Street & Smith’s:
While speculation sizzles on how much damage the loss of Sandy Koufax will inflict on the Dodgers, let’s just suppose they had been without him last year. The Dodgers, winning the pennant by four and a half games, won 101, lost 61, Koufax either won or lost in all except five of his 41 starts, finishing with 26-10. This made Koufax plus-16 for the season on a club which finished 40 games on the top side of .500. Take Sandy’s figures away and the Dodgers are 75-51 with 36 games to go. Give the Dodgers an even split in those 36 games without Sandy and they would be 93-69, right in the thick of it tied with the third place Pirates! Now add the loss of Maury Wills, the team leader on the field and you may have a psychologically shattering situation. Koufax was always there when a victory was needed. And Wills, his teammates knew, would contrive to get on base, or to get home with the vital run. You have to add their inspirational value to their mechanical production to appreciate their tremendous value. They were the Dodgers’ win guys.
Well, Walter Alston is taking the Koufax loss in stride and actually told someone that spring training was going to be fun. The champions went to Vero Beach with lineup problems in the outfield and infield, plus searching for a No. 4 and No. 5 starter. Just one man isn’t going to replace Sandy. Alston wasn’t worried about Don Drysdale, and with Sandy gone, Drysdale might have a tremendous year in reacting to his increased load of responsibility. At 30, Don’s the oldest pitcher on the club.
Back of Drysdale are Series MVP Claude Osteen and Don Sutton, 15-12, but lost in the final weeks of the season because of a sore arm. If Sutton isn’t sound, the champions could be in for more trouble. The search for the two additional starters will spotlight Joe Moeller, a challenger for several years; Alan Foster, a 20-year-old right-hander, who was 11-5 in the Texas League; and Bill Singer, 23, who hasn’t quite made it in previous chances. Alston says Foster, who has only one year’s professional experience, was his best pitcher on the postseason tour of Japan. Bob Miller, a bullpenner, is another possible starter because of the addition of big Bob Lee from the Angels in a swap for Nick Willhite. Ron Perranoski and Jim Brewer are veteran southpaws restricted to emergency duty. Phil (The Vulture) Regan, a spectacular 14-1 last year, is the “short” man in the bullpen.
The way Alston saw it when the exercising started in Florida, Ron Hunt would get a good shot to make it at second base and a like opportunity would be given Gene Michael at short. Michael hit .289 in the International League last season and is a switcher. Hunt batted .298 for the Mets. If he makes it at second base, Jim Lefebvre, the big man in the club’s weak power structure, would move to third base, where he has played. Bob Bailey also is a factor at third base in the revamped infield. “I like Bob’s bat,” says Alston. “He could be at third or in the outfield. He has better than fair speed and he’s young and improving, We’ll find a spot for him.” Willie Davis, in center, and John Roseboro, the catcher, actually were the only daily performers assumed of not becoming displaced persons, It could be Series hero Wes Parker or Ron Fairly – or perhaps even Bailey at first base. Parker and Fairly also are at home in the outfield. Lou Johnson, as he did last year, might divide his time in left and right field because of the almost endless number of lineup possibilities. Jim Hickman, who came from the Mets with Hunt in the Tommy Davis deal, is a right-hander who has played first, third and the outfield. John Kennedy, essentially a third baseman, and little Dick Schofield, were set to challenge Michael at short. Johnny Werhas, a rookie, plays short and third. And Lefebvre is not even ruled out as a firist baseman with his fluid personnel.
Lefebvre’s 22 homers headed the Dodgers as did his 92 runs batted in on a .274 average. The 33-year-old Lou Johnson, who finally made it in the majors in 1965 after 13 minor league seasons, drove in 57 runs and hit 12 homers in proving he really belonged. The Cardinals of 1942-’43-’44 were last in the league to win three championships in succession. If the Dodgers tie this mark, Alston indeed will be a miracle man.
One route to defeat the Dodgers the last two seasons has been rumored to be through left-handed pitchers. Only Lou Johnson held his own against lefties last year, hitting .272. Six other front-line players—Willie Davis, Ron Fairly, Lou Johnson, Wes Parker, John Roseboro and former Met Ron Hunt—hit a collective .291 versus right-handers, but against left-handers all but Hunt batted only .245.The addition of Hunt hopes to improve this average as Ron batted .355 against southpaws last season. Before Willie Davis sprained his ankle this spring Manager Walt Alston wanted to put him in the leadoff spot to utilize his exceptional speed, but Willie’s inability to wait out pitches (he has averaged only 22 walks a season for seven years) made the idea a questionable one even then. The skimpy attack is built around Lefebvre (22 homers and 92 RBIs), Fairly (53 RBIs), Johnson (57 RBIs) and Roseboro (.277). It has been bolstered somewhat by the acquisition of Bob Bailey (.302) and Hunt (.298), a good hit-and-run man.
With Sandy Koufax gone, the pitching staff—still a good one—cannot hope to match the 2.71 ERA that led the majors last year. But a full tour of spring training has helped Don Drysdale (19-15, 3.18 in 1966 after his long holdout). Lefthander Claude Osteen (11-13, 3.15 ERA) and Don Sutton (15-12, 3.38) are strong starters, too, and will be joined in the rotation by former Relievers Bob Miller and Joe Moeller. The well-manned bullpen features Phil Regan (14-1, 21 saves, 1.40 ERA), plus left-hander Ron Perranoski and big Bob Lee, picked up from the Angels. The defense is better at second, where Hunt replaces Lefebvre, who moves to third. Either Gene Michael, who has range and a strong arm, or Dick Schofield can play short better than Maury Wills. Parker is peerless at first, and Roseboro is one of the best catchers around.
The slightly stronger attack is nullified by much weaker pitching (any staff that loses a Koufax is much weaker). The Dodgers may make the first division. But a pennant? Not this time.