In major league baseball, 1961 may eventually become known as the year of the great leveling. In the National League only three teams—the Phillies, Reds and Cubs—seem to have no chance at all for the pennant; in the American League no one would pick the Kansas City Athletics, the Boston Red Sox, the Detroit Tigers or either of the two new teams—the Los Angeles Angels or the Washington Senators—for the championship. Otherwise, the talent is divided so evenly that a New York writer, voting in a spring-training poll, picked the Minnesota Twins for the pennant. Nine other New York writers, for very sound reasons, picked the New York Yankees.
Nevertheless, the Yankees are a case in point. This is a typical Yankee team—strong, fleet, replete with fearsome batsmen. Yet is is no longer as deep as a well in talent, and so it is more vulnerable to injury. And Ralph Houk, the new manager, must prove himself a capable replacement for Casey Stengel. His competition is formidable. The Baltimore Orioles nearly made it last year; this very young team should be better by the wisdom of a season, and that may be enough, although a stronger outfield would help, too. Or consider the Chicago White Sox, who led the American League in hitting and fielding last year but did not have quite enough pitching to win the close games. Age may slow the White Sox, but the acquisition of Juan Pizarro and Cal McLish, plus the improvement of Herb Score, could lift the pitching enough. The Cleveland Indians, a disappointment in 1960, have remedied weak pitching and a lack of power hitting by acquiring left-hander Johnny Antonelli and Outfielder Willie Kirkland from the San Francisco Giants, and may come back a long way. The Twins, fifth last year, are an improving team, and the excitement of establishing major league ball in Minnesota may catalyze the club into contention.
If Houk's job is difficult, Pittsburgh Manager Danny Murtaugh's is worse. He has the same young, efficient and aggressive team that won the title, plus better left-handed relief pitching in Bobby Shantz, but he faces strengthened opposition. The Milwaukee Braves have calked a leaky infield with the addition of Shortstop Roy McMillan and Second Baseman Frank Boiling, still have probably the best pair of pitchers in the league in Warren Spahn and Lou Burdette. The Los Angeles Dodgers need a first-rate catcher; they have a plethora of everything else, including the best young talent in either league. The St. Louis Cardinals, with a good pitching staff, a sound infield and fair catching, need only improve their outfield to move up from third place. The San Francisco Giants, loaded with starting pitchers and possessed of hitters like Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Harvey Kuenn, may respond to the crisp, professional attitude of rookie Manager Alvin Dark and play again as a team rather than as brilliant malcontents. If ever a pennant race seemed certain to be close, it is the National League's this year.
The Reports that follow on the 18 major league teams were prepared by Associate Editors Robert Creamer and Tex Maule, Staff Writers Walter Bingham, Roger Williams and Les Woodcock, Writer-Reporter Herman Weiskopf and Reporter Maury Allen.
Some roster changes were made too late to be noted in the reports. Among them: the Cubs traded Pitchers Moe Drabowsky and Seth Morehead to the Braves for Infielders Andre Rodgers and Daryl Robertson; the Cubs traded Outfielder Lou Johnson to the Angels for Outfielder Jim McAnany; the Phillies sold Infielder Ted Lepcio to the White Sox.