In recent weeks several hard objects, including a transistor battery, have either hit or come dangerously close to the head of out-fielder Dave Parker of the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the best players in the National League.
These missiles directed against Parker have not been launched on the road, but from the right-field stands at Pittsburgh's Three-Rivers Stadium. David, in language that sounds more like a demand than a request, has asked the Pirates to trade him. There are even reports that he won't take no for an answer.
"Neither Parker nor any other ballplayer should have to take that kind of abuse," said Pittsburgh Manager Chuck Tanner. "I don't blame him for reacting the way he did. We're concerned about Dave's safety and the way he feels, and we certainly don't want to lose him.
"But my feeling is that we'll get a handle on this and that Parker will remain with the Pirates. "We're going to beef up our ballpark security and we're going to scatter some plainclothes people in the area where the battery was thrown. But what we really need, when something like that happens, is for the people in the right-field stands to jump up and point out the character who did the throwing. We get that kind of fan cooperation and this thing will end overnight."
Asked what kind of person would heave a battery or a golf ball at a player's hear (it happened recently to the Dodgers' Reggie Smith in Philadelphia), Tanner replied:
"My guess is that it's some macho-type guy who comes to the game with his buddies, gets loaded on beer, decides that maybe Parker is making too much money , and throws whatever is in his pockets at him.
"Then I figure this character stops at his neighborhood bar on his way home and brags about what he did because he thinks this makes him a big man. The culprit is probably one guy, and when they do catch him I hope they don't just fine him and give him a suspended sentence. I hope they put him away for a significant amount of time, like six months, and I hope tha the newspapers play it up big."
Although Pittsburgh's record as a team is about the same as it was last year, when the Pirates clinched their division on the last day of the regular season, Tanner has not gotten much consistency from his starting pitchers in 1980.
That is, with the exception of Jim Bibby, who carried a 13-1 mark into August , plus a 2.88 earned-run average.
"We've got a great bullpen in Kent Tekulve, Grant Jackson, and Enrique Romo, and basically that's how we've been able to stay near the top in our division," Chuck explained. "Naturally we're looking for more help from John Candelaria and Bert Blyleven in August and September, but regardless of what happens I still think we'll win.
"I say this because I don't know of another team in baseball that is better equipped to cope with adversity than we are," he continued. "We lose some games , but we invariably bounce back. We get involved in a five-game playoff against Cincinnati, the way we did last year, and we gut it out.
"We get down three games to one against Baltimore in the 1979 World Series, with their three best pitchers set to work against us, and we take the Orioles to seven games and beat them. That happens once, you call it luck. But it has happened too many times with us to dismiss it so casually."
While it appears obvious that the first-place Monteal Expos and the Philadelphia Phillies are the only two teams in the NL East with enough depth to compete with the Pirates, Tanner actually has little to say about them.
Instead he seems to prefer to generalize about the entire National League, which he says is a lot tougher overall than it was last season.
"Listen, we'd all like to have some of the pitching that Joe Torre has with the New York Mets, and there are no more easy games with the Atlanta Braves, who have really been rough on us," Tanner remarked.
"If somebody could guarantee me 98 victories right now, I'd take my chances and figure we'd win the division," Chuck continued. "But the way the Mets and the Braves are playing against the contenders, 96 might actually be enough."