The contagion that is the New York Mets continues to spread. Throughout Florida this spring, where the Mets replaced the sun as a tourist attraction, the dramatic impact of their five-month-old World Series victory over a fine Baltimore team was still as fresh and satisfying as the orange juice. Now, with a new season ready to begin, following a year in which the Mets drew a major league high of 2,175,373 in home attendance, almost anything is possible. If the club gets off to a good start it could approach, or surpass, the major league attendance record of 2,755,184 set at Dodger Stadium in 1962.
For those who still like to believe that the Mets accomplished their championship with voodoo, fine. But it should be remembered that the Mets won 95 games while winning their division, and few bad clubs have been known to get lucky 95 times in a season. A theory exists that the Mets will emulate the famous Philadelphia Whiz Kids of 1950, who won a pennant and the next year toppled into fifth place. As we now know, anything is possible—but some things are less possible than others, and a Met collapse is in that category. The Mets can run, field and bunt, and when these factors are combined with a very deep and strong pitching staff their chances of repeating must be considered good, even if not overwhelming. By trading for Joe Foy to fill their perennial trouble spot at third base, the Mets have picked up a player who can drive in runs, although there are days when Foy does not exactly resemble Brooks Robinson in the field. New York hopes to get the same sort of performance out of Leftfielder Cleon Jones and Centerfielder Tommie Agee that each produced in 1969. Jones, injured late in the year, hit .347 and scored 93 runs while driving in 70. Agee, a versatile leadoff man, hit 27 homers, had 73 RBIs and scored 87 times . Another important man will be Second Baseman Ken Boswell, an aggressive hitter, who batted .354 down the stretch in September. New York’s catching is good, with Jerry Grote and Duffy Dyer, and Bud Harrelson is an excellent shortstop, one of the best in baseball. Ron Swoboda-Art Shamsky in right field and Donn Clendenon-Ed Kranepool at first base will be platooned most of the time. The Mets sneaked up on a lot of people who weren’t looking; now they will be in the spotlight. Still, the pressure should be bearable. Most Met fans, thankful for last season, will forgive their team almost anything this time around, which could be a big psychological advantage for a team whose pitching should prevent any prolonged losing streaks.
There will be very little forgiving in St. Louis, however. Following back-to-back pennants, the Cardinals now face a desperate challenge. When Manager Red Schoendienst was
asked if there were any long-shot players who might make what once had been a set and established team, he succinctly replied, “On this club everybody is a long shot.” Even
so, St. Louis is a team that should generate enough pitching and hitting to keep itself in contention all the way, though there will be days when it will look awful—mostly
because of poor defense and a questionable bullpen. As Joe Torre said recently about the controversial Cards, “No matter what has happened here this spring I know we can win
this thing.” But there have been a tremendous number of trades and shifts in positions, and the Cardinals took a cruel blow when Third Baseman Mike Shannon was struck with a
kidney ailment (nephritis) that might cause him to miss the entire season. The loss of Shannon hurt—at a time when the club still had to find someone to send to Philadelphia
in compensation for Curt Flood—but with Torre, Lou Brock, Julian Javier, Carl Taylor, Jose Cardenal and Richie Allen in the lineup, St. Louis should hit more effectively than
in 1969. In May, 20-year-old Ted Simmons, a switch-hitting catcher who produced 205 RBIs in his two full seasons in the minors, returns from the service. Defensively, the Cardinals are strongest at short and second with Dal Maxvill and Javier, and the pitchers had the second best earned run average in the National League in 1969 (2.84). The three top starters—Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton and Nelson Briles—won 56 games. For relief, the Cardinals are counting on Sal Campisi, who had a combined 36-8 record in the minor leagues the last three years; Taylor, who will work out of the bullpen, too; and George Culver, who can also spot-start. St. Louis looks like a team capable of finishing either first or fifth but not in between.
