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THE PRE-SEASON PROGNOSTICATOR

by Cy Kosis
Freelance Sports Reporter At Large

I have no doubt that every prediction I make here will be wrong. That is not to say that I did not carefully consider every nuance of every team, even factors not written about here. But baseball is never a contest where the outcome is certain even on the day of the game, or even with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. That is what we love about this sport. The hero can be the most unlikely of players while the goat can be the most highly acclaimed superstar. We love to see the mighty fallen, and the lowly raised - and sometimes it becomes legend: The Mighty Casey, Tinker to Evers to Chance, Bucky Dent. It can happen on any day to anyone at any time. Nothing is certain. It took over 100 years of historical ballplay to come up the quintessential phrase that describes baseball: "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Diamond Mind has a game that captures that part of our great national pastime, and therefore even though I delve deep into the depths of my crystal ball I cannot discern anything of certainty -- only flashes of brilliance and despair. It is these momentary visions I interpret and pass on to you, dear reader.

Bold prediction: The World Series will be between Homestead of the Legends League and Washington of the Union League -- who both share the same ballpark and the same owner. The winner of it all? The Washington Nationals in 9 nail biting pitching duels.

But first, before even the first pitch is thrown in an exhibition season, let us wander a bit through both leagues and take the measure of each club.




THE LEGENDS LEAGUE

Legends League Logo

Strength and weakness, the Legends League has both ends of the spectrum. The dichotomy will display in the course of the season in a stark manner. The pennant race in one of the divisions will be a runaway. The race in the second division will be a free-for-all where teams will fall out one at a time. The last division will be a toss-up until the last day, a paragon of parity in a league of extremes.

EAST DIVISION

East Division Logo

Three Big Apple teams compete with one from the Iron City of Pennsylvania. While one from New York will win the race here, the one from Pittsburgh will fight that future down to the last games. This is a strong division that can see everyone in first at some point in the season.

Predicted finish: NY Mets, Pittsburgh, NY Giants, Brooklyn.


NORTH DIVISION

North Division Logo

This is the division with the most equal spread of talent in all the ATL, and that talent is of a superior level. The parity here equals strength against strength. Quite possibly the winner of this division will barely make it over .500, and will not win until the last day.  That does not mean the teams herein are weak.

Predicted finish: Chicago, Keokuk, Montreal, Toronto.


SOUTH DIVISION

South Division Logo

A uneven assortment of talent in this division, but possibly with the strongest team in the ATL. That could make this a runaway, one-horse race early in the going. Secretariat against Clydesdales, but watch out if one of those Clydesdales steps on Secretariat's foot - and that is a distinct possibility.

Predicted finish: Homestead, Cincinnati, Houston, Havana.

Legends League Wild Card: Pittsburgh


Brooklyn Bridegrooms


Pitching is the key to this Brooklyn team. Elite lefty Sandy Koufax stands front and center, but where will the rest of the staff stand behind him? A lot will depend on whether or not Orel Hershiser, Andy Messersmith and Minoru Murayama can get reliable relief help from Ron Perranoski, Steve Howe, Mike Henneman and Greg McMichael. That is the real question in Brooklyn. Defense is the genuine star on this team even with Babe Herman in the lineup. Ee-yah Jennings, Zack Wheat, Ray Dandridge & Spot Poles lead the way, with more able-bodied glovemen on the bench ready to put their careers on the line. Those four will also lead the team in offense along with the Brooklyn Babe and the all-star bench. A decent team on the offense but not exceptional, the main problem on this front being too many good players at the same position. Not being able to get all the hitters in the game at the same time will trouble the Bridgrooms manager all season long.

Defense will keep this Brooklyn club in the game, but with only one stellar hurler and no dependable relief for the other starters the season will get long, quick.


Chicago Cubs


Teddy Ballgame, Hammerin' Hank Aaron and spark plug Jackie Robinson are the life blood of this team. The hope of a pennant is there, bright and effervescent. The loyal and long-suffering fans even have their long-time heroes: Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, and Mr. Chicago, Ryne Sandberg. What gives hope more than any combination of players, however, is the fact that this Chicago club is in the 'Division of Parity.' That means the pitching staff of Jim Palmer, Don Drysdale, Gaylord Perry, Jack McDowell and Vida Blue may be just enough to get the job done. It is also very fortunate for the hopeful that there is a wealth of closers on the club, even if they are all of less-than Hall of Fame talent. One of them will have to step forward, or all of them will have to. The candidates are John Wetteland, Tom Henke, Elroy Face, Jeff Reardon and Greg Olson -- not dominating, so perhaps it will be closing by committee. Defense on this team is nothing to write home about in a superstar league, and that will negatively impact the pitching.

