After coming to the Atlanta Braves last year, Joe Torre began to wonder what was going on with infielder Glenn Hubbard. ''I called my second baseman (Hubbard) by his first name and he never even looked at me,'' laughed Torre. ''I don't think he even remembered what it was himself. Then I realized that almost everbody on the team called him Yosemite Sam.''
Later Torre ran into a somewhat similar situation with his shortstop, Rafael Ramirez, who had been nicknamed the Bandit by his teammates as a tribute to the many times he'd robbed opposing hitters in the field.
Hubbard is 5 ft. 8 in. and looks like a miniature mountain man, whiskers curling the perimeter of his face. Ramirez is a shade over six feet, his dark eyes firing off bursts of emotion whenever he's upset. Between them last year, they led all major league shortstop-second base combinations in double plays with 186.
Anyway, what do you think the chances are of a kid who was born of American parents at Hahn Air Force Base in Germany playing in the same infield as a kid who grew up in the Dominican Republic?
Every time the Braves are mentioned, the glamour names invariably surface first (Dale Murphy, Bob Horner, Chris Chambliss, Phil Niekro, etc.), but Atlanta would not have won its division last year without the outstanding alliance of Hubbard and Ramirez.
''Mentally these two are quite a bit alike,'' Torre explained. ''They want to be in the lineup every day. You try to give them a night off once in a while and they'll invent reasons why they should be playing. You hear people say that this player or that player gives 110 percent. I'm not sure I know what that means, except that nobody on the Braves plays harder than these guys.
''Ramirez takes some heat in the press occasionally when, with a routine play in front of him, he'll boot the ball. Hubbard is steadier in the field. I suspect that some of Rafael's problem is carelessness. But when you absolutely have to get the super play in the field to prevent a runner from scoring, Ramirez invariably makes it look easy.''
Asked how he would compare his shortstop-second base combination with the St. Louis Cardinals' Ozzie Smith and Tommy Herr, Torre replied:
''Individually you don't compare any shortstop with Smith, who has such great anticipation, gobbles up everything in the field, and then gets the ball to first base in time, even if he's off-balance when he makes his throw. But as good as Herr is in the field, I think Hubbard is better. What I'm saying is that as a unit, Ramirez and Hubbard, in day-to-day situations, can play with any middle infielders in baseball.
''Because most fans almost always watch the hitter, they miss a lot of the byplay between the shortstop and second baseman before the pitcher throws the ball. But for the people who play these two positions, it's important for them to get their signals straight and know at what level their partner likes to get the ball on the front end of the double play. Although it wasn't that way at the beginning, Ramirez and Hubbard now react to each other instinctively.''
Offensively the Bandit and Yosemite Sam are pesky line-drive hitters, who leave the power to Murphy and Horner and just try to get on base any way they can.
''If you go strictly by the numbers with these two guys, you're probably not going to be that impressed,'' Torre said. ''For example, because Hubbard played injured most of last year and doesn't run as well as Ramirez, I batted him seventh, where he didn't get many opportunites to drive in runs. Yet he still knocked in 59 while hitting into only five double plays, the fewest of any of my regulars.
''Ramirez, because of his speed (he was second on the Braves last year in stolen bases with 27), makes an ideal leadoff or No. 2 hitter,'' Joe added. ''He's capable of pulling the ball, or going to the opposite field with a pitch, or moving the runner along in sacrifice situations. Two years ago he had trouble adjusting to pitchers who move the ball around on him. But last year he learned how to handle this situation and raised his average 60 points.''
The remainder of the Braves infield has Chris Chambliss at first base and Horner at third. The fact that range has never been a problem for either Ramirez or Hubbard means that Horner and Chambliss can play closer to the foul lines in clutch situations when the batter is known as a pull hitter.