It was the end of the road that got Chicago’s Cubs in serious trouble last year, and the cantankerous Leo Durocher is on a very hot seat. Chicago opened fast and quickly drew the role of the prohibitive favorite in the East. However, the clubdfaded in the summer. Durocher contends that his team got tired, a valid but certainly not original conclusion, and that now he is planning to give his regulars a rest from time to time. His regulars are very good, but even with three of them—Ernie Banks, 39 this year, Ron Santo and Billy Williams—combining for 334 RBIs Chicago did not win, and the question remains: Can they repeat those outstanding years? John Callison, a good rightfielder picked up from Philadelphia, knocked in more than 100 runs for the Phillies back in 1964 and 1965, and he has always hit well in Wrigley Field. Center field is still a problem; seven men were tried there in spring training. Glenn Beckert (.279) and Don Kessinger (.244) are excellent at second and short, and the catching is in the strong hands of Randy Hundley. Ferguson Jenkins (22-12), Bill Hands (17-13), and Ken Holtzman (14-14) are impressive starters, but the Cubs need at least one more. Chicago’s bullpen twins, Ted Abernathy and Phil Regan, are a formidable duo. If the Cubs can shuck off the gloom left over from their disappointing season, they could make another solid run for the pennant. They may do it. After all, the season will be six weeks old before they have to go to Shea Stadium to face the Mets.
A favorite dark horse is Pittsburgh, which finished third ahead of the Cards last year. The Pirate hitters continue to be excellent—they outhit even powerful Cincinnati, .269
to .265. On May 29 the Pirates leave ancient Forbes Field for new Three Rivers Stadium, and that should give Willie Stargell a chance to have a decent home-run year; Forbes Field is a difficult place for a left-handed hitter like Stargell. That Roberto Clemente is hepped up about this year’s club is another very good sign. Roberto has won four batting championships and three of them came under Danny Murtaugh, who returns as manager. The Pirates also have Matty Alou (.302), Rich Hebner, the rookie third baseman (.274), and Stargell
(.299). However, the bullpen is questionable and, unhappily, so can be the starting pitchers. Can Bob Veale repeat his 20-win season? Dock Ellis (13-11) and Steve Blass (12-15) will need to continue their improvement for a team with a pennant within its’ sights. Still, the Pirates spent the summer atop the East before falling to third place in September. However, a lot of people like them. Now it is a question of how much the Pirates, a confused team of late, really like themselves.
At the other end of Pennsylvania the fans are being asked to get ready for the era of the thoroughly modern Phillies. Philadelphia, too, is getting a new ball park, Veterans
Stadium, which hopefully will be ready in July, though the modern ball park won’t be the only new thing in Philadelphia. Rich Allen has departed, with his muttonchops and big
bat, and Curt Flood, in a law court instead of center field, has not arrived. New uniforms will be worn by the players, and usherettes, called Fillies, will work the stands in
white miniskirts and Orion turtleneck pullovers. And a new manager has been brought in. Frank Lucchesi, who was given a two-year contract with the Phils after 19 years in the
minors, has made a sharp impression since his appointment to the post just before the end of the 1969 season. “I didn’t ask for the job,” Lucchesi says. “I had been in the
Philadelphia organization for 14 years, and they knew where to reach me. Now there is this thing about my name. You’ve got your Earl Weavers and your Sparky Andersons and your
John McNamaras, and guys can pronounce their names. Me, they know from nothin’. They call me ‘Lou-cheesy’ and ‘Lou-chessy’ and even ‘Luck-a-see.’ I’ve got to be the top nobody
in the big leagues.” The name is pronounced “Lou-casey,” and if the attitude the new manager seemed to develop on his club this spring is sustained, the Phillies could be the
most improved team in the division. Jim Bunning and Chris Short, both trying to make comebacks as effective starting pitchers, join Rick Wise (15-14), Woody Fryman (10-9) and
Grant Jackson (11-18). There is a young double-play combination in Larry Bowa, 24, at shortstop and Denny Doyle, 26, at second. Don Money moves from short to third, and Deron
Johnson will be the first baseman. Aggressive Tim McCarver is Philadelphia’s new catcher, and Joe Hoerner, another ex-Cardinal, will help in the bullpen. In the scrambled
outfield Larry Hisle, still only 22, might be ready to burst into stardom. It should be noted that the Phillie farm teams were among the best in baseball last year.
In Montreal, Rusty Staub is Le Grande Orange, and the Expos have done fine in their charming city despite all kinds of dire predictions about the weather. Montreal drew
1,212,608 fans in its first year, a figure that could improve, even though Jarry Park’s capacity is only 28,456. As for Staub, he hit 27 homers—something he was never able to
do in the Houston Astrodome—batted .314 and was walked 111 times. The Expos lost 103 games but they should be a better team this year. The hitting is good at times, the fielding bad a lot of the time and the pitching totally questionable. But the Expos are the sort of team that can add a little spice to what shapes up as a lively divisional race.
Predicted Order of Finish: