Phoenix — Now that Billy Martin has gone back to the New York Yankees, people are wondering what kind of manager Steve Boros will be for the Oakland A's. Here at the A's spring training camp, he gives every indication of having his hand firmly on the tiller.
Although Boros will never rock any boats with his quotes or off-the-field excursions, the way Martin often did, his straight-ahead style should make things much easier on his players.
Steve was hired away from the Montreal Expos, where he was a coach the past two years. Before that, he had worked for the Kansas City Royals, managed six years in the minor leagues, and put in nearly five seasons as a journeyman big-league infielder.
Boros's makeup and approach to baseball is as different from Martin's as salt is from pepper. Steve's thing is the set lineup, where eight players come to the ballpark every day knowing ahead of time that their names will be somewhere in the lineup. Martin, like his idol, Casey Stengel, has always been big on platooning.
Though Oakland finished 25 games behind the California Angels last year in the American League West, the A's appear to have considerable talent. They finished with the league's best overall record in 1981, and a return to the playoffs probably depends on how well the pitching staff performs.
''Several of our pitchers had arm problems last year and they have to stay healthy for us to do anything,'' Boros explained. '' But they are all proven veterans (he was referring to starters Steve McCatty, Rick Langford, Mike Norris , and Matt Keough) and we expect them to be ready. Once we get through April and May, when you really need only a four-man rotation, because of weather postponements, we'll probably add Tom Underwood to that group.
''Dave Beard, who finished 39 games for us last season, will be my late-inning relief man out of the bullpen,'' Boros continued. ''Even though Beard has pitched only one full year in the majors, I still consider him a stopper. Our middle-inning relief pitcher will be Tom Burgmeier, who we picked up from Boston during the off-season, and after Burgmeier, we've got several kids who we think are going to make it.'' He was referring to rookies Chris Codiroli, Steve Baker, and Tim Conroy.
Boros says that he likes a running team that puts pressure on the opposition. He also prefers players who can hit to all fields.
''We have speed at the front of our batting order in Rickey Henderson [who set an all-time record for stolen bases last year with 130] and rookie rightfielder Mike Davis, who can also fly,'' Steve said. ''After them will come our RBI hitters - Carney Lansford [who won a batting title two years ago with Boston], plus Dwayne Murphy and designated power hitter Jeff Burroughs.
''Our sixth batter is probably going to be my first baseman, and right now we have four candidates - Dan Meyer, Wayne Gross, Garry Hancock, and rookie Kelvin Moore. Meyer had three years with Seattle when he drove in a lot of runs, but Moore's power is outstanding. Anyway, I will go with only one, and if he doesn't do the job, then I can always switch to someone else.''
Veteran second baseman Davey Lopes will give Boros an additional burst of speed low in the batting order, and the Oakland manager is really high on catcher Mike Heath, who he says has never been given a long enough chance to show what he can do in the majors.
Like first base, Oakland's shortstop situation may not be settled until opening day. The two front runners are free agent Bill Almon, who has had two good years with the Chicago White Sox, and rookie Tony Phillips. If Phillips hits enough in what is left of spring training, chances are he'll be jumped ahead of Almon.
Asked if he'd applied for the Oakland job last year upon learning the A's were dropping Martin, Boros replied: ''No, I didn't. In fact, when President Roy Eisenhardt of the A's called me on the telephone I was amazed, because I didn't think anyone in their organization even knew who I was.
''For me, this is the chance of a lifetime,'' he added. ''I'm the kind who gets up early, works hard, and delegates a lot of authority to the coaches once I get to the ballpark. They are the ones who will be doing the day-to-day teaching. My job will be making out the lineup, planning strategy, and deciding when to lift a starting pitcher that's struggling. From what I've seen of the team so far, my feeling is that we'll play well and be competitive.''