A shot at .500 is all this Chicago club needs to have to capture the pennant in their particular division, and a shot at .500 is all they will get.


Cincinnati Reds


Power from the right, and bat skill from the left - exactly what Crosley Park requires for its home team. Jimmie Foxx and Josh Gibson lead the charge from the right, while Tris Speaker, Joe Jackson and Al Simmons take control from the left. Those five as the heart of the Cincinnati lineup has to put a favorable aspect on any season prediction, especially when they are backed up by glovemen Charlie Gehringer and Scott Rolen with Nomar Garciaparra to round everything out. But does it break down once we get to the high ground? Players like Mike Mussina, Robin Roberts, Noodles Hahn, Rube Foster and Harry Brecheen bring a certain respectability to the pitching corps, there's no denying. And with Rollie Fingers in the pen it looks good for the Redlegs. But with no top echelon, elite, ace starter will they have enough legs to last the season?

If this Cincinnati club were in most other divisions their chance for post-season glory would be good, but in this division they will be chasing the Wild Card flag instead.


Havana Leones


The Boys of the Caribbean don't have to emigrate in this league in order to play pro ball, but will they win the race - that is the only question that needs answering. Professional batsmen like Rod Carew and Roberto Clemente command a lineup featuring Alejandro "El Caballero" Oms, Cristobal "Cuban Strongman" Torriente, Perucho "The Bull" Cepeda and the incomparable Martin "El Maestro" Dihigo. In a regular league that would be the nucleus of an unbeatable team, but in the ATL even the addition of Tony Perez to play third base does not make up for a pitching staff that is questionable. Can Dolf "Pride of Havana" Luque and Jose "Black Diamond" Mendez lead a rotation that includes Luis Tiant, Camilo Pascual and Ramon "El Professor" Bragana into the post season? Can Jose Mesa clean the table on late game rallies? Some of the answers will come in the form of the wide open La Gran Estadia they call home. Having a pitchers park as home field will cut both ways with this club. While they don't depend on power at the plate they could use a bit more power pitching to keep the opponents off the bases.

The only thing hotter than the Havana weather will be the competition in this division, which this Havana club will add to but not be able to surpass.


Homestead Grays


Speaking of wide open stadiums there is another in the same division as Havana, but is located in Washington D.C. - the shared home of the Grays and Nationals. But it is the Homestead crew we focus on here. Columbia Lou Gehrig is out from under The Bambino's shadow and standing in full sunlight. The team Lou leads is one of the best. Cool Papa Bell patrols the outfield while Willie "El Diablo" Wells polices the infield. Barry Bonds and Charlie Keller defend the corner outfield positions, while Eddie Mathews provides a bookend to Larrupin' Lou. Sammy Hughes fields second base with the best of them, but then the lineup falters when we come around to the tools of ignorance and the wielder thereof. Gene Tenace and Johnny Bassler will have a hard time making the grade in this league, so the mask will probably fall to Walker Cooper. Whoever wears that mask will get a staff headed up by Cannonball Redding, Hilton Smith, Bruce Sutter and Trevor Hoffman - quality starting and closing. But is it deep enough? Bret Saberhagen, Harvey Haddix, Jamie Moyer and Japanese relief specialist Yutaka Ono say "in Griffith we trust."

The bases seem to be covered with Griffith Stadium smoothing out the rough spots in the roster, so it will be hard not to place this Homestead club at the top of the standings.


Houston Astros


Nolan Ryan, Johnny Bench, Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett and Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki frontpage a hot time for the Texas fans. But is there any depth after we get past these headliners? The supporting cast includes such notables as Paul Molitor, Tony Fernandez, and Brooks Robinson. Several relief specialists are also evident in Rick Aguilera, Bobby Thigpen, Dave Smith and Todd Jones, and in fact continues on to include Norm Charlton, Dave Veres and Gary Lavelle. And there, dear ATL fan we see the fatal weakness of this club exposed: a frightening lack of quality starters. The GM has banked on a wide-ranging relief corps to make up for a questionable group of starters that include Fernando Valenzuela, Mike Cuellar, Mike Torrez, Mike Hampton and Jerry Reuss. Given the fact that even the star of the group, fireballer Nolan Ryan, has a questionable side it seems that 'long season' will be a phrase well understood in Minute Maid Park.

