''Managing, what's managing?'' asks Sparky Anderson, who has the Detroit Tigers driving for first place in the American League East. ''There is no philosophy to managing. You can change pitchers; you can juggle your lineup; you can have clubhouse meetings; but ultimately it comes down to what your players do. I thought everybody knew that by now.''
Asked to evaluate his streaking Tigers, who have won 12 of their last 16 games, Anderson replied: ''We've got people who can catch the ball, and we've got some pitchers who throw well, but we haven't hit much as a team and we certainly haven't hit for power. What might decide things for us is the seven games each we have left with New York, Baltimore, Toronto, and Milwaukee.
''But the team everybody has to beat, in my opinion, is the Yankees,'' Sparky continued. ''They have unbelievable talent. On paper they are the best team in baseball. Billy Martin has so many people on his roster with the ability to play regularly that even when he substitutes, the quality stays the same.''
However, Anderson is not discounting Baltimore, Toronto, or Milwaukee. ''The Orioles, with all that pitching, could win it,'' he said. ''In fact, Baltimore is the kind of team that never breaks down. Even when the Orioles have people out with injuries, they never seem to slip very far off the top. They played well for a lot of years for Earl Weaver and now they're playing well for Joe Altobelli.
''I also like the balance and the pitching Bobby Cox has in Toronto,'' he added. ''But the thing that has surprised me most about the Blue Jays is their hitting. I didn't expect them to score the way they have. Still, Toronto has never been this high in the standings this late in the season before, and that lack of experience under pressure could work against them. As for Milwaukee, it was a good team even when it was losing. Now that the Brewers are winning again, they're just as big a threat as anyone. We've got a logjam right now, but it should begin to break when our division leaders begin playing each other.'' George Brett's non-home run
New York Manager Billy Martin, while sitting in the dugout Sunday, took a potential game-winning home run away from Kansas City's George Brett - at least for the time being. Although Brett did indeed hit the ball out of the park, the Yankees claimed that the pine tar on his bat exceeded the legal limit of 18 inches. When the umpiresfound that the sticky substance did indeed go too far up the bat, Brett was called out.
The ruling triggered a furious argument in which Brett and Manager Dick Howser had to be restrained as they charged the umpires. The Royals later lodged an official protest, claiming, among other things, that the rule doesn't say anything about calling the batter out.
Brett, who does not wear batting gloves, uses pine tar regularly, and during a series in Kansas City two weeks ago the New York coaches noticed that it was getting high. Martin called it to his players' attention, then the Yankees bided their time, waiting for an occasion when Brett did them damage.
They let it go when he hit two harmless singles earlier Sunday. But in the ninth inning, with New York leading 4-3, two out, and a man on first, Brett blasted a Goose Gossage fastball into the bleachers - and that, of course, was the moment the Yankees chose to raise the issue.
So the game is a 4-3 New York victory at the moment, but if the protest is upheld, it will have to be resumed at the point of interruption, with Kansas City leading 5-4. Fernando's language barrier
This is Fernando Valenzuela's third year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the star Mexican left-hander has had plenty of media exposure, but he still has a battle with the English language.
Valenzuela recently told reporters that one of the reasons he hasn't learned more English is that the only US cities where he has lived (San Antonio and Los Angeles) have plenty of Spanish-speaking people with whom he can converse.
''If I were playing in Seattle or Cincinnati, I'd probably know more English but have fewer wins,'' Fernando quipped.