New York — One of the fascinations at this year's World Series is the number of outstanding veterans who finally got a chance to play in the fall classic for the first time after long and distinguished careers.
Normally you wouldn't expect this situation in a Series involving such regular participants as the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner's penchant for signing free agents has something to do with it, of course, and then there are several other long-time big leaguers who just always seemed to miss out through one ironic twist or another.
Heading the free agent brigade is Bob Watson, who finally reached this ultimate goal of all ballplayers after a 13-year major league career. The Yankee first basemen spent most of those years as one of the top hitters on a weak Houston team, then just when the Astros started going somewhere he was traded to Boston. Finally in 1980 it looked as though Bob might finally get into a Series as the Yankees won the American League East title, but that turned out to be the only year a New York team has ever lost in the playoffs. This year the Yankees weren't to be denied, though, and Watson has certainly made the most of his long-awaited opportunity as one of the team's top hitters throughout the Series.
Some other Yankees in their first Series are outfielder Dave Winfield, pitcher Rick Reuschel, and infielder Aurelio Rodriguez.
Winfield, of course, was this year's big free-agent acquisition by Steinbrenner after languishing in San Diego for the first eight years of his major league career. Reuschel, a long-time star right-hander for the Chicago Cubs, was obtained in a midseason trade.
Rodriguez, who played most of his years at Detroit, had a better shot than the others, but he reached the Tigers a few years too late for their 1968 championship club and then was part of the team that just missed in 1972 when it lost the playoffs in five games to Oakland. By the time he finally got to the Series, he figured to play very little as a utility man, but turned out to be a key performer at third base when Graig Nettles sustained a thumb injury that kept him out of several games.
For Los Angeles, the most heartwarming story is that of Jerry Reuss, who pitched well in defeat in Game 1, then outdueled Ron Guidry for a 2-1 victory in Game 5. A longtime standout for a couple of National League teams, the big left-hander always seemed to miss out one way or another when it came to getting into the Series. He was pitching for Pittsburgh in 1974, for instance, when the Pirates lost to the Dodgers in the NL playoffs, and again in 1975 when Cincinnati emerged victorious. He was still with Pittsburgh in 1977 and 1978 when Los Angeles won pennants, then the year he got traded to the Dodgers (1979) , it was the Pirates' turn to get into the Series. But at last this year Jerry was in the right place at the right time, and as in the case of Watson, he has made the most of his belated opportunity.
Then there is the story of Bobby Murcer - certainly the most poignant one of all.
As a promising youngster in the Yankee system in the 1960s - the years of Mantle, Maris, Ford, and five straight pennants - Bobby had every reason to expect an exciting career filled with plenty of these postseason extravaganzas. But the very year he made the club, 1965, saw the beginning of the losing slide that continued for virtually a decade - a period when he was one of the team's few really solid players. Bobby was still there when Steinbrenner bought the club in 1973 and began turning it around, but was traded in 1975 just before it started winning again. He missed the 1976, '77, and '78 World Series teams, then was reacquired by the Yankees in 1979 only to be on a team that missed out again in both that year and 1980.
Always, it seemed, Bobby was a year too early or a year too late. But at last, if only in a pinch-hitting and utility role at the twilight of his career, he reached that final plateau.
Two ways to build a winner The makeup of this year's teams clearly reflects the opposing philosophies of the two managements - and shows that there is more than one way to build a winner.
Los Angeles is basically an organization club all the way. Manager Tom Lasorda has spent 32 years in the system, and nearly all of his coaches are long-time Dodgers (Ron Perranoski came up through the system and pitched for the Dodgers through most of the 1960s, Manny Mota played for the team throughout the '70s, while Monty Basgall and Danny Ozark have both spent most of their long playing, coaching, and managing careers in the organization). And as for the players, the entire infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey is home-grown, as are catchers Steve Yeager and Mike Scioscia, and several of the pitchers and utility men.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are put together almost exclusively via Steinbrenner's checkbook. Manager Bob Lemon's roots are elsewhere, of course, and among the coaches only Yogi Berra is a really longtime Yankee, though Mike Ferraro has been in the system now since 1974. As for the players, the only two who originally came up through the organization are Ron Guidry and Murcer.
John, Johnstone have switched sides Among the ironic twists in this Series are the fact that Yankee pitcher Tommy John was on the other side, hurling for the Dodgers (one win, one loss) when the teams met in both the 1977 and 1978 classics. Making the switch the other way was outfielder-pinch hitter Jay Johnstone, who helped the Yankees with the 1978 Series and has contributed a big pinch home run for L.A. this year.
Ode to Dodger infield
Finally, so much prose has been written over the years about the defensive shortcomings of the Dodger infield that I thought I'd try my hand at putting it in verse: The bases are loaded, one out in the ninth, When a grounder lifts Dodger fans' hopes. Just once might they hear those rarest of words: Garvey, from Russell and Lopes? But no, there's the ball in the outfield grass, While the tying and winning runs score, And up in the press box, his voice filled with gloom, The announcer intones: ''Error-4.''