Shuffled managers and fireballing Astro
Along with new stars and new hopes, every big league season also produces its share of new managers. Or would it be more accurate to say old managers in new places? At this point nobody has to be told that baseball's version of musical chairs has been around almost as long as the pyramids.
Since last year Billy Martin has moved from the Oakland A's to the New York Yankees; John McNamara from the Cincinnati Reds to the California Angels; and Bill Virdon from the Houston Astros to the Montreal Expos. Also two of last season's interim managers, Russ Nixon with the Reds and Bob Lillis with the Astros, now have those jobs full time.
Meanwhile three of last year's top major league coaches (Joe Altobelli and Mike Ferraro with the Yankees and Steve Boros with the Expos) are calling the shots for their new employers. Altobelli manages in Baltimore; Ferraro in Cleveland; and Boros in Oakland.
The most surprising newcomer to the ranks is Doug Rader, a noted practical joker during his big-league playing days. Texas reached into the Pacific Coast League and hired him to pilot the Rangers, who lost 98 games last year.
While it is still early to put a yardstick on what these managers have accomplished, here's how things are stacking up thus far.
Boros has done a marvelous job of straightening out an Oakland pitching staff that had fallen into disarray. Rader, in addition to making what had been a chin-on-the-floor situation in Texas look promising again, has been a fine motivator.
The controversial Martin has been pushing so hard in New York that Billy has already had run-ins with two of his players (Oscar Gamble and Jerry Mumphrey) as well as numerous umpires, with a suspension pending. But nobody can say that the Yankees haven't been exciting.
The Angels have played at least as well under McNamara as they did under Gene Mauch, although John doesn't seem to know what to do with a bullpen that may have been programmed by the Marx Brothers. In Cincinnati, Nixon got the Reds away better than anyone expected, and so far Ferraro has been able to keep Cleveland within striking distance of the leaders. Even Lillis, whose Astros started off with nine straight losses, can relax for a while now that pitching ace Nolan Ryan is off the disabled list.
Ryan, as the baseball world is well aware, broke Walter Johnson's all-time strikeout record of 3,508 against the Montreal Expos. Though Nolan still relies on his fastball about 70 percent of the time, he claims that his curveball has always been underrated and that he often uses it as an ''out'' pitch, especially when he's ahead of the hitters.
Ryan told reporters that the closer he got to the 55-year-old strikeout record, the more curious he became about Johnson. He finally turned to the Baseball Encyclopedia. ''Even though that book gave me a lot of statistics on Johnson, what I really wanted to know was more about his personality and background,'' Ryan said. Elia could be in hot water
I heard a copy of the unedited tape of Chicago manager Lee Elia in which he blasted Cub fans for not supporting their team, for being among the unemployed, and for not knowing anything about baseball. The four-letter word that Elia kept using over and over again, plus his warlike attitude, is probably going to eventually cost him his job. The fact that Lee claims that he was so upset after a defeat that he didn't know what he was saying and that he later apologized, is not being bought by Cub fans. The only thing that is saving Elia right now is his close personal friendship with Chicago general manager Dallas Green. Trade brewing; Bannister floundering
The San Francisco Giants, through a complicated deal they are trying to set up involving the Angels and the Twins, would wind up with California's hard-hitting Daryl Sconiers playing first base for them. Meanwhile the Angels would acquire Minnesota relief pitcher Ron Davis and the Twins a starting outfielder, plus $500,000 in cash . . .
The White Sox are definitely not happy with millionaire free agent pitcher Floyd Bannister, who has not gone more than 5 2/3 innings in any of his starts so far this season. Said Chicago catcher Carlton Fisk: ''Bannister is squeezing the ball like he doesn't want to let it go. He's not relaxed and may have lost some of his confidence. So far his talents have not come close to surfacing.'' . . . On the other side of the rubber, Toronto's Dave Steib has now pitched four consecutive complete games for a team that doesn't score a lot of runs . . .
The honor of best start by a player over 40 this year belongs to first baseman Tony Perez of the Phillies, who recently got his batting average up to . 391 while continuing to hit with power.