What it takes to be 20-win pitcher; key role of general managers
``When I pitched in the minor leagues back in the 1940s and '50s, you never heard the word communication,'' grinned Manager George Bamberger of the Milwaukee Brewers. ``If the manager suddenly told you to run 20 laps with an anvil, you did it. Today you tell a pitcher something, you gotta have a reason he can understand for it.'' Yet for years Bamberger has been known as a pitcher's best friend -- someone with a special knack for spotting flaws in a man's delivery, correcting his stride off the mound, or teaching him how to throw strikes. George will get into the mental aspects of pitching, too, but not before his pupils have mastered its mechanics as though they were a simple nursery rhyme.
Bamberger is probably at his best, though, when explaining what it takes to win 20 games in the big leagues, one of baseball's toughest mountains. The American League, for example, had only one 20-game winner in 1984 (Mike Boddicker) and none at all in 1981 and 1982. Meanwhile, there have been only two 20-game winners in the National League since 1980 -- Steve Carlton in '82 and Joaquin Andujar in '84.
Yet during during those years when George was the pitching coach of the Baltimore Orioles, he turned out eighteen 20-game winners in just 10 seasons. Looking back, 1970 and 1971 were particularly fruitful years for Bamberger. In 1970 the Orioles had three 20-game winners in Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Mike Cueller. The next year the total climbed to an amazing four, as these three repeated their performances and Pat Dobson joined them.
``Talent, of course, is always the No. 1 ingredient in winning 20 games because you can't teach talent,'' George said. ``But after that things just have to break right. I mean you've got a 4-3 lead late in the game with two men out and the bases loaded and the guy at the plate hits a bullet. The pitcher is ready to head for the showers -- only the ball goes on a line right to the shortstop. Usually for a man to win 20, he's gotta have some situation like that go in his favor.
``Even great pitchers are going to have days when they don't have their good stuff,'' Bamberger continued. ``At times like that, the pitcher has to hope that his team gets him some extra runs, and often it does. I can't think of many 20-game winners, either, who didn't have a pretty good bullpen working behind them.
``And it's a fallacy when people say a pitcher has to work every four days to win 20. Believe me, if he's got the talent, he can also do it in a five-man rotation.''
Asked for a thumbnail rating system for pitchers, the Brewers' manager replied, ``Forget the earned-run average. It doesn't mean a thing. Look for hits allowed compared with innings pitched. If the discrepancy favors the pitcher by a lot, you're probably looking at a potential 20-game winner.
``General managers are more important than ever in baseball today because they are the ones who ultimately seem to decide who gets the big money and the long-term contracts,'' says Gene Mauch, manager of the California Angels. ``You give the wrong players that kind of deal and you've tied up your ball club financially for years. The minute some players grab that much security their drive simply disappears. ``I'm not saying that most players today don't want to win as much as they did in the old days. In fact I've got several like that on the Angels, including Reggie Jackson and Doug DeCinces. Jackson and DeCinces make so much money that they are playing strictly for pride and to get us into a World Series. Even if we win it all, Uncle Sam is going to take almost all their money.
``The point is in the old days teams had to win pennants for their players to get raises and sometimes they didn't get them even then. But today players know they can get the super contract just by having a big individual year. Today before you sign anybody to a multiple contract, you do as close an inspection of his character as you do his talent.''
Willie Stargell, the retired hitting star of the Pittsburgh Pirates who now coaches first base, has his 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III up for sale. Stargell bought the vehicle in 1973 from an English carrot farmer who had just installed a new engine and had the grey leather interior reupholstered. The steering wheel is on the right-hand side and the upper half of the car is painted ocean blue. ``I still love that car, but for some reason I just don't drive it that much anymore,'' Stargell explained. ``I doubt if I'll advertise it for sale in a conventional way, because I'm only interested in people who will make serious inquiries.''
From player-manager Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds: ``I learned at a young age what I could and couldn't do as a player and from that I developed consistency. For example, I've never had what you'd call a home-run swing, so why try to be something you're not. I think that facing facts and learning to deal with them is what has kept me around so long. As a rookie, I never had a longevity goal. My only goal was to make the ball club.''
Peter Bavasi, the chief operating officer of the hapless Cleveland Indians, was quoted recently as saying that his franchise represents the biggest challenge in baseball. If Bavasi expected an argument, he didn't get one.