The Tigers' big problem is the double play—or the lack of it. Last year Detroit was a bad 20th in double plays in the majors. Nothing is more difficult for a pitcher than getting a batter to hit the ball on the ground with men on base. Once the pitcher does that, his work should be done four times out of five. When a Tiger pitcher sees the ball on the ground, however, he shudders. "I saw one game last year," says Charlie Gehringer, the onetime great second baseman of the Tigers, "where the pitcher got three different batters to hit the double-play ball in one inning. Not once did our infield make the double play. We lost the ball game. We should not have lost it and yet, if you can't make the double play, you deserve to lose ball games. It murders a pitcher to see one blown. He gets disgusted and begins to feel that he has to do everything himself. If a pitcher starts to think like that he makes mistakes and loses ball games."
This spring Gehringer was at the Tigers' training camp in Lakeland, Fla. hoping to resolve the problem. Thousands of balls were hit to Shortstop Chico Fernandez and Second Baseman Dick McAuliffe (right). But even though the two infielders were working, the double play wasn't. Fernandez plays his position too deep and relies too much on his arm. He has trouble charging ground balls. When he goes to second base to take the throw, he looks like a crow walking. McAuliffe has hideous trouble making the pivot. The general effect is that of two elephants in a chorus line.
"I don't know how many chances we had last season to make the double play," says Manager Bob Scheffing. "All I know is we messed them up too many times. This problem is a serious one for us and, to tell you the truth, we pray a lot." Neither the Detroit Tigers—nor any other team—can afford to give the opposition four outs an inning.
Detroit had good home run power last season (a league-leading 209), but it didn't mean a thing. The team scored 83 fewer runs than the previous year and had 129 fewer hits (led AL in 1961, ninth in 1962). Norm Cash, the team's chief offender, fell off 118 points from a league-leading .361 and dropped 43 RBIs. Al Kaline hit 29 home runs in 100 games last year, a career high, but missed a third of the season with a broken collarbone. Despite a drop in run production, Rocky Colavito hit well with men on base (37 HRs, 112 RBIs). Fernandez and McAuliffe don't scare anyone at bat, although Fernandez showed surprising power with 20 homers, more than his total in six previous major league seasons. The Tigers did add some hitting power to the infield by picking up Bubba Phillips from Cleveland. Everyone in Detroit is counting heavily on Gus Triandos. Triandos was unhappy in Baltimore last year and, even though he certainly will not hit for average (.248 lifetime), he can knock in runs. Bill Bruton (.278) gives the Tigers what little speed they have, and he is one of the best men in the league at advancing a runner.
The Tiger pitching staff needs only a sound Frank Lary to make it one of the best in the AL. Lary injured his arm pitching on a cold day early last spring and slipped from a 23-9 record in 1961 to a 2-6 record in 1962. The loss of Lary, even more than the loss of Kaline, was responsible for the Tigers' dip from second to fourth. Lary now feels his arm is strong again and, for Detroit, it has to be. The importance of Lary becomes crucial when the Tigers play New York, for he holds a 28-11 lifetime record against the Yanks. Hank Aguirre became a starter in May last year and proved to be a good one (16-8 and a league-leading 2.21 ERA). Aguirre, too, can beat the Yankees (3-1 vs. New York in 1962). Lanky Jim Bunning can't beat the Yankees but he does all right with the rest of the league (19-10). You can throw out left-hander Don Mossi's 11-13 record in evaluating his worth to the team. Six of his losses were by one run. As a short-relief man, Terry Fox is unexcelled (15 saves, 1.71 ERA).
Detroit has a good argument for considering its outfield the best in the majors, despite what the Yankees may tell you. Colavito, Bruton and Kaline all have good arms and Kaline and Bruton are exceptional fielders. Colavito, although slow, catches nearly everything hit his way. Triandos still is one of the AL's best catchers and will not have to contend with as many knuckle balls as he did in Baltimore. The infield, however, is a problem. Fernandez and McAuliffe made 50 errors between them last year. There is hope at the corners with Cash at first and Phillips at third. Both are solid, dependable glovemen.