The way the Milwaukee Brewers have been playing (and hitting) has American League fans talking about a new version of baseball's Murderers Row. The Brewers recently broke the AL record of 29 home runs in 14 games set by the 1961 New York Yankees of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle by making it 31 in 14. The team that couldn't seem to build any consistency this year under Manager Buck Rodgers, who was fired, has been flourishing under the looser reign of his successor, Harvey Kuenn.
The middle of the Milwaukee lineup that has so intimidated American League pitchers features Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie, and Ted Simmons, all of whom have hit 25 or more home runs in at least one big league season. But there is also shortstop Robin Yount, who hit 23 just two years ago and is probably going to break that record this season, plus such other solid if not quite so frequent threats as Paul Molitor and Don Money.
Of course there is more to the Brewers than just their hitting. Their infield (left to right) of Molitor, Yount, Jim Ganter, and Cooper, is one of the best in the game. In fact, Gantner, who can pivot on a dime, led AL second basemen with 95 double plays last year. But Milwaukee's most versatile defensive star is Molitor, who can do anything but catch and is now playing his fourth different position in five years.
With New York having an off year, Boston still suspect because of its pitching, and Baltimore up one week and down the next, Milwaukee looks capable of winning the American League East. That is, if the Brewers' relief corps headed by the redoubtable Rollie Fingers continues to lead its rivals in games saved. Dodgers and drugs
For most baseball players who have built up a trust with certain writers, it isn't that difficult to admit off the record that their sport has a severe alcohol/drug problem. But while the alcohol part has always been highly visible , even going back to the days of Babe Ruth and Grover Cleveland Alexander, almost all of baseball's drug users are careful to pop their pills in private. Last week a suburban Los Angeles newspaper (The Santa Monica Evening Outlook) quoted Don Newcombe, the Dodgers' director of community relations, as saying that the team has a very serious problem with alochol and drugs. Newcombe also said that between 70 and 80 percent of all pro baseball players right now are using some kind of mind-altering substance.
Later Newcombe, a former Dodger pitching great whose career was cut short by alcohol, claimed his remarks were taken out of context. Don told reporters after a meeting with LA owner Peter O'Malley, ''What I said was, if there's a serious problem on the Dodger ballclub or in the Dodger organization, it needs to be dealt with like it would with any other company.'' Whether the reader wants to believe Newcombe's first statement or his second, the fact remains that drug and alcohol abuse won't stop in baseball until the penalties are stiffer. Howser sizes up Royals
Asked to evaluate his Kansas City Royals in the AL West, Manager Dick Howser replied: ''Aside from our pitching staff, which would have been a lot stronger if starters Mike Jones and Dennis Leonard hadn't gotten hurt, I'm satisfied. On the five points I consider essential to winning (he meant defense, hitting, pitching, depth, and a designated hitter who can drive in runs), I think we rate very well. Outfielder Amos Otis, catcher John Wathan, and Hal McRae (the team's DH) are all having outstanding years for us.''
McRae's current stats project out to approximately 140 RBIs. Wathan, until he broke his ankle, was only four stolen bases shy of Ray Schalk's single season catchers' record of 30. Schalk set his mark in 1916 with the Chicago White Sox. Incidentally, Kansas City has the most left-handed pitchers in the American League with six. Two pitching stories
Despite their fine play and the fact that they continue to lead the National League West, Manager Joe Torre of the Atlanta Braves would like his pitchers to be more aggressive in their home ballpark. ''Instead of worrying about giving up too many home runs, I think our pitchers should go out and challenge visiting hitters more than they have so far.'' Torre said.The Braves, who haven't been much better than a .500 team at home, are often devastating on the road. Recently third baseman Bob Horner had six home runs in five games to go along with a .300-plus batting average.
The main reason the San Diego Padres have continued to stay close to Atlanta in the NL West is because of the three rookie right-handers they have in their bullpen, Eric Show, Luis DeLeon, and Floyd Chiffer. They not only have good stuff, but they consistently throw strikes.
If you're wondering why the defending world champion Los Angeles Dodgers haven't done better this season, part of the reason is that they have averaged eight runners left on base so far this season ... Philadelphia pitcher Steve Carlton, who has won nine straight after starting the season 0-4, suddenly looks like the best left-hander in baseball ... It may not happen until September, but look for Peter Bavasi to be named general manager of the Texas Rangers . . . The Detroit Tigers, who were leading the AL East only a month ago, have now lost 17 of their last 21 games.