Reading Eagle - April 2, 1980

N.L. East: Pirates Await Another Challenge


By Associated Press


Chuck Tanner, manager of the world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, knows that “other clubs are going to be gunning for us,” but insists his Beat ‘em-Bucs Fam-a-lee “will rise to the challenge.”


The Pirates know all about challenges. They stormed from a 3-1 World Series deficit to win three games in a row and capture the world championship last year. Still, they only finished two games in front of the Montreal Expos and a standpat lineup may not be enough to withstand the loss of pitcher Bruce Kison to free agency and repeat in the National League East.


Dave Parker is a superstar in right field and so is wondrous Willie Stargell, the miracle man of 1979, at first base. But the Pirates call him “Pops” because he is 39 years old, not for the home runs he pops.


Elsewhere, the faces are familiar. Ed Ott and Steve Nicosia will share the catching. Second baseman Phil Garner and shortstop Tim Foli form a solid double play combination, and third baseman Bill Madlock and center fielder Omar Moreno are outstanding. John Milner and Bill Robinson again will split left field.


The pitching staff will get a boost if Rick Rhoden and Don Robinson can bounce back from shoulder surgery to join starters John Candelaria, Bert Blyleven and Jim Bibby, backed by a strong bullpen of Kent Tekulve, Grant Jackson and Enrique Romo.


“Some may think that just because we won it all in 1979 we’ll rest on our laurels,” Tanner says. “Anybody who thinks that doesn’t know me – and, more importantly, doesn’t know my ballplayers.”


Montreal, which had the third best record in baseball last year, lost first baseman Tony Perez and pitcher Rudy May to free agency and traded pitcher Dan Schatzeder to Detroit for outfielder Ron LeFlore. LeFlore will take over in left field, leaving Warren Cromartie to battle Rusty Staub at first base.


The rest of the Expos slick outfield remains the same – Andre Dawson in center, Ellis Valentine in right. Rodney Scott (2B), Chris Speier (SS) and Larry Parrish (3B), on the verge of stardom after a 30-homer campaign, round out the infield, while Gary Carter is one of the best receivers in the game. LeFlore, Scott and Dawson provide exceptional speed at the top of the batting order.


However, there seems to be too many question marks on the mound – despite the league’s best overall earned run average – where Steve Rogers was only 13-12, Ross Grimsley 10-9 and scott Sanderson 9-8. There is no assurance that Bill Lee can repeat last year’s 16-10 record and Woodie Fryman is a key man in the bullpen along with Elias Soa, will be 40 years old next week.


“Going through the race we went through last year has to make us stronger,” says manager Dick Williams.


After three consecutive division titles, the Philadelphia Phillies were ravaged by injuries in 1979 and slipped to fourth place. It cost low-key Manager Danny Ozark his job late in the season and tough-guy Dallas Green took over.


If healthy, Green’s starting eight can play with any team in the league, but they started as a unit only 74 times in 1979. Bob Boone is a talented catcher. The infield boasts strong bats – Pete Rose (1B) and Mike Schmidt (3B) – and good gloves – Manny Trillo (2B) and Larry Bowa (SS.) The outfield of Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox – who may be traded – and Bake McBride is backed by a capable bench, including heralded young Lonnie Smith. Luzinski has shed more than 20 pounds in an effort to erase memories of last year, when he slumped to .252 and 18 homers.


Steve Carlton and Nino Espinosa were the only starting pitchers who escaped the injury siege, but Espinosa came up with a sore shoulder this spring. Green is counting on healthy comebacks by starters Larry Christenson, Dick Ruthven and Randy Lerch. The bullpen, once rich in talent, is getting along in years.


The St. Louis Cardinals also have a star-studded lineup – Ted Simmons behind the plate; NL batting champ and co-MVP Keith Hernandez (.344), Ken Oberkfell, Garry Templeton (first player ever to get 100 hits from each side of the plate) and Ken Reitz around the infield; newcomer Bobby Bonds joining Tony Scott and George Hendrick in an outfield that has no room for minor league sensation Leon Durham. Bonds replaces retired stolen base king Lou Brock in left.


The pitching staff, however, is a series of question marks behind starters Bob Forsch, Pete Vukovich, Silvio Martinez and John Fulgham, all right handed, none a household name and reliver Mark Littell.


The Chicago Cubs have a new manager in Preston Gomez but most of last year’s same players who won only nine games in September and skidded to fifth place. The big names are major league home run champ Dave Kingman (46) in left field and Cy Young Award winner Bruce Sutter (37 saves) in the bullpen.