Too many holes litter the field and pen for this Houston club to compete all season long, and I have to predict a mid-season plummet that will keep them out of the race.


Keokuk Westerns


Cocky Eddie Collins has a lot to be brash about in regards this Iowa club.  Besides teaming up in the Double Play Combo with the legendary Honus Wagner, and having George Sisler and George Brett holding down the corners, there's Gabby Hartnett to control the defense and Lefty Grove and Ol' Peat Alexander to be the front lines of the pitching corps. Lest the reader think the flash of the previous names is but a thin veneer hiding a pockmarked lineup, consider that we haven't yet mentioned Turkey Stearnes, Goose Goslin or Steve Carlton. However, there are some serious question marks, and they come to the forefront with the mention of Kent Tekulve as the primary force in relief. Tekulve has his work cut out for him, and he will get only Jesse Orosco for help and it is sure they both will be overwhelmed. Grove, Alexander and Carlton are big names, but even they will need plenty of relief help in this league. Where will Keokuk get relief from?

This Keokuk club looks good at first blush but an in-depth analysis reveals a kryptonital lack of depth that will assert itself as the determining factor over 154 games.


Montreal Royales


Leading the charge from Canada is Ferguson Jenkins and the Royales of Montreal. Fergie teams up with Japanese superstar pitcher Kazuhisa Inao, whose exploits are legendary in the Land of the Rising Sun. Along with that one-two pitching punch this team is depending on a quartet of closers to shore up a lack of starting depth. Dan Quisenberry, Jeff Montgomery, Tim Burke and Doug Jones give the team four right-handed closers - which exposes another deficiency: Jimmy Key, Dave McNally, Nap Rucker and David Wells are the only lefties in town. On the other hand the offense features Mark McGwire and Mike Schmidt at the corners of the infield, and one presumes a platooning outfield consisting of Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Roy Thomas, Dom DiMaggio, Andre Dawson and Enos Slaughter. Joe Gordon provides a good glove and a power bat at second base, and Alex Rodriguez at shortstop is no slouch in any department. Mike Piazza certainly provides power from behind the plate, but the only arm back there comes from a light-hitting Japanese import (Masaaki Mori) who will be lucky to see the Mendoza Line if he gets a chance to play.

Canada has two teams in the same division, which means the competition between them will be the highlight of their season, and this Montreal club is picked to eke out that consolation prize.


New York Giants


Stan "The Man" Musial, Lefty O'Doul, Willie "Pops" Stargell, Harry "Slug" Heilmann, Harmon "Killer" Killebrew and The Polo Grounds. That will give the reader a sense of the Giants of New York. Bill Dickey, Ozzie Smith, and Edd Roush give the NY Giants up the middle defensive strength, and Ghost Marcelle at the Hot Corner is an exceptional choice, but there are still brownouts in the fielding of this high-powered club even after bringing Wild Bill Wright in to join Lloyd Waner in the defensive outfield bucket brigade. Hal Newhouser and Rube Waddell are certainly two quality lefties in tandem with Kid Nichols and Sal Maglie, who are two quality righties. All four are a proud centerpiece to any pitching staff - but we come back the The Polo Grounds for 77 games and that can make any pitcher gun-shy. Any pitcher except maybe knuckle-baller Hoyt Wilhelm. The opposing batters can't park what they can't hit. Wilhelm will get support from Sparky Lyle and Bob Locker, and the starters will get support from such able-bodied arms as Ewell Blackwell, Spud Chandler and Red Ruffing. They even went out and made a pre-season trade to bring Amos Rusie to town in the same deal that brought Wright. But we always come back to The Polo Grounds, and there are not many pitchers who like this racetrack.

Which way the wind is blowing will become very important for this New York club for every home game, and the prediction here is that the Polo Grounds will not see post-season play this year.


