Lakeland, Fla. — ''I look at New York, Baltimore, and Milwaukee in the American League East and I figure my everyday personnel is probably just as good as theirs,'' said Manager Sparky Anderson of the Detroit Tigers.
''But then I think about New York's pitching staff, which is awesome, and I tell myself: 'Look, Sparky, you're kidding yourself if you think any team but the Yankees is going to win in your division.' ''
''I'm not going to argue with the facts, and over the years it's been proved that you can have everything else, but without pitching you haven't got a chance. That's the way I feel about the Tigers, and I don't see any reason why I shouldn't say so.''
The four New York starters Anderson is talking about are left-handers Ron Guidry, Tommy John, and Dave Righetti, plus right-hander Rick Reuschel. Later on when the schedule heats up, veteran southpaw Rudy May or rookie right-hander Gene Nelson will probably become part of the rotation.
''The other weapon the Yankees have that nobody else has is Goose Gossage, who is the best relief pitcher in baseball,'' Sparky explained. ''I also like the guy in Milwaukee, Rollie Fingers [last year's AL Cy Young Award winner].
''But Gossage is a horse who can pitch two innings of relief every day of the week if Bob Lemon [the Yankee manager] wants to use him that way,'' he added. ''The Goose throws so hard and so well that he can callenge a hitter's strength and still get him out. Of course with Ron Davis also in the bullpen Gossage won't have to, but he could.
''The only way the Tigers or anyone else in the AL East can stay with the Yankees is to pitch with them all year, and let's be honest about it, none of us can.''
Anderson says that he has three pretty good starters in Jack Morris, Don Petry, and Milt Wilcox, and a steady reliever in Kevin Saucier, but beyond that Detroit will be struggling for pitching.
''We've got some good rookie talent with potential,'' Sparky said. ''In fact, one or two of those kids is probably going to make the ball club. But they are not ready yet to help us win a pennant.
''We've tried to trade for more pitching, and for awhile we thought we might be able to put something together with San Francisco for Doyle Alexander,'' he added. ''But if the only way you can get what you need is to give up a front-line player, then you're better off to stay the way you are.
''As far as I know, General Manager Jim Campbell is still talking to other teams, hoping to improve our pitching situation. But at this point I don't see anything happening that will really change things. We'll have to go with what we've got and make the best of it.''
If the opener were tomorrow, Anderson would probably go with an infield of Enos Cabell at first base, Lou Whitaker at second, Tom Brookens at third, and Alan Trammell at shortstop.
Lance Parrish, one of the best catchers in the league, is the kind of rugged individual who can work between 120 and 140 games and not show any wear. Parrish's backup is John Wockenfuss, who occasionally hits with power.
The outfield will have Larry Herndon in left, Kirk Gibson in center, and Chet Lemon in right. Even though Gibson played right last season and is less experienced than Lemon, Sparky is eager to cement the 24-year-old former Michigan State football star, who's just beginning to realize his baseball potential, in center for the next 10 years.
Lemon, obtained from the Chicago White Sox as part payment for outfielder Steve Kemp, has a stronger arm that is better suited for right field than Gibson. Herndon, obtained from the San Francisco Giants, is a player Anderson hopes he can turn into a consistent high-average leadoff hitter.
With Champ Summers traded to San Francisco, Richie Hebner has a chance to be the team's regular designated hitter, although this could become a platoon position depending upon whether the opposing pitcher is right- or left-handed.
The Tigers were something of a surprise last season, battling down to the last few days before losing out in their bid for the AL East's second-half title , and finishing with virtually the same overall record as New York at 60-49. This year they are probably going to finish well over .500 again in the won-lost column, but considering all factors it's a good guess that they will wind up trailing the Yankees, plus at least two other clubs, in their rugged division.