Phoenix, Ariz. — "When a team wins consistently in major league baseball, there has to be a reason other than just talent," said Frank Robinson, the new manager of the San Francisco Giants. "In my opinion that reason is fundamentals."
The thing I look at first is defense, then offense," Frank said. "Teams that don't give up a lot of runs obviously have a better chance of winning than those who do. I've found that your offense will generally take care of itself."
Robinson says that most talented young players reach the major so quickly now that they never really have a chance to learn the game properly in the minors.
"Today's big league manager can't just run a game," Frank explained. "He also has to be a teacher and pick his coaches for the same reason, or else he isn't doing his job. You can't expect kids to guess up here and not make mistakes. And te only way to avoid that is to carry the fundamentals you work on in spring training right into the regular season.
"For example, we're spending a lot of time teaching players how to bunt and how to move runners around the bases," he continued. "Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but often the ability to bunt a man into scoring position with your power coming up in the late innings can win a close game for you. And at the very worst you're forcing the opposition to handle the ball quickly and possibly throw it away."
Although the Giants still look like a team with enough veterans that Robinson might like to platoon, Frank is starting out, anyway, with the idea of a set lineup.
"I think any manager would prefer to go with the same eight starters every day, provided they're producing," Robinson said."I think under this system you eventually develop a built-in awareness of what each other can do, and that this pays off in clutch situations. And people who play every day generally hit better.
"Basically, I don't want to platoon unless that's the only way I can get the most out of a position," he want on. "That doesn't mean I won't rest people or sometimes play a rookie ahead of a veteran. But I like the idea of developing people who can play together as a unit."
San francisco has lot of traffic at first base, where Darrell Evans, Mike Ivie, and Rich Murray are all prime candidates.Evans became available for first base when the Giants traded with the Houston Astros for third baseman Enos Cabell, and Darrell is versatile enough to play the outfield if either Ivie or Murray should win the job.
Ivie, who had a 27-homer, 89-runs-batted-in season in 1979, never quite overcame a hand injury last year and was AWOL from the Giants between June 27 and July 17. Murray, who has power, still has to learn to hit the breaking pitch.
Rennie Stennett is scheduled to play second base, unless free agent Joe Morgan hits so well in spring camp that Robinson can't ignore him. Slick-fielding Johnnie LeMaster has a lock on shortstop. Milt May will be the starting catcher, with help from Mike Sadek and Dennis Littlejohn.
Jack Clark, one of the best clutch hitters in the National League, will play right field and probably hit either third or fourth. Jerry Martin, who was with the Cubs last season and has some power, is pushing Bill North for the centerfield job, although Robinson gives up an experienced leadoff hitter if North doesn't start.
Larry Herndon will probably be in left field if Evans plays first base, and maybe even if he doesn't.
Probably the thing Robinson likes about the Giants is their pitching staff, including a superb bullpen. Frank has two exceptional starters in Vida Blue and Ed Whitson, plus Doyle Alexander (14-11 last year with Atlanta), Al Ripley, Al Hargesheimr, and Tom Griffin fighting for the three other openings.
San francisco is four-deep in the bullpen with Al Holland, Greg Minton, Gary Lavelle, and Randy Moffit -- five if Griffin doesn't make it in the starting rotation.
"One of the great things about having a dependable bullpen is that you never have to gamble with a starter through one more inning, when you know he's already lost some of his stuff," Robinson said. "I won't predict where the Giants are going to finish this year, and I don't expect miracles, but i do think we'll make the kind of progress that people can see."