Scenes like this one showing Milwaukee's Gorman Thomas going down to avoid a high inside pitch have been all too frequent so far this season.
The Philadelphia Phillies started slowly this season, almost as if they didn't care. At one point former National League Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton was 0-4 and Mike Schmidt, the team's most explosive hitter, was on the bench with an injury.
There was even talk that the Phillies missed their acid-tongued manager Dallas Green, who had gone to save the Chicago Cubs as their new general manager and who had taken quite a few of his former players with him (via trades, of course).
Immediately there was speculation that maybe Philadelphia had upset its balance by getting rid of shortstop Larry Bowa, a born leader, and the versatile Keith Moreland, who can play almost anywhere. Also missed was speedy leadoff man Lonnie Smith, who had been traded to St. Louis. And certainly new manager Pat Corrales kept a much lower profile than Green.
But Carlton suddenly found his groove again; Schmidt's bat caught fire; rookie outfielder Bob Dernier would get a hit, steal second, and later score; and the team climbed quickly from last place to second. Meanwhile, Corrales has remained as quiet in victory as he did in defeat.
Considering the strength of the National League East, where the St. Louis Cardinals have been great from the opening of the season and where the Montreal Expos also reside, even a short losing streak might take a team out of the pennant race.
But with Carlton, Dick Ruthven, and Mike Krukow, the latter obtained during the off-season from the Cubs, Philadelphia has the equivalent of three stoppers. The rest may be up to the bullpen and to Pete Rose, who at 41 still plays the game like a runaway train. Close shaves at plate
Possibly baseball is only reflecting the present angry mood of the world in general, but there have surely been enough beanball incidents so far this season to get Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to look into the situation.
While the so-called brushback pitch just an inch or two inside to move the hitter off the plate is more or less accepted in baseball circles, since it is easily avoided and not intended to cause injury, throwing at a man's head is another matter.
Detroit manager Sparky Anderson had plenty to say on the subject after a recent incident involving his team and the Minnesota Twins.
''The American League's designated hitter rule gives a pitcher a license to do anything he wants out there with the ball, and maybe this needs looking into before it's too late,'' Anderson explained. ''The point is, any time a pitcher knows he's eventually going to have to go the plate himself, they way they do in the National League, he'll think twice about knocking somebody down.''
Incidentally, the fact that Anderson is quoted here rather than Minnesota Manager Billy Gardner is not to suggest that only one of these two teams was at fault. Black/white issue raised
Howie Haak, the Pittsburgh Pirates' 71-year-old baseball scout who discovered Roberto Clemente in the 1950s, created considerable racial turbulence Monday concerning statements he made about the Pirates' heavy concentration of black and Latin American ballplayers.
Haak said that his team must trade for more young, white ballplayers because ''we're not going to be able to play nine blacks.'' Haak's remarks ran in Monday's Pittsburgh Press and later were flashed across the country by the Associated Press.
''To me nine blacks would be acceptable, but I've been hearing people talk and we may have to trade for more white players,'' Haak explained. ''A lack of white players hurts attendance if a team is not in contention for a league title.'' Haak is white.
Harding (Pete) Peterson, who is listed as the Pirates' executive vice president but whose duties are really those of general manger, responded to Haak's quotes by saying that Haak does not speak for the Pittsburgh organization.
Peterson, a former Pirates' catcher, said that he and the team look at the players as players and not as anything else. He said the Pirates' recent inability to attract fans at Three Rivers Stadium is not because of the team's racial makeup.
''We also hear that it's because we're in a different stadium, or the price of tickets or the parking is too high,'' he said. ''But it's not true.A fan would rather see the team win than have half the team white and not be as good.'' Look at Tony; Cub report
Only one week after Gaylord Perry, the Ancient Mariner, elevated the role of senior citizens to a new high by getting his 300th career victory, 40-year-old Tony Perez went on a tear for Boston. Perez, who earlier had rejected a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers because he knew he'd end up strictly as a pinch-hitter, simply waited for a chance with the Red Sox and then made the most of it.
Tony got some big hits on the team's recent road trip, including a double that drove home the only run in a 1-0 victory at Texas. Then replacing the injured Carl Yastrzemski as designated hitter for a series in Kansas City last weekend he continued to stroke the ball, driving in three runs in one key game to help the team return home still in first place in the American League East.
Even though they are still a last place team, the Chicago Cubs have already won as many games (15) as they did during the first half of last year's split season, which ended in mid-June. After 35 games a year ago, the Cubs were 7-28. This time they went 15-20.
''Any time you have a lot of players who are experienced but haven't worked together before, it takes time to get things organized,'' said new manager Lee Elia.
''But we do have quite a bit of talent now and the intensity to play winning ball is there,'' he added. ''What has frustrated our fans so far, I think, is the way we can be so good one day and so terrible the next. But the main thing is that we have continued to improve.''
Elsewhere Houston pitcher Don Sutton, who started the season as a big question mark after coming off knee surgery, recently became the first National Leaguer this year to win six games. And with everybody looking, including the pitchers, Rickey Henderson has managed to steal 38 bases in 36 games for the Oakland A's.