New York Mets


The Metropolitans have The Mick to play center field for them, and Bernie Williams to back him up. A (hopefully) healthy Mickey Mantle, imagine that! That's not all, there's world class Arky Vaughn at short, the undeniable Joe Morgan at second, a robust Ross Youngs in right, the amazing Jesse Burkett in left, the quiet gentleman Gil Hodges at first and showman Louis Santop at catcher. That is an impressive lineup even in this league. So who's pitching, you ask? How's about Greg Maddux for Number 1 Ace? Remember this is the Maddux of his best 8 year stretch, and that is a great stretch any which way you count it. Billy Pierce, Dennis Martinez, John Smoltz and George Stovey - workmen pitchers for this league, and with the lineup and the Ace in the Number 1 slot these workmen are all that's needed. With a little relief help, of course, and that is where this team breaks down. Not a single relief specialist in the bunch. Someone will get thrown into the position, but this is definitely a weak spot on an otherwise ritzy team.

This Mets club has the potential to to go a long way, and in fact I am picking them to get to the post-season by winning the division.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates


Marvelous Mel Ott, Rogers Hornsby and Pop Lloyd. A brilliant triumvirate of superstars that together is the soul of this team. Biz Mackey, Joe Adcock, Johnny "Big Cat" Mize and Henry Kimbro. Capable and able supporting players in key and indispensable roles. Billy Francis, Willard Brown and Gil McDougald. Rounding out the lineup and utility slot with class. Bob Feller, Ed Walsh and Willie Foster. Three solid starting pitchers able to put some good innings on the board. Troy Percival, John Franco and Jeff Nelson. Relief crew well represented for setup and closing. It all looks so good. What could possibly be wrong? Well, there's Forbes Field for one. This team is not a comfortable fit for Forbes, and Forbes is a force all unto its own. All season long it will be the 600-lb gorilla in the room that everybody is trying hard to ignore. Sure, this bunch is good enough to win even in Forbes, but there will be a few important games that will slip by because a Punch-and-Judy slap hitter bested the Pittsburgh Power Boys.

No doubt about it, this Pittsburgh club will give the other teams a run for their money, but in the end they will fall a scant game or two short.


Toronto Blue Jays


Sadaharu Oh is the leader of a baseball club that at first glance looks fairly impressive. Larry Walker and Sammy Sosa platooning in right field is a good way to give Oh support. Home Run Baker at third base has to be a plus. Can't get much better than Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate. Derek Jeter or Dave Concepcion or Travis Jackson at shortstop may be a hard decision to make. Catfish Hunter, Whitey Ford, Curt Schilling and Bill Byrd are mighty fine starting pitchmen. Robb Nen is good as a closer. Frank White at second base, Jim Edmonds in center field, Joe Kelley in left - not bad. So what is wrong? Depth, depth, depth. The end result when all is said and done is a little weak up the middle with no help from the bench. That can be a heartbreaker for fans, and these Toronto fans will be singing a sad song this season. Perhaps if Concepcion is the shortstop choice the fielding around the Keystone with Frank White will pump the team up a notch.

This is a very tough league, and this Toronto club will stay close all year with its superb pitching rotation but when the season closes they will find no joy.





THE UNION LEAGUE

Union League Logo

The Union League is definitely the league of parity in the DMBATL, and that probably also designates it as the 'weaker' league simply because the strongest teams are not here. It has its share of great players, and even the greatest of them all, but it also has an abundance of middling talent for this level of play. "Middling" in this case meaning 'simply star level.'

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Atlantic Division

The toughest division in the league. Quite possibly all four teams will end the season with winning records, records that would be even better if they were alone in other divisions. Think about the ramifications of that. A slugfest until the end. No quarter given, no quarter asked. Excitement all season long.

Predicted finish: Newark, Philadelphia, Boston, New York.

CONTINENTAL DIVISION

Continental Division

The middle division in every sense of the word. Relatively evenly matched across the board, the end results won't look so good but mediocre won-loss records will hide the all-round competence of the teams. A .500 record here means more than it does in most other divisions.

Predicted finish: Washington, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago.

PACIFIC DIVISION

Pacific Division

Weak but wild. There is a lot of unusual character in this division, but unfortunately that is not a necessary ingredient for strong teams. The winner may come out with the best record in the league, but it won't be because it is the best team. This division also has the most chance of surprising everyone with its results.

Predicted finish: San Francisco, Tokyo, Seattle, Orix.

