Street & Smith’s:
At 37 years of- age, Dick Williams is optimistic, enthusiastic and completely nonplussed about his new job of managing the Boston Red Sox, It also might be added that Williams is extremely capable. These are big plusses for the new head man in Fenway Park. And he will need them, and maybe some others that haven’t been invented yet. Managing the Red Sox down through the years has been the kind of job to test the patience of a saint – a strong one. The Red Sox clubhouse traditionally has featured more than its share of b1ithe spirits and unconventional types.
But Boston is a fine baseball town and it looks now as though they have the right kind of a man calling the shots. Williams is fresh off two winning seasons as manager of the Red Sox’ top farm club in Toronto. What’s more, he will be leading a young team which appears just about ready to make their best bid for a rise in the standings since 1959 when the club fh1ished fifth. Williams admits his toughest job will be to get “this team to play like a unit.” This is Wi11iams’ way of saying, that as a former player in Red Sox haberdashery, he got to know first hand the casual and individualistic approach a good many of the hired men carried into their daily chores.
It is obvious that the 1967 Red Sox are going as far as they can on youth. And no matter, how you assay the young men, you’ve got to put rookie center fielder Reggie Smith right up theee among the rookies most likely to succeed in the American League. Smith, who played for Williams in Toronto last year, won the batting title of the International League. If Smith is able to make the grade in center field, that would leave the Red Sox with three unsettled positions. They are behind the plate, first base and second base. But at each position, much to the great pleasure of Williams, there are outstanding candidates ready to do battle for steady employment. A good battle – maybe one that will be waged the entire season – shapes up at first base where George Scott will be up to his ears in trouble trying to hold off the bid of Tony Horton.
Horton, a big boy who has been up and down with the varsity the last three years, finally put everything together for Williams in Toronto. Horton wound up his International League labors with a batting average of .297, 26 home runs and 84 RBI. And making Horton completely equipped for his war with Scott is the fact, that like Scott, he swings from the right side of the plate. That’s the right side if you’re big, strong and the target is the friendly green wall in leftfield of Fenway Park. Despite the noticeable improvement during last season, Scott is in for loads of trouble. But the big first baseman wound up with a total of 174 strikeouts, a club whiff mark for the Bosox. In addition to the skirmish at first base, three catchers will be doing battle. Mike Ryan, Bob Tillman, and newcomer Russ Gibson are in the running. Ryan and Tillman are not listed among the game’s most promising batters. But Gibson, a young catcher who played for Williams in Toronto, is coming to the major leagues with exceptional credentials, He posted a .292 average in 100 games for his International League efforts in 1966. No one is counting young Gibson out of the regular job. And that includes Williams.
At second base, another alumnus of Williams’ youth movement in Toronto figures to offer plenty of competition to holdovers George Smith and Dalton Jones. He is Mike Andrews. He batted .267 at Toronto, which is just fine for a second baseman with enough power to hit 14 home runs. The Red Sox were not active at all during the winter trading bee. This is proof enough that they are going all the way with their kids. Not to mention young, but established major league outfielders of the caliber of Carl Yastrzemski and· Tony Conigliaro. Yastrzemski and Conigliaro give the Red Sox a pair of legitimate thumpers. There isn’t a team in the league which wouldn’t love to swing a trade for these two hitting outfielders. The Sox also have no problem at shortstop where Rico Petrocelli fmally has established himself, and at third base where Joe Foy ought to come back with a strong performance after winning Player of the Month honors last September.
If the Red Sox appear to be extravagantly equipped with young prospects in the outfield, infield and behind the plate, such is not the case on the mound. In order for the Red Sox – pegged as the best second division club in the league last year – to make a serious bid for the first division, they must show much improvement in pitching. Indications, though, are brighter than they were a year ago. In 1966, the Sox started out with Earl Wilson as the only sure-fire starter. Then, Dennis Bennett and Dave Morehead were sidelined with sore arms to make the situation even darker. Since the start of last season, Jim Lonborg, Bucky Brandon and Jose Santiago came of age. Lee Stange, a veteran right-hander, also developed into a regular starting pitcher. Hank Fischer, a righthander obtained from the Cincinnati Reds, ought to help, And so should newcomer Gary Waslewski, Jerry Stephenson, Bill Landis, Garry Roggenburk, Morehead and Bennett. The bullpen is in fairly good shape with veterans Don McMahon and John Wyatt on hand.
The Red Sox have greater power hitting potential than any other American League teams except the Orioles and Tigers. Tony Conigliaro and George Scott are definite home run threats and each should drive in 90 runs apiece again. Carl Yastrzemski, who, unfortunately, never has maintained good rapport with his managers, is an ex-batting champion and always ranks up there with the league’s best hitters. Rookie Reggie Smith, a switch-hitting center fielder who starts the season at second, won the International League’s batting title last year, and Joe Foy has good power. Even slender Shortstop Rico Petrocelli (.182) hit 10 home runs in 1966, but Rico tended to develop injuries last year whenever he went eight at bats or so without a hit—something he managed quite frequently. There is power on the bench, too, with Tony Horton, Don Demeter and George Thomas. Jose Tartabull (.269) plays center against righthanders. Despite all this, the Red Sox never have been able to execute the fundamental maneuvers that win ball games—the bunt, the hit-and-run, the sacrifice fly, the stolen base.
If just two of their sore-armed, sorehead pitchers become healthy and dependable, the Red Sox could have enough pitching to move up sharply in the standings. But they have been putting “if” before the Bennetts and the Moreheads and the Stephensons for too many years now. So Jim Lonborg, Darrell Brandon, rookie left-hander Billy Rohr, Lee Stange and José Santiago will be the starters—a prospect that won’t cause too many hitters around the league to lose sleep. Bullpen veterans Don McMahon, John Wyatt and Dan Osinski will see a lot of work. Petrocelli could make the infield outstanding, and Reggie Smith has one of the best outfield arms in baseball. But new Manager Dick Williams must teach the supposedly experienced Yastrzemski to throw either to the cutoff man or to the right base, basics that Carl has never learned.
Dick Williams promises not to tolerate the traditional Red Sox traits of individualism, inattention and ineptitude. If he can find some pitching, too, the 1967 Sox may revive baseball in Boston.