TAMPA, Fla. — Look to the outfield if you want to see where major league baseball has been stockpiling its talent in recent years.
Good outfielders are in abundance in the major leagues these days and, moreover, there are an increasing number of solid three-man outfields who form the heart and soul of their respective teams.
Baseball's best outfield in 1984 and one of the best in recent times was the Boston Red Sox's contingent of Jim Rice in left, Tony Armas in center and Dwight Evans in right field.
Not only did all three knock in over 100 runs and score more than 95 runs but each ranks among the best defensively at his position.
"When you talk about Evans, Tony Armas and Jim Rice, you're talking about guys who can run up some pretty good offensive numbers but aren't known for their defensive abilities, except for Evans, who is outstanding," says Lloyd Moseby, the center fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. "But I think Jim Rice is one of the best left fielders and Tony Armas can play center field with the best of them."
John McNamara, who has taken over as the Red Sox manager this year after having managed the California Angels the past two seasons, said the Red Sox threesome is a manager's dream.
"You'd have to do some heavy thinking to find an outfield that was better, both offensively and defensively," McNamara said. "They make me feel like I've been here for 10 years.
"They cooperate, they work hard, they want to play every day even in the exhibition games. You have to sit them down."
There are some baseball people, however, who would pick the Blue Jays' trio of George Bell, Moseby and Jesse Barfield over the Red Sox threesome if they were starting a team today.
The major reason is age. All three are only 25 years old while the Red Sox three are all over 30.
"Our three guys are probably as good as those guys," says Cito Gaston, a coach with the Blue Jays and a former major league outfielder. "George Bell had a little trouble in left field last year but you have to consider that Bobby (Manager Cox) moved him from left to right. I've always maintained it's harder to play left than right.
"Jesse has just as good an arm as Evans. He also goes to his left real well. He's going to play every day this year and he's going to hit 20 or more home runs."
Barfield is really the unknown quantity in the Blue Jays outfield. Although he has posted some good offensive numbers as a platoon player, no one is quite sure how he will do as an everyday player.
"When we traded Dave Collins (to Oakland) we made the decision to go with Jesse every day," Cox said. "He's going to be a hot and cold type like Gorman Thomas, but if he puts those kind of numbers on the board, that's great."
Tony Kubek, a former All-Star shortstop with the New York Yankees who played on the 1961 Yankees when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris comprised two-thirds of the outfield, thinks the Blue Jays' trio has the potential to be outstanding.
"They all could hit between 20 and 30 homers, and Bell and Moseby have the potential to steal 20 or 30 bases," Kubek said.
"If we can consistently do the things that we do best, we'll ranks with the best in the pros, no question," added Moseby.
By strictly defensive standards, Tony LaRussa of the Chicago White Sox thinks his outfield of Rudy Law in left, rookie Daryl Boston in center and Harold Baines in right can play with anybody.
"We've got a chance with Rudy, Boston and Baines to have a real good defensive outfield. I mean balls gotten to," said LaRussa. "Rudy is thrilled at being moved to left. He's got more of a left fielder's arm. Defensively, Boston is as good a center fielder as there is in the major leagues right now."
There may not be a better authority on good outfields than Evans. When he broke in as the Red Sox's regular right fielder 13 years ago, he was flanked by Reggie Smith in center field and Carl Yastrzemski in left. In 1975 Fred Lynn, replaced Smith in center field and a few years later Rice replaced Yastrzemski as the everyday left fielder.
Evans is very impressed with the outfields he sees in the American League, especially in the East Division
"I'd say offensively we're number one," said Evans. "I don't think anybody is better than us. Defensively, I think we're one or two. Defensively, it's hard to say. I like Toronto's outfield. I like New York's outfield (Ken Griffey, Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield) very much. I like Detroit's outfield (Larry Herndon, Chet Lemon and Kirk Gibson). Lemon in center field is tremendous and Gibson has worked hard."