Los Angeles — Baseball's next Dick Allen (minus the temperament for grand opera) is probably going to be outfielder Pedro Guerrero of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who started the current season with just two years and 78 days of major league service.
Allen was the type who could have gotten out of bed on Christmas morning, grabbed a bat, and gone three for four at the plate. Guerrero has the same kind of natural swing and is just beginning to unlock the power that could some day make him the National League's home run king.
Pedro currently leads the Dodgers in home runs (29); runs scored (82); runs batted in (88); batting average (.310) and slugging percentage (.545); and is tied for most game-winning hits (15) with teammate Dusty Baker. He also has 21 stolen bases.
''In the spring, I was surprised when Guerrero told me he hoped to hit 20 balls where nobody could catch them,'' said LA batting coach Manny Mota. ''I told him his goals weren't high enough; that with his talent he should be thinking 30. I also told him that he was capable of hitting over .300, and should expect to drive in at least 100 runs.
''Although Pedro knows he's good, I don't think he has any idea what his potential is,'' Mota continued. ''The good pitchers don't like to work against him because he's got such a quick bat and the journeymen don't like him very much either since he learned the strike zone.
''Earlier in his career, a smart pitcher could get him out on balls off the plate. But now he waits; makes the pitcher come to him; and then uses the entire field. He got wise awfully quick.''
Mota says that when the Dodgers first had Guerrero, a right-handed hitter, he couldn't do anything but pull the ball to the left side. It wasn't that he didn't have the tools, he just didn't know how to use them.
''Two years ago he was just a scared kid learning his trade,'' Manny said. ''Even though his stats were pretty good [.322 for 75 games], he was not what you'd call a disciplined hitter. Too often, instead of settling for a hit, he'd try to ride every ball out of the park when it wasn't that kind of pitch.''
Guerrero was primarily a third baseman in the minors, but because Ron Cey doesn't have the range for any other position, Pedro had to wait. Occasionally he played second base when Davey Lopes was injured or the outfield when one of the team's regulars needed a rest. But mostly he pinch-hit.
As a fill-in at second base, Pedro did a fair job. But this was not a man who looked as though he would ever be able to execute the double play in big-league fashion. Finally, to get his bat in the line-up, Manager Tommy Lasorda tried him in center field.
While Guerrero has tremendous range and good hands, his initial reaction to a lot of hard-hit balls was to come in too fast when he should have been going back and vice versa. Actually his recovery time is so great that he generally makes the catch anyway. But as soon as the Dodgers acquired Ken Landreaux, Guerrero was shifted to right field, which Mota says is his best position. But if LA should trade Cey during the winter, which is a distinct possibility, look for Pedro to be moved permanently to third base.
Ask Guerrero what his best position is and he replies: ''I play where the manager tell me - third base, first base, the outfield; it make no difference to me.''
Physically Pedro is King Kong through the shoulders and chest (an NFL linebacker) and considerably smaller through the legs (an NFL halfback). What you have is a man who wears a size 42 or 44 sport coat, but has maybe a 30- or 32-inch waist.
While Guerrero's home runs are not in the same missile range as a Willie Stargell, there is nothing lazy about them. They seem to jump out as though shot from some mechanical device. And it is not a big swing that powers them, but a compact one that resembles the kick of a mule.
''Guerrero is not just a man with great physical ability, but one who has learned to read pitchers, study defenses, and go with the percentages,'' Mota said. ''Pedro had one little slump at the plate this year - that's all. Maybe that's all he'll ever have.''