Bill Buckner, newcomer Mike Tyson, Ivan DeJesus and Steve Ontiveros form a capable infield but Jerry Martin is an unhappy money center fielder and catcher Barry Foote and Rick Reuschel, the top starting pitcher have been ailing.


The new owners of the New York Mets shelled out $21.1 million for a club that has finished last three years in a row. Then they spent hundreds of thousands to sign pitcher Craig Swan (40-45 for his career) and outfielder Joel Youngblood, who never has had a regular job.


Despite a critical lack of power (no one hit more than 16 homers), first baseman Lee Mazzilli (last year’s center fielder) and left fielder Steve Henderson are good hitters and Frank Taveras (SS) and Doug Flynn (2B) form a fine double play combination. A great deal depends on whether catcher John Stearns can hit more than last year’s .243 and if pitcher Pat Zachry can shake off elbow surgery.


Prediction: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Montreal, St. Louis, Chicago, New York.

Players, Owners Stoke Money Battle


DALLAS (AP) – Taking dead aim at management’s wallet, the Major League Players Association has called not one, but two strikes against baseball.


And the surprising part is that neither of them is coming on Opening Day, which had seemed to be the logical target. Instead of endangering the start of the regular season, the players chose a two-pronged attack that they hope will do the greatest possible economic damage to the owners.


The owners, however, struck back at the players’ pocketbooks, saying they would leave training camps open but refusing to pay meal money, allowances, and hotel costs.


The players said Tuesday they would cancel the final 92 games of the spring exhibition schedule and then they promised that unless a new Basic Agreement is negotiated by midnight on May 22, they may not play games starting the following day.


The canceled exhibitions include lucrative intrastate series in California between the Angels and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and in Texas between the Rangers and Houston Astros. And, for their second strike date, the players chose the weekend before Memorial Day, traditionally one of baseball’s largest revenue periods.


“We’re trying to hurt them in the pocketbook as deeply as we can,” said Mike Marshall, who doubles as player rep for the Minnesota Twins and the American League. “We refuse to allow them to generate any more money before Opening Day.”


The players were prepared to stay in training camps and continue working out, even playing intrasquad games to stay in shape if management wants that. But they will not play exhibition games where admissions would be charged.


In return, a spokesman for the owners said camps will remain open to those players who wish to work out for the remainder of the spring training period. But, “since the individual player contract requires that players will appear in scheduled exhibition games and since the players have announced they will not appear in such games, meal money, allowances and hotel costs will not be paid.”


Several of the player reps left the impression the players might not stay at the camps if they didn’t get their expenses.


“I’ll be on strike Wednesday and I’ll be off strike on Opening Day,” Marshall said.


Many players had expressed a sentiment for striking immediately rather than waiting until the season is under way. In 1972, players walked out three day before the start of the season and remained on strike for 13 days, causing 86 games to be canceled. But the strategy this time was altered.


“I came here with the feeling that doing something early would be in our best interest,” said Jon Matlack, player rep of the Texas Rangers. “I was not totally convinced but I was leaning in that direction. After listening to the thoughts in the meeting, though, I think this is the better route to take.


One advantage to delaying any regular season strike action is that the players will receive three paychecks between Opening Day and May 22. That could go a long way to withstanding the economic pressures that a walkout might bring.


Some observers questioned whether the players would be as unified to take a strike action once the season is under way as they might be before Opening Day. Suppose, for example, a player is on a hitting streak when the strike date arrives.


“I don’t care if I’m hitting .040 or .840,” said Larry Bowa, player rep of the Philadelphia Phillies. “If nothing is worked out by May 22, we’re gone.”


Ray Grebey, management’s chief representative, who has negotiated for 20 weeks with Marvin Miller, executive director of the union, said Tuesday night:


“It is encouraging to note that the championship season will start as scheduled. It is the continued objective of major league baseball to achieve a negotiated settlement without interruption of the championship season.”


But Miller said: “It has been the owners’ strategy throughout the talks to provoke a strike and portray themselves as the wounded parties.


“Owner demands, not player proposals, have bogged down the meetings so far. We are taking this action in one last good faith effort to try and reach an agreement. The players have decided they are willing to open the season and will continue to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement.”


Ken Moffett, the federal mediator who joined the talks Sunday, summoned both sides to a negotiating session in New York Thursday.


The vote by the union’s 28-member executive board was unanimous.


“I think it shows how unified we really are, when we can go on strike now, come back Opening Day, and then go out again,” said Marshall.


Then the Twins’ pitcher was asked if he believed the players could hang together once the season is six weeks old.


“We are so together,” he said, “that if after the second strike in the third inning of a game, the player reps got up and said, ‘Let’s go,’ everybody would leave.”