich and (Don) Baylor. The organization built them up like we were getting three Willie Mayses in their prime; they promised the fans a pennant.
“So Rudi and Grich got hurt that first year because they were pressing too hard, and Baylor got off to a miserable start. The next season Lyman Bostock was our free agent and he was so uptight he swung at balls in front of the plate. Last year even as great a player as Rod Carew got off below his standard. You see what I mean? The free agents have a tendency to give in to the pressure because they want so badly to show the fans they’re worth the money.
Banking on Kison
With Ryan gone, the Angels are banking heavily on Kison to pick up the slack in the starting rotation. Kison is not as durable as Ryan, but he had a 13-7 record last year with the world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and he has a knack for pitching well in the late months.
Angels’ Manager Jim Fregosi and pitching coach Larry Sherry are convinced that Kison’s leadership and competitiveness will rub off on the rest of the staff.
“I aim to do my part for the Angels,” says Kison. “One has to be an individual and do what he can do. That will be my goal.”
The Dodgers, like the Yankees, suffered from the lack of a “stopper” in the bullpen last season, and they’re hoping Stanhouse, signed as a free agent, can do the job. Stanhouse, who spent the last two seasons as the ace of the Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen, is known as “Stan the Man Unusual” because of his unusual manner of getting in and out of jams. However, Stanhouse did protect nine of 10 one-run leads last year and that’s why the Dodgers invested $2.1 million in him.
“I like Stanhouse as a pitcher,” says Dodger manager Tom Lasorda. “I’m looking forward to him helping us. The count he gets on the hitters will never bother me. Just so he gets ‘em out. That’s all I care about.
The Reds are counting on the development of their young pitching staff to retain their NL West championship and Pastore, 22, looms as a leading figure. Pastore, who pitched in the Class AA Southern League in 1978, won five of his last seven decisions for the Reds last year, including a title clinching shutout against the Atlanta Braves.
Although Pastore has had less than a year of major league experience, he’s considered one of the best young prospects in the majors.
“I don’t think Frank won last year because of luck,” says Reds’ pitching coach Bill Fischer. “It was ability. I think he can be a consistent winner again this season.”
Much of the Philadelphia Phillies’ problems last year could be traced to the poor performance of Luzinski. The slugging outfielder, bothered by injuries, slumped to .252 and just 18 home runs last season after hitting .265 with 35 homers in 1978.
Luzinski is so determined to have a good season in 1980 that he shed 22 pounds over the winter.
“I’ve grown up with him,” says Phillies’ manager Dallas Green. “I don’t think a lot of people understand the frustration he went through last year. He had a problem with his thigh and continued playing with it. He got a negative press and that brought on a negative reaction from the fans. Greg would be the first to admit he didn’t handle it very well. But he looked himself in the mirror, the way a man would do, and decided to do something about it. He has. I’m betting my house he has a super year.”
The Montreal Expos, who battled the Pirates until the final day of the season last year, are hoping the offseason acquisition of outfielder Ron LeFlore will be enough to make up the difference. LeFlore, a lifetime .297 hitter in six seasons with the Detroit Tigers, will start in left field and will provide the Expos with a superb leadoff hitter and figures to benefit from Olympic Stadium’s artificial surface.
“We are going to make a lot of teams think,” said LeFlore, who stole 78 bases last season. “We are going to make things happen. I feel I’ll gain a step or step and a half on the artificial surfaces.”
With a possible exception of Gossage, no injury hurt a team more last season than the one suffered by Milwaukee’s Hisle. The All-Star center fielder suffered a bone separation in his shoulder while making a throw from the outfield in April and was lost to the club for the season. The Brewers finished second in the American League East, eight games behind the Baltimore Orioles, and there were many who felt Hisle’s absence cost the Brewers the pennant.
Hisle, who hit 34 homers and drove in 115 runs in 1978, is confident he can regain that form.
“I’ve reached the point where I’ve conditioned myself to accept challenges,” says Hisle, who has made a career of bouncing back from adversity. “You could say I love challenge. I approach this season as just another stepping stone. I’m looking forward to this latest challenge like my son looks forward to Christmas.”
In many ways Stargell is under the most scrutiny this year. The 39-year-old first baseman, co-winner of the NL’s Most Valuable Player Award last year, was the Pirates’ “Mr. Clutch” last seson when he hit 32 homers and drove in 81 runs in only 126 games. If the Pirates are to repeat as NL East champions, many believe Stargell will have to have another big season. Can he do it again?
The key will lie in his concentration. As Pete Rose says, “It’s not your legs or your arm that goes first, it’s your concentration.”
“I know there’s a tendency to relax, but I still love the game so much, it’s like I was still a kid out there,” says Stargell. “To me, playing ball is like being a farmer. He’s got to respect the earth, the land he works. That’s the only way a farmer can be rewarded – for the crops to grow.
“With me and baseball, I know I cannot take the game for granted. I’ve got to keep concentrating out there, to keep working, day in and day out. It doesn’t matter if I’m hurting or what, the thing is not to let up.”
Frey on Spot
The manager with the toughest act to follow is Frey. He is replacing Whitey Herzog, who led the Royals to three consecutive AL West titles from 1976-78 and a second place finish last season. Herzog was heavily criticized by several players for his outspoken views but he did produce. Frey brings a more low-key attitude to the job and an advantage of having served under one of baseball’s best managers, Earl Weaver, at Baltimore for 10 years.
“The Royals could not have picked a better man than Jim,” says Weaver. “He had dedicated his life to baseball, and I know the Orioles will miss his knowledge, his judgment and his organizational ability.
“I’ve long felt that he deserved a chance to manage in the majors and that it was just a matter of time until his talents would be recognized, which they have been. I wish him all the success in the world… right up to the playoffs.”