There is a gag around the American League that what holds the Athletics up in sixth place is Baltimore and Washington. That is a gross libel on two increasingly fabulous baseball institutions—the Kansas City fan and Outfielder Enos Slaughter, whom the Cardinals traded to the Yankees and the Yankees to the A's when it seemed his career was ending. Now turning 40, Slaughter still outhustles the rookies and ignites the Athletic flame. As for the Kansas City fan, he showed up in such numbers—1,393,054—last year and with such tireless enthusiasm that the players couldn't help but be infected, and the club won a lot of games on just the spirit of its middling pitchers, young infielders and tame batters. This year, the A's are not noticeably stronger, but they still have Slaughter, three other able men named Power, Lopez and Zernial, and, of course, the home-town fans.
7 VIC POWER, FIRST BASE: A powerful 6-footer obtained in a deal with the Yankees which included Infielder Jim Finigan, Power hit .319 last year with 19 home runs. After a brilliant winter-league season, he could become one of the truly top first basemen in baseball.
10 HECTOR LOPEZ, THIRD BASE: This right-handed power-hitter, up from the minors early last year, slugged 15 home runs, batted in 68 runs, hit .290. Fast, with a good arm, he is only 23.
30 GUS ZERNIAL, LEFT FIELD: The huge, handsome Texan has been one of the big AL home run threats since coming up in 1949 with the White Sox. Slow and troubled by injuries lately, he is still the A's biggest batting hope.
33 ENOS SLAUGHTER, OUTFIELD: No man in baseball hustles harder than Country Slaughter. He never stops running. Age (almost 40) is creeping up, so he can't play every day, but even on the bench he is an inspiration to the team.
Much of the A's 1956 prospects lie in the whippy left arm of little Bobby Shantz, who hasn't been right since he led the AL with 24 victories in 1952. This year he has had no shoulder pain, is throwing hard and thinks he is ready if he can regain his control. Old Alex Kellner (11-8) still has pitching mileage, and Righty Art Ditmar (12-12) could do better. If big Arnold Portocarrero (5-9) could learn some control, the A's pitching might hurt many of the leaders, what with Tom Gorman, a former Yankee, ready in relief. Day-to-day power is questionable, but Harry Simpson, who can play outfield regularly, and aging Elmer Valo, who can't but nonetheless batted .364 last year, are always dangerous. Then there is Joe De Maestri, a superb-fielding, no-hit shortstop.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
8 RANCE PLESS, INFIELD: American Association batting champ last year with .337, but must move Lopez off third.
23 LOU KRETLOW, PITCHER: After bounding indifferently around AL for nine years, right-hander was 14-3 with pennant-winning Seattle in Coast League last year.
24 JACK CRIMIAN, PITCHER: Voted MVP in International League last year (19-6 with Toronto), the stocky curve bailer could be the answer to the A's pitching problems.
A big pitching hopeful is Glenn Cox, up from Montreal (11-5). Infielder Spook Jacobs is back with the A's after big year (.316) with Columbus. Dave Melton, very fast, who hit .299 for San Francisco, is fighting for outfield berth.
BOARD OF STRATEGY
5 LOU BOUDREAU, MANAGER: One of alltime great shortstops with Indians has been major league manager almost continuously since he was 34, first with Indians, then Red Sox, now A's. Led Indians to their 1948 pennant.
Coaches are GEORGE SUSCE (40), an oldtime catcher whose son is now a Red Sox pitcher; HARRY CRAFT (41), onetime Redleg outfielder; OSCAR MELILLO (42), a second baseman for the Browns during the early '30s.
24 JACK CRIMIAN