SEATTLE — With the six-month grind known as the major league baseball season upon them, the Angels still are missing some essential equipment.
Oh, they remembered to pack Reggie Jackson's bats. They'll put a glove on Gary Pettis' left hand, dress Bob Boone in the traditional catching armor and give the ball to Mike Witt. The players have been taken care of.
But what of Manager Gene Mauch, perhaps the most valuable of all Angels?
What of the man who developed callouses by wringing run after run out of an offense that placed dead last in the American League in hitting in 1985?
What of the man who came up with 155 different lineups, milked his bullpen and coaxed his starting rotation to 90 regular-season victories--one fewer than the world champion Kansas City Royals?
Mauch will open the 1986 season tonight in the Kingdome with some favorite tools of his trade in storage--namely, a 25-man roster and a fully stocked bullpen.
The cliche about baseball requiring a 25-man effort may be the moldiest in the game, but with Mauch's Angels, it was standard operating procedure. Craig Gerber might hit behind a runner to set up the game-winning run. Rufino Linares might drive in that run with a pinch-hit sacrifice fly. Devon White might score that run on a pinch-running sprint in from third base.
Nobody sits on Mauch's bench for very long. "We had 25 pieces last year, and we needed each and every one of them for 90 wins," Mauch said.
But this year, Mauch will be maneuvering with one fewer pawn. The cost-efficient 24-man roster is this season's bandwagon in baseball and General Manager Mike Port, who never met a budget cut he didn't like, was among the first to scramble aboard.
One fewer player means one fewer angle for Mauch to play. Ultimately, the smaller roster means one fewer infielder for Mauch this season. The Angels will open with six--first baseman Wally Joyner, second baseman Bobby Grich, third baseman Doug DeCinces, shortstop Dick Schofield and utility men Rick Burleson and Rob Wilfong.
Mauch sometimes goes through six infielders by the seventh inning. What about extra innings? Are you ready for Reggie Jackson at shortstop?
"I don't like it," Mauch says of the 24-man roster. "But there's nothing I can do about it."
Mauch will keep juggling, because, as he puts it, judicious rest is needed for the six regulars in his lineup who are 35 or older. With fewer resources, expect more creativity by Mauch. Expect Darrell Miller at catcher one day, in right field the next and in left the next. Expect Grich at all the infield positions. Expect Jerry Narron to become a daily sight as a pinch-hitter.
"I'm gonna play everybody as much as I can," Mauch said. "We have a lot of people who can play several positions. We have the potential for amazing flexibility."
Not so with the bullpen, though. Not yet.
Two-thirds of the advertised greatest bullpen in Angel history didn't make it to opening day.
Gary Lucas, the lone left-handed reliever among the relief corps, is on the disabled list, sidelined indefinitely with a nerve problem in his lower back. Stewart Cliburn, who won nine games and saved six as a rookie in 1985, is in Edmonton, trying to recapture the skills that provided those numbers. Injuries to his right shoulder and triceps limited Cliburn to nine innings this spring--not nearly enough time to pitch himself into shape.
That leaves Donnie Moore, and he is hardly in peak condition. He sat out the first two weeks of exhibition games with a tender rib cage and 9 innings of work haven't been able to restore his arm to its 95-m.p.h. strength.
Moore didn't save 31 games and win 8 others last year by fooling and finessing hitters. Mauch talks optimistically of Moore's progress. "Maybe the next time out--bingo!--he'll be ready," the manager said.
And of the bullpen, which currently includes Moore, Doug Corbett, Jim Slaton, Ken Forsch and rookie T.R. Bryden, Mauch talks bravely. "They have to do it," he said. "It's not a case of me wanting them to do it, they have to do it and they will."
It isn't going to be that easy.
For one thing, the Angels' biggest asset in the American League West--the weakness of the division--has evaporated. The AL Worst actually won the World Series last fall. Kansas City is back with an armada of arms, Oakland could be the most improved team in baseball, and Minnesota and Seattle are both improved teams.
There will be no more treading water for five months and then waking up in the middle of September in the middle of a pennant race.
Then, too, the Angels have stood pat with an aging lineup, introducing new faces only at first base--Joyner--and right field--George Hendrick.
Joyner had a fabulous spring, leading the club with 36 hits and a .385 batting average, but his first at-bat tonight will be his first in a big league game.