The Detroit Tigers cannot possibly win the American League pennant, as any serious student of the game knows, but so far this season the serious students have been flunking the course. The Tigers are rolling merrily along in first place and show little sign of giving it up.
Nearly everyone connected with the club is ready with a reason for the early success. "Breaks," says one man. "Our hits drop in, theirs don't." Rocky Colavito recently said he has never played on a team with such spirit, but a Detroit follower questions this. "You can't tell how much spirit a team has until it starts losing," he says.
The simplest reason is that most of the Tigers are playing, if not over their heads, as well as they ever have. Frank Lary, Don Mossi and Phil Regan are pitching well. Colavito, Al Kaline and Norm Cash are hitting. But perhaps most important, the Tigers are getting professional performances from two rookies, Steve Boros at third base and Jake Wood at second. "It's those kids," says the young veteran Kaline. "They're making us go."
Last week the Tigers went into New York for a four-game series with the second-place Yankees. (Serious students know the Yankees will win the pennant.) A steady drizzle slowly soaked Yankee Stadium, threatening to cancel the opening game. Inside the Detroit clubhouse, the gin rummy games had begun. Steve Boros was not playing, however. He sat alone in front of his locker, his feet on a stool, reading the latest Wall Street quotations. "I'm charting a few stocks," he said. "I think cards are a waste of time."
Boros is 24 and a history major at the University of Michigan in the off season. He has blond wavy hair and an alert, friendly expression. Like Shaw's Henry Higgins, he is a "confirmed old bachelor and likely to remain so"—at least for some time, he says.
"I don't normally do this here," he said, pointing to the paper, "but I left my book at the hotel. I'm reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Have you read it? I think it's great. I just finished Profiles in Courage."
Boros describes himself as an enthusiastic Democrat. He campaigned for Jack Kennedy among his Denver teammates last summer and figures he swung about four votes. When Kennedy, in his Inaugural Address, spoke of the challenge that all of us face, Boros felt the words applied to his battle to win the third-base job with Detroit. Boros was signed for a bonus off the Michigan campus in 1957 and, perforce, stayed with the Tigers the rest of the season.
"My first major league at-bat was right here at Yankee Stadium," he said. "Tom Sturdivant was pitching. I took a curve and a slider, both of which looked rather ordinary. Then he threw me a knuckle ball. I must have lunged at the pitch three times and just did foul it back. I'd never seen anything like that in the Big Ten. I finally popped up on a high inside fast ball. I remember trotting back to the dugout wondering what I had gotten myself into."
Now, after three excellent years in the minors, Boros was back at Yankee Stadium, a .300 hitter and a major hero of Detroit's early move to the top.
"Kid, get yourself a press room," yelled Jim Bunning, who was playing gin. Boros grinned. "They rib me a lot, but I don't mind," he said. He looked at the clock on the wall. "If this game is called off I may have just enough time to get down to Broadway and see Advise and Consent. If it's too late for that I'm going to catch Lenny Bruce at the Vanguard in Greenwich Village."
But the rain stopped and the game was played. Frank Lary, the Yankee killer, pitched for Detroit, but this time he fell behind 3-1. Several times the Yankees threatened to break the game open, but Lary held on. Then in the seventh inning he turned hitter, doubling and eventually scoring the tying run. In the ninth inning he homered and the Tigers won 4-3.
The next day the Tigers won again as Rocky Colavito hit two home runs. The victory put the Tigers four and a half games ahead of the Yanks. ("How do you spell juggernaut?" asked Detroit sportswriter Joe Falls.) But on Sunday the Yankees, led by their money men, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, swept a double-header. Berra pinch-hit a single to win the 11-inning first game. Mantle, who had fallen into a pitiful slump after his fine start this season, broke out of it with five hits. Detroit was still in first place, but the student of baseball was beginning to nod his head knowingly.
As for Steve Boros, he made four hits, drove in four runs and made several fine fielding plays. He never did get to see Lenny Bruce, but he plans to the next time the Tigers are in New York.