Sports World - June, 1980
Gun-Shy Phillies Take New Approach
Pete Rose did not bring the expected pennant to Philadelphia in 1979 but he did spin the turnstiles at Veterans Stadium. Score it a minus and a plus for the Philly front office, which went to $800,000 a year to sign Pistol Pete as a free agent a year ago.
The fourth place finish in the National League East made the Phillies a little gun-shy in the free agent market last fall and they simply backed away when Nolan Ryan put himself on the market.
The Phils have a new manager this time. Dallas Green, one of Danny Ozark's assistants, moved into the pilot's seat late in the 1979 season and then was hired to run the show again in 1980.
In a year when Philly batting averages dipped and pitchers faltered, the irrepressible Rose was unstoppable. Pete hit .331, second best in the league, made 208 hits, the tenth time he has gone that high, which gave him a new major league record, and even stole 20 bases.
Owner Rudy Carpenter, in discussing the free agent market, said he preferred to keep the money in the family. He was as good as his word. He signed catcher Bob Boone to a four-year contract to guarantee top-notch mask and mitt performance for the Phils for the next four years.
A number of the Philadelphia name players had sub-par seasons in 1979 and if the Quakers are to make a run for it in the East this year, those are the men who will have to increase their pace.
To name names, left fielder Greg Luzinski, shortstop Larry Bowa, second baseman Manny Trillo, and several of the pitchers, notably Randy Lerch, Larry Christenson and Dick Ruthven.
Luzinski skidded to a .252 batting average with only 18 home runs and 81 runs batted in. Bowa batted only .241. Trillo, bothered by injuries, hit .260 but played winter ball in the Caribbean and the Phils are looking for operation bounceback this year.
Ruthven, for whom high hopes were held, managed only seven wins and five losses. Christenson was a Woolworth's Special with a 5-and-10 record and Lerch was 10-13. Tug McGraw with 16 saves and Ron Reed with a 13-8 record did well in the bullpen. Nino Espinosa was 14-12.
Steve Carlton, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, was the pacesetter of the pitching staff with 18 victories and eleven losses. Carlton's pitching speaks louder than his words. He rarely talks to the news media.
Mike Schmidt, who rarely hits for average but still has plenty of power, drilled 45 home runs to faraway places and had 114 RBI's. Mike only hit .253 but averages are not his best game.
Catcher Bob Boone hit a spanking .286 with nine homers and 58 runs-batted-in. He is an excellent mechanical catcher. Maddox, the flying center fielder, posted a .281 average and Bake McBride hit .280. Bake did steal 25 bases.
Rating the Pitchers
by Charles Morey
If you input all the standard measurements for judging pitchers- earned run average, games won and lost, strikeouts, willingness to work, guts in the clutch- any computer will spell out the name of Ron Guidry as the top man on the mound in the major leagues.
Just look at the record for the last two years for the slim southpaw of the New York Yankees. Over a two-season span he has been No. 1 and this magazine believes he'll be setting the pace once again this season.
If you go for facts and figures, try these on for size: Ron has been the American League ERA champion two years in a row. He is 43-11 for those two seasons, a dizzying percentage of .796. He has put down more than 200 hitters on strikes each of the last two years, fanning 201 in 1979 and 248 in 1978, his Cy Young year.
Last year, when the Yankees developed a sudden case of the shorts in the bullpen after Rich Gossage fractured a finger on his throwing hand in a clubhouse scuffle with Cliff Johnson, Guidry did something startling for a starting pitcher. He volunteered for the bullpen and was great, saving a couple of games and showing high team spirit.
Here is how Sport World rated the Top Ten in the ranks of the pitchers: 1- Ron Guidry, New York Yankees. 2- Tom Seaver, Cincinnati Reds. 3- J.R. Richard, Houston Astros. 4- Mike Flanagan, Baltimore Orioles. 5- Tommy John, New York Yankees. 6- Dennis Eckersley, Boston Red Sox. 7- Nolan Ryan, Houston Astros. 8- Jim Palmer, Baltimore Orioles. 9- Steve Carlton, Philadelphia Phillies. 10- Joe Niekro, Houston Astros.
There are a number of fine pitchers who could be well up among the leaders by the time October rolls around. Included in that number are Mike Caldwell of Milwaukee, Steve Rogers of Montreal, Vida Blue of San Francisco, Burt Hooten of Los Angeles, John Candelaria of Pittsburgh, Craig Swan of the Mets, Rick Reuschel of the Cubs, and Rick Sutcliffe of the Dodgers.
Guidry's won and lost record last season was 18-8, a remarkable finish when you consider that on July 21st he was 6-7. He was 12-1 for the last ten weeks of the season. Ron is an absolute tiger in the last half of a pennant race. In the last three seasons, two of them flag years for the Yankees, he was 33-5 after the all-star break.
There was no pennant at Yankee Stadium last year but it did not stop Ron from posting eleven straight victories from July 21st to September 21st. In his magnificant 1978 season, the 25-3 year, he had a 13-game streak.
Ron's record in big money games is perfect. He is 2-0 in American League pennant playoff games and also 2-0 in world series action, which adds up to a 4-0 record in blue ribbon contests.
