Houk's Sox on top; Perry nears 300th

Anyone who blindly accepts the position that managers are no better or worse than their material obviously has never done an in-depth study of Ralph Houk, who has the Boston Red Sox winging this season in the American League East.

Houk is no stranger, of course. Boston is his third stop as an American League manager. Prior to the Red Sox, Ralph won three pennants and two World Series with the New York Yankees and later built the foundation for the current hard-driving Detroit Tigers. Few managers have ever gotten more from their material.

The Red Sox are leading their division primarily because Houk's pitching, including the bullpen, has been better so far than anyone said it would be and because his hitters have produced in the clutch.

Where Houk's influence has been felt most is in the way he has handled his young pitching staff, never staying with anyone too long, always having someone up and ready in the bullpen, and insisting that everyone throw strikes.

Bruce Hurst, by shortening his pitching motion, has become a winner. Chuck Rainey, his arm problems a thing of the past, is again challenging hitters. And John Tudor, a natural groundball pitcher, is rapidly becoming the most effective left-hander at Fenway Park since Mel Parnell.

But perhaps the biggest lift of all has come from veteran Dennis Eckersley, who was supposed to be Houk's stopper last season and was erratic instead. Now Eckersley is pitching the way he did when he won 20 games for Boston in 1978.

Houk also saw a bounce-back quality in shortstop Glenn Hoffman, who many were saying didn't have the big league range or arm to play shortstop; was error-prone in the field last year; and had one of the worst August batting averages (.104) of any regular who ever wore a Red Sox uniform.

This spring Hoffman has been fine, Dave Stapleton has made an easy transition from second to first base, and designated hitter Carl Yastrzemski (42) is playing well below his age with a .300-plus batting average and five home runs.

''Last winter I gave up golf and fishing to concentrate on the things that would get me ready for the 1982 season,'' explained Yaz. ''I came into training camp ready to play, and if I don't hit at least .280 this season I'm going to be very disappointed.''

Perry nears 300th victory

Also still running on a full tank is pitcher Gaylord Perry of the Seattle Mariners, who recorded his 299th major league victory last week against the New York Yankees. Only 14 pitchers in baseball history have won more games than Perry, and Gaylord doesn't plan to stop there.

''I'll be back next year and maybe the year after that if anybody will have me,'' the 43-year-old right-hander told me recently. ''Pitchin' is a lot more fun than farmin', and it pays better,'' added Gaylord, who owns 300 acres in Williamston, N.C. ''When you can only make 50 cents profit on a bushel of corn, you gotta have something else goin' for you.''

In addition to Perry, Seattle is also basking in the reflected glory of shortstop Todd Cruz. The well-traveled Cruz, who has never lived up to his potential before, batted .429 last week with four game-winning RBIs, two of which were home runs. Touching other bases

Although his name has never topped anybody's all-everything list, Lamarr Hoyt of the Chicago White Sox was the AL's first five-game winner this year. Once thought of only as a reliever, Hoyt has won two in a row since becoming a starter.

There may be a few things wrong with the Toronto Blue Jays, but pinch hitting isn't one of them. Blue Jay pinch hitters are 14 for 38 for a .368 average, best in the majors. They have also driven in 20 runs.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are willing to admit their mistakes, especially with free agents. Even though reliever Don Stanhouse is still collecting on a $1,360 ,000 guaranteed contract, the Dodgers didn't hesitate to cut another free agent pitcher, Dave Goltz, who has also been ineffective. Dave's contract is for $1, 654,000.

The San Francisco Giants may have set a record by having three rookie pitchers win games in the same week. Both Bill Laskey and Alan Fowlkes beat the Montreal Expos, while Atlee Hammaker was a winner against the New York Mets.

With his flair for the dramatic, California outfielder Reggie Jackson returned to Yankee Stadium and hit a late-inning, tape-measure home run.

L.A. Manager Tommy Lasorda benched Steve Garvey for not hitting. But Garvey managed to keep his consecutive game streak alive at 968 when he got in later as a pinch hitter.

Elsewhere Rickey Henderson of the Oakland A's walked for the 28th time this season and later stole his 20th base--both numbers tops in the AL; pitcher Tim Lollar hit his second home run of the season for the much-improved San Diego Padres; and the Kansas City Royals tried George Brett in left field for the first time in his major league career.

The week's No. 1 rumor was that coach Jeff Torborg would eventually replace Gene Michael as manager of the Yankees.

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