There are plenty of curious factors to ponder in the American League West. Left hander Jim Kaat predicts that he will win more games for the Minnesota Twins because he has had a calcium deposit the size of a lime and the shape of a starfish removed from a thigh; he had this talisman with him in Florida this spring and was glad to show it to accredited forecasters. Another oddity to consider is that since this time last year every team in the division has acquired a new manager—the odd thing being it might well make a difference. The Oakland Athletics, No. 2 in ’69, should be better under quiet John McNamara, and Minnesota, the defending champ, should not be as good without loud Billy Martin. The Athletics have other things going for them. They are young enough so that being a year older is all for the best. They have traded for a good young catcher in Frank Fernandez, more power at first in Don Mincher, bullpen help in Diego Segui, an added starter in Al Downing and a seasoned hitter in Felipe Alou. Rick Monday has married and put on weight through his shoulders (not necessarily in that order). Presumably Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando, though they have advanced to the ages of 23 and 26, will continue to do such things as hit 45 and 25 home runs, respectively, and play in every inning of every game—which Bando did in ’69 — as well as drive in another 231 runs between them. Defense is good, team speed is good, the infield is the best in the league outside Baltimore. The only problem is pitching, which some theorists hold to be important. But the material is there in Blue Moon Odom, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and the more prosaically named Chuck Dobson and Jim Roland. The clincher may well be McNamara, who managed more than half of the current A’s in the minors and was cited by most of them last year, when he was an Oakland coach, as the man who had helped them most in baseball. “We came up together,” says McNamara.”You can’t spend 18 hours on a bus with these players without getting to know them well.” Unaccountably, he even got to like them, and vice versa, under those conditions. If McNamara can bring two or three of his fine young pitchers to their full potential, and coax a good year out of the erraticDowning, the new skipper might not even be put back on that bus by Charles O.Finley.
The Twins, with Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rich Reese, Rod Carew and other fixtures nearly as solid, look like the class of the division—on paper. Their horrible spring record in the Grapefruit League may mean nothing, but the combination that put them nine games ahead of the A’s last season has been disrupted. Martin, who in 1969 plotted their moves, chewed their tails and beat up at least one of them, was in camp this spring only to tape radio interviews and to smoke a Sherlock Holmes pipe. Bill Rigney, Billy the Kid’s successor, is widely known as a peach of a guy, but the Twins’ only pennants have been won when Martin, widely known as a peach pit of a guy, was irritating them onward either as manager or as third-base coach. Soon after firing Martin, Owner Calvin Griffith traded away Ted Uhlaender, thereby tying down versatile Cesar Tovar to Uhlaender’s old center- field spot. Old-hand Catcher John Roseboro, named to the All-Star team in 1966 and 1967, was released outright by Griffith in the winter because of his age and salary and was signed quickly by the Senators. Roseboro’s successor, George Mitterwald, is able-looking but inexperienced, and it may turn out that economizing on old John was penny wise and pennant foolish. Then again if Luis Tiant, who came over from Cleveland in the Uhlaender trade, regains his 1968 pitching form (17-10; 1.92) as opposed to his 1969 form (11-18), Griffith could yet qualify as the trader of the year. Tiant pitched 450 innings in the past 12 months in the American, Mexican and Dominican Republic leagues. Kaat, Jim Perry and Dave Boswell the Twins have four pitchers who have been 20-game winners, though Boswell seems the only good bet to win that many again.
There are four other teams in the division—unless you feel that Seattle-Milwaukee should be counted as more, or less, than one—but they bothered the A’s and Twins last year only because they were such poor drawing cards. Again none seems to have much chance of rising above third place. But two of them, the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals, will at least be more interesting and may even represent growth stocks along the lines of the 1968 pre-pennant Mets. Last year the phrase “White Sox enthusiast” had all the inner logic of”Studebaker buff” or “Muzak nut.” The club might have drawn better with home movies, and the only really juicy story out of Comiskey Park was the time left hander Tommy John told a lady sportswriter that in his opinion Joe Namath was “nothing but an animal.” This year, however, it will be worth traveling into the South Side just to see Carlos May play left field andWalt Williams play right. May, the best rookie in the league, lost part of his thumb to a misfired mortar round during Army reserve exercises last August, but he showed what the rest of him is made of this spring by learning to throw well (cutting down at least two base runners) and to hit line drives with that crucial appendage bolstered only by a bit of foam rubber. It remains to be seen how well May will get around on the ball when regular- season pitchers start jamming him ruthlessly with inside fast balls and sliders on his incomplete fists, but if there is any justice he will come through some way. The 5’6″ Williams was the hustlingest thing about the Sox, if not about the league, last year and was the best hitter for average (.291) on the South Side. If the club ceases to be snake bit (May was hurt, Al Lopez fell sick and decided to quit as manager, and an impressive young pitcher named Paul Edmondson was killed in an automobile accident) and if some of the pitching for which the Sox used to be famous can be scraped up to go along with the burgeoning hitting, it will be a team to watch.
The Royals, by far the most successful of the latest crop of expansion teams, gave such newcomers as Lou Piniella, Pat Kelly and Jackie Hernandez plenty of experience but also invested heavily in minor league development. This past winter they also picked up Amos Otis, who had been branded by the Mets as “untouchable” property a year ago and who had a first- rate season in the minors after flunking as the Met third baseman. Outfielder Otis was miscast at third base and had no chance of winning the center-field job from Tommie Agee, but he has taken over that position for Kansas City like a man who may be making impossible catches in the 1972 World Series. Charlie Metro, who had been the Royals’ farm director, agreed to take over as manager with some reluctance because it meant losing the profit-sharing advantages that have made rich ladies out of secretaries in firms run by the Royals’ owner, Ewing Kauffman (a rule prohibits such remuneration to uniformed personnel). Metro consoles himself by saying that he has the best young pitching staff in baseball, so if you don’t want to miss the first tender flowering of the next Seaver or Koosman, it might be wise to keep an eye on Dick Drago, Bill Butler, Jim Rooker, Wally Bunker (who is, after all, still only 25) and Roger Nelson.
The California Angels have beefed up their offense greatly by acquiring Alex Johnson, one of the real natural rippers, from Cincinnati, but Johnson can be counted on to do something else again to their defense. It was Johnson who, one day when his defensive replacement also made several errors, prompted someone to revive the old saw that he had left field so fouled up nobody could play it. Jay Johnstone and Jim Fregosi are better-rounded Angels, and Andy Messersmith leads a creditable pitching staff. But longtime super starlet Rick Reichardt will probably not even be a regular this year, and the folks of Anaheim are not likely to pass up Disneyland in droves to see a ball club with so little flair.
The Seattle Pilots were another team that changed managers (Dave Bristol for Joe Schultz),thereby inspiring cynics to suggest that Seattle should have kept the pilot
and replaced the Pilots. Then a great deal of legal and financial flatulence cast a pall on spring training, what with the front office more concerned with where the team would play than with whom its players would be. Things should brighten up in Milwaukee—Tommy Harper will steal a lot of bases and Mike Hegan will hit well—but the new Brewers will still look like the old Pilots. Sometimes the more things change the more they remain the same.
Predicted Order of Finish: