A major league baseball season spans almost half a year, boiling up from the South in the crisp mid-April days and disappearing in the October flash of a World Series. Along the 154-game road, however, the fan finds a few convenient stopping places, occasions when he can examine one part of the season as an entity all its own, reevaluate the teams which might still win the pennant and savor the surprises anew.
One such, of course, is the traditional midway point, the All-Star Game, which follows on the heels of the Fourth of July. Another—and the last—is the big Labor Day weekend. But the very first opportunity comes after the six opening weeks of the season. It is then, when a scattering of second-division clubs are already thinking of next year, that the others begin to come sharply into focus. What, then, in 1957, did the major league contenders look like after Memorial Day?
CHICAGO WHITE SOX. Preseason choice: fourth (pennant odds 4½ to 1). On Memorial Day: first (odds 2 to 1).
Chicago leads the American League not because the Yankees are really slumping but because the White Sox have won seven out of every 10 games they have played. The pitching has been brilliant, with Billy Pierce, the major league leader in victories (eight), Jim Wilson and Dick Donovan backed up by rookie Bill Fischer, Jack Harsh-man and a good relief staff. Defensively, no team in baseball is any tighter; offensively, no team in years has so harried the opposition with its speed and daring on the bases. The one weak spot: hitting (only Fox over .300). The solution: a hero a day (first Lollar or Doby or Landis or Minoso will get hot and pick up the club, then it will be Aparicio or Phillips or Dropo or Rivera). The result: the Sox, with their pitching and defense and speed, have been getting enough runs to win. The hitting should definitely improve, and Al Lopez hopes to avert the famous Chicago "June swoon" with a program of occasional rest for his regulars. The big question is whether the pitching can stand up. At any rate, the White Sox are the team to catch.
NEW YORK YANKEES. Preseason choice: first (pennant odds 2 to 5). On Memorial Day: second (odds 2 to 1).
Any other team playing at a .605 pace would consider itself to be in pretty good shape. But last year at this time the Yankees were six games ahead of the pack, and this is the sort of thing that was expected of them again. They have the best pitching in the league outside of Chicago's (a team earned run average of 2.91), with a revived Bobby Shantz taking up the slack left by an ailing Whitey Ford. They still have Mickey Mantle (.365, 10 home runs, 24 runs batted in), steady, versatile Gil McDougald and that famous Yankee bench. Yet they are second instead of first. The reason: Yogi Berra, their big man in the clutch, is hitting only .217. There has also been a recent, un Yankeelike development: they drop baseballs. The fielding has at times been so inept that the sound of Yankees colliding under pop flies threatens to drown out the boos. Yet no one expects Berra's slump to last all year or such a solid team to continue beating itself. By the Fourth of July the rest of the league may have wished it had kicked them harder while they were down.
CLEVELAND INDIANS. Preseason choice: third (pennant odds 4 to 1). On Memorial Day: third (odds 6 to 1).
The most injury-plagued team in all baseball (the hospital list of the first six weeks: 20-game winners Herb Score and Bob Lemon, rookie star Roger Maris, and—less seriously—slugger Vic Wertz, pitcher Mike Garcia, relief ace Don Mossi and rookie Larry Raines), the Indians have survived through the rehabilitation of several veterans and the almost limitless depth of the great pitching staff. Manager Kerby Farrell has got real mileage out of Gene Wood-ling, George Strickland, Chico Carrasquel and Jim Busby and rebuilt his staff around old Early Wynn, promising rookie Bud Daley and the sparkling relief work of Ray Narleski, Mossi and Cal McLish. Wertz, playing despite injuries, and Rocco Colavito have supplied most of the punch, with occasional help from those not attending sick call that day. Considering that Al Smith has not really begun to hit up to his capabilities, it is quite possible that Cleveland, if it can continue to hang on while convalescing, is going to be real murder the rest of the way.
DETROIT TIGERS. Preseason choice: second (pennant odds 4 to 1). On Memorial Day: fourth (odds 7 to 1).
