Publish date:

KANSAS CITY ATHLETICS

Once Lou Boudreau left the scene last season and Harry Craft succeeded him, Kansas City started to play more spirited ball. But the final result was about the same since there isn't that much difference between last and seventh places. By now, Cowtown fans must be resigned to what they have
Author:

THE MANAGER
Harry Craft (41) inherited the dismal eighth-place Athletics from Lou Boudreau late last season. Through some kind of magic, he got them to win 23 out of their last 50 games to sneak into seventh. This will be his first full season as manager. Craft spent his major league playing career as an outfielder with Cincinnati (1937-42). He had five seasons of minor league ball at Kansas City before becoming a manager in the Yankee chain. Ironically, his last two years as a minor league manager were again spent at Kansas City (1953-54). Craft, at 43, is a hard worker who demands hustle from his team. His coaches are Bob Swift (42), Spud Chandler (40) and Don Heffner (39).

ANALYSIS OF THIS YEAR'S ATHLETICS

STRONG POINTS: For what it's worth, and that was seventh place last year, the Athletics refused to sit tight with the same old hands. Last season their trades with the Yankees, both before and during the season, were the biggest in the majors. This year it is the Tigers' turn to help out. And it is these players, ex-Yankees and ex-Tigers, who will give Kansas City some semblance of a major league team. The Yankees, of all people, let a good one get away last summer in 26-year-old Woody Held. He can run, throw extremely well and cover center field as well as anyone else in the league. Despite an anemic .239 batting average, he hit 20 home runs and knocked in 50 runs in only 93 games. His averages should go up now that he's gotten the feel of the major leagues. When Bill Tuttle came over from Detroit this winter, the A's at last got an arm and some legs to help Held in the outfield. The two, side by side, provide considerable added defense for the long-suffering pitchers. Full season performances by ex-Yankees Ralph Terry and Jack Urban and ex-Tiger Duke Maas should give some polish to a lackluster pitching staff. Hal Smith was the only .300-hitting catcher in the league last year, and old Kansas City dependables, Vic Power at first, Joe DeMaestri at short and Hector Lopez at third, give the A's seasoned performers in the infield.

WEAK SPOTS: Last year the Athletics hit the most home runs in the American League, but their pitchers nullified all that by giving up the most homers. Yet the A's had the fewest hits, runs and RBIs in the league. No one was getting on base before the homers. There's no guarantee there will be much of anybody on base this year either, and there certainly will be fewer homers. Kansas City got rid of some of their low-batting-average power hitters to add speed and better defense to a team that was probably the slowest in baseball last year. Athletic pitchers set a new major league record by pitching the fewest complete games in one season (26). It remains to be seen if they will be any better this year even with improved defense behind them.

ROOKIES AND NEW FACES: Every year it seems as if there are more old faces in new uniforms than the year before. But it is these castoffs from other teams who keep Kansas City's franchise going. The team gained considerable beef, if not talent, in the catching department when Harry Chiti (220 pounds) was drafted from the Yankee chain and Prank House (190 pounds) was obtained from Detroit. Both were promising young catchers once upon a time, but that was long ago, and now they are in Kansas City. Best new pitcher is Duke Maas, who had a spectacular first half season with the Tigers in 1957. He slumped off the rest of the year but still had a better earned run average (3.29) than any other starting pitcher on the Kansas City roster. He will be a regular starter. The most refreshing of the very new faces is Mike Baxes, who played 73 games with the A's in 1956 and hit a puny .226. But a big year at Buffalo (International League All-Star shortstop with a .303 batting average) gave him his chance with Kansas City. He cinched the second base job in spring training.

THE BIG IFS: The Athletics got rid of some of their leadfooted home run hitters when they discovered it takes more than homers to win ball games. They are depending on Woody Held to develop into the hitter everyone thinks he will be, and on Bill Tuttle to put his mind to it and play like he did in 1955 (when he hit .279). These two, along with either Bob Cerv or Bob Martyn in left field, could give Kansas City the best defensive outfield in its short major league history. It's certainly been needed; ask the long-suffering Athletics pitchers. To offset the loss of last year's power hitters, Vic Power has to hit like he did in 1956 (.309) and not like 1957 (.259).

THE VOICES
Merle Harmon (32, unhurried) stepped into broadcasting from college campus. He majored in radio at the University of Denver and broadcast football and basketball for the university station. A native of Illinois by birth, he has done all his major radio work in Kansas City after a tour of duty in Topeka. He took over the broadcasting duties for the Athletics when they moved to Kansas City in 1955, and fans like his low-pressure style, ED EDWARDS (34, crisp) was a Rochester (N.Y.) high school sprinter and better-than-average semipro baseball player before attending first Rochester University and then Cornell. He went into radio work after Navy service during World War II. Reached the big time in 1954 with the Cleveland Indians. New to Kansas City last year, Edwards feels compelled to explain and excuse the Athletics' considerable shortcomings a little too often over the air. Since Kansas City is the only team not to televise in the American League, Harmon and Edwards share radio time.

[originallink:10482851:45777]

PHOTO

VIC POWER

PHOTO

WOODY HELD

PHOTO

JOE DeMAESTRI

PHOTO

HECTOR LOPEZ

PHOTO

BOB CERV

PHOTO

BILL TUTTLE

PHOTO

HAL SMITH

PHOTO

MIKE BAXES

PHOTO

MERLE HARMON

PHOTO

VIRGIL TRUCKS

PHOTO

JACK URBAN

PHOTO

RALPH TERRY

PHOTO

DUKE MAAS

PHOTO

ILLUSTRATION

THE OUTLOOK: The Athletics finished seventh in 1957 only because the Senators were in the same league. Despite, or maybe because, of the ex-Yankees on the roster, the team looked dispirited and listless most of the year. Defense was terrible, pitching bad and hitting practically nonexistent. Once again, Kansas City has gone to the player market for additional help and some of the damage has been repaired. It may be enough to keep them ahead of Washington, but it will take more than ex-Yankees and ex-Tigers to move the Athletics any higher. The rest of the league is just too far ahead.