A mid-summer article from 1982 demonstrates the value of the left-field platoon
-Steve Wulf, Sports Illustrated, July 12, 1982
Earlier this week, Roar from 34 explored the debate over “Who’s in Left?” and referenced the celebrated Roenicke-Lowenstein-Ayala platoon from the Earl Weaver days. Flashback Fridays often demonstrate that everything old is new again on the baseball diamond, and this week’s edition is no different.
The Flashback revisits the 1982 season with a July 12 Sports Illustrated article about that left-field platoon titled “It’s the Right Idea for Left,” excerpted below.
“The leftfielder for Baltimore leads the American League in homers and is second in RBIs. He’s at once an anthropologist from Las Vegas, a mystic from Puerto Rico and a perfectly normal human being from Diamond Bar, Calif. His manager misspells one of his names, and mispronounces the other two.
The Three Faces of Weaver are John Lowenstein, Benigno Ayala and Gary Roenicke, and as the Orioles’ rotating leftfielder they had produced 24 homers and 69 RBIs at week’s end. Earl Weaver decides which of their names to write on his lineup card depending on who’s hot, who’s not and who’s pitching. Platooning is nothing new to baseball, but what Weaver has done with these three resembles what Mozart did for the flute.
No matter where they’re coming from—and Ayala and Lowenstein are living examples of the expression ‘out of left field’—they’re heading for a phenomenal season. Through Sunday, Lowenstein was hitting .307 with 11 homers, one fewer than his career high, in only 137 at bats. Ayala, batting .304, had 13 RBIs on 13 hits. Roenicke, who has also played center, right and first, had eight of his 15 homers and 23 of his 41 RBIs while in leftfield. He was batting .259 overall and .255 as a leftfielder. The three have shared leftfield since 1979, but not with this kind of production.
‘Naturally, there will be better years than others,’ says Lowenstein, ‘attendant on the semicircular seasonal statistics. Right now, we are moving toward the peak of our equilibrium.’
‘They’re a blooming phenomenon,’ says Weaver, who doesn’t use the word blooming.
Roenicke and Ayala bat righthanded, and Lowenstein hits from the left side, but the platooning isn’t as simple as sticking a certain guy in against a certain kind of pitcher. Weaver’s famous stats, which show how his hitters do against specific pitchers, usually determine who’s in the lineup. If, for instance, Centerfielder Al Bumbry has trouble against a particular southpaw, Weaver will play Roenicke in center and Ayala in left. Sometimes, Weaver will play Roenicke against a righty because Weaver just has a feeling.
‘In glancing at the lineup card, I look for length,’ says Lowenstein. ‘If I see a very long name, I know I’m playing. I also see a misspelled name. Earl always puts the i before the e. Sometimes I’ll correct it, but the next day it’s still misspelled.’ Provided it’s there at all.…
As the leftfielder(s) go, so go the Orioles, who have been rising steadily in the AL East standings, from seventh on May 12 to third on Sunday. ‘This team is like my tomatoes,’ says Weaver. ‘In April and May, they’re scrawny little things, barely sticking out of the ground. But by August and September, they could feed the whole blooming world.’ Weaver has a particularly nice patch in left.”
[Image source: Orioles Card “O” the Day. Click photo for original]