Kittle, McMurtry top rookies; will Yaz really retire?
Statements like this are always open to argument, but here goes: the two best rookies in the American and National Leagues so far this season have been outfielder Ron Kittle of the Chicago White Sox and pitcher Craig McMurtry of the Atlanta Braves.
Kittle's arrival among baseball's top home run hitters deserves at least one time slot on ''60 Minutes.'' Ron was originally signed by Los Angeles as a free agent, but the Dodgers gave up on him after he turned in a poor season in the minor leagues playing with an injured neck. He then went to work in the steel mills of Gary, Ind., and would probably still be there if a friend hadn't gotten White Sox scout and former major league pitcher Billy Pierce to look at him.
At the time, the 6 ft. 4 in., 200-lb. Kittle was destroying one of the local softball leagues with his bat. Last year, he was named Minor League Player of the year when he hit .345, belted 50 homers, and drove in 144 runs playing Triple A ball in Edmonton. Now Ron has become as much of a long-ball threat to American League pitchers as Cecil Cooper, Jim Rice, or George Brett.
While no one will mistake Kittle for Boston's Dwight Evans in the outfield, he nevertheless makes the routine plays there consistently and gets his throws in quickly to the cutoff man.
McMurtry, a 6 ft. 5 in. right-handed power pitcher who throws strikes, won his starting job with the Braves on the strength of what he did in spring training. Craig has a sinker that brings up oil and a curveball that would have no trouble bending around Orson Welles.
Although McMurtry hasn't completed many games, that's partly due to Braves Manager Joe Torre's policy of making frequent use of what has been a consistently formidable bullpen.
Among those chasing McMurtry for top rookie honors in the National League are outfielder Gary Redus of the Cincinnati Reds, pitcher Charlie Hudson of the Philadelphia Phillies, and infielder Bryan Little of the Montreal Expos. If Atlanta wins the N. L. West, however, McMurtry may wind up with less serious rookie competition in his circuit than Kittle.
That's because in the American League, Cleveland shortstop Julio Franco plays such an important position and plays it so well that he is expected to get a lot of votes. Seattle Mariner pitcher Matt Young also gets high marks for what he has been able to accomplish with a last-place ball club behind him. Yaz to the Braves?
Boston's Carl Yastrzemski, the first American League player to total both 400 home runs and 3,000 hits, has already announced that he will retire at the end of the season after 23 years with the Red Sox. However, speculation keeps surfacing (which he denies) that Yaz will ask for and be given his unconditional release by the Red Sox and that he will use that freedom to sign a two-year contract with the Atlanta Braves. Yastrzemski, who is friendly with Braves' Owner Ted Turner, would become Atlanta's No. 1 pinch-hitter and backup first baseman in 1984, the rumor has it. There are also reports that Turner will sign Yaz's son Mike, who ceases to be the property of the Texas Rangers after this season, to a Braves' contract.
Yastrzemski had his most memorable year with the Red Sox in 1967, when they won their ''Impossible Dream'' pennant under Dick Williams and then took the St. Louis Cardinals to seven games before losing in the World Series. That was the season Yaz won the Triple Crown, leading the league with a .326 batting average; 44 homers; and 121 runs batted in. He also hit .400 against the Cardinals in the World Series, including three home runs.
Tidbits from around the majors
* Pat Corrales, who supposedly wasn't smart enough to manage the Philadelphia Phillies two weeks ago when he had them in first place in the National League East, has replaced Mike Ferraro as field chief of the last-place Cleveland Indians. ''I'm not saying that we can turn things around in Cleveland right away ,'' Corrales told reporters. ''But we can sure make things miserable for some of the contenders down the stretch.'' Mickey Mouse pitching has been the Indians' biggest problem to date.
* When Steve Garvey of the San Diego Padres broke his thumb sliding into home plate against the Atlanta Braves on July 29, it also ended Steve's consecutive-game streak at 1,207. Only Lou Gehrig (2,190 games) and Everett Scott (1,307) had longer Iron Man records. Garvey is expected to be sidelined for between three and four weeks.
* The Dominican Republic, a small country in the Caribbean, has become a major supplier of pitchers to major league baseball. The most famous to date is Juan Marichal, who was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame last week along with Walter Alston, Brooks Robinson, and George Kell. Among the current crop of Dominican pitchers are Mario Soto of the Cincinnati Reds; Pascual Perez of the Atlanta Braves; Joaquin Andujar of the St. Louis Cardinals; Alejandro Pena of the Los Angeles Dodgers; and rookies Jose DeLeon and Cecilio Guante of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
* Before the July All-Star break, Pirate outfielder Dave Parker was struggling with a .241 batting average. Since then he has hit .412, raised his average to a season high of .281, and belted several home runs. Explained Parker: ''Instead of going to Las Vegas during the All-Star break the way I'd planned, I stayed in Pittsburgh and took three days of batting practice.''