The averages for most of the first six weeks showed the Tigers to be the best-hitting team in the league. The standings show something else. This disparity arises from the fact that Detroit is not getting the big hits. Kuenn, Ka-line, Boone and Maxwell are far below their 1956 pace, while Reno Bertoia carries the team—rather lightly—at the plate. It is the same with the pitching: Frank Lary, who won 21 games last year, and Billy Hoeft, who won 20, have accounted for a total of three victories. The pitching has been done by sensational Duke Maas (his 6-2 record includes five low-hit games), Paul Foytack and Jim Bunning. But Manager Jack Tighe has some consoling thoughts: Lary has run into bad luck, Hoeft has now recovered from a sore shoulder and Kuenn, Kaline and Co. are just naturally better hitters than they have shown. If they are not, it is too bad; the Tigers can't match the Yankees or Indians or even the White Sox in replacements. They must win with what they have on the field.
BOSTON RED SOX. Preseason choice: fifth (pennant odds 10 to 1). On Memorial Day: fifth (odds 15 to 1).
If a team in the American League has played according to form, it is the Red Sox. Ted Williams has contributed a noisy .413 average and 11 home runs to the Boston cause while Jackie Jensen remains the quietest .300 hitter around, driving in more runs (28) than Williams. The pitching staff of Tom Brewer (6-3), Frank Sullivan, Dave Sisler, George Susce, Ike Delock and Willard Nixon has done yeoman work but appears incapable of surmounting the double handicap of a leaky infield and weak batting support. Gene Mauch has been a real surprise at the plate (.330), but the other surprises have been mostly negative: Jimmy Piersall .232, Mickey Vernon .241, Sammy White .210, Billy Klaus .194.
CINCINNATI REDLEGS. Preseason choice: third (pennant odds 4-to 1). On Memorial Day: first (odds 8 to 5).
Cincinnati, they said, doesn't have enough good starting pitchers to win a pennant. The logical answer is that with the highest team batting average (.288) in baseball, with six regulars hitting over .296, with a relief staff which has personally won a dozen games (the unexpected leader: Tom Acker with six), who needs starting pitchers? Anyway, the Reds have those too, in young Don Gross (4-1 and a 1.77 ERA), Brooks Lawrence and Hal Jeffcoat, and they always have runs to work on. Even Ted Kluszewski isn't missed on this club, where Frank Robinson, Don Hoak, George Crowe, Ed Bailey and Johnny Temple are over .300 and Gus Bell is climbing up toward it. The defense, led by the incomparable Roy McMillan, is brilliant. After a floundering start, the Reds won 12 straight and have been in first place since May 15. The only dark spot is a marked inability to beat the Braves more than once in eight games. There is, however, a compensating factor—in 15 games with the three cellar teams, the Redlegs have lost only once.
BROOKLYN DODGERS. Preseason choice: second (pennant odds 7 to 5). On Memorial Day: second (odds 8 to 5).
Never more than 3½ games behind, the Dodgers have remained in a contending spot for six weeks with a strange new weapon—pitching. Reese, Jackson and Maglie have been hurt. Snider, Campanella and Gilliam have slumped badly. Yet the Brooks are winning because they have a pitching staff that has become the best in the National League: Don Newcombe, Johnny Podres, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and the ubiquitous Clem Labine. What hitting was required has been supplied by Carl Furillo's slugging in the clutch, Gil Hodges' steady average and the season's big discovery, Gino (.355) Cimoli. But now Snider and Campanella have begun to hit, and the Dodgers are still very much in the middle of a pennant race. If the Reds and Braves haven't been able to leave them behind before, they are going to have a tough time doing it now.
MILWAUKEE BRAVES. Preseason choice: first (pennant odds 7 to 5). On Memorial Day: third (odds 8 to 5).