Union League Wild Card: Tokyo


Boston Beaneaters


The Sultan of Swat is looking forward to taking the measure of the short porches at The Huntington Street Grounds. Opposing pitchers will have a tough time when the Beaneaters are on home turf.  Not only does the lineup feature The Bambino, but also Ralph Kiner, Duke Snider and Eddie Murray -- as well as Japanese retread Tuffy Rhodes. But power is not all the Boston lineup will feature, speed is there also with the likes of Lou Brock and Maury Wills. The weak spot? Pitching and defense. The defense is decidedly average, and not much more can be said about it. The pitching corps, well they don't have the sheen that the batsmen possess.  With the ball having a tendency to exit the playing field at home, the pitching might come into question as often than the defense.  Leading the staff from the right side is The Dominican Dandy, Juan Marichal, and he has Bob Lemon in tow.  On the port side The Junkman Eddie Lopat enters the fray alongside Tom GlavineRandy Myers and Rod Beck will try to nail things down if given the chance.

The defense and pitching will keep this Boston club firmly anchored with the pack throughout the season, but The Bambino will keep them close to the top.


Chicago White Sox


Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, Campy Campanella, Richie Allen and Wally Berger will try to keep the Pale Hose of Chicago in competition with the Beaneaters of Boston as regards home run clout. Then with Dick "The King" Lundy and Nellie Fox patrolling the Keystone Corner, the ChiSox plan to help their pitching crew out of many jams with a twinkle-toed, double play combo.  A staff of pitchers, not hurlers, headed up by Tom "Terrific" Seaver, Bert Blyleven, Dazzy Vance and knuckleballer Phil Niekro, with Scott McGregor, Red Faber and Knuckles Cicotte as backup looks good on paper - however, the lack of an elite left-hander in the crew may keep the emphasis on defense. When the Chicagoans need relief, Goose Gossage will, no doubt, be the main stopper out of the pen, but he'll need ample setup help from Mike Marshall and John Hiller.  

The lack of a quality left-hand pitcher will put this Chicago club behind the eight ball against key Union League teams, and make it difficult for them to win consistently.


Cleveland Spiders


Fireballers Smokey Joe Wood and Sudden Sam McDowell give the Spiders power from both sides of the mound to the dismay of Union League batters everywhere. Taken together with pinwheeling hurler Addie Joss and Mel "Dusty" Parnell, the Clevelanders have a balanced starting rotation that should provide the strength an unspectacular lineup fails to deliver. The Cleveland lineup is not a bad one; there is "Hit'em Where They Ain't" Wee Willie Keeler, Earl "Rock" Averill and Elmer Flick as a very reputable outfield trio.  They have the knack for getting on base, no denying.  Nap Lajoie adds a fourth leg to that table to keep the lineup on solid ground, and combines with Lou Boudreau for strong defense in the field. But the lineup built for League Park's long dimensions may not hold out so well in some of the bandboxes situated elsewhere around the Union League. Can Hal Trosky and Albert "Joey" Belle compete in this league's power department?  Time will tell.

The lack of an elite power-hitting presence will hurt on the road, and will keep this Cleveland club longing for homestands. Power pitching will keep them close, but no cigar for this bunch.


Detroit Tigers


The Tigers have a take-no-prisoners attitude led by the intimidating play of The Georgia Peach, Black Mike Cochrane, Rocket Roger Clemens and Newk Newcombe. Along with such notables as Al Kaline, Stretch McCovey, Hondo Howard, Chief Bender and Jim Bunning, the Motor City Crew have a solid game plan to back up their aggressive style of play. A solid defense leaves few holes for opposing teams to exploit, and a bullpen of Roberto Hernandez, Tug "Ya Gotta Believe" McGraw, Todd Worrell, Stu Miller and Mark Wohlers means the Black and Orange has plenty of arms to trot out onto the field if the need arises -- and at Briggs Stadium the need will definitely arise.  The defense here is mostly solid with some softness around the edges. It is led by the unexcelled expertise of Kaline in right field, but breaks down around the Corners with Stretch & Hondo at first and Gary Sheffield & Bob Horner at third. Oh, did I mention Ty Cobb? He won't let opposing pitchers forget who is the fighting leader of this club.

Nestled in a park like Briggs the Detroit club will find itself held back because they can't get all their best bats into the same lineup, but they'll get enough in the game to pace the top teams most of the season.


