All last winter, Larry Shepard dreamed pleasant dreams about the Pirates in faraway Lincoln, Neb. When he thought of the Bucs, and all that good hitting and with Jim Bunning starting a new career in Pittsburgh, he couldn’t help but dream of a pennant. Shepard talked pennant all winter and he talked it all during spring training. He soon became a disillusioned rookie manager.
What blew up Shepard’s dream world? The answer: injuries. Injuries to key men like Roberto Clemente, Bunning, Gene Alley, Bill Mazeroski and others. “Naturally, I got enthused about the Pirates when I thought that Bunning would be pitching for a team with real good hitter,” Shepard confessed. “Another reason that made me optimistic was the player’s attitude. I heard of the unrest some of the players had under Harry Walker, and I figured if they could play that well under somewhat odd situations, I knew I could relax them.”
As much as Shepard respected Clemente and his great ability from a distance, he now can see first-hand how Clemente’s absence can pull a team down. “I now can understand what it means to have Clemente ailing,” he said with a shake of his head. “He’s the best player in the league. When he’s out of the lineup, this is an entirely different team.” Shepard’s biggest disappointments have been injuries to both Clemente and Bunning. His surprises have come from 20-year-old Bob Moose as a starter, and 36-year-old Ron Kline as a relief specialist. What do the Pirates need for the future? “Youth and speed,” Shepard reasoned. “And not so many injuries.”