New skipper urges Pirates to be aggressive; Dodgers struggling
Anyone thinking of marketing another trivia game might well begin his labors with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who, for starters, had the worst record (57-104) of any major league team last season. Next question: Who owns the Pirates? Well, Pittsburgh Associates is made up of 13 investors, representing nine corporations and four individuals. You want some specific identification? How about Aluminum Company of America, US Steel, and Westinghouse Electric?
Although the Pirates reportedly considered former major league managers Billy Martin, Joe Torre, Jim Fregosi, and Steve Boros (who has since hooked on with San Diego) for their top field job, they ultimately went for the relatively unknown Jim Leyland, who had been a third base coach with the Chicago White Sox.
Leyland seems to like the word aggressive almost as much as he likes complete-game victories. He prefers pitchers who challenge hitters, base runners who make catchers air out their throwing arms; and fielders who charge ground balls like a dog reacting to its dinner bell.
The rookie manager sees a future for Pittsburgh because of its many young and talented players, among them outfielders R. J. Reynolds and Mike Brown; infielders Rafael Belliard and Sammy Khalifa; and pitchers Bob Kipper and Jim Winn.
Probably no other infielder in baseball has the geographical credentials of Khalifa, the United Nations shortstop who was born in California, but grew up in Egypt, St. Louis, Libya, and Arizona.
Reynolds seems to be a current favorite of TV camera crews, who like to zero in on the two tiny gold slippers (one set with a diamond, the other with an emerald) that dangle from his neck chain.
And all-star catcher Tony Pena, who runs well enough to bat second, continues to tell the news media that it was his mother who taught him how to play baseball.
Leyland, whose clich'es would be intolerable if they weren't delivered with such honesty, has surrounded himself with a coaching staff that constantly emphasizes the importance of defense.
``One of the things I want most is for us to consistently make the routine plays in the field that keep teams in ballgames,'' Leyland explained. ``If we can do that, the other things that have to happen for us to be a winner will happen. Right now pitching is probably the strongest part of our team, although we don't yet have a dominant figure in the bullpen. I expect us to improve, not because we're young, but because we're young and talented.''
Leyland, however, wants to win so badly and gets so up tight after a defeat that some baseball people wonder if his temperament isn't taking him in a direction that may cause him problems. Missed player and misplays
The Los Angeles Dodgers, who have had several major trades unravel at the last minute in recent years, probably wish they had pushed harder to get slugger Rod Deer away from the San Francisco Giants when there was still a chance. Deer's big bat, which went to the Milwaukee Brewers for two minor-leaguers, would have instantly replaced someof the power the Dodgers lost when Pedro Guerrero went on the team's disabled list.
But the absence of Guerrero's normal RBI production hasn't been L.A.'s only problem. A shaky bullpen has hurt, and fielding mistakes have been too numerous. It wasn't until the 17th game of the season that the team went nine innings without at least one error, committing a total of 29 during that stretch.
Too many Dodgers have been guilty of fielding and throwing like guys who just stepped out of the shower with soap still in their eyes. Even taking into account L.A.'s pitching depth, no team can give its opponents four outs per inning and expect to win consistently. Yet this was a team that spent considerable time in spring training on fundamentals. One theory is that too many Dodger players lack ``soft hands,'' or the ability to cradle a hard-hit ground ball rather than fight it. Elsewhere in the major leagues
Learning how to throw a knuckleball that dances like a butterfly but still finds the plate with reasonable frequency, is no simple task. Most pitchers who try it give up in frustration. But Al Nipper of the Boston Red Sox isreportedly throwing the knuckler 30 percent of the time this season, after having been taught the pitch by coach Bill Fischer. With veteran knuckleballers Phil Niekro, Joe Niekro, and Charlie Hough all between age 38 and 47, it may soon be up to Nipper to keep this strange pitch from fading into obscurity.
According to rookie New York Manager Lou Piniella, the Yankees have so much flexibility as a team that they can play a different game every day and still beat their opponents. Said Piniella: ``We can beat teams with power, with speed, with pitching, and with depth. Earlier this year we beat the Cleveland Indians with 11 singles. But the thing that is there every day for us is defense. Defense is what holds everything together.''
Asked about clutch hitting by baseball writer Dick Young, third baseman George Brett of the Kansas City Royals replied: ``You can't be emotional at all, because when you are emotional you tend to try so hard that you go beyond your fundamentals. It's the guys who know exactly what they are doing and stay within themselves that are so tough in the clutch.''