The Baltimore Orioles' regulars reported to spring training today and their message to the American League champion New York Yankees was direct: you can have the speed, we'll take the power.
The Orioles plan to have three new regulars in their lineup on opening day--Dan Ford, Cal Ripken Jr. and Lenn Sakata. All three have one thing in common: they're part of the Orioles' emphasis on increased muscle.
As Manager Earl Weaver prowled the field, he searched among the scattered bats for one belonging to Ford, who was suspended for three games last season after being caught using a corked bat.
"If I can dribble Ford's bat, he might hit cleanup," cackled Weaver.
While Weaver admired Ford's lumber, other Birds were chirping about the power potential of the new left side of the infield: Ripken and Sakata.
"Rip has the perfect personality, perfect physique. I've never seen a player with his potential," said Rich Dauer. "When I was in the minors at Asheville, there was this 13-year-old kid catching batting practice like those 90-mile-per-hour pitches were nothing. It was Little Rip. Nobody knows how long it will take him to become an experienced, winning player like Doug (DeCinces), but Rip already acts like the oldest 21-year-old in baseball, and he has much more potential than Doug."
Meanwhile, 250-pound Tim Stoddard was revealing how he'd hit two of the longest golf drives of his life. "And that darn Sakata drove past me both times," marveled Stoddard of the mighty mite who had a pair of two-homer games last September after he started playing regularly. In 17 seasons, ex-Oriole shortstop Mark Belanger had 20 homers. The Orioles daydream about Sakata having three-quarters that many in one season.
As far as Weaver and his Orioles are concerned, the Yankees can have their new thieves. The Orioles will go back to their formula of '79 and '80, when they hit 337 homers. "I'd much rather have the Yankees trying to steal bases against us than have them trot around and touch first, second, third and home on one swing," Weaver said.
"With Reggie (Jackson) gone, the Yankees have lost their charisma," crowed Dauer. "Love him, hate him, Reggie got you to the Series. Now, for the first time, we're not even thinking about the Yankees. We'll run away with it."
Or slug away with it.
It would be hard to imagine three more cheerful, excited strong men than Ford, Ripken and Sakata.
Ford feels reprieved to get away from California Manager Gene Mauch and the prima donna stars on the Angels.
"On this team, it seems like nobody's bigger than the other guys," observed Ford. "Nobody walks through with their head up in the air . . . (In California), it never really got to be a team effort. Everybody was just trying to look out for themselves and avoid blame . . .
"Jose Morales told me how good this organization is and how together the guys are. In California when we went on the road, I never had a drink with anybody. The only time I saw those guys was when I came to the park."
As for Mauch, who traded Ford away from both Minnesota and California, Ford says, "Gene and I, we just didn't see things eye to eye."
Ford is fascinated by his new manager.
In California, Ford was criticized for doing a Playgirl magazine centerfold, using a corked bat, starting two bench-clearing brawls and enjoying his partying too much (hence "Disco Dan").
Now, Ford has a manager who appears on national TV in his underwear, was a self-confessed bat corker himself in his playing days and has been ejected from more games than any other active manager.
"That's a trip," Ford says. "Goes to show I'm not the only one."
Ford knows that Weaver was among those who pushed for years to get him traded. "I'm very happy about it," he says. "That's one of the reasons I decided to come to Baltimore."
Equally ebullient is Ripken, who seems as confident after a team MVP winter-ball season in Puerto Rico as he was tentative while going five for 39 with the Orioles last fall. Twice in his career, Ripken has returned to play in leagues where he initially had trouble. And twice, "I went back with tons of confidence. It happened at Charlotte and in winter ball . . . By the end of last season, I was starting to feel welcome in the big leagues. You watch those guys on TV all your life and you don't know if you're really a part of it. Now, I think I can belong here . . .
"I count on myself to start hot," says Ripken, grinning. "The last two years, I hit a home run on opening day, kind of a tradition that I'd like to continue."
Even Sakata, apparently the most worried of the three, is anxious to see whether he can move from utility man to starting shortstop.
"I'd like to be like Bucky Dent. He's consistent, doesn't miss the balls he can get to, hits .250-.260," Sakata says. "I'm proud of being a good utility man, and (when the Orioles were trying to trade for Garry Templeton), I had my mind pointed in that direction. But there's peace of mind in playing every day."
To Weaver, however, peace of mind is a home run soaring over the fence.
How many homers might his new trio hit this year?
"I gave somebody $20 today to bet in the third race at Hialeah," answered Weaver, obliquely. "If I had a crystal ball, I'd have given him $20,000."