Tom Seaver of Cincinnati also came on with a rush last season, after being hampered for several weeks early in the campaign with a shoulder problem. Tom Terrific finished with a 16-6 record to run his career total to 235 victories. He has designs on 300 wins and needs an average win total of about 17 per season for the next four years to reach that lofty figure.
Seaver changed his pitching style a bit last year and thinks it will be a big help in 1980 and the years to follow. He added a changeup and a curve to go with the big heat fast ball and hard slider that made him a star with the New York Mets and now with Cincinnati.
Tom invariably fell off in strikeouts, laying the "K" on only 131 hitters. But injuries restricted him to only 215 innings pitched. It was quite a dip from his 226 strikeouts of 1978, the tenth time he accomplished the difficult feat of whiffing 200 or more men in one season. That gave Tom a glowing major league record.
At the end of the pennant playoff series, in which the Reds lost to Pittsburgh in three straight games, he said he felt so good he could hardly wait for opening day, 1980. Tom pitched eight innings in the opener of the playoff with Pittsburgh and left with the score tied, 2-2. Pittsburgh won the game in overtime on a three-run homer by Willie Stargell. Seaver did not see action in games two and three.
A three-time Cy Young Award winner in the National League, Tom, at 35, knows his career will be somewhat different for the remainder of his years in the "Bigs." But despite his mixing up of his pitches, batters could testify that last year when he had to, he could still bust one in there trailing smoke.
James Rodney Richard of the Houston Astros broke his own strikeout record for National League righthanders last season, shooting down 313 hitters. He had set the record at 303 in 1978. Richard had a season mark of 18-13 and led the league in earned run average with 2.71. He also had 19 complete games, an excellent number.
J.R. was the National League pitcher of the month for September with a valiant effort as the Astros fuoght the Cincinnati Reds jaw to jaw for the Western title, losing out at the wire. Richard had a 3-1 record in September and an ERA of 1.41. He had two shutouts in the closing month and allowed 30 hits and 13 walks while fanning 58 men in 51 innings.
His control sharpened. He dished out only 98 walks in 292 innings last year, as opposed to 141 in 275 rounds the previous season. Richard will team up with Nolan Ryan, signed as a free agent for $1 million a year by Houston, to generate a lot of smoke at the Astrodome this season.
Richard toyed with the notion of going free agent himself but finally signed a new four-year contract with Houston, which calls for a total of $2.4 million to $3 million, depending on which accountant you talk to.
Baltimore's Mike Flanagan, who won 19 games in 1978, reached the 20 mark for the first time last season and did it in style. Mike's 23 victories were the most in the major leagues. He also was a runaway winner of the American League Cy Young Award. Flanagan got 26 of the 28 votes cast with one each going to Guidry and Tommy John of the Yankees.
Mike was another pitcher who did far better in the second half of the season than he did in the first. Mike was 10-6 just before the All-Star break but he won 13 of his 16 decisions after that to finish with a 23-9 record. He had 16 complete games and was the number four man in the ERA column at 3.08.
Flanagan passed along some of the credit for his success to a teammate, southpaw Scott McGregor. "In the first half of the season, I did not have a good curve and change-up," Mike said. "But then Scott worked with me and it seemed to come naturally to me. When I started throwing the change and used my slider more often, I became a pitcher with four deliveries, not just two."
Mike's father, Ed, had been a pitcher in the Red Sox organization a quarter of a century ago but never made it to the big leagues. He was delighted to hear about the Cy Young.
"You deserved it," the elder Flanagan told his son. "Now I'm going out to have a hamburger and celebrate it."
In the championship playoff for the American League pennant, Mike staggered, literally, to a 9-8 victory over California in the second game, after holding a 9-1 lead at the end of three innings. He had to be relieved in the eighth but got credit for the victory.
Mike hung a 5-4 loss on the Pirates in the opener of the world series, pitching on a frigid night that had players, umpires and spectators shivering. But Flanagan, a New Englander, loved it. "This is my kind of weather," he said.
Flanagan was the loser in the fifth game, although he pitched well. He gave up only two runs in six innings, then was lifted. The Pirates teed off on the Baltimore bullpen for a 7-1 victory. Mike pitched to only one batter in the ninth inning of the series finale, a 4-1 win for the Pirates in Baltimore.
At the age of 28 and with 42 victories in the last two seasons behind him, it's easy to predict a glowing future for Flanagan. He is the latest in that series of classy Baltimore lefties, which started with Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally.
Classy is the word for another southpaw, Tommy John, who in his first season at Yankee Stadium had a 21-9 record and was second to his teammate, Guidry, in ERA. Tommy had a 2.97 earned run average and pitched 17 complete games.
It was the second 20-game season in three years for the man with the rebuilt pitching arm. He won 20 for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977 but played ou this option with L.A. in 1978 and jumped to New York.
John will be 37 this season and that's getting up there for a pitcher. But he is such a skillful craftsman and understands pace so well, it's hard to see him falling out of it this year. Tommy was second in innings pitched last year with 276 and tied for second in complete games with 17. He tied for fourth in number of starts with 36. He had three shutouts.
