TV Guide - April 5, 1980
And another "expert" picked the Phillies fourth. Mr. Durslag also picked the Yankees fourth and Kansas City third, only nailing the Astros to win the NL West. The article focuses on how improvements in hitting has changed the way managers treat pitchers, and that starting pitchers are no longer expected to finish games as often as they had before (a brief glimpse into the future?). The mention of the Phillies in the article is brief and derogatory.
Baseball 1980: Everyone Has To Pitch In
By Melvin Durslag
Our expert unveils the new look in pitching rotations- and takes a swing at predicting this year’s winners.
Those with a healthy admiration for the pitching art haven’t yet recovered from the 1979 World Series. They still shudder at the recollection of what happened to the Baltimore Orioles in the last three games.
Leading the Series 3-1, and yet to march to the front such quality starters as Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor, the Orioles lost to Pittsburgh, a group without even a formal pitching rotation. Pittsburgh, in fact, employed 11 starters last year, an astonishing number, considering that whole pitching staffs usually comprise but 10 members. And of the 173 times (including postseason) that Pirate starters went to the mound, they completed only 24 games.
Some see this as a fluke, but others wonder seriously, on the eve of the 1980 season, which opens on television April 12 over NBC, whether a new concept may be developing in connection with the use of starting pitchers.
Will ironclad rotations give way to looser methods of deploying starters, and will the premium be lessened on complete games, once rated a pitcher’s greatest treasure?
“Naturally, most managers would rather work with a steady rotation of four or five starters,” says Chuck Tanner, field commander of Pittsburgh. “But since this isn’t always possible, and maybe not always advisable, you’re going to find that clubs will be building their pitching staffs from the bullpen back. Instead of organizing your starters and working back to the bullpen, it will be vice versa.”
Hitters have improved so dramatically, explains Tanner, that a manager often can’t keep starting pitchers in the game even when they’re still showing good stuff.
“Today,” says Chuck, “managers are making what is called ‘situation’ moves. This means they are reacting more to the immediate situation than they are to the condition of the pitcher. Say, for instance, that my starter is still looking good, but that we face a situation calling for a strikeout. I bring in Enrique Romo. If we want a grounder, setting up a double play, I send for Kent Tekulve. And if the situation is such that we can’t afford a walk and need a control pitcher in there, I call Grant Jackson. I have removed starters leading by as many as five runs.”
“Isn’t this injurious to their morale?” Tanner was asked.
“It used to be more than it is now,” he answered. “Pitchers will protest mildly when they are pulled, but it is no longer embarrassing to those who are professional. It doesn’t hurt their contract chances, either. Everyone knows when a man is doing his job.”
With the pennant winner he produced at Cincinnati in 1975, Sparky Anderson (who now manages Detroit) dredges but 22 complete games from his staff. The following year, with a team described by some as equal to the ’27 Yankees, he got only 32 complete games.
“All you look for form starters today,” says Sparky, “are six good innings. It is no longer reasonable to expect nine. The hitters make it unreasonable. They are bigger, stronger, faster and smarter, and there is no way you can let them grind away at your pitcher when you have help in the bullpen.”
“But doesn’t a complete game help your staff by allowing the bullpen to rest?” he was asked.
“It helps,” he replied, “but you just can’t find enough pitchers who know how to rate themselves for nine innings in today’s competition. Maybe a Tommy John, a Phil Niekro, a Jim Palmer. But most of the good ones, like Ron Guidry, Tom Seaver, J.R. Richard and Nolan Ryan, work hard and throw a lot of balls. You owe it to them, and to your team, to pull them out.”
Since the National League doesn’t have the designated hitter, its pitchers are removed (for reasons other than pitching) more often than in the American League, whose champion last year, Baltimore, got a healthy 52 complete games.
But even with the designated hitter, Tom Lasorda, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, sees in the future fewer starters going the distance, mainly because of changes in the managing mentality. “We tell our starters, ‘Give us five or six strong innings and we’ll come get you with a fresh horse’,” says Lasorda. “Building your bullpen today is more important than ever and completing games mean less than ever. But I can’t say that what happened in Pittsburgh last year is normal.”
“Did you feel that Pittsburgh, with its jerky method of changing pitchers, would catch Baltimore after the fourth game?” Lasorda was asked.
“With Baltimore in front, three games to one,” he answered, “and their big guns (Palmer, Flanagan, and McGregor) coming up, I figured there was no way the Orioles could lose. And I still can’t believe they did.”
Chuck Tanner knows why. “Fancy starters and 20-game winners are impressive to some,” he says, “but you still can have a good pitching staff without them. Our guys are suited to the situations in which we need them. And that’s why we won last year and hope to do it again this year.”
If Tanner, or, for that matter, Willie Stargell or Dave Parker, is looking for an argument, he won’t get one here. Parker, in fact, got mad at your venerable correspondent last year merely for asking whether the earring Dave wore was a real diamond.
“That’s like asking a man how much he makes,” he snapped. He then added coldly, “It’s real, or I wouldn’t be wearing it.”
Allowing that diamonds are a right fielder’s best friend, we look for Parker to buy one for his other ear this season with his heist from another Pittsburgh victory in the National League East. Montreal made a surprising run at the Pirates in ’79, and the forces from Quebec are pretty much the same, operating in English or French. But the conclusion here is that the Expos don’t yet have the depth to win it all, even though showing the best pitching last year in the National League.
As the best hitting club in the league last year, St. Louis is distinctly a threat this time, especially if it turns up with that commodity that doesn’t impress Pittsburgh- starting pitching.
