Probably no major league manager right now is doing a better job of juggling 25 players in a game that requires only nine than John McNamara of the California Angels, occupants of first place in the American League West.
While McNamara might appear to have a clubhouse full of all-stars (Reggie Jackson, Fred Lynn, Rod Carew, etc.), they are neither that young nor that talented anymore. In fact, Mac, playing baseball's percentages to the hilt, has been consistently benching Jackson, Lynn, and Carew against left-handed pitching. McNamara has also done an outstanding job of picking spots for two Angel rookies, outfielder Gary Pettis, and shortstop Dick Schofield, neither of whom have solved big league pitching yet on a regular basis, but both of whom have helped in other ways. Pettis, for example, appears well on his way to 50 stolen bases. Schofield, who won't be 22 until November, has improved rapidly in the field.
While critics are always quick to jump on California's pitching problems, McNamara has somehow coaxed 17 complete games out of a staff that has consisted mainly of 41-year-old Tommy John and 37-year-old Geoff Zahn, plus youngsters Ron Romanick and Mike Witt. Romanick, who was 9-12 last season with Nashua (N.H.) in the Double A Eastern League, has a shot at being the American League's Rookie of the Year. The young right-hander, who goes out and challenges hitters with a fastball that darts and a curveball that breaks at the knees, has all the makings of a future 20-game winner. The reason Ron wasn't that impressive with Nashua was an arm problem that he has since overcome.
McNamara, whose managing philosophy is so simple that it should be bottled - make sure you know who your best players are at the moment and get them into your lineup - rarely explodes. But when a stretch of shoddy baseball saw the Angels win only six of 18 games near the end of May, John showed his players a Mr. Hyde side that they had never been exposed to before. One thing Mac would like to get straightened out is the Angels' inability to win at home, where they are a mediocre 11-17. On the road, California is a much more impressive 22-12.
Tiger tale; Buckner aids Boston
The Detroit Tigers, who started a string of 14 consecutive games on June 1 against their closest pursuers in the American League East (Baltimore and Toronto), held up beautifully during that stretch for Manager Sparky Anderson. Faced with two hungry rivals hoping to close ground, the Tigers split the 14 games evenly and actually emerged from the two-week grind with their lead slightly bigger than at the start. ''Although everybody talks about Jack Morris and Dan Petry being our two top pitchers, I think Milt Wilcox also has a great chance of winning 20 or more games for us,'' Anderson said.
Actually the hottest team in the AL East lately has been the Boston Red Sox, who have suddenly shot over the .500 mark after getting first baseman Bill Buckner in a trade with the Chicago Cubs. Buckner, at the moment, might just be the most reliable No. 6 hitter in baseball. The 1980 National League batting champion has always had a flair for getting on base, keeping rallies alive, and wearing out pitchers by the dozen.
If one were to measure the combined length of Buckner's hits they wouldn't reach from Old Ironsides to the Bunker Hill Monument. But his 356 doubles going into this season say a lot about Bill's mental toughness and bat control. Buckner has already had six years in the big leagues in which he has struck out fewer than 19 times.
Elsewhere around the majors
* The New York Mets, after looking at close-up films of slugger Darryl Strawberry, are convinced that his current batting slump is due to overswinging. After a great April in which Strawberry hit .363, including five homers and 12 runs batted in, Darryl just did keep his batting average .200 for May. Now Strawberry has compounded his problems by trying too hard and fighting himself.
* When Doc Edwards, manager of the Cleveland Indians minor league Maine Guides farm club, located righthander Steve Farr to tell him that the parent club was recalling him, he found Farr in a Portland, Maine, movie theater. Steve was watching ''The Natural,'' a film starring Robert Redford about a baseball player returning to the big leagues after a 15-year absence.
* Ever since the Boston Red Sox signed 21-year-old right-hander Roger Clemens , who was the winner for Texas in the final game of last year's College World Series, they have been making extraordinary claims about his ability. Not too surprisingly, however, Clemens has found big league hitters a little tougher to fool so far. He was shelled by Cleveland in his first start, and although he now has a 2-1 record, he has also been hit hard on other occasions without being involved in the decision - giving up 54 hits and 28 runs in just 351/3 innings for a 7.13 earned run average.
* If you are wondering how fast a team can go from peerage to steerage in major league baseball, consider the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, who have played below the .500 mark since that time. Except for Joaquin Andujar, the Cardinals don't have much in the way of reliable starting pitchers. And catcher Darrell Porter, the team's leading home run hitter so far, seldom is used against left-handers.
* After at least three big league teams asked Kansas City for permission to talk with Manager Dick Howser, the Royals decided to extend Howser's present contract. Two of the teams interested in Howser were rumored to be the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants - the Red Sox simply checking on Dick's availability for next year.
* Only a few days after telling me that the Cincinnati Reds were a much better team in 1984 and that his shift from shortstop to third base on April 29 was no big deal, Dave Concepcion has suggested that the Reds trade him for a pitcher. Apparently Concepcion's first choice is Los Angeles, where the Dodgers might be willing to part with veteran Burt Hooton, plus one of their young bullpen hurlers.
* The New York Mets this year have joined the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants in the use of computers to help select their most potent batting lineup. New Mets Manager Dave Johnson also plans to program every rival National League hitter into his computer so that he'll have a better idea of how to cope with these people in clutch situations.
* Veteran Oakland infielder Davey Lopes says he doesn't care if he ever plays another game at second base and would like to finish his career in left field. Lopes lost his starting job when the A's signed Joe Morgan as a free agent during the off season.
* The Cleveland Indians, who haven't finished in the American League's first division for 16 years, say they have some exceptional talent in the minor leagues. The problem is that its estimated maturity is three years away and Cleveland fans are tired of waiting. Meanwhile several of the Indians' veteran players keep asking to be traded; thus further unsettling the ball club.