One of baseball's most controversial moves occurred this spring when the New York Yankees shifted three-year starter Dave Righetti to the bullpen. Normally you don't take a 25-year-old with a chance to someday win 20 games and point his future in a different direction. But when Yankee relief ace Goose Gossage opted for free agency and signed with the San Diego Padres, Manager Yogi Berra didn't like the idea of not having a flame thrower to call on in the late innings. Berra decided on Righetti, he said, ''because he can strike out the other team's best hitters with runners on base and that's what you want.''
Asked recently how the Righetti move (six saves; 1.88 earned-run average) was working, Yogi replied: ''It's an okay thing. We're happy with what he's given us as a relief pitcher and he's happy to be out there. I woulda used him more, only I don't like to bring him in before the seventh or eighth inning and then only if we're either ahead or tied. Righetti isn't a problem for us. Our problem is hitting. We scored so many runs in spring training that I thought for sure it would carry over into the regular season. Well, it hasn't.
''Hitting is a contagious thing. You get one guy going good with the bat and the rest of the ball club will pick up on him. I've seen it work that way for years. On the other hand, you get into a situation where a couple of your best hitters are going bad and the first thing you know the whole ball club is like that. All I know is that it's something every manager has to live with. You wait again for the good times, because there's no other answer.''
Getting back to Righetti. When Dave was asked how he liked the bullpen, he replied: ''What I like is a day at the beach. I wouldn't mind being there right now.'' Asked if that meant he preferred starting, Righetti said: ''What do you think? Now don't ask me any more questions.''
One Yankee coach told me: ''What this team needs and doesn't have is a leader. It can be anybody, but it seems to help more if he's either your third, fourth, or fifth hitter. Either we find a leader pretty soon or it's going to be a long season.'' Guerrero miscast as an infielder
When the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Pedro Guerrero to a multiyear, multimillion dollar contract this spring, they figured they were solid at third base for the next 10 years. They also figured they were buying 30 homers and between 90 and 100 runs-batted-in on a regular basis. But so far all Guerrero has given them is a mountain of inconsistency.
It isn't that Pedro lacks talent (he might have as much as anyone in the National League), but the responsibilities of a fielder include more than just putting on a glove and reporting to one's position. Let's face it, Guerrero doesn't like to practice, and his concentration in the field varies with every game. Meanwhile, he has allowed his poor fielding to affect his ability as a hitter.
Although Pedro once said that first base is his favorite position, it seems likely that by next year he'll be back in right field, where he won't have to deal with bouncing infield rockets at ankle level.
Elsewhere in the majors
* When the Philadelphia Phillies lost to the Chicago Cubs at home on June 1, they tied one of baseball's most unusual records. Philadelphia did not have a putout at first base. That situation has occurred only nine times previously in the history of the National League. The last such incident involved the 1977 San Francisco Giants.
* Pitcher Nolan Ryan, currently on the Houston Astros' disabled list, posted a 1.20 earned-run average for the month of May. Such statistics are nothing new, though, for the fireballing right-hander who has pitched five no-hitters, nine one-hitters, 18 two-hitters, and 26 three-hitters since coming up with the Mets in 1966.
* From manager Dick Howser of the Kansas City Royals: ''Even though our current won-lost record isn't that good, our total situation isn't bad, especially since we've gotten back both George Brett and Willie Wilson. We're also fortunate that none of the teams ahead of us in the standings has played that well either.''
* San Francisco reporters reacted in almost disbelief recently when Giants' manager Frank Robinson appointed outfielder Jack Clark as team captain. Clark, a frequent Robinson and front-office critic in the past, has asked to be traded so many times that by now people have stopped counting. Robinson defended his move by saying: ''Clark has not only turned over a new leaf, he's reading from a different book.''
* From Marty Springstead, American League umpire, on retired Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver: ''The best way to test the durability of a Timex watch would be to strap it to Weaver's tongue!''