And what about the affluent troops of Philadelphia, whose payroll ranks among baseball’s highest? About all you can say for the Phillies is that management (a) isn’t getting its money’s worth, and (b) won’t have Danny Ozark to kick around anymore. Danny has been exiled to Los Angeles to serve as a coach.
If a problem of consequence would be visiting the Pirates going into the season, it would be the loss, through free-agentry, of pitcher Bruce Kison and infielder Rennie Stennett. The departure of Kison would seem particularly painful inasmuch as he was ranked by management among the top starters on the staff. And since Pittsburgh isn’t rich in that commodity called pitching, Kison could be missed.
Still, the memory lingers of the Pirates. Last sighted in postseason, they were blitzing Cincinnati in the National League tournament and catching Baltimore almost miraculously in baseball’s biggest event. If logic dictates your reasoning, you are yet ready to desert them.
It is hoped by those with an appreciation for the game’s refinements that the National League West has improved this year. Only two of its members were able to play .500 last season in what had to be the darkest trip in a long while in this division.
In the end, Cincinnati won it with .559, but the feeling exists here that Houston, which pursued the Reds, will rise in 1980 to win the first title of its undistinguished history, dating back to 1962. The Astros came into baseball the same year at the Mets. Houston was the entrant that wasn’t funny.
But, regrettably, it wasn’t skilled, either, and was never to get closer to a championship than 10½ games until last year, when it lost by only 1½. At a cost too frightening to recount, Houston has added Nolan Ryan to its pitching staff. It could be about all that’s required.
According to baseball’s most trusted money-counters, Ryan has been engaged by Houston for three years at $1 million a year. He was tendered that sum by the new owner of the Astros, Dr. John McMullen, obviously eager to win a pennant in his maiden year in baseball. McMullen is a doctor of engineering. You can imagine how much he could have afforded to give Ryan if he were a doctor of medicine.
But what he is getting to that staggering amount of cash is a man who, during his eight-year incumbency at California, pitched four no-hitters, tying the major league record of Sandy Koufax, and seven one-hitters. Holder of most of the strikeout records in the majors, he was the principal gate attraction at Anaheim, a fact Houston considered when it proffered all that money.
Most likely, the haul taken in by Ryan inspired the incredible payment spent by the Chicago Cubs of $700,000 to relief pitcher Bruce Sutter. When that salary was awarded the Cub fireman by an arbitrator, other firemen on strike at the time in Chicago doubtless clamored to get their case before the same referee.
If Cincy won a title last year with .559, the California Angels swiped one with only .543, an almost shocking figure with which to be taking the American League West. Mainly because teams in this division fell on their hairstyles, all but one in the East were able to play better than .500.
The Angels have lost Ryan, a vital man on their pitching staff, but they also should be playing this year in better luck than they did last when they were visited by countless injuries.
Since, in that state, they still won first prize, they should be strong enough to repeat in a rough fight with Texas, which, like its neighbor in Houston, is overdue.
Performing as the Washington Senators from 1961 until their move to Arlington, Texas, in 1972, the Rangers were so depressed that when they ascended merely to fourth in 1969, their field leader got “Manager of the Year” for it. The club since has done better, but has yet to turn up as champion. This time it is dangerous.
Perhaps equally dangerous is the teaming in the American League West this year of Billy Martin and Charlie Finley, the most romantic couple since Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald.
Eager to sell the Oakland A’s to a buyer who would move the club to Denver, Finley was restrained by a stadium commission holding him to his long-term lease. Thus foiled were (a) the American League president, anxious to rid baseball of Charlie, (b) the Commissioner, more anxious than the American League president to get rid of him, and (c) fellow owners in the American League, who scarcely took enough money out of Oakland (attendance was 306,000 last year) to pay for breakfast.
Forced to remain in the city, Finley struck fear in the hearts of every marshmallow salesman in Northern California by hiring Martin. You’ll recall that the last marshmallow salesman encountering Billy, in a Minnesota lounge, departed with a swollen lip. Fired by the Yankees, Martin comes to Oakland taking a solemn oath he never will get into a fight again, barring one eventuality.
“That would be,” he explains, “if someone knocks me off a bar stool and attacks me on the floor.”
Committed to Marquis of Queensberry, Finley wouldn’t be guilty of an act so dastardly, which means that he and Billy should have a heartwarming relationship at Oakland, whose chances this year are even less than a marshmallow salesman’s.
You would have to say Baltimore is dangerous in the American League East, based on how it creamed its beloved rivals last year. It humiliated the monied clubs of New York and Boston, brimming with costly free agents. And it won 102 games in the process. Since the only player of consequence it has lost is reliever Don Stanhouse, you find it hard to row against the Birds. For the last three years, Boston has fumbled every opportunity. The Yankees seem unhappy with life in the South Bronx and you see Milwaukee again as tough, but not quite ready.
Before the seventh game of the World Series last year, someone unwrapped for Baltimore manager Earl Weaver the stirring platitude, “Is there no tomorrow?”
Earl answered quietly, “Even if we blow it, there is tomorrow.”
And, indeed, tomorrow is here and Earl is in the forecourt again, however scarred by his adventures. It is hoped the following selections do better than Baltimore did in its last three games.
American League East
1. Baltimore Orioles
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. New York Yankees
5. Detroit Tigers
6. Cleveland Indians
7. Toronto Blue Jays
American League West
1. California Angels
2. Texas Rangers
3. Kansas City Royals
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Chicago White Sox
6. Seattle Mariners
7. Oakland A’s
National League East
1. Pittsburgh Pirates
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Montreal Expos
4. Philadelphia Phillies
5. Chicago Cubs
6. New York Mets
National League West
1. Houston Astros
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. San Francisco Giants
5. San Diego Padres
6. Atlanta Braves