Everywhere you look here in the spring training camp of the Oakland A's, Manager Billy Martin seems to have gotten there ahead of you. If Martin isn't huddling with his coaches or talking on the sidelines with one of his rookies, he's down in the left-field corner watching his pitchers.
Outstanding pitching, of course, is what the 1981 A's are all about. They are a marvelous blend of youth and experience, power and finesse, who led the American League last year in complete games, with 49. Although the rest of the club also played well, it was pitching that lifted Oakland from last place the previous season to second in the Al West, behind Kansas City.
To refresh your memory, Mike Norris was 22-9 with 24 complete games; Rick Langford 19-12; Matt Keough 16-13; Steve McCatty 14-14; and Brian Kingman 8-20 -- the latter a very deceptive record, since six of the losses were one-run decisions and five were shutouts.
Oakland also has quality in the bullpen in left-handers Jeff Jones and Dave Beard, who didn't give up an earned run in his first 10 appearances last season.
In words you don't normally hear from a major league manager, Martin has already predicted a pennant this season and I'm not afraid to say so. You can tell our attitude is right because our players believe in themselves. We also know our weak points, and we're working on them.
"Although Kansas City still has great personnel and depth, they have to be weaker after losing catcher Darrell Porter," he continued. "Last year the Royals didn't have to many teams to worry about in their division, because a lot of us were rebuilding. But now they've got three -- Oakland, Texas, and California."
The power-packed outfield has Dwayne Murphy in center, Rickey Henderson in left, and Tony Armas in right. Armas had a sensational year in 1980, with 35 homers, 87 runs scored, 109 runs batted in, a .279 batting average, and 11 game-winning hits.
Murphy is a kid with winged feet who stole home twice last season, led the league in sacrifices with 22, hit over .300 most of the year, and formed a 1-2 leadoff combination with Henderson that reached base 41 percent of the time.
The 21-year-old Henderson has two speeds -- fast and where did he go? Last year Rickey became the first American Leaguer and only the third year player in baseball history to steal 100 bases. The others were Maury Wills (104 in '62) and Lou Brock (118 in '74). This is a kid who also hit over .300, was second in the league in walks with 117, and scored 111 runs.
Martin, who learned the art and the advantages of platooning while playing for Casey Stengel on the Yankees, is two deep at every infield position. while Dave Revering is safe for at least 100 games at first base, Billy can play either of the club's two designated hitters, right-handed Cliff Johnson and left-handed Mitchell Page, there anytime Revering needs a rest.
At second there are Dave McKay and Brian Doyle; at third, Wayne Gross and Mickey Klutts; and at shortstop Fred Stanley and Rob Picciolo. Doyle and Stanley were both picked up during the winter from the Yankees. And although Fred doesn't hit much, he plays pennant-winning baseball in the field.
Jeff Newman, who caught 106 games for Oakland last season, and Mike Heath, who worked in 92, will again share the position. Newman also provides the luxury of a power hitter for the bottom of the lineup.
Asked to explain his magic touch with young arms, pitching coach Art Fowler, who is never farther from Martin than Tonto is from the Lone Ranger, replied:
"Like anyone else, I'm only as good as the talent they give me. But I have noticed over the years that most young pitchers have a tendency to work too fast. this does two things -- ruins their control and breaks their concentration. For example, last season Keough won 16 games after losing 17 the year before. The only thing I did with Keough was make him slow down between pitches. The rest he did himself."