Rollie Fingers in stirring comeback; baseball's many changes recalled

No baseball manager who allowed Rollie Fingers to do the walking through the Yellow Pages or from the bullpen to the mound has ever had to deal with a wrong number or a wrong pitch. Fingers gave Oakland eight great seasons and San Diego four before moving on to Milwaukee, where he won American League MVP honors in 1981, helped pitch the Brewers to a pennant in 1982, and is now in the midst of another outstanding season with 17 saves and a miniscule earned run average.

Fingers has always had one of the game's most effective forkballs as well as a wicked slider. And when he was younger, smoke was occasionally sighted curling from the edges of his fastball. To confuse the hitters even more, Rollie long ago developed the neat trick of throwing all his pitches with the same fluid motion.

Fingers missed the 1982 playoffs and World Series and also sat out the entire 1983 season because of an elbow injury. First there was speculation that he wouldn't be back; then additional speculation that if he did return he would never be the same; and finally, that he wouldn't be able to pitch more than once a week. But so far this year Rollie is pitching as though he had never been away. All of which makes the 37-year-old right-hander a prime candidate for American League Comeback Player of the Year.

Fingers, who won the AL's Cy Young Award as well as MVP honors during that strike-abbreviated 1981 season, has always had excellent control. ''Being able to get the ball over the plate with something on it is what has kept me around, '' Rollie explained. ''I've also had a lot of success making batters hit the ball on the ground where the fielders can do something with it - like pulling off an inning-ending double play.''

Given a choice, Fingers says he would much rather face a power hitter in a clutch situation than a contact hitter who works at protecting the strike zone.

''It's always easier to fool a free-swinger because you know he's giving up some of his bat control for power, and that has to work in my favor,'' Rollie explained. ''It's the guy who goes with the pitch or the .200 hitter who gets lucky and loops the ball over the infield that worries relief pitchers the most.''

A memory trip as All-Star Game nears

The San Francisco Giants, who will host the 1984 All-Star Game at Candlestick Park next Tuesday, were still the New York Giants when baseball's first midseason classic was played at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1933. In fact, quite a few things were different then.

For example, no ball club had ever flown to a regular-season game. Most trips in those days were made by train. No night games had ever been played in the majors. No big league team had a black player on its roster - and wouldn't have for another 14 years. No game had ever been played indoors under a dome, and exploding scoreboards had not yet been invented.

Hitters did not wear batting gloves or protective helmets with earflaps. When a player left the field between innings, he casually scaled his glove onto the grass behind him. While there were numbers on the backs of uniforms, no one had thought of putting names there as well.

The last All-Star Game in Francisco was in 1961 - and Candlestick's famous wind was much in evidence. One tremendous gust blew 155-pound pitcher Stu Miller off the mound and into the history books when the plate umpire decided his journey constituted a balk. Seven players in that game - Yogi Bera, Ken Boyer, Eddie Mathews, Dick Howser, Frank Robinson, Don Zimmer, and Maury Wills - later became big league managers.

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