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Redbirds Should Fly

By Frederick H. Gardner

This week, as the Times would have informed us, spring begins. Now sports fans should put down the Viking Portable Cassias Clay (ed. by Lionel Trilling), and begin to follow spring training.

Unfortunately for anyone but Red Sox devotees, the highly parochial Boston press does not provide the opportunity. They have given Dick Stuart, the Sox' awkward new first-baseman, more coverage than the rest of the American League. news of the other league, like reports coming from the un-free world, is shrouded in mystery.

It should come as no surprise that one can again expect to find the Mets toward the bottom of the senior circuit. Manager Casey Stengel, the only de Gaulle figure in baseball, might move his team up a notch if Choo-Choo Coleman provides power behind the plate and Los Angeles rejects Tim Harkness and Larry Burright invigorate the infield. Stengel has a sharp lefthander in Al Jackson, but he's no independent deterrent.

Colts Headed for Cellar

If the Mets have nowhere to go but up, the Houston Colts are likely cellar occupants. Fleet Manny Mota and Dave Roberts should provide some punch, but the team stands to lose (except at the gate) in trading slugger Roman Mejias for Texan Pete Runnells.

Another club bound to fall is Milwaukee. New skipper Bobby Bragan inherits aging pitchers; Eddie Mathews, who hit a mere .265 last year; and the consistently strong Hank Aaron who will be flanked in the outfield by anybody who isn't in a slump at the time. If the Braves sink far enough, the Chicago Cubs will surge all the way to seventh. Ernie Banks holds down a solid infield, rookie Nelson Mathews should help fill in for George Altman, and the acquisition of Larry Jackson and Lindy McDaniel will add luster to the staff.

Phillies Should Improve

The Phillies, too, should be counted on to improve. Blessed with an outfield of .300 hitters, Tony Gonzales, Johnny Callison and Don Demeter, an infield that suddenly includes Don Hoak, the Phils now have pitching, too: Art Mahaffey, Chris Short, Dennis Bennett, Dallas Green, bullpen ace, Jack Baldschun, and veteran Cal McLish.

If the Phils don't nudge the Pirates out of the first division many will be surprised. Pittsburgh discarded most of its 1960 championship infield this winter, trading Dick Groat, Stuart, and Hoak. Big Donn Clendenon is ready to take over at first, but it seems unlikely that Julio Gotay and Dick Schofield can replace Groat. Rookie Bob Bailey will have a similarly hard time filling Hoak's role at third. But a good year by new-comers Don Schwall and Don Cardwell might make the winter's commerce worth-while.

To augment last year's third-place club, Cincinnati will have the cream of San Diego's Pacific Coast champs, including third-sacker Tommy Harper (.333). What the Reds continue to lack is an outfielder to complement Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson, but they should be strong enough to sink the discombobulated Los Angeles Dodgers to fourth.

Owner O'Malley is still too proud to fire Walter Alston. Compounding the confusion at Chavez Ravine is the presence of ex-manager Leo Durocher and future-manager Pete Reiser. So much for management; on the labor side there are not enough outfield jobs to keep Tom Davis, Willie Davis, Frank Howard, Ron Fairly, Wally Moon, Duke Snider (enjoying another fine spring) and Lee Walls working happily. The unemployment problem is embodied in the case of Moon, a real star who appeared in only 95 games last year, could not hit stride, and wound up with a .242 mark.

The staff is suspiciously great, never having lived up to its potential. Last year Sandy Koufax's fingers went numb; this year Don Drysdale may need psychiatric care in mid-August. Behind the plate the ex-Brooks feature John Roseboro, a .249 hitter.

The Antagonists

The real struggle for the pennant will involve the defending Giants' and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Giants' over-whelming offense was intelligently manipulated last year as A1 Dark worked Willie McCovey and Matty Alou into the outfield behind Felipe Alou, Harvy Kuenn, and Willie Mays. But Dark may have a tough job keeping things from clogging when Carl Boles, a talented rookie, challenges for a post.

In the infield Orlando Cepeda's eye trouble may prove more troublesome than his current hold-out. Chuch Hiller, Jose Pagan, and Jim Davenport are competently slick, but nothing more. As for the staff, Billy Pierce is 36 and Jack Sanford 34. Each had a peak year in '62 and it would be hubris to assume repeat performances (even though Sanford comes from Wellesley and is highly praised in the Globe).

The Cardinals have a tighter, hungrier club. Their infield is speed, power and reliability; with Groat and Julian Javier batting ahead of Bill White and Ken Boyer, the latter should raise their combined total of 200 runs batted in. The Cardinal outfield is every bit as strong: Curt Flood (.296), George Altman (.318) and Stan Musial (.330). If Minnie Minoso can head the bench, the Cards will be hard to stop.

Their staff, with front liners Bob Gibson, Ray Washburn, Ernie Broglio, and Curt Simmons, and relievers Bobby Shantz and Diomedes Olivo, is not demonstratively inferior to the Giants'.

One thing seems clear: the lengue is too tough for the Giants to run away from, and the defenders cannot expect to be handed a flag in the Dodgers' deferential manner. Besides the Man in Boston isn't giving very good odds if you like the Giants. For my money it's the Cards, Giants, Reds, Dodgers and Pirates in that order, followed by the Phils. Cubs, Braves, Mets and Colts.

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