Granted that there is something special about being a batting champion, big league managers nevertheless prefer hitters who consistently drive in 100 or more runs every season. While this isn't meant to take anything away from Boston's Wade Boggs, who is running away with American League honors, or Pittsburgh's three-time former winner Bill Madlock and Houston's Jose Cruz, who are nip-and-tuck in the National League, baseball's real heroes are the RBI guys.
In the American League, the names are Jim Rice of the Boston Red Sox; Cecil Cooper of the Milwaukee Brewers; Dave Winfield of the New York Yankees; and Eddie Murray of the Baltimore Orioles. In the National, it's Dale Murphy of the Atlanta Braves; Andre Dawson of the Montreal Expos; Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies; and Pedro Guerrero of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Sure they strike out a lot; most free swingers do. But with one swish of their bat they can often get you a lead or put you back in a game that only a few moments before seemed hopelessly lost. By way of comparison, Rod Carew, a seven-time American League batting champion, entered the current year with a total of 901 RBIs for 16 major league seasons. Rice, meanwhile, was within 73 of that total in just eight seasons plus 24 games of another.
The names of baseball's best RBI men, of course, are also found frequently among the home run leaders. The home run is probably still the biggest single offensive thrill in baseball, especially if the hour is late, the team with men on base is trailing, and the pitcher has gone to a 3-2 count against the hitter.
Yastrzemski says sayonara
When Carl Yastrzemski replaced Ted Williams in left field for the Boston Red Sox in 196l, few would have guessed that Yaz, who is retiring at the end of this season, would spend 23 years in a big league uniform.
Originally known as a line-drive hitter with the power to pop an occasional home run, Yastrzemski had the kind of season in 1967 that all players fantasize about. It was the year of Boston's ''Impossible Dream'' pennant, the Red Sox going from ninth place the previous year to a World Series appearance.
Yastrzemski played a major role in the turnaround, winning the Triple Crown, with American League bests in batting average (.326), home runs (44), and runs batted in (121). He also led the league in hits (189) and runs scored (112), and hit .400 against the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, when he cracked three home runs.
There were the inevitable comparisons between Ted and Yaz, but they were never valid. For one thing, Williams stood 6 ft. 3 in. and had the wrist power of a giant. Considerably smaller at 5-11, Yaz has made his stock in trade line-drives that were exciting whenever they found a gap, but didn't send people reaching for tape measures.
If there was even the slightest hint that the Red Sox could be contenders next year in the American League East, Carl might have tried playing one more year. But at age 44, and with really no poor years that anyone can point to, Yaz is retiring with most of his skills intact. He also knows that he's certain Hall of Fame material, although he's probably too modest to talk about it. Tidbits from around the majors
* Pitching true to form and reacting true to form, Philadelphia's Steve Carlton won his 300th game last week against St. Louis but still maintained his well-known silence toward the press. Carlton's victory made him one of only 17 men in major league baseball history to achieve that milestone, and the Phillies management announced it is giving Steve a $5,000 ring in appreciation. The ring is set with 56 diamond chips arranged to form the numbers 300. The last pitcher to reach the 300 mark before Carlton was Gaylord Perry.
* Like most of the 1982 world champion St. Louis Cardiir5l,0,12l,11p
nals, Bob Forsch (9-12) would just as soon forget this season, but he does have one victory he'll always remember. On Monday night the veteran right-hander tossed the second no-hitter of his career, a 3-0 masterpiece against Montreal. Ironically, Forsch's first no-hitter also came during an off-year, 1978, when he wound up 11-17. This year's effort was the second of the season in the majors (Dave Righetti of the Yankees pitched one against Boston on July 4), and the first in the National League since Nolan Ryan accomplished the feat for a record fifth time exactly two years earlier on Sept. 26, 1981.
* Even before relief pitcher Steve Howe, who has twice undergone treatment for drug problems, missed a scheduled team flight last week, it was a foregone conclusion that Los Angeles would try to deal him during the off-season. Whether the problem is drugs again or something else (nobody seems to know the whole story), Howe was suspended after missing the flight, and the Dodgers subsequently announced they had been informed by the pitcher's physician that he would be undergoing treatment and unable to play for the rest of the season, the playoffs, or the World Series. He'll be missed, too, for despite his off-the-field problems, Steve has had an excellent year with 18 saves and a 1.44 earned run average.
* Because they had so many over-34 veterans on their roster (Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan), many observers thought the Philadelphia Phillies would probably sink out of sight in September. Instead, thanks chiefly to Schmidt's power bat and timely slugging by Morgan and others, the Phillies have left Montreal, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis twisting in their wake.
* From Russ Nixon, manager of the last place Cincinnati Reds, on how they plan to improve their club during the off-season: ''I don't know what General Manager, Bob Howsam (who came out of retirement to take over his old job) has in mind. But if Howsam operates here the way he did in the past, he'll try to improve this team through its farm system. Although everybody seems to think that our first priority is pitching, our starters haven't been that bad. The problem is our bullpen, which is a real grab-bag situation.''