Attendance slowly returns; As the strike ended they weren't playing hardball
Los Angeles — Although baseball returned Aug. 10 to begin completion of its strike-abbreviated 1981 season, most teams during their first few days back performed with all the consistency of a $700 used car.
Errors, especially throwing errors, were commonplace; hitting and pitching were spotty; and managers were frequently relieving out-of-shape starters as early as the fourth and fifth innings.
For several teams, baseball's Second Season seems to hold a lot more promise than its first. For example, the Atlanta Braves, who had three regulars on the injured list when the strike began, now have them back and are acting like legitimate contenders in the National League West.
In the NL East, St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog was solving many of his problems by constantly calling in relief pitcher Bruce Sutter. Bruce, whose specialty is the split-fingered fast ball, saved three ganes in the first week to bring his season total to 14.
In the American League West, Seattle has been scoring runs in buncges -- enough to get the feel of being in first place in August. Mariner outfielder Jeff Burroughs, who hit only five home runs in his first 141 at-bats, had three in one game against Minnesota. Yet his performance overall was exceeded by California second baseman Bobby Grich, who hit .500 (12 for 24), with 5 homers and 8 RBIs.
Even more unusual was the fast start of Toronto in the AL East. The Blue Jays, who had the worst record in baseball before the strike, were only one game out of first at the end of the initial week. If this should somehow last, people may start to dream about interest rates coming down.
Pete Rose, who has a friend who owns an amusement center with several pitching machines, used those machines all during the strike to keep sharp, sometimes hitting up to 500 balls a day.
No wonder Rose, in his first day back, was able to pass Stan Musial as the National League's all-time hit king. Pete got hit No. 3,631 against the St. Louis Cardinals, with Musial looking on from the stands. Only Ty Cobb (with 4, 191) and Hank Aaron (with 3,771) have more.
Musial figured in another milestone when Los Angeles first baseman Steve Garvey played in his 896th consecutive game, taking over fifth place from Stan on baseball's all-time Iron Man list.
For those who can't turn down a sentimental journey, there was the heartwarming return from the minor leagues of pitcher Luis Tiant, whose contract was purchased from Portland of the Pacific Coast League by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Nobody knows how old Tiant really is, but at his last birthday party three people were overcome from the heat generated by the candles on his cake. Anyway , Luis made an auspicious debut against Montreal, holding the Expos to one hit for five innings, giving up one run in the sixth, and then running out of gas in the seventh.
If you are looking for someone to criticize, how about Kansas City third baseman George Brett, who hit .390 last year, but who did almost nothing to keep himself is shape during the strike and is now paying the price for his inactivity.
The Cleveland Indians, who can't seem to do anything right, sent Joe Charboneau, the 1980 Rookie of the Year, back to the minors, where an attempt will be made to reintroduce him to the strike zone.
The Boston Red Sox called up Bobby Ojeda from Pawtucket, and the 23-year-old left-hander tossed a complete game and 8-1 victory in his first start, followed by a second sharp effort in a 3-0 loss at Texas.
The Dodgers also brought up a pitcher, 22-year-old reliever Alejandro Pena, who had 23 saves and a 1.66 earned-run average at Albuquerque in his first season above Class A. In Pena's major league debut he pitched four scoreless innings.
Even though attendance overall was down an estimated 20 percent, curiosity and promotion nights were beginning to bring back the fans in ever-increasing numbers. And those who have shown up have been very selective in their booing.
Looking ahead toward the playoffs, the original system set up in haste just before resumption of play has provoked controversy, but there's speculation that a new and fairer formula is being considered.
What all this means in terms of the pennant races is anybody's guess, but some things don't seem to have changed. The San Diego Padres, for instance, were on the bottom before, and they seem to be working just as hard as ever to stay there.