Not since 1977-78, when the New York Yankees defeated Los Angeles in back-to-back World Series, has any major league team won two pennants in a row. One frequent explanation for the collapse of champions the following season is ``key injuries.'' An even more popular theory is that the players become complacent over the winter and lose their drive and mental toughness. ``I've never bought any of those explanations because I don't think there is much truth in them,'' says Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, whose Tigers won it all in 1984 but failed the next season. ``The chief reason no team has repeated in the last eight years is because its pitching, for whatever reason, let it down.''
The New York Mets seemed like a strong possibility to break the pattern - especially after the way they ran away with the 1986 National League East title, then won the playoffs and the World Series. But things have been a lot different this year - which, of course, is Sparky's point.
``Before this season started, I didn't think there was any franchise in baseball that could touch the Mets,'' he told me. ``But look what happened to their pitching! Already they've had to deal with the loss of Dwight Gooden [drugs] and reliever Roger McDowell [injuries]. Who knows what Gooden will be like when he gets back, and I understand that McDowell [22 saves in 1986] may be out for the year.''
Going back a year, it was Kansas City's 1985 world champions who failed to win even a division title the following season. Anderson noted that while the Royals did have a pretty good team earned-run average, the two pitchers they had counted on most were major disappointments. That would be Cy Young award winner Bret Saberhagen, who went from 20 victories to seven, and reliever Dan Quisenberry, who fell from 37 saves to 12!
And a year before that there was Sparky's own club.
``Although people talked about how strong Detroit's pitching was when we won it all in '84, my staff, except for Jack Morris, was never that good,'' Anderson said. ``I simply had a lot of pitchers who came up with the best years of their careers all at the same time. We knew this, and we tried to make some trades and get help from our farm system during the winter, only those moves didn't produce the way we thought they would.''
Anderson claims that the best team in baseball right now is Cincinnati.
``The Reds have power, they have two great young hitters in Kal Daniels and Eric Davis, and they have an outstanding bullpen, which you must have today to make it through the playoffs and protect yourself in the World Series,'' Sparky said.
``[Manager Pete] Rose also has three players who could start at shortstop for almost any team in baseball,'' Anderson added. He was referring to second-year men Barry Larkin and Kurt Stillwell plus regular second baseman Ron Oester, who takes a certain number of balls at shortstop during infield practice every day to keep his arm stretched out.
``I've had writers fault the Reds' starting staff to me, but actually it's pretty good. Cincinnati wants another starter, but whether Rose finds him or not, the Reds are still going to win. Their margin just won't be as big, that's all.''
And what about Anderson's Tigers, who were 10 games out of first place and barely above cellar level in the American League East at the time of this interview?
``We're going to win our division,'' Sparky said. ``I guarantee that we'll be in first place on the final day of the season.''
Asked to amplify his remarks, Anderson replied: ``Not today. I've said enough. But I meant what I said, and I don't care who knows it.'' Why Bowa is managing Padres
San Diego general manager Jack McKeon was telling why he hired Larry Bowa as the Padres' new skipper.
``Even though I knew Bowa had won the Pacific Coast League pennant last year as a rookie manager with Las Vegas, at first he was just a name on a list,'' McKeon explained. ``But after I talked with Larry and we shared some ideas together, I felt that, despite what someone else might have seen as inexperience, he was ready. It won't be easy for Bowa, because we're a young ball club that has a lot of growing to do. But if Larry can learn patience, I'm willing to give him the time he needs to turn this club around.''
Added Bowa, a 5ft. 10 in., 160-pound overachiever who played 16 years in the major leagues: ``The first time I thought about managing was my first day in organized baseball, when people began telling me that I was too small to play this game at the big-league level. During my career, managing was always in the back of my mind.'' Elsewhere in the majors
Cincinnati veteran Dave Parker claims the Reds have a number of young players on their bench who could be starting for other teams. One kid Parker is particularly high on is Kal Daniels, a 23-year-old left-handed hitter, who is currently platooning in left field with Tracy Jones. ``Whenever I see a kid like Daniels who can consistently hit the breaking ball, I figure he's going to be around for awhile,'' Parker said.
On orders from owner George Steinbrenner, New York Yankee bullpen coach Jeff Torborg and special coach Stan Williams, who positions infielders and outfielders from his vantage point in the press box, are wearing walkie-talkie headsets this season. Torborg and Williams often make suggestions to each other during games regarding pitching changes and defensive alignments, which are then shared with manager Lou Piniella.
TV Guide recently pulled some fat quotes from Commissioner Peter Ueberroth regarding instant replay as an aid to umpires. Explained Ueberroth in part: ``Bringing instant replay to baseball isn't even discussable. I'm a traditionalist. If I ran tennis, people would still be wearing white. Umpires are part of baseball's romance with the public. They are professionals who, before working their way up through the minors, spend years perfecting their craft. To overrule them with a camera would be an affront to their dignity. Besides, they are probably right 99 percent of the time.''
Former Los Angeles Dodgers Don Drysdale (now a broadcaster) and Steve Garvey are members of separate groups interested in buying the Seattle Mariners from George Argyros. Garvey, whose playing contract with the San Diego Padres runs through this year, would need to sever his connection with the National League club in order to hold stock in the Mariners.
Among those who think baseball pays too much attention to statistics is former Milwaukee Braves manager Bobby Bragan. ``Say you had one foot in the oven and the other in an ice bucket,'' he explains. ``According to the percentage people, you should be perfectly comfortable!''