Off to a blazing start in which they won 13 out of their first 16 games, the Braves began to slump on May 6 and have been slumping ever since. The famous pitching staff had seven complete games in its first 12 starts (four by Warren Spahn); since then, in 26 games, only five pitchers have gone the route. But the team ERA is second only to Brooklyn's, and it is not so much the pitching which has fallen off: only young Hank Aaron, hitting .335 and leading the league in both home runs and runs batted in, Eddie Mathews and Joe Adcock have been producing runs—and the Braves have sometimes had to do without Mathews and Adcock because of injuries. Looming ever larger is the off-season failure of the Braves to make a trade for a left fielder and a second baseman. The combined efforts of Bobby Thomson, Chuck Tanner and Andy Pafko in left add up to a .209 average and 15 runs batted in. At second, Danny O'Connell gave signs of a new lease on life, then abandoned all pretense to hit .233 and commit a handful of damaging errors. If there is a trade, it had better come soon.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES. Preseason choice: sixth (pennant odds 80 to 1). On Memorial Day: fourth (odds 30 to 1).
Around the National League these days when the names Bouchee, Bowman, Anderson, Cardwell, Sanford, Fernandez and Farrell arise, the response is no longer Who? but Wow! Most surprising team in the National League if not all baseball, this new group of Whiz Kids has made Philadelphia the most improved as well. Also about the most fun to watch. Mix in the steadying influence of Granny Hamner, enjoying the comeback of the year, Willie Jones, Richie Ashburn, Stan Lopata, Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons and Harvey Haddix, and the Phillies look more and more like a first-division club once again. When you consider they were only three games behind Cincinnati on Memorial Day, maybe they have become more than that. It is hard to overrate the contributions of the youngsters. Of the 22 games won, Sanford (5), Cardwell (3) and Farrell (2) have accounted for 10—and of the 16 losses, they have been guilty of only three. Bouchee, at first base, is hitting .301 (six home runs), Bowman .286, Anderson .275 and the slick-fielding Fernandez .257. Whether the kids can keep it up, no one knows. At least it was fun while it lasted.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS. Preseason choice: fourth (pennant odds 10 to 1). On Memorial Day: fifth (odds 30 to 1).
Before the season, it was pointed out that the Cardinals, having improved their pitching, were ready to make a run at the pennant. As it turned out, the Cardinals—with pitching at least as bad as before—have spent most of the first six weeks trying to run away from sixth place. With the big four of Mizell, Dickson, Jones and Wehmeier virtually useless (four victories, 11 defeats), the entire task has fallen on Willard Schmidt (4-1), Larry Jackson (6-1) and a 21-year-old Bible student named Lindy McDaniel. The defense has been so sluggish at times that Ken Boyer, the 1956 All-Star third baseman, was moved to the outfield as much to protect him from harm as anything else, and Del Ennis, who not only couldn't hit a ball but couldn't catch one either, found himself on the bench. That Wally Moon escaped the same fate in left is due more to a 23-game hitting streak and his 10 home runs than anything else. What has saved the club all the way around, in fact, is the hitting. Stan Musial, at .361, is driving in runs in clusters, and Hal Smith, Moon and Alvin Dark are all over .300. But Owner Gussie Busch, who stepped in recently to revise the batting order to coincide with his own plans (more younger players like Eddie Kasko and Joe Cunningham in the lineup), may not be through yet. He could be thinking of new names to replace those of Manager Fred Hutchinson and General Manager Frank Lane too. There is a rumor that Marty Marion is being kept close around St. Louis these days. Just in case.
SEASON'S FIRST CONCLUSIONS
1) The YANKEES are human.
2) The WHITE SOX have begun well in the past—but their pitching has never looked so good.
3) Manager BIRDIE TEBBETTS is a wizard—or has convinced his players that he is, which comes to about the same.
4) The CARDINALS are not the expected "most improved club in the National League." The Phillies are.
5) WILLIAMS (38) and MUSIAL (36) are the most promising hitters of 1957.
6) The BRAVES have been foolhardy in avoiding a trade which their pitching wealth permitted, and which ought to have sewn up the pennant.
7) The STRIKEOUT has replaced the home run at Ebbets Field.
8) BASEBALL will become truly national (see page 26).