I can't remember who first wrote that ``rookies who bloom in the spring, tra la, are often back in the minor leagues by May 1,'' but it has happened enough to have become a baseball truism. Yet the way some second-division clubs are force-feeding rookies with major-league playing experience this year, at least 20 relatively unfamiliar names should be appearing in box scores on a more or less regular basis during the first month of the season. For example, the Texas Rangers (62-99 last year and desperate for someone whose name can be displayed on their marquee) are going with Pete Incaviglia in right field. Minor-league experience: none. But Incaviglia did set NCAA single-season home run (48) and RBI records (143) for Oklahoma State last year. The Rangers are gambling on Pete because they think he can handle the breaking ball, the bane of most young hitters, his first time out. Texas will also have a rookie pitcher, 21-year-old Bobby Witt, in its starting rotation.
Elsewhere, the San Francisco Giants are going with Will Clark, the leading hitter on the 1984 US Olympic team, at first base. Clark's swing is supposed to be like something out of a picture book, but the wind-tunnel ballpark in which the Giants play 81 home games (Candlestick) is like something out of a horror movie.
At this point, Wally Joyner looks like a better prospect anyhow. Joyner is replacing Rod Carew at first base for the California Angels.
There are more promising rookies, of course, including second baseman Danny Tartabull of the Seattle Mariners and Leon (Bip) Roberts of the San Diego Padres. Unlike his father, Jose, who had little power as a major-league hitter, Tartabull checked in with 43 homers and 109 RBIs last season with Calgary. Roberts, too big to fit in Willie Stargell's pocket but small enough to set up light housekeeping in a bat bag, is supposed to solve the Padres' leadoff problem with his speed and flair for reaching base.
But the rookie strong enough to carry Rhode Island in one hand and the Statue of Liberty in the other is outfielder Jose Canseco of the Oakland A's, who has been caught bench-pressing 390 pounds. This is a kid who played at three different levels last season (Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors) and batted a composite .328, including 41 homers and 140 runs batted in. Twice this year, during batting practice with the A's at Phoenix Stadium, Canseco hit balls that cleared a 45-foot backdrop behind the 430-foot marker in center field.
Had those horsehides gone any farther, the International Air Line Pilots Association might have insisted that anything traveling that distance be required to have at least one flight attendant on it! Elsewhere in the majors
Playing for three months without the RBI power of outfielder Pedro Guerrero, who the Los Angeles Dodgers say will be lost to the club for at least that time because of knee surgery, should make for a much closer race in the National League West. Guerrero, who tied a major-league record last season with 15 home runs during the month of June, also led Los Angeles in game-winning hits, with 16. The Dodgers plan to compensate for Guerrero's absence by platooning rookie Reggie Williams, Franklin Stubbs, and possibly Enos Cabell in left field.
The knuckleballing Niekro brothers, Phil and Joe, can still do it, but it won't be as easy with Phil in Cleveland. What we're talking about is the Niekros' chances of passing the combined pitching-victory totals (529) of brothers Gaylord and Jim Perry, both now retired. The Niekros need 26 wins between them to make their point. Going into this season Phil, who along with his brother went to training camp with the Yankees but was later released and signed by the Indians, has posted 300 victories; Joe, 204. But the Yankees figure to score so many more runs than the Indians that success for a pitcher figures to be a lot easier in New York than in Cleveland.
When an Arizona-based company that rents hot-air balloons wanted to give free rides to members of the Chicago Cubs during spring training, manager Jim Frey proved to be the most diplomatic of men. ``I'm not interested at the moment,'' Frey reportedly told his benefactors, ``but check back with me in May after we've played a few games!''