The Cincinnati Reds are a team unique in baseball history. No one else has ever had four most valuable players in the lineup at the same time. Every fourth day, they will have a Cy Young winner pitching. The brain in the dugout has twice been manager of the year. Little wonder, then, these guys yak it up.
"This is the best club I've ever managed," said Sparky Anderson, who produced World Series champions in 1975 and '76. "There's not one thing I'm worried about right now."
"Right now" is today's Opening Day, Cincinnati against Houston, and a lot of people would think Anderson's mouth is operating independently of his brain. Those people remember that he and the Reds finished 10 games behind the Dodgers last season. They remember the Red's pitching staff was a Venus de Milo number, bodies with no arms. So what is Anderson talking ahout?
"I've never has a fast ball out of the bullpen like Doug Bair's," Anderson said. "I've never had short- and long-relief left-handers out of the bullpen like I do with Doug Capilla and Dave Tomlin. I've never had two starting pitchers like Tom Seaver and Bill Bonham."
Ah, baseball's back and Anderson clearly has drunk deeply of the sweet wine of optimism that each spring creates. That is no bad thing, for what would we do all summer without hope that, say, Thurman Munson curls Reggie's mustache or, say, Bowie Kuhn names his pet cockatoo Charlie O.? We can hope Earl Weaver baked the cake for Harry Wendelstedt. And wouldn't it be glorious if Frank Sinatra punched out Tommy LaSorda?
Anyway, the Reds are a great team. Your Aunt Hattie could win 15 games pitching for these guys. George Foster hit 52 home runs last season, some of which haven't come down yet. He's one of the four MVP's, joining Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose. The other four starters are good ones, too: Dan Driessen (who hit .300 last year), Ken Griffey (.318), Dave Concepcion (.271, but he won a gold glove at center).
"We have the best eight starters in major league baseball," Rose told 11 Japanese sportswriters.
Say what? Yes, 11 Japanese sportswritres surrounded Rose yesterday. The memorable interview went something like this:
Interpreter: "Mr. Rose, I am the interpreter . . ."
Rose: "Oh, that's okay. I speak Japanese well."
Sportswriter: "Ayota epizecki sayabimnishi . . ."
Rose, interrupting with a smile: "No, no, I'll do that tomorrow."
Interpreter: "Mr. Rose, he just asked how you feel."
Rose: "Just kidding. Me, I feel fine. I had a great spring training and I'm ready to go."
Those 11 sportswriters are on a four-city tour of the United States. They stopped by Cincinnati because the Reds will make a postseason trip to Japan.
Interpreter: "Mr. Rose, they would like to know how you feel about coming to Japan."
Rose, smiling broadly: "We're gonna beat hell out of 'em. We're gonna play as hard as we can. I just hope we can win the World Series and go over there as World Champions. It would be a lot more fun. Then we could be World World Champions."
Interpreter: "They ask if you know any Japanese ballplayers."
Rose: "One." (Here Rose raised high his right leg in approximation of the batting stance used by Sadaharu Oh, the Japanese home run king. The sportswriters stared at Rose's uplifted leg and then began giggling.)
Interpreter: "Have you met Oh?"
Rose: "One time. I know he's a tremendous hitter. He'd be a tremendous hitter here. He'd be tremendous on the moon, in Japan, China, anywhere. If you can hit, you can hit."
Interpreter: "They ask why ou slide head first."
Rose: "You can tell I've been doing it 16 years. Look at the scars on my face. It's the fastest way to get to a base and the safest. If they cut you in the leg, you limp around for a week.The most important reason, though, is you get your picture in the paper."
With 2.966 hits in his 15 seasons, Rose will become the 13th player ever to get 3,000 hits. The Japanese wondered how many hits would like to have when he retires.
Rose: "I don't know. The National League record is 3,630 by Stan Musial. No one can break the major league record. Ty Cobb got 4,191 hits. You gotta be crazy to get 4,191 hits."
"Interpreter: "How will the Reds do this season?"
Rose: "We can beat you in more ways than any other team. We can beat you in speed, offense, defense, double plays, pitching. We can beat you out of the bullpen. We've got the best manager in baseball. If our starting eight players just do exactly what they can do, we will win 100 games easy. Nobody has to do anything spectacular."
Later, talking with American sportswriters, Rose said the Reds are a much improved team over last year. The bench is stronger, he said, and the bullpen will be adequate, especially with Seaver completing 20 to 25 games.
"And Bill Bonham will complete that many, too, pitching for us," Rose said.
Say what? In six seasons with the Cubs, while he won 53 games and lost 70 Bonham completed a total of 24 games, 10 coming in 1974 when his record was 11-22. Rose, too, has sipped from the cup of hope.