Major league baseball no longer projects the innocence of the Boys of Summer, the wacky loyalty of the Gas House Gang, or the singleness of purpose of those old Yankee teams. Money, agents, and TV are what it's all about today as another season begins.
Some things haven't changed, though: The grinding, April-to-October pennant races; the importance of pitching and defense; the way injuries can destroy a contender; and the off season trades that buy headlines if not always victories.
Some of this year's deals may produce both. Jack Clark, whose power bat led St. Louis into two of the last three World Series, is a Yankee now, while Kirk Gibson, a key man for Detroit in the '84 Series and ever since, plays for Los Angeles.
Several other stars have new uniforms, and as usual there are some new managers - - including Billy Martin for an incredible fifth time with the Yankees.
Here are some capsule summaries:
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
On paper, the Mets are undoubtedly the best balanced team. They have outstanding personnel, and in depth. If they start off well, the clubhouse bickering of the last two years may disappear. But if they have ignition problems, the media will cover this development the way it would a congressional investigation.
The Mets could have the MVP in outfielder Darryl Strawberry and the Rookie of the Year in shortstop Kevin Elster, who has the hands of a watchmaker.
Next should be the defending champion Cardinals, whose front office softened the loss of Clark by luring hard-hitting Bob Horner back from Japan.
Mention Montreal, one of last year's surprises, and those who like Cinderella stories can't wait to rush in with glass slippers. In real life, though, the Expos appear a cut below the top two. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh look close for fourth, with Chicago bringing up the rear.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
San Francisco manager Roger Craig is known as a pitcher's manager, and his division champion Giants justified that reputation by compiling the best earned-run average in the majors last season.
Cincinnati, which had the best bullpen in baseball in 1987 (3.10 ERA, 44 saves), picked up starters Danny Jackson from Kansas City and Jose Rijo from Oakland. After three straight runner-up finishes, and with this improvement on the mound, the Reds have a right to be optimistic.
Los Angeles could be an opposing pitcher's nightmare. With Gibson and Pedro Guerrero in the middle of the lineup, the Dodgers should score a pile of runs. The main question is who starts after Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser.
Pitching should keep Houston in most games, but the Astros don't look like a contender, partly because they lost 52 road games in '87. Atlanta and San Diego may be improved, but both are still terribly short on pitching. Whenever two managers admit that their teams are in rebuilding programs, you know they should be opening the season in Bridgeport.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
No sooner did the experts climb aboard the bandwagon when Minnesota won the World Series than they jumped right off again. What caused this defection was a closer look at the Twins' thin starting rotation plus the off season improvements of Kansas City and Oakland,
Minnesota might have a chance again if rookie pitchers Steve Gasser and Jeff Bumgarner exceed all expectations, but those 52 road defeats in '87 still linger in the minds of most observers.
Kansas City, with all kinds of team speed, is back running again under manager John Wathan. After trading with Cincinnati, the Royals have a shortstop in Kurt Stillwell who can both hit and field. If the pitching holds up, they may as well go ahead and order playoff tickets.
No pitching staff looks forward to meeting Oakland. With Mark McGwire (49 homers), Jose Canseco (31), Carney Lansford (19), and Terry Steinbach (16), the A's have more cannons than Old Ironsides. And over the winter they added Dave Parker (26 homers) and Don Baylor (16) who will share the designated hitter role. But even with the addition of Bob Welch from the Dodgers, there might not be enough pitching to get the job done.
Seattle manager Dick Williams predicts the team's first .500 season, but fans shouldn't expect much more. California is set in most departments, but new manager Cookie Rojas would be wise to write the telephone number of Dial-A-Pitcher in his notebook. Chicago and Texas say the're focusing on youth and development, a clich'e most teams take off the shelf when not many wins are expected.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Boston feels it has made the necessary moves to regain its 1986 championship form - and it could be right.
Pitching? How much do you need after Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens and newcomer Lee Smith, who in the past five years saved 162 games for the Chicago Cubs? Then there are all those young hitters with the power to destroy opposing pitchers by the dozen.
New York has signed or traded for just about every veteran name pitcher who came on the market. Since the Yankees clearly have enough hitting and defense to finish first, how many victories are left in those arms is the critical issue.
While it's tough to consign Detroit's defending division champions to third place, where would you put them with Kirk Gibson gone and with the Red Sox and Yankees spitting fire?
Toronto is in much the same position: everybody recognizes the extent of the Blue Jays' ability, but hesitates to award them first place. One problem: too many people remember how Toronto surrendered a 3-game lead to the Tigers last year with only seven games left to play.
Last year Milwaukee surprised everyone by winning 91 games (six more than the Twins). With a few breaks, the Brewers this year could be baseball's headline version of ``Truman Beats Dewey.''
Baltimore has power (Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr., Fred Lynn), but needs overall improvement. Cleveland, which had no pitcher with more than seven wins last year, is desperate for mound help.
That's the day-to-day outlook. But even if your interest in baseball is limited, be sure to budget some time for the Billy Martin-George Steinbrenner Show at Yankee Stadium - especially if you like fireworks. Win, lose, or whatever, Ernest Hemmingway wouldn't touch this plot with a compound adjective!