It was bound to happen some day. At long last Kansas City fans can point to an authentic star. In Bob Cerv they have a hero in the classical mold who can bust up any ball game with one swing of his bat. But Cerv's contribution to Kansas City is incalculably more than his .305 batting average, 38 home runs and 104 runs batted in would suggest. By having the year he did, despite broken jaw, broken hand, two busted toes and an injured knee and ankle, much of the defeatist cloud which enveloped the A's has been dispelled. A healthy Cerv could have an even bigger year, theoretically. For the first time the Athletics can put a team of good ballplayers on the field. Roger Maris in right is a talented young man with unlimited potential. He hits with power (28 home runs, 88 RBIs) and could be one of the future stars. And throw out Bill Tuttle's .231 batting average. He has developed into a valuable team man who can hit behind the runner, sacrifice, draw walks and run the bases well. Tuttle and Maris more than make up for Cerv's fielding shortcomings in left. Bulky Harry Chiti has become an adept handler of the many knuckle-ball pitchers on the A's staff and is always a threat to crush a ball out of the park. With Frank House backing him up and Hal Smith available in an emergency, the catching staff has plenty of depth. The pitching still has a long way to go but there are indications that it will be improved some this season. Ray Herbert has finally matured into a capable starter. Although young Ralph Terry has yet to fulfill his annual promise, he could become one of the best around. With the dependable Ned Garver and ex-Yankee Bob Grim, the Athletics have a fairly steady starting foursome-something that couldn't be said before. The infield's strength lies in its hitting ability. With Hal Smith making the change to third, Hector Lopez playing second and Harry Simpson at first, the A's will get a lot of run production. Joe De Maestri, a light hitter and the only survivor from the Philadelphia days of the Athletics, adds fielding class at short.
Needing the batting punch of such as Smith, Lopez and Simpson somewhere in his lineup forces Manager Harry Craft to forgo defense in his infield. Smith may develop into a topnotch third baseman, since he fights everything hit down to him and can rectify a few mistakes with his shotgun arm, but Lopez and Simpson will never be more than adequate at their positions. Until there is a tighter defense in the infield, the pitching just has to suffer. And the Kansas City staff isn't strong enough to afford a sloppy defense. After all, only the Senators had weaker pitching last year, and look where they finished. Until more class and depth are added to the pitching staff, most of that extra hitting is going to be wasted.
ROOKIES AND NEW FACES
Versatile newcomers like Dick Williams, Wayne Terwilliger and Zeke Bella will strengthen the A's this season. Their presence on the bench gives Craft a chance to make varied moves during a game—an unfamiliar luxury. Terwilliger, a good-fielding second baseman, returns to the majors after a three-year absence, with a new choked-bat hitting style. One of the handiest men in baseball is Dick Williams, who can fill in at first, third, the outfield and even behind the plate. At the tail end of one of those complicated Yankee trades, the A's acquired muscular Zeke Bella. A good hitter in the minors, he will get plenty of chance to fill in at first or the outfield. An unexpected bonus could develop from the comeback attempts of Russ Meyer and Art Houtteman, both good ones a few years back. A cause for future optimism in the A's camp this spring was the good-looking group of youngsters fresh from the farm teams. One who is ready to help out this season is 24-year-old First Baseman Kent Hadley. A trimly built left-hander, Hadley hits with power and is a smooth fielder. Down South, he was the team's best-looking first baseman.
THE BIG IFS
It may be too much to expect a repeat performance from Bob Cerv. After all, before last year's explosive performance, Cerv was just another Yankee castoff, with a 1957 record of only 11 home runs and 44 runs batted in. The Athletics need another 1958 from the big Nebraskan, but they may get a 1957. The continued burgeoning of Roger Maris and a big year for Ralph Terry would help enormously. If Harry Simpson's loose batting stance gets to "feeling like an old shoe" once again, and Terwilliger hits enough to force Hector Lopez back to his best position, third base, the A's will be stronger. If only more pitching, both starting and relieving, were uncovered, Kansas City could have a lot of fun this summer.
The A's improved 14 games last season, an achievement which entitles them to be looked at with respect. With only a fair percentage of breaks, they should improve again this year. But not enough talent abounds and too many mistakes are made for the Athletics to improve very much this year.
JOE DE MAESTRI
PAST PERFORMANCE CHART
RUNS BATTED IN