Incidentally, by winning 21 games, he joined a very select group of pitchers who have won 20 games in both leagues. That's a large achievement.
Dennis Eckersley of the Boston Red Sox had to settle for a 17-10 record last year after winning 20 the previous season. But Dennis still was the Red Sox stopper. He was third ERA with 2.99, had 17 complete games, and gave up only 59 bases on balls in 247 innings, an excellent showing for a pitcher who once had control problems.
Dennis pitched well in the heat of the summer, winning eight in a row in July and August and posting seven straight complete games. But then he ran into some hard luck and lost five in a row before snapping that string with a 2-1 victory over Detroit on Sept. 23rd.
Eckersley is a Fenway Park pitcher, having won better than 80 percent of his games there in his two seasons in a Red Sox uniform. One big reason for that is that when he's in form he keeps the ball low and difficult to hit. The batters have trouble in getting a pitch from Dennis which they can send in the general direction of the "Big Green Monster," the friendly fence in left field at Fenway.
"What Dennis did," said ex-Red Sox pitching coach Al Jackson, "is to make an adjustment in his delivery so that batters wondered what was coming next. It made him very difficult to pull at Fenway."
Dennis is happy in Boston, despite the near miss by the Red Sox for the Eastern title in 1978 and last year's mediocre showing. He is certain the Red Sox will ocme back strong this year.
"I owe a lot to this team," he said. "I owe a lot to our great defense and the way we hit. That's what makes great pitchers... great teams. This team can make me a great pitcher."
Nolan Ryan may not be the best pitcher overall in baseball today but he looks like a cinch to be the richest after four more years. Ryan jumped, as a free agent, from the California Angels to the Houston Astros last fall, signing a contract estimated at between $4 million and $4.5 million for the next four years.
That was nice going for the rangy righthander who won 16 games while losing 14 last year at California. Part of the big money, of course, is box office. Ryan is a longtime strikeout king and is a native of Texas, who should attract Texans in carloads on a day when he is scheduled to pitch.
Although he has had arm problems in the past, Ryan still had his fastball last year. He shot down 223 hitters on strikes in 223 innings, an average of one per inning.
Nolan's career mark in strikeouts is 2,902 but he has also dished out 1,646 walks, which is one big reason he is only eight games over the break-even mark for his full career. Nolan has 167 victories and 159 defeats.
Going into the 1980 season, Ryan is fourth on the career strikeout list. Walter Johnson is the all-time No. 1 with 3,508. Gaylord Perry, still active, has 3,141 and the retired Bob Gibson has 3,117. Nolan estimates he can pass Johnson with an average of 203 K's per season in the next three years.
An interviewer told him he had an excellent chance of beating Johnson's record but the reporter then put a little zinger in there. "You may also top Early Wynn's record," he said.
"What record is that?" Ryan asked.
"The career record for walks," was the reply. "You only need 130 to become the all-time Walk King."
"I didn't know that record existed," Ryan said.
Manager Sparky Anderson of Detroit thinks Ryan will fan even more hitters in the National League than he did in the Ameircan. Sparky pointed out that Nolan had to face a designated hitter in every game in the American League. In the National, he'll be pitching to a lot of pitchers, nortorious strikeout victims.
Jim Palmer of the Orioles did not have a big season in 1979. He won only 10 games while losing six and was laid up for close to two months in mid-season with an arm problem. But the big righthander, who won 20 in eight of his nine seasons before 1979, still came up with his hardest pitch of the year in the off-season.
Although his contract still had two years to run, he demanded a renegotiation and or extention of it at a lot more money. The Orioles, of course, balked. So Big Jim sat down and drew up a list of teams he would be happy to be traded to. But the key word there is trade.
Palmer was not a free agent when he made the demand and it's a cinch the Orioles would want a lot in a trade for him. Jim is 34 and has a case history of arm trouble, which pops up from time to time. With all his mound class, there is some doubt about whether any other club would part with enough to satisfy Baltimore in a deal.
Steve Carlton of the Phillies, a two-time Cy Young winner, had a nice season last year, 18-11, and fanned 213 men in 251 innings to prove that his fast ball can still generate some heat.
He also generated some heat last June by throwing a ball at Manager Danny Ozark's feet after the then Philly skipper got on his nerves. He was fined $500 by the clubhouse for that but complained so long and so loudly the fine was cut in half.
Some observers of the Philadelphia scene thought the Carlton incident may have been one small reason why Ozark was fired late in the season and replaced by Dallas Green.
Joe Niekro had a 21-11 record with the Astros last year, his finest season, and only lost out to Bruce Sutter of the Cubs in Cy Young balloting by six points, 72 to 66. If Joe sustains that form this year, the Astros will have a towering threesome on the mound to throw at the other National League clubs. They can come in with fireballers like Ryan and Richard and mix in Niekro's fluttering knuckleball.
The other clubs are not too happy with that, as witness this doleful comment from Willie Stargell of the champion Pirates: "Can you imagine what it will be like, going into Houston to face Ryan, Richard and Niekro? We'll have two days of facing heat and on the third we'll be swatting butterflies."