New York Yankees


'Colorful' does not fully describe this team. Any team that includes Wahoo Sam, Yogi, Rickey, Scooter, Crow, Pudge, Maz, Donnie Baseball, The Kentucky Colonel, The Dutch Master, Louisiana Lightning, Superchief, The Monster, Duke, The Knight of Kennett Square, Gettysburg Eddie, Wabash George, Ol' Stubblebeard, Rags, Kitty, A.O., El Sid, Kooz and Cletis LeRoy Boyer has got to reach the maddeningly giddy heights of incandescent, polychromatic individuality. Either that or this is the apex of the Motley Crew pyramid. Personalities aside, this team has some very distinct strengths on the mound, but there is a definite lack in the lineup. Warren Spahn leads a stellar left-handed staff that also includes Guidry, Vander Meer, Plank, Fernandez, Kaat, Pennock, Righetti and KoosmanDon Sutton, Lee Smith, Allie Reynolds, Mel Stottlemyre, Burleigh Grimes, Paul Derringer and George Mullin hold down the fort on the right side. An intriguing and interesting mix. But who is the cleanup hitter here?  Rafael Palmeiro?

This New York club has some definite ideas of how to disarm the rest of the league, but the strategy has left itself disarmed as well in the toughest division of the Union League.


Newark Eagles


This is a team of chemistry. All the proper ingredients are there, but not too much of any one ingredient. Is it in a masterful mix of talent but will it prove to be of the correct proportions? 154 tests will tell, but the preliminary results are favorable. Chester Williams and Pete Hill provide ample speed. Willie Mays and Buck Leonard anchor the outfield and infield defense, with Pete Hill showing everyone what a rifle arm can do. Mays and Leonard also lead an offense capable of sustained attack with the likes of Larry Doby and Home Run Johnson. Satchel Paige and his carnival cavalcade of pitches leads a staff that includes Japanese curve ball artist Juzo Sanada, crafty Cuban lefty Luis Tiant Senior, and underhander Iron Man Joe McGinnity, among several others of noteworthy and unusual talent. There is only one extraordinary relief artist in the bunch, but when that name is Mariano Rivera . . . not much else needs be said. Perhaps the one ingredient missing on this team is the catalyst: depth. If a major injury happens they might not find the replacement needed to stay on top.

A little of everything can take a team a long way, all the way to the top in the Atlantic Division unless lightning strikes. Making it further will be a stretch they may not make.


Orix Blue Wave


A team that has taken the road less traveled. An unusual assortment of power hitters and glovemen led by a switch hitting catcher of unequaled defensive presence. Iron Man Brown can block the plate like nobody's business, call a game like a master musician and throw a rope you can hang laundry on. And he is not without company behind the plate with his backstop colleagues Del Crandall and Chappie Johnson. This trio of on-field commanders lead a rugged group of workmen into the season. Cal Ripken, John Olerud, Joe Carter, Roger Maris, Bobby Bonds, Andy Pafko and others can get the job done, if not with exceptional flair. The staff has the venerable Cy Young as its ace along with one of Japan's greatest, Hideo Fujimoto. But then falls into question with the likes of David Cone, Pat Hentgen, Frank Viola, Mark Eichorn and Osamu Higashio. If the Blue Wave get to closing time, Steve "Bedrock" Bedrosian may be able to shut the door. But the most important factor for this bunch is the foreman: a manager with an uncanny sense of streaks and slumps, of playing the right guy at the right time, can turn the predictions around and put this team on top.

Workmanlike is good but not good enough even in the weakest division of the weaker league unless this Orix club can find some pitching the equal of its top two pitchmen.


Philadelphia Athletics


Pitching, pitching and more pitching is the name of the game on this Philadelphia team. A rotation of Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Bob Gibson, Mordecai Brown and Carl Hubbell doesn't leave much room for mediocrity. Even the second-line corps is stocked with stellar stars from Japan and the Negro Leagues. True, there is not a world class closer on the team, but Steve Farr and Mike Timlin might still be able to get the job done considering the quality starters and the rest of the supporting class. The defense is solid through and through. The team can even field an exceptional defense if it desires, though it must give up some offense to do it. Speaking of the offense, it is led by Wade Boggs and Bill Terry - which indicates that the solid defense will see more time than the exceptional one because they can't afford to downgrade the offense. Others with the bat in hand for Philadelphia are Carl Yastrzemski, Max Carey and Matty Alou. Playing in Shibe Park can help their power numbers, but there is not an honest-to-goodness slugger in the bunch except Jim Rice to benefit from it. But with a pitching staff like that, will it matter?

In either of the other divisions this Philadelphia crew would be odds-on favorites to take the pennant, but here the best that can be said is they will be in the hunt until the last days.


San Francisco Seals


Joltin' Joe DiMaggio leads a strong assortment of players from all walks of baseball history. Oscar Charleston and Jelly Gardner will keep Joe company in an olympian outfield that also includes Reggie Smith, Sherry Magee, and Ken Williams waiting in the dugout for their chance. The more down-to-earth infield is held together by second tier stars Jeff Bagwell, Roberto Alomar, George Davis and John Beckwith. Schnozz Lombardi behind the plate is in control of a pitching staff whose most obvious weakness is a lack of lefties - with only Lefty Gomez, Bobby Shantz and Tommy John. However, right-handers like Smokey Joe Williams & Christy Mathewson might be able to take the heat. When Armando Benitez avoids the base on balls there is none better anywhere, but the walk haunts him relentlessly. Benitez may or may not be a weakness as a closer, but the real weakness there is that there is nobody behind him in the closer role.

This San Francisco club must be set as the odds-on favorite to win their pennant, but going farther than that may be beyond their reach.


Seattle Pilots


Baseball started out as a haven for tough guys, wise guys, rubes, drunks, gamblers, bums and general ne'erdowells . . . and with this Seattle club many have come home to roost. Hack Wilson leads a gang that includes The Straw Man, Baby Bull, Prince Hal, Charlie Hustle, Wild Thing, Wild Bill, Oil Can, Plunk, Crab, Doc, Dizzy, Sub, Bobo, Old Hoss and a guy who likes to race horses . . . around the bases, Hans Lobert aka Honus.  They have the ability to play when not indulging in their favorite obsession, but can they put it together long enough to play against the level of competition found in this league? With a starting rotation that includes Dwight Gooden, Dizzy Dean, Carl Mays, Denny McLain & J.R. Richard, with a relief platoon headed up by Wild Thing Mitch Williams - all bets are off.

The league has got an offer the Seattle club can't refuse, but the fix is in and those in the know say this gang can't shoot straight . . . but that's not a requirement for winning, as any old-time gambler will tell you.


Tokyo Giants


Most of the Japanese League's all-time baseball greatest are assembled here, with the notable exception of the best of the best: Sadaharu Oh. However, in his stead is the The God of Batting himself, Tetsuharu Kawakami with his famous red bat. Speed is represented by the all-time base stealer Yutaka Fukumoto, and the Hawaiian who brought modern baseball to Japan, Wally Yonamine. The most popular player to ever don a Japanese baseball uniform, Mr. Baseball, Shigeo Nagashima, holds down the corner opposite Zen master Kawakami. Around the Keystone Corner roam The Formidable Buffalo, Shigeru Chiba, and Mr. Shortstop himself, Yoshio Yoshido. Behind the plate are the greatest catchers Japan has ever seen: Katsuya Nomura, Atsuya Furuta and Tsutomu Ito. The pitchers mound has its own constellation of stars orbiting around it with the brightest being all-time Wins leader Masaichi Kaneda, fan-voted all-time greatest Yutaka Enatsu, Jiro "Iron Man" Noguchi, dominant power-pitcher Tadashi Sugiura, The White Russian, Victor Starrfin and the other half of the Hawaiian Hall of Famers, Bozo Wakabayashi.

Here assembled in this Tokyo club are the best Japan has to offer, and they just might find it within their power to compete successfully here in the weakest division of the weaker of the two Leagues.


Washington Nationals


Big Train, Big Hurt, Big Ed . . . Griffith Stadium . . . this team is big enough to take on everything the Union League can throw at it. Walter Johnson heads up a well rounded staff of pitchers that can do it all. Bullet Joe Rogan comes in as the top lefty, and then Japan's last 30-game winner, Mutsuo Minagawa, round things out along with Babe Adams and Frank Tanana. Wilbur Wood knuckles his way into the setup position for Dennis Eckersley to mow them down in the ninth. At the plate and on the field the Little Napoleon, John McGraw, commands a team and has at his disposal Ed Delahanty, Frank Thomas, Sliding Billy Hamilton, Ken Griffey Junior, Thurman Munson, Bingo DeMoss and Barry Larkin. They will play in a Griffith Stadium with the left field line 407 feet long and a 31-foot wall across all of right field. This park is the 10th player on the field. This team is custom built for Griffith, and when it is at home there will be no other team in this league more comfortable.

This Washington club will not dominate its league or division, but it will win consistently against all comers and will end up the top team of the Union League, and perhaps even the entire DMBATL.



And now, from where I stand behind the ivory dish in the hallowed grassy shrine of Mudville, I say "Play Ball!"



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